Leon Trotsky

The Russian Opposition

Questions and Answers


Written: 1927.
First Published: The New International [New York], May 1938.
Translated: The New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Original 1938 Introduction by The New International

The present document was written by Leon Trotsky. Although there is no precise date attached to it, it is apparent from the text that it was written between the middle and the Fall of 1927, that is, in the period when the struggle between the Left Opposition Bloc (Trotskyists-Zinovievists) against the Stalin-Bukharin regime was reaching its height. In the familiar question-and-answer form, it gives a popular presentation of the Opposition’s standpoint. It is perhaps the best example of several similar documents which, because it was denied access to the party press, the Opposition was compelled to circulate among the party membership in the form of multityped or mimeographed manuscripts. When it is borne in mind that it appeared more than a year before the break-up of the Stalin-Bukharin bloc, and in a period when the “monolithism” of the latter was violently affirmed, its prediction of the decomposition of the ruling clique is all the more remarkable. More than a year afterward, it will be remembered, the Stalin faction was engaged in a furious struggle against the right wing group of Bukharin-Rykov and its allied group of trade union opportunists represented by Tomsky. – Editor

1. IS IT TRUE that the Opposition desires to transform the party into a conglomeration of factions, groupings, etc.?

Answer: It is a nonsensical canard. The Opposition stands for reinforcing the proletarian dictatorship which is being weakened by shifts towards petty bourgeois elements. The dictatorship of the proletariat can be realized only through a party that is unified and capable of fighting. Various assertions to the effect that the Opposition is in favor of factions and groupings are lies spread for factional purposes.

2. Is it true that factionalism is growing and assuming threatening proportions in the party?

Answer: It is true. The case of comrade Lashevich and others is only a manifestation of the growing danger. The difference between the Opposition and the ruling faction by no means consists in the fact that the Opposition is either reconciled to factionalism or considers it a normal condition for the party. But the Opposition cannot concede that factions appear and grow due to the ill-will of isolated individuals. The Opposition holds that the cause of factionalism is the bureaucratic régime in the party;

3. Is it possible to put an immediate end to bureaucratism?

Answer: Naturally, that is impossible. In this sphere the Opposition does not at all demand some sort of miracle. But the point is that bureaucratism is not diminishing but on the contrary growing monstrously. Every serious attempt in the party to check bureaucratism calls forth reprisals from above and drives people to the path of factionalism and division. The more bureaucratism struggles against factions, all the more does it breed and feed them.

Ideological near-sightedness is always bound up with bureaucratism. The leaders of the ruling faction, who are isolating themselves to an ever-greater extent, prove incapable of estimating the situation as a whole, forseeing the future and issuing broad directives to the party. The policy becomes pettifogging or tail-endist. Attempts on anyone’s part to generalize the difficulties, grasp their connection and look ahead into the future, arouse alarm in the conservative bureaucratic mind and call forth accusations of factionalism. The more difficulties in economy and politics the regime accumulates, the more intolerant it becomes.

4. What is the basic cause of bureaucratism and pettifoggery?

Answer: The basic cause for it is a backsliding from the proletarian class line. The bulk of the part is composed of workers. The party’s traditions are revolutionary and proletarian. The backsliding from the class line engenders the necessity to force policies by bureaucratic apparatus methods.

5. Does this imply that a split or the formation of two parties is inevitable or indispensable?

Answer: By no means. The attempt to ascribe such views to the Opposition is the most unconscionable and envenomed weapon in the struggle. It is necessary to conduct a struggle against the shift from the class line by inner-party means. We can and must straighten out the deviation within the framework of a single party.

6. In what does the shift from the proletarian class line find its expression?

Answer: In the following:

