Trotsky wrote a series of articles 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.
(From the article Origins of Trotskyism)
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1. The Question of the Party Generations
None of the resolutions adopted during the discussion in Moscow, the complaint is made that the question of party democracy has been complicated by discussions on the relationships between the generations, personal attacks, etc. This complaint attests to a certain mental confusion. Personal attacks and the mutual relationships between generations are two entirely different things. To pose now the question of party democracy without analyzing the membership of the party, from the social point of view as well as from the point of view of age and political standing, would be to dissolve it into a void. It is not by accident that the question of party democracy rose up first of all as a question of relationships between the generations. It is the logical result of the whole evolution of our party. Its history may be divided schematically into four periods:
- quarter of a century of preparation up to October, the only one in history;
- the period following October; and
- the new course, that is, the period we are now entering.
Despite its richness, its complexity and the diversity of the stages through which it passed, the period prior to October, it is now realised, was only a preparatory period. October made it possible to check up on the ideology and the organisation of the party and its membership. By October, we understand the acutest period of the struggle for power, which can be said to have started approximately with Lenin’s April Theses  and ended with the actual seizure of the state apparatus. Even though it lasted only a few months, it is no less important in content than the whole period of preparation which is measured in years and decades. October not only gave us an unfailing verification, unique in its kind, of the party’s great past, but it itself became a source of experience for the future. It was through October that the pre October party was able for the first time to assess itself at its true worth.
The conquest of power was followed by a rapid, even abnormal, growth of the party. A powerful magnet, the party attracted not only workers with little consciousness, but even certain elements plainly alien to its spirit: functionaries, careerists and political hangers on. In this chaotic period, it was able to preserve its Bolshevist nature only thanks to the internal dictatorship of the Old Guard, which had been tested in October. In the more or less important questions, the leadership of the older generation was then accepted almost unchallenged by the new members, not only by the proletarian ranks but by the alien elements. The climbers considered this docility the best way of establishing their own situation in the party. But they miscalculated. By a rigorous purging of its own ranks, the party rid itself of them. Its membership diminished, but its consciousness was enhanced. It may be said that this checkup on itself, this purge, made the post-October party feel itself for the first time a half million headed collectivity whose task was not simply to be led by the Old Guard but to examine and decide for itself the essential questions of policy. In this sense, the purge and the critical period linked with it are the preparation, as it were, of the profound change now manifesting itself in the life of the party and which will probably go down in its history under the name of “the new course.”
There is one thing that ought to be clearly understood from the start: the essence of the present disagreements and difficulties does not lie in the fact that the “secretaries” have overreached themselves on certain points and must be called back to order, but in the fact that the party as a whole is about to move on to a higher historical stage. The bulk of the communists are saying in effect to the leaders: “You, comrades, have the experience of before October, which most of us are lacking; but under your leadership we have acquired after October a great experience which is constantly growing in significance. And we not only want to be led by you but to participate with you in the leadership of the class. We want it not only because that is our right as party members but also because it is absolutely necessary to the working class as a whole. Without our modest experience, experience which should not merely be taken note of in the leading spheres but which must be introduced into the life of the party by ourselves, the leading party apparatus is growing bureaucratic, and we, rank-and-file communists, do not feel ourselves sufficiently well armed ideologically when confronting the non party people.” The present change is, as I have said, the result of the whole precedent evolution. Invisible at first glance, molecular processes in the lift and the consciousness of the party have long been at work preparing it. The market crisis gave a strong impetus to critical thought. The approach of the events in Germany set the party a quiver. Precisely at this moment it appeared with particular sharpness that the party was living, as it were, on two storeys: the upper storey, where things are decided, and the lower storey, where all you do is learn of the decisions. Nevertheless, the critical revision of the internal régime of the party was postponed by the anxious expectation of what seemed to be the imminent showdown in Germany. When it turned out that this showdown was delayed by the force of things, the party put the question of the “new course" on the order of the day.
As often happens in history, it is precisely during these last months that the “old course” revealed the most negative and most insufferable traits: apparatus cliquism, bureaucratic smugness, and complete disdain for the mood, the thoughts and the needs of the party. Out of bureaucratic inertia, it rejected, from the very beginning, and with an antagonistic violence, the initial attempts to put on the order of the day the question of the critical revision of the internal party régime. This does not mean, to be sure, that the apparatus is composed exclusively of bureaucratised elements, or even less, of confirmed and incorrigible bureaucrats. Not at all! The present critical period, whose meaning they will assimilate, will teach a good deal to the majority of the apparatus workers and will get them to abandon most of their errors. The ideological and organic regrouping that will come out of the present crisis, will, in the long run, have healthful consequences for the rank and file of the communists as well as for the apparatus. But in the latter, as it appeared on the threshold of the present crisis, Bureaucratism has reached an excessive, truly alarming development. And that is what gives the present ideological regrouping so acute a character as to engender legitimate fears.
It will suffice to point out that, two or three months ago, the mere mention of the Bureaucratism of the apparatus, of the excessive authority of the committees and the secretaries, was greeted by the responsible representatives of the “old course,” in the central and local organisations, with a shrug of the shoulders or by indignant protestations. Appointment as a system? Pure imagination! Formalism, Bureaucratism? Inventions, opposition solely for
the pleasure of making opposition, etc. These comrades, in all sincerity, did not notice the bureaucratic danger they themselves represent. It is only under pressure from the ranks that they began, little by little, to recognise that there actually were manifestations of Bureaucratism, but only somewhere at the organisational periphery, in certain regions and districts, that these were only a deviation in practice from the straight line, etc. According to them, Bureaucratism was nothing but a survival of the war period, that is, a phenomenon in the process of disappearing, only not fast enough. Needless to say how false are this approach to things and this explanation. Bureaucratism is not a fortuitous feature of certain provincial organisations, but a general phenomenon. It does not travel from the district to the central organisation through the medium of the regional organisation, but much rather from the central organisation to the district through the medium of the regional organisation. It is not at all a “survival” of the war period; it is the result of the transference to the party of the methods and the administrative manners accumulated during these last years. However exaggerated were the forms it sometimes assumed, the Bureaucratism of the war period was only child’s play in comparison with present day Bureaucratism which grew up in peacetime, while the apparatus, in spite of the ideological growth of the party, continued obstinately to think and decide for the party.
Hence, the unanimously adopted resolution of the Central Committee on the structure of the party has, from the standpoint of principle, an immense importance which the party must be clearly aware of. It would indeed be unworthy to consider that the profound meaning of the decisions taken boils down to a mere demand for more “mildness,” more “solicitousness” toward the masses on the part of the secretaries and the committees, and to some technical modifications in the organisation. The resolution of the Central Committee speaks of a “new course, and not for nothing. The party is preparing to enter into a new phase of development. To be sure, it is not a Question of breaking the organisational principles of Bolshevism, as some are trying to have us believe, but to apply them to the conditions of the new stage in the development of the party. It is a question primarily of instituting healthier relations between the old cadres and the majority of the members who came to the party after October.
Theoretical preparation, revolutionary tempering, political experience, these represent the party’s basic political capital whose principal possessors, in the first place, are the old cadres of the party. On the other hand, the party is essentially a democratic organisation, that is, a collectivity which decides upon its road by the thought and the will of all its members. It is completely clear that in the complicated situation of the period immediately following October, the party made its way all the better for the fact that it utilised to the full the experience accumulated by the older generation, to whose representatives it entrusted the most important positions in the organisation.
On the other hand, the result of this state of things has been that, in playing the role of party leader and being absorbed by the Questions of administration, the old generation accustomed itself to think and to decide, as it still does, for the party. For the communist masses, it brings to the forefront purely bookish, pedagogical methods of participating in political life: elementary political training courses, examinations of the knowledge of its members, party schools, etc. Thence the bureaucratism of the apparatus, its cliquism, its exclusive internal life, in a word, all the traits that constitute the profoundly
negative side of the old course. The fact that the party lives on two separate storeys bears within it numerous dangers, which I spoke of in my letter on the old and the young. By “young,” I mean of course not simply the students, but the whole generation that came to the party after October, the factory cells in the first place. How did this increasingly marked uneasiness of the party manifest itself? In the majority of its members saying or feeling that: “Whether the apparatus thinks and decides well or badly, it continues to think and decide too often without us and for us. When we happen to display lack of understanding or doubts, to express an objection or a criticism, we are called to order, discipline is invoked; most often, we are accused of being obstructers or even of wanting to establish factions. We are devoted to the party to our very marrow and ready to make any sacrifice for it. But we want to participate actively and consciously in working out its views and in determining its course of action.” The first manifestations of this state of mind unmistakably passed by unperceived by the leading apparatus which took no account of it, and that was one of the main causes of the anti party groupings in the party. Their importance should certainly not be exaggerated, but neither should their meaning be minimised, for they ought to be a warning to us.
The chief danger of the old course, a result of general historical causes as well as of our own mistakes, is that the apparatus manifests a growing tendency to counterpose a few thousand comrades, who form the leading cadres, to the rest of the mass whom they look upon only as an object of action. If this régime should persist, it would threaten to provoke, in the long run, a degeneration of the party at both its poles, that is, among the party youth and among the leading cadres. As to the proletarian basis of the party, the factory cells, the students, etc., the character of the peril is clear. Not feeling that they are participating actively in the general work of the party and not getting a timely answer to their questions to the party, numerous communists start looking for a substitute for independent party activity in the form of groupings and factions of all sorts. It is in this sense precisely that we speak of the symptomatic importance of groupings like the “Workers’ Group.” 
But no less great is the danger, at the other pole, of the régime that has lasted too long and become synonymous in the party with bureaucratism. It would be ridiculous, and unworthy ostrich politics, not to understand, or not to want to see, that the accusation of bureaucratism formulated in the resolution of the Central Committee is directed precisely against the cadres of the party. It is not a question of isolated deviations in practice from the ideal line, but precisely of the general policy of the apparatus, of its bureaucratic tendency. Does bureaucratism bear within it a danger of degeneration, or doesn’t it? He would be blind who denied. 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. To see in this warning, based upon objective Marxian foresight, an “outrage,” an “assault,” etc., really requires the skittish susceptibility and arrogance of bureaucrats.
But, in actuality, is the danger of such a degeneration really great? The fact that the party has understood or felt this danger and has reacted to it energetically which is what was the specific cause of the resolution of the Central Committee bears witness to its profound vitality and by that very fact reveals the potent sources of antidote which it has at its disposal against bureaucratic poison. There lies the principal guarantee of its preservation as a revolutionary party. 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.
The party cannot live solely upon past reserves. It suffices that the past has prepared the present. But the present must be ideologically and practically up to the level of the past in order to prepare the future. The task of the present is to shift the centre of party activity toward the masses of the party.
But, it may be said, this shifting of the centre of gravity cannot be accomplished at one time, by a leap; the party cannot "put in the archives” the old generation and immediately start living a new life. It is scarcely worth while dwelling on such a stupidly demagogic argument. To want to put the old generation in the archives would be madness. What is needed is that precisely this old generation should change its orientation and, by virtue of that, guarantee in the future the preponderance of its influence upon all the independent activity of the party. It must consider the “new course” not as a manoeuvre, a diplomatic stroke, or a temporary concession, but as a new stage in the political development of the party. In this way, both the generation that leads the party and the party as a whole will reap the greatest benefit.
1. The April Theses was delivered by Lenin upon return to Petrograd on April 4, 1917. The April Theses was an attack on the Bolshevik leadership (Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin) for their conciliatory stand toward the capitalist government. The Theses reoriented the party for a working class seizure of power and against any attempts at compromise with the government.
2. The Workers Group was one of several dissident factions inside the Bolshevik Party that was opposed to the the leadership.
2. The Social Composition of the Party
The internal crisis of the party is obviously not confined to the relationships of the generations. Historically, in a broader sense, its solution is determined by the social composition of the party and, above all, by the specific weight of the factory cells, of the industrial proletarians, that it includes.
The first concern of the working class after the seizure of power was the creation of a state apparatus (including the army, the organs for the management of economy, etc.). But the participation of workers in the state, cooperative and other apparatuses implied a weakening of the factory cells and an excessive increase of functionaries in the party, proletarian in their origin or not. There is the contradiction of the situation. We can get out of it only by means of substantial economic progress, a strong impulsion to industrial life and a constant flow of manual workers into the party.
At what speed will this fundamental process take place, through what ebbs and flows will it pass? It is hard to predict that now. At the present stage of our economic development, everything must of course be done to draw into the party the greatest possible number of workers at the bench. But the membership of the party can be altered seriously (so that, for example, the factory cells make two thirds of its ranks) only very slowly and only under conditions of noteworthy economic advances. In any case, we must still look forward to a very long period during which the most experienced and most active members of the party (including, naturally, those of proletarian origin) will be occupied at different posts of the state, the trade union, the cooperative, and the party apparatuses. And this fact itself implies a danger, for it is one of the sources of bureaucratism.
The education of the youth necessarily occupies an exceptional place in the party, as it will continue to do. By building up in our workers’ schools, universities, institutions of higher learning, the new contingent of intellectuals, which includes a high proportion of communists, we are detaching the young proletarian elements from the factory, not only for the duration of their studies but in general for their whole life: the working youth that has gone through the higher schools will in all probability be assigned, all of them, to the industrial, the state or the party apparatus. This is the second factor in the destruction of the internal equilibrium of the party to the detriment of its fundamental cells, the factory nuclei.
The question of whether the communist is of proletarian, intellectual or other origin obviously has its importance. In the period immediately following the revolution, the question of the profession followed before October even seemed decisive, because the assignment of the workers to this or that Soviet function seemed to be a temporary measure. At the present time, a profound change has taken place in this respect. There is no doubt that the chairmen of the regional committees or the divisional commissars, whatever their social origin, represent a definite social type, regardless of their individual origin. During these six years, fairly stable social groupings have been formed in the Soviet régime.
So it is that at present and for a relatively fairly long period to come, a considerable part of the party, represented by the best trained communists, is absorbed by the different apparatuses of civil, military, economic, etc., management and administration; another part, equally important, is doing its studying; a third part is scattered through the countryside where it deals with agriculture; the fourth category alone (which now represents less than a sixth of the membership) is composed of proletarians working at the bench. It is quite clear that the development of the party apparatus and the bureaucratisation accompanying this development, are engendered not by the factory cells, linked together through the medium of the apparatus, but by all the other functions that the party exercises through the medium of the state apparatuses of administration, of economic management, of military command, of education. In other words, the source of bureaucratism resides in the growing concentration of the attention and the forces of the party upon the governmental institutions and apparatuses, and in the slowness of the development of industry. Because of these basic facts and tendencies, we should be fully aware of the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration of the old cadres. It would be vulgar fetishism to consider that just because they have followed the best revolutionary school in the world, they contain within themselves a sure guarantee against any and all dangers of ideological narrowing down and opportunistic degeneration. No! History is made by men, but men do not always make history consciously, not even their own. In the last analysis, the Question will be resolved by two great factors of international importance: the course of the revolution in Europe and the rapidity of our economic development. But to reject fatalistically all responsibility for these objective factors would be a mistake of the same stripe as to seek guarantees solely in a subjective radicalism inherited from the past. In the same revolutionary situation, and in the same international conditions, the party will resist the tendencies of disorganisation more or resist them less to the extent that it is more or less conscious of the dangers and that it combats these dangers with more or less vigour.
It is plain that the heterogeneity of the party’s social composition, far from weakening the negative sides of the old course, aggravates them in the extreme. There is not and cannot be any other means of triumphing over the corporatism, the caste spirit of the functionaries, than by the realisation of democracy By maintaining “calm,” party bureaucratism disunites all and everything and deals blows equally, even if differently, to the factory cells, the industrial workers, the army people and the student youth.
The latter, as we have seen, reacts in a particularly vigorous way against bureaucratism. Not for nothing did Lenin propose to draw largely upon the students in order to coin bat bureaucratism. By its social composition and its contacts, the student youth reflects all the social groups of our party as well as their state of mind. Its youthfulness and its sensitivity prompt it to give an active form immediately to this state of mind. As a studying youth, it endeavours to explain and to generalise. This is not to say that all its acts and moods reflect healthful tendencies. If this were the case, it would signify one of two things: either that all goes well in the party, or that the youth is no longer the mirror of the party. But neither is true. In principle, it is right to say that the factory cells, and not the institutions of learning, are our base. But by saying that the youth is our barometer, we give its political manifestations not an essential but a symptomatic value. A barometer does not create the weather; it is confined to recording it. In politics, the weather takes shape in the depth of the classes and in those spheres where they enter into contact with each other. The factory cells create a direct and immediate contact between the party and the class of the industrial proletariat, which is essential to us. The rural cells create a much feebler contact with the peasantry. It is mainly through the military cells, situated in special conditions, that we are linked with the peasants. As to the student youth, recruited from all the sections and strata of Soviet society, it reflects in its checkered composition all our merits and demerits, and it would be stupid not to accord the greatest attention to its moods. Besides, a considerable part of our new students are communists with, what is for youth, a fairly substantial revolutionary experience. And the more pugnacious of the “apparatus men” are making a great mistake in turning up their noses at the youth. The youth are our means of checking up on ourselves, our substitutes; the future belongs to them.
