Tony Cliff

Trotsky: Fighting the rising Stalinist bureaucracy

6. Split in the Troika

Rise of the kulaks puts pressure on Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin

AFTER TROTSKY left the Commissariat of War in January 1925 there followed a long pause in his inner-party struggle. It lasted throughout 1925 and into the summer of 1926. Not only did he not express any criticism of official policy in public, but he kept quiet even in the sessions of the Central Committee and the Political Bureau. We saw how in the Eastman case he capitulated to the pressure of the Troika. There was a general tiredness among the working class and a lack of fighting spirit. In addition there was a cohesion in the party apparatus and Trotsky still believed this was the party he had to relate to and accepted the ban on factions. As long as these conditions existed then the path of action was closed to him. He had to bide his time.

After these months of keeping quiet, even when things started changing – with the Troika breaking as Zinoviev and Kamenev split from Stalin – Trotsky was slow to react.

A number of factors led to fissures in the Troika. First of all, the defeat of Trotsky in 1924 weakened the bond that kept the triumvirate together.

Then developments in Russia’s economy led to tensions in the Troika. Now Zinoviev and Kamenev moved to repeat the arguments Trotsky had used since 1923. These concerned two main points: the tempo of Russia’s industrialisation and the government’s attitude towards the kulak. Trotsky argued that the slow recovery of industry threatened socialism, and that speedy industrialisation was needed, the funds for which would largely come from levies on the rich peasants.

In June 1924 a serious drought threatened the harvest, with ruin facing the Volga Basin and South-Eastern Russia. In July the price of grain began to soar. In August grain prices were a hundred per cent above the level of August 1923. [1]

Toward the end of 1924 and throughout 1925 the problem of the kulak came to the fore. As E.H. Carr explains:

By December 1924 the state had collected only 118 million puds of grain out of the projected 380 millions; and the grain stocks held by the state, which had amounted to 214 million puds on January 1, 1924, stood at only 145 millions on January 1, 1925. The situation was now critical. The estimate for the total collection was cut from 380 million to 290 million puds, the share of the Ukraine being reduced from 34 to 26 per cent of the total. All thought of grain exports went by the board, and an import of 30 million puds was authorised. In November the official maximum price for rye had been raised to 85 kopeks a pud. The attempt to maintain the maximum prices was then abandoned. In December the price to the grower of a pud of rye rose to 102 kopeks, and thereafter rose by leaps and bounds till it reached 206 kopeks in May 1925. This price-fixing policy had been defeated. The kulak had proved victorious. The cities were once more being held to ransom.

The rise in grain prices was alarming ... It threatened to rekindle the discontents, so recently allayed, of the industrial proletariat ... the rise in prices also threatened relations in the countryside. In the existing structure of rural society, the price question sharply divided the peasants themselves. Only the well-to-do peasants consistently had grain surpluses and were primarily interested in high prices.

... the poor peasants who lived wholly or in part by hiring out their labour were normally on balance buyers, not sellers, of grain ... High prices following a bad harvest tended therefore to benefit the well-to-do peasants, to press hardly on the poor peasants, and to drive more and more of the middle peasants into the category of poor peasants who could subsist only by hiring out their labour. Such was the situation which developed in the winter of 1924-1925. [2]

The class differentiation of the peasantry was accelerating. This was facilitated in three main ways: through the leasing of land, through the loaning of draught animals and agricultural machines and implements, and through the hiring of labour.

It was very common,

for the rich peasant, who possessed horses and implements in sufficient quantity, to rent land from his poorer neighbour, who, giving up the unequal struggle to cultivate his land on his own account, leased it to the kulak in return for a share of the harvest and, for the rest, lived by hiring out his labour. This practice was everywhere on the increase. Figures from two areas in the northern Caucasian region showed that, in one, two-and-a-half times as much land was leased in 1925 as in 1924, and in the other nearly twice as much ...

The number of poor peasants eager to dispose of land which they had not the capacity to cultivate was so large as to depress rents for such land to a very low figure. Where from 8 to 13 roubles a year had been paid for a desyatin of land in the northern Caucasus before the war, it was now worth only from 50 kopeks to 3 roubles a desyatin ... [3]

The loaning of working animals and agricultural implements and machines was probably an even more important factor than the leasing of land in the growth of rural capitalism. [4]

While the rural rich became richer the middle and poor peasants became poorer.

A popular estimate for the whole of USSR, frequently repeated at this time, put the proportion of ‘horseless’ peasants in 1924 at 40 per cent.

