C L R James
The World Revolution 1917–1936

Chapter 6


IN THE TESTAMENT, LENIN AS SUPERIOR TO HIS CONTEMPORARIES in grasp of men as of politics, had warned the party of a probable split between Trotsky and Stalin. It was, he said, a trifle, but “a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance.” Lenin believed in historical materialism but he did not underestimate the significance of individuals, and the full immensity of the consequences are visible today.

Yet, as Lenin, quite obviously, saw, the immediate origin of the danger was personal. Lenin did not say so in so many words. The Testament is very carefully phrased, but all through the civil war there had been clashes between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who supported him at first, hated Trotsky, but Stalin hated him with a hatred which saw in him the chief obstacle to his power; Zinoviev and Kamenev Stalin knew he could manage. Zinoviev on his part feared Trotsky, but feared Stalin also. He had the idea of balancing one against the other. But he went with Stalin for the time being. What manner of man was this who was so soon to usurp Lenin’s position and attempt to play Lenin’s part? No man of this generation, few men of any other, could have done this adequately.


Lenin, first and foremost, knew political economy as few professors in a university did. He was absolute master of political theory and practice. He knew the international working-class movement of the great countries of Europe, not only their history theoretically interpreted by historical materialism, but from years of personal experience in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. [1] He spoke almost faultless German and wrote the language like a second tongue. He was at home in French and English and could read other European languages with ease. Intellectual honesty was with him a fanatical passion, and to his basic conception of allying the highest results of theoretical and practical knowledge in the party to the instinctive movements of millions, honesty before the party and before the masses was for him essential. The range and honesty of his intellect, his power of will, the singular selflessness and devotion of his personal character, added to a great knowledge and understanding of men, enabled him to use all types of intellect and character in a way that helped to lift the Bolshevik party between 1917 and 1923 to the full height of the stupendous role it was called upon to fulfil. No body of men ever did so much, and how small most of them really were we can realise only by looking at what they became the moment their master left them. Lenin made them what they were. He was sly and maneuvered as all who have to manage men must manoeuvre. But through all the disagreements of those years which often reached breaking-point he never calumniated, exiled, imprisoned or murdered any leaders of his party. He was bitter in denunciation, often unfair, but never personally malicious. He was merciless to political enemies, but he called them enemies, and proclaimed aloud that if they opposed the Soviet regime he would shoot them and keep on shooting them. But Trotsky tells how careful he was of the health of his colleagues; hard as he was it is easy to feel in his speeches, on occasions when the party was being torn by disputes, a man of strong emotions and sensitiveness to human personality. In his private life he set an unassuming example of personal incorruptibility and austere living. No man could ever fill his place, but it was not impossible that someone able and willing to act in his tradition could have carried on where he left off, and all knew that Trotsky was best fitted for that difficult post. Lenin had designated him as such in the Testament. But the irony, the cruellest tragedy of the post-war world is, that without a break the leadership of the over-centralised and politically dominant Bolshevik party passed from one of the highest representatives of European culture to another who, in every respect except singlemindedness of purpose, was the very antithesis of his predecessor.


Stalin’s personal character is not the dominating factor of Soviet history since 1914. Far greater forces have been at work. But if Lenin’s individual gifts were on the side of progress to Socialism, Stalin touched only to corrupt. Of political economy he was, and to a great extent is, quite ignorant; in Marxism he and his henchmen are today capable of errors that a raw Social Democrat would not be guilty of. These things will be proved in their place. For the moment it is sufficient to give some significant incidents in his early history.

In January 1928 Verechtschaks, one of his early companions, gave in the Paris newspaper, Dui, some recollections of Stalin in prison. [2] Their authenticity will not be denied by the Stalinists, for in Pravda of February 2, 1928, and December 20, 1929, Demian Biedny, a Stalinist scribbler, quoted such scraps as reflected credit on the beloved leader. He did not quote the following. One day a young Georgian was badly beaten by his brother-prisoners in the Benlov prison as a provocateur, a charge which turned out to be false. Later it was discovered that the rumour came from Stalin. On another occasion an ex-Bolshevik knifed and killed a worker whom he did not know but whom he believed to be a spy. The murderer confessed afterwards that Koba (as Stalin was then called) had incited him. At the end of 1901 Koba suddenly left Tiflis. The Georgian Social-Democratic magazine, Brdzolis Khma (Echo of Struggle) tells us why. Stalin, by means of slander and intrigue, had attempted to undermine the position of the leader of the organisation. After he had been warned many times he spread still more vicious slander and was unanimously expelled from the Tiflis organisation. This story is told not to blacken his character or cast him for the part of villain. It is of importance because he remains today what he was then, only where in early days he went round whispering and writing letters, from 1924 onwards he had all the resources of a great country at his disposal. The moment Lenin was incapacitated Stalin began to stamp the image of his corrupt and limited personality on the Bolshevik party. There is no inevitability in this. He was one kind of man and Lenin was another. The trial of Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others is no surprise to those who know the history of the Bolshevik party since Stalin has had power in his hands.

