[Classics] Platform of the Joint Opposition


This document was the end product of a process of analysis and struggle in a constantly changing and living movement – the Bolshevik Party. It sums up a period which spans roughly four years, commencing some time before the death of Lenin in 1923 and concluding with attempts to publish this programme in 1927.

Before these four years the first World War had wreaked its destruction on the Russian economy. Subsequent revolutions, the ravages of civil war, of wars of intervention, famine and epidemics and above all, the successful, if only temporary, isolation of the Soviet Union through the failure of the Revolution in Europe, all this set in motion reactionary, conservative, pressures within Soviet society which found their expression within the Bolshevik Party.

This was essentially a complex and relatively long-drawn-out process, the mechanics of which were not apparent at that time to any but the most far-sighted participants in the struggles within the Bolshevik Party.

Through all the vicissitudes of the struggle against the emerging bureaucracy, from the time of Lenin’s direction of that fight from his deathbed; the incoherent disquiet expressed by various oppositions; the first Trotskyist opposition persecuted by the Zinoviev-Stalin troika and the period of the Joint Opposition, the struggle of Trotsky and his comrades was characterised by an absolutely loyal, principled and disciplined conduct in its rejections with the party. [1] At the heart of this attitude lay their absolutely unshakeable confidence in the international Revolution. Until that reprieve for the Russian Revolution, this opposition stood its ground and fought tooth and nail to defend each and every conquest of October and especially the Leninist traditions and practices of the Bolshevik Party.

The stage of the struggle which this Platform represents marks a watershed in the theory and practice of Trotskyism. It marked the culmination of one stage in the struggle to preserve and defend Bolshevism. In the background were the successive setbacks to the world revolution – the fascist coup in Italy, the defeat of the 1923 German revolution, the defeat of the 1926 General Strike in Britain, the coup of Pilsudski in Poland and finally, the crushing defeat of the Chinese Revolution in 1927.

Within the Soviet Union, in the countryside, after the implementation of the New Economic Policy, capitalism was allowed a hardly restricted development. Industry was developed only haphazardly. A weary working class had in many cases barely resumed regular employment. It was, in other words, a period conducive to the rise of moods of conservatism – of anything for a bit of peace and quiet, of routinism and accommodation to habits and ways of life alien to the restless, thrusting spirit of Bolshevism. The party which consisted of 50,000 workers, as against 300,000 functionaries (ex-workers, intellectuals, etc.) was further diluted by the influx of 240,000 raw recruits via the so-called “Lenin levy”.

These changes influenced others within the party in the field of programme. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, but gathering momentum with each set-back to the international revolution, policies were adapted, modified and transformed, “to conform to reality”. Stalin was the most consistent representative of this trend. Fighting for every toe-hold, each hand-breadth of time, the Left Opposition, led by Trotsky, strove to utilise every vestige of support from both its own and the international working class to further its historic interests.

The present document was in fact the work of the Joint (Bolshevik-Leninist) Opposition which drew together the supporters of Trotsky and Zinoviev against Stalin and Bukharin, the latter representing the right wing of the Party. It was submitted to the Central Committee in early September, 1927. It was signed by thirteen members of the Central Committee, including Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smilga, Evdokimov, Rakovsky, Piatakov, Bakaev. Zinoviev had first launched the campaign against “Trotskyism” following the publication of Trotsky’s Lessons of October in 1924. But he had come increasingly into conflict with the Stalin faction, particularly over economic policy.

This Platform was drawn up at a time of crisis for the bureaucracy. This bureaucracy consisted at that time of two basic tendencies – the Bukharinist right and the Stalinist centre of the Party, the latter perhaps less prominent in the public eye but with control of the entire apparatus. Neither was sure of its future. The opposition was united. It was able, after thorough and detailed discussion, to reach agreement on this Platform.

In the country, the richer peasants were beginning to assert their dominance by withholding grain stocks and rigging the price of bread, the urban working class paying the price. Registered unemployment stood at 1,000,000. Abroad, the aftermath of the British General Strike, the Polish events and the defeat of the Chinese Revolution, confirmed all the prognostications and warnings of Trotsky. The danger of a juncture of revolutionary forces in this crisis threatened Stalin as never before. He had to act and act swiftly.

