Leon Trotsky

The July Plenum and the Right Danger

Written & Dated: 23 July, 1928.
First published in The Militant of Vol 1, No. 3, Pages 1-3, September 15 of 1928.
Translated: The Militant, unknown.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Martin Fahlgren.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2011. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 .

Note by editor, The Militant

A short few weeks ago, the official Party press carried the first stories from Moscow about the ”opening” of a new struggle within the C. P. S. U. These stories revealed that the struggle between the Right wing (Rykov-Tomsky) and the Center (Stalin), with Bucharin playing the customary buffer role could no longer be concealed behind the curtains of the Political Bureau of C. P. S. U. and had broken out in the Moscow and other organizations of the Party, where advance ”scouts” for the Right wing had been presenting in the lower units of the Party the policies already proposed by Rykov-Tomsky-Kalinin in the Political Bureau. The dispatches in the Party press, however, throw no light on the actual situation and the real issue at stake.

The entire course of the present developments in the C. P. S. U. was predicted with amazing precision by comrade Trotsky in his platform as far back as the 15th Party Congress (1927) and in the following suppressed article written in July of this year. Just as Stalin fruitlessly attempted to deny the existence of a Right danger, as analyzed by Trotsky then, so he is now trying to deny the existence of this danger in the Political Bureau (Rykov, etc.), and continues to lull the membership of the C. P. S. U. and the Comintern into a false security. The article of Trotsky printed below was absolutely correct when it was written, and is even more correct now. It throws a penetrating searchlight upon the present situation within the Soviet Union Party, exposes the inexorable class forces represented by the contending groups, and proves again the irrefutable accuracy of the predictions and program of the Leninist Opposition. This article was sent to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International but was not distributed to the delegates. It is printed here for the first time in English. Other suppressed documents of equal importance will be printed in subsequent issues of The Militant.

The report read by Rykov on July 13 at the meeting of Moscow Party workers on the outcome of the July Plenum of the Central Committee[1] was an event of capital political importance. Here was expounded the program of the most authoritative representative of the right wing, carrying his banner to the tribune if not entirely unfurled, at least halfway.

In his report Rykov did not pause an instant upon the program of the Communist International; he did not even mention it. He devoted his speech exclusively to the question of the grain collections. Moreover it is not without good reason that his report was delivered in the tone of a victor. The Right has issued entirely victorious from its first skirmish with the centre, after four or five months of “left” politics.

The July Plenum of the Central Committee marks the first victory of Rykov over Stalin, gained to be sure with the assistance of Stalin himself. The essential idea of Rykov’s report is that the swerve to the left that occurred in February was only an episode due to extraordinary circumstances, that this episode ought to be buried and forgotten, that we must also lay on the shelf not only Article 107,[2] but also what appeared in Pravda in February; that we must abandon the former course and turn not to the left but to the right – and that the more brusquely this is done the better. To clear the road Rykov acknowledged (he could not do otherwise before the accusing facts) three of his small errors: “First, at the moment when the crisis arose I judged it to be less profound than it really was; but second, I thought that through the extraordinary measures we would succeed in completely overcoming this crisis of grain supply. We did not succeed. Third, I hoped that the whole campaign of grain collection would be carried out by relying on the poor peasant and maintaining in perfect stability our union with the masses of middle peasants. Upon this point I was also mistaken.”

Now this whole crisis of grain supply, with all the political phenomena that accompanied it, was foreseen by the opposition in its counter-theses,[3] which showed Rykov accurately all that he did not comprehend and did not foresee. It was just in order to avoid tardy and exaggerated administrative measures, adopted in haste and without coordination, that the Opposition proposed in good season a forced loan of grain from the rich elements of the villages.[4] To be sure this measure also was exceptional one. The entire preceding policy had made exceptional measures inevitable. If the loan had been made methodically and soon enough, that would have reduced to a minimum these administrative excesses, which are too high a payment for very slight material results.

