Tony Cliff

Trotsky: Fighting the rising Stalinist bureaucracy

4. The Lessons of October

Trotsky uses history to castigate Zinoviev and Kamenev

TROTSKY COULD not reopen the controversy with Zinoviev and Kamenev without incurring the charge of violating party discipline. He kept silent throughout the summer of 1924 on the issues which separated him from the Troika. When in June he was specifically invited by the Praesidium of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern to open a debate on the differences in the Russian Party, he declined on the ground that the discussion had been closed by the decision of the Russian Party Congress. [1]

But the harassment of Trotsky did not cease. Frunze, a staunch supporter of the Troika and opponent of Trotsky on the question of military doctrine, succeeded Skliansky as Deputy People’s Commissar for War. In September Trotsky’s private secretary, M.S. Glazman, persecuted by the Party authorities, committed suicide. Still Trotsky could not bear being branded as a semi-Menshevik, guilty of ‘petty bourgeois deviation from Lenin’. Unable to discuss his differences with the Troika in terms of current issues of policy, he fell back on history to vindicate himself.

The opportunity presented itself when in the autumn of 1924 the State Publishers prepared for press a book containing his speeches and writings of 1917. He prefaced it with a long essay entitled The Lessons of October. Written under the influence of the recent defeat in Germany, the essay re-examined the crucial points of the Russian revolution, and related the German events to the leadership’s failure to grasp the lessons of the October revolution.

Trotsky’s speeches and writings of 1917 provide a sturdy reply to the accusation of his being a Menshevik, for they reminded everyone of his role in the revolution. In his review of the history of the Bolshevik Party during the October revolution, he exposed the sad role played by Zinoviev and Kamenev.

The party history, Trotsky wrote, fell into three distinct periods: the years of preparation for 1917; the decisive trial of 1917; and the post-revolutionary era. Each of these periods had problems and significance of its own.

Numerous documents and considerable material have been issued bearing on the pre-October history of the revolution and the pre-October history of the Party. We have also issued much material and many documents relating to the post-October period. But October itself has received far less attention. [2]

It is in the second period, during 1917, that the Bolsheviks proved their claim: a revolutionary party is tested in actual revolution just as an army is tested in actual war. A Bolshevik should not be judged by what he said or did before 1917, in the course of the confused and in part ‘irrelevant period of émigré politics’, but what he said and did in 1917. Thus Trotsky played down his past, when he was outside the ranks of the Bolshevik Party, and emphasised his position as leader of the October revolution. By the same criterion the record of his adversaries, the ‘Old Bolsheviks’, Zinoviev, Kamenev (and Stalin) was evidence against them: they may have been good party members during the years of preparation, but they failed the test of 1917.

The gist of the argument in The Lessons of October was that a decisive leadership was crucial for the victory of the revolution. The revolutionary situation is a fleeting opportunity which the revolutionary party misses if it is paralysed by conservative inertia. Shrinking from decisive action at the decisive moment could cause the moment of workers’ victory to be missed. Trotsky elaborated this theme by the experience of 1917.

He paints a picture of the conflicts in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party at the different focal points of 1917. The focal points were:

... the position of the party and of the party press in the first period after the overthrow of Tsarism and prior to the arrival of Lenin; the struggle around Lenin’s thesis; the April Conference; the aftermath of the July days; the Kornilov period; the Democratic Conference and the Pre-Parliament; the question of the armed insurrection and seizure of power (September to October); and the question of a ‘homogeneous’ socialist government. [3]

He describes the stand of Pravda in March 1917 thus:

... an extreme confusion of political perspectives. As a matter of fact, during the March days, Pravda held a position much closer to revolutionary defencism than to the position of Lenin.

... During this same period, and even weeks earlier, Lenin, who had not yet freed himself from his Zurich cage, was thundering in his ‘Letters from Mar’ (most of these letters never reached Pravda) against the faintest hint of any concessions to defencism and conciliationism. [4]

A sad role was played by many leaders of the Bolshevik Party in April, after Lenin returned to Russia.

The problem of the conquest of power was put before the party only after April 4, that is, after the arrival of Lenin in Petrograd. But even after that moment, the political line of the party did not by any means acquire a unified and indivisible character, challenged by none. Despite the decisions of the April Conference in 1917, the opposition to the revolutionary course – sometimes hidden, sometimes open – pervaded the entire period of preparation. [5]

Trotsky turns on Zinoviev and Kamenev the imputation of Menshevism levelled against him by the Troika.

The speech which Lenin delivered at the Finland railway station on the socialist character of the Russian revolution was a bombshell to many leaders of the party. The polemic between Lenin and the partisans of ‘completing the democratic revolution’ began from the very first day. [6]

Trotsky points to the vacillation of Zinoviev and Kamenev on the eve of the October insurrection.

