Origins of Trotskyism

"The development of the International Left Opposition is proceeding amidst sharp crises that cast the fainthearted and the short-sighted into pessimism. In reality these crises are completely unavoidable. One has only to read the correspondence of Marx and Engels attentively, or to preoccupy oneself seriously with the history of the development of the Bolshevik Party to realise how complicated, how difficult, how full of contradictions the process of developing revolutionary cadres is."

"If the first chapter of the Russian Revolution (1917-23) gave a mighty impulse to the revolutionary tendencies of the world proletariat, then the second chapter, after the year 1923, brought terrible confusion into the ranks of the revolutionary workers. When we review this period in its entirety, we are forced to say: only a frightful earthquake can bring such devastation in the field of material culture as the administrative conduct of the epigones has brought about in the field of the principles, ideas, and methods of Marxism.

"It is the task of the Opposition to re-establish the thread of historical continuity in Marxist theory and policies."

Leon Trotsky, 17th February 1931

The Russian Revolution of October 1917, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, was the greatest event in history. For the first time, apart from the episodic Paris Commune, the working class drove out the capitalists and landlords and took power into its own hands. Inspired by October, the hopes of millions internationally became directly linked to the Revolution, which was followed by a series of revolutionary events from 1917 to 1921. Revolution put power into the hands of the German workers in November 1918, but the Social Democratic leaders handed it back to the capitalists. Soviet Republics were formed in Bavaria and in Hungary, but were soon overthrown by counter-revolution. The whole of Europe was ablaze with revolution, but they suffered defeat as a result of betrayal and inadequate leadership, leading to the isolation of the Russian Revolution.

The programme of the Bolshevik Party was for world socialist revolution. The Russian Revolution was simply the opening shot of this international revolution. As Lenin explained, a new period of wars and revolutions had opened up for which the revolutionaries needed to prepare. Consequently, Lenin and Trotsky launched a new Communist International in March 1919. This was in direct response to the betrayals of the leaders of the Socialist International, who had supported their own ruling classes during the war, and turned the International into a “stinking corpse”, to use the words of Rosa Luxemburg.

The early years of the Communist International constituted a genuine revolutionary movement, whose authority was grounded in the Russian Revolution and the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. However the young forces attracted to the new International were politically immature. Although new mass Communist Parties were formed in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere, these parties proved too weak to take advantage of the post-war revolutionary wave. Their inexperience was a stumbling block and led to a number of serious mistakes. For example, in Germany, the Party engaged in the ultra-left and premature “March Action” in 1921, which led to a bloody defeat and the Party’s isolation. After this first rush, capitalism was able to stabilise itself, at least temporarily.

StalinRykovKamenevZinoviev Image public domainStalin, Rykov, Kamenev and Zinoviev / Image: public domain

Within two years, a revolutionary situation shook Germany in 1923, where the masses flooded out of their old organisations and looked to the Communists for leadership. Unfortunately, the German Communist leaders had been instructed by Stalin and Zinoviev to “go slow” and the opportunity to take power was tragically lost. “In my opinion the Germans must be curbed and not spurred on”, wrote Stalin. Trotsky warned against this dragging of feet and advocated that plans for an insurrection be immediately carried out, but his ideas were dismissed as fanciful. Unfortunately, Lenin at this time had been laid incapacitated by a series of deadly strokes.

At the Plenum of the Russian Central Committee in September 1923, some weeks before the German defeat, Trotsky urged the Party go on the offensive. According to the minutes:

“Comrade Trotsky, before leaving the session of the Central Committee, made a speech which greatly excited all the Central Committee members. He declared in his speech that the leadership of the German CP is allegedly permeated with fatalism and sleepy-headedness, etc. Comrade Trotsky declared further that under these conditions the German revolution is condemned to failure. This speech produced an astounding impression. Still the majority of the comrades were of the opinion that this philippic was called forth in an incident that occurred at the Plenum of the Central Committee which had nothing to do with the German revolution and that this statement was in contradiction to the objective state of affairs.”

The majority around the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin ignored Trotsky’s warnings. However, once the defeat was clear to all, they turned and made scapegoats of the leaders of the German Party and removed them from their positions, a decision condemned by Trotsky. The primary blame for the defeat lay with the false policies and advice given by Zinoviev and Stalin.

Fearing the spread of ‘Bolshevism’ in the West, American imperialism rushed to the aid of German capitalism with financial loans. They had learned their lesson from attempting to squeeze the defeated Germany at Versailles in 1919 and were not going to repeat that costly mistake.

The defeat of the German Revolution and the further isolation of the Russian Revolution had a dramatic effect. The backwardness of Russia, the horrors of World War, the destruction of the Civil War and the imperialist intervention and blockade all took their toll. Lenin had described the revolution as being trapped in a “beleaguered fortress”. Only the spread of the socialist revolution to the West could break this isolation and prevent its defeat. During the Civil War, a period of “War Communism” was introduced, based upon the immediate needs of military defence from imperialist intervention and the White armies. However, with the end of the Civil War, the policy changed with the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), a measure that attempted to restore the market and heal the sharp differences between town and country. But these concessions to capitalism, which were regarded as a “retreat”, produced a deeper class differentiation and the emergence of the rich speculators, Nepmen and Kulaks.

The dire backwardness and isolation of the revolution increased the power of the old bureaucracy, which began to creep back into positions within the state and even the Party. “Scratch the workers’ state at any point and beneath the fine veneer of socialism is the same old Tsarist state machine”, explained Lenin. The atrocious conditions of famine and scarcity had weakened the tiny working class and caused the organs of workers’ democracy – the soviets – to fall into disuse. A growing hierarchy of appointed officials and bureaucrats elbowed aside the working class and assumed greater influence and control. The Soviet regime had been hanging by a thread, exhausted and isolated. The Bolsheviks had no alternative but to hold out until revolution came to their rescue from the West. But in the meantime, the bureaucratic stranglehold grew stronger and stronger.

New methods were being introduced to serve new aims. The old revolutionaries were being absorbed into the state apparatus, and becoming increasingly detached from the masses. As the former Tsarist bureaucrats climbed back into the seat, a shift was taking place in the masses and a “re-groupment” was taking place in the state and Party. This was the material basis for the rise of Stalinism.

In 1924, following the death of Lenin and the defeat of the German Revolution, the bureaucracy sat more firmly in the saddle. Stalin came forward as the representative and figurehead of this privileged layer, which had raised itself above the masses. As Marx explained, where “art, science and government” remain the preserve of a minority, this minority uses and abuses its position for its own interests. Marx and Lenin understood that the only way to combat bureaucracy was the participation of the masses in the running of government, industry and society generally. But the backwardness and objective difficulties facing the working class, who were working 10, 11 and 12 hours a day and more, rendered this impossible.