One final characteristic will also explain his supreme unfitness for authority in the Socialist State. In 1911 he wrote a letter giving his opinion on the struggle Lenin was waging against those who wished to liquidate the revolution and against Trotsky still striving for an impossible unity. “We have heard about the tempest in the tea-cup, the bloc of Lenin-Plekhanov on the one hand, and Trotsky-Martov-Bogdanov on the other. As far as I know the workers incline toward the former. In general, however, they mistrust the emigres. Why should they bother themselves about them; as far as we are concerned, everyone who has the interest of the movement at heart does his own work. The rest will follow of itself. That is, in my opinion, the best.“ [3]

He neither knew nor cared. There are other instances of his national limitedness, his sneers at the emigres, his contempt for theory. The Leninism which he has preached so assiduously since 1924 means nothing to him. With the veneer of an Oxford education in England, or a personal fortune in France and America, he would have been an ideal Prime Minister or President. An army of personal advisers and a traditional system would have given him scope for his powers of organisation, and intrigue and ruthless will. He could never have built a mass movement but as a second or successor to a Hitler or a Mussolini he could have found perhaps the best scope for his extraordinary abilities. As guide to a State based on the principles of scientific Socialism and formulator of the policies of the Third International, it is impossible to imagine any person more unsuitable. But it is these very qualities and defects that made the bureaucracy instinctively side with him against Trotsky in the struggle that followed.

He was without reputation and had reached where he was by rigidly siding with Lenin on nearly every occasion. In 1905 and October, 1917, he had done little. He had no personal appeal whatever. Nor had Zinoviev and Kamenev. All knew the part they had played not only before October but immediately after, when they had urged a coalition with the Mensheviks and had resigned from the Central Committee on account of their disapproval of the uncompromising policy of Lenin and Trotsky. Lenin had broadcast it to the whole population of Russia. Zinoviev was known to be a coward; his unoriginality earned him the nickname of Lenin’s gramophone. Despite a certain popularity, neither he nor Kamenev could rival either Stalin or Trotsky.


Trotsky, on the other hand, was, even while Lenin lived, the most brilliant figure in Russia. As far as the strategy of October was concerned, Lenin’s had been the guiding hand, but while he was in hiding Trotsky had been the leading figure before the masses in Petrograd. He was the “Man of October.” His organisation of the Red Army had given him not only an international reputation but a vast popularity among the peasants. As Commissar for War, travelling from front to front, he had become personally known to and beloved by millions. He was the greatest orator in Europe, and at congresses of the International delivered the chief address in Russian, German and French, and would then, as War Commissar, review the Red Army for the delegates. His pamphlets appealed equally to professors and peasants. Most important of all, he was Lenin’s right hand, acknowledged by all as his successor. His personal weakness was imperiousness and a certain inability to function easily with men his equal in status but obviously inferior in quality. He lacked Lenin’s comprehensive good-nature and homeliness. His very brilliance and audacity in action carried with it a compensating incapacity for that personal maneuvering at which so many lesser men excel. His great weakness, incapacity in party organisation, did not impede him so long as he was a member of Lenin’s great organisation. While Lenin lived he smoothed over all difficulties, and Lenin and Trotsky were two names indissolubly linked together. Stalin, jealous, small-minded but ambitious, lurked in the background and schemed and plotted. He found kindred spirits in Zinoviev and Kamenev. About priority Lenin and Trotsky never quarrelled. After the October revolution, Lenin proposed Trotsky as Chairman of the Council of Commissars. Trotsky saw that the suggestion was preposterous and insisted on Lenin taking his rightful place. They were concerned with policy not with place. But some old Bolsheviks hated this outsider who after opposing their master for years had suddenly walked in and ousted them from the position they thought theirs by right. But to the great masses Trotsky, even when Lenin was incapacitated, had still the prestige of his gifts and achievements and the magic of his close association with Lenin.