In the Ukraine the proportion of peasants without working animals and without agricultural implements rose from 19 per cent in 1921 to 34 per cent in 1922, 45 per cent in 1923 and 46 per cent in 1924. [5]

The third factor in the process of differentiation – the hiring of labour – was a corollary and concomitant of the other two. The increasing concentration in the hands of a well-to-do group of peasants of the ownership or control of the means of production meant, at the other end of the scale, an increasing number of poor peasants whose only resource was to sell their labour. The batrak or hired agricultural worker, was the counterpart of the kulak. [6]

Between 1922 and 1924 the lot of the batraks steadily worsened. As the number of potential workers grew under pressure of the natural population increase, with declining reserves of land and animals, and the closing, through unemployment in industry, of the most obvious avenue of escape, the conditions of employment deteriorated. [7]

In the spring of 1925 the party and government authorities were bent on aiding the kulaks. Thus on the question of the fixing of the agricultural tax for 1925-1926 the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets in March 1925 decided to reduce the total assessment from 470 million roubles in 1924-1925 to 300 million roubles for the coming year. [8] It was also decided to reduce the rating of animals for assessment by one-third: this was definitely a concession to the well-to-do peasant, who alone possessed animals in any quantity. [9] On 21 April 1925 the Praesidium of the Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR allowed the leasing of land, as the employment of hired labour had been allowed before. [10] On 14 March 1925, in conversation with a delegation of village correspondents, Stalin argued for making concessions to the peasants’ private ownership of land.

Stalin agreed that without security the peasant would not manure his land and asked for how many years the land should be allocated; and, when the peasant replied, ‘For 20 years’, Stalin is said to have inquired: ‘And suppose for longer, for 40 years, or even forever?’ This boldness evidently surprised the peasant, who replied: ‘Perhaps for longer, perhaps forever, but this would need thinking over by more than one head’. Stalin then wound up the discussion by saying that this would not be ownership, since the land could not be sold, but that it would be possible to utilise it with confidence. [11]

A similar tune was sung by Kamenev. In a speech to the Moscow Provincial Congress of Soviets which met in April 1925 he said:

We shall also have to review our legislation about the utilisation of land, about hiring of labour and about leasing, since we have many juridical restrictions which are in fact of a kind to hold back the development of productive forces in the countryside, exacerbating class relations instead of leading them into the right channel ...

We are for the development of productive forces, we are against those survivals which impede the development of productive forces ... We are for peasant accumulation – the Soviet power must take its stand on this point of view – but we are for the regulation of this accumulation. [12]

To put the cap on the pro-kulak policy, Bukharin pronounced in a speech at a mass meeting in Moscow on 17 April 1925:

Our policy in relation to the countryside should develop in the direction of removing, and in part abolishing, many restrictions which put the brake on the growth of the well-to-do and kulak farm.

To the peasants, to all the peasants, we must say: Enrich yourselves ... As long as we are in tatters, the kulak may defeat us economically. But he will not do so if we enable him to deposit his savings in our banks. We shall assist him but he will also assist us. Eventually the kulak’s grandson will be grateful to us for our having treated his grandfather in this way. [13]

Lenin had argued for the ‘alliance of workers and peasants’, but he never offered support to the wealthy peasants; he treated the middle peasants, and even the poor peasants, as unreliable allies whom the lure of property might turn against the proletariat. Bukharin translated the smychka into an alliance with all the peasants, hence he turned his back on organising the poor peasants against the rich.

It was in April 1925, at the Fourteenth Party Conference, that the Troika stood united for the last time in arguing for a policy of concessions to the peasants: reduction in the agricultural tax and sanction given to the leasing of land and the hiring of labour. Zinoviev again repeated the hoary myth of Trotsky’s underestimation of the peasantry.

The Conference declared:

By ensuring conditions for free accumulation in kulak house holds, the tempo of accumulation in the whole economy is raised, the national income grows more rapidly, the material possibilities of real economic support for weak and poor households are increased, the possibilities of absorbing surplus population are broadened, and, finally, a more favourable atmosphere is created for the growth of co-operatives and the guiding of peasant savings into the co-operative channel. [14]

Thus the conference staked on the kulak the prospect of the revival of the whole economy.

Following the conference, the Central Committee,

sanctioned ‘the broader utilisation of the right of leasing land by peasants’ up to a maximum period of two rotations, or, where the three-field or four-field system was still in operation, of 12 years. Even this limit might be exceeded in the case of state lands leased to peasants.


the resolution recommended the abandonment of ‘the recently existing practice of limiting prices of grain and agricultural products’, and the adoption of the practice of agreements through ‘state and co-operative purchasers’ without ‘compulsory prices for peasant sellers’. This registered the victory of the well-to-do peasants who had broken the attempt to impose fixed prices for grain after the 1924 harvest. [15]

At the All-Union Congress of Soviets which met in May 1925, it fell to Kamenev to defend the

official economic policy. He spoke of the need for measures ‘which will take the shackles off the peasant economy’: this meant to extend the period for which security of tenure of land was given by the existing law (in the Ukraine, nine years) and to remove restrictions on the leasing of land and the hiring of labour. [16]

Zinoviev and Kamenev turn on Bukharin and Stalin

The publication on 1 June 1925 of the speech of Bukharin delivered on 17 April rang alarm bells.

Krupskaya, angered by what she regarded as a perversion of her late husband’s views, wrote an article attacking the Bukharin line and the policy of indulgence for the kulak, and sent it to Pravda for publication. Bukharin, the editor of Pravda, wrote a counter-article defending himself, and submitted both articles to the Politburo. It was a delicate situation. To veto the publication in Pravda by Lenin’s widow still seemed invidious and shocking to party consciousnesses. But the argument against a public airing of differences between leading party members on so explosive a subject was also strong, and eventually prevailed. By a majority the Politburo decided that neither Krupskaya’s article nor Bukharin’s reply should be published. The minority consisted of Zinoviev and Kamenev. [17]

The break-up of the Troika was very sudden indeed. Now Zinoviev and Kamenev faced an alliance of Stalin and Bukharin.

