Leon Trotsky

An Answer to the Stalinist Critics – I

(November 1926)

Delivered: November 1926.
First Published: International Press Correspondence, 1927 (?).
Source: Archives of the Revolution, The New International, Vol. VIII No. 7, August 1942, pp. 217–221.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The following speech was delivered by Trotsky at the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in November 1926. To cover up their theoretical and political degeneration, the Stalinists laid down a violent barrage of attacks upon Trotsky, the leader of the Left Opposition. In answer to his internationalist criticism of the Stalinist theory of “socialism in a single country,” the bureaucracy denounced him for an alleged “social-democratic deviation.” Trotsky’s masterful polemical reply at the Seventh Plenum was, of course, never given wide circulation in the official communist movement, appearing only in the esoteric International Press Correspondence. It is reprinted here for the first time in any American publication. – Editor

Comrades! The resolution accuses the Opposition including me, of a social democratic deviation. I have thought over all the points of contention which have divided us, the minority of the CC from the majority during the period just past, that is, the period in which the designation “Opposition bloc” has been in use. I must place on record that the points of contention, and our standpoint with respect to the point of contention, offer no basis for the accusation of a “social democratic deviation.”

The question upon which we have disagreed most, comrades, is that which asks which danger threatens us during the present epoch: the danger that our state industry remains backward, or that it rushes too hastily forward. The Opposition – in which I am included – has proved that the real danger threatening us is that our state industry may remain behind the development of the national economy as a whole. We have pointed out that the policy being pursued in the distribution of national income involves the further growth of the disproportion. For some reason or other this has been named “pessimism.” Comrades, arithmetic knows neither pessimism nor optimism, neither discouragement nor capitulation. Figures are figures. If you examine the control figures of our planned economics you will find that these figures show the disproportion, or more exactly expressed, the shortage of industrial goods, to have reached the amount of 380 million roubles last year, while this year the figure will be 500 million, that is, the original figures of the planning commission show the disproportion to have increased by 25 per cent. Comrade Rykov states in his thesis that we might hope (merely hope) that the disproportion will not increase this year. What justification is there for this “hope”? The fact is that the harvest is not so favorable as we all expected. Were I to follow in the false tracks of our critics, I might say that Comrade Rykov’s theses welcome the fact that the unfavorable conditions obtaining at harvest time detracted from crops which were otherwise not bad, since, had the harvest been greater, the result would have been a greater disproportion. (Comrade Rykov: “I am of a different opinion.”) The figures speak for themselves. (A voice: “Why did you not take part in the discussion on Comrade Rykov’s report?”) Comrade Kamenev has here told you why he did not. Because I could not have added anything to this special economic report, in the form of amendments or arguments, that we had not brought forward at the April plenum. The amendments and other proposals submitted by me and other comrades to the April plenum remain in full force today. But the economic experience gained since April is obviously too small to give us room for hope that at the present stage the comrades present at this conference will be convinced. To bring up these points of contention again, before the actual course of economic life has tested them, would arouse useless discussion. These questions will be more acceptable to the party when they can be answered by the statistics based on the latest experience; for objective economic experience does not decide whether figures are optimistic or pessimistic, but solely whether they are right or wrong. I believe our standpoint on the disproportion has been right.

We have disagreed on the rate of our industrialization, and I have been among those comrades who have pointed out that the present rate is insufficient, and that precisely this insufficient speed in industrialization imparts the greatest importance to the differentiation process going on in the villages. To be sure, it is no catastrophe that the kulak raises his head or – this is the other aspect of the same subject – that the poorer peasantry no longer preponderates. These are some of the serious accompaniments of the period of transition. They are unhealthy signs. It need not be said that they give no cause for “alarm.” But they are phenomena which must be correctly estimated. And I have been among those comrades who have maintained that the process of differentiation of the village may assume a dangerous form if industry lags behind, that is, if the disproportion increases. The Opposition maintains that it is our duty to lessen the disproportion year by year. I see nothing social democratic in this.

