Leon Trotsky

Crisis in the Right-Center Bloc – I

(November 1928)

Written: November 1928.
Published: Archives of the Revolution, The New International, Vol. VII No. 11, December 1941, pp. 310–6.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Editor’s Note: This is one of the very last articles written by Leon Trotsky on the soil of the Soviet Union. Banished from Moscow to remote Alma-Ata after his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1927, Trotsky continued to subject the ruling régime to a merciless and unanswerable criticism. The Left Opposition had been expelled from the party by a leadership composed of Rightist elements, like Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, and Centrist bureaucrats, typified and led by Stalin. Once the Trotskyism were ousted, the bloc of the bureaucrats fell apart into two wings. Around the middle of 1928. Stalin suddenly launched a campaign against a Right wing which had no body or head or name – an anonymous campaign. It was the beginning of the drive which ended with the frame-up and physical extermination of Bukharin and all his associates, and of the whole of the old Bolshevik Party. Trotsky’s article on the crisis in the Right-Center bloc, which we publish for the first time in English, deals with the opening of this campaign against the Right. It is in several respects one of his most remarkable contributions to a study and understanding of the “Russian question.” Granted that hindsight is easier and wiser than foresight, the article discloses not only the strong and unassailable elements in Trotsky’s analysis but also what subsequent events have proved to be the weak and untenable elements in it. The forecast about the impending disintegration of the Stalinist gang did not materialize. Instead, the bureaucracy succeeded in consolidating and crowning its rule – not forever, to be sure! – at the cost of the complete destruction of the rule of the workers. We shall take the opportunity of commenting on this aspect of Trotsky’s analysis at the end of the article.

(A few short weeks after it was written, however, Stalin found Trotsky’s presence anywhere on the soil of the Soviet Union unendurable. By decree, and under GPU escort, Trotsky was virtually smuggled out of the country and exiled to Turkey.)

THE CAMPAIGN against the Right constitutes in a certain sense the opening of a new chapter. This campaign is distinguished from others by a good deal of noise and extraordinary tumult – without containing any political certainty. Above all, it is literary camouflage for the organized work of the Stalinists behind the scenes; it is an attempt to justify this work before the party. Politically also the campaign cannot take on a concrete form since this would mean the enumeration of the sins committed in common by the Center and the Right. But at the same time the campaign is a symptom of the crisis (a serious crisis which is not yet one of collapse) that is passing through the ruling bloc. The backsliding up to now has prepared the transition of quantity into a new quality. The open social transformation of important groups and milieus of the party is evident everywhere. Centrism is frightened (particularly under the blows of the Opposition) at the sight of the “ripest” fruit of its work. But Centrism is bound hand and foot – by its acts of yesterday, by its “national-socialist” approach to problems, by its piecemeal policy, by its theoretical poverty. In attacking the Right it is particularly mindful not to wound itself. Thence the character of deep duplicity of the whole campaign: if from the practical point of view it may mean the elimination from the party of the most arrogant Ustrialovist elements and the retarding or abatement of the back-sliding and transformations, it means at the same time also a new disorganization of the mind of the party, by further weakening the Marxist method and by preparing anew even more confused and more dangerous stages in the development of the party.

Stalin and Molotov attempt to present the matter as though their line is the same irreconcilable struggle against the liquidators of the Right as against the “pessimists” of the Left.