In 1923-4, it was Zinoviev who raised the slogan, ‘face to the countryside’ in the course of the campaign against Trotsky.

For some two years no-one was more vocal than Zinoviev in criticising Trotsky for his alleged ‘underestimation of the peasantry’. It was only in the second half of 1925 that Zinoviev changed his tune.

On 30 July 1924 he published an article entitled The harvest failure and our Tasks, the keynote of which was an emphasised phrase: ‘It is time, high time, to compel a number of our organisations to turn their face more to the countryside’. From this time onwards, throughout the autumn and winter, the exhortation ‘face to the countryside’ was constantly reiterated in Zinoviev’s speeches and articles and became the catchphrase of party policy. A volume of Zinoviev’s articles and speeches was published in 1925 under the title Litsom k Derevne (Face to the Countryside).

However, the irresolute and impressionistic Zinoviev changed his stance under the pressure of events.

Victor Serge was correct to describe Zinoviev as ‘Lenin’s biggest mistake’. [18] He was weak and cowardly. Trotsky, in a letter to Ivan Smirnov written in Alma Ata in 1928, relates a conversation he had with Lenin soon after the October revolution:

I told Lenin: ‘What surprises me is Zinoviev. As for Kamenev, I know him well enough to be able to predict where the revolutionary in him will end and the opportunist begin. Zinoviev I don’t know personally at all, but from descriptions of him and a few of his speeches it seemed to me that he was a man who would be stopped by nothing and who feared nothing.’ To this V.I. [Lenin] replied: ‘He fears nothing where there is nothing to fear’. With that the conversation ended. [19]

Now Zinoviev used his slogan in a completely different sense as an argument against Stalin and Bukharin.

On 21 June 1925, in a speech in Leningrad to a conference of party workers in the Red Army, Zinoviev declared:

‘Face to the countryside’ meant ‘Face to the middle and poor peasants’; some peasants had apparently interpreted it as ‘a turning towards the well-to-do strata in the countryside’, as a proof of the determination of the leadership to rely, not on ‘the wretched nag’, but on ‘the fat kulak horse’. The decisions on leasing and on hired labour had, in fact, been a ‘serious concession to the rich top stratum in the countryside’: to pretend otherwise was to offer the party a dose of ‘sugared water.

... the kulak in the countryside is more dangerous, far more dangerous, than the NEPman in the town. [20]

In October Zinoviev published a 400-page volume entitled Leninizm, in which he argued that the danger was ‘complacency, when it turns into glossing over of the class struggle in the countryside and playing down of the danger from the kulak’. [21]

Next Zinoviev turned his guns on the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’.

The final victory of socialism is impossible in one country. The victory of the socialist order over the capitalist will be decided on an international scale. [22]

Zinoviev backed up this assertion with a large number of quotations from Lenin on the impossibility of building socialism in one country. [23]

Lenin was from head to foot an international revolutionary. His teaching was applicable not only to Russia but to the whole world. We, disciples of Lenin, must banish as a hallucination the mere thought that we can remain Leninists if we weaken by a single jot the international factor in Leninism. [24]

It was the first time that the concept of ‘socialism in one country’ had been openly assailed. In the same book Zinoviev argued very strongly for inner-party democracy, repeating practically word for word what Trotsky had argued in The New Course: ‘The structure of the Leninist party must be such as to guarantee under all conditions the maximum inner-party proletarian democracy’. [25]

Paradoxically, the conflict between Zinoviev and Kamenev on the one side and Stalin and Bukharin on the other was sharpened by what, alter early fears, proved to be an excellent harvest in 1925.

E.H. Carr writes:

The troubles of 1925 began not, like those of 1924, from a partial failure of the harvest, but from unexpected difficulties in marketing it. The largest harvest since the revolution was paradoxically followed not by abundance, but by stringency on the internal grain market, and by a strong upward pressure on prices. In the previous year the fixed prices of the state purchasing organs had held their own throughout the autumn in spite of competition from higher prices in the free market. In 1925 the ‘directive’ prices of the state purchasing organs failed to bring out buyers and were almost at once forced up in an unequal struggle to compete with the free prices. [26]

The beneficiaries of the high prices were the rich peasants. To quote the statement of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets:

The less prosperous peasants bring in their grain in the autumn, the more prosperous in the spring. The more prosperous peasants and the middle peasants sometimes buy grain in the autumn and keep it till the spring in the hope of making money on it.

From the Urals and from Siberia, from the Ukraine and from the North Caucasus reports came in of a deliberate holding back of grain by the well-to-do peasants.

The well-to-do peasant, no longer pressed for money, and with little in the way of available supplies of industrial goods on which to spend it, found himself in the position of being able to hold the state to ransom.