Trotsky was not only beloved by the masses, but was popular in the rank-and-file of the party. What had Zinoviev, Kamenev or Stalin ever done to make anyone except their own immediate followers enthusiastic over them? But the three had the party apparatus and the party funds in their hands. Djerzhinsky, who had shared with Stalin Lenin’s castigation on the national question, was close to them, and they won over Bucharin in control of the party press. Stalin is supreme in his management of men. The emergency of civil war, blockade and famine, the forcible requisitioning from the peasants in the civil war, the fatigue and passivity of the masses, all these had given power to the party apparatus. Officials in the party were increasingly appointed from above. All over the vast, almost roadless, countryside Soviet officials and party officers held almost unlimited power, subject only to the central authority. While Lenin and Trotsky were immersed in economics, politics and the international revolution, Stalin worked for power. [4] He had had a narrow escape from Lenin. But after Lenin’s final incapacitation he bureaucratised the party more and more, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bucharin helping. What must not be forgotten is that this struggle went on in a narrow circle, so small had the governing group become, even under Lenin. The masses played little part, and Trotsky either could not or dared not bring the masses into it, as Lenin would infallibly have done sooner rather than later. Dissatisfaction began to grow; the party youth resented this tyranny as youth will. Then in September, 1923, with the economic situation critical, two secret societies were discovered in the Bolshevik Party. Measures were instantly taken to suppress them, but such formations were obviously the result of the bureaucratic regime which Lenin had recently attacked so openly and so pointedly. Trotsky brought the struggle into the open. He and many other members demanded that the old resolution on Workers’ Democracy be implemented. On October 8, he wrote to the Central Committee pointing out that the apparatus had been bureaucratised by the method of selection instead of election, that the party was now in a dangerous condition and might be taken unawares by a crisis of exceptional severity. He had tried for a year and a half inside the Central Committee, but there had been no improvement, and he felt it his duty to bring the matter to the notice of the party. The reply was typical of that boorishness which has more and more distinguished Soviet politics the more Stalin’s influence has increased. The Central Committee said that Trotsky’s attacks on the Communist Party. which had continued for “several years,” and his “determination to disturb the party,” were due to the fact that he wanted the Central Committee to place him and Comrade Kalegaev at the head of industrial life. He was striving for unlimited powers in industry and military affairs and had “categorically declined the position of substitute for Lenin. That evidently he considers is beneath his dignity. He conducts himself according to the formula ‘All or nothing.’” Years have not abstracted anything from the coarse personalities of this Government reply to a political accusation by a man who still occupied the position in the Socialist State that Trotsky occupied: the degradation of political life before the party and the masses had begun. But opinion in the party was in those days too strong for Stalin and his clique, and they were finally compelled to pass a resolution binding them to institute workers’ democracy. The resolution was unanimously carried. But the three could not put it into operation, for it was the absence of democracy that gave them their power. Now that Lenin was away, a democratic regime, and Trotsky’s authority and moral and intellectual superiority, would automatically place him at the head of the party. Somehow they had to destroy him. Stalin has no principles of any kind, political or otherwise, but Zinoviev and Kamenev lent themselves to this intrigue not only out of personal enmity, but because they feared all that Trotsky stood for. Trotsky wanted to push on with the industrialisation of the country. Zinoviev, notoriously a coward, feared to upset the equilibrium of Soviet economy. Trotsky wanted to utilise the bourgeois technicians as Lenin had always advocated. Stalin opposed this. It was on a similar question, the utilization of Tsarist officers, that he had intrigued against Trotsky during the civil war, and had been snubbed and suppressed by Lenin. Trotsky was the centre of the intellectuals of the party, of Marxist learning and analysis with its insistence on the necessity of going forward – the permanent reconstruction of the economic basis of society. Where Zinoviev and Kamenev from temperament stood for caution, Stalin, as his speeches during the next four years proved, undoubtedly did believe (if he ever gave any serious thought to the matter) that if one maintained the Soviet power Socialism would come somehow. [5] For these various reasons the three were united in their desire to destroy Trotsky. What Zinoviev and Kamenev did not see was that behind them in this Quarrel the party bureaucracy would inevitably range itself; behind the party bureaucracy was the State bureaucracy, and behind these were the capitalist elements in the Soviet Union. There is an observation by Lenin in one of his last articles which shows that he was always aware of the unstable nature of the class-relations in the country and feared a split for the very reason that the classes would seize the divisions to align themselves. But neither Zinoviev nor Kamenev nor anyone else could have foreseen the lengths to which Stalin would go in allying himself with reaction in order to destroy Trotsky and the international revolution for which he stood, and in which they, with all their faults, believed. For the time being they worked to destroy Trotsky.

The resolution had pinned them down. A few days after they got their opportunity. Flushed with his paper victory, Trotsky had written a letter to his own party local with the intention of elucidating the significance of workers democracy. Without a shadow of malice or personal references he analysed the dangers which beset the party:

“Destroying self-activity, bureaucratism thereby prevents a raising of the general level of the party. And that is its chief fault. To the extent that the most experienced comrades, and those distinguished by service inevitably enter into the apparatus, to that extent the bureaucratism of the apparatus has its heaviest consequences on the intellectual-political growth of the young generation of the party. This explains the fact that the youth – the most reliable barometer of the party – react the most sharply of all against party bureaucratism.

“It would be wrong to think, however, that the excess of apparatus-methods in deciding party questions, leaves no trace on the older generation, which incarnates the political experience of the party and its revolutionary traditions. No, the danger is great also on this side. It is needless to speak of the enormous significance – not only on a Russian, but on an international scale – of the older generation of our party; that is generally known and generally acknowledged. But it would be a crude mistake to estimate that significance as a self-sufficient fact. Only a continual interaction of the older and younger generation within the frame of party democracy can preserve the Old Guard as a revolutionary factor. Otherwise the old may ossify, and unnoticed by themselves become the most finished expression of the bureaucratism of the apparatus.” [6]