Up to this point Stalin had (with the loyal collaboration of the opposition) contained the struggle within the party. He had successfully ousted the opposition from most of the key positions in the party. The summer of 1926 saw the intensive united action of both tendencies of the Opposition, i.e. of both Zinovievist and Trotskyist. Stalin countered with expulsions, disciplining, shutting down meetings and the use of violence, driving the opposition underground.

At the joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of July 1926, a formal declaration of the joint Opposition was made. It called for: the restoration of inner-party democracy, championing the cause of the working class against the kulaks, Nepmen and bureaucrats. This meant an increase of wages for industrial workers (wages were lower than pre-war). or other. wise productivity would stagnate or fall; freedom to negotiate wage claims through free trade unions; reform of taxation – relieve the poor and the small peasants, tax the middle peasants and soak the kulaks and Nepmen; long-term voluntary collectivisation with state credits and mechanisation, etc.: compulsory grain loans and a 50 percent tax on profits of the kulaks in order to subsidise industry (this revenue alone would more than cover losses by tax relief and increased wage costs) – accelerate industrialisation (already output exceeded plans) by implementing the decisions of the 14th Congress of December 1925, and institute a real 5-year plan. It further declared that the Stalin-Bukharin international politics of pessimism was beginning to permeate domestic policy to the point of introducing “Socialism in One Country” and an adaptation to the status quo outside, i.e., opportunistic alliances (e.g. British).

It was rejected in toto and Zinoviev was thrown off the Politbureau. Then Stalin stole a little of the Opposition’s thunder, pledging wage rises for poorer workers and, utilising his monopoly of the press, distorted Trotsky’s views and launched a campaign to boost the “theory” of Socialism in one country and further intimidate the Opposition.

The Zinovievists were shaken and an ultra-left secessionist mood developed amongst some of the Trotskyists. To save the situation a truce was arranged with Stalin, a truce which he violated a few weeks later. This drew from Trotsky the celebrated observation: “The First Secretary poses his candidature to the post of grave-digger of the Revolution”. Trotsky was expelled from the politbureau and Zinoviev was ejected from the Comintern.

Once again the weaker elements were shaken. Another attempt at truce was rent asunder at the 15th Party Conference (October 1926) which turned out to be a witch-hunter’s jamboree. Some of the ultra-lefts surrendered, and even Lenin’s widow capitulated to Stalin. All the expulsions were confirmed and the Congress was followed by a further spate of victimisations and provocations.

In the meantime events in China were rising in a crescendo of revolutionary explosions. Deprived of access to party documents concerning the real state of the Chinese Communist Party, the Opposition had barely time to take stock of the situation and even expressed disagreements on the policy for the CCP. In April 1926 Trotsky supported the pleas of the CCP for its independence from the Kuomintang but was turned down on every occasion. Within a year the revolution had gone full cycle. Chiang Kai-shek was massacring the communists.

Even at this moment Trotsky had to contend with Zinoviev’s conservatism while striving to salvage something out of the Chinese debacle. Public knowledge of these events and the discussion on them was effectively smothered.

Then the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee broke up without so much as a yes please or no thank you from the British side and Stalin’s British policy was stripped stark naked. Cornered, he countered with a war-danger hysteria and threatened the Opposition. It countered by requesting discussion at a closed session of the CC. Rebuffed and denounced, Trotsky raised it on the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Stalin began to disperse the leaders of the Opposition to remote provinces. or abroad on missions, and hounded the rank and file. But Trotsky used the “war scare” to demand the restoration of Leninist norms in the party.

The next Party Congress was perilously near, and Stalin could not afford the debate. Building up the war scare now to one of insinuating that Trotsky had an alliance with Chamberlain, he prepared the conditions for fresh charges against Trotsky, that is, for appealing to the ECCI (a constitutional right of all members of the CI), and being present at a farewell demonstration to Opposition leader Smilga. A major diversion from the issue of China and his foreign policy.