In December,

The full gravity of the situation became apparent. The grain collection of the year 1925-1926 was likely to fall short by 200 million puds of the estimated 780 millions; and a decision of the Politburo suspended all exports. The vision of industrial expansion on a broad front financed on the proceeds of ample grain surpluses faded away. The kulak had shown himself master of the situation. [27]

Break-up of the Troika

Towards the end of 1925 Zinoviev and Kamenev drew conclusions similar to those Trotsky had held in 1923 about the kulaks threatening socialist construction, and enriching themselves at the expense of other classes: they paid low wages to labour, squeezed the poor peasants, bought up or leased the land, and charged the poor peasants and urban workers high prices for food. They avoided taxation and sought to pass their burden onto the shoulders of the poor. They strove to accumulate capital at the expense of the state, and thus slowed the accumulation within the state sector of the economy, consequently holding back the industrialisation of the country.

On 5 September, when the Central Committee was discussing the arrangements for the coming Fourteenth Party Congress, four members of the Central Committee – Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov and Krupskaya – came out with a joint statement demanding a free debate throughout the party on all the controversial issues that had arisen. This document was afterwards known as The Platform of the Four. It was never published and no clear account of its contents has ever appeared in print. At the October Central Committee meeting Zinoviev and Kamenev made a direct attack on the Bukharin-Stalin peasant policy which they accused of making concessions to the kulaks at the cost of the poor peasants and agricultural workers. But still old habits didn’t die easily. The leadership continued manoeuvring. The Central Committee unanimously passed a number of resolutions on economic policy – including one on the peasantry – that covered over the widening differences behind the scenes.

Still, between October and December Moscow and Leningrad were engaged in an intense, bitter and barely concealed war. In both capitals the elections of delegates to the congress were rigged; Moscow elected only Stalin’s and Bukharin’s nominees, Leningrad only Zinoviev’s.

The Fourteenth Party Congress opened on 18 December and was dominated by conflict between Stalin and Bukharin on the one side and Zinoviev and Kamenev on the other. The debate was stormy. The fundamental issues were: the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’, the attitude towards the peasantry, industrialisation policy and planning. Zinoviev and Kamenev disclosed the unscrupulous measures which they, together with Stalin, had used to crush the 1923 Opposition.

Krupskaya deplored the lack of inner-party democracy: ‘Individual opinions were not expressed in the pages of our central organ, and, thanks to this omission, the party was not prepared for the discussion which descended on it like a bolt from the blue two weeks before the congress.’ She ended with a favourite quotation from Lenin: ‘There have been occasions in history when the teaching of great revolutionaries have been distorted after their death. Men have made them into harmless icons, and, while honouring their name, they blunted the revolutionary edge of their teaching’. [28]

Krupskaya’s voice carried a lot of weight with party members who knew how long and how closely she had been associated with Lenin, not only as his wife, but as a co-worker.

Zinoviev warned of the danger threatening socialism from the kulak, NEPman and bureaucrat. He recalled Lenin’s Testament and its warning about Stalin’s abuse of power.

Kamenev protested very strongly against the establishment of autocratic rule over the party. He urged the restoration of freedom for minorities to state their views. ‘Back to Lenin. We are against creating a theory of the Vozhd [leader]. We are against making a Vozhd. We are against the Secretariat, which has in practice combined both policy and organisation, standing over the political organ. We are for our upper layers being organised in such a fashion that there would be a really all-powerful Politburo, uniting all the policies in our party, and, together with that, subordinating to itself the Secretariat’. Kamenev concluded: ‘I have come to the conviction that Comrade Stalin cannot fulfil the role of unifier of the Bolshevik staff. [Disturbance; applause from the Leningrad delegation; jeers and applause for Stalin]’ Amidst the din, Kamenev finished: ‘We are against the theory of one-man rule; we are against creating a Vozhd.’ [29]

Stalin went out of his way to defend the concept of ‘collective leadership’ of the party: ‘To lead the party otherwise than collectively is impossible. Now that Ilyich is not with us it is silly to dream of such a thing (applause), it is silly to talk about it.’ [30] Stalin turned the tables on Zinoviev and Kamenev by referring to their demand in 1923 that Trotsky should be expelled from the party. He again argued against ‘the method of amputation, the method of blood-letting’. [31]

He asked what the meaning of the platform of Zinoviev and Kamenev was.

‘It means to lead the Party without Rykov, without Kalinin, without Tomsky, without Molotov, without Bukharin ... It is impossible to lead the Party without the comrades I mentioned.’ [1*] ‘What in fact do they want of Bukharin? They demand the blood of Comrade Bukharin. That is what Comrade Zinoviev demands when in his concluding speech he sharpens the issue of Bukharin. You demand the blood of Bukharin? We shall not give you that blood, be sure of that. [Applause].’ [33] [2*]

Stalin now levelled against Zinoviev and Kamenev all the charges from which he defended them the year before when they were made by Trotsky. They were the ‘deserters’ and ‘strikebreakers’ of October. Stalin stood by his new partners Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, in the same way as he had previously stood by Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Stalin’s machine was victorious. When the vote was taken on the question of endorsing the Central Committee reports delivered by Stalin and Molotov, 559 voted for and 65 against. [34]

This congress was a turning point in the party history. It not only represents the last occasion on which the Central Committee position was challenged by a co-report, but also the last time an opposition group was represented by delegates at the party congress.

