C.L.R. James 1937


Source: Controversy, Vol. 2, No. 1, October 1937.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for Marxists.org 2007.

Lenin, who was neither God nor Stalin, made a serious error when for twelve years he opposed Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution. He thought that the Russian Revolution would liberate Russian capitalism, put the Russian bourgeoisie in power. In his Two Tactics he says so about a dozen times. On p. 37, for instance: “Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic changes in the political regime and the social and economic changes which have become necessary for Russia do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois domination; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, properly clear the ground for a wide and rapid European and not Asiatic development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.” On p. 38 he says: “The bourgeois revolution expresses the needs of capitalist development, and not only does it not destroy the foundations of capitalism, but on the contrary, it widens and deepens them.”

Trotsky, as we know, opposed this, and thus originated Trotskyism. He said that the proletariat would have to make the bourgeois revolution, but that it would have to hold the power and go on to the dictatorship of he proletariat. There was going to be no development of bourgeois democracy, no development of capitalism in revolutionary Russia. The time for that had passed. Backward Russia would begin the Socialist revolution and be saved from the consequences of its own backwardness by the Socialist revolution in Europe.

What saved Lenin from the grievous consequences of such a false prognosis was his clear conception of the role of the classes. The bourgeois would come into power but it was the proletariat which would put them there, and he fought for a proletarian organisation that would do the work of the bourgeoisie over the heads of the bourgeoisie and in spite of them.

It was this intransigence, this hostility to the bourgeoisie, though fighting for a bourgeois revolution, that kept the Bolshevik Party implacably hostile to the liberal bourgeoisie. Trotsky could never build a party – fundamentally because the Bolshevik Pasty, though preparing for the bourgeois revolution, was, under Lenin’s firm guidance, essentially a party, in organisation and outlook, ready for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Mensheviks believed, too, in the coming revolution as bourgeois. But they thought that the bourgeois should lead it. For this they were opposed by both Lenin and Trotsky. Trotsky, therefore, outside both groups, summed up his position thus. The counter-revolutionary nature of Menshevism, i.e., its idea of the bourgeoisie in the lead, will show itself before the revolution. But the counter-revolutionary nature of Bolshevism, i.e., its idea of a democratic republic, will show itself after the revolution. Both Lenin and Trotsky agreed that the counter-revolution in Russia would be strong enough to destroy the revolution if the European revolution did not come to the assistance of the Russians.

In 1917, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin and the rest in the face of the Provisional Government stuck to the old formula. But the Bolshevik Party had been so trained to the independent class action of the proletariat that it was comparatively easy for Lenin to switch it on to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Trotsky joined the Party and accepted Lenin’s ideas of party organisation. But in a preface to his book, 1905, published by the Communist International in 1921, he pointed out the previous falseness of the Bolshevik analysis and the correctness of his own theory. No one questioned it. But the European revolution failed to take place, and bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet regime increased. Stalin being the centre of these.

The defeat of the German Revolution in 1923; broke the hopes of the proletarian vanguard, the only support of the Left Opposition, as the Trotskyists were then called, and thus enabled Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, to make himself master of the Soviet Party apparatus and the Government. The bureaucracy, all-powerful in a backward country, supported Stalin. To attempt in an article of this length to tell everything would succeed in telling nothing. It is sufficient to say that between 1923 and 1927 the Trotskyists advocated (a) a Five Year Plan of industrialisation, (b) the political restriction of the kulak and gradual collectivisation, beginning with the poor peasantry, (c) a break with the British General Council after the General Strike in England of 1926 and the dissolution of the Ang1o-Russian Committee, (d) the independence of the Communist Party of China in the revolution of 1925-1927 and the repudiation of Chiang-Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang as the leaders of the Chinese Revolution, (e) Party democracy as the only means of finding and carrying out correct politics. Stalin, backed by the bureaucracy, fought them successfully on each point, with disastrous results for Russia and the world revolution. His method was to purge the Party of opposition elements and through the bureaucracy fill it with persons devoted to Stalinism. Before the 15th Party Conference the Opposition was expelled.

By the end of 1927 and the beginning of 1928 the Kulaks had grown strong enough to threaten the Soviet State. The policy of the International was a glaring failure. Stalin turned and struck at his Right-wing allies. Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, whom he had used against the Left; and embarked on the Five Year Plan.