The central idea of the present campaign, that Marxist policy consisted of a struggle against the Right and against the Left with the same irreconcilable spirit, is thoroughly absurd. To the Right of Marxist policy stands a mighty world imperialism with its still enormous agency of collaborationists. There is the enemy. To the Left of the Marxist line there can be only wrong tendencies within the proletariat itself, infantile diseases in the party, and so forth. The most extreme expression of this false “Leftism” is anarchism. But the strength and influence of the latter are all the smaller and less significant the more resolutely, the more determinedly, the more consistently the revolutionary party fights against opportunism. Precisely therein lies the special historical merit of Bolshevism. In its annals, the struggle against the Left always bore an episodic and subordinated character. The Stalinist formula of a struggle “with the same intransigence” against the Right and the Left is no Bolshevik formula but the traditional formula of petty-bourgeois radicalism. Its entire history has been nothing but a struggle against “reaction” on one hand and against the proletarian revolution on the other. The social democracy of today has taken over this tradition in all its nuances. The formula of struggle against the Right and Left as a guiding formula characterizes, generally speaking, every party that maneuvers between the main classes of modern society. Under our present conditions, this formula is the political passport of Centrism. Otherwise it would be entirely impossible to solve the following question: How could the Stalin-Molotov faction constitute an indissoluble bloc with the Right faction of bourgeois restoration? And furthermore: How can it continue, in practice, to maintain this bloc to the present day? The answer is very simple: The ruling bloc was not an unnatural alliance of Bolshevism with bourgeois restoration but an alliance of backsliding Right-Centrism with Ustrialovism. There is nothing unnatural in such a union. A bloc of Centrists of various shades with open conciliators and even with real traitors for a sharp struggle against the Left is to be found at every step in the history of the whole working-class movement. When Stalin and Molotov today make a “furious” characterization of the Right wing, by copying partly from the platform of. the Opposition, they best characterize themselves, their line and their group. Without at all realizing it they are exercizing a fatal “self-criticism.” But perhaps the situation has now radically changed after the declaration of the so-called implacable struggle against the Right deviation? For the moment it would be thoughtless, at the very least, to draw any conclusion. The Leninist wing has been sent behind the Urals and the Caucasus; the Right wing occupies the leading positions. That is what is decisive. One thing is clear: the period of carefree existence of the bloc between the Center and the Right is finished. The February shift of Centrism has its internal zig-zags: from February to July, from July to November, and so forth. Those comrades judged very hastily who thought that the July Plenum put an end to the fight of the Centrists and the Right and that the contradictions between them had lost all political significance. No, this is wrong. Nevertheless it would be still more erroneous to consider the rupture conclusive. Finally, only an absolutely thoughtless person could regard a return to Centrism to the road of the Right as impossible.

From this general characterization of the campaign with its thorough duplicity, arise the tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninists. On one hand, they will support every real, even if timid and insufficient, step toward the Left taken by Centrist leaders; on the other hand, they will oppose these militants to the Centrist leadership so as to expose the lack of principle and incompetence of the leadership. Both these tasks will be accomplished basically by the same method. Support for every move toward the Left will be expressed precisely by the Bolshevik-Leninists formulating clearly and distinctly the real aim of the struggle in every concrete case, by propagating genuine Bolshevik methods, by exposing the mediocrity and fakery of the Centrist leadership. There can be no other support. It is also the most effective.

The clarity of the general tasks does not relieve us of the duty to examine the new stage more closely and more concretely in the light of the general development of the party and the revolution.

II. Five Years of Social-Political Reaction
on the Basis of the Proletarian Dictatorship

We must say clearly and distinctly: The five years after the death of Lenin were years of social and political reaction. The leadership of the party that followed Lenin was an unconscious, but for that an all the more effective, expression of this reaction; it was also its instrument.

Periods of reaction, as distinct from those of counter-revolution, arise without changing the rule of a class. Feudal absolutism knew periods of “liberal” reform and “anti-abolitionist” counter-reform. The rule of the bourgeoisie, beginning with the epoch of the great revolutions, knew alternating periods of stormy advances and periods of recession. This among other things, determines the succession of different parties in power during various periods of the domination of one and the same capitalist class.

Not only theory but also living experiences of the last eleven years show that even a proletarian regime can go through a period of social and political reaction as well as through a period of ascending movement. Naturally, it is not a matter of reaction “in general” but of reaction on the basis of the victorious proletarian revolution which stands opposed to the capitalist world. The alternation of these periods is determined by the course of the class struggle. The periods of reaction do not change the basis of class rule, that is, they do not signify the passage of power from one class to another (that would already mean the counter-revolution); but they signify that there is a change in the relation of class forces and a regrouping of elements within the class. With us, the period of reaction that followed the period of powerful revolutionary advance was called forth chiefly by the fact that the former possessing classes, defeated, repulsed or terrorized, were able, thanks to objective conditions and to the errors committed by the revolutionary leadership, to gather their forces and pass gradually to the offensive, using mainly the bureaucratic apparatus. On the other hand, the victorious class, the proletariat, not supported from without, encountered ever new obstacles and difficulties; it lost the strength and spirit of the first days; differentiation set in by the establishment above it of a bureaucracy acting more and more in its own interests and the recruitment of the tired or the completely hopeless elements. In contrast to the weakening of the spirit of the proletariat is the growing activity of the bourgeois classes, that is, above all of those strata of the petty bourgeoisie striving to advance by the old ways of exploitation.