Collapse of Zinoviev’s stronghold, Leningrad

The Fourteenth Congress issued a declaration to the Leningrad Organisation deprecating the behaviour of Zinoviev and other Leningrad representatives at the Congress. [35]

On the face of it Leningrad looked like an unassailable citadel for Zinoviev. He controlled the administrative machinery of the city and the province, the press and the party. It looked as though he had a large body of ardent followers. However, when it came to the crunch, it took Stalin less than two months to take complete control of the party organisation in Leningrad, from the uezd, to the raion, to the guberniia.

The historian T.E. Nisonger writes:

In overall summary, it may be stated that as the impending conflict with the Stalin group approached, Zinoviev, on the surface at least, appeared firmly in command of the Leningrad party structure. Zinoviev’s adherents dominated the Leningrad provincial committee, the gubkom bureau; the gubkom secretariat; five of Leningrad’s six raikomy and their bureaus; the komsomol organisation; the guberniia control commission; and the guberniia trade union council in addition to the Leningrad press. Zinoviev himself was apparently extremely self-confident concerning the security of his position in Leningrad. [36]

Victor Serge, who lived at the time in Leningrad, observed:

Zinoviev, whose demagogy was quite sincere, believed every word he said about the warm support of Leningrad’s working class masses for his own clique. ‘Our fortress is impregnable’, I heard him say. [37]

The 1 January 1926 plenary session of the Central Committee took a decision to cease any further discussion of the issues which were disputed at the Congress, to which end no member or candidate member of either the Central Committee or the Central Control Commission who had sided with the opposition at the Congress, could participate in any way in the post-Congress discussion. [38]

However, in order to demonstrate that they enjoyed the support of the Leningrad party masses, the Zinovievites convened special sessions of the Central City, Volodarskii, Moskovsko-Narvskii and Vasileostrovskii raion party aktivs on 28 December for the specific purpose of endorsing the Leningrad delegation’s stance at the Fourteenth Congress.

The pro-opposition resolutions were carried by overwhelming majorities. For instance, only 20 of the more than 2,500 activists present at the Moskovsko-Narvskii session opposed the Zinovievite resolution. An analogous resolution was adopted by 490 to 12 in the central city raion, by nearly 800 to 22 in the Vasileostrovskii raion, and by 815 to 81 with 4 abstentions in the Volodarskii raion. [39] On 5 and 6 January 1926 an eight-member delegation of the Central Committee made up of Molotov, Kirov, Voroshilov, Kalinin, Andreev, Tomsky, Petrovsky and Shmidt, arrived in Leningrad. With them came four members of the Praesidium of the Central Control Commission.

On 7 January the Central Committee nominated Kirov as provisional First Secretary of the Leningrad provincial committee, and on 8 January the Moscow Central party apparatus reorganised the North West Bureau, entirely by-passing the Leningrad organisation [40], and appointed a new Bureau Secretariat which was also headed by Kirov.

Once the apex of the Leningrad party organisation was conquered by the Stalinists, they removed the Zinovievites from key positions in the lower and middle levels of the Leningrad apparatus.

The victory of the Stalinists in the lowest levels of the party was swift. On 21 January 1926, 652 of the 717 party collectives in Leningrad held special meetings to discuss the Fourteenth Congress. These 652 collectives embraced 73,268 of the 77,056 members and candidate members (96 per cent) of the Leningrad organisation. Of these, 70,228 (96 per cent) voted in favour of the resolutions passed by the Fourteenth Congress which condemned the opposition; 2,190 voted against (3.5 per cent) and 275 (0.5 per cent) abstained. These figures do not include the 11,356 party members in the Red Army and Fleet then stationed in Leningrad. It was reported that 10,129 (89 per cent) of the military personnel attended meetings of this nature; 10,028 (99 per cent) voted in favour of condemning the opposition, 54 supported the opposition, while 47 abstained.

Resolutions supporting Stalin were reported to have been adopted unanimously at all the conferences of the raions except the Moskovsko-Narvskii raion conference, where one abstention was recorded. [41] The Egorov collective which had adopted a pro-Zinoviev resolution on 31 December 1925 by 55 votes to 2, now, on 3 February 1926 adopted an anti-opposition resolution by 500 votes with none against. [42]

On 10 February 1926 an Extraordinary Leningrad Provincial Conference was held. After a three hour political report by Bukharin on the Fourteenth Congress, the Conference unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the opposition. This conference represented the final consolidation of the Stalinist victory in the Leningrad organisation. [43]

The Stalinists used the same methods against the Zinovievites that the Zinovievites had used to consolidate their own power previously. Nisonger writes:

... the Zinovievites’ chief adherents used various types of coercion or threats thereof to thwart active Stalinist sympathisers or punish Zinovievite defectors (and hence serve as a warning to other would-be defectors). Individuals who invoked the Zinovievites’ displeasure were removed from party positions, dismissed from their employment, arrested and/or threatened with sanctions by the guberniia control commission. In a similar vein, the Zinovievites attempted to discharge hostile newspaper editors and employees from the guberniia-level press. Moreover, they endeavoured to prevent the convocation of party meetings at which it was anticipated that anti-opposition resolutions would be adopted. Other stratagems employed by the Zinovievites included denying Stalinist agitators access to Leningrad’s industrial enterprises, issuing edicts in the name of the gubkom prohibiting Leningrad’s newspapers from publishing anti-opposition material ... [44]