But let us return to the question of the heterogeneity of the groups in the party that are separated from each other by their functions in the state. The bureaucratism of the party, we have said and we now repeat, is not a survival of some preceding régime a survival in the process of disappearing; on the contrary, it is an essentially new phenomenon, flowing from the new tasks, the new functions, the new difficulties and the new mistakes of the party.
The proletariat realises it dictatorship through the Soviet state. The communist party is the leading party of the proletariat and, consequently, of its state. The whole question is to realise this leadership without merging into the bureaucratic apparatus of the state, in order not to expose itself to a bureaucratic degeneration. The communists find themselves variously grouped in the party and the state apparatus. In the latter, they are hierarchically dependent upon each other and stand in complex personal reciprocal relations to the non party mass. In the party, they are all equal in all that concerns the determination of the tasks and the fundamental working methods of the party. The communists working at the bench are part of the factory committees, administrate the enterprises, the trusts and the syndicates, are at the head of the Council of People’s Economy, etc. In the direction that it exercises over economy, the party takes and should take into account the experience, the observations, the opinions of all its members placed at the various rungs of the ladder of economic administration. The essential, incomparable advantage of our party consists in its being able, at every moment, to look at industry with the eyes of the communist machinist, the communist specialist, the communist director, and the communist merchant, collect the experiences of these mutually complementary workers, draw conclusions from them, and thus determine its line for directing economy in general and each enterprise in particular.
It is clear that such leadership is realisable only on the basis of a vibrant and active democracy inside the party. When, contrariwise, the methods of the “apparatus” prevail, the leadership of the party gives way to administration by its executive organs (committee, bureau, secretary, etc.). As this régime becomes consolidated, all affairs are concentrated in the hands of a small group, sometimes only of a secretary, who appoints, removes, gives the instructions, inflicts the penalties, etc.
With such a degeneration of the leadership, the principal superiority of the party, its multiple collective experience, retires to the background. Leadership takes on a purely organisational character and frequently degenerates into order giving and meddling. The party apparatus goes more and more into the details of the tasks of the Soviet apparatus, lives the life of its day to day cares, lets itself be influenced increasingly by it and fails to see the forest for the trees. If the party organisation as a collectivity is always richer in experience than no matter what organ of the state apparatus, the same cannot be said of the functionaries taken as individuals. Indeed, it would be naive to believe that as a result of his title, a secretary unites within himself all the knowledge and all the competence necessary to the leadership of his organisation. In reality, he creates for himself an auxiliary apparatus with bureaucratic sections, a bureaucratic machinery of information, and with this apparatus, which brings him close to the Soviet apparatus, he tears himself loose from the life of the party. And as a famous German expression puts it: “You think you are moving others, but in reality it is you who are moved.”
The whole daily bureaucratic practice of the Soviet state thus infiltrates the party apparatus and introduces bureaucratism into it. The party, as a collectivity, does not feel its leadership, because it does not realise it. Thence the discontentment or the lack of understanding, even in those cases where leadership is correctly exercised. But this leadership cannot maintain itself on the right line unless it avoids crumbling up in paltry details, and assumes a systematic, rational and collective character. So it is that bureaucratism not only destroys the internal cohesion of the party, but weakens the necessary exertion of influence by the latter over the state apparatus. This is what completely escapes the notice and the understanding of those who yell the loudest about the leading role of the party in its relationships to the Soviet state.
3. Groups and Factional Formations
The question of groupings and factions in the party has become the pivot of the discussion. In view of its intrinsic importance and the extreme acuteness that it has assumed, it demands to be treated with perfect clarity. Yet, it is posed in a completely erroneous manner. We are the only party in the country and, in the period of the dictatorship, it could not be otherwise. The different needs of the working class, of the peasantry, of the state apparatus and of its membership, act upon our party, through whose medium they seek to find a political expression. The difficulties and contradictions inherent in our epoch, the temporary discord in the interests of the different layers of the proletariat, or of the proletariat as a whole and the peasantry, act upon the party through the medium of its worker and peasant cells, of the state apparatus, of the student youth. Even episodic differences in views and nuances of opinion may express the remote pressure of distinct social interests and, in certain circumstances, be transformed into stable groupings; the latter may, in turn, sooner or later take the form of organised factions which, opposing themselves to the rest of the party, undergo by that very fact even greater external pressure. Such is the dialectics of inner party groupings in an epoch when the communist party is obliged to monopolise the direction of political life.
What follows from this? If factions are not wanted, there must not be any permanent groupings; if permanent groupings are not wanted, temporary groupings must be avoided; finally, in order that there be no temporary groupings, there must be no differences of opinion, for wherever there are two opinions, people inevitably group together. But how, on the other hand, avoid differences of opinion in a party of half a million men which is leading the country in exceptionally complicated and painful conditions?
That is the essential contradiction residing in the very situation of the party of the proletarian dictatorship, a contradiction that cannot be escaped solely by purely formal measures. The partisans of the “old course” who vote for the resolution of the Central Committee with the assurance that everything will remain as in the past, reason something like this: Just look, the lid of our apparatus has just scarcely been raised and already tendencies toward groupings of all sorts are manifesting themselves in the party. The lid must be jammed back on and the pot closed hermetically. It is this short sighted wisdom that pervades dozens of speeches and articles “against factionalism.” In their heart of hearts, the apparatus men believe that the resolution of the Central Committee is either a political mistake that they must try to render harmless, or else an apparatus stratagem that must be utilised. In my view, they are grossly mistaken. And if there is a tactic calculated to introduce disorganisation into the party it is the one followed by people who persist in the old orientation while feigning to accept respectfully the new.
It is in contradictions and differences of opinion that the working out of the party’s public opinion inevitably takes place. To localise this process only within the apparatus which is then charged to furnish the party with the fruit of its labours in the form of slogans, orders, etc., is to sterilise the party ideologically and politically. To have the party as a whole participate in the working out and adoption of the resolutions, is to promote temporary ideological groupings that risk transformation into durable groupings and even into factions. What to do? Is it possible that there is no way out? Is it possible that there is no intermediate line between the régime of “calm” and that of crumbling into factions? No, there is one, and the whole task of the leadership consists, each time that it is necessary and especially at turning points, in finding this line corresponding to the real situation of the moment.
The resolution of the Central Committee says plainly that the bureaucratic régime is one of the sources of factions. That is a truth which now hardly needs to be demonstrated. The old course was far indeed from “full blown” democracy, and yet it no more preserved the party from illegal factions than the present stormy discussion which—it would be ridiculous to shut one’s eyes to this!—may lead to the formation of temporary or durable groupings. To avert it, the leading organs of the party must lend an ear to the voice of the broad party mass, not consider every criticism as a manifestation of factional spirit, and thereby drive conscientious and disciplined communists to maintain a systematic silence or else constitute themselves as factions. But doesn’t this way of putting the question come down to a justification of Myaznikov  and his partisans? We hear the voice of higher bureaucratic wisdom. Why? In the first place, the phrase we have just underlined is only a textual extract from the resolution of the Central Committee. Further, since when does an explanation equal a justification? To say that an abscess is the result of defective blood circulation due to an insufficient flow of oxygen, is not to “justify” the abscess and to consider it a normal part of the human organism. The only conclusion is that the abscess must be lanced and disinfected and, above all, the window must be opened to let fresh air provide the oxygen needed by the blood. But the trouble is that the most militant wing of the “old course” is convinced that the resolution of the Central Committee is erroneous, especially in its passage on bureaucratism as a source of factionalism. And if it does not say so openly, it is only out of formal considerations, quite in keeping with its mentality, drenched with that formalism which is the essential attribute of bureaucratism. It is incontestable that factions are a scourge in the present situation, and that groupings, even if temporary, may be transformed into factions. But as experience shows, it is not at all enough to declare that groupings and factions are an evil for their appearance to be prevented. What is needed to bring this about is a certain policy, a correct course adapted to the real situation.
It suffices to study the history of our party, even if only for the period of the revolution, that is, during the period when the constitution of factions became particularly dangerous to see that the struggle against this danger cannot be confined to a formal condemnation and prohibition of groupings. It was in the fall of 1917 that the most formidable disagreement broke out in the party, on the occasion of the capital question of the seizure of power. With the furious pace of events, the acuteness of the struggle immediately gave an extreme factional character to the disagreements: perhaps without wanting to, the opponents of the violent uprising made in fact a bloc with non party elements, published their declarations in outside organs, etc. At that moment, the unity of the party hung by a hair. How was the split to be averted? Only by the rapid development of events and their favourable outcome. The split would have taken place inevitably if the events had dragged along for several months, all the more so if the insurrection had ended in defeat. Under the firm leadership of the majority of the Central Committee, the party, in an impetuous offensive, moved over the head of the opposition, the power was conquered, and the opposition, not very great numerically but qualitatively very strong, adopted the platform of October. The faction and the danger of a split were overcome at that time not by formal decisions based upon party statutes, but by revolutionary action. The second great disagreement arose on the occasion of the Brest Litovsk peace. The partisans of revolutionary war then constituted a genuine faction, with its own central organ, etc. How much truth there is in the recent anecdote about Bukharin being almost prepared, at one time, to arrest the government of Lenin, I am unable to say. Generally speaking, this looks a little like a bad Mayne Reid  story or a communist Pinkerton  tale. It may be presumed that the history of the party will take note of this. However that may be, the existence of a left communist faction represented an extreme danger to the unity of the party. To have brought about a split at the time would not have been difficult and would not have demanded of the leadership ... any great intellectual effort: it would have sufficed to issue an interdict against the left communist faction. Nevertheless, the party adopted more complex methods: it preferred to discuss, to explain, to prove by experience and to resign itself temporarily to the abnormal and anomalous phenomenon represented by the existence of an organised faction in its midst.
The question of military organisation likewise produced the constitution of a fairly strong and obdurate grouping, opposed to the creation of a regular army and all that flowed from it: a centralised military apparatus, specialists, etc. At times, the struggle assumed extreme sharpness. But as in October, the question was settled by experience, by the war itself. Certain blunders and exaggerations of the official military policy were attenuated, not without the pressure of the opposition, and that not only without damage but with profit to the centralised organisation of the regular army. As to the op position, it fell apart little by little. A great number of its most active representatives participated in the organisation of the army in which, in many cases they occupied important posts.
Clearly defined groupings were constituted at the time of the memorable discussion on the trade unions. Now that we have the possibility of embracing this entire period at a glance and of illuminating it in the light of subsequent experience, we can record that the discussion in no wise revolved around the trade unions, nor even workers’ democracy: what was expressed in these disputes was a profound uneasiness in the party, caused by the excessive prolonging of the economic régime of war communism. The entire economic organism of the country was in a vise. The discussion on the role of the trade unions and of workers’ democracy covered up the search for a new economic road. The way out was found in the elimination of the requisitioning of food products and of the grain monopoly, and in the gradual liberation of state industry from the tyranny of the central economic managements. These historical decisions were taken unanimously and completely overshadowed the trade union discussion, all the more so because of the fact that following the establishment of the NEP, the very role of the trade unions themselves appeared in a completely different light and, several months later, the resolution on the trade unions had to be modified radically.
The longest lasting grouping and, from certain angles, the most dangerous one, was the “Workers’ Opposition.”  It reflected, although distortedly, the contradictions of war communism, certain mistakes of the party, as well as the essential objective difficulties of socialist organisation. But this time, too, we did not confine ourselves merely to a formal prohibition. On the questions of democracy, formal decisions were made, and on the purging of the party effective and extremely important measures were taken, satisfying what was just and healthy in the criticism and the demands of the “Workers’ Opposition.” And the main thing is that, due to the decisions and the economic measures adopted by the party, the result of which was to bring about the disappearance of the differences of opinions and the groupings, the Tenth Congress was able to prohibit formally the constitution of factions, with reason to believe that its decisions would not remain a dead letter. But as experience and good political sense show, it goes without saying that by itself this prohibition contained no absolute or even serious guarantee against the appearance of new ideological and organic groupings. The essential guarantee, in this case, is a correct leadership, paying opportune attention to the needs of the moment which are reflected in the party, flexibility of the apparatus which ought not paralyse but rather organise the initiative of the party, which ought not fear criticism, nor intimidate the party with the bug bear of factions: intimidation is most often a product of fright. The decision of the Tenth Congress prohibiting factions can only have an auxiliary character; by itself it does not offer the key to the solution of any and all internal difficulties. It would be gross “organisational fetishism” to believe that whatever the development of the party, the mistakes of the leadership, the conservatism of the apparatus, the external influences, etc., a decision is enough to preserve us from groupings and from upheavals inherent in the formation of factions. Such an approach is in itself profoundly bureaucratic.
A striking example of this is provided us by the history of the Petrograd organisation. Shortly after the Tenth Congress, which forbade the constitution of groupings and factions, a very lively organisational struggle broke out in Petrograd, leading to the formation of two clearly antagonistic groupings. The simplest thing to do, at first blush, would have been to declare one of the groups (at least one) to be pernicious, criminal, factional, etc. But the Central Committee refused categorically to employ this method, which was suggested to it from Petrograd. It assumed the role of arbiter between the two groupings and succeeded, not right away, to be sure, in assuring not only their collaboration but their complete fusion in the organisation. There you have an important example which deserves being kept in mind and might serve to light up some bureaucratic skulls.
We have said above that every important and lasting grouping in the party, to say nothing of every organised faction, has the tendency to become the spokesman of some social interests. Every incorrect deviation may, in the course of its development, become the expression of the interests of a class hostile or half hostile to the proletariat. But first of all this applies to bureaucratism. It is necessary to begin right there. That bureaucratism is an incorrect deviation, and an unhealthy deviation, will not, let us hope, be contested. This being the case, it threatens to lead the party off the right road, the class road. That is precisely where its danger lies. But here is a fact that is instructive in the highest degree and at the same time most alarming: those comrades who assert most flatly, with the greatest insistence and sometimes most brutally, that every difference of opinion, every grouping of opinion, however temporary, is an expression of the interests of classes opposed to the proletariat, do not want to apply this criterion to bureaucratism.
Yet, the social criterion is, in the given instance, perfectly in place, for bureaucratism is a well defined evil, a notorious and incontestably injurious deviation, officially condemned but not at all in the process of disappearing. Moreover, it is pretty difficult to make it disappear at one blow! But if, as the resolution of the Central Committee says, bureaucratism threatens to detach the party from the masses, and consequently to weaken the class character of the party, it follows that the struggle against bureaucratism can in no case be identified in advance with some kind of non proletarian influence. On the contrary, the aspiration of the party to preserve its proletarian character must inevitably generate resistance to bureaucratism Naturally, under cover of this resistance, various erroneous, unhealthy and harmful tendencies may manifest themselves. They cannot be laid bare save by the Marxian analysis of their ideological content. But to identify resistance to bureaucratism with a grouping which allegedly serves as a channel for alien influences is to be oneself the “channel” of bureaucratic influences.
Nevertheless, there should be no oversimplification and vulgarisation in the understanding of the thought that party differences, and this holds all the more for groupings, are nothing but a struggle for influence of antagonistic classes. Thus, in 1920, the question of the invasion of Poland stirred up two currents of opinion, one advocating a more audacious policy, the other preaching prudence. Were there different class tendencies there? I do not believe that anyone would risk such an assertion. There were only divergence’s in the appreciation of the situation, of the forces, of the means. But the essential criterion of the appreciation was the same with both parties.
It frequently happens that the party is able to resolve one and the same problem by different means, and differences arise as to which of these means is the better, the more expeditious, the more economical. These differences may, depending on the question, embrace considerable sections of the party, but that does not necessarily mean that you have there two class tendencies.
There is no doubt that we shall have not one but dozens of disagreements in the future, for our path is difficult and the political tasks as well as the economic questions of socialist organisation will unfailingly engender differences of opinion and temporary groupings of opinion. The political verification of all the nuances of opinion by Marxian analysis will always be one of the most efficacious preventive measures for our party. But it is this concrete Marxian verification that must be resorted to, and not the stereotyped phrases which are the defence mechanism of bureaucratism. The heterogeneous political ideology which is now rising up against bureaucratism can be all the better checked, and purged of all alien and injurious elements, the more seriously the road of the “new course” is entered upon. However, this is impossible without a serious change in the mentality and the intentions of the party apparatus. But we are witness, on the contrary, to a new offensive at the present time by the latter, which rejects every criticism of the “old course,” formally condemned but not yet liquidated, by treating it as a manifestation of factional spirit. If factionalism is dangerous and it is it is criminal to shut your eyes to the danger represented by conservative bureaucratic factionalism. It is against precisely this danger that the resolution of the Central Committee is primarily directed.