In July, Trotsky defended himself before the Party Control Commission and tore the indictment to shreds. The verdict was held up. At length, in August they could only pass a motion of censure on him, and Stalin was in worse shape than before. Trotsky and Zinoviev once more affirmed their loyalty to party and state and their unconditional defence of the Soviet Union.

It was soon after this event that the joint Platform was first published. Desperately, Stalin lashed out, penalising here, banishing there and postponing the Party Congress. Trotsky protested at these actions, demanding the return of his banished supporters and free pre-Congress discussion, including the publication of the Platform by the Party, as had been customary in the past.

These demands were rejected and the circulation of the Platform proscribed as being “against the party”. As a demonstration, and in order to “spread the blow” that was anticipated, supporters of the Platform were called upon to sign the document. There now descended on the heads of the Opposition another barrage of slanders, fabrication, lies and distortions. Discussion was stifled. The Opposition was forced to print the document themselves. The first attempt was discovered by an agent of the GPU planted in its ranks. The duplicator and copies were seized. The agent was promptly dressed up as a Wrangel officer, working hand-in-glove with the Trotskyists. But the Opposition so destroyed the frame-up that even Stalin had to admit the plant!

A second attempt was made – this time in print, and it is from one of these copies, smuggled out by French communists, that this edition derives. Soon after, however, the GPU discovered this press, seized a large number of the pamphlets and imprisoned its printers. Immediately Preobrazhensky, Serebriakov and Mrachovsky volunteered responsibility for this work. They were promptly expelled from the party and later imprisoned.

On September 27, Trotsky, after a scathing statement in his defence, was expelled from the ECCI.

Stalin feared the possible consequences of the policies of the Platform, and utilising the gag imposed on the Opposition and his monopoly of the press and state apparatus, stole a march (and indeed one better) on the Opposition. Without consulting the State Planning Commission, the trade unions or even his own Central Committee, he decreed with a fanfare of trumpets – a seven-hour day! A five-day week! Same wages as before! Hurrah for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution!

Part of the 10th anniversary celebration was the convening of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets in Leningrad on October 15. At this meeting Trotsky denounced Stalin’s decree as a demagogic trick and totally unattainable in terms of what was possible in the Soviet Union of the day. Better give the workers something less but real! Sensitive to what he had to say in relation to the conditions of the working class, and fearful of the consequences. Stalin seized on this phrase and sent his whipper-snappers scurrying to the factory gates crying “Trotsky doesn’t want to give you anything”!

Despite their efforts, on the same day, by a coincidence, the special 7-hour day celebration demonstration turned into one in favour of Trotsky and Zinoviev.

A week later Stalin was insisting on expulsions again. The hysteria at this session of the Joint Plenum of the CC and Control Commission reached incredible depths – books, inkpots and even a glass were hurled at Trotsky as he defended himself. But underlying these symptoms was the graver malady of the final disintegration of men who had trained themselves to be Bolsheviks all their political lives. Their efforts increased in vehemence and violence as the Congress drew nearer.

Came November 7, the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, and the Joint Opposition made a desperate intervention. Their banners cried their cause: “Strike against the kulak, the Nepman and the bureaucrat!” “Down with opportunism!” “Carry out Lenin’s testament!” “Beware of a split in the party!” “Preserve Bolshevik Unity!” But Stalin was prepared. Fearful of the possible consequences of this agitation, at this time of crisis, he literally smashed the demonstration, its personnel, their banners and even their homes. A service revolver was discharged at Trotsky. The protest had been made. But once again the Zinovievite wing was preparing to beat a retreat and was soon speaking of the “courage to surrender”.

On November 14 the CC and CCC at its extraordinary plenum decided to expel Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Party for counter-revolutionary demonstrations and virtual insurrection; Kamenev, Rakovsky, Smilga, Evdokimov from the CC; and Bakaev, Muralov and others from the CCC. This was, of course, accompanied by a purge of hundreds of others from the Party. Two days later, Adolphe Joffe shot himself as a protest at his maltreatment by the Stalin regime.

