Max Shachtman

Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

The Break in the Right-Center Bloc
and the Left Zig-zag of Stalinism

(July 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 27 (Whole No. 123), 2 July 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The events which followed the Fifteenth Congress of the Russian party in December 1927, at which the whole Opposition was finally expelled, marked a decided turning point in the historical struggle we are reviewing. Up to that time, the Opposition had been assailed under the banner of Stalin’s classic slogan: “Fire against the Left!” applauded by the international bourgeoisie and social democracy. Arrayed against the Left wing of the party was a solid bloc embracing not merely the present Stalin faction but also the group of Bucharin-Tomsky-Rykov who took distinct shape as a faction at its Right flank.

On all questions of international and domestic policy, on all question of principle and tactics, these two sections of the ruling bloc had presented a common front for five years. They went hand in hand against “Trotskyism”. Together they decapitated the Chinese revolution and ruined the immediate prospects of the British revolutionary movement. The theory of “socialism in one country”, the “two-class party” revision of Marxism and the deification of the middle peasant were born of their political cohabitation. Their unity was symbolized when the fundamental program of the Comintern was presented to the Sixth Congress in the name of Stalin and Bucharin.

But the unity of this granite “monolith” embracing the “incorruptible old Leninist guard” was less real than apparent. Those molecular processes of the class struggle which had fused it together and put it in the seats of power did not take long to create a crisis and disrupt the Right-Center bloc.

The End of the Ebb Tide

At the end of 1927 the protracted ebb of the revolutionary wave was drawing to a close. The horizon was dotted with the first signs of a turn to the Left in the international working class, still vague – but unmistakable. In the Soviet Union itself, the proletariat lulled by the long “reconstruction period” was beginning to arise and perceive the growing menace of the capitalist elements in the country. The expulsion of the Left wing from the party could have only one result: the reactionary forces in the country felt emboldened. When Chamberlain in England advocated that Trotsky and Zinoviev be shot and MacDonald insisted upon stronger measures against the “apostles of world revolution”, they were merely saying bluntly what the Russian Kulak, Nepman and hard-shell bureaucrat were thinking and feeling. These elements the vanguard of the capitalist restoration in Russia, looked upon the decapitation of, the Left wing only as the first step in their program. The success they attained with their first demand encouraged them to an unprecedented audacity.

As against Trotsky, these counter-revolutionists were ardent adherents of Stalin and Co. With Trotsky out of the way. they shifted towards the party faction which championed their cause with greater ardor than was manfested by the blind, empirical, oscillating group of Stalin. They found these champions where the Opposition, in its Platform, had said they were to be found: at Stalin’s Right, at the posts occupied by Rykov, Tomsky and Bucharin.

The latter in turn, now that inner-party resistance to their program was diminished by the Opposition’s expulsion, began to unfold their standpoint greater persistence and candor, to press upon Stalin to carry it out. But in their zealous optimism they overlooked a point of prime import:

The strength of the Right wing lay in the classes outside the party, whose influence on the inside was not at all commensurate with what they enjoyed in the country as a whole; whereas the strength of the Stalin faction lay in the tremendous party apparatus and in the fact that, with the outlawry of the Leninist Opposition, the proletarian mass would support even the unsatisfactory Stalin group as against the Thermidorian platform of the Right wing. This alone can explain the easy victory attained over the Bucharin faction by Stalin, in spite of the cowardice, half-heartedness, incompetence and bureaucratic intrigue which, as usual, distinguished the campaign conducted by the latter.

The Campaign Against the Right

The famous Stalinist campaign against the Right began formally towards the end of 1928 and beginning of 1929. Actually it dates farther back. In sketching it briefly, let it always be borne in mind that both sides of this battle had for years past protested to all who would listen that there was no rift in the lute. No conference went by without Stalin and Bucharin engaging in mutual eulogies (and in view of their fundamental accord on principle, that was as it should be). But behind this melodious harmony could already be detected the discordant creaking of the Stalinist machine, grinding away at the foundation on which the Right wing stood. While their agreement on every point was being loudly protested, Stalin was engaged in completing the process, begun against the Left wing, of cutting down the party leadership until it embraced but one individual: Stalin himself.

At the very congress (December 1927) where the Left Opposition was so brutally and disloyally driven from the party by both Stalin and Bucharin, could already be seen the first signs of Stalin’s onslaught upon the coming spokesman of the Right faction. Not by Stalin himself ; no, he preferred to send out his scouts, Lominadze and Schatzkin, who launched a furious polemic against Bucharin. And while the congress (Stalin included) formally endorsed Bucharin, the former was whetting the axe for the day when it could be swung openly. Even at the Sixth Congress, both Stalin and Rykov solemnly reported to the foreign delegates, without, mind you, blinking an eye-lash, that the reports concerning differences within the Russian Political Bureau were sheer nonsense and simply Trotskyist, counter-revolutionary calumny. This was just as solemnly and unsmilingly repeated throughout the Comintern, at the very moment when the most furious battles were taking place within the monolithic leadership! Finally, as late as October 1929, when Stalin made his sensational Moscow speech against the “Right danger in the party”, which he described as nothing short of the tendency towards a capitalist restoration in Russia, i.e., a counter-revolution, he took care to insist that there was no “Right danger” in the leadership, that it was not embodied in Bucharin or Rykov – but in the somewhat obscure official, Frumkin! And Bucharin? He was the man who wrote the official resolution of the Political Bureau against the Right danger!

However that may be, it was nevertheless by this contemptible game of hide-and-seek that Stalin succeeded in snatching away all the foreign parties from under Bucharin’s nose in the “corridor congress” of the Sixth Congress in 1928, and all the organizational posts in the Russian party in 1929. Tomsky lamented bewilderedly to his friends: “We thought that after finishing with Trotsky we would be able to work in peace; now it turns out that they want to apply the same methods of struggle to us.” Bucharin cried impotently (but in private!) about Stalin: “Who is he? An intrigant absolutely devoid of principles. He is concerned only with maintaining power and he subordinates everything to it. He changes his theory abruptly, according to who it is that he has to choke off at a given moment.”

But while the heroes of the Right wing wept and wrung their hands, Stalin cut down, first, Frumkin, then the Right wing head of the Moscow organization, Uglanov, then every other second rank leader of the Right wing until he had torn the footing from under Bucharin and Co. Only when these typically Stalinist preliminaries had been accomplished did Stalin open up publicly against the “trio” who were by that time defeated in advance; only their signature to the prepared statement of capitulation was missing, and that was not long in coming.

(To be continued)

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