The maintenance of the unity of the party is the gravest concern of the great majority of communists. But it must be said openly: If there is today a serious danger to the unity or at the very least to the unanimity of the party, it is unbridled bureaucratism. This is the camp in which provocative voices have been raised. That is where they have dared to say: We are not afraid of a split! It is the representatives of this tendency who thumb through the past, seeking out everything likely to inject more rancour into the discussion, resuscitating artificially the recollections of the old struggle and the old split in order to accustom imperceptibly the mind of the party to the possibility of a crime as monstrous and as disastrous as a new split. They seek to set against each other the need of party unity and the party’s need of a less bureaucratic régime.
If the party allowed itself to take this road, and sacrificed the vital elements of its own democracy, it would only succeed in exacerbating its internal struggle and in upsetting its cohesion. You cannot demand of the party confidence in the apparatus when you yourself have no confidence in the party. There is the whole question. Preconceived bureaucratic distrust of the party, of its consciousness and its spirit of discipline, is the principal cause of all the evils generated by the domination of the apparatus. The party does not want factions and will not tolerate them. It is monstrous to believe that it will shatter or permit anyone to shatter its apparatus. It knows that this apparatus is composed of the most valuable elements, who incarnate the greatest part of the experience of the past. But it wants to renew it and to remind it that it is its apparatus, that it is elected by it and that it must not detach itself from it.
Upon reflecting well on the situation created in the party, which has shown itself in a particularly clear light in the course of the discussion, it may be seen that the future presents itself under a double perspective. Either the organic ideological regrouping that is now taking place in the party along the line of the resolutions of the Central Committee will be a step forward on the road of the organic growth of the party, the beginning of a new great chapter which would be the most desirable out come for us all, the one most beneficial to the party, which would then easily overcome any excesses in the discussion and in the opposition, to say nothing of vulgar democratic tendencies. Or else, the apparatus, passing over to the offensive, will come more and more under the power of its most conservative elements and, on the pretext of coin batting factions, will throw the party backward and restore “calm.” This second eventuality would be by far the most grievous one; it would not prevent the development of the party, it goes without saying, but this development would take place only at the cost of considerable efforts and upheavals. For this method would only foster still more the tendencies that are injurious, disintegrative and hostile to the party. These are the two eventualities to envisage.
My letter on the “new course” had as its purpose to aid the party to take the first road, which is the most economical and the most correct. And I stand fully by the position in it, rejecting any tendentious or deceitful interpretation.
1. Myaznikov was a leader of the “Workers’ Group” an oppositionist faction inside the Bolshevik Party. Its’ members were expelled from the Party at the 11th Congress in 1922.
2. Reid was a 19th century American novelist.
3. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was setup in the 19th century as a private police corps designed to infiltrate radical and labour organisations with the expressed purpose of destroying these organisations.
4. The Workers’ Opposition was the largest and best known of the oppositional factions inside the Bolshevik Party. Leading Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollantai was its best known leader. The Workers’ Opposition had a syndicalist program that advocated that all economic control be turned over to the trade unions.
4. Bureaucratism and the Revolution
(Outline of a Report that the Author Could Not Deliver)
- The essential conditions which not only prevent the realisation of the socialist ideal but are, in addition sometimes a source of painful tests and grave dangers to the revolution, are well enough known. They are: a) the internal social contradictions of the revolution which were automatically compressed under War Communism but which, under the NEP, unfold unfailingly and seek to find political expression; b) the protracted counter revolutionary threat to the Soviet republic represented by the imperialist states.
- The social contradictions of the revolution are class contradictions. What are the fundamental classes of our country? a) the proletariat, b) the peasantry, c) the new bourgeoisie with the layer of bourgeois intellectuals that covers it.
From the standpoint of economic role and political significance first place belongs to the proletariat organised in the state and to the peasantry which provides the agricultural products that are dominant in our economy. The new bourgeoisie plays principally the role of intermediary between Soviet industry and agriculture as well as between the different parts of Soviet industry and the different spheres of rural economy. But it does not confine itself to being a commercial intermediary; in part, it also assumes the role of organiser of production.
- Putting aside for the moment the question of the tempo of the development of the proletarian revolution in the West, the course of our revolution will be determined by the comparative growth of the three fundamental elements of our economy: state industry, agriculture, and private commercial-industrial capital.
- Historical analogies with the Great French Revolution (the fall of the Jacobins) made by liberalism and Menshevism for their own nourishment and consolation, are superficial and inconsistent. The fall of the Jacobins was predetermined by the lack of maturity of the social relationships: the left (ruined artisans and merchants), deprived of the possibility of economic development, could not be a firm support for the revolution; the right (bourgeoisie) grew irresistibly; finally, Europe, economically and politically more backward, prevented the revolution from spreading beyond the limits of France.
In all these respects our situation is incomparably more favourable. With us, the nucleus as well as the left wing of the revolution is the proletariat, whose tasks and objectives coincide entirely with the tasks of socialist construction. The proletariat is politically so strong that while permitting, within certain limits, the formation by its side of a new bourgeoisie, it has the peasantry participate in the state power not through the intermediary of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeois parties, but directly, thus barring to the bourgeoisie any access to political life. The economic and political situation of Europe not only does not exclude but makes inevitable the extension of the revolution over its territory.
So that if, in France, even the most clairvoyant policy of the Jacobins would have been powerless to alter radically the course of events, with us, whose situation is infinitely more favourable, the correctness of a political line drawn according to the methods of Marxism will be for a considerable period of time a decisive factor in safeguarding the revolution.
- Let us take the historical hypothesis more unfavourable to us. The rapid development of private capital, if it should take place, would signify that Soviet industry and commerce, including the cooperatives do not assure the satisfaction of the needs of peasant economy. In addition it would show that private capital is interposing itself more and more between the workers' state and the peasantry, is acquiring an economic and therefore a political influence over the latter. It goes without saying that such a rupture between Soviet industry and agriculture, between the proletariat and the peasantry, would constitute a grave danger for the proletarian revolution, a symptom of the possibility of the triumph of the counterrevolution.
- What are the political paths by which the victory of the counterrevolution might come if the economic hypothesis just set forth were to be realised? There could be many: either the direct overthrow of the workers' party, or its progressive degeneration, or finally, the conjunction of a partial degeneration, splits, and counterrevolutionary upheavals
The realisation of one or the other of these eventualities would depend above all on the tempo of the economic development. In case private capital succeeded, little by little, slowly, in dominating state capital, the political process would assume in the main the character of the degeneration of the state apparatus in a bourgeois direction, with the consequences that this would involve for the party. If private capital increased rapidly and succeeded in fusing with the peasantry, the active counter revolutionary tendencies directed against the Communist Party would then probably prevail.
If we set forth these hypotheses bluntly, it is of course not because we consider them historically probable (on the contrary, their probability is at a minimum), but because only such a way of putting the question makes possible a more correct and all sided historical orientation and, consequently, the adoption of all possible preventive measures. The superiority of us Marxists is in distinguishing and grasping the new tendencies and the new dangers even when they are still only in an embryonic stage.
- The conclusion from what we have already said in the economic domain brings us to the problem of the "scissors," that is, to the rational organisation of industry and to its coordination with the peasant market. To lose time in this connection is to slow down our struggle against private capital. That is where the principal task is, the essential key to the problem of the revolution and of socialism.
- If the counter revolutionary danger rises up, as we h ave said, out of certain social relationships, this in no wise means that by a rational policy it is not possible to parry this danger (even under unfavourable economic conditions for the revolution), to reduce it, to remove it, to postpone it. Such a postponement is in turn apt to save the revolution by assuring it either a favourable economic shift at home or contact with the victorious revolution in Europe.
That is why, on the basis of the economic policy indicated above, we must have a definite state and party policy (including a definite policy inside the party), aimed at counteracting the accumulation and consolidation of the tendencies directed against the dictatorship of the working class and nurtured by the difficulties and failures of the economic development.
- The heterogeneity of the social composition of our party reflects the objective contradictions of the development of the revolution, along with the tendencies and dangers flowing from it:
The factory nuclei which assure the contact of the party with the essential class of the revolution, now represent one sixth of the membership of the party.
In spite of all their negative sides, the cells of the Soviet institutions assure the party its leadership of the state apparatus; which also determines the great specific weight of these cells. A large percentage of old militants take part in the life of the party through the medium of these Soviet cells.
The rural cells give the party a certain contact (still very weak) with the countryside.
The military cells effect the contact of the party with the army, and by means of the latter, with the countryside too (above all).
Finally, in the cells of the educational institutions, all these tendencies and influences mingle and cross.
- By their class composition, the factory cells are, it goes without saying, fundamental. But inasmuch as they constitute only one sixth of the party and their most active elements are taken away to be assigned to the party or the state apparatus, the party cannot yet, unfortunately, lean exclusively or even principally upon them.
Their growth will be the surest gauge of the success of the party in industry, in economy in general, and at the same time the best guarantee that it will retain its proletarian character. But it is hardly possible to expect their speedy growth in the immediate future. As a resuIt, the party will be obliged in the next period to assure its internal equilibrium and its revolutionary line by leaning on cells of a heterogeneous social composition.
- The counter revolutionary tendencies can find a support among the kulaks, the middlemen, the retailers, the concessionaries, in a word, among elements much more capable of surrounding the state apparatus than the party itself. Only the peasant and the military cells might be threatened by a more direct influence and even a penetration by the kulaks.
Nevertheless, the differentiation of the peasantry represents a factor which will be of help to us. The exclusion of kulaks from the army (including the territorial divisions) should not only remain an untouchable rule but what is more, become an important measure for the political education of the rural youth, the military units and particularly the military cells.
The workers will assure their leading role in the military cells by counterposing politically the rural working masses of the army to the renascent stratum of the kulaks. In the rural cells, too, this counterposition applies. The success of the work will naturally depend, in the long run, upon the extent to which state industry succeeds in satisfying the needs of the countryside.
But whatever the speed of our economic successes may be, our fundamental political line in the military cells must be directed not simply against the Nepmen, but primarily against the renascent kulak stratum, the only historically conceivable and serious support for any and all counter revolutionary attempts. In this respect, we need more minute analysis of the various components of the army from the standpoint of their social composition.
- It is beyond doubt that through the medium of the rural and military cells, tendencies reflecting more or less the countryside, with the special traits that distinguish it from the town, filter and will continue to filter into the party. If that were not the case, the rural cells would have no value for the party.
The changes in mood that manifest themselves in the cells are a reminder or a warning to the party. The possibility of directing these cells according to the party line depends on the correctness of the general direction of the party as well as upon its internal régime and, in the last analysis, on whether we come closer to solving or attenuating the problem of the "scissors."
- The state apparatus is the most important source of bureaucratism. On the one band, it absorbs an enormous quantity of the most active party elements and it teaches the most capable of them the methods of administration of men and things, instead of political leadership of the masses. On the other hand, it preoccupies largely the attention of the party apparatus over which it exerts influence by its methods of administration.
Hence, in large measure, the bureaucratisation of the apparatus, which threatens to separate the party from the masses. This is precisely the danger that is now most obvious and direct. The struggle against the other dangers must under present conditions begin with the struggle against bureaucratism.
- It is unworthy of a Marxist to consider that bureaucratism is only the aggregate of the bad habits of office holders. Bureaucratism is a social phenomenon in that it is a definite system of administration of men and things. Its profound causes lie in the heterogeneity of society, the difference between the daily and the fundamental interests of various groups of the population. Bureaucratism is complicated by the fact of the lack of culture of the broad masses. With us, the essential source of bureaucratism resides in the necessity of creating and sustaining a state apparatus that unites the interests of the proletariat and those of the peasantry in a perfect economic harmony, from which we are still far removed. The necessity of maintaining a permanent army is likewise another important source of bureaucratism.
It is quite plain that precisely the negative social phenomena we have just enumerated and which now nurture bureaucratism could place the revolution in peril should they continue to develop. We have mentioned above this hypothesis: the growing discord between state and peasant economy, the growth of the kulaks in the country, their alliance with private commercial industrial capital, these would be given the low cultural level of the toiling masses of the countryside and in part of the towns the causes of the eventual counter-revolutionary dangers.
In other words, bureaucratism in the state and party apparatus is the expression of the most vexatious tendencies inherent in our situation, of the defects and deviations in our work which, under certain social conditions, might sap the basis of the revolution. And, in this case as in many others, quantity will at a certain stage be transformed into quality.
- The struggle against the bureaucratism of the state apparatus is an exceptionally important but prolonged task, one that runs more or less parallel to our other fundamental tasks: economic reconstruction and the elevation of the cultural level of the masses. The most important historical instrument for the accomplishment of all these tasks is the party. Naturally, not even the party can tear itself away from the social and cultural conditions of the country. But as the voluntary organisation of the vanguard, of the best, the most active and the most conscious elements of the working class, it is able to preserve itself much better than can the state apparatus from the tendencies of bureaucratism. For that, it must see the danger clearly and combat it without let up.
Thence the immense importance of the education of the party youth, based upon personal initiative, in order to serve the state apparatus in a new manner and to trans form it completely.
5. Tradition and Revolutionary Policy
The question of the relationship of tradition and party policy is far from simple, especially in our epoch. More than once, recently, we have had occasion to speak of the immense importance of the theoretical and practical tradition of our party and have declared that we could in no case permit the breaking of our ideological lineage. It is only necessary to come to an agreement on what is meant by the tradition of the party. To do that, we must begin largely by the inverse method and take some historical examples in order to base our conclusions upon them.
Let us take the “classic” party of the Second International, the German social democracy. Its half century of “traditional” policy was based upon an adaptation to parliamentarism and to the unbroken growth of the organisation, the press, and the treasury. This tradition, which is profoundly alien to us, bore a semiautomatic character: each day flowed “naturally” from the day before and just as “naturally” prepared the day to follow. The organisation grew, the press developed, the cash box swelled.
It is in this automatism that the whole generation following Bebel took shape: a generation of bureaucrats, of philistines, of dullards whose political character was completely revealed in the first hours of the imperialist war. Every congress of the social democracy spoke invariably of the party’s old tactics, consecrated by tradition. And the tradition was indeed powerful. It was an automatic tradition, uncritical, conservative, and it ended by stifling the revolutionary will of the party.
The war finished for good the “traditional” equilibrium of the political life of Germany. From the very first days of its official existence, the young Communist Party entered a tempestuous period of crises and upheavals. Nevertheless, throughout its comparatively short history may be observed not only the creative but also the conservative role of tradition which, at every stage, at every turn, collides with the objective needs of the movement and the critical judgement of the party.
As early as the first period of the existence of German communism, the direct struggle for power became its heroic tradition. The terrible events of March 1921 disclosed starkly that the party did not yet have sufficient forces for attaining its goal. It had to make a sharp aboutface toward the struggle for the masses before recommencing the direct struggle for power.
This aboutface was hard to accomplish, for it went against the grain of the newly formed tradition. In the Russian party, at the present time, we are being reminded of all the differences of opinion, even the most preposterous, that arose in the party or in its Central Committee in recent years. It would not hurt to recall also the principal disagreement that appeared at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International. It is now obvious that the change achieved at that time under the leadership of Lenin, in spite of the furious resistance of a considerable part of the congress at the start, a majority literally saved the International from the destruction and decomposition with which it was threatened if it went the way of automatic, uncritical “leftism,” which, in a brief space of time, had already become a hardened tradition.
After the Third Congress, the German Communist Party carried out, painfully enough, the necessary change. Then began the struggle for the masses under the slogan of the united front, accompanied by long negotiations and other pedagogical procedures. This tactic lasted more than two years and yielded excellent results. But at the same time, these new propaganda methods, being protracted, were transformed ... into a new semi-automatic tradition which played a very serious role in the events of the last half of 1923.
It is now incontestable that the period running from May (beginning of the resistance in the Ruhr) or July (collapse of this resistance) to November, when General Seeckt took over power, was a clearly marked period of crisis without precedent in the life of Germany. The resistance that the half-strangled Republican Germany of Ebert-Cuno tried to offer against French militarism crumpled up, taking with it the pitiful social and political equilibrium of the country. The Ruhr catastrophe played, up to a certain point, the same role for “democratic” Germany that the defeat of the German troops played five years earlier for the Hohenzollern regime.
Incredible depreciation of the mark, economic chaos, general effervescence and uncertainty, decomposition of the social democracy, a powerful flow of workers into the ranks of the communists, universal expectation of an overthrow. If the Communist Party had abruptly changed the pace of its work and had profited by the five or six months that history accorded it for direct political, organisational, technical preparation for the seizure of power, the outcome of the events could have been quite different from the one we witnessed in November. There was the problem: the German party had entered the new, brief period of this crisis, perhaps without precedent in world history, with the ready methods of the two preceding years of propagandistic struggle for the establishment of its influence over the masses. Here a new orientation was needed, a new tone, a new way of approaching the masses, a new interpretation and application of the united front, new methods of organisation and of technical preparation in a word, a brusque tactical change. The proletariat should have seen a revolutionary party at work, marching directly to the conquest of power.