What is to be done 3 Image public domainLenin was alarmed by, and tried to resist, the rise of the bureaucracy around Stalin, but his final illness consumed him too soon / Image: public domain

Alarmed by this rise of the bureaucracy, Lenin launched his last struggle in alliance with Trotsky to fight against this bureaucratic menace, consuming the entire final stage of his political life. This struggle took place at the end of 1922 and in the first two months of 1923, and was marked by Lenin’s personal break with Stalin. Lenin had suffered a stroke on 14 December, 1922, that left him partially paralysed. On the next day, he began to dictate his testament. Lenin was shocked when he found out about the treatment of the leading Georgian Bolsheviks by the bureaucrat Stalin and his ally Ordjonikidze. As a consequence, Lenin prepared a “bombshell” – declaring that Stalin must be removed as General Secretary of the Party. But before this could be carried out, Lenin was laid low by another stroke. Speechless, Lenin remained paralysed on his deathbed, unable to intervene.

Lenin wrote in his testament that Trotsky was the “most able man on the Central Committee”. To prevent Trotsky from assuming the leadership of the Party, Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, the “old Bolsheviks”, created a triumvirate. To discredit Trotsky, they dug up all the old disagreements, especially between Lenin and Trotsky, long resolved by history, and threw them into the face of the members. This was initially done behind the scenes, as Trotsky’s political and moral authority, as leader with Lenin of the revolution, was still very high. In contrast, Stalin was a nonentity; while the “strike-breaking” role of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917, where they had publicly opposed the insurrection, was too fresh in peoples’ minds.

The secret “Politburo”, composed of the Politburo members, but excluding Trotsky, met separately to organise the struggle against him. It had nothing to do with principles, but was an unscrupulous and unprincipled bloc. Through the widespread method of selective appointments, all of which were in Stalin’s hands, this secret faction managed to gain control of the apparatus at the national and local level.

The Thermidorean reaction in the country was taking its toll. The revolution was in retreat. The masses were exhausted. The bureaucracy was flexing its muscles. Intrigues at the top of the Party multiplied. “The epigones were widening the circle of their conspiracy”, explained Trotsky. “At first they proceeded cautiously and insinuatingly, adding to their praise ever-larger doses of poison. Even Zinoviev, the most impatient of them, surrounded his slander with reservations.” Nevertheless, the struggle against “Trotskyism” intensified.

“The members of the Party who raised their voices in protest against this conspiracy became the victims of treacherous attacks, made for reasons entirely remote and frequently invented,” states Trotsky. “On the other hand, the morally unstable elements, who were being mercilessly driven out of the Party during the first five years, now spared themselves by a single hostile remark against Trotsky.”

Following Lenin’s death, tens of thousands of these careerists were allowed into the Party as part of the so-called Lenin Levy, which diluted the membership and increased the power of Stalin and the bureaucracy.

The founding of the Left Opposition

Trotsky’s Left Opposition, established in 1923, did not develop all at once, but in stages in reaction to the course pursued by the ruling faction. The first serious clash came in October of that year. The economic situation had deteriorated and widespread strikes had broken out in many areas. Workers in the engineering plants in Sormovo, Kharkov, the Donets Basin and elsewhere stopped work in protest at the non-payment of wages. This heightened discontent in the country also reflected itself inside the Bolshevik Party. But the response of the Central Committee under the control of the triumvirate was to stamp down hard on opposition currents, outside and inside the Party.

Confronted with this serious situation, Trotsky wrote to the Central Committee on 8 October, protesting at the gravity of the situation and the emergence of an “unhealthy regime within the Party”. He lambasted the wide-scale system of appointments and the undermining of Party democracy at all levels. “The bureaucratisation of the Party has reached unheard-of proportions”, he wrote in an attack on the Triumvirate.

Trotsky’s letter concluded:

“It is known to the members of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission that while fighting with all decisiveness and definiteness within the Central Committee against a false policy, I decisively declined to bring the struggle within the Central Committee to the judgment even of a very narrow circle of comrades, in particular those who in the event of a reasonably proper Party course ought to occupy prominent places in the Central Committee. I must state that my efforts of a year and a half have given no results. This threatens us with the danger that the Party may be taken unawares by a crisis of exceptional severity…

“In view of the situation created, I consider it not only my right, but my duty to make known the true state of affairs to every member of the Party whom I consider sufficiently prepared, matured and self-restrained, and consequently able to help the Party out of this blind alley without factional convulsions.”

This sharp statement subsequently placed Trotsky at the head of the growing Opposition.

On 15 October, 1923, 46 prominent Party members, many of them the most high-ranking Bolsheviks during the Civil War, issued a statement to the Politburo known as “The Platform of the 46” in support of Trotsky’s criticisms. “We explain it [the crisis] by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads.”

The Opposition demanded the restoration of workers’ democracy in order to fight against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Party and the state apparatus. The “Platform” also called for the legalisation of factions within the Party, which had been temporarily banned by the Tenth Congress.

“Many of us consciously accepted submission to such a regime [of no factions]. The turn of policy in the year 1921, and after that the illness of comrade Lenin, demanded in the opinion of some of us a dictatorship within the Party as a temporary measure. Other comrades from the very beginning adopted a sceptical or negative attitude towards it. However that may have been, by the time of the Twelfth Congress of the Party this regime had outlived itself. It had begun to display its reverse side. Links within the Party began to weaken. The Party began to die away.”

The temporary ban on factions, instead of serving as a weapon in the struggle against petty-bourgeois pressures, became a weapon in the hands of the Party bureaucracy against genuine criticism. It was not intended to be used in such a criminal fashion. While Lenin was alive, he acted as a check on such abuses. In fact, Lenin himself broke the ban with the formation of his bloc with Trotsky over the “Georgian case” and the defence of the monopoly of foreign trade. Had Lenin lived the temporary ban would have certainly been lifted.

The Platform’s immediate demand was for a special conference of the Central Committee and leaders of the Opposition to settle their differences. Among many others, it was signed by Preobrazhensky, Serebryakov, Antonov-Ovseenko, I. N. Smirnov, Pyatakov, Osinsky, Muralov and Sapronov. Rakovsky and Krestinsky, who were abroad in diplomatic posts, were also known to share Trotsky’s position.

left opposition 2 Image public domainThe Left Opposition was founded in 1923 / Image: public domain

But the reply of the Politburo accused Trotsky of “instigating a struggle against the Central Committee” and committing a number of errors that could “give rise to a real crisis in the Party and [create] a breach between the Party and the working class.” While none of Trotsky’s arguments were answered, they accused him of wanting to become “dictator of economic and military affairs.” The Politburo also attempted to slander him by misquoting Lenin’s past disagreements with Trotsky.