We have insisted that the differentiation of the village demands a more elastic taxation policy with respect to the various strata of the peasantry, a reduction of taxation for the poorer middle strata of the peasantry, and increased taxation for the well to do middle strata, and an energetic pressure upon the kulak, especially in his relations to trading capital. We have proposed that 40 per cent of the poor peasantry should be freed from taxation altogether. Are we right or not? I believe that we are right; you believe we are wrong. But what is “social democratic” about this is a mystery to me (laughter).

Question of the Peasantry

We have asserted that the increasing differentiation among the peasantry, taking place under the conditions imposed by the backwardness of our industry, brings with it the necessity of double safeguards in the field of politics, that is, we were entirely unable to agree with the extension of the franchise with respect to the kulak, the employer and exploiter, if only on a small scale. We raised the alarm when the election inspectorates extended the suffrage among the petty bourgeoisie. Were we right or not? You consider that our alarm was “exaggerated.” Well, even assuming that it was, there is nothing social democratic about it.

We demanded and proposed that the course being taken by the agricultural cooperatives toward the “highly productive middle farmer,” under which name we generally find the kulak, should be severely condemned. We proposed that the tendency of the credit cooperatives toward the side of the well to do peasantry should be condemned. I cannot comprehend, comrades, what you find “social democratic” in this.

There have been differences of opinion in the question of wages. In substance these differences consist of our being of the opinion that at the given stage of development of our industry and economics, and at our present level of economics, the wage question must not be settled on the assumption that the worker must first increase the productivity of labor, which will then raise the wages, but that the contrary must be the rule, that is, a rise in wages, however modest, must be the prerequisite for an increased productivity of labor. (A voice: “And where is the money coming from?”) This may be right or it may not, but it is not “social democratic.”

We have pointed out the connection between various well known aspects of our inner party life and the growth of bureaucratism. I believe there is nothing “social democratic” about this either.

We have further opposed an overestimation of the economic elements of the capitalist stabilization and the underestimation of its political elements. If we inquire, for instance: What does the economic stabilization consist of in England at the present time? then it appears that England is going to ruin, that its trade balance is adverse, that its foreign trade returns are falling off, that its production is declining. This is the “economic stabilization” of England. But to whom is bourgeois England clinging? Not to Baldwin, not to Thomas, but to Purcell. Purcellism is the pseudonym of the present “stabilization” in England. We are therefore of the opinion that it is fundamentally wrong, in consideration of the working masses who carried out the general strike, to combine either directly or indirectly with Purcell. This is the reason why we have demanded the dissolution of the Anglo-Russian Committee. I see nothing “social democratic” in this.

We have insisted upon a fresh revision of our trade union statutes, upon which subject I reported to the CC. A revision of those statutes from which the word “Profintern” was struck out last year and replaced by “International Trade Union Association,” under which it is impossible to understand anything else than “Amsterdam.” I am glad to say that this revision of last year’s revision has been accomplished, and the word “Profintern” has been rejected in our trade union statutes. But why was our uneasiness on the subject “social democratic?” That, comrades, is something which I entirely fail to understand.

I should like, as briefly as possible, to enumerate the main points of the differences of opinion, which have arisen of late. Our standpoint in the questions concerned has been that we have observed the dangers likely to threaten the class line of the party and of the workers’ state under the conditions imposed by a long continuance of the NEP, and our encirclement by international capitalism. But these differences of opinion, and the standpoint adopted by us in the defense of our opinions, cannot be construed into a “social democratic deviation” by the most complicated logical or even scholastic methods.