Measures of administrative violence have nothing in common with a correct course. They are the price paid for an incorrect one. The attempt of Rykov to attribute to the Opposition a tendency to eternalize these measures à la Rykov, derived from the period of Military Communism, is purely and simply ridiculous. From the very first the Opposition considered these perquisitions in the country, the re-establishment of flying-squadrones, etc., not as the beginning of a new course but as the failure of the old. Article 107 on hoarding is not an instrument of a Leninist policy, it is one of the crutches of the Rykov policy. In trying to present as a program of the Opposition administrative measures of economic disorganization for which he himself is entirely responsible, Rykov is behaving as all petty-bourgeois politicians do, for they always in such a situation stir up the peasant against the Communist by depicting the latter as a bandit and an expropriator.

What is the significance of the change of course in February? It was an acknowledgment of the lagging of industry, of the threatening class-differentiation in the country, and of the extreme Kulak danger. What should we deduce from it in order to establish the new line of conduct? A change in the distribution of the national income, which should divert to industries a part of what had gone to the Kulak, thereby diverting it from capitalism toward socialism, and accelerating the development of both light and heavy industry.

Contrary to the article which appeared in February in Pravda (which merely repeated in this question the arguments of the Opposition), Rykov discovered the cause of the collection crisis, not in the lagging of the development of industry but in that of agriculture. To offer such an explanation is to make fun of the Party and of the working class. It is to deceive the Party in order to accomplish a swerve to the right. It is the old way of posing this question in the manner of the Ustrialov professors.

It is perfectly obvious that our agriculture is incoherent, scattered, backward; that it has a barbarous character, and that this backwardness is the fundamental cause of all the difficulties. But to demand on this basis, as Rykov does, a diversion of financial resources from industry towards the individual peasant estate, is to choose not only the bourgeois road but the road of the agrarian bourgeoisie, of the reactionary bourgeoisie. It is to become a Soviet caricature of the “Friends of the People”, of the Zemstvos of 1880.

Agriculture cannot be elevated except with the aid of industry. There exist no other levers. Nevertheless our industry is frightfully backward in relation to the existing peasant economy, incoherent, scattered, and barbarous as that is. The lagging of industry is observable not only by comparison with the general historic aspirations of peasant economy, but also by comparison with the buying capacity of the  peasant. To confound these two questions, one having to do with the general historical backwardness of country as against town, the other having to do with the backwardness of the cities in face of the present need for merchandize  in the villages, is to capitulate and abandon the hegemony of the cities over the country.

Our agriculture in its present form is infinitely backward open in comparison to industry, which is backward enough. But to conclude from that this consequence of the operation throughout centuries of a law of unequal development of the different parts of an economy, can be overcome or even attenuated by reducing the already insufficient funds allocated to industrialization, would be like combating illiteracy by shutting down the institutions of higher learning. That would be to tear out the very roots of historical progress. Although our industry has a type of production and technique infinitely superior to that of agriculture, not only is it not big enough to play a directive and transforming role – a truly socialist role towards the country, but it is not even capable of satisfying the current needs of the village market, and it thereby holds up the development of this market.

It was exactly upon this basis that the collections crisis became so sharp. It was not caused either by the general historical backward historic character of the country, or by an alleged too rapid advance of industry.

On February 15, Pravda informed us that three years “had not passed without leaving their mark”, that the country was enriched, that is to say, especially the Kulaks, that in the face of the delay in the development of industry this must inevitably bring a hoarding crisis. Directly contradicting this interpretation, Rykov judges that the mistake committed during the last year by the Party heads was on the contrary to have excessively speeded up industrialization ant that it is necessary to slacken the pace, diminish its share of the national revenue, and utilize the funds thus made available as subsidies for the rural economy, especially in its predominant private property form. It by means of such procedures that Rykov hopes in a very short time to double the yield per acre. But he says nothing as to the means of disposing of this doubled yield on the market, that is to say, of exchanging it for the products of an industry whose rate of development will have grown still slower.