It is unnecessary to demonstrate that all these processes of internal reaction could develop and gain in strength only under conditions of cruel defeats of the world proletariat and an ever stronger position of the imperialist bourgeoisie. In turn, the defeats of the world revolution in the last five or six years were decisively determined by the Centrist line of the leadership of the Communist International, a line that is especially dangerous in an ambience of great revolutionary crises.

One can retort: How can you call the period of the economic growth of the country of socialist construction, and so forth, the period of reaction? But this objection is not to the point. Economic construction is a contradictory process. The first stage of growth following the years of collapse and famine, the stage of restoration, were just the ones that created the conditions for the existence of social and political reaction. The famished working class was inclined to believe that everything would continue to go forward without hindrance. They were even persuaded of this from above. But in the meantime this growth showed its contradictions, accentuated by the blind and false policy of the leadership, causing a diminution of the special importance of the proletariat, weakening its feeling of self-confidence. Of course, the fact that the progress of industry reassembled the proletariat in the shops and factories, renewed and supplemented its cadres, and created the social premises for a new revolutionary proletarian advance. But this already belongs to the next stage. Certain symptoms are at hand which permit the belief that this political revival has already begun and is one of the factors that drive the Centrists forward to “self-criticism,” to the struggle against the Right, and so forth. It is needless to add that the steel column of the Opposition, which no surgeon in the world can remove from the body of the party, is also working in this direction. Both of these circumstances (the revival of the working masses and the vitality – so “unexpected” by those at the top – of the Opposition), open up, unless all signs fail us, a new period, and it is no accident that it coincides with the struggle of the Center against the Right. The preceding period, which developed on the ground of the reconstruction processes and all its illusions, was characterized by the fall in activity of the proletariat, by the revival of the bourgeois strata, the strangulation of workers’ democracy and the systematic destruction of the Left Wing. In other words, it was a period of social and political reaction.

From the ideological point of view it was marked by the struggle against “Trotskyism.” With this name the official press designates heterogeneous and often absolutely incompatible ideas, debris from the past, Bolshevik tasks of the present, counterfeit quotations, and so forth. But in general this name was given to everything which the backsliding official leadership was forced to repulse at every step. Social and political reaction, despite the complete empiricism of its leadership, is unthinkable without revising and refuting the clearest and most intransigent ideas and slogans of Marxism. The international character of the socialist revolution and the class character of the party: there are the two ideas whose pure bloom is insupportable to the politicians of the reactionary period who swim with the stream. The struggle against these two fundamental ideas was conducted, at first apprehensively and in a roundabout manner and then more and more arrogantly, under the pretext of a struggle against “Trotskyism.” The results of this struggle were two miserable and contemptible ideas of the leadership which will remain forever the disgrace of the reaction against the October Revolution: the idea of socialism in one country, or national socialism, and the idea of dual composition workers’ and peasants’ parties, that is, a Chernoviad. The first of these ideas, which serve especially to conceal a policy of following at the tail of economic events, brought great dangers to the October Revolution. The second of these ideas inspired the theory and practice of the Kuomintang and strangled the Chinese revolution. Stalin is the author of both these “ideas.” They are his sole theoretical assets.

As already stated herein, the difference between the period of reaction and that of counter-revolution is that the first develops under the rule of the class in power while counter-revolution means the change of class rule. But it is quite dear that while reaction is not the same thing as counter-revolution, it can prepare the necessary political conditions for the latter and can appear as an introduction to it. If we keep to this broad historical scale, that is, leave aside all secondary considerations, it can be said that the exhaustion of the ruling bloc, splitting into Centrists and Right Wingers, becomes openly manifest at a time when the methods of social and political reaction border directly upon the Thermidorian methods.

It is superfluous to explain that the present struggle of the Centrists against the Right not only does not contradict our analysis on the Thermidorian danger but, on the contrary, confirms it completely, in the most official manner, so to speak. The Opposition never thought that the gliding toward Thermidor would be uninterrupted, uniform and equal for the whole party. We predicted dozens and hundreds of time that this backsliding would mobilize the enemy classes, that the heavy social tail would hit the apparatus over the head; that this would provoke a division not only in the broad party ranks but also in the apparatus; and finally, that this division would create new and more favorable conditions for the work of the Bolshevik Leninists, an activity directed not only against the open conciliators but also against Centrism.