Still pursuing a theoretical analysis he showed how the leaders of the Second International had degenerated from revolutionary Marxism into Revisionism, and the responsibility which the seniors bore: “we ourselves, the ‘old men,’ while naturally playing the role of leaders, should recognise the danger, state it openly, and guard against it by fighting against bureaucratism.” On this recurrent question, the interaction of the old and the young, no more valuable advice has ever been given to any political party. Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev read the document and did not object to its publication in the party press. Kamenev spoke about it without enthusiasm, certainly without hostility. [7] But the very quality of the letter was a signpost of their approaching eclipse, and suddenly they decided to use it against Trotsky. They accused him of setting the youth against the Old Guard. Stalin began in Moscow. “Whence this attempt to uncrown the Old Guard and demagogishly tickle the youth, so as to open and widen the little rift between these fundamental troops of our party? To whom is all this useful, if you have in view the interests of the party, its unity, its solidarity, and not an attempt to weaken its unity for the benefit of an opposition?” Zinoviev in Leningrad called it an attack on the “direct disciples of Lenin” and the Leningrad Soviet of which he was President passed a condemnatory motion by 3,000 votes to seven with five abstaining. Bucharin followed in the party press. “However, Bolshevism has never contrasted the party with the apparatus. That would be, from the Bolshevik point of view, absolute ignorance, for there is no party without its apparatus ...” The “direct disciples of Lenin,” “Bolshevism, that is to say Leninism.” That was the cue. They had to break the name Trotsky from its inseparable association with the revered name, Lenin. They therefore posed as Leninists, as the heirs and guardians of the true tradition against Trotsky’s perversions. That and that only was the origin of Stalin’s Trotskyism. They had begun by calling Trotsky a left Communist. But now they quickly shifted over and called him Menshevik. For in order to prove that Trotskyism had always been opposed to Leninism they dug down into past history and raked up the old quarrels between Lenin and Trotsky. Now these quarrels had been on two main points, one the organisational question, on which Trotsky had been wrong. But the second was the Theory of the Permanent Revolution, and this embodied the whole theoretical basis of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. But Zinoviev and Kamenev followed Stalin and performed prodigies of casuistry. Incapable of even the most primitive theoretical analysis, Stalin, in his simple-minded way, elaborated upon the ideas they put forward. But the management of the campaign of slander, the scope it assumed, its success, these were the contributions of Stalin. His gifts were useless in a revolution. In a period of calm and an internal struggle for power in the apparatus Trotsky was out-generalled from first to last. What is important is not that Trotsky was beaten, but that he was beaten so quickly.


Lenin died in January, 1924, and then followed a campaign on an unprecedented scale which vilified Trotskyism and Trotsky, and prepared the way for removing his supporters. Paul Scheffer, [9] Max Eastman, [10] Louis Fischer [11] and Walter Duranty, [12] the last two firm supporters of the Stalinist regime, have testified to the nature of this campaign, its baselessness, its dishonesty. No evidence is more valuable than that of Louis Fischer, wholly devoted to the Stalinist regime. In the New York Nation of May 1, 1934, he tells how Stalin rewrote “Soviet history, so that Trotsky’s role either disappears or becomes besmirched”: how propaganda excited hate against him, “not only in the party and youth but among the general population which once revered him”; how his supporters had to undergo years of “well-nigh intolerable physical, mental and moral suffering.” Lenin’s eyes used to blaze at any hint of political power used for personal ends. How is this better than bourgeois parliamentarism, he would ask. Here was the whole power of the State being used to destroy the finest and ablest servants of the revolution. Political reason for this baseness and disloyalty there was at the beginning none. Few of the cynical bourgeois who relate these facts, however, seem to have understood one of its most important aspects for any Socialist who understands the part the masses must play in the building of Socialism – the degradation of political life and the political thinking of a country already backward. What Lenin in the face of enormous odds had striven for as the only counter to the dictatorship, the political education of the masses, hoping to bring them more and more into control of production, and political activity and understanding as the country developed, all that Stalin, and he is the individual responsible, no sooner in power, began to destroy on a scale that has no parallel in history. To account for this in 1923 purely by the class-relationships in the country is to make a geometrical theorem of the materialist conception of history. The process then begun has continued. In the early days – there are still fools who say it – Trotsky was compared with Danton. He was an individualist unable to work with a party. But during the years the full force of Stalin’s dictatorship has been used to prove to the Soviet workers that Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rakovsky, Rykov, Tomsky, Bucharin, all their leaders, have at one time or another been guilty of counterrevolution and have plotted to restore Capitalism in the Soviet Union. Stalin alone has been good, faithful and true. To the Webbs and other bourgeois philistines, corrupted to the marrow by bourgeois politics, this is merely worth a footnote whereby they show exactly what they mean by Socialism. Whatever the future of the Soviet Union, it will be many, many years before political life recovers from this corruption injected from above. Given the defeat of the world-revolution degradation was inevitable. But that it took this particular form, and so early, is due to the evil personality of its chief representative.