Trotsky was forced to reply in a second letter to the Politburo on 24 October, in particular taking up the distortions of his and Lenin’s views. Trotsky quoted Lenin to show that on the economic questions, Lenin’s views coincided with his own. The same went for their joint defence of the monopoly of foreign trade, where Lenin asked him for a common bloc. Trotsky then quotes Lenin’s attack on bureaucracy, especially his article “Better Fewer, but Better”, which gave a devastating evaluation of the People’s Commissariat of the Workers and Peasants Inspection, headed by Stalin. Lenin demanded that it be completely reorganised.

“What was the Politburo’s reaction however to Lenin’s proposal that the Workers and Peasants Inspection be reorganised?” asked Trotsky. “At the session of the Politburo that was quickly convened on my request, all those present – Stalin, Molotov, Kuibyshev, Rykov, Kalinin, and Bukharin – were not only against Lenin’s plan but were also against the publication of the article. The objections of the members of the Secretariat were particularly sharp and categorical. In view of Lenin’s persistent demands that he be shown the article in print, Comrade Kuibyshev, future People’s Commissar of Rabkin [the Workers and Peasants Inspection], proposed at this session that the Politburo print one copy of a special issue of Pravda with Lenin’s article in it to pacify him, while at the same time concealing the article from the Party as a whole.” (Trotsky, The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1923-25, p.62)

Instead of implementing Lenin’s plan, it was rendered “harmless” by conscious deceit.

Neither Trotsky’s letters nor the “Platform of the 46” were published nor shown to the Party. Instead, the Politburo opened up a one-sided campaign against the Left Opposition. Trotsky replied with a series of articles written for Pravda during December 1923, which were published as a pamphlet entitled “The New Course”. This document marked a new stage in the development of the Opposition.

In “The New Course”, Trotsky warns of the dangers of degeneration of the “Old Guard”: “Does bureaucratism bear within it a danger of degeneration, or doesn’t it? He would be blind who denied this. In its prolonged development, bureaucratisation threatens to detach the leaders from the masses, to bring them to concentrate their attention solely upon questions of administration, of appointments and transfers, of narrowing their horizon, of weakening their revolutionary spirit, that is, of provoking a more or less opportunistic degeneration of the Old Guard, or at the very least of a considerable part of it. Such processes develop slowly and almost imperceptibly, but reveal themselves abruptly.” He went on to warn: “But if the old course should seek to maintain itself at all costs by tightening the reins, by increasingly artificial selection, by intimidation, in a word, by procedures indicating a distrust of the Party, the actual danger of degeneration of a considerable part of the cadres would inevitably increase.”

He took up the false argument levelled against him of “underestimating the peasantry” by explaining he was the first to propose a New Economic Policy, which gave concessions to the peasants, but was rejected by the Central Committee. The only way the working class could satisfy the needs of the peasants for cheap manufactured products was to lay the foundation in the form of large-scale industry. This could only work with the introduction of a long-term plan over five year periods. Again, this was vehemently opposed by Stalin and the triumvirate, who rejected it with ridicule, abuse and misrepresentation. Later, Stalin borrowed wholesale from this “utopian” idea when he introduced the first Five Year Plans.

Nevertheless, despite all the attacks and slanders by the triumvirate, the views of the Opposition gained support. Significantly, there was a majority in the units of the Red Army, as well as in the Young Communist League, who voted in favour of the Opposition. In Moscow, a majority also came out for the Opposition. But the apparatus, under the control of Stalin, ensured that the votes at the Thirteenth conference would be rigged and the triumvirate was guaranteed complete victory.

The leaders of the Opposition were hoping for Lenin’s recovery, which would have transformed the struggle. But Lenin’s death on 21 January 1924 served to free all restraints from the triumvirate. The campaign against “Trotskyism” reached new heights. Stalin had attacked Trotsky personally at the Thirteenth Party conference in May. Lenin’s Testament had been suppressed and regarded by the Politburo as a subversive document. Stalin increasingly became the open mouthpiece of the bureaucratic reaction that was raising its head against the October Revolution. The bureaucrats wanted peace and quiet to get on with running their affairs, not world revolution. Lenin’s death constituted a turning point for them. It was no accident that at this time, Stalin came forward with the notorious theory of “Socialism in One Country”, which reflected the outlook of the bureaucracy.

The internationalists under Trotsky’s leadership fought back against this anti-Marxist theory. The whole history of Bolshevism had opposed the idea of a “national socialism”, especially in backward Russia. Marx and Engels had long ago attacked this idea. Marxism stood for proletarian internationalism, which arose from the development of world capitalism. Lenin explained many times that without world revolution, an isolated revolution would be doomed to fail. Even Stalin as late as the spring of 1924, rejected socialism in one country. Only in the second edition of his “Problems of Leninism” published later in 1924, did he write: “After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society…” (Stalin, Collected Works, vol.6, p.110)  

Marxism explains that ideas, when they secure mass support, represent definite material interests, groupings, castes or classes in society. This theory of “Socialism in One Country” represented the outlook of the bureaucrats and careerists who wanted to put a brake on the revolution. They had begun to transform themselves into a ruling caste. The adoption of “Socialism in One Country” changed the Communist International from an instrument of international revolution into a border-guard for the defence of the Soviet Union and the Moscow bureaucracy.

Trotsky predicted that the adoption of the pernicious theory, which was written into the main programme of the Communist International in 1928, would inevitably lead to the nationalist and reformist degeneration of the Communist International. This prediction proved astonishingly correct and the International was formally disbanded by Stalin in 1943 as a gesture to the Allies.

Trotsky also undertook a defence of his celebrated theory of Permanent Revolution, as a complete rebuttal to “Socialism in One Country”.

“The expression ‘permanent revolution’ is an expression of Marx which he applied to the revolution of 1848”, wrote Trotsky.

“In Marxian, naturally not in revisionist but in revolutionary Marxian literature, this term has always had citizenship rights. Franz Mehring employed it for the revolution of 1905-1907. The permanent revolution, in an exact translation, is the continuous revolution, the uninterrupted revolution… Thus, the idea of the permanent revolution coincides entirely with the fundamental strategical line of Bolshevism. It is understandable if this was not seen eighteen or fifteen years ago. But it is impossible not to understand and to recognize it now that the general formulae have been verified by full-blooded historical context.

“One cannot discover in my writings of that time the slightest attempt to leap over the peasantry. The theory of the permanent revolution led directly to Leninism and in particular to the April, 1917, Theses.

“These theses, however, predetermining the policy of our Party in and throughout October, provoked panic, as is known, among a very large part of those who now speak only in holy horror of the theory of the ‘permanent revolution’.”

1924 was a turning point in different ways. It was at this time that the Comintern was being “Bolshevised” by Zinoviev. This meant that Moscow directly intervened in the internal affairs of Communist Parties, not to assist but to guarantee compliance. Oppositionists were removed from Party positions, including the leadership, and loyal stooges and yes-men put in their place. This reduced them simply to servile organisations subject to the dictates of Moscow. This rotten practice became the basis for the destruction of the Communist International, begun by Zinoviev, but completed by Stalin.