Thus the present campaign is a confirmation of the analysis of the Opposition in a particular case and is closely bound up with its general analysis of the Thermidorian danger.

III. The Bureaucratic Regime as an Instrument
of Reactionary Tendencies and Forces

Like all other events in the party, the struggle of the Centrists and the Right must be considered not only from the broad angle of class tendencies and ideas but also from the narrow angle of the bureaucratic regime. It is no secret that the noisy and hollow struggle of “ideas” against the Right is only the accompaniment to the machinations being prepared by the apparatus against Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. This question is not without importance if one considers the positions that this trio occupy in the present system of the party and the Soviets. Rykov and Tomsky have always felt a “sympathy” for opportunism, “an almost unwholesome attraction.” In the October days this was shown openly and clearly. But had the life of the party been healthy and its leadership correct, their opportunist penchant would be limited to themselves. The same must be said of Bukharin too, with his passing from ultra-Left to ultra-Right capers. If we consider this question from the personal standpoint (as Lenin did, for example, in his Testament) it must be said that Stalin’s falling out with this trio was predetermined before even this trinity found themselves on a Right platform. This rupture, resulting from the tendency of the bureaucratic regime toward personal power, was predicted with perfect precision by the Opposition more than two years ago, in September 1926, when there was no talk at all about any struggle against the Right. The document of the Opposition On the Unity of the Party said:

“The aim of these discussions and organizational measures is the complete destruction of the kernel which up to now has been called the Old Leninist Guard and its substitution by the personal leadership of Stalin supported by a group of comrades who always agree with him. Only a blockhead or a hopeless bureaucrat can seriously believe that the Stalinist struggle ‘for the unity of the party’ can really assure this unity, even at the cost of the destruction of the old leading group, and in general of the whole present Opposition. The closer Stalin seems to be to this aim, the further he is from it in reality. A leadership of the party based on a single individual, which Stalin and his intimate group call ‘the unity of the party,’ demands not only the destruction, the elimination and the decapitation of the present united Opposition, but also the gradual elimination from the leadership of the most authoritative and most influential representatives of the present ruling faction. It is quite clear that neither Tomsky, nor Bukharin, nor Rykov, because of their past, their moral authority, and so forth, are not and cannot be capable of playing the rôle under Stalin that is played by Uglanov, Kaganovitch, Petrovsky and company. To amputate the present Opposition would in fact inevitably mean the transformation into an opposition of the rest of the former group in the Central Committee. A new discussion would then be in order, in the course of which Kaganovitch would unmask Rykov, Uglanov would do the same for Tomsky, while the Slyepkovs, Stalins and company would expose Bukharin. Only a hopeless blockhead can fail to see the inevitability of this perspective. In the meantime the openly opportunist elements in the party will begin to fight Stalin as one who is steeped in the prejudices of the ‘Left’ and who prevents the more rapid and more outspoken backsliding.”

In verifying this prediction after more than two years only the allusion to Uglanov and Slyepkov has proved erroneous. But in the first place this is only a detail, and secondly, have patience; they will make good their “mistakes.”

Let us hear now how our wise Tomsky is now obliged to recognize that he understands nothing, that he foresaw nothing, that his good faith was abused. Here is what a well-informed comrade writes on the matter:

“In talking with his friends, Tomsky complained: ‘We thought that after we were finished with Trotsky we would be able to work peacefully; but now it appears (!!) that the same methods of struggle are to be applied against us.”

Bukharin expresses himself in the same way, only more pitifully. Here is one of his declarations, absolutely authentic:

“Who is he?” (He is speaking of the Boss.) “An utterly unprincipled intriguer. He cares only to maintain power and he subordinates everything to this. He changes his theories brusquely according to the person he needs to wipe out in the given moment” ... and so forth.