Past Differences

It has therefore been found necessary to leave these actual and serious differences of opinion, engendered by the given epoch of our economic and political development, and to go back into the past in order to construe differences in the conception of the “character of our revolution” in general – not in the given period of our revolution, not with regard to the given concrete task, but with regard to the character of the revolution in general, or as expressed in the theses, the revolution “in itself,” the revolution “in its substance.” When a German speaks of a thing “in itself,” he is using a metaphysical term placing the revolution outside of all connection with the real world around it; it is abstracted from yesterday and tomorrow, and regarded as a “substance” from which everything will proceed. Now, then, in the question of the actual “substance” of revolution, I have been found guilty, in the ninth year of our revolution, of having denied the socialist character of our revolution! No more and no less! I discovered this for the first time in this resolution itself. If the comrades find it necessary for some reason to construct a resolution on quotations from my writings – and the main portion of the resolution, pushing into the foreground the theory of original sin (“Trotskyism”), is built upon quotations from my writings between 1917 and 1922 – then it would at least be advisable to select the essential from all I have written on the character of our revolution.

You will excuse me, comrades, but it is no pleasure to have to set aside the actual subject and to retail where and when I wrote this or that. But this resolution, in substantiating the “social democratic” deviation, refers to passages from my writings, and I am obliged to give the information. In 1922 I was commissioned by the party to write the book, Terrorism and Communism, against Kautsky, against the characterization of our revolution by Kautsky as a non-proletarian and non-socialist revolution. A large number of editions of this book were distributed both at home and abroad by the Comintern. The book met with no hostile reception among our nearest comrades, nor from Lenin. This book is not quoted in the resolution.

In 1922 I was commissioned by the Political Bureau to write the book entitled Between Imperialism and Revolution. In this book I utilized the special experience gained in Georgia, in the form of a refutation of the standpoint of those international social democrats who were using the Georgian rising as material against us, for the purpose of subjecting to a fresh examination the main questions of that proletarian revolution which has a right to tear down not only petty bourgeois prejudices, but also petty bourgeois institutions.

At Comintern Congresses

At the third congress of the Comintern I gave a report, on behalf of the CC, declaring in substance that we had entered on an epoch of unstable balance. I opposed Comrade Bucharin, who at that time was of the opinion that we should pass through an uninterrupted series of revolutions and crises until the victory of socialism in the whole world, and that there would not and could not be any “stabilization.” At the time Comrade Bucharin accused me of a Right deviation (perhaps social democratic too?). In full agreement with Lenin I defended at the third congress the theses which I had formulated. The import of the theses was that we, despite the slower speed of the revolution, would pass successfully through this epoch by developing the socialist elements of our economics.

At the fourth world congress in 1923 I was commissioned by the CC to follow Lenin with a report on the NEP. What did I prove? I proved that the NEP merely signifies a change in the forms and methods of socialist development. And now, instead of taking these works of mine, which may have been good or bad, but were at least fundamental, and in which, on behalf of the party, I defined the character of our revolution in the years between 1920 and 1923, you seize upon a few little passages, each only two or three lines, out of a preface and a postscript written at the same period.

I repeat that none of the passages quoted is from a fundamental work. These four little quotations (1917 to 1922) form the sole foundation for the accusation that I deny the socialist character of our revolution. The structure of the accusation thus being completed, every imaginable original sin is added to it, even the sin of the Opposition of 1925. The demand for a more rapid industrialization and the proposal to increase the taxation of the kulaks, all arise from these four passages. (A voice: “Form no fractions!”)

Comrades, I regret having to take your time, but I must quote a few more passages – I could adduce hundreds – in confutation of all that the resolution ascribes to me. First of all I must draw your attention to the fact that the four quotations upon which the theory of my original sin is based, have all been taken from writings of mine between 1917 and 1922. Everything that I have said since appears to have been swept away by the wind. Nobody knows whether I subsequently regarded our revolution as socialist or not. Today, at the end of 1926, the present standpoint of the so-called Opposition in the leading questions of economics and politics is sought in passages from my personal writings between 1917 and 1922, and not even in passages from my chief works, but in works written for some quite chance occasion. I shall return to these quotations and answer for every one of them. But first permit me to adduce some quotations of a more essential character, written at the same period:

For instance, the following is an extract from my speech at the conference of the Moscow Trade Union Council on October 28, 1921, after the introduction of the NEP:

We have reorganized our economic policy in anticipation of a slow development of out economics. We reckon with the possibility that the revolution in Europe, though developing and growing, is developing more slowly than we expected. The bourgeoisie has proved more tenacious. Even in our own country we are obliged to reckon with a slower transition to socialism, for we are surrounded by capitalist countries. We must concentrate our forces on the largest and best equipped undertakings. At the same time we must not forget that the taxation in kind among the peasantry, and the increase of leased undertakings form a basis for the development of the economics of commodities, for the accumulation of capital, and for the rise of a new bourgeoisie. At the same time the socialist economy will be built up on the narrower but firmer basis of big industry.