1924 witnessed another turning point in the struggle of the Opposition. It was at this time that Trotsky published a preface for volume three of his writings and speeches devoted to 1917. This preface was entitled the “Lessons of October”, a brief but brilliant analysis of the Russian Revolution and its lessons. Trotsky pointed to two internal crises in the Party in 1917: one in April when Lenin fought against the Old Bolsheviks to rearm the Party for the coming revolution, and again in October when Zinoviev and Kamenev wavered and came out against the insurrection. At each crucial stage, Lenin had met the opposition of the “Old Bolsheviks”. He went on to analyse parallels with the German revolution, especially the behaviour of a right-wing tendency within the Party. Whereas in Russia, Lenin and Trotsky overcame the right-wing tendency of Zinoviev and Kamenev, this was not the case in Germany. In the German Revolution, there was no Lenin or Trotsky and the right wing tendency in the leadership was dominant, who succeeded in shipwrecking the revolution. The German October confirmed negatively what the Russian October had confirmed positively, namely the importance of far-sighted leadership.

The publication of “Lessons of October” proved to be a bombshell. The triumvirate was aghast. They immediately went on the offensive with a series of articles attacking Trotsky. Isolated quotes, ripped out of context, were splashed across the newspapers to distort Trotsky’s past and present. The violence of the attacks against him was without precedent. In 1925, the British Communist Party published a book containing Trotsky’s “Lessons of October”, together with a stream of articles attacking him by Zinoviev, Stalin, Kamenev and Krupskaya. The title of the book was The Errors of Trotskyism.

In the introduction, J. T. Murphy [as a Central Committee member of the British Communist Party, he was the first to propose Trotsky’s expulsion. Ironically he became a victim of Stalin’s purges when in 1932 the party’s leadership used the false accusation of ‘Trotskyism’ to expel him from the party, after he came into conflict with them] was forced to praise Trotsky, before criticising him: “It is undoubtedly true that it came as a great surprise to the British working class when they saw the Communist International in the throes of a great controversy with Comrade Trotsky. Comrade Trotsky’s name had always been associated in our minds with Comrade Lenin. ‘Lenin and Trotsky!’ These were the names with which we conjured in all our thoughts and feelings about the Russian Revolution and the Communist International.”

Even Krupskaya’s efforts to criticise Trotsky are tempered with a touch of irony: “I do not know whether Comrade Trotsky has actually committed all the deadly sins of which he is accused – the exaggerations of controversy are inevitable.”

Interestingly, the book republishes Trotsky’s letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Party of 15 January, 1925, where he refutes all the accusations against him, which we re-publish here:

Trotsky’s letter to the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party

Dear comrades,

The first item on the agenda of the forthcoming Plenum of the Central Committee is the question of the resolutions from local organisations on Trotsky’s ‘conduct’. Owing to my state of health, I will not be able to take part in the work of the Plenum, but I think I can contribute towards the elucidation of this question, by making the following remarks:

1. I considered and consider now that I could, in the discussion, bring forward a sufficient number of weighty objections on principle and in fact against the charge brought against me, that I am aiming to ‘revise Leninism’ or ‘minimise’ the role of Lenin. I refrained, however, from doing so, not only because of the state of my health, but also because in the atmosphere of the present discussion, every statement I make on this question, irrespective of its content, character and tone, would but serve as an impetus to intensify the controversy, to turn in from a one-sided to a two-sided controversy, and give it a more acute character.

Even now, weighing up the whole progress of the discussion, and in spite of the fact that throughout it, many untrue and even monstrous charges have been brought forward against me, I think that my silence was correct from the standpoint of the general interests of the Party.

2. However, under no circumstances can I admit the charge that I am advocating a special policy (‘Trotskyism’) and that I am striving to revise Leninism. The conviction that is ascribed to me, to the effect that, not I came to Bolshevism, but Bolshevism came to me, is simply monstrous. In my introduction to ‘Lessons of October’, I frankly stated (p. 62), that Bolshevism prepared for its role in the revolution by its irreconcilable struggle, not only against the Narodniks and Mensheviks, but against the ‘reconcilers’, i.e., to the tendency to which I belonged. Never at any time during the past eight years has it entered my head to regard any question from the point of view of ‘Trotskyism’ which I have considered and consider now to have been politically liquidated long ago. Quite apart from whether I was right or wrong concerning any other questions that came before our Party, I always endeavoured to solve them in accordance with the general theoretical and practical experience of our Party. Throughout all this time, no one ever told me that any of my thoughts or proposals indicated a special tendency, i.e., ‘Trotskyism’. Quite unexpectedly for me this expression came out during the course of the discussion of my book on 1917.

3. The question of the estimation of the peasantry in this connection is of the greatest political importance. I absolutely deny that the formula ‘permanent revolution’, which applies wholly to the past, in any way caused me to adopt a careless attitude towards the peasantry in the conditions of the Soviet Revolution. If at any time after October, I had occasion for private reasons to revert to the formula, ‘permanent revolution’, it was only a reference to Party history, i.e., to the past, and had no reference to the question of present-day political tasks. To my mind, the attempt to construct an irreconcilable contradiction in this matter is not justified either by the eight years’ experience of the revolution, through which we have gone together, or by the tasks of the future.

Equally I refute the statements and reference to my alleged ‘pessimistic’ attitude towards the progress of our work of socialist construction in the face of the retarded process of the revolution in the West. In spite of all the difficulties arising out of our capitalistic environment, the economic and political resources of the Soviet dictatorship are very great. I have repeatedly developed and argued this idea on the instructions of the Party, particularly at international congresses, and I consider that this idea preserves all its force for the present period of historical development.

4. I have not spoken once on the controversial questions settled once by the Thirteenth Congress of the Party, either on the Central Committee or on the Council of Labour and Defence, and I certainly have not, outside of leading Party and Soviet institutions, ever made any proposal that would directly or indirectly raise questions that have already been decided. After the Thirteenth Congress, new problems arose, or to speak more clearly defined themselves of an economic, Soviet and international character. The solution of these problems represented an exceptional difficulty. The attempt to put forward any kind of ‘platform’ as against the work of the Central Committee in solving these questions, was absolutely alien to my thoughts, for the comrades who were present at the meetings of the Politburo, the Plenum of the Central Committee, of the Council of Labour and Defence or of the Revolutionary Council of the USSR., this assertion requires no proof. The controversial questions settled at the Thirteenth Congress were again raised in the course of the last discussion, not only in no connection with my work, but as far as I can judge at the moment, with no connection with the practical questions of Party policy.