These unfortunate “leaders” who understand nothing and foresee nothing are naturally inclined to see the principal cause of their mishaps in the perfidy of their opponent. So they attribute to his personality such gigantic proportions as it does not really possess. The fact is that the backsliding from a class line leads inevitably to the omnipotence of the bureaucratic machine, seeking a representative who is “adequate” for it. The regroupings within and between the classes have created the conditions for the victory of Centrism. What was demanded from the apparatus-men who came forward under the old standards was above all else that they do not understand what is taking place and that they swim with the stream. For this, men of the empirical type were needed who make their “rules” for each occasion. The Stalins, the Molotovs and others, lacking entirely in theoretical horizon, appeared as those least immune from the influence of the invisible social processes. It we examine individually the political biographies of these elements who before, during and after the October, occupied second or third or tenth rate positions, and who have now come to the fore, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that in all important questions, when left to themselves, they leaned toward opportunism, Stalin included. The historical line of the party must not be confused with the political line followed by a part of its cadres that rose to the top with the wave of social and political reaction of the last five years. The former was realized in the course of a sharp struggle of tendencies within the party, by constantly overcoming internal contradictions. In this struggle the elements at present in the leadership played no determining role; for the most part they represented the yesterdays out of which the party was passing. That is just why they felt themselves lost in the decisive days of the October and had no independent role. Still more: at least half of the present leaders who call themselves the “Old Guard” were on the other side of the barricades in October; the majority of them had a patriotic or pink pacifist position during the imperialist war. There is no reason to believe that these elements, as the history of recent times has shown, constitute an independent force capable of resisting the reactionary tendencies on a world scale. It is not for nothing that they have so easily assimilated the Martinovs, the Latins, the Rafeses, the Lyadovs, the Petrovskys, the Kerzhentsevs, the Gussevs, the Krzhizhanovsky and others. It is precisely this section which, in the opinion of Ustrialov, is most capable of gradually bringing the ruined country back to “order.” Ustrialov takes the remote example of the troubled times (end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries) and refers to Kliutchevsky, who said that “the Muscovite state emerged out of its frightful troubles without resorting to heroes it was saved from misfortune by excellent, but mediocre, people” (Kliutchevsky, 1923 Ed., Vol. 3, p. 72.) One can doubt the “excellence” of the present candidates for saviors from trouble (the “permanent” revolutions). But otherwise the quotation by Ustrialov is not without merit and hits the nail on the head. In the final analysis, the Boss, with his qualifications for intrigue and downright treachery, is nothing but the incarnation in a single personality of the apparatus that has no personalities. His triumphs are the victories of social and political reaction. He has helped it in two ways: by his blindness to the deep-going historical processes and his tireless combinations behind the scenes, in a direction suggested to him by the regrouping of class forces against the proletariat.

The hopeless struggle of bureaucratic Centrism for a “monolithic” apparatus, that is, a struggle for exclusive power in reality, leads under the pressure of class forces to ever new splits. All this does not take place in a vacuum: the classes fasten themselves on to the splits produced in the leadership, they widen them, they fill the bureaucratic groupings with a certain social content. The struggle of the Stalin group in the Political Bureau against the trio, the struggle of Centrism against the Right, has become the local point of the pressure of the classes; if it grows, it can (and at a certain stage it must) be transformed into open class struggle. Be that as it may, Centrism will offer no resistance to this “transformation of growth.”

IV. What Is Centrism?

The question of the social basis of the groupings in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is quite naturally stirring the minds of the comrades who can reflect and learn, that is, above all the Bolshevik-Leninists. This question must not, however, be considered mechanically and schematically, with the intention of allotting each faction a well-defined social basis. We must remember that we have before us transitional forms, incomplete processes.

The main social reservoir of international opportunism, that is, of class-collaborationism, is the petty bourgeoisie, as a broad, amorphous class, or more correctly, a reservoir of numerous lower classes resulting from pre-capitalist production and those newly created which bind the proletariat with the capitalist bourgeoisie in various stages. In the period of ascendancy of bourgeois society this class was the protagonist of bourgeois democracy. Now this period is long passed, not only in the advanced capitalist countries of the West, but also in China, in India, and so forth. The complete decline of the petty bourgeoisie, the loss of its independent economic importance, deprived it forever of the possibility of working out an independent political representation that could lead the revolutionary movement of the working masses. In our epoch the petty bourgeoisie oscillates between the extreme poles of contemporary ideology: fascism and communism. Precisely these oscillations give the politics of the imperialist epoch the character of a malarial curve.

