Gus Fagan

Biographical Introduction

Christian Rakovsky

Opposition and Exile: The Final Years

On his way back to Moscow Rakovsky stopped in Berlin to discuss opposition tactics with Kamenev and Krestinsky. Kamenev had come from Rome and was also on his way to the plenum of the Central Committee. Rakovsky and Kamenev argued in favour of direct action, appeals to the masses, demonstrations and distribution of leaflets. Krestinsky believed that the opposition should continue to manoeuvre. Later that year, in 1927, Krestinsky wrote a letter to Trotsky criticizing opposition tactics, and in April 1928 he wrote a letter to the Central Committee publicly detaching himself from the left opposition. [75]

The opposition now plunged itself into activity in preparation for the Fifteenth Party Congress and for the Tenth Anniversary of the October revolution. Rakovsky, along with Kamenev and Radek, spoke to the Moscow komsomol organization on 26 October 1927 in defence of the opposition platform. But it was to the Ukraine that Rakovsky went in the autumn of 1927 to organize the opposition there. A large number of party members in the Ukraine were loyal to Rakovsky, and the regions of Kiev and Odessa were strong centres of the trotskyist opposition. The Zinoviev opposition had very little support in the Ukraine. The permanent leader of the trotskyist opposition in the Ukraine at this time was Yuri Kotsubinsky, and old friend of Rakovsky whom he had appointed in 1922 as the chief of the Ukrainian mission in Vienna.

Some of the better-known trotskyist leaders in the Ukraine were Holubenko, Livshits, Rosengans, V. Assem, Dashkovsky, and Lobanov. In the spring of 1927 some of the Ukrainian oppositionists had published a Platform of 83. They had sent representatives into over twenty localities organizing support groups, circles and meetings, and distributing their literature not only among party members but also among non-party workers. The Platform of 83 had been signed by N. Gordon, T. Kharechko, S. Shreiber and also by Dashkovski who was also the author of another opposition document, the Platform of 15. At the beginning of 1926 a clandestine committee of the trotskyist opposition was set up in Kharkov, consisting of seven members. This centre had contact with the opposition in Moscow. In Kharkov there were also four district committees each consisting of three members. Centres of the opposition were also established in Kiev, Odessa, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson. In all those cities regional committees had been established consisting of five or seven members. The opposition in the Ukraine was very active and well-equipped. They had printing machines, four copying presses and a duplicator.

To prepare for the tenth anniversary of the revolution and to strengthen the opposition in the Ukraine was Rakovsky’s task as he toured the opposition centres in the autumn of 1927. The opposition strategy was to make an “appeal to the masses”, to take part in the official celebrations in such a way as to bring the oppositions s ideas and demands to the attention of the masses. But this extension of the opposition’s activities beyond the ranks of the party was not limited to the tenth anniversary celebrations. In the Ukraine Rakovsky organized the clandestine production of leaflets which were distributed among the workers in the factories of Kharkov, Kiev, and Odessa. When Rakovsky arrived in the Ukraine he immediately began to visit the industrial centres and to speak at factory meetings in places like Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye and Kharkov. In the General Electricity Combine in Kharkov he spoke to an assembly of four thousand workers. In Zaporozhye he spoke to the party cell in the Communard factory. In his speech in this factory he explained the opposition criticism of the five-year plan and spoke about the threat of unemployment and the drop in living standards which faced the working class in the Soviet Union. [76]

The turn of the opposition to open activity among the non-party masses, especially in the Ukraine, prompted a stepping-up of the harassment tactics employed by the party apparatus and a mobilization of party members against the opposition. In his report to the Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927 Kaganovich reported how the party apparatus, confronted with the “subversive” activities of Rakovsky, began a massive mobilization to disrupt and stem the opposition activities. This took the form of organized disruption and abuse at all meetings where Rakovsky or other oppositionists were speaking. On 5 November Rakovsky was invited to speak at the special session of the Kharkov Soviet called to commemorate the anniversary of the revolution. When he spoke, defending the positions of the opposition, he was interrupted by shouts, stamping of feet and whistling until it became impossible for him to continue his speech. At this official session there were foreign visitors, social democrats and non-party people. Turning to them, as he left the rostrum in anger, Rakovsky said: “You see how, among us, the representatives of the working class are allowed to speak; this is social-fascism.” [77] Such scenes as this became more frequent as the stalinist apparatus, during the month of November, organized almost one thousand meetings in the Ukraine to prosecute the attack on the opposition.

In Moscow and Leningrad the opposition’s public appeal during the anniversary celebrations was violently suppressed. Victor Serge describes how in Leningrad the opposition contingent in the parade was surrounded by the militia, dispersed, abused and beaten. In Moscow, when the opposition unfurled its banners in front of the Lenin mausoleum they were torn to shreds by commandos. Beyond Red Square the opposition was attacked with truncheons and dispersed or arrested. Shots were fired as Trotsky tried to address the crowd, and the windscreen of his car was smashed. On 14 November the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, convened for an extraordinary session, expelled Trotsky and Zinoviev from the party. Rakovsky, along with Kamenev, Smilga and Evdokimov, was expelled from the Central Committee.