5. Insofar as my introduction to my book, 1917 has served as the formal ground for the recent discussion, I consider it necessary first of all to repudiate the charge that I published my book, as it were, behind the back of the Central Committee. As a matter of fact, my book was published (while I was undergoing treatment in the Caucasus) on exactly the same terms and conditions that all other books, mine or of other members of the Central Committee, or of members of the Party generally are published. Of course, it is the business of the Central Committee to establish some form of control over Party publications, but I have in no way and not in the slightest degree violated the forms of control which have been established up till now, and, of course, I had no reason to violate them.

6. The introduction of ‘Lessons of October’ represents a further development of the ideas which I have frequently expressed the past and particularly during the past year. Here I enumerate only the following lectures and articles: ‘On the Road to European Revolution’ (Tiflis, April 11, 1924), ‘Prospects and Problems in the East’ (April 21), ‘The First of May in the West and in the East’ (April 29), ‘A New Turning Point’ (introduction to ‘Five Years of the Comintern’), ‘Through What Stage are we Passing?’ (June 21), Fundamental Questions of Civil War.’

All the lectures enumerated above were prompted by the defeat of the German revolution in the autumn of 1923, and were printed in Pravda, Isvestia and other publications. Not a single member of the Central Committee, nor indeed of the Politiburo ever pointed out to me anything wrong in these lectures, nor did the editor of Pravda make any comment on these lectures or make any attempt to point out to me anything which he did not agree in them.

Of course, I never regarded my analysis of October in connection with the German events as a ‘platform’ and never believed that anybody would regard it as a ‘platform’, which it never was and never could be.

7. In view of the fact that in the charges brought against me, are several of my books including several of which have been published in several editions, I consider it necessary to state that, not only did not the Politburo as a whole, nor any single member of the Central Committee ever indicate that any of my articles or books could be interpreted as ‘revision’ of Leninism. Particularly does this apply to my 1905 which was published during the lifetime of Comrade Lenin, went through several editions, was warmly recommended by the Party press, was translated by the Comintern into foreign languages, and is now being used as the principle evidence in the charge of revising Leninism.

8. The purpose I pursue in putting forward these views, as I stated in the beginning of this letter, is but one, viz., to assist the Plenum to settle the question standing as the first item on the agenda.

With regard to the statement which has been repeated in the discussion to the effect that I am aiming to secure ‘a social position’ in the Party, that I do not submit to discipline, that I refuse to perform work given to me by the Central Committee, etc., etc., I categorically declare, without going into an investigation of the value of these statements, that I am ready to perform any work entrusted to me by the Central Committee in any post, without any post and, of course, under any form of Party control.

There is no necessity, therefore, particularly to point out that after the recent discussion, the interests of our cause demands my speedy release from the duties of the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council.

In conclusion, I think it necessary to add that I will not leave Moscow prior to the Plenum, so that if necessary it will be possible for me to reply to any questions or give any explanation that may be required.

(Signed) L. Trotsky

January, 15, 1925

The book also contains the resolution from the Russian Central Committee, which, despite two votes against, condemns Trotsky for his attempts to revise Leninism with Trotskyism. It resolves:

“Most categorically to warn Comrade Trotsky that membership of a Bolshevik Party demands real and not mere verbal subordination to Party discipline and complete and unreserved abandonment of opposition to Leninism in any form.”

They resolved to remove him from the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council and resolved to explain to “all the ranks of the Party the anti-Bolshevik character of Trotskyism – from 1903 to ‘Lessons of October’.” In addition, the non-Party masses had to be educated about “the deviations of Trotskyism”.

Trotsky’s removal as the Commissar for War also meant his exclusion from the government. Apparently, Zinoviev and Kamenev wanted to go much further and expel him from the Party, but Stalin urged caution at this point, fearing a backlash.

“Enrich Yourselves!”

By 1925, the continuation of the New Economic Policy was having grave consequences. The grip of the kulaks and Nepmen speculators on the economy had grown to alarming proportions. The pressures of these alien class forces were increasingly being reflected in the Party leadership, where Bukharin and Stalin favoured the continuation of the policy of further concessions to the market. Bukharin expressly talked of a long period of pro-kulak growth, summed up with his words: “We must advance by very small, very small steps, dragging our great peasant cart behind us.” He ended up by advocating: “to the peasants, we say: ‘Enrich yourselves!’”

stalin rykov zinoviev bukharin Image public domainStalin and Bukharin favoured the continuation of the NEP, which was giving rise to alien class forces like the money-grubbing NEPmen / Image: public domain

This sharp shift to the right in the Party leadership provoked swift reaction from the proletariat of Leningrad, from where the sharpest criticisms of Bukharin’s policy arose. This in turn introduced splits at the top, pushing Zinoviev, whose base was in Leningrad, into opposition. Kamenev, Zinoviev’s ally, was also pushed into opposition to Stalin and Bukharin. In September, Zinoviev published a large collection of articles entitled Leninism. Several hundred pages were routinely devoted to the crimes of “Trotskyism”, but they were accompanied with articles opposing the drive towards the kulaks and against the theory of “Socialism in One Country”.

With the collapse of the triumvirate, Stalin, in alliance with Bukharin and Rykov, acted quickly to strengthen his new base of support. Firstly, he eliminated the opposition in Moscow, Kamenev’s traditional base. Using his position as General Secretary, Stalin replaced officials and functionaries, depending on their loyalties, in the Party and state. Using these methods, Stalin purged the Leningrad district of oppositionists and once again rigged the Congress, this time against Zinoviev and Kamenev. Despite opposition from Krupskaya, who warned that Lenin was being converted into a harmless icon, the Congress came out firmly for the new line. Stalin’s position was adopted by 559 votes to 65. Zinoviev then lost his position as President of the Leningrad Soviet, and was replaced by the faithful Stalinist, Kirov.

Britain and China

Following the earlier defeats in Bulgaria and in Germany, the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Bukharin and Stalin had refused to recognise any ebb in the struggle. On the contrary, they proclaimed a sharpening of the class struggle towards civil war and “immanent revolutionary developments”. But when this scenario failed to materialise, burning their fingers, they jumped from ultra-leftism to opportunism. In Britain, this resulted in a turn from the Communists to the trade union ‘lefts’. Already at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern Zinoviev was hinting that the British Communist Party was not, after all, going to become a tremendous force in the immediate future. This outlook culminated in 1925 with the formation of the Anglo-Russian Committee, a formal agreement between the Russian trade union tops and their British counterparts, as a means of preventing war and imperialist intervention. This idea flowed well from the theory of “Socialism in One Country”. The courting of the British ‘left’ trade union leaders by the Russians allowed the ‘lefts’ to present themselves as “Friends of the Soviet Union”, a title that gave them a certain ‘revolutionary’ aura. Purcell, Hicks and Swales were feted as genuine friends and allies. The young British CP helped in this by building them up in their newspaper. This served to build up illusions in these ‘lefts’, which would later compromise the British Communists. The Opposition opposed these illusions and warned bluntly that the “more acute the international situation becomes the more the Anglo-Russian Committee will be transformed into a weapon of English and international imperialism.”