But the German party continued, at bottom, its propaganda policy of yesterday, even if on a larger scale. It was only in October that it adopted a new orientation. But by then it had too little time left to develop its dash. Its preparations were sped up feverishly, the masses were unable to follow it, the lack of assurance of the party communicated itself to both sides, and at the decisive moment, the party retreated without giving battle. If the party surrendered its exceptional positions without resistance, the main reason is that it proved unable to free itself, at the beginning of the new phase (May-July 1923), from the automatism of its preceding policy, established as if it was meant for years to come, and to put forward squarely in its agitation, action, organisation, and tactics the problem of taking power. Time is an important element of politics, particularly in a revolutionary epoch. Years and decades are sometimes needed to make up for lost months. It would have been the same with us if our party had not made its leap in April 1917 and then taken power in October. We have every reason to believe that the German proletariat will not pay too dearly for its omission, because the stability of the present German regime, above all because of the international situation, is more than doubtful.
It is clear that, as a conservative element, as the automatic pressure of yesterday upon today, tradition represents an extremely important force at the service of the conservative parties and deeply inimical to the revolutionary party. The whole strength of the latter lies precisely in its freedom from conservative traditionalism. Does this mean that it is free with regard to tradition in general? Not at all. But the tradition of a revolutionary party is of an entirely different nature.
If we now take our Bolshevik Party in its revolutionary past and in the period following October, it will be recognised that its most precious fundamental tactical quality is its unequalled ability to orient itself rapidly, to change tactics quickly, to renew its armament and to apply new methods, in a word, to carry out abrupt turns. Tempestuous historical conditions have made this tactic necessary. Lenin’s genius gave it a superior form. This is not to say, naturally, that our party is completely free of a certain conservative traditionalism: a mass party cannot be ideally free. But its strength and potency have manifested themselves in the fact that inertia, traditionalism, routinism, were reduced to a minimum by a farsighted, profoundly revolutionary tactical initiative, at once audacious and realistic.
It is in this that the genuine tradition of the party consists and should consist. The relatively strong bureaucratisation of the party apparatus is inevitably accompanied by the development of conservative traditionalism with all its effects. It is better to exaggerate this danger than to underrate it. The undeniable fact that the most conservative elements of the apparatus are inclined to identify their opinions, their methods, and their mistakes with the “Old Bolshevism,” and seek to identify the criticism of bureaucratism with the destruction of tradition, this fact, I say, is already by itself the incontestable expression of a certain ideological petrifaction.
Marxism is a method of historical analysis, of political orientation, and not a mass of decisions prepared in advance. Leninism is the application of this method in the conditions of an exceptional historical epoch. It is precisely this union of the peculiarities of the epoch and the method that determines that courageous, self-assured policy of brusque turns of which Lenin gave us the finest models, and which he illuminated theoretically and generalised on more than one occasion.
Marx said that the advanced countries, to a certain extent, show the backward countries the image of their future. Out of this conditional proposition an effort was made to set up an absolute law which was at the root of the “philosophy” of Russian Menshevism. By means of it, limits were fixed for the proletariat, flowing not from the course of the revolutionary struggle but from a mechanical pattern; Menshevik Marxism was and remains solely the expression of the needs of bourgeois society, an expression adapted to a belated “democracy.” In reality, it turned out that Russia, joining in its economy and its politics extremely contradictory phenomena, was the first to be pushed onto the road of the proletarian revolution.
Neither October, nor Brest-Litovsk, nor the creation of a regular peasant army, nor the system of requisitioning food products, nor the NEP, nor the State Planning Commission, were or could have been foreseen or predetermined by pre-October Marxism or Bolshevism. All these facts and turns were the result of the independent, critical application of the methods of Bolshevism, marked by the spirit of initiative, in situations that differed in each case.
Every one of these decisions, before being adopted, provoked struggles. The simple appeal to tradition never decided anything. As a matter of fact, with each new task and at each new turn, it is not a question of searching in tradition and discovering there a nonexistent reply, but of profiting from all the experience of the party to find by oneself a new solution suitable to the situation and, by doing so, enriching tradition. It may even be put more sharply: Leninism consists of being courageously free of conservative retrospection, of being bound by precedent, purely formal references, and quotations.
Lenin himself not so long ago expressed this thought in Napoleon’s words: “On s’engage et puis on voit” (start fighting and then see). To put it differently, once engaged in the struggle, don’t be excessively pre-occupied with canon and precedent, but plunge into reality as it is and seek there the forces necessary for victory. and the roads leading to it. It is by following this line that Lenin, not once but dozens of times, was accused in his own party of violating tradition and repudiating “Old Bolshevism."
Let us recall that the invariably appeared under cover of defending Bolshevik traditions against Leninist deviation (there is some extremely interesting material on this score in Krasnaya Letopis [Red Chronicle No.9]. Under the aegis of “Old Bolshevism,” in reality under the aegis of formal, fictitious, false tradition, all that was routinist in the party rose up against Lenin’s April Theses. One of our party’s historians (the historians of our party, up to now, have unfortunately not had much luck) told me at the height of the October events: “I am not with Lenin because I am an Old Bolshevik and I continue to stand on the ground of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” The struggle of the “left communists” against the Brest-Litovsk peace and for revolutionary war likewise took place in the name of saving the revolutionary traditions of the party, in the name of the purity of “Old Bolshevism,” which had to be protected against the dangers of state opportunism. It is needless to recall that the whole criticism by the “Workers’ Opposition” consisted, at bottom, of accusing the party of violating the old traditions. Only recently we saw the most official interpreters of the party’s traditions on the national question take a stand in distinct contradiction to the needs of party policy in this question as well as to Lenin’s position.
These examples could be multiplied, and any number of others could be cited, historically less important but no less conclusive. But what we have just said suffices to show that every time objective conditions demand a new turn, a bold aboutface, and creative initiative, conservative resistance betrays a natural tendency to counterpose the “old traditions” and what is called Old Bolshevism but is in reality the empty husk of a period just left behind to new tasks, new conditions, new orientation.
The more ingrown the party apparatus, the more imbued it is with the feeling of its own intrinsic importance, the slower it reacts to needs emanating from the ranks and the more inclined it is to set formal tradition against new needs and tasks. And if there is one thing likely to strike a mortal blow to the spiritual life of the party and the doctrinal training of the youth, it is certainly the transformation of Leninism from a method demanding for its application initiative, critical thinking, and ideological courage, into a canon which demands nothing more than interpreters appointed for good and all.Leninism cannot be conceived of without theoretical breadth, without a critical analysis of the material bases of the political process. The weapon of Marxist investigation must be constantly sharpened and applied. It is precisely in this that tradition consists, and not in the substitution of a formal reference or an accidental quotation. Least of all can Leninism be reconciled with ideological superficiality and theoretical slovenliness.
Lenin cannot be chopped up into quotations suited for every possible case, because for Lenin the formula never stands higher than the reality; it is always the tool that makes it possible to grasp the reality and to dominate it. It would not be hard to find in Lenin dozens and hundreds of passages which, formally speaking, seem to be contradictory. But what must be seen is not the formal relationship of one passage to another, but the real relationship of each of them to the concrete reality in which the formula was introduced as a lever. The Leninist truth is always concrete!
As a system of revolutionary action, Leninism presupposes a revolutionary sense sharpened by reflection and experience, which, in the social realm, is equivalent to the muscular sensation in physical labour. But revolutionary sense cannot be confused with demagogic flair. The latter may yield ephemeral successes, sometimes even sensational ones. But it is a political instinct of an inferior type. It always leans toward the line of least resistance. Leninism, on the other hand, seeks to pose and resolve the fundamental revolutionary problems, to overcome the principal obstacles; its demagogic counterpart consists in evading the problems, in creating an illusory appeasement, in lulling critical thought to sleep.
Leninism is, first of all, realism, the highest qualitative and quantitative appreciation of reality, from the standpoint of revolutionary action. Precisely because of this it is irreconcilable with flying from reality behind the screen of hollow agitationalism, with passive loss of time, with haughty justification of yesterday’s mistakes on the pretext of saving the tradition of the party.
Leninism is genuine freedom from formalistic prejudices, from moralising doctrinairism, from all forms of intellectual conservatism attempting to stifle the will to revolutionary action. But to believe that Leninism signifies that “anything goes” would be an irremediable mistake. Leninism includes the morality, not formal but genuinely revolutionary, of mass action and the mass party. Nothing is so alien to it as functionary arrogance and bureaucratic cynicism. A mass party has its own morality, which is the bond of fighters in and for action. Demagogy is irreconcilable with the spirit of a revolutionary party because it is deceitful: by presenting one or another simplified solution for the difficulties of the hour, it inevitably undermines the future and weakens the party’s self-confidence.
Swept by the wind and gripped by a serious danger, demagogy easily dissolves into panic. It is hard to juxtapose, even on paper, panic and Leninism.
Leninism is warlike from head to foot. War is impossible without cunning, without subterfuge, without deception of the enemy. Victorious war cunning is a constituent element of Leninist politics. But at the same time, Leninism is a supreme revolutionary honesty toward the party and the working class. It admits of no fiction, no bubble-blowing, no pseudo-grandeur!
Leninism is orthodox, obdurate, irreducible, but it does not contain so much as a hint of formalism, canon, or bureaucratism. In the struggle, it takes the bull by the horns. To make out of the traditions of Leninism a supra-theoretical guarantee of the infallibility of all the words and thoughts of the interpreters of these traditions, is to scoff at a genuine revolutionary tradition and transform it into official bureaucratism. It is ridiculous and pathetic to try to hypnotise a great revolutionary party by the repetition of the same formulas, according to which the right line should be sought not in the essence of each question, not in the methods of posing and solving this question, but in information ... of a biographical character.
Since I am obliged to speak of myself for a moment, I will say that I do not consider the road by which I came to Leninism as less safe and reliable than the others. I came to Lenin fighting, but I came fully and all the way. My actions in the service of the party are the only guarantee of this: I can give no other supplementary guarantees. And if the question is to be posed in the field of biographical investigation, then at least it ought to be done properly.
It would then be necessary to reply to thorny questions: Were all those who were faithful to the master in the small matters also faithful to him in the great? Did all those who showed such docility in the presence of the master thereby offer guarantees that they would continue his work in his absence? Does the whole of Leninism lie in docility? I have no intention whatever of analysing these questions by taking as examples individual comrades with whom, so far as I am concerned, I intend to continue working hand in hand.
Whatever the difficulties and the differences of opinion may be in the future, they can be victoriously overcome only by the party’s collective thinking, checking up on itself each time and thereby maintaining the continuity of development. This character of the revolutionary tradition is bound up with the peculiar character of revolutionary discipline. Where tradition is conservative, discipline is passive and is violated at the first moment of crisis. Where, as in our party, tradition consists of the highest revolutionary activity, discipline attains its maximum point, for its decisive importance is constantly checked in action. That is the source of the indestructible alliance of revolutionary initiative, of critical, bold elaboration of questions, with iron discipline in action. and it is only by this superior activity that the youth can receive from the old tradition of discipline and carry it on.
We cherish the traditions of Bolshevism as much as anybody. But let no one dare identify bureaucratism with Bolshevism, tradition with officious routine.
6. The “Underestimation” of the Peasantry
Certain comrades have adopted very singular methods of political criticism: they assert that I am mistaken today in this or that question because I was wrong in this or that question a dozen years ago. This method considerably simplifies the task.
The question of today in itself needs to be studied in its full contents. But a question raised several years ago has long since been exhausted, judged by history and, to refer to it again does not require great intellectual effort; all that is needed is memory and good faith.
But I cannot say that in this last respect all goes well with my critics. And I am going to prove it by an example from one of the most important questions.
One of the favourite arguments of certain circles during recent times consists of pointing out mainly by indirection that I “underestimate” the role of the peasantry. But one would seek in vain among my adversaries for an analysis of this question, for facts, quotations, in a word, for any proof.
Ordinarily, their argumentation boils down to allusions to the theory of the “permanent revolution,” and to two or three bits of corridor gossip. And between the theory of the “permanent revolution” and the corridor gossip there is nothing, a void.
As to the theory of the “permanent revolution,” I see no reason to renounce what I wrote on this subject in 1904, 1905, 1906, and later. To this day, I persist in considering that the thoughts I developed at that time are much closer, taken as a whole, to the genuine essence of Leninism than much of what a number of Bolsheviks wrote in those days.
The expression “permanent revolution” is an expression of Marx which he applied to the revolution of 1848. 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. What is the political idea embraced in this expression?
It is, for us communists, that the revolution does not come to an end after this or that political conquest, after obtaining this or that social reform, but that it continues to develop further and its only boundary is the socialist society. Thus, once begun, the revolution (insofar as we participate in it and particularly when we lead it) is in no case interrupted by us at any formal stage whatever. On the contrary, we continually and constantly advance it in conformity, of course, with the situation, so long as the revolution has not exhausted all the possibilities and all the resources of the movement. This applies to the conquests of the revolution inside of a country as well as to its extension over the international arena.
For Russia, this theory signified: what we need is not the bourgeois republic as a political crowning, nor even the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, but a workers’ government supporting itself upon the peasantry and opening up the era of the international socialist 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 recognise it now that the general formula 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.”
However, to enter into a discussion on all these questions with comrades who have long ago ceased to read and who live exclusively on the muddled recollections of their youth, is not a very easy thing to do; besides, it is useless. But comrades, and young communists in the first place, who do not weary of studying and who, in any case, do not let themselves be frightened either by cabalistic words or by the word “permanent,” will do well to read for themselves, pencil in hand, the works of those days, for and against “the permanent revolution,” and to try to get from these works the threads that link them with the October Revolution, which is not so difficult.
But what is much more important is the practice pursued during and after October. There it is possible to check up every detail. Needless to say, on the question of the political adoption by our party of the “Social Revolutionary” agrarian program, there was not a shadow of disagreement between Lenin and me. The same goes for the decree on land.
Regardless of whether our peasant policy has been right or wrong on some specific point, it never provoked any differences of opinion among us. It is with my active participation that our policy was oriented toward the middle peasant. The experience and conclusions of the military work contributed to no small degree to the realisation of this policy.
Besides, how was it possible to underestimate the role and the importance of the peasantry in the formation of a revolutionary army recruited from among the peasants and organised with the aid of the advanced workers?
It suffices to examine our military political literature to see how permeated it was with the thought that the civil war is politically the struggle of the proletariat with the counterrevolution for influence over the peasantry and that the victory cannot be assured save by the establishment of rational relationships between the workers and the peasants, in an individual regiment, in the district of military operations, and in the state as a whole.
In March, 1919, in a report sent to the Central Committee from the Volga region, I supported the necessity of a more effective application of our policy oriented on the middle peasant, and against the inattentive and superficial attitude that was still current in the party in this question.
In a report prompted by a discussion in the Sengheleyev organisation, I wrote: “The temporary political situation which may even last a long time is nevertheless a much more profound social economic reality, for even if the proletarian revolution triumphs in the West, we shall have to base ourselves in large measure, in the construction of socialism, upon the middle peasant and to draw him into the socialist economy.”
Nevertheless, the orientation upon the middle peasant in its first form (“show solicitude toward the peasants,” “do not give them orders,” etc.), proved inadequate.
There was a growing feeling of the necessity of changing the economic policy. Under the influence of my observations on the state of mind of the army and of my declarations during my economic inspection trip in the Urals, I wrote to the Central Committee in February, 1920:
“The present policy of the requisition of food products according to the norms of consumption, of joint responsibility for the delivery of these products and of the equal distribution of industrial products, is lowering agricultural production, bringing about the atomisation of the industrial proletariat and threatens to disorganise completely the economic life of the country.”
As a fundamental practical measure, I proposed:
“To replace the requisitioning of the surpluses by a levy proportionate to the quantity of production (a sort of progressive income tax) and set up in such a manner that it is nevertheless more profitable to increase the acreage sown or to cultivate it better.”
My text as a whole represented a fairly complete proposal to go over to the New Economic Policy in the country. To this proposal was linked another dealing with the new organisation of industry, a less definitive and much more circumspect proposal, but directed on the whole against the régime of the “Centers” which was destroying all contact between industry and agriculture.
These proposals were at that time rejected by the Central Committee; this, if you please, was the only difference of opinion on the peasant question. It is now possible to estimate variously the extent to which the adoption of the New Economic Policy was expedient in February 1920. Opinion may be divided on this matter. Personally, I do not doubt that we would have gained from it. At any rate, it is impossible to conclude from the documents I have just reported that I systematically ignored the peasantry or that I did not sufficiently appreciate its role.
The discussion on the trade unions grew out of the economic blind alley we had gotten into, thanks to the requisitioning of food products and to the régime of omnipotent “Centrals.” Could the “merging” of the trade unions into the economic organs have remedied the situation? Obviously not. But neither could any other measure remedy the situation so long as the economic régime of “war communism” continued to exist.
