Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

Industrialization and
the Collectivization of
Agriculture in the U.S.S.R.

(June 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 26 (Whole No. 122), 25 June 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the present time, when even the bourgeois world, harassed by its deep crisis, is grudgingly conceding the advantages of plan in economy and the entire Communist world has come to accept it with enthusiasm as an incontrovertible idea, it is difficult to realize the stubborn resistance encountered by the proposals for planned industrialization and the collectivization of Russian agriculture when they were first put forward. The Communist worker whose head has been systematically pumped full of lies and who has been taught a history of the past ten years which never took place, frequently answers the criticisms of the Oppositionist with a general reference to the undoubted successes of the Five Year Plan. In nine cases out of ten, however, he is not aware of the fact that it took a five year struggle (1923–1928) of the Left Opposition merely to have a Five-Year plan adopted by the party leadership, that the first proposals of the Opposition were dismissed with ridicule and abuse, that the first Plan proposed by the leadership and submitted to a withering criticism from the Left was finally thrown on the dust-heap by the leadership itself; and, finally, that every important step in changing the Plan has had to be made under the criticism of the Opposition and in its general direction.

The Origins of the Struggle

The introduction of plan into Soviet economy can be traced as far back as July 1920. The whole railroad and transportation system was a wreck. All attempts at progress were shattered against this obstacle. The party put comrade Trotsky in charge of rehabilitating the transportation system and on the date mentioned the famous Order No. 1042 was issued as the first of a series of systematic measures which finally brought order and regularity where chaos and collapse had prevailed before. The attempts made subsequently to discredit this tremendously successful job and its principal author cannot hide the

fact that in its time it was enthusiastically saluted by Dzherzhinsky, Zinoviev, and others, and particularly by comrade Lenin, who spoke of it as an example of what had to be done in the other branches of industry. The report made by Trotsky to the eighth congress of the Soviets, based on this experience, and the theses he prepared together with Emshanov, were warmly defended by Lenin against the “skeptics who say: ‘What good is it to make forecasts for many years ahead?’” In those days too were to be found people to argue against the plan to eliminate the prevailing system of working from hand to mouth, from day to day; but in Lenin’s time they were not the leaders of the party!

The question of long-term planned economy was raised more sharply in 1923 by comrade Trotsky. Unaided this time by a Lenin who had already been compelled to withdraw from the party councils, Trotsky laid before the party his arguments for the elaboration of plan in economy in order to carry out successfully an industrialization of the country and a collectivization of its backward, scattered, individualistic agriculture. The critics of the Opposition, be it said in passing, never stopped to explain the “contradiction” (created by themselves) in their claim, first, that Trotsky was opposed to building socialism in Russia, and secondly, that he was too extreme in his proposals for industrializing the country and particularly its agriculture. People who are not over-scrupulous in crushing an opponent apparently do not concern themselves with such trifles!

From 1923 on, the Opposition pointed out, as Lenin said, that the only material foundation for socialism is large machine industry capable of reorganizing agriculture as well. Russia’s backwardness made the speedy development of such an industry especially imperative in view of the retardation of the international revolution. In addition, the Left wing showed, the vast mass of the peasantry was undergoing a process of differentiation in which the rich peasant (the Kulak) was growing stronger and making dangerous advances which only the organization of the poor peasants and their systematic introduction to collective farming would be able to impede. The Opposition demanded an industrial progress that would be able to dominate and reorganize agriculture, satisfy the needs of the peasantry on a cheap basis, and prpvide the economic basis for abolishing the petty bourgeois strata of the village population.

First Reactions of the Bureaucracy

How did the bureaucracy reply? These “practical people” who would not allow themselves to be taken in by “fantastic ideas” about planning for years in advance, launched a furious assault upon Trotsky. The brochure in which he developed his ideas, The New Course, was virtually suppressed in the party; outside of Russia it remains to this day a rarely-seen and never translated (except into French) document. The fragments which made their way out were inundated beneath a flood of misrepresentation and calumny. Rykov hastened to report to the Fifth Congress of the Comintern that Trotsky’s proposals were a petty bourgeois deviation from Leninism, that the Russian party leadership was doing all it could do and all that could be expected of it in the field of industry and agriculture. Stalin sneeringly replied to the Opposition’s arguments with the comment that it wasn’t a plan that the peasant needed, but a good rain for his crops! The danger of a growing Kulak strength was derided (just as Stalin a few years later derided the idea that there was any danger to the revolution from Chiang Kai-Shek, and Tomsky saluted the treacherous British labor leaders with a fraternal embrace.