Collaboration in the workers’ movement has a stable character just because the direct protagonists are not the “independent” parties of the petty bourgeois but rather the labor bureaucracy which sinks its roots into the working class by way of the labor aristocracy. The ideas of collaborationism, thanks to their origin and the sources from which they are fed, have experienced a historical change through the intervention of the labor bureaucracy; these ideas passed over from their old defenders to the new, assuming a socialist tinge; with the collapse and putrefaction of the old democratic parties they received a new vitality on a new class basis.

The labor bureaucracy, by its conditions of existence, stands closer to the petty bourgeoisie (officialdom, liberal professions, and so forth) than to the proletariat. Nevertheless it constitutes a specific product of the working class movement; it is recruited from its ranks. In their primitive aspect, collaborationist tendencies and moods are elaborated by the whole petty bourgeoisie; but their transformation, their adaptation to the peculiarities, to the needs and above all to the weaknesses of the working class, is the specific mission of the labor bureaucracy. Opportunism is its ideology, and it inoculates and imposes it upon the proletariat by utilizing the powerful pressure of the ideas and institutions of the bourgeoisie, by exploiting the weakness and immaturity of the working masses. The forms of opportunism to which the labor bureaucracy resorts – open collaborationism, Centrism or a combination of both – depends upon the political traditions of the countries, on the class relations of the given moment, on the offensive power of communism, and so forth and so on.

Just as under certain circumstances the struggle between bourgeois parties can assume a most violent and even sanguinary character, while remaining a struggle for the interests of property on both sides, so the struggle between open collaborationism and Centrism can assume an extremely violent and even desperate character at certain times, remaining within the limits of petty bourgeois tendencies adapted by the labor bureaucracy in different ways for the maintenance of their position of leadership in the working class.

Up to August 4, 1914 [1], the German social democracy bore an essentially Centrist character. The right stood in opposition to the leadership, as did the Left radical wing which was not clearly formed. The war showed that Centrism was incapable of leading the party. The Right seized the helm without encountering any resistance. Centrism revived only later in the form of an opposition. The situation is the same at present in the Third International and in the Amsterdam International. The main strength of the international labor bureaucracy is its collaborationist wing. Centrism is only an auxiliary spring in its mechanism. The exceptions existing in certain parties, as in Austria for example, are essentially only of a potential character and only prove the rule.

It must be added that since the war the Right, together with the Center, are much closer to the bourgois state than were the Right in the period before the war (particularly in Germany). Thereby room was made for a Centrism that was more radical, less compromised, more “Left” than the so-called Left social democracy. The policy of post-war Left-Centrism appeared in large measure under the name of communism (in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in England, and so forth). Great historical events will inevitably lay bare this situation and perhaps in a catastrophic manner.

Now, how do things stand under the workers’ state, which obviously cannot be conceived of without a labor bureaucracy, and, at that, one that is more numerous, has greater ramifications and is infinitely more powerful than that of the capitalist countries? What about the line of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which, in recent years, has glided from the class to the apparatus, that is, to the bureaucracy?

The simplest and easiest way of testing the policy of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is on the international field, for there the peculiarities of the situation of the ruling party in the country of the dictatorship of the proletariat are abolished, the new character of the situation cannot mask the class tendencies, the political line can be judged on the basis of well established Marxist criteria. The policy of the Central Committee in China was not Centrist, but Menshevist, rather Right-Menshevist, that is, it was closer to the Menshevism of 1917 than that of 1905 (direct submission to the leadership of the bourgeoisie plus open restraining of the revolutionary offensive of the masses). The policy of the Central Committee in England was of a Right-Centrist character in the decisive period of the struggle (support to the opportunists and traitors pus a half-hearted criticism at home). In Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in France, and so forth, the policy bore a Left-Centrist character, repeating under the new conditions the policy of the pre-war social democracy. In Poland, during the coup d’etat of Pilsudski, the line of the leadership was somewhere between the English and Chinese examples, that is, between Right-Centrism and Right Menshevism. In general it can be said that the Centrism of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union sank more decisively into the Menshevist rut the more revolutionary was the situation, the more it required political perspicacity and audacity. It can adorn itself with “Leftism” only in the noise and bustle of political trivia. That makes possible the examination in the last place, irrevocably, of the whole line pursued by the leadership that succeeded Lenin.

However, enough experiences have been accumulated up to now in the country itself to be able to recognize and expose Centrism even without the international criteria.