“Trotsky has always been in the sphere of political questions a mere revolutionary dilettante.” So read a sentence from a pamphlet published by the Leningrad Soviet under Zinoviev. And in addition to personal abuse of the fish-wife variety, every sentence that Trotsky had ever written against Lenin or Lenin against Trotsky was raked out and published in unlimited editions. Lenin in his controversies with Trotsky had stated somewhere that Trotsky underestimated the peasantry. The Soviet Union was suddenly overwhelmed with pamphlets, articles and speeches proving that Trotsky underestimated the peasantry. The three conspirators had in their hands the party organisation, the party funds, the party Press, – every means of monopolising publicity. Dzherzhinsky and the secret police, the strong centralised control and tradition of discipline, did the rest. Many party members, old Bolsheviks, were bewildered by the charges. But in the confusion their old habits of loyalty to the party induced them to side with the ruling group against Trotsky, who was unceasingly made to appear as someone striving to break party discipline. Discipline, orthodoxy, centralism. This, said Stalin, was Leninism, and used the tradition to cover his aims. All who supported Trotsky and had any influence were dismissed from their posts, the more distinguished sent as ambassadors to foreign countries, others less in the public eye sent to remote parts, the students were dismissed from universities in thousands, and the G.P.U. was active against these new “class enemies,” meaning Trotsky’s followers. The intellectuals, who were able to investigate all the trumpery about Trotskyism, were driven out of the party. The party conference in May was managed with equal ruthlessness and cunning. Krupskaya had given the Troika the Testament to read at the conference. The Central Committee decided that it should not be read but discussed only with the most important party members. The fetish of party unity, party discipline, ceaselessly hammered by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, stifled criticism.

Lenin had asked that more workers should be introduced into the party. In January Stalin’s secretariat selected 100,000 workers all over the country, in May 100,000 more. [13] All were given votes, all voted against Trotskyism.

Trotsky was ill and remained silent. Soon his friends dared not speak, for it might mean banishment to Siberia. Unemployment was rife, and the rank-and-file who would not see and acknowledge the difference between Stalin’s Leninism and Trotskyism stood in fear of losing their jobs.

In October came the climax. Trotsky published his articles and speeches of 1917 with a preface on The Lessons of October, in which, comparing those who opposed Lenin in October 1917 with the leaders in October 1923 in Germany, he laid the blame for the failure at the door of the pusillanimous and incompetent German Central Committee. October 1917 was above all what Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin could not have any discussion upon. The book was unofficially suppressed. But the campaign against Trotskyism reached fantastic heights. A flood of articles and pamphlets against Trotskyism was let loose on the Russian public. Electric lights at night advertised Replies to Trotsky, what Lenin had said about Trotsky, what Trotsky had said about Lenin. Friendly critics have blamed Trotsky for his continued silence. It was not only illness, a stubborn pride, a respect for the dignity of the Soviet State. Under the influence of his profound studies of history he seems for a time to have accepted with too much fatalism this emergence of bureaucratic corruption in a period of revolutionary ebb.

A persecution so cruel, in the name of the Socialist revolution for which they had cheerfully risked life and liberty, broke the spirit of many who would have been unshakable against the counter-revolution. Suicide among the party members became so common that a special investigation had to be made and a report sent to the Central Committee with recommendations to check it. [14] Lenin was not yet dead one year. Who that knows his record can believe that had he lived such a state of affairs could possibly have existed at that time? In September 1924 Trotsky’s secretary, expelled from the party, committed suicide.


The split to begin with might appear to be a trifle but it was to have a decisive significance. A political struggle of this kind cannot be isolated from its national and international environment. It took four years to drive Trotsky and those who followed him out of the party. The traditions of Leninism were too strongly rooted. Stalin and his faction by their attacks on Trotsky and Trotskyism were driven further and further from Leninism – the theory and practice of the international Socialist revolution. Trotsky’s special contribution to Marxism, the Permanent Revolution, was their special target. But they could not rely on argument and they destroyed physically the Left wing of the party, strengthening thereby the Right. The defence of bureaucratism against workers’ democracy caused the Troika to lean still further on the bureaucracy. The proletariat, exhausted by the herculean efforts between 1917 and 1924, had received a crushing blow with the defeat of the German proletariat. The world revolution and all the hopes of 1917 seemed dead. It was bewildered and confused by the sheer weight of the attacks on Trotsky, the man who, more than all others, it associated with October and the defeat of the European counter-revolution, The party bureaucracy had a clear field. Supporting it was the bureaucracy in the country which knew without being told where its interests lay. It knew Lenin’s views, that Trotsky held them, and that if Trotsky and the Opposition gained power it would mean a cleansing of the party, a cleansing of the governing bureaucracy in the manner Lenin had suggested, and a vigilant watch on all bureaucratism. Stalin steadily fused the party and the bureaucracy until today they are indistinguishable. And supporting the party bureaucracy and the bureaucracy in the Soviet Government were the new class of kulaks in the country and the traders in the towns. Under the New Economic Policy Soviet economy was recovering, but creating inevitably a new capitalist class. Outside, in Europe, Capitalism, fed temporarily by American loans, was stabilizing itself on the ruins of the German Revolution and was reinforcing the growth of reaction in the Soviet Union. The proletariat outside Russia was moving away from revolution to reformism. From much muddle-headed chatter about the imminent revolution Stalin and Zinoviev were compelled to see that Capitalism was strengthening itself. Using revolutionary phraseology, but in reality from then and for the next three years the ally of kulak and nepman, against Trotsky and the internationalists, the Soviet bureaucracy crystallised its development and clarified its aims in a new theory that struck at the very basis of all Marxist thinking, the theory that Socialism could be built unaided in a single country. When Zinoviev and Kamenev, under pressure from the proletariat of Leningrad and Moscow, recoiled from this theory and its consequences and started to struggle against Stalin, they were helpless. The same methods and machinery which they had helped to build for use against Trotsky and Trotskyism were more than efficient for use against Zinovievism. Kamenev was sent abroad, Zinoviev’s followers were weeded out, he was dismissed from his positions and Bucharin set up in his place.