But the Kulak was growing in strength and beginning to dominate not only the countryside but was also beginning to permeate the party – a whole section of it – with his ideology. The first two years of struggle of the Opposition finally bore fruit in the revolt of the revolutionary Leningrad proletariat in 1925, which compelled its leaders, men like Zinoviev who had fathered the campaign against “Trotskyism”, to combine in a bloc with the 1923 Opposition. The alarm felt by the Leningrad proletarians at the inroads being made by the Kulak and his urban associate, the Nepman, was not, however, shared by the crust-hardened bureaucracy. Instead of adopting the proposals for a plan in economy, for a systematic industrialization of the country the Stalin-Bucharin leadership steered a course towards that same Kulak whom later on, when they had taken fright al his growth, they sought to “liquidate” at one fell swoop by ukase.

The Slogan: “Enrich Yourselves”

To the already well-to-do peasant Bucharin cried out the advice: Enrich yourselves! Kalinin made speeches denouncing the poor peasants as lazy good-for-nothings because they did not accumulate and praising the diligence and industry of the “economically powerful peasant”, that is, of the Kulak. Pravda (in April 1925) urged that the “economic possibilities of the well-to-do peasant, the economic possibilities of the Kulaks, must be unfettered”. The Commissariat for Agriculture of the Georgian Soviets, in harmony with the prevailing atmosphere in the ruling strata of the party, elaborated a project for the denationalization of the land. In the Ukraine, the supporters of the Stalin-Bucharin apparatus gave birth to the highly ingenious idea that if “the worst comes to the worst”, the Soviets could “withdraw” to the position of the “Old Bolshevik slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”! In 1926, the Kulak course of Stalinism was pushed so far that – although it was later repealed under Opposition pressure – the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets granted the vote to exploiting peasants, again, to the Kulak. In all this period, the belated present-day upholders of the Five Year Plan “as against Trotsky”, not only had industrialization and collectivization furthest from their minds, were not only its staunchest opponents, but actually steered a directly opposite course.

In 1925, that is, even before the 1927 platform of the Opposition bloc, comrade Trotsky once more wrote in detail about the tremendous possibilities which the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a proletarian dictatorship offered for the progress of socialism, even on the basis of an isolated workers’ state. In Whither Russia? he advanced the idea that even with an independent reproduction based on socialist accumulation, the Soviet republic could show a speed of industrial progress unknown and impossible under capitalism. His prediction of a possible 20 percent annual growth (and six years later this was proved to be an entirely moderate figure, entirely attainable), was the subject for great merriment among the functionaries assembled at one of the party congresses, caused by the “ironical” ridicule which Stalin showered upon the prediction. The official position was instead, expressed by Bucharin who put forward the perspective that Russia would build socialism “with the speed of a tortoise”, at a snail’s pace!

The Platform of 1927

The 1927 platform of the Opposition was the most elaborate and definite proposal it had presented to the party, and this was undoubtedly one of the reasons why it was so rabidly attacked. It was officially suppressed by the bureaucracy, which refused to print it. Its circulation in mimeographed form was made a crime punishable by imprisonment for exile, and numerous are those in Siberia today for having distributed the ideas which Stalin was himsef compelled to adopt in large measure two years later. In the Platform, the Opposition demanded a categorical condemnation of the first Five-Year Plan elaborated by Rykov and Krzhizhanovsky, and adopted by the party leaders. This timid, worthless plan proposed an annual growth of 9 percent for the first year and a decreasing percentage subsequently until it would reach a 4 percent growth at the end of the plan. The bolder proposals submitted by the Opposition, which later was proved to be infinitely more realistic and applicable, met with just as strong a condemnation from the Stalinists. On all sides the Opposition spokesmen were taunted by the bureaucrats with the question: Where will you get the means? – although the expenditures for industrial development proposed at first by the Opposition were greatly exceeded when the current Plan finally got under way. And when the Opposition presented its proposals for raising the means by a forced loan from the Kulaks, by a lowering of prices based on cutting overhead and the bureaucratic apparatus, by a skillful utilization of the foreign trade monopoly, etc., the bureaucrats raised a loud hue and cry against the “counter-revolutionary Trotskyists”.

