Leon Trotsky

Behind the Scenes
in the Russian Party

Written: March 29, 1929.
First Published: The Militant, New York, Vol. 2 No. 11, July 1, 1929.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription/HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Public Domain: This work is in the under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

[The actual Militant article is signed “G.G.” and bearing the place line of “Moscow.” The editors of Pathfinder Press have this note attached to the article from their edition, which they renamed “With the Right-Centrist Bloc”: Although this letter is in the Trotsky archives at Harvard, there are differences of opinion among scholars as to whether Trotsky wrote it. Robert V. Daniels (in The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia) thinks that Trotsky did; E.H. Carr (in Foundations of a Planned Economy, volume 2) thinks that he didn’t. Unable to resolve the question definitively, the editors include it in the belief that Trotsky rewrote it for security and/or editorial reasons from a letter or letters he received from Moscow.]

We are sending you the latest information received about the situation created within and around the Politburo. We guarantee absolutely the accuracy of this information, verified for the most part in two or three different ways. Many of the remarks reported are cited word for word.

The report of the conversation between Kamenev and Bukharin was published on January 20. This document hastened the clash in the upper circles; it stunned the lower ranks. Its publication spoiled the game of combinations by Zinoviev and Kamenev. The Politburo met for three days on this subject. They quarrelled over it finally. The Stalin faction decided to eliminate Bukharin, Tomsky, and Rykov from the Politburo at the next plenum. The Rights are preparing to exercise passive resistance. The Stalinists are crowing: they have achieved a complete and easy victory. Our (the Opposition’s) pamphlet has been republished by the Central Committee, for everyone was saying, “We learn what is happening from the Opposition, not from the Central Committee.” The political significance of this pamphlet and its popularity is immense. Everyone is saying, “Yes, the party has been blindfolded!” As a result of all this, the Politburo and the presidium of the Central Control Commission conducted a quite formal trial of the “trio.” We give some details on this matter.

During December and January, Kamenev met Bukharin quite often at Pyatakov’s. This is what Bukharin had to say about preparations for the forthcoming plenum:

“The situation of our forces before the plenum was such that I was in Kislovodsk writing articles for Pravda, Rykov had to keep tabs on the economic policy, while Uglanov, who was in a very pugnacious mood, was told to keep quiet so as not to give Stalin any excuse for interference in the Moscow organization. Uglanov couldn’t stand it. He came forward at the Ninth Plenum of the Moscow Committee, was smashed, and, losing his head, said stupid things about his alleged errors, etc., etc. I learned that Rykov had completed his industrial theses for the plenum. I felt that Stalin would twist Rykov around his finger in the Politburo and make the already poor theses even worse. Since I could not attend the next session of the Politburo if I took the train, I left by aeroplane. We landed in Rostov. The local authorities met me with suspicious talk about the harm that might overtake me in a continued flight, etc., etc. I told them to go to the devil. We flew on. In Artemovsk we landed again. I had hardly left the cabin when I was handed a sealed envelope containing a dispatch from the Politburo ordering me categorically to discontinue my flight – because of my weak heart! I had hardly made myself known when GPU agents led the pilot away somewhere and before me came a delegation of workers who requested a report. I asked when the next train left. It appeared there wasn’t any for twenty-four hours. I had to make the report.”

Kamenev: “Then it is you who wrote the resolution on the struggle against the Right deviation?”

Bukharin: “Of course I did. I had to show the party that I was not a right-winger. I arrived in Moscow on Friday; the session of the Politburo had taken place Thursday. I went through the theses; they were obviously unsatisfactory, and I asked for a meeting of the Politburo. Molotov wouldn’t agree. He insulted me, cried that I prevented harmonious work, told me to take care of my health, and more of the same. The Politburo was convened. I succeeded in putting through a number of amendments, but in spite of that the resolution still remains ambiguous. We drew a balance sheet. The Moscow organization was ruined; we decided to confront the issue, formulating eleven paragraphs of demands for the removal of the Stalinists. When these demands were shown to Stalin, he said there wasn’t a single point that could not be realized. A commission was chosen (Rykov, Bukharin, Stalin, Molotov, Ordzhonikidze). One day passed, a second, a third. Stalin did not call a meeting of the commission. The plenum of the Central Committee opened. The first report was discussed; the second was about to be passed over. In the form of an ultimatum we demanded a meeting of the commission. When it met, Stalin shrieked that he would not permit one individual to keep a whole plenum from working. What kind of ultimatums are these? Why should Krumin be removed?, etc., etc. I became angry, spoke sharply to him, and ran out of the room. In the corridor I met Tovstukha, to whom I handed my previously prepared letter announcing Tomsky’s and my resignations. Stalin followed me. Tovstukha handed him my declaration. He read it through and went back. Rykov told us later that his hands trembled; he was pale and offered to make concessions. He demanded that the declaration announcing my resignation be destroyed. They promised then to dismiss Kostrov, Krumin, and someone else. But I did not return to the plenum.”