In mid-November Rakovsky received a telegram in the Ukraine informing him of Joffe’s suicide and he returned to Moscow. He was replaced in the Ukraine by Voya Vuyovic, a Yugoslav who was also the secretary of the Youth International. In his position he was, with Rakovsky, a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (IKKI). At a meeting of the presidium of the IKKI, which lasted from 9.30 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. on 27 September 1927, Trotsky, Rakovsky and Vuyovic were expelled from the IKKI. The motion to expel Trotsky was moved by J.T. Murphy, “a long-standing but undistinguished member of the CPGB”. [78] Vuyovic took Rakovsky’s place in November, and began to collect signatures for a declaration of protest against the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev. In the election of delegates and in the voting in the Ukraine leading up to the Fifteenth Party Congress, the official statistics of the stalinist apparatus say that ten per cent voted in favour of the opposition theses.

Rakovsky was the official opposition spokesman at the Fifteenth Party Congress which opened on 2 December 1927. It lasted three weeks and was wholly preoccupied with the schism. The Congress saw the end of the united opposition of Trotsky and Zinoviev. On 10 December Kamenev, Bakaev and Evdokimov, on behalf of the Zinoviev wing, announced their final acceptance of all decisions reached by the Congress. The trotskyists now stood alone.

Rakovsky’s speech dealt again with the international situation of the revolution and of the Soviet state. The Fifteenth Congress was in danger, said Rakovsky, of repeating the same mistake of the Fourteenth Congress, which had said in its resolution that “the respite, ... the peaceful cohabitation of the USSR with the capitalist states” would be consolidated and extended. But within a few months, he pointed out, this was followed by the defeat of the Chinese revolution and the breaking of relations with Britain. He said that Stalin’s speech to the Fifteenth Congress had “enumerated the achievements of the last two years, including the liquidation of the Swiss incident, and, as if to balance this, he spoke of the defeat in China, the Anglo-Soviet rupture and the recent conflict with France”. In a statement which provoked commotion at the Congress, Rakovsky declared: “these two magnitudes are not comparable ... I say further that even if we had maintained diplomatic relations with Britain, even if we had not had the conflict with France – the defeat of the Chinese revolution created such an unfavourable situation for us that we may say that it fully counter-balances all gains in our foreign affairs.” He also challenged Stalin’s claim that there was a constant growth abroad of working-class support for the Soviet Union. Taking the example of Britain, he pointed out the “passivity and indifference” with which the British working class had reacted to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. “Side by side with the increasing Communist vote we must record a most alarming fact, namely, the decrease in working-class activity.” International working-class support, he maintained, was more important than any manoeuvring between capitalist states, and the stalinist leadership was refusing to recognize the real situation and the inherent dangers it contained for the Soviet state and for the revolution. Rakovsky was constantly interrupted during his speech – by, among others, Bukharin and Kaganovich. He quoted extensively from the foreign press to show that Western bourgeois opinion regarded the opposition as presenting a greater revolutionary threat than the official line. “It is an alarming coincidence”, said Rakovsky. “Here we are told that we must fight the opposition, and abroad we are also told that it is necessary to fight the opposition.” World imperialism was throwing its weight on the side of the majority. This was “the newest phenomenon in our international situation”. At this point he was shouted down with cries of “agent of the bourgeoisie”, “out of the party” and “Menshevik”. He was not allowed to continue his speech. In his summing-up speech Stalin didn’t answer any of the points made by Rakovsky on foreign policy. The Congress was well sewn up and under Stalin’s control. Political arguments were unnecessary. “Comrade Rakovsky maintains that the opposition is the left wing of our party. That would make a cat laugh.” [79]

Rakovsky was expelled from the Communist Party at the Fifteenth Congress. When, on 10 December, the Zinoviev wing accepted the decisions of the Congress, Rakovsky wrote a statement which was also signed by Muralov and later by Radek, in which he insisted on the right to defend oppositional views inside the party. The resolution expelling “seventy-five active workers of the trotskyist opposition” was adopted without debate. Immediately after the Congress 1,500 more oppositionists were expelled, and 2,500 signed statements of recantation obtained. The speech to the Fifteenth Party Congress was Rakovsky’s last public discourse in Soviet Russia.

