Nine Years of Struggle of the Left Opposition

The Burning Question of
Thermidor and Bonapartism

(November 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 46, 12 November 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from previous issue)

The systematic crushing of the leading party of the proletariat, without which the dictatorship cannot be exercized in n revolutionary sense, not only accentuates the danger of Thermidor in the Soviet Union but, at a given point, also the threat of Bonapartism. On the road of degeneration which leads to the counter-revolutionary triumph, Thermidor and Bonapartism do not present stages differing in their class foundation. In the Great French revolution, Bonapartism swiftly succeeded the 9th of Thermidor and the Directory. But this succession is as little ordained and inevitable as is the certainty of counter-revolution altogether; a fusion of the two stages, a modification of one or the other under the conditions of a new social epoch – these and many other possibilities are quite conceivable. Throughout the early years, Lenin kept reminding the party of the lessons of the French revolution and strove to overcome the forces which threatened the Russian revolution with a similar fate. Even more so today is it necessary to arouse the vigilance of the revolutionary movement so that it may perceive in time, distinguish the dangers at every stage and adopt the measures necessary to cope with them.

It has been pointed out that the Right wing in the Russian party had its strength essentially in the classes and not in the ranks, more specifically, not in the apparatus of the party. The Right wing was so easily crushed on a party scale because it was not prepared to make an open appeal for support to the class interests it represented: the kulak, and the Nepman dependent upon him. The victory by the Stalinist center over the Right wing triumvirate halted, for the time being, the advance of the Thermidorian forces, of those dark and backward agrarian interests which had been whipped up and nurtured in the reactionary years of struggle against the Left Opposition. Only, this victory did not result in eliminating other, and more acute, phases of the counter-revolutionary danger.

While both the Right and the Left wings of the party in the Soviet Union represent well-defined class forces and interests, the same cannot be said of the Centrist apparatus. Classic petty bourgeois force, the graph of its policy reveals a broken line of leaps to the Left and to the Right which become shorter and more frequent with the aggravation of the crisis. It leans now upon the proletarian core of the country, as during the campaign against the Right wing, now upon the reactionary forces, as during the fight against the Left. It cannot find for itself a firm class foundation from which to operate; the closest it came to such a base was during the period of the idealization by the Stalin faction of the “middle peasant”, a shifty social stratum which, far from serving as a solid class foundation, requires one itself.

The Stalin faction, however, has its strength in the party bureaucracy: it is the party bureaucracy. In the process of watering down the party until it is a bloated, shapeless mass, the apparatus has at the same time raised itself above the party to an unapproachable level and constituted itself as a bureaucratic caste. The diffused party mass is unable to reach this caste in order to change it, or to have it reflect the interests of the mass itself. The apparatus, on the other hand, after having strangled the party, must stifle all life within itself. We say “must” because it cannot refer any disputes in its ranks to the party mass below for fear of unleashing a force that is inherently inimical to it. The whole bureaucratic system, consequently, moves inexorably to a condition where a decreasing number of individuals decide and speak for all; the number of these individuals today, to all practical purposes, is one, and his name is Stalin. What are still formally party organisms, in the words of Marx, “appear as reversed Schlemihls, as shadows the bodies of which have been lost.” In its turn, the apparatus becomes a shadowy projection of the omnipotent Secretariat, or more accurately, of the General Secretary.

Devoid of a class basis, the apparatus is permeated principally with the desire for self-preservation and self-perpetuation. Its policies, in all their increasingly feverish zig-zags, are subordinated essentially to this aim. The sickening Byzantine flattery of Stalin which is compulsory for every official, the conversion of the army and particularly of the G.P.U. into an instrument with which the Secretariat operates even more exclusively – combined with the suppression of workers’ democracy in general and party democracy in particular, that is, of the principal guarantees against a degeneration of the proletarian dictatorship – these are the signs of the present period in the Soviet Union. They reveal the pre-conditions of the Bonapartist regime in the country.

Tacking desperately between the various classes and social strata, the apparatus satisfies none of them. In this fact lies the danger that the mounting discontentment of all sections of the population, and above all of the peasantry, will explode the very foundations of the Soviet power, that is, of the proletarian dictatorship. If the crisis breaks out into the open and reveals that the proletariat and its party have been so weakened that they cannot act decisively and victoriously then the counter-revolution will not likely assume the form of Bonapartism, of the iron man or men “standing above the classes” and apparently mediating between the contending forces, resting for the time being upon the strength of the military forces and the experienced cohesion of the bureaucratic apparatus. It is this prospect which reveals the Stalinist faction as the potential reservoir of the Bonapartist danger.

Superficial examination alone permits one to exclude this possibility, as well as the possibility of a Thermidorian overturn, on the ground of the so-called “liquidation of the kulak”. If this were actually the case, the danger would undoubtedly be considerably diminished, although even then not eliminated. But a more careful scrutiny will reveal that the “liquidated kulak” is still a substantial force, more threatening in this respect, that his present activities and progress are not only concealed behind the administratively established collective farms but are facilitated by the rupture of the relations between town and country, worker and peasant, rendered inevitable by the whole course of the Stalin bureaucracy.

The French farmers, wrote Marx in his classic study of Bonapartism,

“are unable to assert their class interests in their own name, be it by a parliament or by convention. They cannot represent one another, they must themselves be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power, that protects them from above, bestows rain and sunshine upon them. Accordingly, the political influence of the allotment farmer finds its ultimate expression in an executive power that subjugates the commonweal to its own autocratic will.”

Such an executive power is present in embryonic form in the bureaucratic apparatus of the party and the Soviets. For it to be fully fledged as a Bonapartist ruling machine, it must first receive baptism in the blood shed by a civil war, that inevitable concomitant to the overthrow of the proletarian dictatorship which the reaction cannot hope to avert. The overthrow itself, however can be averted, but only by restoring the party of the proletariat, the crushing of which has made possible the accumulation of all the internal contradictions and the maturing of the counter-revolutionary factors. It is to achieve this restoration, to bring closer the day of its attainment, that the strength and activities of the Left Opposition are dedicated.

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