Stalin produced his new theory in the autumn of 1924. In the face of elementary Marxism and the whole history of the party Stalin declared that since 1915 (later he made it 1905) Lenin, in opposition to Trotsky and Trotskyism, had always preached that Socialism could be built in a single country. In April of that year (1924) in his own book, Problems of Leninism, [15] he had written that the organisation of Socialist production in the Soviet Union was impossible. For that the assistance of several of the most advanced countries was needed. In October he published a new edition of the book in which the passage was changed to exactly the opposite.

Marx and Engels, said Stalin, had not known that Socialism could be built in a single country because they did not know the law of the unequal development of Capitalism – one of the first laws learnt by the student of economics, Marxist or otherwise, during the past hundred years.

Lenin had at times spoken of the building of Socialism in the Soviet Union. That, after all, was the ultimate aim, and every time he said Socialism he could not have been expected to say “the international revolution.” His works were diligently scoured. Yet so precise was Lenin’s phrasing that in all the thousands of letters and articles that he wrote the Stalinists could find surprisingly little that was of use to them. An article in 1915 was discovered in which, writing of Western Europe and arguing against Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, he had postulated the organisation of Socialist production in a single country. He was writing not of Russia at all and he was arguing against the idea of each working-class waiting to act until all the others were ready. That no hint of national Socialism was in his mind is proved not only by his writings before 1915 but by scores and scores of passages in his writings down to the last paragraph of the very last article he ever wrote. The passage was torn from its context. In 1923, an article on Co-operation discussing the political premises for Socialism, he said: “Have we not all the means requisite for the establishment of a fully socialised Socialist society? Of course we have not yet established a Socialist society, but we have all the means requisite for its establishment.” That was enough for Stalin. In April 1925 the new theory was made party policy. Men held up their hands and voted for this as the policy of Lenin. To do otherwise was Trotskyism and already, in the Russia of 1925, party members could see the immediate consequences of Trotskyism much more vividly than the remote results of Stalin’s perversions. They voted.

Zinoviev and Kamenev refused to accept what Zinoviev could in those days call Stalin’s “opportunist nonsense.“ Stalin attacked Zinoviev in his clumsy blundering attempts at polemic. It is impossible to build Socialism in a single country? “If so, is it worth while to fight for victory over the Capitalist elements in our own economic life? Is it not a natural sequence of Comrade Zinovieff’s views, to contend that such a victory is impossible? Surrender to the Capitalist elements of our economic life [16] – such is the logical outcome of Comrade Zinovieff’s arguments.” [17] He indulged in a logical retrospect. “The only puzzle is, why we seized power in October (November), 1917, unless we intended to establish Socialism! We ought not to have seized power in October 1917 – such is the conclusion to which Comrade Zinovieff’s train of argument leads us.” [18] But after this elephantine casuistry he fell back on his strength: “I declare, further, that, as regards the fundamental problem of the victory of Socialism, Comrade Zinovieff has taken a line which is opposed to the plain decisions of the Party, as expressed in the resolution ‘Concerning the Tasks of the Communist International and the Communist Party of Russia in conjunction with the Enlarged Executive Committee (the Plenum) of the Communist International’ – a resolution adopted at the Fourteenth Party Conference.“ [19] He used the party machine to create a majority for anything, however absurd, however false, and on that basis he expelled, imprisoned, banished and shot.