In the days of the French revolution, it will be remembered, the reaction sought to overthrow the rule of the city artisans and revolutionary petty bourgeoisie by inciting the peasants against them, by arousing every one of the backward, reactionary prejudices of the French peasants against the “predatory capital.” Such a course is a distinguishing feature of anti-revolutionism. And true to themselves, the bureaucracy which had come to the top on the basis of the post-1923 reaction, made use of the same methods. Stalin, Rykov and Kuybischev signed a manifesto to the whole Russian people announcing to the peasants that the Opposition proposed “to rob the peasantry”. The lesser bureaucrats carried on an even more reactionary propaganda in the villages against the Left wing. And in the cities, in the meantime, the disturbed proletarians were assured by Stalin and Bucharin that there was no danger whatsoever from the Kulaks, that there were some, it is true, but not enough to worry about. The professional statisticians were put to the job of presenting tables to prove the “insignificant percentage” of the Kulaks. The need for collectivization was minimized to the vanishing point, and as late as 1928, the principal agrarian “specialist” of the apparatus, Yakovlev, the commissar for agriculture, declared against the Opposition that collective farming would for years to come “remain little islets in the sea of private peasant farms”. As late as the 15th party congress, where the Opposition leaders were all expelled, Rykov hectored the Opposition with the question: If the Kulak is so strong why hasn’t he played us some trick or other?

Rykov did not have long to wait. Not two months passed after the expulsion of Trotsky, Zinoviev and the rest of the Left wing, before the Kulak, feeling himself rid of the Bolsheviks in the Russian party launched the notorious “bloodless uprising” of February 1928. The “insignificant Kulak” proved to have grown to tremendous proportions, to have gained in boldness to the point of resisting the Soviet power by withholding grain, that is, by seeking to starve the proletarian cities. Seven years after the introduction of the N.E.P., the Soviets were for the first time compelled to re-introduce armed requisitions of grain in the villages in order to break the resistance of the “economically powerful peasant” friends of Stalin and Bucharin!

Even further, only a few months were required in the application of the original Five Year Plan of Rykov-Stalin in order to demonstrate how thoroughly founded had been the Opposition’s criticism of its inadequacy. The apparatus was compelled to revise it virtually from stem to stern, to imbue it with a greater scope, greater boldness, greater speed.

Opposition Pilots Advance

It is not within the purview of this article to deal with what has happened to the plan for industrialization and collectivization under the numerous zig-zags to ultra-Leftism and back to opportunism which Stalin has made since the end of 1928. That falls properly into another period of the development of the struggle. But in this sketchy outline alone, enough has been referred to make it clear that without the persistent years of struggle of the Left Opposition, it is entirely doubtful that even those measures of progress which have been made thus far would have been accomplished, Left to themselves, unhampered by the demands of the Opposition, there is every reason to believe that the Stalin-Bucharin bloc would have continued to go further into that reactionary, nationalist swamp where the Kulak and the other classes hostile to the October revolution were steadily pulling it.

The essential, positive features of the Five Year Plan, the phenomenal successes which a proletariat in power has been able to show in the realm of industrial progress, these are a debt which is owed exclusively to the unremitting struggle of the Opposition, and that is how the records of history will register it. The present ruling apparatus will be pictured there as the stubborn obstacle in the road, the adversaries of planned economy, the people who for five years delayed adopting an elaborated plan, the people who chopped away at the banner-bearers of Bolshevism with axes borrowed from the ideological armory of the class enemy. They will be recorded as the instruments employed by those alien to the revolution to fight against the Opposition, as the protectors and spokesmen of the counter-revolutionary “economists” and “specialists” who, it was later revealed, drew up all their economic proposals, the proposals which were used as the main arguments against the Opposition and its platform. If history is written objectively that is what it will record. The Opposition has not today and never will have cause to be anything but proud of the verdict the future will pronounce.

The next article will deal with the breaking up of the Right-Center (Bucharin-Stalin) bloc and the ultra-Left zigzags of Stalinism.

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