The resolution for an armed insurrection was adopted by the Central Committee on October 10. On October 11 [Lenin’s] letter On the Current Situation ... was sent out to the most important party organisations. On October 18, that is, a week before the revolution, Novaya Zhizn [New Life] published a letter of Kamenev. ‘Not only Comrade Zinoviev and I’, we read in this letter, ‘but also a number of practical comrades think that to assume the initiative of an armed insurrection at the present moment, with the given correlation of forces, independently of and several days before the Congress of Soviets is an inadmissible step ruinous to the proletariat and to the revolution’ ... On October 25 power was seized in Petrograd and the Soviet government was created. On November 4, a number of responsible party members resigned from the Central Committee of the party and from the Council of People’s Commissars and issued an ultimatum demanding the formation of a coalition government composed of all Soviet parties. [7]

And Trotsky rounds on these opponents: ‘those Bolsheviks who ... were opposed to the seizure of power by the proletariat were, in point of fact, shifting to the pre-revolutionary positions of the Mensheviks’. [8]

He brings the argument up to date by contrasting the Bolshevik strategy of 1917 with what the Communists did in Germany in 1923. Germany was ripe for revolution, but the Communist leaders missed the opportunity because they succumbed to similar inertia and timidity as was shown by Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917.

Trotsky criticises Zinoviev for playing down the crucial role of the revolutionary party. He refers to a statement by Zinoviev in his role as President of the Comintern that in Britain the proletarian revolution could come through channels other than the party. He writes:

There has been some talk lately in our press to the effect that we are not, mind you, in a position to tell through what channels the proletarian revolution will come in England. Will it come through the channel of the Communist Party or through the trade unions? Such a formulation of the question makes a show of a fictitiously broad historical outlook; it is radically false and dangerous because it obliterates the chief lesson of the last few years. If the triumphant revolution did not come at the end of the war, it was because a party was lacking ...

Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer. That is the principal lesson of the past decade. [9]

In this too Zinoviev deviated from the core of the Bolshevik concept of the role of the revolutionary party.

An avalanche of abuse falls on Trotsky’s head

The Troika reacted to The Lessons of October with a savage attack involving propagandists and historians, including foreign Communist writers. The most important articles were collected in a large volume, Za Leninizm, the contributors being Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov, Sokolnikov, Krupskaya, Molotov, Bubnov, Andreev, Kviring, Stepanov, Kuusinen, Kolarov, Gusev and Melnichansky.

The main line of argument was that Trotsky exaggerated the errors of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917, and exaggerated the importance of the role Trotsky played in that year. A major contribution was made by Kamenev, who bore the brunt of Trotsky’s attack. As the editor of Lenin’s Collected Works he had special authority. The main theme of Kamenev’s outpouring was the role of Trotsky prior to 1917: ‘From the moment of the birth of Menshevism down to its final collapse in 1917’ Trotsky had played the role of ‘the agent of Menshevism in the working class’. In 1905 Trotsky had made an attempt to escape from ‘Menshevik negation’ and ‘expounded in his own words Parvus’s idea of “permanent revolution”’; but the adoption of this ‘Leftist phrase’ did not hinder his continued collaboration with the Mensheviks. Kamenev quoted widely from Lenin’s writings against Trotsky, concerning the period 1904 to 1917.

Kamenev claimed the Trotsky who entered the Bolshevik Party in 1917 was still an enemy of Leninism, of Bolshevism. His four errors after 1917 all resulted from his theory of ‘permanent revolution’, which led to an underestimation of the peasantry. Trotsky’s policy at Brest-Litovsk had been ‘an underestimation of the role of the peasantry masked by revolutionary phraseology’; Trotsky’s line in the trade union controversy was an attempt to tighten the screws of War Communism in the face of peasant resistance; Trotsky’s insistence on planning was inspired by a desire to establish ‘the dictatorship of industry’; and Trotsky’s attack in the autumn of 1923 on ‘the fundamental framework of the dictatorship’ through his denunciation of the party leadership and the party apparatus had been due to ‘an underestimation of the conditions in which we have to realise the dictatorship in a peasant country’.

The theory of permanent revolution robbed the October revolution of historical justification (thus Kamenev pre-dates Stalin’s argument for ‘socialism in one country):

If Trotsky’s theory had proved correct, then it would mean that the Soviet power had long ago ceased to exist. Ignoring the peasantry and not giving any consideration to the decisive question of the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, this theory of ‘permanent revolution’ places the workers’ government in Russia in exclusive dependence on the immediate proletarian revolution in the West. [10]

Kamenev ended with a statement: ‘The party must choose between Leninism and Trotskyism’.

Zinoviev in his article denied the existence of a right wing in the Bolshevik Party opposing Lenin in 1917:

Was there a right wing in the Bolshevik Party ...? It was not possible – because the fundamental structural principles of the Bolshevik Party according to Lenin excluded the possibility of a right or left wing. [There were only] episodal differences of opinion. [11]

Zinoviev also attacked,

the notorious theory of the permanent revolution which Comrade Trotsky is now attempting to impose upon Bolshevism. This theory was regarded by Comrade Lenin and all the Bolsheviks as a variety of Menshevism ... The whole of Trotskyism with its theory of ‘permanent’ revolution was nothing else than a cleverly thought out intellectual scheme which was developed according to the requirements of Menshevism. [12]

What is needed?