At a members’ meeting of the CP of the SU, on November 10 of the same year, in the Moscow district of Sokolniki, I stated:

What have we now? We have now the process of socialist revolution, in the first place in a state and in the second place in a state which is the most backward of all, both economically and culturally, and surrounded on all sides by capitalist countries.

What conclusion did I draw from this? Did I propose capitulation? I proposed the following:

It is our task to make socialism prove its advances. The peasants will be the judge who pronounces on the advantages or drawbacks of the socialist state. We are competing with capitalism in the peasant market ...

What is the present basis for our conviction that we shall be victorious? There are many reasons justifying our belief. These lie both in the international situation and in the development of the Communist Party; in the fact that we retain the power in our hands, and in the fact that we permit free trade solely within the limits which we deem necessary.

This, comrades, was said in 1921, and not in 1926!

In my report at the IV World Congress (directed against Otto Bauer, to whom my relationship has now been discovered) I spoke as follows:

Our main weapon in the economic struggle, as based on the market, is state power. Only shortsighted reformists are unable to grasp the importance of this instrument. The bourgeoisie knows it well. That is proved by its whole history.

Other tools in the hands of the proletariat are: the possession of the most important productive forces of the country, of all economic traffic, of all mines, of the undertakings working up raw materials. These are subject to the immediate economic control of the working class. At the same time the working class owns the land and the peasant gives hundreds of millions of poods of grain for it every year, in the form of taxation in kind.

The frontiers of the country are in the hands of the workers’ state; foreign goods, and foreign capital, can only be imported into the country to the extent approved by the workers’ state.

These are the instruments and means for building up socialism.

In a booklet published by me in 1923 under the title of Questions of Daily Life, you may read on this subject:

What has the working class actually attained and secured by its struggle up to now?

  1. The dictatorship of the proletariat (with the aid of the workers’ and peasants’ state led by the Communist Party).
  2. The Red Army as the material support of the proletarian dictatorship.
  3. The socialization of the most important means of production, without which the dictatorship of the proletariat would be an empty form, without meaning.
  4. The monopoly of foreign trade, a necessary premise for the building up of socialism in a country surrounded by capitalism.

These four elements, irrevocably gained, form the steel framework of our work. Thanks to this framework, every further economic or cultural success which we achieve – provided it is a real and not a supposed success – will necessarily become a constituent part of our socialist structure.

This same booklet contains another and even more definite formulation:

The easier the revolutionary upheaval has been – relatively speaking – to the Russian proletariat, the more difficult is its task of establishing the socialist state of society. But the framework of our new social life, welded by the revolution, supported by four fundamental pillars (see beginning of chapter) imparts to every sincere and sensibly directed effort in economics and culture and objectively socialist character. In the bourgeois state of society the worker, unconsciously and unintentionally, enriches the bourgeoisie more and more the better he works. In the Soviet state the good and conscientious worker, without thinking of it or troubling himself about it (if he is a non-political worker), performs socialist work and increases the means of the working class. This is the actual import of the October revolution and in this sense the New Economic Policy brings no change whatever.

Toward Capitalism or Socialism?