In 1924 he had introduced a theory whereby it was possible to build Socialism in Russia without the aid of the European revolution. This, he said, was Leninism. Now he attempted to put it into practice. Peasants were collectivised en mass. European capitalism was to be surpassed in ten years. The International was forced to adopt the theory of Social Fascism: Social Democracy, not Fascism, was the chief enemy. Great successes were won inside Russia, but the scope of the plan led to needless chaos in industry and the destruction of vast quantities of agricultural produce. The German working-class movement was encouraged to let Hitler come into power as he would soon collapse. The Trotskyists in these years fought for a plan and collectivisation within the scope of Russia’s powers and for the United Front in Germany.

After 1927, no one in Russia could preach Trotskyism openly. But those who followed the doctrines were organised in groups abroad known as the Left Opposition. After the German defeat, the Left Opposition declared the necessity of building a Fourth International. Readers of Controversy are aware how the Soviet bureaucracy not only joined the League of Nations, but after the Franco-Soviet Pact, invented the Popular Front, began to support capitalist rearmament in France, and today supports any section of the bourgeoisie which expresses the slightest opposition to Fascism. The Trotskyists have foretold and bitterly fought such betrayals. They will continue to do so. But this abandonment of the class struggle at last taught a little sense to many who had remained woodenly impervious to the long years of propaganda.

In every country groups and parties began to take position to the left of the Communist Parties. This was not difficult because the Cornmunist Parties were as far to the right as the bourgeoisie would let them go. But the I.L.P. in England, the P.O.U.M. in Spain, the Socialist Left in France were all variously hostile to Stalinism. They now opposed the Third International, but would not declare for a Fourth.

Inside the Soviet Union the bureaucracy, going unceasingly to the right, was striking down everything on the left and destroying the political gains of the Revolution by constantly increasing the privileges of the ruling caste. The Stakhanovite movement was a drastic speed-up and the high salaries paid to a section of the workers detached them from the mass and gave support to the overpaid bureaucrats. The dissatisfaction in the masses (how it was denied!) forced itself continually into the Party, which had to be kept docile by ceaseless purging. Some 300,000 were purged in 1935. It is against this menace from within and without that we must see the trials which have done so much to bring Trotskyism to the foreground.

Let it be understood that no declared Trotskyists in Russia are free. There are perhaps 20,000 of them in prison. The Bureau for the Fourth International has lost contact with them for three years. But they knew about the Fourth International, and their hostility to Stalinism and their revolutionary temper can be judged from the fact that Stalin has never dared to bring any of them to trial. All the Trotskyists tried – Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Piatakov – are men who have been admitted supporters of Stalin for years. Some, like Radek and Piatakov, have served him faithfully. But Stalin, though ignorant, is the reverse of stupid. He is a singularly cunning man. When these men say that Lenin’s policy was always to build Socialism in a single country, that Socialism is built in Russia, that the Popular Front is Leninist policy, that Stalin is a great Marxist, they know that they are lying, and Stalin knows that too. Stalin’s clique, Voroshilov, Molotov, Kaganovitch, etc., have not, and never had, any principles to lose and will say or do anything. But the old Trotskyists are chiefly Jews, internationalists, men who know Europe and the European languages, know the standards of life in Western Europe, and while they see what has been done in Russia they are under no illusions as to the disastrous influence Stalinism has had on the whole movement. Difficulties internal were accumulating, war loomed on the horizon, the Spanish Revolution made the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and the policy of the International living issues.

In any crisis – and the wholesale executions of the past year prove how imminent was the crisis – any of the old Trotskyists, though not in any way connected with Trotsky, could prove a rallying centre for an opposition. The recent mass purge of the Youth for “immorality” shows that there was great hostility to Stalin’s regime there also. Stalin therefore determined to remove the best-known men of the old left, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Smirnov, overwhelm them with disgrace, link them to the Fourth International nd discredit the growing Trotskyism abroad.

People’s memories are short indeed. The Menshevik Trial of 1931 “proved” by “confessions” that Leon Blum, Vandervelde, the British Labour Party had all been organising wrecking in the Soviet Union as a preliminary to a war of intervention. These dishonest and clumsy stupidities are typical of Stalin.