What is needed is that the party should guarantee itself against a repetition of ‘assaults’ on Leninism. Serious party guarantees are needed that the decisions of the party shall be binding on Comrade Trotsky. The party is no discussion club, but a party – and a party operating in the complicated environment in which ours finds itself. The watchword of the day is:

Bolshevisation of all strata of the party!
Ideological struggle against Trotskyism!

Above all, enlightenment, enlightenment and once more enlightenment! [13]

Probably the most important intervention was that of Stalin. He himself was not directly attacked in The Lessons of October, but he felt the need to support Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky. He began by arguing that Trotsky exaggerated the mistakes of Zinoviev and Kamenev in October 1917. Had the dissension been profound a split in the party could not have been avoided. ‘There was no split, and the disagreements lasted only a few days, because, and only because, Kamenev and Zinoviev were Leninists, Bolsheviks.’ [14]

Stalin went on to deal with Trotsky’s own record. Here for the first time Stalin rewrote Trotsky’s role in 1917.

I am far from denying Trotsky’s undoubtedly important role in the uprising. I must say, however, that Trotsky did not play any special role in the October uprising, nor could he do so; being chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, he merely carried out the will of the appropriate Party bodies, which directed every step that Trotsky took. [15]

To play down Trotsky’s role in the revolution, Stalin quoted from still unpublished minutes of a meeting of the Central Committee on 16 October of the decision to appoint a ‘centre’ which Stalin now described as a,

practical centre ... for the organisational leadership of the uprising. Who was elected to this centre? The following five: Sverdlov, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, Bubnov, Uritsky. The functions of the practical centre: to direct all the practical organs of the uprising in conformity with the directives of the Central Committee. Thus, as you see, something ‘terrible’ happened at this meeting of the Central Committee, i.e., ‘strange to relate,’ the ‘inspirer,’ the ‘chief figure,’ the ‘sole leader’ of the uprising, Trotsky, was not elected to the practical centre, which was called upon to direct the uprising. How is this to be reconciled with the current opinion about Trotsky’s special role? [16]

It is interesting to note that this centre never met and was never referred to in any book, article or speech prior to the above statement of Stalin. There is no trace in the party records of any meeting of the ‘centre’ or of anything done or proposed by it.

Stalin goes on to play down Trotsky’s role in October.

Granted, we are told, but it cannot be denied that Trotsky fought well in the period of October. Yes, that is true, Trotsky did, indeed, fight well in October; but Trotsky was not the only one who fought well in the period of October. Even people like the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who then stood side by side with the Bolsheviks, also fought well. [17]

Stalin went further to attack the legends about Trotsky’s role in the civil war.

Among these legends must be included ... the very widespread story that Trotsky was the ‘sole’ or ‘chief organiser’ of the victories on the fronts of the civil war. I must declare, comrades, in the interests of truth, that this version is quite out of accord with the facts ... Perhaps it will not be out of place to quote a few examples. You know that Kolchak and Denikin were regarded as the principal enemies of the Soviet Republic. You know that our country breathed freely only after those enemies were defeated. Well, history shows that both those enemies, i.e., Kolchak and Denikin, were routed by our troops in spite of Trotsky’s plan. [18]

Then Stalin threw a real bombshell. He introduced two quotations from Trotsky’s hitherto unpublished letter of 1913 to the Menshevik leader Chkheidze which was intercepted by the Tsarist police and discovered in the archives in 1921 by the Commission of Party History. Trotsky wrote to Chkheidze: ‘The entire edifice of Leninism at the present time is built on lies and falsification and bears within itself the poisonous elements of its own decay.’ Trotsky also described Lenin as ‘a profound exploiter of every kind of backwardness in the Russian working class movement’. [19]

Stalin went on to define the three basic elements of Trotskyism: (1) permanent revolution, which meant a ‘revolution without taking into account the peasantry as a revolutionary force’. (2) ‘Lack of faith in the party essence of Bolshevism, in its monolithic character’, and (3) ‘lack of faith in the leaders of Bolshevism’, and especially in Lenin. Stalin concludes with a call for war on Trotskyism.

It is the duty of the Party to bury Trotskyism as an ideological trend.

There is talk about repressive measures against the opposition and about the possibility of a split. That is nonsense, comrades. Our Party is strong and mighty. It will not allow any splits. As regards repressive measures, I am emphatically opposed to them. What we need now is not repressive measures but extensive ideological struggle against renascent Trotskyism. [20]

Bukharin contributed his tuppence worth. He accused Trotsky of underestimating the peasantry, endangering the smychka – the union of the proletariat and peasantry in the building of socialism under the leadership of the party. ‘The question of the worker-peasant bloc is the central question; it is the question of all questions’. Trotskyism was ‘dynamite under the foundations of the party’. ‘We must ideologically liquidate Trotskyism and conquer the whole party under the Leninist banner no matter what’. [21]

To undermine Trotsky’s military reputation, Gusev wrote an article which, no doubt ironically, borrowed the title of Trotsky’s own collection of articles and speeches on the civil war – How the Revolution Armed – and gave examples of Trotsky’s high-handed behaviour during the civil war.