The labor bureaucracy which has grown to such enormous proportions among us has elaborated a quite new theory in recent year with which to approach all essential questions and above all that of estimating its own value. The sense of this theory consists in considering that since we have the dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletarian character of all the social processes is guaranteed a priori and forever. If we have a workers’ state, the peerless Molotov teaches us, how can we bring it closer to the workers? Since we have the dictatorship of the proletariat, then we also have a proletarian kulak who is growing into socialism. Since we have the socialist revolution, how can we be threatened by the danger of Thermidor, that is, of bourgeois restoration? Since we have the Soviet power, the uninterrupted growth of socialism is assured, irrespective of whether the situation of the working class in this period is improved or worsened. And finally, since we have a Leninist party, how can the “Leninist” Central Committee make mistakes? Is not all criticism directed against it condemned in advance to play the r&le of a Right or Left “deviation,” according to which side the secretariat of the Central Committee sees itself criticized from? Dialectical materialism, utilized to estimate two driving forces of the proletarian dictatorship, has been replaced at every point by an immanent idealism which has become the specific philosophy of the bureaucracy of the party and the Soviets in its struggle for the stability and irreplaceableness of their own positions, for perfecting their power for independence from the control of the working masses. The fetichism of the apparatus and its functionaries whose existence has become an aim in itself, who cannot be removed by a decision of the party but only by a civil war (Stalin): there is the axis of the immanent philosophy that sanctifies the practical steps of usurpation and prepares the way for real Bonapartism.

The radical change in the bases of social appreciation attests the new social rôle of the labor bureaucracy and the Soviet bureaucracy in general toward the proletariat as well as toward the other classes. Parallel with its independence from the proletariat, this bureaucracy becomes more and more dependent upon the bourgeoisie. The inviolability of the workers’ state “as such” is a mask for this dependence. Everything proceeds here according to law. Hence follows with iron logic the organic predilection of our bureaucracy for the petty bourgeois leaders, for the “solid” trade union bureaucrats of the whole world (China, England, Poland; the course o£ Tomsky, Kaganovitch and others toward Amsterdam, and so forth). This international affinity of the labor bureaucracy, created by their intrinsic qualities, can neither be suppressed nor eliminated even by the most ultra-Left zig-zags of Centrism.

Of course, the labor bureaucracy in the West develops its activity on the basis of capitalist property. With us the labor bureaucracy has grown up on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But from this deep contradiction one cannot conclude, as both theory and experience have shown, that there is an immanent contradiction, that is, one assured by an inner value, between our labor bureaucracy and that of the capitalist countries. The new social basis, which, considered by itself, is immature and has little power of resistance, does not guarantee the new character of the superstructure whose transformation, on the contrary, can become an important factor in the transformation of the basis itself. In these fundamental questions the scholasticism of Bukharin (yes-yes, no-no) only serves to cover up the processes of social transformation. The Jacobins also considered themselves the immanent antagonists of the monarchy and of monarchist Caesarism. Nevertheless, Napoleon later recruited his best ministers, prefects and detectives among the old Jacobins, to whom he himself had, moreover, belonged in his youth.

The social and historical origin of our bureaucracy, without insuring them as we have said above against a transformation, nevertheless gives the ways and forms of this process an uncommon singularity; in the given situation it gives the Centrist elements an obvious and undeniable predominance over the right, lending to Centrism itself a special, extremely complicated character which reflects the various stages of backsliding, the various states of mind and the different methods of thought. That is why the speeches and articles of the leading Centrists remind one most often of a manuscript written in Russian, Latin and Arabic letters. This explains the frightful illiteracy, not only theoretical, but also literary, of most of the Centrist writers. It is enough to read Pravda these days. After the apostles of Centrism partake of the grace of the secretariat they immediately begin to speak a foreign tongue. This is surely a sign of the power of grace, even if it is almost impossible to understand them. It may be objected: If the present leading tendency in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is Centrism, how can one explain the present sharp attitude against the Left social democracy which is itself nothing but centrism? This is no serious argument. Our Right also, which, according to the opinion of the Centrists, is following the road to the restoration of capitalism, proclaims itself the irreconcilable enemy of the social democracy. Opportunism is always ready, when conditions demand it, to establish its reputation on a clamorous radicalism to be used in other countries. Naturally, this exportation of radicalism consists for the most part of words.