It is impossible that Rykov does not raise this question in his own mind. A doubled harvest would entail five or ten times multiplied demand of merchandize by the rural economy; the dearth of industrial products would thus also be multiplied several times. It is inconceivable that Rykov does not understand this very simple correlation. Why then does he not divulge the secret which is to enable him to triumph in the future over this disproportion, destined to grow monstrously? Because the hour has not yet come. For politicians of the Right, words are silver but silence is gold. Rykov moreover had already spent too much silver in his report. But it is not difficult to estimate the value of his gold. An increase in the rural economy of the capacity to buy merchandize, faced by a backward movement in industry, would mean quite simply an increase in the importation of manufactured goods from abroad, destined both for the towns and the country. There does not, and there cannot exist any other alternative. As a result, the necessity of entering upon this course will be so imperious, the pressure of the growing disproportion will be so menacing, that Rykov will decide to coin his gold reserve and will demand out loud the abolition – or a reduction that is equivalent to abolition – of the monopoly of foreign trade.

This is exactly the plan of the Right, which our platform predicted. From now on it will be carried openly to the tribune, if not as a whole, at least in one of its very considerable parts. As it appears from the whole speech of Rykov the raising the price of grain is hypothecated upon that plan. This is above all a bounty to the Kulak. It permits him to lead along with still more assurance the middle peasants explaining to him: You see, I have made them pay me well for the damage caused by Article 107. It is in struggle that we will win our rights, as say our masters, the Social Revolutionaries. One cannot doubt that the functionaries who really know their business, are consoling the politicians by assuring them that it will be possible to recoup upon other raw materials produced by the peasants, what is to be paid in excess for But such talk is pure charlatanism. In the first place, the worker consumes bread and not the raw materials utilized by the machine; the raising of the price of grain will thus strike directly at the budget of the worker. In the second place, we will not succeed any better in indemnifying ourselves through the other peasant products if it is first decided to cover the losses of the Left zig-zag course with the ruble. In general, manoeuvres of retreat are carried out with more loss than gain. This is still more true of a retreat as disordered as that marked by the decisions of July as against the resolutions adopted in February. The raising of the price of grain, even conceived as an exceptional and extraordinary measure, as a kind of Article 107 read backwards, conceals in itself an enormous danger: it only accentuates the contradictions that gave birth to the hoarding crisis.

This rise in prices strikes not only consumers, that is, the worker and the poor peasant whose harvest is not sufficient for his personal consumption. It is not only a bounty for the Kulak and the well-off peasant, but a still further increase of class differentiation. If industrial products are lacking already under the old price of grain, the lack will be still greater after the rise in prices and the increase in the quantity of grain harvested. This will amount to a new extension of the shortage of industrial merchandize, and to a continuation of the growth of social differentiation in the country. To combat the hoarding crisis by increasing the price of grain, is to enter decisively upon the road of depreciation of the chervonets – in other words, it is to quench your thirst with salty water. This would be so, even if it were an isolated and exceptional measure. But in the mind of Rykov this rise in prices is in no wise an extraordinary proceeding. It is one of the essential parts of the Rykov policy of sliding towards capitalism. Along this road currency inflation is only a technical detail.

On the subject of the danger of inflation, Rykov says with a meaningful air: “In the meantime the buying capacity of the ruble continues firm.” What does this mean: “in the meantime”? It means: Until the sale of the new harvest at increased prices, in the face of a shortage of industrial products. But when the inflation arrives, Rykov will say to the workers, whose wages will fall inevitably in such a situation: “You remember I said to you ‘in the meantime’.” And then he will begin to develop the part of his program on which he now remains silent. It is impossible to solve the crisis by entering the road of the NEO-NEP without impairing the monopoly of foreign trade.