Krupskaya, while expressing doubts as to whether Trotsky had ‘really committed all the mortal sins of which he is accused’, still joined in criticising him, writing: ‘Marxist analysis was never Comrade Trotsky’s strong point. This is the reason why he so underestimates the role played by the peasantry.’ At the same time Krupskaya was not ready to forget Trotsky’s past contributions: ‘Comrade Trotsky devoted the whole of his powers to fight for Soviet power during the decisive years of the revolution. He held out heroically in his difficult and responsible position. He worked with unexampled energy and accomplished wonders in the interests of safeguarding the victory of the revolution. The party will not forget this.’ [22] Despite all the reservations in her article, the criticism of Krupskaya, who was Lenin’s widow, had the most damaging impact on Trotsky’s standing among the mass of the rank and file.

1923 Opposition shattered

Support for Trotsky was completely broken. While in the previous winter Moscow had been the principal centre of his support – with about half the party members behind him – this support now completely collapsed.

In September 1924, at the insistance of Zinoviev and Kamenev, a new secretary, N.A. Uglanov, was appointed to the Moscow party, with a mandate to clean up the party organisation. He quickly showed radical results. A party conference of the Moscow region, attended by over 1,100 delegates, unanimously condemned Trotsky. [23] The Opposition failed to capture a single cell or district organisation in Moscow. [24] In all the districts of Moscow the Opposition was practically annihilated. Thus, for instance, in the Baumanskii district, while in 1923, 40 per cent of the organisation supported Trotsky, in 1924 the figure was a mere 1 per cent. [25] Other party organisations followed: the Ukrainian and Belorussian parties hastened to denounce Trotsky. So did the Leningrad city and provincial party committees, the Kharkov provincial party committee, and many, many others. The Central Committee of the Komsomol followed suit.

The stream of literature denouncing Trotsky met with practically no resistance. Trotsky’s The Lessons of October was published in an edition of only 5,000 copies, and when the discussion was at its height, was virtually unobtainable, fuelling a rumour that it was officially banned. [26]

Foreign Communist Parties were also mobilised in the campaign against Trotsky. The German, French, Polish, Czech, Balkan and American parties joined in his denunciation. The most crushing blow of the whole campaign was the publication in Pravda on 9 December of the full text of Trotsky’s 1913 letter to Chkheidze. Years later, in his autobiography Trotsky wrote:

... the masses of the people were torn with grief over the death of their leader ... With no idea of the yesterdays of the party, the people read Trotsky’s hostile remarks about Lenin and were stunned. It is true that the remarks had been made twelve years before, but chronology was disregarded in the face of the naked quotations. The use that the epigones made of my letter to Chkheidze is one of the greatest frauds in the world’s history. [27]

Very few party members remembered the conditions in the movement in 1913. By 1923 only 10,000 of the old Bolsheviks remained [28] and not all of them were still active. As only 1 per cent of the party members were members before 1917, the fact that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks did belong to the same party for many years was practically unknown. Few party members now remembered what had happened when Lenin returned to Petrograd in April 1917. Fewer still knew the details of the controversies before and after the seizure of power in October. The fact that Trotsky did not belong to the Bolshevik Party prior to 1917 was a complete shock. The masses were astonished to hear that Trotsky was once a Menshevik or semi-Menshevik, and accepted the Troika’s argument that once a Menshevik always a Menshevik.

Trotsky’s reaction to the assault

Trotsky’s reaction to the savage assault was very unsure. In November 1924 he wrote a document which was a lengthy point-by-point rejoinder to his critics. It was headed The Purpose of this Explanation with a subtitle Our Differences. He repeated previous admissions that he was wrong in his opposition to Lenin in the years before he joined the Bolshevik Party. But he then went on to accuse Kamenev of unfair use of quotations from Lenin:

Comrade Kamenev has gathered together with great care all the quotations from Lenin that expose the error of my views. Kamenev turns the polemical blows dealt by Lenin over a number of years into the definitive characterisation of my politics. But the reader is bound to get the impression that this characterisation is incomplete. Thus the reader will find absolutely no answer here to the question of whether my revolutionary activity (before 1914 or before 1917) consisted only of mistakes, or whether there were features that linked me with Bolshevism, pointed toward it, and led me to it. Without an answer to that question, the character of my later role in party work remains totally inexplicable. Besides that, Kamenev’s characterisation unavoidably gives rise to questions of another order, ones of a purely factual nature. Are what Kamenev compiled the only things Lenin said or wrote on the subject? Aren’t there other comments by Lenin as well, comments that are based on the experience of the revolutionary years? Is it really fair and honest now, in late 1924, to tell the party only about the comments of pre-revolutionary years, and say nothing about the comments flowing from our joint work and struggle? These are questions that must inevitably occur to every serious reader. Old quotations will not suffice. They will only encourage people to conclude that tendentiousness and bias are involved. [29]

Trotsky repeated his criticism of Kamenev’s errors in 1917. He defended himself against the charge of ignoring the peasantry, and argued that the danger to the smychka was two-fold. It might result from an attempt to put too great a burden on the peasant. But there was also an opposite danger:

If conditions develop in such a way that the proletariat is forced to bear too many sacrifices in order to preserve the alliance, if the working class came to the conclusion over a number of years that in the name of preserving its political dictatorship it had been forced to agree to excessive self-denial of its class interests, that would undermine the Soviet state from the other direction. [30]

The tempo of industrialisation was subject to objective limitations which must be observed.