On 3 January 1928 the Politbureau decided to deport the principal oppositionists. Trotsky was sent to Alma Ata, Rakovsky to Astrakhan. Deportation or expulsion was nothing new for Rakovsky. Already he had been expelled from various countries a total of fourteen times. In his many notes and reminiscences on Rakovksy Trotsky often refers to the remarkable serenity which enabled the experienced revolutionary and diplomat to rise above defeat and dejection. The French writer Pierre Naville visited Rakovsky in the autumn of 1927 at the house of Preobrazhensky and the latter’s friend and companion, Pauline. Naville remarked on the atmosphere of comradeliness and simplicity which, he says, “was impossible to find anywhere else at the time”. Rakovsky was wearing a smart Western-style jacket. He described with humour to the French writer how Soviet diplomats, when they are recalled, have to give up all possessions acquired during their foreign service with the exception of clothing. “The French expelled me from Paris for having signed a declaration of the opposition. Stalin expelled me from Narkomindel for having signed the same declaration. But in both cases they let me keep the jacket.” [80]

In Astrakhan Rakovsky was assigned to an official post, as “special economist” in Gubplan (the provincial planning department). His salary was 180 rubles a month. [81] Now began the intense political and intellectual life of the opposition in exile. In his Notes on Rakovsky, Trotsky remarks that “he perhaps never led such an active life as during his years of deportation, and his life was perhaps never as fruitful as during this period”. Almost immediately after his arrival in Astrakhan he began a work on Saint-Simon and the origins of utopian socialism. In his first letter from exile, written to Trotsky, he urged Trotsky not to spend all his energies and talents on immediate political problems. “It is extremely important”, he wrote, “that you should also choose a large subject, something like my Saint-Simon, which would compel you to take a fresh look at many issues and reread many things from a different angle.” [82] Louis Fischer remarked, when he visited Rakovsky in exile later in 1929, that he had been able to take all his archives with him. “In Rakovsky’s room”, he wrote, “stood a tremendous trunk full of documents and letters. I was astounded to find that he had been able to take to Saratov the secret protocols of the Anglo-Soviet conference in London in 1924 ... He had a marvellous memory and what he could not recollect he was often able to reconstruct on the basis of documents.” [83] Apart from his personal documents Rakovsky also brought with him the works of Saint-Simon and Enfantin, and the classics of Russian literature. In his first weeks of exile Cervantes was his favourite reading. He read Aristotle and Dante, but above all he restudied the French revolution. Deutscher, in his biography of Trotsky, says of Rakovsky that “he had a clear and penetrating mind; and perhaps also a greater capacity for philosophical detachment [than Trotsky]. For all his devotion to the opposition he was less of a partisan, at least in the sense that his views transcended in their largeness the opposition’s immediate aims and tactics”. [84]

In Astrakhan Rakovsky was in charge of the opposition centres along the Southern Volga and in the Crimea. He was Trotsky’s link with European Russia and indeed with the Western world in general. Rakovsky regularly received the foreign press, including L’Humanité. He wrote prodigiously and circulated many letters and documents among the intensely active exile community, also providing Trotsky with books and articles he could not otherwise acquire in Alma Ata. Deutscher describes in the biography how at Alma Ata “two or three times a week an invalid postman on horseback brought the mailbag bulging with letters, press-clippings and later even books and newspapers from abroad. No doubt the censorship and the GPU kept a watchful eye on the correspondence. Most of it was with Rakovsky.” [85]

At the same time Rakovsky began to write his memoirs, which he mentions often in his letters to Trotsky. He wrote of his early experiences in the socialist movement, his friendship with Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Guesde, Jaurès and Lenin. He wrote of his activities in Rumania and later he wrote a large volume on his expenences as head of the Soviet Ukraine. All of these writings were later seized by the GPU. Only a tiny fraction of his writings in exile was later published by Trotsky in the Bulletin of the Opposition and are translated in this volume. Most of those thus published dealt with the immediate problems and strategy of the opposition.

In 1923, before the formation of the left opposition, Rakovsky had openly attacked the centralizing bureaucratic tendencies of the new Soviet state at the Twelfth Party Congress. Bureaucracy, he said at the time, was the main threat to the Soviet power and a factor which threatened also the international revolution. Now, in exile in 1928, Rakovsky pondered the deeper meaning of the inner-party conflict and the deeper historical significance of the events which led to the degeneration of the party of revolution. He wrote his first conclusions in a long letter (dated Astrakhan, 2 August 1928) to Valentinov, former editor of Trud, who was also an exiled trotskyist. The Rakovsky letter caused quite a stir in the exile community.

The decline in the activity of the Soviet working class and the rise of the party and state bureaucracy had to be considered “scientifically, by submitting it to a profound analysis”, he wrote in the letter to Valentinov. The platform of the left opposition, he said, was inadequate in the sense that the remedies it proposed had “an empirical character” and did not get to “the basis of the question”.

The fundamental problem concerned the role of the revolutionary class that has taken power. “No one today,” he wrote, “can ignore the terrible consequences of the political indifference of the working class.” The problem is all the more difficult because, in fact, it is a new problem. Never before did marxists have to confront the question of retreat and decline of the working class after the conquest of power. And here Rakovsky disagreed with Trotsky. For Trotsky the bureaucratic degeneration of the party and state had primarily to do with Russian backwardness, the numerical weakness of the working class, the isolation and capitalist encirclement. For Rakovsky the danger of bureaucratization was already inherent in the working class itself, in its situation as the new directing class. The danger of bureaucratization and political indifference “would continue to exist ... even if we allowed that the country was inhabited only by proletarian masses and the exterior was made up solely of proletarian states”. The danger is not just in relationship to other classes but within the ranks of the victorious class itself. The dangers are what Rakovsky called the “professional dangers of power”.