To such docility had he bludgeoned the party by April 1925, that Trotsky and Zinoviev and Kamenev found little support in their opposition. In little more than six months international Socialism, the whole basis of Leninism, had been dragged out of the ideological armoury by Comrade Stalin, Comrade Lenin’s best friend and helper. We must guard against thinking that Stalin himself had made any great change. Neither before 1917 nor after has Leninism meant anything to him. When a young comrade wrote personally to him saying that he had looked through Lenin’s works and failed to find any reference to the victory of Socialism in a single country, Stalin, in a public report to the party officials in Moscow, replied: “He’ll find them some day!” [20] To many people all this argument about Socialism in a single country is only tedious nonsense. There could be no greater mistake. It signified the defeat of Trotsky, that is to say of Lenin’s international Socialism; and the crude violence of the falsification is evidence of the profound changes of which this theory was the outcome and still more the forerunner. The thing to be noted is the extraordinary mastery and speed with which Stalin manoeuvred the party to the new position. With his infallible political insight Lenin, at the beginning of 1923, had pointed his finger at the danger spot. Remove Stalin. As Souvarine [21] has so justly pointed out there was a possibility then that the party, having recovered from the civil war and the famine, could, under Leninist leadership, have regenerated itself and moved forward on the Socialist road, adapting itself flexibly to the economic circumstances. Between the rising strength of the bureaucracy and the proletarian masses, the party was balancing during 1913. It was the illness and death of Lenin on the one hand, and on the other the superiority of Stalin to Trotsky in a struggle of this kind, that so quickly and decisively turned the scale in favour of the bureaucracy.


It is convenient here to point out the enormous tragedy for the whole movement of the illness and premature death of Lenin. The growth of the bureaucracy was inevitable. There were bitter struggles ahead. But with Lenin alive the incredible degeneration of the Bolshevik party between April 1923 and October 1924 is unthinkable. To gain control and introduce his theories, Stalin had to destroy the party. There is a tendency among Trotskyists to exaggerate the economic and social influences at work in the Trotsky-Stalin struggle in 1923. By October 1923 Trotsky was beaten. Even under Lenin so much power had been concentrated in the upper circles of the party that Stalin could win by his superior gifts of manoeuvre and intrigue. He could never have defeated Lenin in that way. Quite early in 1923 Lenin knew the dangerous range of Stalin’s influence, but he could have broken him and intended to do so. And Stalin would have disappeared alone. Zinoviev and Kamenev were never persons to go down fighting for anybody or anything, least of all a Stalin attacked by a Lenin.

Lenin and Trotsky were solid in this matter, and what they said went, not from tyranny but from intellectual power and strength of character. Like attracts like, and they had the best men in the party with them. Whatever the power of the party bureaucracy in 1923, and even of the bureaucracy in the country, Lenin and Trotsky were the ones whom the Red Army, and the masses of Russia, workers and peasants alike, loved and trusted with a blind faith. Such jealousy of Trotsky as existed was in the old clique, not among the rank-and-file of the party. And even the old clique acknowledged the superiority not only of Lenin but of Trotsky. In January 1924 Zinoviev, speaking at the special conference which pretended to investigate the causes of the German failure, paid an involuntary tribute to the very Trotsky whom his Soviet was calling a revolutionary dilettante. The campaign against Trotskyism, of which Zinoviev was one of the chief authors, had been raging for three months. “On the question of the tempo we erred. There is some consolation in that Lenin and Trotsky sometimes erred on this point.”

The more one reads Lenin’s last writings the more one sees how clearly he saw the danger. An unanswered question is, why Trotsky never used the army, which was devoted to him. He did not realise early enough the deep menace of Stalin. He thought first of the unity of the party, he did not want to appear anxious to step into Lenin’s shoes. Instead of mobilising his considerable support to do what Lenin had said, and remove Stalin, Trotsky tried to collaborate with Stalin. To understand a problem is to be half-way on the road to solution. Lenin saw it to the end and it is our belief that he would have gone to the masses, using the people, in the army and in the Soviets, against the bureaucracy. Circumstances were driving him to repair another error – too great a concentration of power in the summits of the party. Whenever he was in difficulties he looked below, and his head was already turned that way. He had dominated his party for twenty years. In April 1923, despite Stalin’s intrigues, he was still unquestioned master of it with even Stalin mortally afraid of him, of even an article by him. Without the world revolution the bureaucracy was bound to grow. But to think that with Lenin alive and well, with Trotsky head of the Red Army, and the thousands of old Bolsheviks in the party who followed Lenin and Trotsky but in reality Lenin, to think that Stalin, or any other bureaucrat for that matter, could have slipped into the power without years of struggle, without even the final resort to force, is to show a complete misconception of what Lenin started out to do and did, when he wrote that with an organisation Russia could be overturned.