I could prolong this chain of quotations indefinitely, for I never have and never could characterize our revolution differently. I shall confine myself, however, to one more passage, from a book quoted by Comrade Stalin (Toward Capitalism or Socialism?). This book was published for the first time in 1925 and was printed originally as feuilleton in the Pravda. The editors of our central organ have never drawn my attention to any heresies in this book with respect to the character of our revolution. This year the second edition of the book was issued. It has been translated into different languages by the Comintern and it is the first time that I hear that it gives a false idea of our economic development. Comrade Stalin has read you a few lines picked out arbitrarily in order to show that this is “unclearly formulated,” I am thus obliged to read a somewhat longer passage, in order to prove that the idea in question is quite clearly formulated. The following is stated in the preface, devoted to a criticism of our bourgeois and social democratic critics, above all, Kautsky and Otto Bauer. Here you may read:

These judgments (formed by the enemies of our economics) assume two forms: in the first place they assert that in building up socialist economics we are ruining the country; but in the second place they assert thai in developing the forces of production we are really returning to capitalism.

The former of these two criticisms is characteristic of the mentality of the bourgeoisie. The second is peculiar to social democracy, that is, to the bourgeois mentality socialistically veiled. There is no strict boundary between these two descriptions of criticism, and very frequently interchange of arguments between them, without either of them noticing that he is using his neighbor’s weapon, in the enthusiasm of the old way against “communist barbarity.”

The present booklet hopes to serve the object of showing the unprejudiced reader that both are deceivers – both the openly big bourgeois and the petty bourgeois masquerading as socialist. They lie when they say that the Bolsheviki have ruined Russia ... They lie when they say that the development of productive forces is the road to capitalism; the role played by state economics in industry, in transport and traffic service, trade, finance and credit does not lessen with the growth of productive forces, but on the contrary increases within the collective economics of the country. Facts and figures prove this beyond all doubt.

In agriculture the matter is much more complicated. To a Marxist there is nothing unexpected in this. The transition from the “atomized” individual farming system of agriculture to socialist agriculture is only conceivable after a number of steps have been surmounted in technics, economics and cultivation. The fundamental premise for this transition is that the power remain in the hands of the class anxious to lead society to socialism, and becoming increasingly capable of influencing the peasant population by means of slate industry, by means of technical improvements in agriculture, and thereby furnishing the prerequisites for the collectivisation of agricultural work.

The draft of the resolution on the Opposition states that Trotsky’s standpoint closely approaches that of Otto Bauer, who had said that: “In Russia, where the proletariat represents only a small minority of the nation, the proletariat can only maintain its rule temporarily, and is bound to lose it again as soon as the peasant majority of the nation has become culturally mature enough to take over the rule itself.”

In the first place, comrades, who could entertain the idea that so absurd a formulation could occur to any one of us? Whatever is to be understood by: “as soon as the peasant majority of the nation has become culturally mature enough”? What does this mean? What are we to understand by “culture”? Under capitalist conditions the peasantry have no independent culture. As far as culture is concerned, the peasantry may mature under the influence of the proletariat or of the bourgeoisie. These are the only two possibilities existing for the cultural advance of the peasantry. To a Marxist, the idea that the “culturally matured” peasantry, having overthrown the proletariat, could take over power on its own account, is a wildly prejudiced absurdity. The experience of two revolutions has taught us that the peasantry, should it come into conflict with the proletariat and overthrow the proletarian power, simply forms a bridge – through Bonapartism – for the bourgeoisie. An independent peasant state founded neither on proletarian nor bourgeois culture is impossible. This whole construction of Otto Bauer’s collapses into a lamentable petty bourgeois absurdity.

We are told that we have not believed in the establishment of socialism. And at the same time we are accused of wanting to pillage the peasantry (not the kulaks, but the peasantry!).

