Leon Trotsky

Platform of the Joint Opposition


Chapter 5
The Soviets

THE bureaucratic apparatus of every bourgeois state, no matter what its form, elevates itself above the population, solidifying its rule by cultivating a mutual loyalty among the ruling class and systematically propagating among the masses fear of and subservience to the rulers. The October Revolution, replacing the old state machine by the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets, dealt the heaviest blow in history to the old idol of the bureaucratic state.

Our party programme says upon this question:

Waging the most bitter struggle against bureaucratism, the Russian Communist Party applies for the complete conquering of this evil the following measures: (1) The obligatory drawing of every member of a Soviet into some definite work in the administration of the state. (2) A continual rotation of these tasks so that every member is gradually familiarized with all branches of the administration. (3) The gradual attraction of the entire labouring population, to the last man, into the work of State administration. A full and all-sided carrying out of these measures – which are a further step along the road taken by the Paris Commune – means a simplification of the functions of administration, and together with a rise in the cultural level of the workers will lead to the abolition of the State power.

The question of Soviet bureaucratism is not only a question of red tape and swollen staffs. At bottom it is a question of the class role played by the bureaucracy, of its social ties and sympathies, of its power and privileged position, its relations to the Nepman and the unskilled worker, to the intellectual and the illiterate, to the wife of a Soviet grandee and the most ignorant peasant woman, etc., etc. Whose hand does the official grasp? That is the fundamental question which is daily being tested in life’s experience by millions of working people.

On the eve of the October Revolution, Lenin, referring to Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune, strongly emphasized the idea that:

Under socialism officials will cease to be bureaucrats, to be “chinovniks”. [1] They will cease in so far as we introduce not only the elective principle, but also the recall, the principle of payment on the average wage-level of the worker, and also the replacement of parliamentary institutions by working institutions – that is, by institutions which both pass laws and carry them into effect.

In what direction has the apparatus of the Soviet State been developing of late years? In the direction of simplification and lowering of costs? Of proletarianization? Drawing near to the toilers of the city and the village? Diminishing the gulf between the rulers and the ruled? How do things stand as to the introduction of greater equality in the conditions of life, in rights and obligations? Are we making progress in this sphere? It is quite obvious that you cannot give an affirmative answer to any single one of these questions.

It goes without saying, of course, that actual and full equality can be achieved only with the abolition of classes. In the epoch of the NEP, the task of equalization is hindered and delayed but it is not annulled. For us the NEP is not a road to capitalism but a road to socialism. Therefore the gradual drawing of the whole toiling population, to the last man, into the work of State administration, the systematic struggle for greater equality, remains under the NEP one of the most important tasks of the party. That struggle can be successful only on the basis of a growing industrialization of the country and an increase in the leading role of the proletariat in all branches of material and cultural construction. This struggle for greater equality does not exclude in the transition period, higher payment of skilled workers, increased remuneration for experts, of better payment of teachers than in bourgeois countries, etc.

It is necessary to be clearly aware that the army of officials has been growing in number these last years. It is consolidating itself, raising itself above the general population, and interweaving itself with the wealthier elements of town and country. The “instructions” of 1925, which gave electoral rights to numerous exploiting elements, were only one very clear expression of the fact that the bureaucratic apparatus, to its very top, has become responsive to the importunities of the wealthy, accumulating elements of the community. The annulment of these instructions which were, as a matter of fact, in violation of the Soviet constitution was a result of criticism from the Opposition. But the first election under the new instructions had already revealed, in a number of localities, the striving encouraged from above to reduce as much as possible the circle of those well-off groups who are disfranchized. The centre of the question, however, is no longer, there. With the continual relative growth of the new bourgeoisie and the kulaks, and their drawing together with the bureaucracy, with the incorrect policy of our leadership in general, the kulak and the Nepman, even when deprived of electoral rights, remain able to influence the composition and the policy of at least the lower Soviet organs, although remaining behind the scenes.

The penetration of the Soviets by the lower kulak and “semi-kulak” elements and the town bourgeoisie, which began in 1925 and was partially stopped by the attacks of the Opposition, is a very deep political process, to ignore or conceal which would threaten the proletarian dictatorship with very dire consequences.

