M. Shachtman

Nine Years of the Struggle
of the Left Opposition – 1923

(April 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 17 (Whole No. 113), 23 April 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

In addition to Trotsky’s initial letter of October 8, the Central Committee received, on October 15, a letter signed by 46 of the most prominent Russian Bolsheviks, including Piatakov, Preobrazhensky, Sosnovsky, Bieloborodov, Sapronov, Muralov, Antonov, Kossior, Serebriakov, Rafael, Rosengoltz and others, which presented virtually the same criticisms and plan of action as were contained in Trotsky’s letter. A short time later, Radek also added his voice to the others, even if more cautiously.

The Bureaucrats “Yield”

Under such a bombardment, the majority of the Political Bureau was compelled to act for fear that the wave of discontentment would become so mighty as to sweep them away with it. A fainthearted resolution on workers’ democracy was drawn up which met with an instant rejection from Trotsky. Knowing that he represented to the full the hopes and aspirations of the great bulk of the party membership, and especially the masses of the youth who were chafing under the yoke of an arrogant apparatus, the Political Bureau majority was compelled to scrap its own resolution and appoint a commission resulted in the resolution being written essentially by his pen. Its final publication as a unanimous document on December 7 constituted a tremendous victory for the fight initiated by Trotsky.

Unfortunately, the victory was a short-lived one. It had been agreed in the Political Bureau, on Trotsky’s proposal, that he would popularize the program of workers’ democracy in the ranks, while the rest of the Political Bureau members would “restrain it from excesses from above”. So overjoyed at the resolution were the party members, that the discussion in the ranks broke loose with a turbulence that indicated many months, and perhaps years, of pent-up sentiments. Even non-party workers followed the discussions with a keen interest. Pravda alone had to publish from 20 to 30 columns of discussions and motions each day. All questions were put and discussed freely and frankly. The popularity of Trotsky and those who had associated themselves with him, grew by leaps and bounds. Stalin, Zinoviev and Co., who had stood in the way as long as they could, came in for heavy criticism which boded them no great good.

It is this fact that created alarm in the ranks of the bureaucracy. In their secret factional meetings (as Zinoviev later revealed), it was decided to launch a campaign against Trotsky in order to discredit him and the Opposition, and thereby to strengthen the domination of the bureaucracy in the struggle against workers’ democracy in the ranks.

The pretext for the campaign was a series of articles written by Trotsky, later collected under the title of The New Course, in which he elucidated the whole situation with such a wealth of ideas, a Marxian clarity of thought, mastery of the historical dialectic and profundity of analysis as will make it for decades a model of classic revolutionary writing and a textbook for the Russian revolution.

Between the time of the sudden decision of the conspirators and the convocation of the 13th party congress a few weeks later (January 1924), the Russian party was treated to one of the most disgraceful and criminal spectacles known in the working class political movement. Without warning, without rhyme or reason, a thunderous barrage was laid down against “Trotskyism” and Trotsky. Out of the archives of the historical past was dragged the theory of the permanent revolution, its whole meaning deliberately distorted, transformed into an “underestimation of the peasantry” and a “skipping over stages” and the resulting caricature attributed to Trotsky. The press, completely in the hands of the bureaucracy, began a concerted heavy drive to discredit Trotsky and the Opposition. White Guard lies spread during the civil war about Trotsky’s “differences with Lenin on the peasant question”, were not only revived, but officially incorporated in the indictment against Trotsky. Trotsky was falsely accused of “arousing the youth against the Old Guard”. He was accused, again falsely, of standing for permanent factionalism in the party. And in every nucleus, using that very same system which Bucharin denounced so sharply in the speech we quoted above, under the lash of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin and Bucharin, the members were compelled to vote condemnations of Trotsky. The various parties of the Comintern were ordered to endorse the “majority of the Old Guard” and to denounce Trotsky, in face of the fact that 99% of the Comintern membership had never seen the documents in question, had never read Trotsky’s articles. This poisonous system of political discussion continued in later years until it ate into the very heart of the International. Voting by command, voting by faith, voting in ignorance and under bureaucratic compulsion – this was the despicable and self-destructive method used to get the “unanimous” denunciations of the Opposition.

Zinoviev’s Revealing Admission

Two and a half years later, the whole tragic burlesque of the first “anti-Trotskyist” campaign was exposed by Zinoviev and Kamenev when they broke with Stalin. They revealed how the whole thing had been manufactured in secret, how “Trotskyism” had been invented for factional purposes. These two were the leaders, the main “teachers” in the struggle against “Trotskyism”. The declaration signed by them in 1926 is therefore of fundamental and decisive importance for every revolutionist in estimating the 1923 struggle at its real value:

“At present, there can no longer be any doubt that the kernel of the 1923 Opposition was right in warning against the danger of abandoning the proletarian line and of the growth of the apparatus regime. Dozens and hundred of leaders of the 1923 Opposition are, to this day, kept away from work in the party and there are among them old worker-Bolsheviks, tempered in the struggle, strangers to careerism and arrivism, in spite of the discipline and endurance which they have manifested.”

This statement might well serve as the epitaph for the struggle conducted against “Trotskyism” in 1923, were it not for the fact that the issues raised by the Opposition at that time, particularly the question of the party regime and workers’ democracy, have since become problems of such life-and-death importance as to put the fate of the Russian revolution in the balance. The fight started against bureaucratism by the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists in 1923 has never been so vitally urgent as it is today.

The next article will deal with the Lessons of October and the beginning of the period of reaction in the Russian party and the Comintern after the defeat of the 1923 revolutionary movement in Germany. – EB.

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