These episodic discussions were wiped out before the decision to resort to the market, a decision of capital importance which did not engender any difference of opinion. The new resolution devoted to the tasks of the trade unions on the basis of the NEP were worked out by Lenin between the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and were, again, adopted unanimously.
I could adduce a good dozen other facts, politically less important, but all of which would refute just as flatly the fable of my so called “underestimation” of the role of the peasantry. But is it after all really necessary and possible to refute an assertion so completely undemonstrable and based so exclusively upon bad faith, or in the best case, upon a defective memory?
* * *
Is it true that the fundamental characteristic of international opportunism is the “underestimation” of the role of the peasantry? No, it is not. The essential characteristic of opportunism, including our Russian Menshevism, is the underestimation of the role of the proletariat, or, more exactly, the lack of confidence in its revolutionary strength.
The Mensheviks founded their whole argument against the seizure of power by the proletariat on the enormous number of peasants and their immense social role in Russia. The Social Revolutionists considered that the peasantry was created for the purpose of being under their leadership and, through their intermediary, to rule the country.
The Mensheviks, who, at the most critical moments of the revolution, made common cause with the Social Revolutionists, judged that by its very nature the peasantry was destined to be the principal prop of bourgeois democracy, to whose aid they came on every occasion, either by supporting the Social Revolutionists or the Kadets. Moreover, in these combinations the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists delivered the peasantry bound hand and foot to the bourgeoisie.
It may be said, to be sure, and it would be entirely valid, that the Mensheviks underestimated the possible role of the peasantry in comparison with the role of the bourgeoisie; but still more did they underestimate the role of the proletariat in comparison with that of the peasantry. And it is from the latter underestimation that the former, which was derivative, flowed.
The Mensheviks categorically rejected as a utopia, as a fantasy, as nonsense, the leading role of the proletariat with relation to the peasantry, with all the consequences flowing therefrom, that is, the conquest of power by the proletariat supporting itself upon the peasantry. That is the Achilles heel of Menshevism which, by the way, resembles Achilles only in its heel.
Finally, what were the principal arguments in our own party against the seizure of power before October? Did they really consist in the underestimation of the role of the peasantry? On the contrary, in an overestimation of its role in relationship to that of the proletariat. The comrades who opposed the taking of power alleged mainly that the proletariat would be submerged by the petty bourgeois element, whose base was the many millioned peasantry.
The term “underestimation” in itself expresses nothing, either theoretically or politically, for it is not a question of the absolute weight of the peasantry in history but of its role and of its importance with reference to other classes: on the one side, the bourgeoisie; on the other, the proletariat.
The question can and should be posed concretely, that is, from the standpoint of the dynamic relationship of forces of the different classes. The question that has considerable political importance for the revolution (decisive in certain cases, but far from being everywhere identical), is that of knowing if, in the revolutionary period, the proletariat will draw to its side the peasantry and in what proportion.
Economically, the question that has an immense importance (decisive in some countries like our own, but certainly not everywhere identical), is that of knowing in what measure the proletariat in power will succeed in harmonising the construction of socialism with the peasant economy. But in all countries and under all conditions, the essential characteristic of opportunism resides in the overestimation of the strength of the bourgeois class and of the intermediate classes and in the underestimation of the strength of the proletariat.
Ridiculous, not to say absurd, is the pretension to establish some kind of universal Bolshevist formula out of the peasant question, valid for the Russia of 1917 as well as of 1923, for America with its farmers as well as for Poland with its big landed property.
Bolshevism began with the program of the restitution of the bits of land to the peasants, replaced this program with that of nationalisation, made the agrarian program of the Social Revolutionists its own in 1917, established the system of the requisition of food products, then replaced it with the food tax ... And we are nevertheless still very far from the solution of the peasant question, and we still have many changes and turns to make.
Isn’t it clear that the practical tasks of today cannot be dissolved in the general formula created by the experiences of yesterday? That the solution of the problems of economic organisation cannot be replaced by a bald appeal to tradition? That it is not possible to determine the historic path by standing solely upon memories of the past and analogies?
The capital economic task of the day consists in establishing between industry and agriculture and, consequently, in industry, a correlation that would permit industry to develop with a minimum of crises, collisions and upheavals, and in assuring industry and state commerce a growing preponderance over private capital.
That is the general problem. It is divided into a series of partial problems: what methods should be followed in the establishment of a rational correlation between town and country, between transportation, finance and industry, between industry and commerce? Which institutions are indicated to apply these methods? What, finally, are the concrete statistical data that make it possible at any given moment to establish the plans and the economic calculations best suited to the situation? Every one, obviously, a question whose solution cannot be predetermined by any general political formula whatever. It is necessary to build the concrete reply in the process of construction.
What the peasant asks of us is not to repeat a correct historical formula of class relationships (smytchka, etc.) but that we supply him with cheaper nails, cloth and matches.
We will succeed in satisfying these demands only by an increasingly exact application of the methods of registration, of organisation, of production, of sale, of check ing on work done, of amendment and of radical changes.
Do these questions bear a principled or programmatic character? No, for neither the program nor the theoretical traditions of the party have bound us, nor could they bind us, on this point, due to the lack of necessary experience and its generalisation.
Is the practical importance of these questions great? Immeasurably. Upon their solution depends the fate of the revolution. In these circumstances, to dissolve every practical question and the differences of opinion flowing from it in the “tradition” of the party, transformed into an abstraction, means in most cases to renounce what is most important in this tradition itself: the posing and solving of every problem in its integral reality.
There ought to be an end to the jabbering about underestimating the role of the peasantry. What is really needed is to lower the price of the merchandise for the peasants.
Appendix [for Chapter 6]
The Fundamental Questions of the Food and Agrarian Policy
(A Proposal Made to the Central Committee of the Party in February, 1920)
The seignioral and crown lands have been turned over to the peasantry. Our whole policy is directed against the peasants possessing a large area of land and a large number of horses (kulaks). On the other hand, our food policy is based upon the requisitioning of the surpluses of agricultural production (above consumer norms). This prompts the peasant not to cultivate his land except for his family needs. In particular, the decree on the requisitioning of every third cow (regarded as superfluous) leads in reality to the clandestine slaughter of cows, the secret sale of the meat at high prices and the disorganisation of the dairy-products industry. At the same time, the semi-proletarian and even proletarian elements of the towns are settling in the villages, where they are starting their own farms. Industry is losing its hands, and in agriculture the number of self-sufficient farms tends to increase constantly. By that very fact, the basis of our food policy, established on the requisitioning of surpluses, is undermined. If in the current year the requisitioning yields a greater quantity of products, it must be attributed to the extension of Soviet territory and to a certain improvement in the provisioning apparatus. But in general, the food resources of the country are threatened with exhaustion and no improvement in the requisitioning apparatus will be able to remedy this fact. The tendency to ward economic decay can be combated by the following methods:
- Replace the requisitioning of surpluses with a levy proportionate to the quantity of production (a sort of progressive tax on agricultural income), set up in such a way that it is nevertheless more profitable to increase the acreage sown or to cultivate it better;
- Institute a more rigorous correlation between the delivery to the peasants of industrial products and the quantity of grain furnished by them, not only by cantons and towns, but also by rural farms.
Have the local industrial enterprises participate in this task. Pay the peasants for the raw materials, the fuel and the food products supplied by them, in part in products of industrial enterprises.
In any case, it is clear that the present policy of the requisition of food products according to norms of consumption, of joint responsibility for the delivery of these products and of the equal distribution of industrial products, is lowering agricultural production, bringing about the atomisation of the industrial proletariat and threaten to disorganise completely the economic life of the country.
7. Planned Ecomomy (1042)
December 1923: In the present oral and written discussion, Order No.1042 has suddenly, for no apparent reason, attracted attention. Why? How? Without doubt, the majority of party members have forgotten the significance of this mysterious number. I shall explain. It is the order of the Commissariat of Transport, of May 22, 1920, on the repairing of locomotives. Since then, it would seem, much water has flowed under railroad and other bridges. It would seem that there are now many questions more urgent than whether we correctly or incorrectly organised the repairing of locomotives in 1920. There exist many more recent planning instructions in metallurgy, machine construction, and especially agricultural machinery. There exists the clear and precise resolution of the Twelfth Congress on the meaning and tasks of planned management. We have the recent experience of planned production for 1923. Why, then, is it precisely now that a plan dating back to the period of war communism has reappeared, like the deus ex machina, to use an expression of the Roman theatre?
It has come forward because behind the machine there were stage directors for whom its appearance was necessary for the climax. Who are these stage directors and why did they suddenly find themselves in need of Order No.1042? It is entirely incomprehensible. You would have to believe that this order was found necessary by people in the toils of an irresistible concern for historical truth. Obviously, they too know that there are many other questions more important and more timely than the plan for repairing the rolling stock of the railroads, set up almost four years ago. But is it possible? judge for yourselves! to go forward, to establish new plans, to be responsible for their correctness, for their success, without beginning by explaining to everyone, to every single, solitary person, that Order No.1042 was a false order, which neglected the factor of the peasantry, despised the tradition of the party, and led to the forming of a faction? At first sight, 1042 seems to be a simple order number. But if you delve into the matter more deeply, you will see that the number 1042 is no better than the apocalyptic number “666,” symbol of the ferocious beast. It is necessary to begin by smashing the head of the beast of the Apocalypse and then we shall be able to talk at leisure about other economic plans not yet covered by a four year old past.
To tell the truth, I had no desire at first to take up the time of my reader with Order No.1042. All the more so because the attacks directed at it boil down to subterfuges or to vague allusions aimed at showing that the people who use them know a lot more than they are saying, whereas in reality the poor creatures know nothing whatsoever. In this sense, the “accusations” against No.1042 do not differ greatly from the 1041 other accusations ... Quantity is presumably to substitute here for quality. The facts are unscrupulously misrepresented, the texts are distorted, proportions are scorned, and the whole is dumped into a heap without order or method. In order to get a clear idea of the differences of opinion and the mistakes of the past, it would be necessary to reconstitute exactly the situation of the time. Do we have the spare time for it? And, if so, is it worthwhile, after having neglected so many other essentially false hints and accusations, to react to the reappearance of Order No.1042?
Upon reflection, I told myself that it was necessary, for we have here a case, classic in its kind ... of light-mindedness and bad faith in an accusation. The affair of Order 1042 did not occur in the ideological sphere, but was a material affair, in the field of production, and consequently was measured in figures and weights. It is relatively simple and easy to gather reliable information about it, to report actual facts; also, the use of simple prudence would have guided those who concern themselves with the subject, for it is fairly easy to show them that they are talking about something they do not know and do not understand. And if it turns out from this concrete, precise example that the deus ex machina is only a frivolous buffoon, it will perhaps help a number of readers to understand the staging methods behind the other “accusations,” whose inanity is unfortunately much less verifiable than that of Order 1042.
I shall endeavour, in my exposition of the affair, not to confine myself to historical data and to link the question of Order 1042 to the problems of planned production and management. The concrete examples that I shall give will probably render the affair a little clearer.
Order 1042, concerning the repairing of locomotives and the methodical utilisation toward this end of all the appropriate forces and resources of the railroad administration and the state, was worked out for a long time by the best specialists, who to this day occupy high posts in railroad management. The application of Order 1042 was actually begun in May-June, formally on July 1, 1920. The plan was the concern not only of the roundhouses of the railway lines but also of the corresponding plants of the Council of National Economy. We present below a comparative table, showing the realisation of the plan, on the one hand by the railroad roundhouses, and on the other hand by the plants of the Council of National Economy. Our figures are a reproduction of the incontestable official data presented periodically to the Council of labour and Defence by the Main Transportation Commission and signed by the representatives of the Commissariat of Transport and the Council of National Economy.
|REALISATION OF ORDER NO.1042|
(Percentage of Realisation of the Plan)
|Plants of the Council
of National Economy
|(Emshanov was Commissar of Transport in 1921)|
Thus, thanks to the intensification of the work of the roundhouses of the Commissariat of Transport, it was possible beginning with October to increase by 28 percent the monthly norms of production. In spite of this increase, the execution of the plan in the second half of 1920 exceeded the established norm by 130 percent. During the first four months of 1921, the execution of the plan was a little below 100 percent. But following that, under Dzerzhinsky, matters lying outside the authority of the Commissariat of Transport interfered with the execution of the plan: on the one hand, the lack of material and of supplies for the repair work itself, and on the other hand, the extreme insufficiency of fuel, which made impossible the utilisation even of the available locomotives. As a result, the Council of Labour and Defence decided, in an order of April 22, 1921, to reduce considerably, for the balance of 1921, the repair norms on locomotives established in plan 1042. For the last eight months of 1921, the work of the Commissariat of Transport represented 80 percent and that of the Council of National Economy 44 percent of the original plan. The results of the execution of Order 1042 in the first semester, the most critical one for transportation, are set forth in the following way in the theses of the Eighth Congress of Soviets, approved by the Political Bureau of the party’s Central Committee:
“The repair program has thus acquired a precise temporal character not only for the railroad roundhouses, but also for the plants of the Council of National Economy working for transportation. The repair program, established at the cost of considerable labour and approved by the Main Transportation Commission, was nevertheless carried out in very different proportions in the railroad roundhouses (Commissariat of Transport) and in the plants (Council of National Economy): while in the roundhouses, major and minor repairs, expressed in units of average repair, increased this year from 258 locomotives to more than 1,000, that is, four times, this representing 130 percent of the fixed monthly program, the plants of the Council of National Economy supplied material and spare parts only in the proportion of one third of the program established by the Commissariat of Transport in agreement with the two departments of the Main Transportation Commission.”
But we see that after a certain time the execution of the norms set up by Order 1042 became impossible as a result of the shortage of raw materials and fuel. That is just what proves the order erroneous! I will say certain critics, who, by the way, have just learned this fact from reading these lines. They must be given the following answer: Order 1042 regulated the repairing of locomotives, but in no instance the production of metal and the mining of coal, which were regulated by other orders and other institutions. Order 1042 was not a universal economic plan, but only a transportation plan.
But was it not necessary, it will be asked, to harmonise it with the resources in fuel, in metals, etc.? Indisputably; and that is precisely why the Main Transportation Commission was created with the participation on a parity basis of representatives of the Commissariat of Transport and the Council of National Economy. The establishment of the plan took place according to the indications of the representatives of the Council of National Economy, who declared that they were in a position to supply such and such materials. Therefore, if there was an error in calculation, the fault is entirely upon the Council of National Economy
Perhaps, after all, that is what the critics meant to say? It is doubtful, very doubtful! The “critics” display the greatest solicitude for historical truth, but only on the condition that it sticks by them. Among these post facto critics there are, alas, some who bore the responsibility at the time for the stewardship of the Council of National Economy. In their criticisms, they simply made a mistake in address. That can happen. As extenuating circumstances, moreover, it should be pointed out that forecasts concerning the mining of coal, the production of metals, etc., were much more difficult to establish then than now. If the forecasts of the Commissariat of Transport on the repairing of locomotives were incomparably more exact than those of the Council of National Economy, the reason for it is, at least up to a certain point, that the administration of the railroads was more centralised and had greater experience. We readily acknowledge that. But that alters nothing in the fact that the error in evaluation was wholly attributable to the Council of National Economy.
This error, which necessitated the reduction of the norms of the plan but did not cause the abolition of the plan itself, testifies neither directly nor indirectly against Order 1042, which essentially bore the character of an orientation and carried provisions for periodic alterations suggested by experience. The checking of a plan of production is one of the most important points in its realisation. We have seen above that the production norms of Order 1042 were raised, beginning with October 1920, by 28 percent, because the productive capacity of the roundhouses of the Commissariat of Transport proved to be greater, thanks to the measures taken, than had been supposed. We have likewise seen that these norms were strongly reduced, beginning with May 1921, as a result of circumstances beyond the control of the said Commissariat But the raising or lowering of these standards followed a definite plan, for which Order 1042 furnished the basis.
That is the maximum that can be demanded of an orientation plan. Naturally, the greatest significance was borne by the figures dealing with the first months, the first half year; the further figures had only theoretical significance. None of those who participated in the working out of the order thought at the time that its execution would last exactly four and a half years. When it proved possible to raise the norm, the theoretical period was reduced to three and a half years. The lack of materials caused the period to be prolonged again. But it remains nonetheless established that in the most critical period of the functioning of transportation (end of 1920, beginning of 1921) the order proved to be in conformity with reality, the repair of locomotives was effected according to a definite plan, was quadrupled, and the railroads averted the imminent catastrophe.
We do not know with what ideal plans our honourable critics compare Order 1042. It seems to us that it ought to be compared with the situation existing before its promulgation. In those days, locomotives were allocated to every factory that asked for them in order to provide itself with food products. It was a desperate measure that entailed the disorganisation of transportation and a monstrous waste of the work needed for repairs. Order 1042 established unity and introduced into repair work the elements of rational organisation of labour by assigning definite series of locomotives to definite plants, so that the repair of the stock no longer depended upon the diffused efforts of the working class as a whole but upon a more or less exact registration of the forces and resources of the transportation administration. Therein lies the importance in principle of Order 1042, regardless of the degree to which the figures of the plan coincide with the figures of its execution. But as we said above, in this respect too all went well.