... no less danger would arise if industry lagged behind the economic upturn of the rest of the country. That would give rise inevitably to the phenomena of a goods famine and high retail prices, which would inevitably lead in turn to the enrichment of private capital. [31]

Trotsky did not publish the document Our Differences because he was worried that it might promote an even further escalation of the accusations against him. He wrote:

If 1 thought that my explanation might add fuel to the fire of the discussion, or if the comrades on whom the printing of this essay depends were to tell me so openly and directly I would not publish it, however burdensome it may be to remain under the charge of liquidating Leninism. I would tell myself that my only recourse was to wait until a calmer flow of party life allowed the opportunity, if only a belated one, to refute the untrue accusation. [32]

As neither this memorandum nor anything penned by Trotsky was published, Pravda could publish a brief editorial note stating: ‘In response to questions from a number of comrades, no articles have been received from Trotsky or his closest associates in reply to the published criticism of Trotskyism.’ [33]

In the years 1917 to 1923 there was no mention of Trotskyism. Trotskyism was now being invented by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. The discussions which took place at this time among the Troika and their supporters were partially disclosed two years later when the Troika split up. Zinoviev explained: ‘The Lessons of October served only as a pretext. Failing that a different motive would have been found, and the discussion would have assumed somewhat different forms, nothing more’. ‘The trick was to string together all disagreements with new issues. For this purpose “Trotskyism” was invented.’ Kamenev explained ‘how and why the Trotskyist danger had been invented for the purpose of an organised struggle against Trotsky’. Lashevich stated: ‘We invented “Trotskyism” in the struggle against Trotsky’. [34]

It seems that the fierceness of the assault on him and his own isolation paralysed Trotsky’s will to fight. In his autobiography he wrote:

Lying in bed, I went over my old articles, and my eyes fell on these lines written in 1909, at the peak of the reactionary regime under Stolypin:

‘When the curve of historical development rises, public thinking becomes more penetrating, braver and more ingenious. It grasps facts on the wing, and on the wing links them with the thread of generalisation ... But when the political curve indicates a drop, public thinking succumbs to stupidity. The priceless gift of political generalisation vanishes somewhere without leaving even a trace. Stupidity grows in insolence, and, baring its teeth, heaps insulting mockery on every attempt at a serious generalisation. Feeling that it is in command of the field, it begins to resort to its own means.’

One of its most important means is slander.

I say to myself that we are passing through a period of reaction. A political shifting of the classes is going on, as well as a change in class consciousness ... The deep molecular processes of reaction are emerging to the surface. They have as their object the eradicating, or at least the weakening, of the dependence of the public consciousness on the ideas, slogans and living figures of October. That is the meaning of what is now taking place. [35]

Gigantic social forces were condemning Trotsky to defeat, and he was too clear-sighted not to see this.

Some of my friends used to say to me: ‘They will never dare to come out against you in the open. In the minds of the people you are too inseparably bound to Lenin’s name. It is impossible to erase the October revolution or the Red army or the civil war’. I did not agree with this. In politics, and especially in revolutionary politics, popular names of acknowledged authority play a very important, sometimes gigantic, but yet not decisive part. In the final analysis, the fate of personal authority is determined by the deeper processes going on in the masses. During the rising tide of the revolution the slanders against the Bolshevik leaders only strengthened the Bolsheviks. During the ebb tide of the revolution the slanders against the same men were able to provide the weapons of victory for the Thermidorean reaction. [36]

‘Socialism in one country’

The campaign against Trotsky’s permanent revolution acted as a springboard for Stalin’s launching of the concept of ‘socialism in one country’.

On 20 December 1924 Pravda and Izvestiia carried an article by Stalin entitled October and Comrade Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution which for the first time contained his formulation of the new doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’. [37]

Until Lenin’s death, no one in the Bolshevik Party suggested that Russia could build socialism by her own unaided effort. Lenin himself repeatedly emphasised the opposite. ‘The Russian revolution’, he wrote on 4 June 1918, ‘was due not to the special merits of the Russian proletariat, but to the course of historic events, and this proletariat was placed temporarily in the leading position by the will of history and made for a time the vanguard of the world revolution.’ [38]

‘We always staked our play upon an international revolution and this was unconditionally right ... we always emphasized ... the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution. [39] [1*]

Even after Lenin’s death Stalin, who later propounded the idea of ‘socialism in one country’, said:

