Max Shachtman


Genesis of Trotskyism


Planned Economy: Industrialization and Collectivization of Agriculture

While conducting its fight against the ravages of Stalinism on the international field, the Opposition was simultaneously engaged in a sharp struggle against the policies of the bureaucracy at home. The Communist worker whose head has been systematically pumped frill 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 years of struggle (1923-28) by the Left Opposition merely to have a Five Year Plan adopted by the party leadership.

The introduction of plan into Soviet economy can be traced as far back as July 1920. The whole railroad sys tem was a wreck. The party put Trotsky in charge of re storing transportation 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. Lenin 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 the 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?’”

The question of long-term planned economy was raised more sharply in 1923 by Comrade Trotsky. Unaided this time by Lenin, who had already been compelled to with draw 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) between their two claims: 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.

From 1923 on, the Opposition pointed out 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 provide the economic basis for abolishing the petty bourgeois strata of the village population.

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. 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 the rising kulak was derided.

But the Kulak was growing in strength and becoming the dominant figure in the countryside. Moreover, he was permeating 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, howsoever, shared by the crust-hardened bureaucracy. Instead of adopting the proposals for a systematic industrialization of the country, the Stalin-Bucharin leadership steered a course towards that same Kulak whom, later on, when they took fright at his growth, they sought to “liquidate” by decree at one blow.

To the already well-to-do peasants 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 peas ant,” that is, of the kulak. Pravda (in April 1925) urged that the “economic possibilities of the we’ll-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 1926, the Kulak course of Stalinism was pushed so far that for a time the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets granted the vote to exploiting peasants. 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, 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 (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 expressed by Bucharin when he put forward the perspective that Russia would build socialism “with the speed of a tortoise,” at a snail’s pace!

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 or exile. There are Bolsheviks in Siberia today for having distributed the ideas which Stalin was himself 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 de creasing percentage every year thereafter until it would reach a 4 percent growth at the end of the plan.

The bolder proposals submitted by the Opposition, which36 later were 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 over head and the bureaucratic apparatus, by a skillful utilization of the foreign trade monopoly, etc., the bureaucrats raised a hue and cry against the “counter-revolutionary Trotskyists.”

In the days of the French revolution 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 cry is the distinguishing feature of reaction. 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 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. 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. 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.” At the Fifteenth 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? As will be seen further on, Rykov did not have long to wait.

Finally, only a few months were required in the application of the original Five Year Plan of Rykov-Stalin in order to demonstrate how well-founded had been the Opposition’s criticism of its inadequacy. The apparatus was compelled to revise it virtually from stem to stern.

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 success 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. That is how the records of history will register it.


Last updated on 9.4.2005