I think, comrades, that these are not words out of our dictionary at all. The communists cannot propose to the workers’ state to “plunder” the peasantry, and it is precisely with the peasantry that we are concerned. A proposal to free 40 per cent of the poor peasantry from all taxation, and to lay these taxes upon the kulak, may be right or it may be wrong, but it can never be interpreted as a proposal to “plunder” the peasantry,

I ask you: If we have no faith in the establishment of socialism in our country, or (as is said of me) we propose that the European revolution be passively awaited, then why do we propose to “plunder” the peasantry? To what end? That is incomprehensible. We are of the opinion that industrialization – the basis of socialization – is proceeding too slowly, and that this places the peasantry at a disadvantage. If, let us say, the quantity of agricultural products put upon the market this year be 20 per cent more than last – I take these figures with a reservation – and at the same time the grain price has sunk by 18 per cent and the prices of various industrial products have risen by 16 per cent, as has been the case, then the peasant gains less than when his crops are poorer and the retail prices for industrial products lower. The acceleration of industrialization, made possible to a great extent by the increased taxation of the kulak, will result in the production of a larger quantity of goods, reducing the retail prices, to the advantage of the workers and of the greater part of the peasantry.

Struggle of Two Tendencies

It is possible that you do not agree with this. But nobody can deny that it is a system of views on the development of our economics. How can you assert that we do not believe in the possibility of socialist development, and yet at the same time that we demand the plundering of the mujik? With what object? For what purpose? Nobody can explain this. Again, I have often asked myself why the dissolution of the Anglo-Russian Committee can be supposed to imply a call to leave the trade unions? And why does the non-entry into the Amsterdam International not constitute an appeal to the workers not to join the Amsterdam trade unions? (A voice: “That will be explained to you!”) I have never received an answer to this question, and never will. (A voice: “You will get your answer.”) Neither shall I receive a reply to the question of how we contrive to disbelieve in the realization of socialism and yet endeavor to “plunder” the peasantry.

The book of mine from which I last quoted speaks in detail of the importance of the correct distribution of our national income, since our economic development is proceeding amidst the struggle of two tendencies: the socialist and the capitalist tendency.

The issue of the struggle depends on the rate of development of these tendencies. In other words, should state industry develop more slowly than agriculture; should the opposite poles of capitalist farmer “on top” and proletariat “at bottom” separate more widely and rapidly in the course of development – then the process would of course lead to the restoration of capitalism.

But our enemies may do their best to prove the inevitability of this possibility. Even if they go about it much more skillfully than the unfortunate Kautsky (or MacDonald), they will burn their fingers. Is the possibility just indicated entirely excluded? Theoretically it is not. If the ruling party were to commit one error after another, both in politics and economics, if it should thus hamper the development of industry now so promising, and if it were to relinquish control of the political and economic development of the peasantry, then, of course, the cause of socialism in our country would be lost. But we have not the slightest reason to adopt such premises for our prognosis. How to lose power, how to throw away the achievements of the proletariat, and how to work for capitalism, these are points which were made brilliantly clear by Kautsky and his friends to the international proletariat after November 9, 1918. Nobody needs to add anything on this subject.

Our tasks, our aims, and our methods are very different. What we want to show is the way to maintain and firmly establish the power once seized and the way in which the proletarian form of state is to be given the economic content of socialism.

The whole content of this book (A voice: “There is nothing about the cooperatives in it!”) – I shall come to the cooperatives – the whole content of this book is devoted to the subject of how the proletarian form of state is to be given the economic content of socialism. It may be said (insinuations have already been made in this direction): Yes, you believed that we were moving toward socialism so long as the process of reconstruction was going on, and so long as industry developed at a speed of 45 or 35 per cent year, but now that we have arrived at a crisis of foundation capital and you see the difficulties of extending foundation capital, you have been seized with a so-called “panic.”

I cannot quote the whole of the chapter on: The Rate of Development, Its Material Possibilities and Its Limits. It points out the four elements characterizing the advantages of our system over capitalism and draws the following conclusion:

Taken all in all, these four advantages – properly applied – will enable us to increase the coefficient of our industrial growth, not only to double the per cent of the pre-war period, but to triple this, or even more.

If I am not mistaken, the coefficient of our industrial growth will amount, according to the plans, to 18 per cent. In this there are, of course, still reconstruction elements. But in any case the extremely rough statistical prognosis which I made as an example eighteen months ago coincides fairly well with our actual speed this year.

[Continued in the Next Issue]

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Last updated on: 12 January 2015