The phenomenon of sociological differentiation within the new directing class had also been manifest in the French and English revolutions. “No class has ever been born in possession of the art of government.” Historically “there has always been a lack of harmony between the political capacities of any given class, its administrative ability, and the judicial constitutional forms that it establishes for its own use after the taking of power”. “When a class takes power, one of its parts becomes the agent of that power. Thus arises bureaucracy. In a socialist state, where capitalist accumulation is forbidden by members of the directing party, this differentiation begins as a functional one; it later becomes a social one.” Trotsky had used the concept of Thermidor in relation to the right wing of the party, the defenders of private property. Rakovsky also looked to the French revolution but saw its lessons somewhat differently. The concept of Thermidor was misleading. “The political reaction, which began even before Thermidor, consisted in this, that the power began to pass, both formally and effectively, into the ands of an increasingly restricted number of citizens.” In this process of reaction the gradual elimination of the elective principle and its replacement by the principle of nominations played a key role. The differentiation within the Soviet working class, initially functional, becomes social. It “has modified the organism itself”. The bureaucracy, the directing layer in the economy, the party and state “has ceased to be part of this class”. “The bureaucracy of the soviets and of the party constitutes a new order, ... a new social category.”

The social and political consequences of this “functional specialization”, of this “differentiation which power has introduced into the bosom of the proletariat”, will not be eliminated easily or at once. It will be “a long and delicate process. It consists in educating politically the dominant class in such a way as to make it capable of holding the state apparatus, the party and the unions, of controlling and directing these institutions.” He “confessed” that he had never expected early political triumphs for the opposition and concluded that the task of the opposition was the “long and difficult one” of educating the working class. He quoted the words of the French revolutionary Babeuf on emerging from the prison of Abbaye: “It is more difficult to re-educate the people in the love of liberty than to conquer it.”

Rakovsky’s analysis had deep implications for the work of the opposition. He rejected the notion of the capitulationist wing of the opposition that any reform could come from the bureaucracy itself. “I think that it would be utterly unrealistic to expect any inner-party reform based on the bureaucracy.” At the same time his analysis of the political passivity of the working class meant that no mass pressure for reform would come from there. He was convinced of the opposition’s rightness and its ultimate historical vindication, but the implication of his analysis was that for a long time to come the bureaucracy would be in power and the work of the opposition was for the future. In an article of February 1929 Trotsky commented favourably on Rakovsky’s analysis but seems to have missed its more pessimistic implications. [86] Today this short work is the most widely known of Rakovsky’s writings. It was the first serious attempt by the opposition to come to terms historically and theoretically with the phenomenon of bureaucratic degeneration. By placing the problem in a broader context than that of Russian peculiarities he was able to develop a profound insight into this historical phenomenon, and the fuller implications of his analysis have yet to be developed by the marxist movement itself.

In the summer of 1928 it became clear that the left course which Stalin had embarked on earlier in the year was being stepped up, and that the break between him and the Bukharinite right wing was irreparable. The slogans which for years had been the hallmark of the opposition were now the official line: Strike against the kulak; Curb the NEPmen; Speed up industrialization. The apathy and indifference of the working class which Rakovsky had described in his letter to Valentinov now “allowed Stalin to steal Trotsky’s clothes with impunity”. [87] In the middle of July 1928, Serebryakov [2*] sent a telegram to Rakovsky in which he estimated “that the orientation taken by the Central Committee is correct on the essential points and it is now time to pose the problem of our re-entry into the party”. Rakovsky sent the news to Trotsky in Alma Ata. His advice to Trotsky in a letter of 21 July 1928 was “not to give in to an unprincipled enthusiasm on the occasion of the left turn”. It would be necessary to wait, to study the turn of events. In no case could they give up their ideas or the right to fight for them. But the stalinist left turn provoked great disarray in the left opposition. Kamenev was urging Trotsky to take some step which would ease his re-entry into the party. Opposition leaders in exile like Smilga, Serebryakov and Ivan Smirnov now joined the conciliators Radek and Preobrazhensky. Rakovsky urged Trotsky not to give in to the conciliators. In a scathing attack on the capitulators (On Capitulation and Capitulationists) he wrote:

The loss of those who have not sufficiently reflected on our programme, those who dream of a small quiet corner, of those who invoke the desire to be part of the “big struggles”, was inevitable. This can only purify the ranks of the opposition. There still remain those who do not see in the platform a sort of menu from which to pick and choose according to taste. The platform was and remains the standard of combative leninism, and only its total application can take the party and the country of the proletariat out of the impasse into which the centrist leadership has led it.

Rakovsky did not reject re-entry into the party but insisted that such re-entry must be on the basis of the continued right of the opposition to fight for its policies and criticize the centrist leadership. He did not believe, as Preobrazhensky did, that the stalinist centre, in instituting the left turn, was following the “ineluctable laws of history”. Nor did he see the centre as fragile and buffeted betwen right and left pressures. If Stalin destroyed the right, this did not mean that he was about to call on the left opposition for help. Rakovsky’s prognosis was confirmed when, in the Autumn of 1928, Stalin stepped up the repression against the left. By the end of 1928 between 6,000 and 8,000 left oppositionists were imprisoned and deported. Then in January 1929 Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union.