Now the Stalinists employed the same tactics. According to Nisonger:

... a great many parallels existed between the Stalinist strategy and the Zinovievite counter-strategy. Both groups sought to create the impression that they were supported by the mass of rank and file Communists, both undertook to remove hostile newspaper editors, both claimed that their opponents were violating party unity, both used to their own advantage the power of appointing and discharging party officials, and the Zinovievites employed the guberniia control commission against the Stalinists just as the Stalinists utilised the Central Control Commission against the opposition. [45]

The swift and easy victory of the Stalinists in Leningrad shows how shallow had been the commitment of the activists and rank and file of the party to Zinoviev.

Trotsky maintains silence

Throughout the fortnight that the Fourteenth Party Congress was in session Trotsky sat silent. He did not react to Krupskaya’s appeal for real democratic discussion and against the stultifying effect of the Lenin cult. He said nothing when Zinoviev recalled Lenin’s Testament and its warning against Stalin’s abuse of power, or when he dealt with the threat to socialism posed by the kulaks, NEPmen and bureaucrats.

He kept quiet when Kamenev protested against the establishment of autocratic rule over the party. He stood aside from the vicious, well-orchestrated attack by the Stalinists on the Leningrad opposition. He did not protest when Bukharin put the case for ‘socialism in one country’ in opposition to Zinoviev’s attack on the doctrine. Trotsky kept aloof from the dispute in the party leadership.

Thirteen years later, when he appeared before the Dewey Commission in Mexico, he confessed that at the Fourteenth Congress he was astonished to see Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin clashing. ‘The explosion was absolutely unexpected by me’, he said. During the congress I waited in uncertainty, because the whole situation changed. It appeared absolutely unclear to me.’ [46]

These words, uttered many years after the event, were confirmed in unpublished notes Trotsky wrote on the eve of the Fourteenth Congress and during the Congress.

Although Trotsky must have been aware of the differences within the Troika before the Congress, he underestimated their scope and importance. Preoccupied with his duties in the Supreme Council of the National Economy and in writing his book Towards Capitalism or Socialism? in August 1925, he had not been following the growth of dissent in the Politburo. The fact that both sides in the debate twisted and turned in an effort to hide the differences from the party, that even after the sharp debate on economic policy in the Central Committee in October they still managed to pass a unanimous resolution, must have led Trotsky to assume that the conflict in the Troika was mere shadow boxing. The fact that it was Zinoviev, hitherto the most vicious member of the Troika and the most outspoken representative of its policies, who was now leading the attack on the right in the Conference, must have made the split in the Troika look like a mere intra-bureaucratic squabble. Zinoviev’s conversion from the principal proponent to the main opponent of the peasantry policy within a few weeks, could only confirm Trotsky’s estimate of him as very unstable.

The adherence of G.Y. Sokolnikov to the Zinoviev-Kamenev partnership must have further encouraged Trotsky to see the new grouping as an unprincipled clique. Sokolnikov had joined the Zinoviev opposition merely because of his antipathy towards Stalin: on economic policy he stood with Bukharin, i.e., on the extreme right of the party. This is what Trotsky wrote about Sokolnikov in his diary notes on the fourth day of the Congress:

The fact that today Sokolnikov appears as one of the leaders of the Leningrad Opposition is unprincipled politics of a purely personal kind and at the same time it is a great curiosity. He was and remains the theoretician of the economic disarmament of the proletariat in relation to the countryside. [47]

Still, Trotsky’s lack of awareness of the depth of the conflict in the party leadership was really astonishing. Zinoviev’s attack on the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ had been carried on in public for months. Isaac Deutscher was correct in describing Trotsky’s state of mind: even if Zinoviev, Kamenev, Krupskaya and Sokolnikov had not raised the demand for an open debate in the party as long ago as the plenary session of the Central Committee in October,

and even if the public controversy over socialism in a single country had given no indication of the new cleavage, it would still be something of a puzzle how an observer as close, as interested, and as acute as Trotsky could have remained unaware of the trend and blind to the many omens. How could he have been deaf to the rumblings that had for months been coming from Leningrad?

His surprise, we must conclude, resulted from a failure of observation, intuition and analysis. Moreover, it is implausible that Radek, Preobrazhensky, Smirnov, and his other friends should not have noticed what was happening and that none of them tried to bring matters to Trotsky’s attention. Evidently his mind remained closed. He lived as if in another world, wrapped up in himself and his ideas. He was up to his eyes in his scientific and industrial pre-occupations and literary work, which protected him to some extent from the frustration to which he was exposed. He shunned inner-party affairs. [48]

One significant factor that probably blinded Trotsky to the changes in Zinoviev and Kamenev was that these two were his harshest opponents in 1923-4. In The Lessons of October they appeared as the leaders of the party’s right wing; both in 1917 in Russia and during the revolution in Germany in 1923. Hence Trotsky was incredulous when they appeared as spokesmen of a new left.