Naturally, now that the facts are forgotten, anything that enters one’s mind can be said about plan 1042 in the hope that nobody will think of checking up on it and that, come what may, something will stick. But in those days, the affair was perfectly clear and incontestable. Dozens of testimonials may be cited. We will choose three of them, from different authors, but each one characteristic of its type.
On June 3, Pravda evaluated the situation in transportation as follows:
“... Now the functioning of transportation has, in certain respects, improved. Any observer, even a superficial one, can record that a certain, although elementary, order exists now but did not exist before. For the first time, a precise production plan was worked out, a definite task was assigned to the shops, the factories, and the roundhouses This is the first time since the revolution that a complete and exact registration of all the production possibilities exists in reality and not merely on paper. In this respect, Order 1042, signed by Trotsky, represents a turn in our work in the field of transportation ...”
It may be objected that this testimony is only an anticipatory evaluation and that, being signed N.B., it was only the opinion of Bukharin. We do not contest that. Nevertheless, in this passage, Pravda recognised that a beginning had been made in introducing order into the repair of rolling stock.
But we shall report more authoritative testimony, based upon the experience of half a year. At the Eighth Congress of the Soviets, Lenin said:
“... You have already seen in the theses of Emshanov and Trotsky, among others, that in this field [transport restoration] we have a genuine plan worked out for several years. Order 1042 covers five years; in five years we can restore our transportation and reduce the number of locomotives damaged; and important fact the ninth thesis points out that we have already cut down on the schedule.
“When big plans worked out for several years appear, sceptics frequently come forward to say: ‘What good is making forecasts for years in advance? If we can fulfil our present tasks, we shall be doing well.’ Comrades, we must learn to link the two things.
“You cannot work with any serious chance of success without having a plan set up for a prolonged period of time. What proves the necessity of such a plan is the incontestable improvement in the functioning of transportation. I wish to draw your attention to the ninth thesis where it says that the schedule for restoring transport would be four and a half years, but that has already been cut down because we are doing better than the scheduled norms; the schedule has already been set at three and a half years. That is how the work must be done in the other branches of economy ...”
Finally, one year after the publication of Order 1042, we read in the order of Dzerzhinsky, Foundations of the Future Work of the Commissariat of Transport, dated May 27, 1921:
“Whereas the reduction of the norms of Orders 1042 and 1157, which were the brilliant first experience in planned economy, is temporary and produced by the fuel crisis we are undergoing ... it is proper to take the necessary measures for the maintenance and restoration of the tool stock and the shops “
Thus, after an experience of a year and the forced reduction of the norms for repair work, the new director (after Emshanov) of the railroads recognised that Order 1042 was “the brilliant first experience in planned economy.” I strongly doubt that it will now be possible to twist history long after the fact, even if only that history which relates to the repair of rolling stock. However, at the present moment, several persons are zealously engaged in precisely this type of “repair,” trying to twist yesterday’s history and adapt it to the “needs” of the hour. Nevertheless, I do not believe that this repair work (also carried out according to a “plan”!) has any social utility or that in the long run it will yield any tangible results. Marx, it is true, called the revolution the locomotive of history ... But while it is possible to patch up the locomotives of the railroads, the same cannot be done to the locomotive of history, particularly not after the fact. In plain language, such attempts at repairing history are called falsifications. As we have seen, the Main Transportation Commission partially and gropingly realised a harmony of related branches of economy, a job which now represents, on a much bigger and more systematic scale, the task of the State Planning Commission (Gosplan). The example we adduced shows at the same time wherein consist the tasks and the difficulties of planned economy.
No branch of industry, big or small, nor any enterprise at all, can rationally distribute its resources and forces without having a plan of orientation before it. At the same time, all these partial plans are relative, depend upon each other, and condition each other. This reciprocal dependency must necessarily serve as the fundamental criterion in the working out of the plans and then in their realisation, that is, in their periodic verification on the basis of results obtained.
It is cheap and easy to poke fun at plans set up for many years which subsequently prove to be soap bubbles. There have been many such plans, and it is not necessary to say that economic fantasies have no place in the economy. But in order to reach the point of setting up rational plans, it is unfortunately necessary to begin with primitive and rough plans, just as it was necessary to begin with the hatchet and the stone before getting to the steel knife.
It is worth noting that to this day many persons have puerile ideas on the question of planned economy: “We do not need,” they say, “numerous [?!] plans; we have an electrification plan, let’s carry it out!” Such reasoning denotes a complete lack of understanding of the very ABCs of the question. The orientation plan of electrification is entirely subordinate to the orientation plans of the fundamental branches of industry, transportation, finance, and finally agriculture. All these partial plans must first be harmonised with each other on the basis of the data we have at our disposal about our economic resources and possibilities.
It is such a concerted general plan, an annual plan for example (comprising the annual fractions of particular plans for three years, for five years, etc., and representing only working hypotheses), that can and should form the basis in practice on which the directing organ assures the realisation of the plan, and that introduces into it the necessary modifications in the very course of this realisation. Such leadership, employing all the necessary flexibility and freedom of movement, does not degenerate (that is, should not degenerate) into a series of improvisations, inasmuch as it will base itself upon a logical general conception of the whole course of the economic process and, while introducing the necessary modifications into it, will be imbued with the endeavour to perfect the economic plan and concretise it in conformity with material conditions and resources.
Such is the most general pattern of planning in state economy. But the existence of the market extraordinarily complicates its realisation. In the peripheral regions, state economy allies itself or at least tries to ally itself with petty peasant economy.
The direct organ of the smychka is the trade in products of light, and partly of medium, industry, and it is only indirectly, partially, or subsequently, that heavy industry, directly serving the state (army, transportation, state industry), comes into play. Peasant economy is not governed by a plan, it is conditioned by the market, which develops spontaneously. The state can and should act upon it, push it forward, but it is still absolutely incapable of channelling it according to a single plan. Many years will still be needed before that point is reached (probably thanks above all to electrification).
For the next period, which is what interests us practically, we shall have a planned state economy, allying itself more and more with the peasant market and, as a result, adapting itself to the latter in the course of its growth. Although this market develops spontaneously, it does not follow at all that state industry should adapt itself to it spontaneously. On the contrary, our success in economic organisation will depend in large part upon the degree to which we succeed, by means of an exact knowledge of market conditions and correct economic forecasts, in harmonising state industry with agriculture according to a definite plan. A certain amount of competition between different state factories or between trusts changes nothing in the fact that the state is the owner of all nationalised industry and that as owner, administrator, and manager, it looks upon its property as a unit with relation to the peasant market.
Obviously, it is impossible to get an exact advance estimate of the peasant market, as it is of the world market with which our link will tighten principally through the export of grain and raw materials. Errors of evaluation are inevitable, if only because of the variability of the harvest, etc. These errors will manifest themselves through the market in the form of partial and even general scarcity of products, convulsions, and crises. Nevertheless, it is clear that these crises will be less acute and prolonged, the more seriously planned economy pervades all the branches of state economy, constantly uniting them among themselves. If the doctrine of the Brentanists (followers of the German economist Lujo Brentano) and the Bernsteinists, according to which the domination of the capitalist trusts “regulates” the market by making commercial-industrial crises impossible, was radically false, it is entirely correct when applied to the workers’ state considered as a trust of trusts and bank of banks. Put differently, the extension or reduction of the scope of the crisis will be the clearest and most infallible barometer in our economy of the successes of state economy in comparison with the movement of private capital. In the struggle of state industry for the domination of the market, planned economy is our principal weapon. Without it, nationalisation itself would become an obstacle to economic development, and private capital would inevitably undermine the foundations of socialism.
By state economy we mean of course transportation, foreign and domestic trade, and finance, in addition to industry. This whole "combine"in its totality as well as in its parts adapts itself to the peasant market and to the individual peasant as a taxpayer. But this adaptation has as its fundamental aim to raise, consolidate, and develop state industry as the keystone of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the basis of socialism. It is radically false to think that it is possible to develop and perfect certain parts of this “combine” in isolation: be it transportation or finances or anything else. Their progress and retrogression are in close interdependence. That is the source of the immense importance in principle of Gosplan, whose role it is so hard to make understood among us.
Gosplan must coordinate, i.e., systematically unite and direct, all the fundamental factors of the state economy and bring them into correct relationship with the national economy, that is, primarily with the peasant economy. Its principal concern must be the development of state (socialist) industry. It is precisely in this sense that I said that within the state combine, the “dictatorship” must be in the hands not of finance but of industry. Naturally, the word “dictatorship” as I have pointed out has here a very restricted and very conditional character: it is counterpoised to the “dictatorship” which was claimed by finance. In other words, not only foreign trade but also the restoration of a stable currency must be rigorously subordinated to the interests of state industry. It goes without saying that this is in no way directed against the smychka, that is, against correct relationships between the state combine as a whole and the peasant economy. On the contrary, it is only in this way that we will gradually succeed in transferring this smychka from the realm of mere rhetoric to the realm of economic reality. To say that by posing the question this way the peasantry is “neglected,” or that a sweep is sought for state industry such as does not correspond to the condition of the national economy as a whole, is sheer absurdity and does not become more convincing with repetition.
The following words from my report to the Twelfth Congress best show what upsurge was expected from industry in the next period and who were the ones that demanded such an upsurge:
“I said that we have been working at a loss. That is not only my personal assessment. It is shared by official economic administrators. I urge you to take the pamphlet by Khalatov, On Wages, which has just appeared for the congress. It contains a preface by Rykov which says: ‘At the beginning of this third year of our New Economic Policy, it must be recognised that the successes obtained in the two preceding years are still insufficient, that we have not even succeeded in halting fully the decline in fixed capital and circulating capital, to say nothing of a transition to an accumulation and augmentation of the productive forces of the republic. During this third year, we must reach the point where the principal branches of our industry and transportation yield a profit.’
“Thus Rykov records that during this year our fixed capital and our circulating capital have continued to decline. ‘This third year,’ he says, ‘we must reach the point where the principal branches of our industry and transportation yield a profit.’ I readily associate myself with this desire of Rykov; but I do not share his optimistic hope in the results of our work during this third year. I do not believe that the fundamental branches of our industry can already bring in a profit during the third year and I consider that it will be fine if we first of all figure our losses better during the third year of the NEP than we did during the second, and if we can prove that during the third year our losses in the most important branches of industry, transportation, fuel, and metallurgy will be lower than during the second. What is important, above all, is to establish the tendency of development and to assist its unfolding. If our losses diminish and industry progresses, we shall have won the day, we shall reach victory, that is, profit. But the curve must develop in our favour.”
Thus it is absurd to assert that the question boils down to the tempo of the development and is almost determined ... by “temperament.” In reality, it is a question of the direction of the development. But it is very hard to discuss with people who bring every new, precise, concrete question back to a more general question that has already been resolved a long time ago. We must concretise the general formulas, and that is the point of a large part of our discussion: we must pass from the general formula of setting up the smychka, to the more concrete problem of the “scissors” (Twelfth Congress), from the problem of the “scissors” to the effective planned regulation of the economic factors determining prices (Thirteenth Congress). There, to employ the Old Bolshevik terminology, is the struggle against economic “tailendism.” Without success in this ideological struggle, there can be no economic successes whatsoever.
The repair of rolling stock was not, in 1920, a constituent part of a total economic plan, for at that time, despite the tower of Babel erected by bureaucratic “Centres,” there was no question as yet of such a plan. The lever of planning was applied to transportation, that is, to the branch of economy which was then most imperilled and which threatened to collapse completely. That is precisely how we posed the question at the time. “In the conditions in which the entire Soviet economy now finds itself,” we wrote in the theses for the Eighth Congress of Soviets, “when the working out and application of a single plan has not yet gone beyond empirical agreements of the most closely related parts of this future plan, it was absolutely impossible for the railroad administration to construct its plan of repair and management on the basis of data from a single economic plan which first had to be worked out.” Improved, thanks to the repair plan, transportation ceased being a minus and in turn collided with other minuses: metallurgy, grain, coal. By the same token, plan 1042 posed in its development the question of a general economic plan. The NEP modified the conditions in which this question was posed and consequently the methods of solving it. But the question itself remained in all its acuteness. That is attested to by the repeated decisions on the need of making Gosplan the general staff of the Soviet economy.
But we shall return to this in detail, for economic tasks demand an independent, concrete examination.
The historical facts I have just adduced show, I hope, that our critics raked up Order 1042 in vain. The fate of this order proves exactly the opposite of what they wanted to prove. Inasmuch as we already know their methods, we expect to hear them declaim aloud: What good does it do to bring up old questions and examine an order published four years ago! It is terribly hard to satisfy people who are determined at all costs to do a repair job on yesterday’s history. But we do not intend to satisfy them. We have confidence in the readers who are not interested in fixing up history but who endeavor to discover the truth, to turn it into an assimilated part of their experience, and, basing themselves upon it to build further.
(A Letter to Party Meetings)
December 8, 1923
I had confidently hoped to be recovered soon enough to be able to participate in the discussion of the internal situation and the new tasks of the party. But my illness came at a more inopportune time than ever before and proved to be of longer duration than the first forecasts of the doctors. There is nothing left but to expound my view to you in the present letter.
The resolution of the Political Bureau on party organisation bears an exceptional significance. It indicates that the party has arrived at an important turning point in its historical road. At turning points, as has been rightly pointed out at many meetings, prudence is required; but firmness and resoluteness are required too. Hesitancy and amorphousness would be the worst forms of imprudence in this case.
Inclined to overestimate the role of the apparatus and to underestimate the initiative of the party, some conservative minded comrades criticise the resolution of the Political Bureau. The Central Committee, they say, is assuming impossible obligations; the resolution will only engender illusions and produce negative results. It is clear that such an approach reveals a profound bureaucratic distrust of the party.
The centre of gravity, which was mistakenly placed in the apparatus by the “old course,” has now been transferred by the “new course,” proclaimed in the resolution of the Central Committee, to the activity, initiative, and critical spirit of all the party members, as the organised vanguard of the proletariat. The “new course” does not at all signify that the party apparatus is charged with decreeing, creating, or establishing a democratic régime at such and such a date. No. This régime will be realised by the party itself. To put it briefly: the party must subordinate to itself its own apparatus without for a moment ceasing to be a centralised organisation. In the debates and articles of recent times, it has been underlined that “pure,” “complete,” “ideal” democracy is not realisable and that in general for us it is not an end in itself. That is incontestable. But it can be stated with just as much reason that pure, absolute centralism is unrealisable and incompatible with the nature of a mass party, and that it can no more be an end in itself than can the party apparatus. Democracy and centralism are two faces of party organisation. The question is to harmonise them in the most correct manner, that is, the manner best corresponding to the situation. During the last period there was no such equilibrium. The centre of gravity wrongly lodged in the apparatus. The initiative of the party was reduced to the minimum. Thence the habits and procedures of leadership fundamentally contradicting the spirit of a revolutionary proletarian organisation. The excessive centralisation of the apparatus at the expense of initiative engendered a feeling of uneasiness, an uneasiness which, at the extremities of the party, assumed an exceedingly morbid form and was translated, among other ways, in the appearance of illegal groupings directed by elements undeniably hostile to communism. At the same time, the whole of the party disapproved more and more of apparatus methods of solving questions. The idea, or at the very least the feeling, that bureaucratism threatened to get the party into a blind alley, had become quite general. Voices were raised to point out the danger. The resolution on the “new course” is the first official expression of the change that has taken place in the party. It will be realised to the degree that the party, that is, its 400,000 members, want to realise it and succeed in doing so.
In a number of articles, efforts are being made to demonstrate that in order to give life to the party, it is necessary to begin by raising the level of its members, after which everything else, that is, workers’ democracy, will come of its own accord. It is incontestable that we must raise the ideological level of our party in order to enable it to accomplish the gigantic tasks devolving upon it. But precisely because of this, such a purely pedagogical, professorial way of putting the question is insufficient and hence erroneous. To persist in it cannot fail to aggravate the crisis.
The party cannot raise its level except by accomplishing its essential tasks, and by exercising the kind of collective leadership that displays the initiative of the working class and the proletarian state. The question must be approached not from the pedagogical but from the political point of view. The application of workers’ democracy cannot be made dependent upon the degree of “preparation” of the party members for this democracy. A party is a party. We can make stringent demands upon those who want to enter and stay in it; but once they are members, they participate most actively, by that fact, in all the work of the party.
Bureaucratism kills initiative and thus prevents the elevation of the general level of the party. That is its cardinal defect. As the apparatus is made up inevitably of the most experienced and most meritorious comrades, it is upon the political training of the young communist generations that bureaucratism has its most grievous repercussions. Also, it is the youth, the most reliable barometer of the party, that reacts most vigorously against party bureaucratism.