Rakovsky’s health deteriorated in Astrakhan and for some months he sought permission to be moved elsewhere. Approaches to party officials and letters to the Central Committee were of no avail. Eventually it was Krestinsky who pleaded on his behalf. At the trial of Krestinsky in 1938 this was one of the accusations. At this time, in 1928, Krestinsky told the Court, he had “asked Kaganovich to transfer Christian Georgievich to Saratov from Astrakhan, alluding to our friendly relations. This request was granted. Well, when he arrived at Saratov, his daughter went to see him and through her I sent a letter to him.” [88]

In April 1929 Louis Fischer visited Rakovsky in Saratov. In this ancient Volga town Rakovsky had two rooms in the hotel. Fischer spent “eight exciting days” with Rakovsky. He described their daily routine:

I would come to Rakovsky’s room at noon. He would talk to me for two hours while I took down the voluminous notes that now lie on my desk. Then he would go to lunch. Sometimes I walked with him to the lunch-room. Men would bow as he passed and raise their hats. For this political criminal in exile was the most prominent and, I suspect, the most revered resident of Saratov. I would come back to his room at six in the evening, when he resumed the thrilling narrative. At about seven, a young man would come in, nod, sit down, and listen. A few minutes later another man entered, then another. By half-past seven, six or seven people were in the room. These were Rakovsky’s fellow exiles, gathering daily to exchange views with their leader. He then would suggest that I excuse him and return at midnight. Midnight! I like to keep regular hours. Fresh as a young man, Rakovsky, aged fifty-six, would start at midnight and go on until two in the morning. Then the electricity in the great provincial city of Saratov would be turned off, and Rakovsky would light some candles. At three he would extinguish them, for it was morning and the sun was rising. At four he would say, “Well, I suppose you want to go to bed.” I did. [89]

Rakovsky seldom spoke about party matters to Fischer. One day, however, while they were talking, a telegram was delivered to Rakovsky. “He opened it and blanched. After a moment he said, in a voice filled with contempt, ‘This is a message from Radek, Smilga and Beloborodov. They are going to make their peace with Stalin, confess their errors, return to Moscow. They want me to join them. Never. I shall not desert Trotsky. I love him personally and I admire his politics. Stalin has betrayed the revolution.’”

In 1929 the repression against the opposition increased. There was no longer the free flow of mail as in 1928, and most of Rakovsky’s letters and documents were seized by the GPU. With the deportation of Trotsky Rakovsky was now the acknowledged leader of the opposition inside the Soviet Union. At the Sixteenth Party Congress in April 1929, thirty-eight trotskyists formally renounced their adhesion to the opposition platform, among them Serebryakov. From Saratov, Rakovsky rallied the irreconcilables. In a set of theses which he addressed in the form of a letter to the Central Committee, he reaffirmed the opposition stand on re-entry to the party: “You have taken new and important measures in the domain of industrialization. But those measures will not permit you to arrive at your goal if, on the one hand you do not modify the basic premises of your theory and, on the other hand, you refuse to carry out essential and radical reforms in the party, the unions and the soviets. If you sincerely want to march down this road then first of all you must re-integrate the opposition into the party.” [90]

In July 1929 Radek, Smilga and Preobrazhensky announced that they had broken “ideologically and organizationally with Trotsky”. When this happened Rakovsky wrote a declaration in the name of the left opposition which was signed also by Kossior and Okudzhava. He collected five hundred signatures for this declaration in the exile community, and Trotsky published it in the Bulletin of the Opposition with an open letter approving it. [91] The declaration of August 1929 was attacked by the leftists in the opposition as capitulationist. In the declaration Rakovsky wrote that the class struggle and the danger from the right “have in part swept away those barriers which have separated the Bolshevik-Leninist opposition from the party”. He appealed to the Central Committee to “make it easy for us to return to the party”, and he repudiated “factional means of struggle”. However, he demanded also the right of the opposition to defend its views within the party and that party democracy “be implemented in its entirety”, with the election of all officials and the possibility of removing them. The declaration also reaffirms that “the complete organization of socialist production is possible only on an international scale”. Finally, the declaration demands that Trotsky be brought back from exile.