... to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish that of the proletariat in a single country is still not to assure the complete victory of Socialism. The chief task, the organisation of Socialist production, is still to be accomplished. Can we succeed and secure the definitive victory of Socialism in one country without the combined effort of the proletarians of several advanced countries? Most certainly not. The efforts of a single country are enough to overthrow the bourgeoisie: this is what the history of our revolution proves. But for the definitive triumph of Socialism, the organisation of Socialist production, the efforts of one country alone are not enough, particularly of an essentially rural country like Russia; the efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries are needed. [41] [2*]

Marxism has always envisaged socialism in international terms, because it held that historical advance is associated with greater and greater economic integration on an ever larger scale. The rising bourgeoisie overcame local particularism and established the national market and the national state. The development of the productive forces under capitalism outgrew the national boundaries. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

Modern industry has established the world market ... [which] has given an immense development to commerce, navigation, and communication by land ... The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe ... The bourgeoisie has given ... a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, the bourgeoisie has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood ... In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we now have the many-sided intercourse of nations and their universal interdependence. [My emphasis] [43]

If capitalism could not restrict itself to national boundaries, then socialism certainly could not.

The doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ was cobbled up by Stalin as a weapon against Trotsky’s permanent revolution. Trotsky himself accepted the antithesis: ‘The theory of socialism in one country ... is the only theory that consistently and to the very end opposes the theory of the permanent revolution.’ [44]

Bukharin was the first to pick up Stalin’s formula and give it theoretical support. [45] For the first time the concept of ‘socialism in one country’ was included in the text of a party resolution at the Fourteenth Party Congress (December 1925) where it called for ‘the struggle against the lack of faith in the building of socialism in one country’. [46] At this stage, as we shall see later, the doctrine was opposed by Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Stalin and Bukharin completely distorted Trotsky’s position on the question of socialism in one country. They pretended that Trotsky ‘had no faith’ in socialism, and in socialist construction in the Soviet Union, distorting Trotsky’s argument that ‘for the construction of a socialist society in the Soviet Union a victory of the proletarian revolution is necessary in one or more of the advanced capitalist countries and that the final victory of socialism in one country, and above all a backward country, is impossible.’ [47]

To Trotsky it was clear that the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ fitted the mood of the rising bureaucracy which longed for ‘business as usual’ not complicated by revolutionary ‘adventures’. As he put it:

The large-scale defeats of the European proletariat, and the first very modest economic successes of the Soviet Union suggested to Stalin, in the autumn of 1924, the idea that the historic mission of the Soviet bureaucracy was to build socialism in a single country ... It expressed unmistakably the mood of the bureaucracy. When speaking of the victory of socialism, they meant their own victory. [48]

Some of Stalin’s supporters saw in the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ an opiate for the workers. Thus the economist E. Varga, always adaptable, told Trotsky in 1926: ‘Obviously, this theory is false, but it gives the Russian worker a view of the future and sustains his morale. If the Russian worker were sufficiently mature to be inspired by international perspectives, we would not have needed the theory of socialism in one country.’ [49]

The mood of the bureaucracy was not out of step with that of the rank and file of the party and the mass of the working class, who had become wary of the expectation of international revolution, which had been dashed in 1917, 1918 and 1920, to rise again in 1923 and shatter once more with the German defeat. Now Stalin appealed to stability, to the longing for peace which dominated the tired workers who had gone through years of war and civil war.

Stalin called Trotsky an ‘adventurer’, an epithet which stuck among those who were looking for a quiet life. He described Trotsky as the Don Quixote of Communism who might involve the party and government in the most dangerous escapades. The Russian workers were tired and could not but reject the sweeping historical perspective Trotsky held out before them.

The debate around The Lessons of October massively damaged Trotsky’s authority and standing. It also had a great effect on the members of the Troika. It badly discredited Zinoviev and Kamenev while leaving Stalin untouched. As a matter of fact, his prestige was enhanced as a result. Trotsky concentrated his attack on Zinoviev and Kamenev who had openly opposed the October revolution, while Stalin’s position was far more elusive. Indeed Zinoviev and Kamenev now needed Stalin’s testimonial that they were good Bolsheviks. This helped Stalin to establish himself as the senior member of the Troika. Thus, unintentionally, Trotsky helped to defeat his future allies and to promote his most dangerous adversary.

A Pause

On 15 January 1925 Trotsky broke his silence. He addressed a letter to the Central Committee in preparation for its forthcoming session. In it he made it clear that he did not intend to continue with the struggle to influence the party.

I have not spoken once on the controversial questions settled by the Thirteenth Congress of the party, either in the Central Committee or in the Council of Labour and Defence, and I certainly have never made any proposal outside of leading party and Soviet institutions that would directly or indirectly raise questions that have already been decided. [50]

Even now, weighing the whole progress of the discussion and in spite of the fact that throughout it many false and even monstrous charges have been brought forward against me, I think that my silence was correct from the standpoint of the general interests of the party. [51]

Trotsky also distanced himself from the theory of permanent revolution.

... the formula ‘permanent revolution’ ... applies wholly to the past ... If at any time after October I had occasion, for private reasons, to revert to the formula ‘permanent revolution’ it was only a reference to party history, I.e., to the past, and had no reference to the present-day political tasks. [52]

He ended his letter with an offer to resign from the post of People’s Commissar of War.