The first test of Stalin’s opportunist policy came with the British General Strike in May 1926. During this heroic strike, the ‘lefts’ on the TUC General Council capitulated to the right, who in turn capitulated to the Conservative government, leaving the miners isolated to fight on alone before being starved back to work. As a result of this open sell-out, the Opposition demanded that the Russians break with the betrayers of the general strike, but Stalin refused to ditch his new “friends”. This policy of trailing after the ‘lefts’ completely disorientated the British Communist Party, which had called for “All Power to the General Council!”, when the General Council itself was betraying the strike. After the betrayal, George Hardy, a leading Communist, admitted the confusion within the Party: “Although we knew of what treachery the Right Wing leaders were capable, we did not clearly understand the part played by the so-called ‘left’ in the union leadership. In the main they turned out to be windbags and capitulated to the Right Wing.” Such was the confusion spread by the Stalinist opportunist policy. The British TUC had insisted that the Anglo-Russian Committee declare “non-interference” in each other’s affairs. Eventually, it was not the Soviet trade unions that broke with the strike-breakers, but the TUC that publicly broke the “united front” with the Russian trade unions!

Explosive events were also maturing in the East, with the beginning of the Chinese Revolution. By 1925, the Communists were the biggest working-class party in China and victory lay within reach of the Chinese workers and peasants. Unfortunately, under the opportunist policies of Stalin, the powerful Chinese Communist Party, rather than guaranteeing the revolution’s success, became a barrier. By this time, the triumvirate had broken up and Stalin had allied with Bukharin. They both argued that the Chinese Revolution was not socialist, but bourgeois anti-imperialist in nature. The Communists must therefore subordinate themselves to a “bloc of four classes” and fight for the “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants”, the very slogan that Lenin rejected in April 1917. The bloc of four class was supposedly made up of the workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and big bourgeoisie, the embodiment of which was the bourgeois nationalist Guomindang, led by Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Jingwei. The Communists were ordered by Moscow to dissolve themselves into the Guomindang. From the beginning in 1923, Trotsky had been the only voice in the leadership opposed to the Communist Party joining the Guomindang.

To preserve this “bloc of four classes”, the Communist Party had to act as a brake on the workers and poor peasants. They had to check the peasant revolt, prevent strikes and refuse to organise soviets for fear of alienating their bourgeois ‘allies’.

The Opposition described this position as a Menshevik one, similar to the popular front in Russia in 1917. Trotsky called for the Chinese Communists to wage a struggle against imperialism, but this must be linked to a revolution led by the working class, as in Russia, with the support of the peasants. Above all, there could be no confidence in the national bourgeoisie, which would betray the movement. The Communists needed to act independently with its own class programme, including the formation of soviets.

Chiang Kai Shek and wife with Lieutenant General Stilwell Image public domainStalin embraced Chiang Kai Shek as "sympathising" with the Communist International, after which Shek drowned the Chinese Revolution in an ocean of blood / Image: public domain

The Stalinists attacked the Opposition’s views of class independence. Instead, the Russian Politburo decided, with Trotsky’s solitary vote against, to admit the Guomindang into the Communist International as a “sympathising” section and Chiang Kai-Shek as an honorary president! This was the very same Chiang-Kai-Shek who was to crush the revolution in cold blood.

Stalin’s policy led to a complete disaster. In March 1926, Chiang Kai-shek, the principal representative of the nationalist bourgeoisie, with his newly won prestige of the Communist International, staged a counter-revolutionary coup in Canton (Guangzhou), arresting leading Communists and trade unionists. The news of this right-wing coup was suppressed by Stalin, for fear it would be used against him by the Opposition. Within 12 months, Chiang prepared another bloody confrontation. But he delayed his action as he still needed the Communist Party to stiffen his forces in the war against the northern warlords. Once accomplished, and Shanghai had been taken, he had no need for them. He drowned the revolution in blood when he carried out a brutal massacre of thousands of Communists and workers in April 1927. The workers’ organisations were banned. So taken were they with their ‘friend’ that the French Communist Party, confusing counter-revolution with revolution, sent Chiang a telegram of congratulations on the formation of the “Shanghai Commune”!

To cover up his mistake, Stalin then broke with the ‘right’ (Chiang and the big bourgeoisie) and instead put his faith in the ‘left’ Guomindang leader Wang Jingwei, who set up a government in Wuhan. Stalin described this as the “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” and instructed two Communists to enter the government as Minister of Labour and Minister of Agriculture. Wang, following in Chiang’s footsteps, then proceeded to crush the movement and sent the Communist Minister for Agriculture into the countryside with armed troops to suppress the peasant insurrectionaries. This Menshevik policy guaranteed the bloody defeat of the Chinese Revolution.

While the predictions of the Opposition gained it support, it also reinforced Stalin’s determination to crush the Opposition.

The United Opposition

These events between 1924 and 1926 served to produce a new political realignment. The triumvirate split and Zinoviev and Kamenev were forced into an alliance with Trotsky, creating a new United Opposition. This was a major change and provided new opportunities for the Opposition forces. Clearly, there was distrust between the Oppositionists, given the bad blood of the preceding years. Zinoviev, after all, had invented “Trotskyism”. They had helped Stalin take control of the Party. But a greater enemy forced them to come together. In cementing the new Opposition, Zinoviev was prepared to recognise his mistakes openly at a session of the Central Committee. “I have committed many mistakes. I believe two of them were of the greatest importance. My first, that of 1917, you all know. I believe that the second was the more serious, because the mistake of 1917 was committed when Lenin was there, was corrected by him and by ourselves also within a few days… There can be no doubt: the fundamental nucleus of the 1923 Opposition was correct to warn us against the dangers of deviating from the proletarian line and against the threatening development of the apparatus regime… Yes, on the question of the bureaucratic oppression of the apparatus, Trotsky was correct against us.”

Of course, Trotsky was also forced to make some concessions to help solidify the United Opposition. While both Zinoviev and Kamenev would acknowledge that Trotsky was correct in 1923, and that they had fabricated “Trotskyism” for their own political ends, the new Opposition would not defend Trotsky’s theory of the “Permanent Revolution”. Trotsky reluctantly accepted this, believing Zinoviev and Kamenev represented “thousands of revolutionary workers in Leningrad”, despite the reservations he had towards them.

The United Opposition formally came into being in April 1926 and was very impressive in the leading personnel that it attracted to its ranks. Not only Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who could be genuinely considered Lenin’s first lieutenants, but it attracted ten of the 18 surviving members of the Central Committee of 1919, elected at the height of the Civil War, such as Preobrazhensky, Serebriakov, and Krestinsky. There was also Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow and close comrade, and Badayev, the former Bolshevik deputy in the Tsarist Duma. The Opposition attracted the best-known victors in the Civil War, such as Antonov-Ovseenko, Lashevich, Muralov, and the great Commissars I.N. Smirnov and Smilga. There were Radek, Rakovsky and Joffe.