The response of the party to the August 1929 declaration was to step up the repression. “The declaration of comrade Rakovsky”, wrote Trotsky, “supported by the best cadre of the opposition, was an application of the united front towards the party. The centrist leadership replied to it by intensifying the repression. To the opposition’s expression of its sincere readiness to tone down the organizational rigidity of our struggle for the marxist line, the apparatus responded by shooting Blyumkin.” [92] The “Saratov group” was broken up, and Rakovsky was exiled to Barnaul in Siberia. In February 1930 the GPU confiscated all his manuscripts, including all the articles, memoirs etc. that he had written in exile. The GPU officer in charge of the operation said to Rakovsky, “It is you who are holding us back.” When this was reported to Trotsky he wrote in a note in the Bulletin of the Opposition: “Isn’t it amazing that a man in exile, isolated, without a secretary, and who hasn’t at his disposal even a typewriter, is able to ‘hold back’ the party and the country?” [93] In a later issue we find the following note from Trotsky:

In 1915 the Rumanian invaders of Bessarabia addressed to the inhabitants of Mogilev the following appeal: “To the peaceful inhabitants of Mogilev. Hand over Rakovsky, bound, otherwise we will not stop the bombardment. We want peace but Rakovsky wants war. Choose him or us. If you will only hand over Rakovsky to us you will get peace and we will send you provisions. Rumanian Army.” But the Soviet revolution did not bind Rakovsky or hand him over to his enemies; he was necessary to it; great work lay ahead of him. But Stalin ... bound Rakovsky hand and foot and, if he didn’t hand him over to Bucharest, tied him up in Barnaul. [94]

But Rakovsky survived his exile in this “hole in the barren cold ground called Barnaul”. [95] Fischer recounts how some American prospectors came once to Barnaul, and since Rakovsky was the only one who could speak English, he was brought out to interpret. When they left, they offered him a dollar tip which he politely declined. “Siberian conditions and humiliation could not break Rakovsky”, wrote Fischer. [96]

In April 1930 Rakovsky wrote another declaration addressed, as usual, to the Central Committee and signed also by V. Kossior, N. Muralov and V. Kasparova. In this 1930 declaration he affirms once more his rejection of “the harmful theory that it is possible to build socialism in one country”. He rejects again any alliance with the centrist bureaucracy and any notion that reform could be initiated from within the bureaucracy. In a scathing attack on the stalinist ruling group, he wrote: “The whole political wisdom of the centrist and right-centrist leadership has consisted in suppressing in the masses the feeling of political independence, of human dignity and pride, and in encouraging and organizing the autocracy of the apparatus. The exceptional ingenuity of the centrist leadership and especially of its general secretary has been entirely devoted, and still is, to establishing this autocracy. The strength of the party leadership is in the apparatus, but it is also the source of its weakness.” The regroupment of all communists around a revolutionary platform was more necessary now than ever before. “However, in so far as the introduction of the slogan of regroupment of all communist forces means the end of the monopoly of centrism, the centrist bureaucracy will stand against it with the same violence as before. The slogan of regroupment of all revolutionary communists can only be introduced through a struggle of the masses of the party against the centrist bureaucracy.” In a statement which startled the opposition ranks and at the same time left the thorny problem unanswered, Rakovsky wrote: “From a proletarian state with bureaucratic deformation – as Lenin defined the political form of our state – we have developed a bureaucratic state with a residual proletarian element.”

The danger now, said Rakovsky, was that a failure of the ultra-left adventure of forced collectivization could open the door to the threat of agrarian capitalism. Although he knew that the demands of the decimated and defeated opposition would have no effect on the bureaucratic apparatus, he pointed out, as if to a future generation, the fundamental and pressing need for the construction of a genuine workers’ democracy. “Without party and workers’ democracy, all corrections will inevitably become a distortion. Only the revolutionary control of the masses is capable of keeping the apparatus under its authority.” In a set of demands addressed to the party which, he said, did not constitute any “new programme” but was the “old programme tested in battle” of the Bolshevik Party, he called for the following: free discussion and free elections in the Party based on a secret vote; a drastic reduction in the apparatus of the Party, Unions and Soviets; abolition of the post of General Secretary; the abolition of Article 58, the return of L.D. Trotsky and the release of all oppositionists; the publication of Lenin’s Testament and all opposition documents; restoration of the free activity of trade unions; an end to forced collectivization and the creation of poor peasant unions; aid to state farms and maintenance of the tempo of industrialization. Trotsky wrote an introduction to the declaration when he published it in the Bulletin of the Opposition. “In spite of terseness of formulation”, he wrote, “the document presents a clear evaluation of the economic and political processes, calling by their right name the dangers that are approaching.” [97]

From 1930 a wall of silence surrounds Rakovsky. From his declaration at his trial in 1938 we know that in July 1932 he received permission to travel to Lake Shirlo for treatment. At the end of 1932 word reached the Trotsky household that Rakovsky had attempted to escape from the Soviet Union, had been captured and wounded. In March 1933 it was officially announced that he had been deported to an even more remote area, in the province of Yakutsk in Central Asia. Nothing more was heard from Rakovsky until Izvestia, on 23 February 1934, published a telegram from him, addressed to the Central Committee, which said: “Confronted with the rise of international reaction, directed in the last analysis against the revolution of October, my old disagreements with the party have lost their significance. I consider it the duty of a Bolshevik Communist to submit completely and without hesitation to the general line of the party.”