Lenin was not only Lenin. He was Lenin plus the Bolshevik party, still intact despite the inroads made upon it, with enormous reserves of strength in the masses of the people. To explain all, as too many do, by economic and social forces, is grossly to simplify a complex problem. Let us not forget that those who were the antithesis of Lenin from the first found their most potent weapon in using his name. They at least had no illusions about what Lenin, his party and his tradition, meant to the majority of the Russian people. The very strength of his leadership was its weakness, for when he went the party, built around him, almost instinctively clung to the centre he had dominated, but which, without him, was already heading for reaction. [22] If anything will emerge from this book, it is not only the strength of principles but the power of leadership. The first helps the second. The party of international Socialism rose with Lenin and died with him. This is not to deny Marxism. Lenin would have fought the bureaucracy, would have striven to keep the party clean, and used the party and the masses unceasingly against the bureaucracy, would have conquered it with the help of the world revolution, would certainly have kept it in check for years. But nobody else could. And yet Marxism, while giving full value to the role of remarkable individuals in history – and Stalin, in his own corrupt way is one of the most remarkable men in modern history – yet offers the only conclusive logical explanation of the events we have just outlined. For the working-class movements in Western Europe had begun on an international revolutionary basis in the First International, had each raised, through its own weakness against Capitalism, a bureaucracy. These bureaucracies, with criminal short-sightedness, had gradually succumbed to surrounding circumstances, become penetrated with bourgeois ideas, crushed the revolutionary elements, and then decided each to build Socialism peacefully in its own country, had revised its theories to suit, and by the logic of events had deserted internationalism at the great crisis of 1914. In the same way the bureaucracy in Russia having gained a victory over the powerful international revolutionary tradition and sections in the Workers’ State, succumbed to its weakness against the temporary stabilisation of capital which began in 1924, deserted internationalism for national Socialism, and using its influence on the world working-class movement, is preparing it for a still more colossal betrayal than that of 1914. That is the way that history works. So for historical materialism.

But the national Socialists might have won in 1917. If Lenin had not reached Petrograd in April 1917, international Socialism would probably have lost, despite the work of the previous thirty years. Lenin was out of it in 1923, and international Socialism had lost this time almost before the battle had begun. We deny emphatically that so complete a defeat at such a time was “inevitable,” and shall have no difficulty in pointing out the immediately ruinous influence which Stalin exercised on the Communist International.



[1] No finer volume on the realities of English politics and history exists than his occasional articles collected in the volume Lenin on Britain.

[2] See the early chapters of Stalin, by Souvarine.

[3] Zaria Vostoka, December 13, 1925. See Lutte de Classes, January–February 1933.

[4] Zinoviev and Kamenev have exposed it all. What was not so clear in 1927, when Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union, is clear today – one by one Stalin has destroyed every member of the old Central Committee.

[5] As far back as December 1923 Trotsky had pointed out the immense political dangers lurking behind party bureaucracy. See The New International, January 1935, p. 16.

[6] This and other relevant documents are given in full in appendices to Eastman’s Since Lenin Died. See also Le Cours Nouveaur, by L. Trotsky, Paris, 1925.

[7] Since Lenin Died. Fully documented with the important references easily verifiable in a file of Pravda.

[8] Trotskyism has never been admitted as a label by the supporters of the views which are associated with the name of Trotsky. The Stalinists insist upon it in their attempts to prove Trotskyism something opposed to Leninism. The so-called Trotskyists are officially known as Bolshevik-Leninists. For a book of this kind, however, Bolshevik-Leninist would, for many reasons, have been confusing, and for convenience a wilderness of quotation marks around the oft-repeated Trotskyism and Trotskyists has been omitted.

[9] Seven Years in Soviet Russia, p. 143.

[10] Since Lenin Died.

[11] The American Nation, May 2, 1934.

[12] I Write as I Please, 1935, p. 218.

[13] I Write as I Please, by Walter Duranty, p. 201.

[14] Pravda, October 9, 1914.

[15] A facsimile from the English edition is given on page x.

[16] His italics.

[17] Leninism, by Joseph Stalin, Vol. I, p. 58.

[18] Leninism, by Joseph Stalin, Vol. I, p. 60.

[19] Leninism, by Joseph Stalin, Vol. I, p. 60.

[20] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 244.

[21] Staline, p. 318.

[22] Marxism badly needs a careful study of this period. Trotsky’s account of it in his autobiography suffers from an over-emphasis on the economic and social forces at work. Lenin’s Testament, one of the key documents to the understanding of historical materialism holds a perfect balance. He states early in it that there are two classes in Russia between whom harmony must be maintained or the Soviet regime would collapse. It is against this solid background that he then considers the personal characteristics of the Central Committee. Selecting Trotsky and Stalin as the dominant personalities, he asks for the removal of Stalin. It seems that he thought, with Stalin out of the way, the Central Committee would regroup itself around Trotsky and, with a larger membership, be linked closer to party and masses. What he seemed most afraid of was an even split, behind the two halves of which a conflict might develop which would imperil the whole State. It is doubtful if he ever dreamt of the possibility that within six months Trotsky would be practically isolated in the Central Committee. On p. 414 of his autobiography Trotsky tells us what he said to Kamenev about this time. “I am against removing Stalin, and expelling Ordzhonikidze, and displacing Dzerzhinsky from the commissariat of transport. But,” he goes on to say, “I do agree with Lenin in substance.“ The contradiction between word and deed was fatal. Still more revealing are his words on Stalin to Kamenev, “Let him not overreach himself. There should be no more intrigues but honest co-operation.” That is Trotsky’s own confession, and if that is the way he approached this initial struggle he had lost before he had begun. We today can see that clearly. But it is of profound importance to understand that whereas Lenin, sensitive to the role of strong personalities in the flux and reflux of social forces, realised the danger of Stalin and the necessity of his removal, Trotsky, with all his gifts, did not, even after Lenin had urgently pointed it out to him.

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Last updated: 22 January 2021