Such was the impressive talent attracted to the Opposition that Kamenev let things go to his head when he told Trotsky: “It will be enough for you and Zinoviev to appear on the same platform for the party to recognise its real Central Committee.” But this was over-optimistic and Trotsky thought, on the contrary, the struggle would be long and hard. It would not be a quiet fight. The Opposition was swimming against the stream, given the defeats and setbacks over the past period, and it would take truly great events to bring the masses again to their feet. The masses were exhausted and would not be very receptive to appeals to “Permanent Revolution” at this stage. The recent tragic defeat of the Chinese Revolution once again bore down heavily. The task was to prepare for the future. This outlook marked a key difference between Trotsky and the Zinovievists, which was to manifest itself when the latter capitulated to Stalin.

Kamenev Image public domainKamenev thought it would be enough for Trotsky and Zinoviev to appear on the same platform "for the party to recognise its real Central Committee.” But this was over-optimistic, as Trotsky realised / Image: public domain

The Opposition had to organise in a clandestine manner in order to establish the network of a national organisation. The initial membership was between 4,000 and 8,000, based upon recruits from the older generation and the youth. Among them were neither opportunists nor careerists, but genuine fighters.

Their Opposition faction was soon uncovered when an agent provocateur betrayed an illegal meeting in the woods outside the city addressed by Lashevich, the Deputy Commissar for War and a member of the Central Committee. As a result of this disloyalty, Lashavich was removed from his post and barred from the CC, while Zinoviev was expelled from the Politburo. The July Central Committee meeting also passed a resolution accusing the Opposition of going over from “the legal defence of its viewpoint to a vast illegal organisation throughout the whole country, setting itself up against the Party and in this way preparing to split it.”

It soon became clear: the CC was preparing to ban the Opposition and prevent it from addressing the rank and file directly. The Opposition had to act quickly. Therefore it decided to use the opportunity of the forthcoming Fifteenth Conference to put forward its platform. While it made some headway in the Party cells, the apparatus began to systematically exclude and expel Oppositionists. Every attempt to get a hearing was blocked by the apparatus, with hooligan gangs organised to prevent Oppositionists from speaking. The gangs were called upon at the first whiff of Opposition activity. Zinoviev and Kamenev took fright at the growing repression. Trotsky, on the other hand, understood what they were up against. Zinoviev feared their expulsion from the Party. Trotsky was determined to fight for his ideas and the restoration of Party democracy, no matter what the consequences.

But Stalin could not allow a democratic discussion. He simply postponed the Party Congress until the end of 1927, which gave him sufficient time to ruthlessly purge and expel the Opposition.

At the Politburo in October 1926, tempers had flared and Trotsky denounced Stalin as “the gravedigger of the Revolution”. Stalin never forgave Trotsky for this. Shortly afterwards, at the Fifteenth Conference, the Opposition was met with howls of protest from the hand-picked delegates. “Accuse us, comrades, if you wish”, stated Kamenev to the Conference, “but we no longer live in the Middle Ages. We no longer live in the time of witch-hunts.” But he was wrong. Molotov declared that the Opposition was set “on the road to Kronstadt”, meaning the road of counter-revolution. This was a declaration of all-out war. Compromise was out of the question. Stalin demanded complete capitulation. As a result, the Opposition began to fracture. Some began to renounce their ideas and recanted. Krupskaya broke with the Opposition, providing a moral victory to Stalin. Trotsky and Kamenev were removed from the Politburo and the Conference called on the Executive Committee of the International to remove Zinoviev from his post as head of the Comintern.

With the pressure increasing, Zinoviev appealed to his supporters to do everything to remain in the Party. This was the red line. But this tactic of capitulation led to demoralisation and the eventual abandonment of the struggle. Trotsky and his supporters had no illusions on this score.

Trotsky sober-mindedly wrote about this period just before his death. “The Left Opposition could not take power and did not even hope to do so… A struggle for power, led by the Left Opposition, by a revolutionary Marxist organisation, can be conceived only in the conditions of a revolutionary uprising… At the beginning of the 1920s there was no upward revolutionary movement in Russia, quite the contrary; in such conditions to start a struggle for power was out of the question… The conditions of the Soviet reaction were infinitely more difficult for the Bolsheviks than Tsarist conditions had been.”

The essential thing was to hold on, to maintain the cadres and prepare for future developments. It was vital to maintain the international principles of Marxism. Sooner or later there would be a break in the situation. But the road would be a long one. Much depended on the international situation.

In 1935, Trotsky gave an interview, which touched on the experience of the Chinese Revolution:

“I remember some discussions in 1927 in Moscow after Chiang Kai-shek stilled the Chinese workers. We predicted this ten days before and Stalin opposed us with the argument that Borodin was vigilant, that Chiang Kai-shek would not have the possibility to betray us, etc. I believe that it was eight or ten days later that the tragedy occurred and our comrades expressed optimism because our analysis was so clear that everyone would see it and we would be sure to win the party. I answered that the strangulation of the Chinese revolution is a thousand times more important for the masses than our predictions. Our predictions can win some few intellectuals who take an interest in such things, but not the masses. The military victory of Chiang Kai-shek will inevitably provoke a depression and this is not conductive to the growth of a revolutionary faction.” (Trotsky, Against the Stream)

In September 1927, the United Opposition issued a programmatic document dealing with all the important questions of the day entitled “The Platform of the Opposition: The Party Crisis and How to Overcome It”.

The Platform exposed the opportunist line of the leadership and argued the Leninist position. It demanded a change of course away from concessions to the kulaks and for a planned industrialisation of the country. This was the only way things could be brought back from the brink and prevent the widening between agricultural and industrial prices, wholesale and retail prices, finally the “scissors” between domestic and world prices, which were a source of private gain. The five-year plan of development had been watered down, with miniscule growth of capital investment envisaged. “The tremendous advantages resulting from the nationalisation of the land, the means of production, and the banks, and from centralised management – that is, the advantages deriving from the socialist revolution – find almost no expression in the five year plan”, explained the document.

It demanded a timely increase in living standards, the restoration of workers democracy and the readmission of all those expelled for opposition views from the International. It demanded the end to all repression against the Opposition, including “the creation of gangs whose job is to break up all discussion of party problems by means of shouting, whistling, turning off lights, etc.”  It ended with the slogans: “Against opportunism! Against a split! For the unity of the Leninist party!”