  1. The inability to understand the dangers that lurk in the lag of industry behind the development of national economy as a whole;
  2. The bureaucratic attitude towards such questions as wages, a régime of economy, unemployment, housing construction, etc.;
  3. the under-estimation of the differentiation in the village and glossing over the growing role of the Kulak;
  4. the attempt on the part of the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture, rural cooperatives and other organizations to steer a course toward the productively powerful middle peasant, i.e., in reality the kulak;
  5. the under-estimation or the inability to understand the dangers flowing from the fact that the political activity of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie is growing more rapidly than the activity of workers, agricultural laborers and poor peasants;
  6. the extension of the electoral decree and the actual elections in the interests of the petty bourgeoisie;
  7. the embellishment of the Soviet state as it exists and the denial of the necessity of drawing it closer to the workers;
  8. the embellishment of the NEP and the glossing over or mitigating of its contradictions, minimizing the specific weight of capitalist tendencies;
  9. the centrist deviation on questions of the world labor movement (the Anglo-Russian committee, the Kuomintang, etc.);
  10. the support given to grossly mistaken and dangerous hopes in the bloc with opportunist and treacherous leaders which is alleged to help secure the USSR against war;
  11. the urge to break with the Profintern and join the Amsterdam International (making corresponding changes in the statutes of the Red trade unions)
  12. the systematic struggle not against the right deviations but against those who warn against the latter;
  13. enrolling among the ultra-lefts not only the real ultra-lefts but all those who are fighting to rectify the proletarian line.

7. Is it true that the policy of the Opposition threatens to disrupt the smychka [alliance] between the proletariat and the peasantry?

Answer: This charge is utterly false.

The smychka is now being endangered on the one hand by the lag of industry, and on the other by the growth of the kulak. The shortage of industrial goods is driving a wedge between the country and the city. The kulak is beginning to subordinate to himself economically and politically the middle and poor peasants and to oppose them to the proletariat. This process is still in its inception. But the threat to the smychka flows precisely from this source. The under-estimation of the lag of industry and of the growth of the kulak acts to violate the correct Leninist leadership of the alliance between the two classes which is the foundation of the dictatorship in the conditions in our country.

8. Is it true that the Opposition maintains that state industry must be ceded to foreigners as a concession?

Answer: Such an assertion is a revolting slander. The use of such methods is made possible only owing to the fact that the party has been strangled by bureaucratism.

Pravda asserts that comrade Medvedyev, in a letter written by him in January 1924, came out in favor of giving up a great section of our state industry as a foreign concession. This letter of comrade Medvedyev’s, written some two and a half years ago, has never been published anywhere. No one knows anything about it and no one can judge whether Pravda correctly cites its contents. But what possible connection is there between this letter which is unknown to anybody and the 1923 Opposition and the Leningrad Opposition (1925)?

The Opposition considers the question of the tempo of the development of state industry as decisive for the fate of socialism. To this end it demands a change in the system of taxation, the policy of prices and a redrafting of the budget. Concessions can and must occupy in our economy only a rigidly restricted and subordinate position. Every attempt to extend the framework of concessions beyond specific limits, i.e., to offer foreign capital a dominant, or even only a considerable influence in our economy would be tantamount to an outright betrayal of the cause of Socialism.

9. Is it true that the Opposition is in a bloc with the Amsterdam deviation?

Answer: This assertion is as absurd as the previous one and it is based on the selfsame mysterious letter of comrade Medvedyev’s. If comrade Medvedyev or any other member of our party were to come out against the Profintern and for Amsterdam, the Opposition would once again categorically and mercilessly condemn such an opportunist deviation, just as it has already done with regard to certain leading members of the Central Trades Union Council who effected behind the backs of the party an alteration in the statutes of almost all our trade unions by deleting “Profintern” and replacing the latter with “the international alliance of trade unions” which can signify nothing else but a removal of obstacles for an entry into Amsterdam.

Generally speaking, the attempt on the part of Pravda to place the blame at the door of the Opposition is made possible only owing to the monstrous suppression of the freedom of criticism and of the open functioning of thought in the party.

10. Is it true that the Opposition denies the possibility of building socialism in our country?

Answer: This accusation is false and it is based upon an erroneous formulation of the question itself. Decades are required to build socialism solely with our own forces in our backward country. To presuppose that in the course of such a long period of time capitalism will be maintained and will continue to develop in other countries while we are in the meantime building socialism is to deny the ties of world economy and of world politics and to fall into crude national narrow-mindedness. The building of socialism in our country is an integral part of the world proletarian revolution. The success of socialist construction in our country is inseparable from the success of the revolutionary movement in the entire world. The Opposition is profoundly convinced of the victory of socialism in our country not because our country can be torn free of world economy and world revolution but because the victory of the proletarian revolution is guaranteed the world over.

The shift from the proletarian line inevitably leads to national narrow-mindedness, to an underestimation of our dependence on world economy and the crude embellishment of the NEP.

