Leon Trotsky

Writes on Stalin’s Latest Speech

A New Zig-zag and the New Dangers

(July 1931)

Written: 15 July 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 20, 22 August 1931, p. 4.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2013. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from Last Issue)

Socialist Enthusiasm and Piece Work

Nine-tenths of the new program of Stalin amounts to the re-establishment of piece work. All the rest, in the meantime, has an extremely confused character and, in part, only serves to mask the turn to the Right.

Stalin makes his new turn depend upon the “new epoch” and the “new tasks” which require “new methods”.

But that is too crude a deception. We have seen, in a whole series of questions of the world labor movement that the turns of the Stalinist bureaucracy flowed in no way from the changes in the world situation but, on the contrary, they were very often accomplished in opposition to these changes and flowed from the preceding errors of the bureaucracy itself.

We believe the same thing today. We were told that at the third year of the Five Year Plan, the Soviet Union had entered into socialism. If this was right, we should have witnessed a tendency towards the gradual equalization of wages. This tendency should have justified itself and be supported more and more by socialist emulation and by shock brigades. Absurd as it may appear, it was nevertheless we, the Left Opposition, who were accused by the Stalinist bureaucracy of lack of confidence in the socialist enthusiasm of the Russian workers. By the power of inertia and in order to preserve the seeming continuity Stalin today repeats the empty formulations of bureaucratic idealism. “Do not forget,” he says, “that the vast majority of the workers have accepted these conditions of the Soviet power (discipline, tension, emulation, shock brigades) with enthusiasm, and they fulfill them heroically.” Now, if this is true if we have entered into socialism, if the “vast majority” (mark it well: the vast majority!) of the workers fulfill their tasks “with enthusiasm” and even “heroically”, one asks himself why this same “vast majority” wander from one factory to another in the search for fortune? And why are they obliged, precisely now, after all the successes obtained to pass over to the system of piece work which is, after all, the most refined capitalist method of the exploitation of the workers’ forces? “The principle of the Left Opposition is to say what is,” declares our platform draft.

The proletarian revolution has no need of the bureaucratic hotch-potch of idealism. We want the truth.

To be sure, the enemy will rejoice over the obscure sides of this truth. It is obvious that it will seize upon certain elements of our criticism, like it seizes upon certain sections of Stalin’s revelations today. When the enemy uses fragments of truths in order to weave a system of falsehood it is not serious. But when the workers themselves do not know the truth and do not know where to seek it, that may have tragic consequences.

Heroic enthusiasm can draw behind it the masses for relatively short historical periods.

A small minority is capable of manifesting enthusiasm for a whole historical epoch: it is upon this that is based the idea of a revolutionary party as the selection of the best elements from the class.

Socialist construction is a task for decades. One cannot guarantee the solution of this task except by the systematic raising of the material and cultural standard of living of the masses. That is the principal condition, more important than the gain in time in the construction of a Dnieprostroy, of a Turksib or of a Kuzbas, because with the fall in the physical and moral energy of the proletariat, all the gigantic enterprises may remain without a tomorrow.

Stalin relishes his bearers with quotations from Marx and Lenin, according to which the differentiation of wages is inevitable for the period of the passage to socialism.

Tomorrow Stalin will quote to us Marx and Lenin to show that during the passage to socialism the small producer of commodities, the peasant, inevitably gives birth to the kulak. These general truths are indisputable, it is precisely we who recalled them during the “dizziness” which, unfortunately, is not yet at an end today. But it is precisely the Stalinist bureaucracy which contrary to us, posed for itself as a practical task the liquidation of the kulak, that is, of the differentiation of the peasantry, within the limits of the Five Year Plan in four years. Contrary to ourselves the Stalinist bureaucracy affirmed that the essential difficulties on the road to socialism are overcome that we had already entered into socialism, that the realization of the Five Year Plan automatically improved the conditions of the workers, and that one could “outstrip” the Five Year Plan in four years. How, then, could the question of piece work be posed with such acuteness at the end of the third year? There is a question which every conscious worker will put to himself.

On July 7, Pravda quoted the following lines from the organ of the People’s Commissariat for Labor: “The development of technique and the growth of the role of transports of electrification, etc. narrow the field of piece work.” Is this not a Marxian truth? But Pravda calls this truth a “Trotskyist assertion”. This strange conflict between the official organ of the People’s Commissariat for Labor and the official organ of the Central Committee of the party is explained by the fact that the second number of Questions of Labor appeared before Stalin’s speech, while No. 185 of Pravda appeared two days after the speech. Why was Pravda obliged to transform this simple truth of Marxism into a “Trotskyist” heresy? Because the new turn of Stalin does not flow at all from the development of socialist construction, but from the acute contradiction between the erroneous course of the bureaucracy and the vital needs of economy.