Nevertheless, it should not be thought that our system of solving questions they are settled almost exclusively by the party functionaries has no influence on the older generation, which incarnates the political experience and the revolutionary traditions of the party. There too the danger is very great. It is not necessary to speak of the immense authority of the group of party veterans, not only in Russia but internationally; that is universally recognised. But it would be a crude mistake to regard it as absolute. It is only by a constant active collaboration with the new generation, within the framework of democracy, that the Old Guard will preserve itself as a revolutionary factor. Of course, it may ossify and become unwittingly the most consummate expression of bureaucratism.
History offers us more than one case of degeneration of the “Old Guard.” Let us take the most recent and striking example: that of the leaders of the parties of the Second International. We know that Wilhelm Liebknecht, Bebel, Singer, Victor Adler, Kautsky, Bernstein, Lafargue, Guesde, and many others were the direct pupils of Marx and Engels. Yet we know that in the atmosphere of parliamentarism and under the influence of the automatic development of the party and the trade union apparatus, all these leaders turned, in whole or in part, to opportunism. We saw that, on the eve of the war, the formidable apparatus of the social democracy, covered with the authority of the old generation, had become the most powerful brake upon revolutionary progress. And we, the “elders,” ought to say to ourselves plainly that our generation, which naturally enjoys the leading role in the party, is not absolutely guaranteed against the gradual and imperceptible weakening of the revolutionary and proletarian spirit in its ranks if the party were to tolerate the further growth and stabilisation of bureaucratic methods, which transform the youth into the passive material of education and inevitably create an estrangement between the apparatus and the mass, the old and the young. The party has no other means to employ against this indubitable danger than a serious, profound, radical change of course toward party democracy and an increasingly large flow into its midst of working class elements.
I shall not dwell here upon the juridical definitions of party democracy, nor upon the limits imposed on it by the party statutes. However important they may be, these questions are secondary. We shall examine them in the light of our experience and will introduce into them the necessary modifications. But what must be modified before anything else is the spirit that reigns in our organisations. Every unit of the party must return to collective initiative, to the right of free and comradely criticism without fear and without turning back and to the right of organisational self-determination. It is necessary to regenerate and renovate the party apparatus and to make it feel that it is nothing but the executive mechanism of the collective will.
The party press has recently presented not a few examples that characterise the already ossified bureaucratic degeneration of party morals and relations. The answer to the first word of criticism is: “Let’s have your membership card!” Before the publication of the decision of the Central Committee on the “new course,” merely pointing out the need to modify the internal party régime was regarded by bureaucratised apparatus functionaries as heresy, as factionalism, as an infraction of discipline. And now the bureaucrats are ready formally to “take note” of the “new course,” that is, to nullify it bureaucratically. The renovation of the party apparatus naturally within the clear cut framework of the statutes must aim at replacing the mummified bureaucrats with fresh elements closely linked with the life of the collectivity or capable of assuring such a link. And before anything else, the leading posts must be cleared of those who, at the first word of criticism, of objection, or of protest, brandish the thunderbolts of penalties before the critic. The “new course” must begin by making everyone feel that from now on nobody will dare terrorise the party.
It is entirely insufficient for our youth to repeat our formulas. They must conquer the revolutionary formulas, assimilate them, work out their own opinions, their own character; they must be capable of fighting for their views with the courage which arises out of the depths of conviction and independence of character. Out of the party with passive obedience, with mechanical levelling by the authorities, with suppression of personality, with servility, with careerism! A Bolshevik is not merely a disciplined person; he is a person who in each case and on each question forges a firm opinion of his own arid defends it courageously and independently, not only against his enemies, but inside his own party. Today, perhaps, he will be in the minority in his organisation. He will submit, because it is his party. But this does not always signify that he is in the wrong. Perhaps he saw or understood before the others did a new task or the necessity of a turn. He will persistently raise the question a second, a third, a tenth time, if need be. Thereby he will render his party a service, helping it to meet the new task fully armed or to carry out the necessary turn without organic upheavals, without fractional convulsions.
Yes, our party would be unable to discharge its historic mission if it were chopped up into factions. That should not and will not happen. It will not decompose in this way because, autonomous collectivity that it is, its organism resists it. But it will successfully combat the dangers of factionalism only by developing and consolidating the new course toward workers’ democracy. Bureaucratism of the apparatus is precisely one of the principal sources of factionalism. It ruthlessly represses criticism and drives discontent back into the depths of the organisation. It tends to put the label of factionalism upon any criticism, any warning. Mechanical centralism is necessarily complemented by factionalism, which is at once a malicious caricature of democracy and a potential political danger.
Conscious of the situation, the party will accomplish the necessary turn with the firmness and decisiveness demanded by the tasks devolving upon it. By the same token, it will raise its revolutionary unity to a higher level, as a pledge that it will be able to accomplish its immeasurably significant national and international tasks.
I am far from having exhausted the question. I deliberately refrained from examining here several essential aspects, out of fear of taking up too much of your time. But I hope that I shall soon succeed in recovering from malaria which to judge from myself is in clear opposition to the “new course.” Then I hope to be able to do orally what was not possible in this letter more fully to supplement and elaborate my views.
P.S. – The publication of this letter in Pravda having been postponed for two days, I take advantage of the delay to add a few supplementary remarks.
I have learned from some comrades that during the reading of my letter to the district meetings, certain comrades expressed the fear that my considerations on the relationships between the “Old Guard” and the young generation might be exploited to counterpose (!) the youth to the old. Unquestionably, this apprehension could have assailed only those who, but two or three months ago, rejected with horror the very idea of the necessity of a change in orientation.
At any rate, to place apprehensions of this type in the foreground at the present moment and in the present situation denotes a lack of understanding of the real dangers and of their relative importance. The present mood of the youth, symptomatic to the highest degree, is engendered precisely by the methods employed to maintain “calm” which are formally condemned by the resolution unanimously adopted by the Political Bureau In other words, “calm,” as it was understood, threatened the leading layer with increasing estrangement from the younger communists, that is, from the vast majority of the party.
A certain tendency of the apparatus to think and to decide for the whole organisation leads to seating the authority of the leading circles exclusively upon tradition. Respect for tradition is incontestably a necessary element of communist training and party cohesion, but it can be a vital factor only if it is nurtured and fortified constantly by an active verification of this tradition, that is, by the collective elaboration of the party’s policy for the present moment. Otherwise, it may degenerate into a purely official sentiment, and be nothing more than a hollow form. Such a link between the generations is obviously insufficient and most fragile. It may appear to be solid right up to the moment when it is ready to break. That is precisely the danger of the policy of “calm” in the party.
And, if the veterans who are not yet bureaucratised, who have still kept a revolutionary spirit alive (that is, we are convinced, the vast majority), become clearly aware of the danger pointed out above and help the party with all their strength to apply the resolution of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, every reason for counterposing the generations in the party will disappear. It would then be relatively easy to calm the passions, the possible “excesses,” of the youth. But what is necessary first of all is to act so that the tradition of the party is not concentrated in the leading apparatus, but lives and is constantly renewed in the daily experience of the organisation as a whole. In this way, another danger will be parried: that of the division of the old generation into “functionaries,” charged with maintaining “calm,” and non-functionaries. No longer enclosed within itself, the party apparatus, that is, its organic skeleton, far from being weakened, will find itself growing stronger. And it is beyond dispute that we need in our party a powerful centralised apparatus.
It may perhaps be objected that the example of the degeneration of the social democracy which I cited in my letter is incorrect in view of the profound differences in epochs: yesterday’s stagnant reformism and today’s revolutionary epoch. Naturally, an example is only an example and not at all an identity. Nevertheless, this indiscriminate contrast of epochs does not in itself decide anything. Not for nothing do we point to the dangers of the NEP, which are closely linked with the retardation of the world revolution. Our daily practical state work, which is more and more detailed and specialised, conceals, as the resolution of the Central Committee points out, a danger of the narrowing down of our horizon, that is, of opportunistic degeneration. It is quite plain that these dangers become all the more serious the more bossing by “secretaries” tends to replace the genuine leadership of the party. We would be shabby revolutionists if we were to rely upon the “revolutionary character of the epoch” for the overcoming of our difficulties, and above all of our internal difficulties. This “epoch” must be assisted by the rational realisation of the new orientation unanimously proclaimed by the Political Bureau.
To conclude, one more remark. Two or three months ago, when the questions that are the object of the present discussion had not yet appeared on the party’s agenda, some responsible comrades from the provinces shrugged their shoulders indulgently and told themselves that these are Moscow inventions; in the provinces all goes well. Even now this tone is reflected in certain correspondence from the provinces. To contrast the tranquil and reasonable province to the turbulent and contaminated capital, is to display that same bureaucratic spirit we spoke about above. In reality, the Moscow organisation is the largest, the strongest, the most vital of all our party organisations. Even at the dullest moments of so called “calm” (the word is a very expressive one, and should not fail to enter our party history!), its activity has been more intense than anywhere else. If Moscow is distinguished now from other points in Russia, it is only in that it has taken the initiative in reexamining the course of our party. That’s a merit and not a defect. The whole party will follow in its footsteps and will proceed to the necessary reassessment of certain values of the current period. The less the provincial party apparatus resists this movement, the more easily will the local organisations traverse this inevitable stage of fruitful criticism and self-criticism, whose results will be translated into a growth of the cohesion and an elevation of the ideological level of the party.
(Functionarism in the Army and Elsewhere)
December 3, 1923
In the course of the last year, the military workers and I have on many occasions exchanged opinions, orally and in writing, on the negative phenomena visible in the army stemming from mouldy functionarism. I dealt with this question thoroughly enough at the last congress of political workers in the army and navy. But it is so serious that it seems to me opportune to speak of it in our general press, all the more so because the malady is in no sense confined to the army.
Functionarism is closely related to bureaucratism It might even be said that it is one of its manifestations. When, as a result of being habituated to the same form, people cease to think things through; when they smugly employ conventional phrases without reflecting on what they mean; when they give the customary orders without asking if they are rational; when they take fright at every new word, every criticism, every initiative, every sign of independence – that indicates that they have fallen into the toils of the functionary spirit, dangerous to the highest degree.
At the conference of the military political workers, I cited as an (at first sight) innocent example of functionary ideology some historical sketches of our military units. The publication of these works dealing with the history of our armies, our divisions, our régiments, is a valuable acquisition. It attests that our military units have been constituted in battle and in technical apprenticeship, not only from the standpoint of organisation but also from the spiritual standpoint, as living organisms; and it indicates the interest shown in their past. But most of these historical outlines – there is no reason to hide the sin – are written in a pompous and bombastic tone. Even more, certain of these works make you recall the old historical sketches devoted to the guard régiments of the tsar. This comparison will no doubt provoke gleeful snickers from the White press. But we would be old washrags indeed if we renounced self-criticism out of fear of providing our enemies with a trump. The advantages of a salutary self-criticism are incomparably superior to the harm that may result for us from the fact that Dan or Chernov will repeat our criticism. Yes, let it be known to the pious (and impious!) old ladies who fall into panic (or create panic around themselves) at the first sound of self-criticism.
To be sure, our régiments and our divisions, and with them the country as a whole, have the right to be proud of their victories. But it wasn’t only victories that we had, and we did not attain these victories directly but along very roundabout roads. During the civil war we saw displays of unexampled heroism, all the more worthy because it most often remained anonymous, collective; but we also had cases of weakness, of panic, of pusillanimity, of incompetence, and even of treason. The history of every one of our “old” régiments (four or five years is already old age in times of revolution) is extremely interesting and instructive if told truthfully and vibrantly, that is, the way it unfolded on the battlefield and in the barracks. Instead of that, you often find a heroic legend in the most banal functionary manner. To read it, you would think there are only heroes in our ranks; that every soldier burns with the desire to fight; that the enemy is always superior in numbers; that all our orders are reasonable, appropriate for the occasion; that the execution is brilliant, etc.
To think that by such procedures a military unit can be enhanced in its own eyes, and a happy influence be exerted on the training of the youth, is to be imbued with the moldy spirit of the functionary. In the best of cases, this “history” will leave no impression at all; the Red soldier will read it or listen to it the way his father listened to Lives of the Saints: just as magnificent and uplifting, but not true to life. Those who are older, or who participated in the civil war, or who are simply more intelligent, will say to themselves: the military people too are throwing sand in our eyes; or simpler yet: they’re giving us a lot of hokum. The more naive, those who take everything for good coin, will think: How am I, a weak mortal, to raise myself to the level of those heroes? ... And in this way, this ᰴhistory,” instead of raising their morale, will depress them.
Historical truth does not have a purely historical interest for us. These historical sketches are needed by us in the first place as a means of education. And if, for example, a young commander accustoms himself to the conventional lie about the past, he will speedily reach the point of admitting it into his daily practical and even military activity. If, for example, he happens to commit a blunder, he will ask himself: Ought I report this truthfully? He must! But he has been raised in the functionary spirit; he does not want to derogate the heroes whose exploits he has read in the history of his régiment; or, quite simply, the feeling of responsibility has deadened in him. In that case he trims, that is, he distorts the facts, and deceives his superiors. And false reports of subordinates inevitably produce, in the long run, erroneous orders and dispositions from the superiors. Finally – and this is the worst thing – the commander is simply afraid to report the truth to his chiefs. Functionarism then assumes its most repulsive character: lying to please superiors.
Supreme heroism, in the military art as in the revolution, is veracity and the feeling of responsibility. We speak of veracity not from the standpoint of an abstract morality that teaches that one must never lie or deceive one’s neighbour. These idealistic principles are pure hypocrisy in a class society where antagonistic interests, struggles, and wars exist. The military art in particular necessarily includes ruse, dissimulation, surprise, deception. But it is one thing consciously and deliberately to deceive the enemy in the name of a cause for which life itself is given; and another thing to give out harmful and misleading information, assurances that “all goes well,” out of false modesty or out of fawning or obsequiousness, or simply under the influence of bureaucratic functionarism.
Why do we now deal with the question of functionarism? How was it posed in the first years of the revolution? We have the army in mind here too, but the reader will himself make the necessary analogies in all other fields of our work, for there is a certain parallel in the development of a class, its party, its state, and its army.
The new cadres of our army were supplemented by revolutionists, fighting militants, and partisans, who had made the October Revolution and who had already acquired a certain past and above all character. The characteristic of these commanders is not lack of initiative but rather excess of initiative or, more exactly, an inadequate understanding of the need for coordination in action and firm discipline (“partisanism”). The first period of military organisation was filled with the struggle against all forms of military “independence.” The aim then was the establishment of rational relationships and firm discipline. The years of civil war were a hard school in this respect. In the end, the balance necessary between personal independence and the feeling of discipline was successfully established among the best revolutionary commanders from the first levy.
The development of our young army cadres takes place quite differently during the years of truce. As a young man, the future commander enters military school. He has neither revolutionary past nor war experience. He is a neophyte. He does not build up the Red Army as the old generation did; he enters a ready-made organisation with an internal régime and definite traditions. Here is a clear analogy with the relationships between the young communists and the Old Guard of the party. That is why the means by which the army’s fighting tradition, or the party’s revolutionary tradition, is transmitted to the young people is of vast importance. Without a continuous lineage, and consequently without a tradition, there cannot be stable progress. But tradition is not a rigid canon or an official manual; it cannot be learned by heart or accepted as gospel; not everything the old generation says can be believed merely “on its word of honor.” On the contrary the tradition must, so to speak, be conquered by internal travail; it must be worked out by oneself in a critical manner, and in that way assimilated. Otherwise the whole structure will be built on sand.
I have already spoken of the representatives of the “Old Guard” (ordinarily of the second and third order) who inculcate tradition into the youth after the example of Famusov: “Learn by looking at the elders: us, for example, or our deceased uncle.” But neither from the uncle nor from his nephews is there anything worth learning.
It is incontestable that our old cadres, which have rendered immortal services to the revolution, enjoy very great authority in the eyes of the young military men. And that’s excellent, for it assures the indissoluble bond between the higher and lower commands, and their link with the ranks of the soldiers. But on one condition: that the authority of the old does not exterminate the personality of the young, and most certainly that it does not terrorise them.
It is in the army that it is easiest and most tempting to establish this principle: Keep your mouth shut and don’t think. But in the military field, this “principle” is just as disastrous as in any other. The main task consists not in preventing but in aiding the young commander to work out his own opinion, his own will, his personality, in which independence must join with the feeling of discipline. The commander and, as a rule, anyone trained merely to say: Yes, sir! is a nobody. Of such people, the old satirist Saltykov said: “They keep saying yes, yes, yes, till they get you in a mess.” With such yes-men the military administrative apparatus, that is, the totality of military bureaus, may still function, not without some success, at least seemingly. But what an army, a mass fighting organisation, needs is not sycophantic functionaries but men who are strongly tempered morally, permeated with a feeling of personal responsibility, who on every important question will make it their duty to work out conscientiously their personal opinion and will defend it courageously by every means that does not violate rationally (that is, not bureaucratically) understood discipline and unity of action.