At the same time that Rykov was celebrating this triumph, Stalin, the vanquished, made a speech in Leningrad. In his really impotent speech (it actually makes one sick to read it), Stalin presents the bounty now accorded to the rich elements of the villages and extorted from the workers and the poor peasants, as a new consolidation of the bridge uniting town and country. (How many of these consolidations have we had already!) Stalin doesn’t even attempt to show how he intends to avoid the contradictions which are closing in on him. He has just got out of the difficulties produced by Article 107, and proceeds to tangle himself up in those of the rise in prices. Stalin is merely falling back on the same general phrases about the “bridge” which have already been repeated ad nauseam. As if the problem of the ”bridge” could be solved by a phrase, a formula, a promise, as if one could believe (anyone, that is, except Stalin’s docile functionaries) that if the next harvest is good, it will be able by a miracle to overcome the disproportion which has only been aggravated by the three previous harvests. Stalin is afraid of the Rykovist solution from the Right, but he is still more afraid of the Leninist solution. He is waiting. He is turning his back and occupying himself with manipulating the apparatus. Stalin is losing time under the impression that he is gaining it. After the convulsive shock of February we are now again in the presence of “Khvostism” in all its pitiable impotence.

The speech of Rykov has a totally different tone. When Stalin dodges the issue by keeping still, it is because he has nothing to say, Rykov, on the contrary, leaves certain things unmentioned because he doesn’t want to say too much. The policy of raising the price of grain (especially accompanied as it was by an exposé of the Rykov motives in explaining the abrogation of the Left zig-zag in the Spring) constitutes, and cannot but constitute, the beginning of a change of orientation towards the Right, a deep and perhaps decisive change. Legal barriers erected upon this road, such as the limitations of leasings, and of the employ of wage labor, will be abolished with a stroke of the bureaucratic pen, along with the monopoly of foreign trade – at least unless theses people break their heads against the iron wall of the proletarian vanguard. The logic of the Right course can very quickly become irrevocable. All the false hopes in the false policy of the Right, all these reckless calculations in general, the loss of time, the minimizing of contradictions, the mental reservations, and the diplomacy, are nothing bit an effort to put the workers to sleep, to support the enemy, to promote, whether consciously or unconsciously, the Thermidor. In the speech of Rykov commenting on the resolutions of the July plenum, the Right wing has thrown down the gage to the October Revolution. We must understand that. We must take up the gage. We must immediately and with all our might give the first blow to the Right. The Right, in issuing its defiance, has fixed its strategy in advance. For this it did not need any great ingenuity. Rykov asserts that at the basis of the Centrist tendencies of the Left-centrist there is “a Trotskyist distrust of the possibility of building Socialism on the basis of the Nep, and a desperate panic before the Moujik”. The struggle against “Trotskyism” is the favourite hobby of those who are beginning to slide. But if this sort of arguments were fairly stupid on the lips of Stalin, they become a pitiful caricature on the lips of Rykov. It is just here that he ought to have remembered that silence is gold.

It is those who distrust the conquest of power by the proletariat in peasant Russia who are really panic-stricken before the Moujik. These heroes of panic were seen on the other side of the barricades in October. Rykov was one of them.[5] As for us, we were with Lenin and the proletariat, for we never doubted one instant that the proletariat was capable of leading the peasantry. The Rykov policy of 1917 was only an abridged anticipation of his present economic tactic. At present he proposes to surrender one after another the dominant economic positions already conquered by the proletariat to the elements of primitive capitalist accumulation. It is only thanks to privileges which have been conferred upon him these last years by the falsification of history, that Rykov dares to describe as a panic the uncompromising struggle carried out by the Opposition in defence of the Socialist dictatorship. He attempts at the same time to pass off as political courage his disposition to capitulate to capitalism with his eyes wide open.

At present Rykov is directing his reactionary demagogy, perfectly adapted to the psychology of the small owner on the way to wealth, less against the Opposition than against Stalin and the Center who incline toward the Left. Just as in his time Stalin directed against Zinoviev all the attacks which Zinoviev had directed against “Trotskyism”, so Rykov is now learning to repeat the same operation against Stalin. Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind. You can’t play with political ideas. They are more dangerous than fire. The myths, legends, slogans of an imaginary “Trotskyism”, have not become an attribute of the Opposition, but certain classes have seized upon them, and thus these conceptions lead their own life. To drive them more broadly and deeply, the agitation of Stalin had to be a hundred times more brutal than that of Zinoviev. Now it is Rykov’s turn. One can imagine what persecutions the Right is going to turn loose when relying openly upon the property instinct of the Kulak. We must not forget that if the Rykovists form the tail of the Centrists, they have in their turn another, still heavier, tail.