Piece work wages are not in principled contradiction with the conditions of transitional Soviet economy; it would be stupid doctrinairism to oppose them. But the abrupt turn towards piece work and the extreme accentuation of the capitalist features of this system present today, in the summer of 1931, at the end of the third year of the Five Year Plan after the uninterrupted successes, after we have “entered into socialism”, one of the harshest blows against the workers, from the material as well as from the moral point of view. It is not surprising that the weathercocks and the chameleons of the press are obliged to denounce the elementary positions of Marxism in the field of wages in order to cover up, be if but for a day, the blow dealt to illusions.

* * * *

That the old method of wages was bad from every point of view, has been obvious to us for a long time. One cannot work out a rational, living and progressive system of wages without the collaboration of the masses themselves. The trade union bureaucracy is no better than any other bureaucracy. Collective contracts and wage scales are elaborated in the offices and imposed upon the workers like all the other decisions of the infallible center. Without the rebirth of workers’ democracy, a correct policy of wages is absolutely unrealizable. “Collective contracts,” says the Platform of the Russian Opposition, “must be submitted to a genuine and not a fictitious discussion at the workers’ meetings. The work of the trade unions must be determined above all by the defense of the economic and the cultural interests of the workers within the framework of the given economic possibilities. The trade unions must fulfill their functions on the basis of genuine election, submitting everything to the control of the trade union members giving accountings, bearing the responsibility at every degree of the hierarchical scale. An article must be inserted into the Penal Code punishing as an offense against the state any persecution, direct or indirect, open or concealed, of a worker for his criticism, for his independent proposals, for a vote.” How vengeful are these words today!

* * * *

But the sharpness of the present turn towards piece work is the result not of a system of wages, but of a more profound reason of the lack of material wealth to satisfy the needs of the workers. The wrong method of the plan the incorrect adjustment in the course of its realization, the absence of genuine control of the masses, the absence of the party, the struggle for abstract figures of the plan in the name of prestige, the administrative commandment under the lash, braggadacio, blustering, the stifling of criticism – all these combined have led to a false distribution of the forces and the means and has created – in view of the extremely rapid growth of the number of workers – the intolerable contracting of the real wage funds. That is why the workers do not feel at ease. That is why they run from one factory to the other. The excessive pressure on the one hand and the degeneration of the trade unions on the other, have provoked the anarchic reaction called the fluctuation of labor forces. Stalin has shown us the enormous extent of this reaction. “You will find few enterprises”, he says, “where the personnel is not renewed every half a year, and even every quarter by at least thirty to forty percent.” There is the threatening extent attained by the disease which the bureaucracy has sought to bring to an end. The shifting from one factory to another, from one town to another, means moreover the enormous waste of productive forces, the needless loss of time for the shifting itself as well as for the adaptation to the new working conditions. That is the principal reason for the fall in returns and the increase in the net costs. But the greatest danger of the fluctuation – in the hunt for fortune! – consists of the moral wear and tear on the proletariat. The mere aggravation of piece work settles nothing. It can only create a stratum of more favored workers. The tendency toward creating a labor bureaucracy in the factories could not correspond better to the procedure of the Stalinist bureaucracy. From this angle, piece work is a purely political means.

As a panacea, it completes the evolution of Stalinism. The tradition of Bolshevism is a tradition of struggle against the aristocratic castes within the working class. On this basis is erected the structure of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The program of the Stalinist bureaucracy leads it inexorably to the necessity of supporting itself upon the ever more privileged labor aristocracy. Here lies hidden the immediate political danger for the dictatorship of the proletariat!

A Personal Revelation

The new policy is decreed in the same way as the old policy: as a personal revelation. Stalin informs us that the uninterrupted working week was introduced “too precipitately and without the preparation of appropriate measures”. What were the results? Stalin is compelled to point them out: “lack of a spirit of accountability for the work, neglected maintenance of machinery, considerable accidents to the machines and absence of stimulation for raising the productivity”. Stalin generalizes it all in a single phrase: “Nobody is accountable for anything”. A terrific avowal, or rather a disavowal of his own policy. “Nobody is accountable for anything” – that always happens when a single individual wants to be accountable for everybody.