The 15th Party Congress convened on December 2, and remained in session until the 19th. A joint statement was presented to it by 121 oppositionists, which declared that they stood by their views; recognised a split as the greatest menace to Lenin’s course; that they insisted on forms of inner party democracy being strengthened and that they were prepared to disband themselves if their expelled and imprisoned members were reinstated. The opposition did not have one full delegate at this conference. Its views were branded by unanimous decision as incompatible with membership. It was a rout.

Before the Congress was over, the Zinovievists deserted. Capitulations (2,500) and expulsions (1,500) followed wholesale. Zinoviev and Kamenev surrendered and were put on six months’ probation! Antonov Ovseenko and Piatakov followed suit. But the Trotskyists while still supporting the single party system, refused to submit to the decisions of this Congress within the Party.

Stalin went to work immediately, exiling Oppositionists to the most inhospitable corners of the “socialist sixth” of the world! Three to four thousand arrests were made and just in time. For all the signs of trouble began to manifest themselves – grain shortages and price increases of bread and other foodstuffs. In fact, only six days before Trotsky’s banishment to Alma Ata the first measures against the kulaks were discussed. By February, the Party Press declared: “The kulak has raised his head”, the peasants are withholding their surplus grain.

By April, the CC confessed to a grave crisis and instituted compulsory loans on the kulaks, requisitioning of grain and fixing of bread prices. All that the Opposition prophesied, all that the Platform warned against, was being confirmed. Cautiously, and steering clear of the least sectarianism towards the Stalinist wing and the slightest opportunism towards the Bukharinists, the Opposition delineated a course of critical support for the Stalin group and against the restorationist trend, but insisting on a return to internal democracy in the Party. This attitude characterised the struggle in the next period. But in this phase of the struggle the Opposition suffered the disadvantage of being scattered in remote places of exile, able to correspond with each other and with its leader Trotsky only with great difficulty and delay.

Valuable time had been gained, in that the previous struggle had at least served to heighten the awareness of the crisis in the country and suggested the measures with which to combat it. Indeed had the Zinovievite wing stood firm a different state of affairs might have prevailed. But here again experience underlined the necessity for intransigent loyalty to principles.

The Stalinists, now falling out with the right Bukharinists, were on the horns of dilemma – losing their erstwhile friends and fearful at the prospect of having a bloc with Trotsky. So they spread dissension and discord in the ranks of the Opposition, seducing the weaker and hammering the irreconcilables.

The siren cries of the new shifts in Stalin’s policies began to achieve precisely that, dividing and then deepening the rift among the exiles into “conciliators” and “irreconcilables”, Preobrazhensky, the theoretician par excellence of primitive accumulation was attracted by the new policies, but like others, failed to observe the thorough-going persecution, intolerance and falsification of party history which accompanied these measures. His proposal for a rapprochement with Stalin was rejected by the opposition. Then Radek caught the fever, beginning, to find fault with the theory of the Permanent Revolution, which he had hitherto endorsed. During the summer of 1928, Trotsky made preparations for the 6th Congress of the Communist International and drew up a detailed and devastating critique of the new Draft Programme of the CI[2]

The 6th Congress of the CI and its new left turn tended to further reinforce these trends while simultaneously generating a mood of lack of confidence and scepticism among the foreign representatives in the International. In the meantime the Bukharinists made a temporary come-back on the CC, curbing the measures against the kulaks, who now withheld their stocks to such an extent as to halt grain exports and force the bread prices up by 20 per cent, endangering even army supplies. These developments in turn strengthened the left in the opposition – the Sosnovsky, Dinglestedt, Eltsin wing. On the other hand, Rakovsky, Trotsky’s chief comrade-in-arms, began to succumb to what he described as the deadly apathy of the proletariat and the “laws of history”.

On the CC feverish manoeuvring went on. Bukharin made semi-hysterical advances to the Opposition, while Stalin sent out feelers and misleading rumours of a possible pact with Trotsky. Trotsky used this opportunity to make his position clearer: no horse-trading in principles, discussion only on the basis of proletarian democracy. He disowned Stalin’s methods of force and violence in implementing his policies, rather, tax the wealthy, support the poor and give the middle peasant a square deal. No capitulation to Stalinism, only critical support. As regards relations with the Bukharinists, an agreement was only possible on the single point of enforcing strict and proper rules of conduct for a really democratic Party Congress.