The submission was a great blow to the left opposition and to Trotsky personally. “In the course of the years of his exile”, wrote Trotsky in March 1934, “the old fighter was transformed from a human figure into a symbol, not only for the international left opposition, but also for wide strata of the working class in general.” [98] There was comfort, however, in the fact that Rakovsky’s declaration was not an ideological or political capitulation. He did not recant his past ideas, and made it clear that it was the threat of international reaction, the rise of fascism and the danger to the Soviet power, which made him give up his struggle and submit to discipline. “Without exaggerating by a hair’s breadth,” wrote Trotsky, “we can say that Stalin got Rakovsky with the help of Hitler.” [99] This was also the opinion of Fischer, who again visited Rakovsky in Moscow in 1935 and recorded his impressions. “I visited him twice in his apartment in Moscow in 1935 and Madame Rakovsky served me tea as she had in Saratov. I also saw him three or four times in his office in the Commissariat of Health, where he had taken over the direction of all the Commissariat’s scientific research institutions (he was a physician by profession). What I heard from him in Moscow confirmed what I had written in Madrid. Exile had not broken him. But he looked out on Europe from Barnaul and found no revolution ... Fascism creeps from country to country. The intensity of human distress is equalled only by the ferocity of political reaction ... Hitler brought him back to Stalin.” [100]

Trotsky broke off all personal and political relations with him after the submission. In an official statement of the International Left Opposition, he wrote: “We register the purely formal declaration of the old warrior, who by his whole life demonstrated his unshakeable devotion to the revolutionary cause; we register it with sadness, and pass on to the order of the day.” [101] In his personal diary on 25 March 1935, Trotsky wrote of what the break with Rakovsky had meant to him personally: “Rakovsky was virtually my last contact with the old revolutionary generation. After his capitulation there is nobody left. Even though my correspondence with Rakovsky stopped, for reasons of censorship, at the time of my deportation, nevertheless the image of Rakovsky has remained a symbolic link with my old comrades-in-arms. Now nobody remains. For a long time now I have not been able to satisfy my need to exchange ideas and discuss problems with someone else.” [102]

The year 1934 saw the temporary revival of a kind of liberalism in the party leadership. There was talk of an atmosphere of reconciliation. In the summer of 1933 Kamenev and Zinoviev were re-admitted to the party, permitted to choose their sphere of work and even invited to the Party Congress in February 1934. Oppositionists who “repented” were given permission to live in Moscow and took up responsible work. When Rakovsky returned to Moscow he was met personally by Kaganovich and given an important position in the Commissariat of Health. Another oppositionist, Sosnovsky, an outstanding Soviet journalist and, like Rakovsky, an early supporter of the left opposition, was allowed to resume his journalistic work in Izvestia. [103] One of the main leaders in the Politbureau who was promoting the policy of liberalization was Kirov. Outside the party, Gorky argued strongly against repression. But Stalin was biding his time.

On 1 December 1934 Sergei Kirov was assassinated. Kirov had replaced Zinoviev as head of the Leningrad organization and was the leader of the reconciliation tendency in the stalinist leadership. As a result of the debate and sifting of evidence that has gone on since the fatal shot that killed Kirov, including the revelations of Khrushchev at the Twentieth Party Congress, it is now beyond question that Stalin was the main instigator behind the murder of Kirov. It not only rid him of the main reconciliator and potential opponent, but provided a pretext for a new assault on the opposition. As Robert Conquest points out in his book on the frame-up trials, The Great Terror, the Kirov murder set in train a process of murder and terror in which not only the entire old Bolshevik leadership but also literally millions of Soviet citizens came to their death. The first version of the assassination spoke of a White Guard conspiracy behind Nikolaev, the assassin. Soon, however, Zinoviev and Kamenev were mentioned. They were expelled from the party and awaited trial. Soon Trotsky was linked with Kamenev and Zinoviev and named as the real instigator. Zinoviev and Kamenev were executed after trial in 1936.

In the second of the Moscow trials in January 1937 one of the defendants, Drobnis, named Rakovsky as being part of the “trotskyist centre” which arranged sabotage of the Soviet power and plotted with foreign capitalism and their intelligence services for its overthrow. Rakovsky, said Drobnis, “knew of Trotsky’s instructions for sabotage and terrorism”. When Trotsky heard of it he wrote: “Drobnis has named Rakovsky. The old fighter, broken by life, goes inescapably to meet his fate.” [104] In Autumn 1937 Rakovsky was arrested. In a press release in October Trotsky described how the police had searched Rakovsky’s house for eighteen hours, during which time the old oppositionist, aged sixty-seven, was not allowed food or rest. His wife tried to serve him tea but the GPU stopped this on the pretext that she might try to poison him. Imprisoned, Rakovsky held out for eight months against his interrogators before “confessing” that he was a spy.

Rakovsky’s questioning and his statement to the court shed little light on the motives for confession, or the means used to extract it. According to the report of journalists he appeared haggard, with a long beard which made him barely recognizable. The answers were known in advance. The desired “confession” had been obtained. Those who didn’t confess didn’t even come to trial. But beneath the ritual façade of self-denunciation the spirit was not completely broken, and it sought avenues of resistance that were still open to it. Thus, for instance, Bukharin argued with Vyshinsky about philosophy. Rakovsky, the historian, tried to discuss history:

Vyshinsky: If the fascists seized power for you, in whose hands would the power be?