The history of the Red Army, like that of its various units, is one of the most important means of establishing mutual understanding and continuity between the old and the new generation of military cadres. That is why bureaucratic obsequiousness, spurious docility, and all other manners of empty well-wishers who know what side their bread is buttered on, cannot be tolerated. What is needed is criticism, checking of facts, independence of thought, the personal elaboration of the present and the future, independence of character, the feeling of responsibility, truth toward oneself and toward one’s work. However, those are things that find in functionarism their mortal enemy. Let us therefore sweep it out, smoke it out, and smoke it out of every corner!
(On the ‘Smychka’ Between Town and Country –
More Precisely: On the ‘Smychka’ and False Rumours)
December 6, 1923
Several times in these recent months, comrades have asked me just what was my point of view on the peasantry and what distinguished it from Lenin’s. Others have put the question to me in a more precise and more concrete way: Is it true, they have asked, that you underestimated the role of the peasantry in our economic development and, by that token, do not assign sufficient importance to the economic and political alliance between proletariat and peasantry? Such questions have been put to me orally and in writing.
But where did you get that? I asked, astonished. On what facts do you base your question?
That’s just it, they answer, we don’t know; but there are rumours abroad ... At the outset, I attached no great importance to these conversations. But a new letter I have just received on the subject has made me reflect. Where can these rumours come from? And quite by accident, I recalled that rumours of this sort were widespread in Russia four or five years ago.
At that time, it was simply said: Lenin is for the peasant, Trotsky against. I then set out to look into the articles that appeared on this question: mine, in Izvestia, the paper of the All Union Central Executive Committee, of February 7, 1919, and Lenin’s, in Pravda of February 15. Lenin was replying directly to the letter of the peasant G. Gulov, who recounted (I quote Lenin):
“the rumour is spreading that Lenin and Trotsky are not in agreement, that there are strong differences of opinion between them precisely on the subject of the middle peasant.”
In my letter I explained the general character of our peasant policy, our attitude toward the kulaks, the middle peasants, and the poor peasants, and I concluded with this: There have not been and there are not any differences of opinion on this subject in the Soviet power. But the counter-revolutionists, whose business is going from bad to worse, have left as their only resource to fool the toiling masses and to make them believe that the Council of People’s Commissars is torn by internal dissension.
In the article which he published a week after mine, Lenin said, among other things: “Comrade Trotsky says that rumours of differences between him and myself are the most monstrous and shameless lie, spread by the landowners and capitalists, or by their witting and unwitting accomplices. For my part, I entirely confirm Comrade Trotsky’s statement.” [CW, Vol.36, Reply to a Peasant’s Question (February 14, 1919), p.500].
Nevertheless, these rumours, as is seen, are difficult to uproot. Remember the French proverb: “Slander, slander, something will always stick.” Now, to be sure, it is not the landed proprietors and the capitalists whose game would be played by rumours of this sort, for the number of these honourable gentlemen has declined considerably since 1919. On the other hand, we now have the Nepman and, in the countryside, the merchant and the kulak. It is undeniable that it is in their interests to sow trouble and confusion as to the attitude of the Communist Party toward the peasantry.
It is precisely the kulak, the retailer, the new merchant, the urban broker, who seek a market link with the peasant producer of grain and buyer of industrial products, and endeavour to crowd the Soviet state out of this smychka. It is precisely on this field that the main battle is now developing. Here too, politics serves economic interests. Seeking to forge a link with the peasant and to gain his confidence, the private middleman obviously readily welcomes and spreads the old falsehoods of the landlords only with a little more prudence, because since then the Soviet power has become stronger.
The well known article of Lenin entitled Better Fewer, but Better gives a clear, simple, and at the same time conclusive picture of the economic interdependence of the proletariat and the peasantry, or of state industry and agriculture. It is not necessary to recall or to quote this article, which everyone well remembers. Its fundamental thought is the following: During the coming years, we must adapt the Soviet state to the needs and the strength of the peasantry, while preserving its character as a workers’ state; we must adapt Soviet industry to the peasant market, on the one hand, and to the taxable capacity of the peasantry, on the other, while preserving its character as state, that is, socialist industry. Only in this way shall we be able to avoid destroying the equilibrium in our Soviet state until the revolution will have destroyed the equilibrium in the capitalist states. It is not the repetition of the word “smychka” at every turn (although the word itself is a good one), but the effective adaptation of industry to rural economy that can really solve the cardinal question of our economy and our politics.
Here we get to the question of the “scissors.” The adaptation of industry to the peasant market poses before us in the first place the task of lowering the cost price of industrial products in every way. The cost price, however, depends not only on the organisation of the work in a given factory, but also on the organisation of the whole of state industry, state transportation, state finances, and the state trade apparatus.
If there is a disproportion between the different sections of our industry, it is because the state has an enormous unrealisable capital that weighs upon all of industry and raises the price of every yard of calico and every box of matches. If the staves of a barrel are of different length, then you can fill it with water only up to the shortest stave; otherwise, no matter how much water you pour in, it pours out. If the different parts of our state industry (coal, metals, machinery, cotton, cloth, etc.) do not mesh with each other, or with transportation and credit, the costs of production will likewise include the expenditures of the most inflated branches of industry and the final result will be determined by the less developed branches. The present selling crisis is a harsh warning that the peasant market is giving us: Stop jabbering about the smychka; realise it!
In the capitalist régime, the crisis is the natural and, in the long run, the only way of regulating economy, that is, of realising a harmony between the different branches of industry, and between total production and the capacity of the market. But in our Soviet economy intermediate between capitalism and socialism commercial and industrial crises cannot be recognised as the normal or even inevitable way of harmonising the different parts of the national economy. The crisis carries off, annihilates, or disperses a certain portion of the possessions of the state and a part of this falls into the hands of the middlemen, the retailers in general, of private capital. Inasmuch as we have inherited an extremely disorganised industry, the different parts of which, before the war, served each other in entirely different proportions than we must now have, there is great difficulty in harmonising the different parts of industry in such a manner that it can be adapted, through the medium of the market, to the peasant economy. If we resign ourselves to just letting the effect of the crises achieve the necessary reorganisation, we will give all the advantages to private capital, which already interposes itself between us and the countryside, that is, the peasant and the worker.
Private trading capital is now realising considerable profits. It is less and less content with operating as a middleman. It tries to organise the producer and to rent industrial enterprises from the state. In other words, it is recommencing the process of primitive accumulation, first in the commercial field and then in the industrial field. It is plain that every failure, every loss that we experience, is a plus for private capital: first, because it weakens us, and then because a considerable part of this loss falls into the hands of the new capitalist.
What instrument do we have at our disposal to fight successfully against private capital under these conditions? Is there such an instrument? There is a consciously planned approach to the market and to economic tasks in general. The workers’ state has in its hands the fundamental productive forces of industry and the means of transportation and credit. We do not need to wait until a partial or general crisis discloses the lack of coordination of the different elements of our economy. We do not need to grope in the dark, because we have in our hands the principal playing cards of the market. We can and this we must learn! evaluate better and better the fundamental elements of the economy, foresee their future mutual relationships in the process of production and on the market, bring into harmony quantitatively and qualitatively all the branches of the economy, and adapt the whole of industry to rural economy. That is the real way to work for the realisation of the smychka.
To educate the village is an excellent thing. But the foundation of the smychka is the cheap plow and nail, cheap calico, and cheap matches. The way to reduce the price of the products of industry is through correct (i.e., systematised, planned) organisation of the latter in conformity with the development of agriculture.
To say: “Everything depends upon the smychka and not upon industrial planning,” means not to understand the very essence of the question, for the smychka cannot be realised unless industry is rationally organised, managed according to a definite plan. There is no other way and there can be none.
The correct posing of the work of our State Planning Commission is the direct and rational way of approaching successfully the solution of the questions relating to the smychka not by suppressing the market, but on the basis of the market. This the peasant does not yet understand. But we ought to understand it; every communist, every advanced worker, ought to understand it. Sooner or later the peasant will feel the repercussions of the work of Gosplan upon his economy. This task, it goes without saying, is very complicated and extremely difficult. It demands time, a system of increasingly precise and decisive measures. We must emerge from the present crisis as wiser men. The restoration of agriculture is of course no less important.
But it takes place in a much more spontaneous manner, and sometimes depends much less upon the action of the state than upon that of industry. The workers’ state must come to the aid of the peasants (to the degree that its means will permit!) by the institution of agricultural credits and agronomic assistance, so as to lighten the task of exporting their products (grain, meat, butter, etc.) on the world market. Nevertheless, it is mainly through industry that we can act directly, if not indirectly, upon agriculture. It must furnish the countryside with agricultural implements and machines at accessible prices. It must give it artificial fertilisers and cheap domestic articles. In order to organise and develop agricultural credits, the state needs a substantial revolving fund. In order to procure it, its industry must yield profits, which is impossible unless its constituent parts are rationally harmonised among themselves. That is the genuinely practical way of working toward the realisation of the smychka between the working class and the peasantry.
To prepare this alliance politically, and in particular to refute the false rumours and gossip that are spread through the medium of the intermediary trading apparatus, a genuine peasant journal is necessary. What does “genuine” mean in this instance? A journal that would get to the peasants, be comprehensible to them, and bring them closer to the working class. A journal circulating in fifty or a hundred thousand copies will be perhaps a journal in which the peasant is talked to, but not a peasant journal, for it will not get to the peasant; it will be intercepted on the way by our countless “apparatuses,” which will each take a certain number of copies for their own use. We need a weekly peasant journal (a daily paper would be too expensive and our means of communication do not make regular delivery possible), with a circulation in the first year of about two million copies. This journal should not “instruct” the peasants or “launch appeals” at them, but tell them what is happening in Soviet Russia and abroad, principally what affects them and their economy directly. The post-revolution peasants will rapidly acquire a taste for reading it if we know how to give them a journal that suits them. This journal, whose circulation will grow from month to month, will assure for the first period weekly communication at the very least between the Soviet state and the vast rural mass. But the very question of the journal itself brings us back to that of industry. The technical side of the journal must be perfect. The peasant journal should be exemplary, not only from the editorial standpoint but also from the typographical point of view, for it would be a shame to send the peasants specimens of our urban negligence every week.
That is all I can say, at this moment, in reply to the questions that have been put to me on the subject of the peasantry. If these explanations do not satisfy the comrades who addressed themselves to me, I am ready to give them more concrete new ones, with precise data drawn from the experience of our whole last six years of Soviet work. For this question is of capital importance.
The leading circles of the Russian Communist Youth have intervened in the party discussion. In view of the fact that an article signed by nine comrades (Two Generations, Pravda, No.1) and an address to the Petrograd militants pose the questions wrongly and may do harm to the party if a wide discussion follows in the RCY, we deem it necessary to analyse their declarations and the reasons that prompt them.
The Petrograd address and the article by the nine say that the youth must not be flattered, that they are not the comptrollers of the party, that the new generation of the party cannot be counterposed to the old, that no degeneration threatens us, that Trotsky is guilty of all these mortal sins, and that the youth must be put on their guard. Let us see: Is that the situation?
In their article the nine say that Trotsky drags in the question of the youth by the hair (we shall return to this later on), that he adapts himself to the youth, that he flatters it. Let us hear what Lenin says on this score: “Soviet schools, workers’ schools have been founded; hundreds of thousands of young people are learning there. This work will yield its fruit. If we work without too much precipitateness, in a few years we shall have a mass of young people capable of radically modifying our apparatus.”
Why did Lenin speak this way of the youth? What drove him to it? The desire to get in good with the youth, to flatter them, to obtain their applause? Or was it his real understanding of the situation? It is least of all necessary to speak of “flattery” on the part of Trotsky, and there is absolutely no reason to contrast him to other leaders of our party. The nine comrades say that Lenin taught us to have a critical attitude toward the youth, not to encourage their shortcomings. Did not Comrade Trotsky follow this good advice when he said at the Eleventh Congress of the party, as he says now: “... That does not mean, of course, that all the acts and moods of the youth express healthy tendencies,” or elsewhere: “The youth of the schools, recruited from all the layers and strata of Soviet society, reflect in their disparate ranks all our sides, good and defective.” To judge from these quotations, Trotsky, far from flattering, criticises.
The question of degeneration is likewise expounded erroneously. Trotsky speaks of the danger of degeneration both for the youth generation and for the old. To this, the editorial board of Pravda replies: “The theoretical danger of degeneration exists among us. Its sources lie in the possibility of a steady and gradual victory of capitalist economy over socialist economy and in the possibility of a progressive fusion of our administrative cadres with the new bourgeoisie. But there is nobody among us who does not see this danger”
Yet, what the nine comrades say in their article “This danger of political degeneration cannot exist among us” harmonises in no way with this declaration. Consequently, the accusation and the defence are out of whack.
Let us pass to the most serious accusation: Trotsky counterposes the two generations, eggs them on against each other, “wants to undermine the influence of the tested Bolshevik general staff.”
Here is what Trotsky writes: “It would be madness to think of discarding the old generation. What is needed is that precisely this old generation should change its orientation and, by doing so, assure in the future the preponderance of its influence in all the work of the party.”
Where is this counterposing of the youth to the old, this desire to undermine the old cadres, which is at the foundation of the arguments of the two documents? It seems to us that if all the above quoted declarations of Trotsky are quietly and seriously examined, it is impossible to see in them any egging on of the two sections, any intention of animosity. On the contrary, Trotsky understands the “new course” as the best way of consolidating and raising the influence of the Old Bolshevik cadres.
But if all these legends, arbitrary interpretations, and distortions are rejected, and if the essence of the question of how to educate the young communists in the Leninist spirit is studied, it appears clearly that Trotsky is entirely right.
And if the nine militants of the RCY who spoke up take the trouble to examine more closely the situation of the young communist, who is best known to them, they will record the fact that the young communists party members feel not that they are party members in the RCY but “communist youth in the party.” That is a fact pointed out on many occasions by the most esteemed activists.
What is the deep-seated reason for this? It is that in the narrow party régime, the youth do not have the opportunity to partake in the riches accumulated through our party’s long years of work. The best means of transmitting the revolutionary Bolshevik traditions, and all the qualities inherent in the fundamental cadre of the party, is the “new course” of democracy applied “consciously by the old generation in the interest of preserving its leading influence.”
Thus, as to the essence of the question, it is not Trotsky who “dragged in by the hair” the question of the youth (which he connects with all the reasons prompting the “new course” of the party) but the authors of the letters who attribute to him a point of view he has never supported.
In actuality (although involuntarily) the nine comrades who brought the RCY into the discussion have reduced the latter to the question of two generations, without linking it to the totality of the discussion and to all the questions the party is posing at the present time. And when the question of the generations itself is posed wrongly, when it is distorted, all statements on it can only be regrettable; and if they lead to a discussion among the militants of the RCY, this discussion will unfold along a false line and will provoke the dissension Trotsky has spoken out against.
The Central Committee of the RCY has decided not to submit the questions raised in the party discussion to special consideration by the party members working in the RCY. We consider this decision entirely correct. In no case can it legitimise the above-mentioned article. If the decision barring the introduction of the discussion into the RCY is correct and if militants of the Central Committee have deemed it necessary to plunge into this discussion not in order to say anything new, except for a clumsy accusation against Trotsky’s alleged bowing down before some “divine trinity” or other, how else is their action to be explained than as one prompted by the desire to have “the youth” strike a blow at Trotsky?
Nobody (and Trotsky less than anyone) has challenged the need of preserving the preponderant influence, the leadership, of the old cadre of the party. This need is more than obvious to all of us. It is not on this point that our discussion of the article of the nine revolves.
We are against attributing to leading comrades of our party thoughts they have not expressed; by that token, we are against an incorrect and distorted posing of the question, particularly before the young communists. We are against concealing the necessity of creating in the party the kind of situation that will permit the training of genuine Leninists, and not the kind of communists of whom Lenin said at our Third Communist Youth Congress:
“If a Communist took it into his head to boast about his communism because of the cut-and-dried conclusions he had acquired, without putting in a great deal of serious and hard work and without understanding facts he should examine critically, he would be a deplorable Communist indeed.”
[CW, Vol.31, The Tasks of the Youth Leagues (October 2, 1920), p.288].
We are for unity, and for the genuinely Bolshevik leadership of the party. We are far from shutting our eyes to the dangers that threaten the youth. Precisely because we are conscious of these dangers, we do not want to see the question of the “new course” obliterated under the pretext of defending the historic rights of the Old Guard of the party against nonexistent assaults.
V. Dalin, member of the Central Committee of the youth
M. Fedorov, Central Committee of the youth
A. Shokhin, collaborator of the Central Committee
A. Bezymensky, one of the founders of the youth
N. Penkov, one of the founders of the youth, member of the Moscow Committee
F. Delyusin, former secretary of the Moscow Committee
B. Treivas, former secretary of the Moscow Committee
M. Dugachev, activist of the Moscow Committee, one of the founders of the youth