Towards the end of 1928, Smilga, Serebriakov and Smirnov drifted over to Radek-Preobrazhensky. Radek resumed his attack on the Permanent Revolution. In October, all Trotsky’s communications with his comrades were cut except for those with defectors. And for good reason too. The October Revolution celebrations revealed why. The slogans in the Press read: “The danger is on the right!”; “Strike against the kulak!”; “Curb the Nepman!”; “Speed up industrialisation!”. The previous year’s November-day slogans of the Opposition were confirmed to the day, with the all-important exception of the question of party democracy.

The aggravation of the crisis only served to strengthen Stalin’s attitude to the Opposition – entice the waverers, crush the irreconcilables. In the party there were heart-searchings. Perhaps Trotsky was right? The Opposition experienced an accession of strength, followed by a fresh wave of arrests. But for each of these there were many more silent doubters still in the party. Trotskyism threaten to outflank Stalin. Its leader had to be removed. The Politbureau “debated” his deportation and despite Bukharin’s desperate pleas and Tomsky and Rykov’s opposition, Stalin won.

On January 22, 1929, Trotsky and his family were moved from Alma Ata and later deported to Turkey. He resided on the island of Prinkipo while negotiating a visa to enter any one country in the world. None, not even Britain, under a so-called Labour government. would have him. Finally, in 1933, he was granted asylum in France, which was later commuted to residence under surveillance. From France he emigrated to Norway in 1935 and thence to Mexico where he lived up to the day of his assassination in August 1940.

During his last days in the Soviet Union, Trotsky began work on the concept of the Thermidor in relation to the October Revolution and its subsequent evolution, in an attempt to analyse contradictions and complexities and to prognosticate its further development. This work was to bear fruit in the idea of the Fourth International, an idea which represented a definitive break with all previous struggles to re-orient and democratise the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and the Comintern – an idea which inspired the construction of a new International of parties which continues the traditions of the Opposition. [3]

What was the subsequent fate of the Trotskyist (Left) Opposition in the Soviet Union? The answer to this is to some extent bound up in the evolution of Stalin’s policies at home. With the outbreak of the crisis Stalin resorted simpleton-wise to the proposals of the Platform. The five-year plan was arbitrarily revised and stepped up. In the country, the Stalinists moved from grain requisition to “voluntary” collectivisation and finally in 1929-1930 to forced collectivisation – all without any co-ordination with a development in agricultural technique – blindly, empirically, violently.

Disaster in food crops, livestock and commercial-industrial crops, impoverishment and mass deportations of refractory peasantry, and famine to the point of cannibalism resulted. The effects of this collapse on the urban worker were harrowing. Working on famine rations, he was exhorted to superhuman efforts to achieve the crazy targets of the revised 5-year plans – shock brigades, socialist emulation, inflation, petty pilfering and speculation, demoralised him.

Breakdowns through exhaustion and bureaucratic mismanagement were blamed on sabotage. Innocent workers, agronomic experts, scientists were shot out of hand. Vagrancy and absenteeism were suppressed by introduction of internal passports which chained the producers to their benches or their ploughshares. The purges reached out into the ministries and academies. Every failure found its scapegoats. Even whole nationalities were found wanting in loyalty. This was the happy hunting ground of the Khrushchev generation who founded their careers on the bones of the Skrypniks and other Communists.

This period of chaotic, tumultuous change, of profound wretchedness was succeeded by a year of respite, before the plunge into the great darkness of the terror that followed the Kirov assassination, a period which extended from December 1, 1934, practically up to the outbreak of World War II. This period culminated at its blackest in what is known as the Yezhovschina.

It was against this background that the rest of the story of the Left Opposition was played out. Victor Serge estimates that there were perhaps three to four thousand Oppositionist survivors by the end of 1929. 1,000 fresh arrests were made in October 1929 and more than another 1,000 in 1930. That left no more to arrest. In 1932 they were joined by hundreds more former oppositionists. They in turn were joined by many times more suspect Stalinists. Many exiles from all over the world who had sought shelter in the USSR were also in camps.