At the Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission Zinoviev pushed for the expulsion of Trotsky from the party. When this move failed he and Kamenev proposed to expel Trotsky from the Politburo. This was opposed by Stalin, Bukharin, Kalinin, Voroshilov and Ordzhonikidze.

At the Fourteenth Party Congress (December 1925) – after Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with Stalin, Stalin explained what had happened at the July 1925 Plenum:

The group of Leningrad comrades [led by Zinoviev] at first proposed that Trotsky be expelled from the Party ... We disagreed with Zinoviev and Kamenev because we knew that the policy of amputation was fraught with great dangers for the Party, that this method of amputation, the method of blood-letting – and they demanded blood – was dangerous, infectious: today you amputate one limb, tomorrow another, the day after tomorrow a third – what will we have left in the Party? [53]

This explanation is very interesting in the light of future ‘amputations’ and ‘blood-letting’ carried out by Stalin.

Trotsky’s resignation from the chairmanship of the Commissariat of War was unanimously accepted. [54] The justification for this was given in a long resolution drafted by Zinoviev, charging Trotsky with ‘anti-Bolshevism’, supporting the theory of permanent revolution, and factionalism. It warned Trotsky that it would be impossible for him to remain on the Political Bureau if he continued to violate party discipline. The resolution was passed with two abstentions by members of the Central Committee, Rakovsky and Piatakov, and one abstention by a member of the Central Control Commission, Pravdin. Krupskaya was a member of the Central Control Commission and evidently voted for the resolution.

After the resignation there was a lull in Trotsky’s inner-party struggle. This lasted throughout the year 1925 and into the summer of 1926.

The 1923 Opposition practically disbanded. ‘For the moment we must not act at all’, Trotsky advised his followers, ‘no showing ourselves in public but keep our contacts, preserve our cadres of 1923, and wait for Zinoviev to exhaust himself ...’ [55]

Trotsky completely gave up any immediate struggle. He became so detached from party affairs that he spent his time in the Central Committee sessions reading books – French novels! [56]

How desperately anxious he and his adherents were to avoid any renewal of struggle can be seen from the following incident.

At the beginning of 1925 Max Eastman – the American Communist sympathiser who had been in Moscow from the autumn of 1923 to June 1924, was known as a sympathiser of Trotsky and had received information about the struggle in the party from Trotsky himself – wrote a book entitled Since Lenin Died. Eastman began by recalling Trotsky’s intimate relations with Lenin since 1917; mentioned a letter received by Trotsky from Krupskaya a few days after Lenin’s death, in which she assured Trotsky that Lenin’s attitude to him had not changed since the time of their first meeting in London in 1902 till the day of Lenin’s death; described and quoted from Lenin’s Testament, and then gave a detailed account of the struggle of the Troika against Trotsky, beginning in December 1923 and ending with Trotsky’s removal from the leadership of the Red Army in January 1925.

The Politburo insisted that Trotsky sign a statement denying the story about Lenin’s Testament. In order to prevent a renewal of the inner-party struggle, Trotsky complied, denied what he knew to be true, and thus aided the campaign of falsification directed against himself. He wrote:

Eastman asserts in several places that the Central Committee has ‘concealed’ from the party a large number of documents of extraordinary importance, written by Lenin during the last period of his life. (The documents in question are letters on the national question, the famous ‘estament, etc.) This is pure slander against the Central Committee of our party. Eastman’s words convey the impression that Lenin wrote these letters, which are of an advisory character and deal with the inner-party organisation, with the intention of having them published. This is not at all in accordance with the facts. Comrade Lenin has not left any Testament ... All talk with regard to a concealed or mutilated Testament is nothing but a despicable lie, directed against the real will of Comrade Lenin and against the interests of the party created by him. [57]

And Trotsky ends his statement with these words:

Whatever Eastman’s intentions may be, this botched piece of work is none the less objectively a tool of the counter- revolution, and can only serve the ends of the enemies incarnate of communism and of the revolution. [58]

Three years later, on 11 September 1928, in a letter from Alma-Ata to N.I. Muranov, Trotsky described what had actually led him to sign the above statement:

During the time when the Opposition still figured on correcting the party line by strictly internal means without bringing the controversy out in the open, all of us, including myself, were opposed to steps Max Eastman had taken for the defence of the Opposition. In the autumn of 1925 the majority in the Politburo foisted upon me a statement concocted by themselves containing a sharp condemnation of Max Eastman. Insofar as the entire leading group of the Opposition considered it inadvisable at that time to initiate an open political struggle, and steered toward making a number of concessions, it naturally could not initiate and develop the struggle over the private question of Eastman who had acted, as I said, on his own accord and at his own risk. That is why, upon the decision of the leading group of the Opposition, I signed the statement on Max Eastman foisted upon me by the majority of the Politburo with the ultimatum: either sign the statement as written or enter into an open struggle on this account. [59] [3*]

Caught on the horns of a dilemma – how to fight the bureaucracy while avoiding factionalism, with the workers tired and passive and himself very isolated – Trotsky gave way to the pressure of the Troika and tragically he denounced Eastman. He thus strengthened Stalin’s hand and further weakened his own.