Had the trial gone off well, Stalin would have had all he needed. Once he had wrung confessions out of a few Trotskyists, the crimes of Trotskyism would be established and anyone that had ever been called a Trotskyist could be dismissed, imprisoned and dealt with under the general charge of Trotskyism.

The trouble was that this trial was a disastrous failure inside and outside Russia. When Stalin sent round to the Party information about the spread of Trotskyism, preparing them for the trial, the Party was bewildered by this crude lie. “The facts have shown that our comrades look on these signals and warnings with apathy.” So says Stalin himself on p. 7 of the F.S.U. pamphlet, Sweep Away Obstacles. The Letter of an Old Bolshevik tells us that Stalin prepared the trial secretly with the help of Yezhov behind the back of Yagoda, and that even all the members of the Politbureau did not know. The Radek-Piatakov trial followed early in 1937, but the way this contradicted Zinoviev and Kamenev, the attempt to create a new centre and new crimes, shows that the organisers had not contemplated the second when they organised the first. This trial was more effective. The petty-bourgeois read Radek’s masterpiece of fiction and, shaking his stupid head, said “Yes, this is true,” and thereby solved a political problem. But in the Party in the Soviet Union something was wrong. The Resolution passed on February 27th was issued only on March 6th; Stalin’s speech was also held up for weeks. When they appeared they contained a ferocious attack on Trotskyism and the party-bureaucracy, tyranny, breaking of party regulations, appointments from above, etc. Now Stalin and the others knew that these things were going on. They had been going on for years. But that astute manoeuvrer, sensing danger, was putting himself at the head of the mass dissatisfaction, and was turning on the bureaucracy, calling as many as possible Trotskyists, wreckers, etc. But this time it wasn’t so easy. Ordjonikidze had “died.” Yagoda was arrested. No one was too high to be safe. It seems pretty certain that the biggest bureaucrats and a solid part of the army determined to remove Stalin in sheer self-defence. History gave us an exact parallel in July, 1794, when the whole Convention, Jacobins and Right Wing, shouted down Robespierre and delivered him to the guillotine. On the day after, they continued their internal struggle, but for the moment all felt that the first task was to remove the sinister dictator with whom no man was safe. Stalin struck before his enemies could get at him; since when he has launched a widespread attack. Men are being tried for poisoning sheep and oppressing peasants, while the peasants sit in the court and applaud, and bless Stalin; others are being kicked out of managers’ jobs and workers appointed in their place. Stalin is now the man of the people. And whenever possible he calls these men Trotskyists. But it must be understood that there is no reason to believe that a single one of these bureaucrats has anything to do with the Opposition in Russia. Their policy would probably have been a cleansing of the apparatus in their own favour, and a loosening of the tyranny. Tukhachevskv may have favoured a Russo-German alliance. But all this has nothing to do with Trotskyism, which in Stalinist language merely means against Stalin.

But Stalin is now in serious danger. As always the revolution begins from above. Men arc refusing posts. They are afraid. The bureaucrats nearly faced each other openly. The moment they enter into open conflict the masses will join, for they will he invited by each side to support. That, however, is another subject. It is sufficient that the only section with a policy for the masses is the Trotskyists, and that both wings of the upper bureaucracy will be opposed to them, as Liberals and Conservatives are opposed to the Socialist revolution. The solution of that conflict, however, is bound up with the European revolution.

We see a parallel situation on the international field. All who are for the Socialist revolution are marked down by the Stalinists for destruction. “We are not Trotskyists” the P.O.U.M. and the I.L.P. continually do cry. Much good may it do them. The Stalinists will have nothing to the left of them, and Maxton, Brockway and Marceau Pivert can look out for the fate of Nin. It seems that Trotsky has a bad temper, which prevents people joining the Bureau for the Fourth International. Peddling piffle. Only the masses can build a Fourth International. But leaders must help them by showing the way. The Stalinist bureaucracy and the Third International are now a gangrenous tumour in the working-class movement. They must be cut out of it. There is only one thing now – the struggle for the Fourth International.


Last updated: 10 June 2020