Rakovsky was broken in 1934. Sosnovsky followed suit. Trotsky’s secretaries remained incarcerated. Trotsky’s first wife and her grandchildren disappeared into that wilderness and have not been heard of since. Thousands of others suffered a like fate, torn from dear ones, comrades and friends.

Bukharinist protegés were jailed in 1932. In 1935, after the Kirov assassination a flood of old Bolsheviks, ex-oppositionists and their followers filled the camps and prisons. Later these were joined by the military specialists and refugee Spaniards. GPU camp commandants were issued with sealed orders to be broken only on the outbreak of hostilities, which they dutifully did. “Dangerous politicals” were mown down en masse thus saving them the long, drawn-out deprivations of the war years when the survivors literally froze to death. The “coup-de-grace” was delivered with a sledge hammer on the head of the already dead victim – a method of saving ammunition in those lean years!

Such was the fate of the vast majority of our own political forebears. A few lucky ones only may have survived. But those camps were the schools of the “Back to Lenin movement”, of a new Soviet generation. Deep within the suffering, toilworn minds of the Soviet working class there flickers that deadly memory, indestructible, irrepressible, a memory that will leap into flame, given a leadership and given the conditions for its development. The Trotskyists outside the Soviet Union must make those conditions by breaking the imperialist encirclement and bringing succour from metropolitan Europe to the Soviet proletariat. They will achieve this by building the Fourth International on a firm foundation of principles.

We feel confident that the re-publication of this document at a time when the Stalinist movement is in its deepest-ever crisis is bound to make a profound impression upon dissident Communists and young Marxists alike. We say this because none of the issues raised by the growing opposition within the Soviet Union can be answered adequately until the complete history of Stalinism, its betrayals, crimes and stupidities has been explained in a rational and scientific manner. This document is a vital part in this now-urgent task.

Despite some formally correct criticisms which the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party raised against Moscow in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they have failed utterly to face up to the question: How and why did Stalinism arise and how can the Soviet Union be regenerated? Because of this refusal to face up to their own past, today sees the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party entering into the most open and counterrevolutionary alliances with the imperialists, above all with the discredited and crisis-torn Nixon administration.

Understandably, the present leaders of the Soviet Communist Party, like their predecessor Khrushchev, have absolutely no explanation for the events described and analysed in this document. They continue to evade any answers with the subterfuge of the “evil genius” and the “cult of the individual” a thesis which explains nothing except their own political bankruptcy.

It is clear however that such “explanations” are increasingly unsatisfactory for a new generation of Soviet workers, students and intellectuals. The growing opposition within the USSR and its great courage in the face of vicious political, intellectual and physical persecution by the bureaucracy testifies not merely to the insoluble crisis of Stalinism, but to the ability of the working class, within the Soviet Union and internationally, to defeat Stalinism. What this growing opposition requires if it is to carry through this task successfully is not merely support from the international working class; more than anything it needs arming theoretically and politically. It is in the lessons of the fight of Trotsky and the Left Opposition and later of the Fourth International alone that today’s opposition can find its weapons, and overcome many of its undoubted weaknesses.

The Programme published here was first produced in the midst of a series of important and decisive defeats for the international working class. Today, the situation is transformed. The deepest-ever capitalist crisis is bringing the working class of the entire world – in the big capitalist countries as much as in the colonial and semi-colonial countries – into revolutionary struggles.

The period since 1927 has also brought vast changes within the Soviet Union. The productive forces, based upon the planned economy established by the October revolution, have bounded forward, in spite of the losses suffered through bureaucratic mismanagement. The Soviet working class has been profoundly affected by these changes. Numerically and culturally it dwarfs its predecessor of the 1920s. All the ingredients for a massive revolutionary explosion against the bureaucracy are being assembled.


1. See The New Course.

2. See The Draft Program of the Communist International. A Criticism of Fundamentals.

3. See also The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.

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