The uninterrupted week was introduced too precipitately. But who introduced it? The General Secretary. Was the interrupted week discussed among the working masses before its introduction? Not at all. Everything was prepared secretly. The masses accepted the uninterrupted week “with enthusiasm”, according to the official communications And are things happening differently now? Just yesterday, all these calamities of which Stalin speaks today were not dealt with at all in the press. We have already said and written more than once that among the Stalinist bureaucracy everything proceeds marvellously five minutes before everything begins to proceed very badly. In enumerating the disastrous results of the bureaucratic uninterrupted week Stalin touches in passing upon the most ticklish and the most dangerous question. It is beyond doubt – he says – that our directors understand all this very well. But they hold their tongues. Why? From all evidence, because they are afraid of the truth. But since when have Bolsheviks begun to fear the truth? Since the Stalinist apparatus, by its cretinism, by its lack of ideas and principles, stifled the Bolshevik-Leninist faction. Precisely since that moment! The directors, according to Stalin, “fear the truth.” What a perfidious formula! It is not the truth they fear; they are afraid of falling victim for the truth because Rakovsky, Sosnovsky, Muralov, Eltsin, Gruenstein, Kasparova, Kossior and together with them, hundreds and thousands of the best Bolsheviks – the very ones who do not fear the truth and know how to defend it – populate the prisons of Stalin and the places of deportation and exile. There lies the knot of the problem of the party. After having crushed the Left Opposition, the Stalinist bureaucracy has stifled the party. It no longer exists, this animated, sensitive, supple and flexible organization which lived the life of the masses, which saw all, which criticized which generalized, which signaled the dangers in time and collectively elaborated the new roads. “Now that the Centrist bureaucracy has strangled the party,” says the draft platform of the International Left Opposition, “that is, has remained without eyes and ears, it moved along gropingly and determines its path under the direct pushes of the classes, oscillating between opportunism and adventurism.” Even more within the apparatus itself, the fear of the lower functionary for the superior functionary has reached such a point that nobody dares any longer to look facts in the face and to point them out to the superiors. At the lower rungs, they acquiesce in everything asked of them at the higher rungs and the latter regard it as the voice of the ranks themselves. In order to work out the measures for applying the new policy, the Plenum of the Central Control Commission has been convoked. They seek to give this event an exceptional significance, for this time not only the members of the C.C.C. are called, but also the representatives of the regional organs and of a series of rank and file organizations. In other words, the superior functionaries call to their aid the inferiors. Both are designated from above. Both are united by subordination and mutual responsibility. And this council of functionaries is represented as the supreme expression of democracy!

* * * *

Does not the new abrupt turn justify the convocation of an extraordinary congress of the party? But the regime of personal revelations (each time after a delay of a few years) does not tolerate the regime of party democracy, nor the existence of the party itself. Then are the “Bolsheviks really afraid of the truth?” The name of the Bolshevik who today most fears the truth is Stalin. Otherwise he would not fear to consult the congress, that is the party, in this new abrupt turn in policy.

In recent months, we have received a number of letters which relate conversations which our correspondents have had with party bureaucrats at various degrees of ossification. They are for the most part terribly frightened people. They see and understand a great deal, but their will is broken. Their philosophy is the philosophy of adaptation. Here is what they say most frequently: “You speak of the party regime. To be sure, it is very heavy. Everybody feels it. But you must know that it cannot be otherwise. Without an iron hand we would not overcome the difficulties. Your criticism of Stalin’s mistakes is right on the whole, and the events have confirmed it. We have no illusions about Stalin. Of course, he will never set the Thames on fire: from the intellectual point of view, he is a mediocre man, with an inadequate theoretical preparation without broad perspectives. We frequently feel these defects on our own backs. But he has indispensable positive qualities: firmness, tenacity, perseverance. Besides, he is entirely bound up with the apparatus. And whatever you may say, the apparatus now is everything.” Thus speak many bureaucrats. It seems to them that the stifling of the party, painful though it is, is justified by the circumstances and later ... oh well! later socialism will come and will change everything.

Here lies the fundamental mistake. Socialism is no ready-made system which can spring full panoplied from a head, even the most gifted one. The task of the rightful division of the forces and means of production can only be solved by means of constant criticism, by verification by the ideological struggle of the various groupings within the proletariat. If we reject formal democracy which, in the framework of capitalism, means to hand over the keys to the enemy armed to the teeth, we affirm, on the other hand, that without class democracy we will not only not succeed in building socialism but we will not even maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat. Stalin’s zig-zags cost more dearly every time. Only fools and blind men can believe that socialism can be vouchsafed from above, that it can be introduced by the bureaucratic way. Louder than ever before, we warn the advanced workers of the U.S.S.R. and of the whole world: The new zig-zag of Stalin, regardless of the manner in which it will develop in the next period, will lead inevitably to new and still sharper contradictions at the next stage. We must begin with the revival of proletarian democracy. That is now the decisive link in the whole chain. The problems of economy must be put for discussion in their full scope before the party and the trade unions. For this it is necessary that the

Bolsheviks cease to fear to speak the truth. This can be attained only by removing the chains from those who fought and still fight for the right to speak the truth. The Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) must be re-admitted into the party. A discussion must be opened on the fundamental questions of economic and politics. A new party congress must be prepared upon the basis of party democracy!

Kadikoy, July 15, 1931


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Last updated on: 13.1.2013