He had, however, noted changes.

On 9 December (that is, nine days before the beginning of the Fourteenth Congress) Trotsky wrote notes in his diary about the dispute between the Leningrad organisation and the Central Committee:

Neither side has made any specific, practical proposals that would alter in one way or another the economic and political relationship of forces between the proletariat and the peasantry. The legalisation of the leasing of land and the hiring of farm labour were carried out, to the best of the party’s knowledge, without any internal struggle. The reduction of the agricultural tax went through in the same way.

But still he felt that there must be something behind the conflict between Zinoviev and Kamenev on the one hand and Stalin and Bukharin on the other.

The party discussion which is now unfolding between the Leningrad organisation and the Central Committee and which is becoming more and more heated, has its social roots in the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry under conditions of capitalist encirclement ...

Unfortunately the conflict between the two sections of the leadership was distorted by the fact that the bureaucratic regime in the party determined the forms and methods of the dispute.

The extraordinary difficulty, at least at the present stage, in determining the real class essence of the differences, is engendered by the absolutely unprecedented role of the party apparatus; in this respect it has gone far beyond what existed even a year ago. One need only consider the significance of the fact that in Leningrad a resolution directed against the Central Committee was adopted unanimously or virtually unanimously at the same time that the Moscow organisation unanimously – without a single abstention – adopted a resolution against Leningrad.

Still, however heavy the hand of the bureaucracy, the conflict between sections of the bureaucracy did express pressure from the masses,

Certain mass moods, which have no chance of being represented at all accurately through the mass organisations, trade unions, or party, make their way through to the upper party circles by obscure and roundabout means ... thus setting into motion certain lines of thinking and subsequently either gaining a farm foothold or not, depending on the wishes of the apparatus in charge of a particular area ... it is no accident that Leningrad ended up as the site of the apparatus’s opposition to the Central Committee.

... the position taken by the upper circles in Leningrad is a bureaucratically distorted expression of the political anxiety felt by the most advanced section of the proletariat. [49]

Trotsky could not forget that Leningrad – the cradle of October – had the strongest Marxist and Bolshevik traditions. It was the most proletarian of Soviet cities. Its workers felt very strongly the need for a bold industrial policy. The city engineering plants and shipyards, starved of iron and steel, were idle. It suffered badly from the scourge of unemployment. The Leningrad party organisation, however bureaucratic, still could not help reflecting the discontent of the workers of the city.

Four days after the beginning of the Congress, on 22 December, Trotsky wrote in a note On the Leningrad Opposition that ‘the Leningrad Opposition [was] the continuation and development of the 1923-4 Opposition’.

The central theme of the Leningrad Opposition is to blame the official policy, or its right-wing manifestation, for the fact that the peasantry is beginning to push the proletariat into the background, and for the fact that within the ranks of the peasantry the kulak is edging out the middle peasant and the middle peasant is edging out the poor peasant.

... It is not at all accidental that the Leningrad organisation turned out to be the most sensitive to the voices of warning, just as it is no accident that the leaders of that opposition were forced, in the struggle for self-preservation, to adapt themselves to the class sensitivity of the Leningrad proletariat. The result of this is a paradox, quite shocking on the surface but at the same time totally in accord with the underlying forces at work: The Leningrad organisation – having gone to the furthest extent in its struggle against the Opposition, having inveighed against the underestimation of the peasantry, and having raised the slogan ‘Face to the countryside’ loudest of all – was the first to recoil from the consequences of the noticeable turnabout that has occurred in the party, the ideological source of which was the struggle against so-called Trotskyism. [50]

But Trotsky could not overlook the fact that Zinoviev’s left turn was ‘a bureaucratic and demagogic adaptation of the apparatus higher-ups to the anxiety of the advanced section of the working class.’ At the same time Leningrad workers were alienated from the local party bureaucracy and from Zinoviev. Herein lay the actual weakness of Zinoviev’s social base, as events would prove in the coming days and weeks.

That the Leningrad methods of party and economic leadership, the shrill agitational style, the regional arrogance, etc., built up an enormous amount of dissatisfaction with the ruling group in Leningrad; and that the intense resentment against the Leningrad regime felt by many, many hundreds of workers who have at one time or another been thrown out of Leningrad and dispersed throughout the country, has added to this dissatisfaction – these facts are absolutely incontestable and their importance must not be underestimated. [51]

The swift collapse of Zinoviev’s Leningrad citadel which we have dealt with, proved how brilliant was Trotsky’s grasp of the issue. After the Fourteenth Congress Trotsky’s illness recurred, and it was not until the spring of 1926 that he managed to meet Zinoviev and Kamenev to form the United Opposition. When the bloc between Trotsky and Zinoviev was set up, the Leningrad Opposition had of course already been shattered.