1*. My emphasis. These words are struck out of the fourth edition of Lenin’s Sochineniia. [40]

2*. In the second Russian edition of Stalin’s book, The Theory and Practice of Leninism, which appeared in December 1924, the above section is omitted, and instead one reads: ‘Having consolidated its power, and taking the lead of the peasantry, the proletariat of the victorious country, can and must build society ... Such, in general, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution’. [42]

3*. Sadly, Krupskaya was inveigled into discrediting Eastman (and at the same time Trotsky). In a letter to the British left wing paper The Sunday Worker she denounced Eastman’s book as, ‘a collection of all sorts of common slanders’. She wrote the following about Lenin’s Letters to the Party Congress:

‘Max Eastman relates all sorts of fables about these letters (calling them a ‘testament’). M. Eastman completely misunderstands the spirit of our party ... [Lenin’s] speeches at congresses were always marked by special seriousness and thoughtfulness. His letters on internal party relations (the ‘testament’) were also written for the party congress ... This letter contained among other things character sketches of some of the most respected party comrades. The letters imply no kind of lack of confidence in those comrades to whom Lenin was bound by long years of common work ... The letters were intended to help the comrades who remained to direct the work along the right line, and for this reason the shortcomings of these comrades, including Trotsky, were noted, side by side with their merits, since these had to be taken into account in order to organise the work of the leading group of the party. All the members of the congress were acquainted with the letters, as V.I. desired.’

Krupskaya ended rather abruptly by recalling her own past differences with Trotsky. She had been against him and for the Central Committee in the controversy started by The Lessons of October. [60]


1. Protokoll des Fünften Kongresses der Kommunistischen Internationale, (n.d.), Vol.2, pp.583, 619.

2. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), p.200.

3. Ibid., p.212.

4. Ibid., pp.213-4.

5. Ibid., p.211.

6. Ibid., p.216.

7. Ibid., p.235.

8. Ibid., p.220.

9. Ibid., pp.251-2.

10. L.B. Kamenev, The Party and Trotskyism, in Za Leninizm, Moscow 1925, p.70.

11. Zinoviev, Bolshevism or Trotskyism, ibid., p.132.

12. Ibid., pp.126-9.

13. Ibid., p.151.

14. Stalin, Works, Vol.6, p.341.

15. Ibid., p.342.

16. Ibid., pp.342-3.

17. Ibid., p.344.

18. Ibid., pp.350-1.

19. Ibid., pp.365-6.

20. Ibid., p.373.

21. N.I. Bukharin, The Theory of Permanent Revolution, Za Leninizm, pp.367, 372.

22. N. Krupskaya, To the Question of the Lessons of October, ibid., pp.152-6.

23. Moskovskie bolsheviki v borbe s pravymi ‘levym’ opportunizmom 1921-29, Moscow 1969, pp.108-9.

24. Ibid., pp.100-1, 106.

25. Partiia v borbe za vosstanovlenie narodnogo khoziaistva 1921-25 gg., Moscow 1961, pp.536-7.

26. Eastman, p.123.

27. Trotsky, My Life, p.516.

28. Dvenadtsatii sezd RKP(b), p.134.

29. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), pp.267-8.

30. Ibid., p.300.

31. Ibid., p.301.

32. Ibid., p.261.

33. Pravda, 13 December 1924, quoted in E.H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, Vol.2, London 1964, p.29.

34. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, New York 1962, pp.89-99.

35. Trotsky, My Life, p.517.

36. Ibid., p.491.

37. Stalin, Works, Vol.6, pp.378-97.

38. V.I. Lenin, Sochineniia, Vol.27, p.387.

39. Ibid., Third edition, Vol.25, pp.473-4.

40. See Lenin, Sochineniia, Vol.31, p.370.

41. Stalin, The Theory and Practice of Leninism, Communist Party of Great Britain, 1925, pp.455-6.

42. Stalin, Sochineniia, Vol.6, pp.107-8.

43. K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol.6 p.486.

44. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, p.156.

45. See N. Bukharin, Tekushchii Moment 1 Osnovy Nashei Politiki, Moscow 1925.

46. KPSS v rez., Vol.2, p.77.

47. Challenge (1926-27), p.384.

48. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.292.

49. Trotsky, Challenge (1928-29), p.216.

50. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), p.306.

51. Ibid., pp.304-5.

52. Ibid., p.305.

53. Stalin, Works, Vol.7, p.390.

54. N. Popov, Outline History of the CPSU, London n.d., Vol.2, p.216; KPSS v rez., Vol.1, pp.913-21.

55. V. Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, London 1984, p.209.

56. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, pp.249-50.

57. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), p.312.

58. Ibid., p.315.

59. Trotsky, Challenge (1928-29), p.223.

60. Sunday Worker, 2 August 1925.

Last updated on 5 August 2009