Hereupon Bukharin showed Kamenev a sixteen-page document that he had written giving his evaluation of the economic situation. According to Kamenev, this document was further to the right than the April 1925 theses of Bukharin.

Kamenev asked, “What are you planning to do with this document?”

Bukharin replied, “I will supplement it with a chapter on the international situation and end it with the question of the inner-party situation.”

“But wouldn’t that be a platform?” asked Kamenev.

“Perhaps, but haven’t you also written platforms?”

Here Pyatakov intervened in the conversation by saying, “I would urgently advise you not to come out against Stalin, for he has the majority behind him. [The majority of functionaries of the Pyatakov type and worse!] Past experience teaches us that such steps end badly.” (An argument remarkable for its cynicism.)

To this Bukharin replied, “Of course this is true, but what shall we do?” (Poor Bukharin!)

After Bukharin had left, Kamenev asked Pyatakov why he gave advice that could only prevent the struggle from developing. Pyatakov answered that he seriously believed one cannot oppose Stalin. “Stalin is the only man who can still be obeyed. [Pearls, real pearls! The question is not what is the correct road, but rather of finding one who can be ‘obeyed,’ so that there shall not be any ‘bad’ consequences.] Bukharin and Rykov are mistaken if they think they will rule instead of Stalin. It is the Kaganoviches who will rule, and I do not want to and I will not obey Kaganovich.” (It is not true, he will obey Kaganovich too.)

“Then what do you propose to do?”

“Well, I have been entrusted with the State Bank, and I shall take care to see that there is money in the bank.”

“As for me, I shall not worry about scholars entering the NTU [the Scientific-Technical Administration of which Kamenev is head] – that is not politics,” said Kamenev.

Then they parted.

At the end of December, Zinoviev and Kamenev defined the situation as follows: “We must get to the helm. This can be achieved only by supporting Stalin. Therefore, no hesitation to pay him the full price.” (Poor fellows! They have already paid much but the rudder is still far off.) One of them – Kamenev, I think – approached Ordzhonikidze. They talked a lot about the correctness of the present policy of the Central Committee. Ordzhonikidze approved. When Kamenev declared that he could not understand why they were left in the Centro-Soyuz (where Zinoviev is working), Ordzhonikidze replied, “It is still too soon; the road must be opened. The Right will object.” (And according to the resolution the Right is the principal enemy.) Kamenev said that it was not absolutely necessary to give him a high post, that the simplest thing would be to put him in charge of the Lenin Institute (but that is the main source of the Stalinist falsifications!), that they must be permitted to write for the press, etc. Ordzhonikidze agreed and promised to raise the question in the Politburo.

Three days later Kamenev approached Voroshilov. For two hours he grovelled before him and praised the policy of the Central Committee. Voroshilov did not respond with even a word (for which he is to be commended). Two days later Kalinin came to see Zinoviev and stayed for twenty minutes. He brought news of the deportation of Comrade Trotsky. When Zinoviev began to ask for details, he replied that the question was not yet decided and in the meantime it was not worth talking about. When Zinoviev asked about what was happening in Germany, Kalinin replied that he knew nothing: “We are up to our necks in our own affairs.” Later, as if in reply to Kamenev’s visit to Voroshilov, he said literally, “He [Stalin] babbles about left measures, but in a very short time he will be forced to apply a triple dose of my policy. That’s why I support him.” (That is correct! All his life Kalinin has never said and never will say anything more correct and appropriate.)

When the Zinovievists learned of the deportation of Trotsky, they got together. Bakayev insisted that they issue a protest. Zinoviev answered that there was no one to protest to, because “there is no chief” (Then to whom does Zinoviev intend to pay the full price?) That is how things were left. The next day Zinoviev went to see Krupskaya and said that he had heard from Kalinin of the exiling of L.D. Krupskaya said that she had heard about it too.