The United Opposition is created

The only record we have of the first meeting between Trotsky and members of the Zinoviev Opposition is a short passage in Trotsky’s autobiography. Kamenev said to Trotsky:

‘It is enough for you and Zinoviev to appear on the same platform and the party will find its true Central Committee’. I could not help laughing at such bureaucratic optimism. Kamenev obviously underestimated the disintegrating effect on the party of the three years’ activity of the trio. I pointed it out to him without the slightest concession to his feelings. The revolutionary ebb-tide that had begun at the end of 1923 – that is, after the defeat of the revolutionary movement in Germany – had assumed international proportions. In Russia, the reaction against October was proceeding at full speed. The party apparatus more and more was lining itself up with the right ving. Under such conditions it would have been childish to think that all we need do was join hands and victory would drop at our feet like a ripe fruit. ‘We must aim far ahead’, I repeated dozens of times to Kamenev and Zinoviev. ‘We must prepare for a long and serious struggle.’ [52]

It was following a joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission that took place on 6-9 April 1926 that the United Opposition – composed of the members of the 1923 Opposition and the Leningrad followers of Zinoviev and Kamenev – was formed.

This was the first time in two years that Trotsky participated actively in a major party organ. It was on this occasion that Stalin poured scorn on Trotsky’s suggestion to build a hydro-electric power station on the Dnieper. Trotsky later published Stalin’s words:

‘The means required here are enormous, some hundred millions. We should be falling into the position of a peasant who had saved up a few kopeks, and, instead of repairing his plough or renewing his stock, bought a gramophone and ruined himself.’ [53]

In the discussion at the plenum Kamenev supported Trotsky, particularly in his prediction of the potential adverse consequences of a bumper harvest, if industry lagged behind, and in his demand for increased taxation of the wealthy peasants.

However Kamenev, as former head of the Council of Labour and Defence, felt some responsibility for the industrial policy which Trotsky criticised. And he baulked at supporting Trotsky completely. ‘I am not able to associate myself with that part of them [i.e., Trotsky’s amendments to Rykov’s draft resolution] which assesses the past economic policy of the party which I supported one hundred per cent’. [54] Kamenev also made some scoffing remarks about Trotsky. When the Central Committee rejected Trotsky’s amendment, Kamenev and Zinoviev, it seems, abstained. But then, when Kamenev’s amendment was put to the vote, Trotsky supported it. This was a step towards establishing the bloc.

After the plenum the three met and agreed to join forces. Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed to make a public admission that Trotsky was right all along when he warned the party against the bureaucracy. In return Trotsky was ready to state that he was wrong in assailing them as the leaders of the bureaucracy when the real leader was Stalin.

However, before the three managed to make precise plans, or even to formulate clear policies, a mere day or two after meeting together, Trotsky had to leave Russia for medical treatment in Germany. The malignant fever from which he had suffered in the last years, recurred, incapacitating him completely.


1*. As Rykov, Tomsky and Bukharin were murdered by Stalin in the purges of the 1930s, in the more recent editions of this speech, one reads: ‘... to lead the Party without Kalinin, without Molotov’. [32]

2*. Stalin, having himself got Bukharin’s blood in 1938, found this passage embarrassing, and therefore expurgated it from his Works.


1. Carr, Socialism in One Country, Vol.1, pp.190-1.

2. Ibid., pp.192-4.

3. Ibid., pp.224-5.

4. Ibid., p.226.

5. Ibid., p.228.

6. Ibid., p.230.

7. Ibid., pp.231-2.

8. Ibid., p.253.

9. Ibid., p.254.

10. Ibid., p.257.

11. Ibid., pp.247-8.

12. Ibid., pp.254-5.

13. Bolshevik, 30 April 1925, quoted in Carr, Socialism in One Country, Vol.1, p.260.

14. Ibid., p.262.

15. Ibid., p.268.

16. Ibid., p.270.

17. Ibid., p.285.

18. Serge, p.177.

19. Trotsky, Challenge (1928-29), pp.62-3.

20. Carr, Socialism in One Country, Vol.1, pp.286-7.

21. G. Zinoviev, Leninizm, Leningrad 1925, p.281.

22. Ibid., p.302.

23. Ibid., pp.302-7.

24. Ibid., p.318.

25. Ibid., p.377.

26. Carr, Socialism in One Country, Vol.1, p.291-3.

27. Ibid., p.295.

28. Chetirnadtsatii sezd VKP(b), Moscow 1926, pp.158-66.

29. Ibid., pp.274-5.

30. Stalin, Works, Vol.7, p.402.

31. Ibid., p.390.

32. Ibid., p.398.

33. Chetirnadtsatii sezd VKP(b), pp.504-5.

34. Ibid., p.524.

35. KPSS v rez., Vol.2, pp.90-2.

36. Nisonger, p.39.

37. Serge, p.211.

38. Nisonger, p.64.

39. Ibid., pp.66-7.

40. Ibid., p.95.

41. Ibid., p.131.

42. Ibid., pp.302, 310.

43. Ibid., p.132-4.

44. Ibid., p.411.

45. Ibid., pp.412-3.

46. The Case of Leon Trotsky, London, 1937, pp.322-3.

47. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), p.395.

48. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, p.249.

49. Trotsky, Challenge (1923-25), pp.385-6.

50. Ibid., pp.393-4.

51. Ibid., p.395.

52. Trotsky, My Life, pp.521-2.

53. Biulleten Oppozitsii, Nos.29-30, September 1930, p.34.

54. Quoted in Stalin, Works, Vol.8, p.247.

Last updated on 5 August 2009