The Platform was submitted to the Politburo by thirteen members of the Central Committee for the Fifteenth Congress of the Party. Trotsky states that 200 party members contributed to the Platform. Trotsky considered very weak the parts that Zinoviev wrote, especially on China, but was forced to accept them for the sake of unity. Trotsky related the deep political tensions at the time. “In 1926 and 1927”, relates Trotsky, “I had uninterrupted conflicts with the Zinovievists on this question. Two or three times, the matter stood at the breaking point.” (Writings 1930-31, p.87)

Despite these differences within the Opposition, the Platform was a very important document around which there could be a common struggle against the Stalinist regime. It was hoped that the Platform would be distributed to the membership as part of the pre-Congress discussion. However, the CC rejected the request out of hand and forbid the distribution of the Opposition document. The Opposition had no alternative but to circulate it clandestinely. An old Communist and printer, Fishelev, managed to print several thousand copies of the document. As a result, he was arrested and sent to a labour camp near the Arctic Circle for “misappropriating paper and equipment”. Others who circulated the Platform were threatened with expulsion, imprisonment and even exile.

As part of a frame-up, the GPU had raided an Opposition print shop, but then announced they had uncovered a “military conspiracy”, involving a counter-revolutionary Wrangel officer. This story was a forerunner of the slanders of the Moscow Trials of 10 years later.

At the CC meeting on 23 October, 1927, Stalin again raised the demand for the expulsion of Zinoviev and Trotsky. When Trotsky spoke, he was interrupted by continuous frenzied heckling, where books and glasses were thrown at him. “This faction cannot endure our presence in the Central Committee even one month before the Party Congress. We understand this”, stated Trotsky defiantly. “Ruthlessness and disloyalty go hand in hand with cowardice. You have hidden our Platform – or, rather, you have tried to hide it.” [Uproar.] He continued: “The rudeness and disloyalty of which Lenin wrote are no longer mere personal characteristics. They have become the character of the ruling faction, both of its political policy and the organisational regime.” [Voices cry: “Get down from the podium!” The chairman adjourns the meeting, but Trotsky continues his speech.] The Thermidorian regime could not tolerate opposition. As a result, Trotsky feared a mass purge would likely follow.

If they had any chance of being heard, the Opposition had to go deeper into the ranks. They were refused permission for meetings, but took the authorities by surprise to hold spontaneous gatherings. In one, the management turned off the electricity and Trotsky and Kamenev were forced to speak for two hours by candlelight to an audience of 2,000 people, while a large crowd gathered outside the packed hall. They went from factory to factory where they had supporters to hold meetings. Their ideas attracted wide sympathy but there was no mood for a fight. However, Stalin became very alarmed by these meetings and was more determined than ever to act against the Opposition.  

The Opposition decided to take part in the demonstration celebrating the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution under their own slogans. Their comrades carried banners “Strike Against the kulak, the Nepmen, and the Bureaucrat!” “Against opportunism, Against a split – For the unity of Lenin’s Party!” However, Stalin and Bukharin showed no mercy. They sent the secret police to ruthlessly suppress the Opposition demonstrators, attacking them physically, and alleging an attempted counter-revolutionary “insurrection”.

Within a week, a special meeting of the Central Committee took place to expel Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Russian Communist Party for inciting counter-revolutionary demonstrations. Rakovsky, Kamevev, Audeev, Smilga, Yevdokimov were also expelled, while six other Oppositionists were expelled from the Control Commission. Hundreds more were then expelled, all of which prevented the Opposition speaking at the Fifteenth Congress. Trotsky and other Oppositionists were systematically evicted from the Kremlin. That night, in protest, Adolf Joffe, a leading Soviet diplomat and Oppositionist, and close friend of Trotsky, committed suicide. The funeral was Trotsky’s last public appearance in Moscow.

By the time of the Fifteenth Congress in early December, Stalin demanded that the Opposition “renounce its anti-Bolshevik views” or be expelled from the Party. The Congress formally made membership of the Opposition incompatible with Party membership. Immediately after the Congress, hundreds of Oppositionists were expelled and forced from their jobs. This broke the will of the Zinovievists, who collapsed and begged for readmission to the Party. The Opposition was completely fractured. But Trotsky refused to recant and opposed any capitulation to Stalin.

The Fifteen Congress, rather than inaugurating a further turn to the right, took a shift to the left, at least on paper. The background to this turn was the serious shortages of grain needed to feed the cities. This crisis was a consequence of the Bukharin policy of encouraging the rich kulaks, who had demanded sharp increases in prices and refused to sell their grain at fixed state prices. The Politburo imposed the requisitioning of grain to quell the growing discontent in the cities. This abrupt change of policy, which was the adoption of part of the policy of the Left Opposition, had major consequences. It undermined Bukharin and the right-wing on the one hand, and caused disorientation and confusion among supporters the Left Opposition, still badly affected by expulsions and deportations.

Despite their capitulation, neither Zinoviev nor Kamenev was allowed back into the Party. They first had to grovel unconditionally and then later accept third-rate posts before being readmitted. This act served to destroy them morally and politically.

In January 1928, Trotsky was charged under article 58 of the Soviet Constitution with counter-revolutionary activities and forcibly taken into exile, firstly to Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan, in Soviet central Asia. Stalin thought that by deporting Trotsky he could isolate him from his supporters in the USSR. But Stalin had made a big mistake, which he subsequently realised. From that moment, he began to plan the assassination of Trotsky.

It was left to Trotsky to make a principled defence of Marxist Internationalism Image public domainStalin thought Trotsky's exile would silence him. He was mistaken / Image: public domain

The capitulation of Zinoviev and Kamenev freed Trotsky’s hands. It allowed him to clearly differentiate himself from them. It allowed the Opposition to freely criticise the mistakes of the triumvirate, when Zinoviev and Kamenev were in alliance with Stalin. Nevertheless, the Left Opposition was hit hard by a wave of capitulations from the leaders of the old 1923 Opposition: Pyatakov, Antonov-Ovseenko and Krestinsky. Others followed suit, such as Preobrazhensky and Radek. The expulsions, mass arrests and eventually Trotsky’s banishment were a massive blow. But despite all the persecutions and repressions, the basic cadre of Trotsky’s Left Opposition remained intact. This was a colossal achievement which retained the basic cadre of Bolshevism.

The “left turn” by Stalin in the USSR, was followed by a similar turn everywhere else. In February 1928, the Executive Committee of the Communist International agreed on a new “third period” of capitalist crisis, where the reformists were now called social-fascists, no different from fascists. In China, the defeats were brushed aside and all forces were now concentrated upon the formation of Chinese soviets. Although Bukharin was the official spokesperson at the Sixth Congress in the summer of 1928, his days were numbered as Stalin manoeuvred against him and his supporters, which constituted a Right Opposition. By 1930, the Right Opposition had also been crushed and Stalin became dictator.

Trotsky was soon banished to Turkey, where he immediately began work on establishing an international Opposition, based upon the programme of the Russian Left Opposition. Given his history, despite all the difficulties and persecution, he alone was suited in leading this enormous task. Within a few years, in 1930, the first international Conference of Bolshevik-Leninists took place, which was to officially give birth to the International Left Opposition, the forerunner of the International Marxist Tendency

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