“What do you intend to do with him?” asked Zinoviev.

“Firstly you must not say you, but they, and secondly, even if we decide to protest, who will listen to us?”

Zinoviev told her of Kamenev’s conversation with Ordzhonikidze, of whom Krupskaya said, “Though he cries on everybody’s shoulder, you cannot have any confidence in him.”

Kamenev again met Ordzhonikidze, who told him that he was publishing a work on the struggle against bureaucracy and proposed that Kamenev help him with it. Kamenev agreed with alacrity, whereupon Ordzhonikidze invited him and Zinoviev to his house. During the visit little was said about his work. Ordzhonikidze told them he had raised the question in the Politburo and that Voroshilov had said: “No extension of their rights [that is, of Zinoviev and Kamenev]. Look what they want: the Lenin Institute! If they don’t like the Centro-Soyuz, perhaps they can transfer to some other institution. As for the printing of their articles, that is not forbidden, but that does not mean that everything can be printed.” (Oh, Voroshilov!)

“Well, and what did Stalin say?”

“Stalin said: ‘To extend their rights means to make a bloc. To make a bloc means to share half. I cannot share half. What will the Rights say?’” (But are not the Rights the “main enemy”?)

Kamenev: “Did he say that in the Politburo?”

Ordzhonikidze: “No, that was before the session.”

They left without anything coming of it. Zinoviev wrote a thesis two pages long (since Ordzhonikidze did not help him, a thesis must be written): “The kulak is growing stronger throughout the country, the kulak does not give the workers’ state any bread, the kulak shoots at the village correspondents, at the officials, and kills them. The Bukharin group, with its line, cultivates the kulak; therefore, no support to Bukharin. Today we support the policy of the majority of the Central Committee [the Stalin group], so long as Stalin fights against the NEPman, the kulak, and the bureaucrat.” (So Zinoviev has changed his mind; he no longer wants to pay the full price.)

Kamenev says, “It is impossible to come to an agreement with Stalin; the devil with them all. Eight months from now I will publish a book on Lenin and then we shall see.” Zinoviev is of a different mind. He says, “We must not be forgotten, we must appear at every meeting, in the press, and so forth; we must knock on every door and push the party to the left.” (In reality no one has done as much harm to the left policy as Zinoviev and Kamenev.) And his articles are really published. After all, the editors of Pravda have adopted the advice of Voroshilov completely. They have again refused to publish one of his articles because it is said to express panic before the kulak. In recent days Zinoviev has appeared at party meetings, in the Centro-Soyuz, in the Plekhanov Institute, and elsewhere, to speak on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Communist International.

After we had published the famous document (the conversation between Kamenev and Bukharin), Kamenev was called to Ordzhonikidze’s, where, after certain reservations (hm! hm!), he confirmed in writing the accuracy of the report. Bukharin was also called to Ordzhonikidze’s and he confirmed it as well. Joint sessions of the Politburo and the presidium of the Central Control Commission were held on January 30 and February 9. The Right declared that the pamphlet was a “Trotskyite trick.” They did not deny the fact of the conversation. They expressed the opinion that “conditions for work are abnormal. Commissars – Krumin, Saveliev, Kaganovich, and others – have been placed over members of the Politburo [Bukharin and Tomsky]. The fraternal parties are led by shouting at them. [Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky have only now noticed that Stalin runs the ’fraternal parties’ like an old Turkish guardian administered his province. It is no longer even necessary to shout at Thälmann and Sémard; a gesture is enough.] Twelve years after the revolution there is not a single elected secretary of a regional committee. The party has no part in the solution of problems. Everything is done from above.” These words of Bukharin were met with cries: “Where did you copy that? From whom? From Trotsky!” A resolution condemning Bukharin was proposed to the commission. But the Right refused to accept it, motivating their objection with the fact that they were already being “raked over the coals” enough in the districts.

At the joint session of the Politburo and the presidium of the Central Control Commission, Rykov read a long declaration of thirty pages, criticizing the economic situation and the inner-party régime. At the Moscow regional party conference, Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin were openly designated as the Right. But very little was said of this in the press. The plenum of the Central Committee has been postponed to April 16, the conference [Sixteenth Party Conference] to April 23. It has not been possible to arrange a conciliation between Stalin and the Bukharin faction (although rumours to this effect are being insistently spread, doubtlessly in order that the nuclei shall defeat the left wing).

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Last updated on: 28 May 2021