Immediately behind Rykov, come those who, as Pravda has already recognized, want to live in peace with all classes – that is to say, want once more to force the worker, the hired man and the poor peasant to submit peacefully to the master. Behind them looms already the small employer, greedy, impatient, vindictive, his arms raised and the knife within reach. And behind the small employer, beyond the frontier, the real boss stands ready with dreadnoughts, aeroplanes and asphyxiating gases. “We must not let ourselves become panic-stricken. Let us go on building as we have in the past.” That is what the little Judases of the Right are preaching, putting the workers to sleep, mobilizing the property holders, preparing the Thermidor.

Such is the present position of the men on the chess board. Such is the veritable mechanism motivating the classes. Rykov, as we have already said, deceives the Party in stating that the Opposition would like to perpetuate the exceptional measures to which we are reduced, to our shame, after eleven years of dictatorship by the policy pursued since the death of Lenin. The Opposition has said clearly what it had to say in its documents sent to the 6th Congress. But Rykov was perfectly right when he said: The principle task of the “Trotskyists” is to prevent this Right wing from triumphing. That at least is true. The victory of the Right wing would be the first step leading to Thermidor. After a victory of the Right wing it would no longer be possible to rise again to the dictatorship by the sole method of inner-Party reform. The Right wing is the handle on which the enemy classes are pulling. The success of this wing will be but a temporarily disguised victory of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. Rykov is right. At present our main task is to prevent the triumph of the Right. In order to achieve this, it is necessary not to put the Party to sleep as the Zinovievs, Piatakovs and others are doing, but to sound the alarm ten times as loud all along the line. We say to our Party and to the Communist International: Rykov is beginning openly to surrender the Revolution of October to the enemy classes. Stalin is standing now on one foot, now on the other. He is beating a retreat before Rykov and firing at the Left. Bucharin is lulling the mind of the Party with his reactionary scholasticism.

The Party must lift its voice. The proletarian vanguard must take its destiny in its own hands. The Party must discuss broadly the three courses: Right, Center and Leninist. The Party needs the reinstatement of the Opposition in its ranks. The Party has needs of a congress honestly prepared for and honestly chosen.

Alma-Ata July 23, 1928

Leon Trotsky


[1] The Plenum of the Central Committee of the C. P. S. U., which was held in July 1928, was devoted to economic difficulties and to the Congress of the International, which was to convene immediately after. A bitter struggle arose at this Plenum, or more exactly behind the scenes of the Plenum, between the Stalin and Rykov factions. As appears later, it was in fact the Right which carried the day, with Rykov and Bucharin at its head.

[2] Article 107 of the Penal Code deals with the struggle against speculation and the fraudulent concealment of surplus merchandize. This article was widely applied last Spring as an extraordinary measure for requisitioning grain from the peasants.

[3] This refers to the Counter-theses, which the Opposition opposed to the official theses presented by the Central Committee at the 15th Congress of the Party. These Counter-theses, which appeared at the time in the discussion supplement of Pravda, were devoted to questions of Party policy in the country and the five-year plan for the development of industry.

[4] Foreseeing the imminent crisis of grain hoarding, the Opposition proposed in its platform – a forced loan of grain from the rich elements of the villages, which should yield 150,000,000 to 200,000,000 puds.

[5] Rykov was in 1917 among the most resolute opponents of the seizure of power. Appointed a Commissar in the Government after the Revolution of October, he deserted several days after with Zinoviev and Kamenev.
  At the moment when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries began their open struggle against the newly-formed Soviet Government, Rykov, Kamenev and Zinoviev demanded a capitulation to them and the formation of a coalition government.
   When the Central Commission refused to agree to the formation of such a government, they announced their resignation from the Central Committee, and Rykov and some others deserted the positions in the Government which had been confided to them by the Party.

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Last updated on: 7 January 2011