11. Is it true that the Opposition is a faction?

Answer: It is impossible to deny the danger of the transformation of the Opposition into a faction. This danger is being created and aggravated by the policies and organizational measures of the ruling faction which is becoming ever less tolerant of criticism, collective discussion, and of a freely elected and collective leadership.

12. Can a “majority” constitute a faction?

Answer: It can. The present majority is a faction. A majority is not some sort of perpetual body of one and the same composition. In a party that thrives on the basis of internal democracy new questions as they arise give birth to new groupings and shifts. The faction of the majority has as its task the transformation of the present majority into a permanent majority, independently of its political line and of the changing tasks or the changed views of the real majority of the party. The faction of the majority is absolutely incompatible with a régime of party democracy. The faction of the majority is bound by its own secret discipline and this alone defrauds and perverts the genuine will of the party. The faction of the majority uses the party machine to prevent the party from determining by democratic means where the real majority and minority are. The most pernicious form of factionalism is the factionalism of the ruling majority which speaks for the party as a whole.

The factionalism of the minority flows inevitably from the factionalism of the majority.

13. Is it true that the Opposition endangers the unity of the party?

Answer: The unity of the party is threatened by the existence of a shut-in faction of the majority which is shifting the party policy from the proletarian line and is driving into the Opposition all those who struggle for the proletarian line and for the rehabilitation of the party régime.

What the leaders of the ruling faction understand by the unity of the party is the following: “Don’t you dare criticize our policy; don’t dare pose any new tasks and new questions without our permission; don’t dare to pose seriously the question of a struggle against bureaucratism, the question of industrialization, wages, poor peasants, etc.” From the standpoint of the leaders of the ruling faction the unity of the party is endangered by every word and every action that is directed against the mistakes of the leading group. But this only means that the leading group refuses to reconcile itself to a régime of party democracy.

14. Is it true that the Opposition has moved away from the Leninist views on party leadership?

Answer: No, that is not true. Just the contrary is true. It is the present leading group that directs all of its efforts to smash the old leading nucleus which was formed in joint collaboration with Lenin. During Lenin’s illness and now after his death, the party was many times told of the importance of preserving the succession and continuity of the leadership. The chief slogan was: Long live the old Leninist guard! It was explained to the party that the experience of leadership is acquired in the course of many years and that in our party the leadership is most closely bound up with the experience of the two revolutions through which the party passed under the leadership of Lenin.

At the present time the Stalinist group is making an abrupt turn on this question, by opposing to the old guard new forces, “practicals” who grew up on the basis of creative work, etc. Such a counterposition is by itself a step toward renouncing the revolutionary traditions of the party, a step toward pettifoggery and opportunism. This deviation is being covered up by thoroughly reactionary speeches against the “émigrés” and in favor of people rooted in the “native soil”. The theory of socialism in one country is best adapted for this new narrow, nationalistic, horsetrader’s formulation of the question of party leadership.

15. Is it true that by “s mashing the Opposition it is possible to secure the unity of the party and the unanimity of the leadership.

Answer: No, this is a gross fallacy. The bureaucratic suppression of the party is pregnant with ever greater divisions. The ruling faction is by no means unanimous. It contains a right deviation toward the kulak, the petty bourgeoisie and middle class elements in general. It contains a trade unionist deviation which is marching hand in hand with the deviation toward the petty proprietor but which frequently comes into hostile conflict with the latter. It contains purely machine elements who are without a definite political line but who shield the right deviation from the criticism of the Opposition. Finally, it contains numerous elements who have completely preserved their revolutionary proletarian spirit but who have yet to give themselves an accounting of the shifts in party policy and party régime. At the present time the leaders of the majority faction are able to fuse it together by machine methods in the struggle against the Opposition. If we were to allow even for a moment that the Opposition is “smashed” then the faction of the majority, backsliding to the right, would immediately begin to split up into new factional groupings, with all the ensuing consequences. Within the factional tops there is already a sharp friction that is being suppressed only by factional discipline. It is possible to prevent the development of this friction into new factional struggles not by smashing the present Opposition but on the contrary by assuming an attentive attitude towards its criticism, by effecting a genuine rectification of the party line and by establishing democracy and collective leadership in the party.

Moscow, 1927

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Last updated on: 15.4.2007