Rakovsky: History knows ...

Vyshinsky: No, you leave history alone. [105]

The court said he had been a capitalist before the revolution and a spy after it.

Vyshinsky: Hence it was not only your father who was a landlord, but you also were a landlord, an exploiter.

Rakovsky: Well, of course. I was an exploiter. The fact is, I lived on an income, and income, as is well known, accrues from surplus value.

Vyshinsky: Well, now. It was important for me to establish whence you received your income.

Rakovsky: But it is important for me to say what that income was spent for ...

Vyshinsky: This is a different matter. [106]

Everyone knew that Rakovsky had spent everything he had on the revolutionary movement in Rumania, Russia and elsewhere. Provoked enough to draw attention to this fact, he was instantly silenced. Time and time again we find here the affirmation of truth in the midst of denial. Here is one typical exchange between Rakovsky and the court:

Rakovsky: For eight months I denied everything and refused to testify.

Vyshinsky: Following the tactics and instructions of the trotskyites?

Rakovsky: In the application of the old revolutionary practices and the application of the counter-revolutionary practices.

Vyshinsky: What have you got to do with revolutionary practices? You have still some phraseology left, but that is another matter.

Rakovsky: But it cannot be denied that I once belonged to ...

Vyshinsky: But you were arrested not once upon a time, but now. [107]

In his final declaration to the court Rakovsky once again returned to his past: “Citizen judges, from my young days I honestly, truthfully and devotedly performed my duty as a soldier of the cause of the emancipation of labour. After this bright period a dark period set in, the period of my criminal deeds ...” [108]

Rakovsky was sentenced on 12 March 1938 to twenty years’ imprisonment, a sentence that meant death for the old revolutionary. Elinor Lipper, who spent eleven years in Soviet prisons, records that Madame Rakovsky was in the Butyrka Prison in Moscow in 1937–8. “The wife of Soviet ambassador Rakovsky was a Rumanian, a white-haired sickly woman who suffered severe heart attacks every few weeks.” [109] It is believed that Rakovsky lived in the camps for another three years and was shot on Stalin’s orders when the Germans entered White Russia on 22 June 1941.


2*. Serebryakov capitulated in 1929, was re-admitted to the party in 1930, but was later condemned and executed after the second Moscow trial.


75. Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites (Moscow, 1938), pp. 152–3.

76. A.B. Kornijchuk, Z Istorii Borot’by Partijnykh Orhanizatsij Ukraiiny Proty Trots’kists’koho-Zinovievs’koho Bloku, in Ukraiins’kyj Istorychnyj Zhurnal, no. 11, 1973, pp. 15–24.

77. Reported by Kaganovich in his speech to the Fifteenth Party Congress.

78. See E.H. Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. II, 1971, p. 36.

79. Stalin’s concluding speech to the Fifteenth Party Congress is in Fifteenth Party Congress of the CPSU (London), March 1928, p. 151.

80. These recollections are in Pierre Naville’s book Trotsky Vivant (1962).

81. Bulleten Oppozitsii (Paris), no. 85, July 1933, p. 24–5.

82. Rakovsky’s letter to Trotsky of 28 February 1928 is in the Bulleten Oppozitsii, no. 35.

83. Fischer, op. cit., p. 129.

84. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 435.

85. ibid., p. 401.

86. Trotsky, Writings 1929 (Pathfinder), p. 47.

87. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 454.

88. Report of Court Proceedings, op. cit., p. 154.

89. The details of Fischer’s visit are in his Men and Politics, p. 127ff.

90. In Bulleten Oppozitsii, no. 7, 1929, pp. 7–10.

91. Trotsky’s letter is published in Writings 1929, pp. 325–30.

92. Trotsky, Writings 1930 (Pathfinder), p. 146. Note on Blumkin in Writings 1934-35 (Pathfinder), p. 339, note 145.

93. Bulleten Oppozitsii, no. 11, 1930, p. 31.

94. ibid., no. 32, 1932, in Trotsky, Writings 1932 (Pathfinder), p. 309.

95. Fischer, op. cit., p. 293.

96. ibid.

97. Trotsky, Writings 1930–31 (Pathfinder), p. 49.

98. Trotsky, Writings 1933–34 (Pathfinder), p. 273.

99. ibid., p. 277.

100. Fischer, op. cit., p. 293–4.

101. Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p. 245.

102. Trotsky, Diary in Exile 1935 (London 1958), p. 53.

103. These details are given in B. Nikolaevsky in The letter of an old Bolshevik reproduced in his book, Power and the Soviet Elite London 1966).

104. Trotsky, Writings 1936–37 (Pathfinder), p. 142.

105. Court Proceedings, op. cit., p. 311.

106. ibid., p. 302.

107. ibid., p. 312.

108. ibid., p. 764.

109. E. Lipper, Eleven Years in Soviet Prison Camps (London, 1951), p. 15.

Last updated on 4 February 2015