But the hostility of our Centrists and Right against the European social democracy is not entirely composed of words. We must not lose sight of the whole international situation and above all of the huge objective contradictions between the capitalist countries and the workers’ states. The international social democracy supports the existing capitalist régime. Our internal opportunism, which grew up on the basis of the proletarian dictatorship, can only evolve on the side of capitalist relations. Despite the elements of dual power in the country and the Thermidorian tendencies in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the antagonism between the Soviet power and the bourgeois world remains a fact which can be denied or neglected only by “Left” sectarians, by anarchists and their like. The international social democracy, by its whole policy, is obliged to support the designs of their bourgeoisie against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This alone creates the basis of a real, and not merely a verbal, hostility, despite the rapproachment of the political line.

Centrism is the official line of the apparatus. Its protagonist is the party official. But the officialdom is no class. It serves classes. Then which among them is represented by centrism? The reviving property-owners find their expression, timid though it is for the present, in the Right faction. The proletarian line is represented through the Opposition. By the method of elimination we get ... the seredniak – middle peasant. And in reality Centrism with us has shed its skin of Bolshevism by clinging to the idea of winning the middle peasant. The Leninist slogan of the alliance of the ruling proletariat with the middle peasantry has been replaced by the fetish of the middle peasant as the highest criterion of proletarian policy. To this day the Centrists cannot be reconciled with M.N. Smirnov, who in the autumn of 1927 developed the correct thought that the alliance of the proletariat with the middle peasantry is predicated on the readiness of the party, in time of need, to sever the alliance in order to carry through a correct proletarian policy and thereby to create new conditions for a more durable and more lasting alliance with the middle peasants. For such an alliance is not possible on the basis of some sort of equable class line but only on the basis of the proletarian line. The partial concessions to the middle peasants can bear only an auxiliary character. Any other attempt only leads to turn the course ever more to the kulaks, to the bourgeoisie in general. The middle peasantry cannot have any independent party. An “independent” peasant party is always in reality a bourgeois-kulak party. Our Centrism, theoretically poverty-stricken, with its short memory, has not understood this. Thence its reactionary, caricature idea of the “dual-composition workers’-peasants’ party” (Stalin). In reality, the dually composed party signifies the Kuomintang, that is, the political muzzling of the workers and the peasants by the bourgeoisie.

The Stalinist idea of the workers’ and peasants’ party is the most important inspiring idea of the Right wing. In broad bureaucratic circles, especially in the Ukraine, no little has been said recently of the party possessing a reserve: to go back from the proletarian dictatorship to the formula of 1905, that is, to the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. The party, to which the Right wing belongs, has really become a dually-composed party. The retreat to the position of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry can only mean the restoration of capitalism and nothing else. Just as the middle peasantry has been raised as the highest criterion against the strategic proletarian line, so have the Rights quite consciously drawn from the independent principle of middle-peasant policy kulakist conclusions. To the extent that he stands opposed to the proletariat, there can be no other road for the middle peasant than the kulakist road. In the course of the last few years the Centrists have hidden their heads from these conclusions in the rubbish especially prepared for them by Yakovlev and company. This does not prevent this same Yakovlev today, in his masked polemic against Bukharin, from zealously cribbing arguments from the old volumes of the Opposition, by issuing these volumes for the Notes of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (see Pravda, No. 253, Y. Yakovlev, On the Question of the Economic Tasks of the Next Year, from the Notes of the WPI). Even if Yakovlev occupies himself only with the “splinters” and “fragments” of the Opposition’s platform, this alone proves sufficient to deal with the Observations of an Economist. But the kulak has crawled forward out of the rubbish and into the grain collections. Today the Centrists vacillate between Article 107 and the raising of the grain prices. Simultaneously they erect as before the naked idea of the middle peasantry as the main principle that separates them from the Opposition. They only show thereby that they have no point of social ‘support and no independent class policy. The line of Centrism is the zig-zag line of the bureaucracy between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie while the dissatisfaction of both classes grows irresistibly. The hybrid policy of Centrism slowly but surely prepares its liquidation which is possible in two directions, that is, by issuing forth along the proletarian or the bourgeois roads.

(To be continued)

Footnote by MIA

1. In the printed text the date is given as 1924, but from the context it is clear that this should be 1914.

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Last updated on: 29 October 2014