The town Soviets, the fundamental instrument for introducing the workers and the working people in general, to the last man, into the task of State administration, have been losing in these recent years all real significance. This is the expression of an indubitable change in the relation of class forces to the disadvantage of the proletariat. Resisting these phenomena by means of a mere administrative “revival” of the Soviets is unthinkable. They can be resisted only by a firm class policy, a decisive rebuff to the new exploiters, an increased activity and weight of the proletariat in all the institutions and organs of the Soviet State without exception.

The “theory” of Molotov to the effect that we cannot demand a drawing closer together of the workers with the State and the State with the workers, because our State is already, in and of itself, a workers’ State [2], is the most malignant imaginable formula of bureaucratism. It sanctions in advance every conceivable bureaucratic perversion. Any criticism of this anti-Leninist “theory” of Molotov – a “theory” which enjoys the open or silent sympathy of broad circles of the Soviet officialdom is characterized, under the present leadership, as a Social-Democratic deviation. But a harsh condemnation of this, and of all similar “theories”, is an indispensable condition for any real struggle against bureaucratic perversions. Such a struggle does not mean merely transforming a certain number of workers into officials. It means a drawing near to the workers and the poorer peasants of the whole State apparatus in all of its daily work.

The present official struggle against bureaucratism, not basing itself on the class activity of the workers, but trying to replace this with the efforts of the apparatus itself, is giving and can give no essential results. In many cases it even promotes and reinforces the existing bureaucratism.

In the inner life of the Soviets there is also to be observed of late years a series of entirely reactionary processes. The Soviets have continually less and less to do with the settling of fundamental political, economic, and cultural questions. They are becoming mere appendages to the executive committees and presidiums. The work of administration is becoming wholly concentrated in the hands of the latter. The discussion of problems at the plenary sessions of the Soviets is a mere show discussion. At the same time the period between elections to the Soviet organs is being lengthened, and the latters’ independence of control by the mass of workers is increasing. All this greatly strengthens the influence of the officials upon the decision of all questions.

The administration of important branches of municipal affairs often lies in the hands of one or two Communists, who select their own experts and their own staff, and often become completely dependent upon them. There is no proper training of the members of the Soviet. They are not drawn into the work from the bottom to the top. Hence continual complaints about the lack of skilled workers in the Soviet machinery. Hence a still further shifting of power to officialdom.

The elected leaders in important spheres of Soviet administration are removed at the first conflict with the chairman of the Soviet. They are removed still more quickly in cases of conflict with the secretary of the regional committee of the party. In consequence of this the elective principle is being reduced to nothing, and responsibility to the electors is losing all meaning.

It is necessary:

  1. To adopt a firm policy of struggle with officialism – to wage this struggle as Lenin would, on the basis of a real fight to check the exploiting tendencies of the new bourgeoisie and the kulaks, by way of a consistent development of workers’ democracy in the party, the trade unions, and the Soviets.
  2. To apply the slogan of bringing the worker, the farm-hand, the poor peasant and the middle peasant – against the kulak – into close contact with the State, and unconditionally subordinating the State apparatus to the essential interests of the toiling masses.
  3. As the basis for reviving the Soviets, to heighten the class activity of the workers, farm-hands, and poor and middle peasants.
  4. To convert the town Soviets into real organs of proletarian power and instruments for drawing the broad mass of the working people into the task of administering socialist construction – to realize, not in words but in deeds, the control of the town Soviets over the work of the regional executive Committees and the organs subject to these committees.
  5. To put a complete stop to the removal of elected Soviet officials, except in case of real and absolute necessity, in which cases the causes should be made clear to the electors.
  6. We must bring it about that the most backward unskilled worker and the most ignorant peasant woman are convinced by experience that in any state institution whatever they will find attention, counsel, and all possible support.


1. A bureaucrat, high official in the Civil Service.

2. Pravda, December 13, 1925.

Chapter IV    |    Platform of the Opposition Index    |    Chapter VI

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007