Leon Trotsky

Open Letter to the C.E.C. of the U.S.S.R.

(March 1932)

Written: 1 March 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 15 (Whole No. 111), 9 April 1932, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. 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)

On the international arena, the situation was not much different. This Opposition fought in 1923 against the capitulationist policies of Brandler who was supported on the Right by Stalin; against the Stalinist theory of worker-peasant parties; against the confinement of Chinese Communism within the iron cage of the Kuo Min Tang; against the bloc of the Politburo with the clique of British strike-breakers; against the whole opportunistic, ruinous, shameful, thoroughly treacherous policy of Stalin, who for several years supported the stirrup of Chiang Kai-Shek and exchanged portraits with him on the very eve of the day when Chiang Kai-Shek instituted the blood-bath of Shanghai. You yourselves are sufficiently acquainted with the facts and know that there is not a shadow of exaggeration in my words. It is not for nothing that the history of the Chinese revolution became a prohibited book in the Soviet Union: each page of it burns the fingers of the Stalinist clique.

Wherein does our “counter-revolutionary” activity lie? Among the hundreds of present day Stalinist theoreticians (hired by the day or by the piece) who squirm like worms in the wounds of the world proletariat, there are not a few volunteers willing to change white into black, or into any other color of the rainbow. They will not change historic facts, however, nor shake the foundations of Marxism. The Left Opposition has the right to be proud of its struggle against the Stalinist faction in the U.S.S.R., in Germany, in China, in England, in all parts of the world reached by the hand of the opportunistic apparatus.

Knocking its forehead against the kulak; deceived in its calculations on friend Chiang Kai-Shek; receiving instead of gratitude, a kick from the British trade-unionists, who were rescued by it, the Stalinist bureaucracy made in 1928, a whirlwind turn of 180 degrees over our heads, only to plunge into a monstrous economic and political adventurism, the accounts of which are still to be settled.

And again the Left Oppositionists – the true and only Bolshevik-Leninists in the ranks of the international proletariat! – quickly and decisively came out against the bureaucratic adventurism that is armed with the resources of the workers’ government. We warned against the irresponsible conversion of the five year plan into a four-year-one. Our warning has been fully confirmed. The artificial race, not prepared either theoretically, or practically, not only made it impossible to solve this rather sporting than economic problem, but deepened a series of disproportions which are now, in a purely mechanical fashion, driven into the foundation of the second five year plan. The Opposition warned against the hazardous playing with “complete collectivization” and with the idea “of the liquidation of classes” within the period of the first five year plan. Now “complete collectivization” is halted and “the liquidation of classes” during two or three intermediate stages is transferred to the new five year plan. Also in this form the problem remains a bureaucratic utopia. As a result of forced collectivization and the violation of basic economic proportions, the extremely difficult food and the general material conditions of the working class, remain, unfortunately, a reality.

The working class of Russia has the right to be proud of the truly great technical achievements, accomplished within the last few years. These achievements became possible only after the pressure of realities forced the bureaucracy, after some delay, to make the platform of the Left Opposition, although in perverted and twisted form, the basis of its work. The political consciousness of the workers has risen to new heights. Now no historic force can compel them to renounce the foundations laid by the October revolution and the methods of planned economy verified in actual work. They will crush anyone who tries to drag them back towards bourgeois democracy and capitalism.

But the same workers realize more and more clearly which one of the political groups was the real initiator of planned socialist construction and which one introduced into the economic work, first bureaucratic obstruction, then – the adventurist race with extinguished lights. The workers want to direct economy themselves and not merely to execute plans which the Stalinist bureaucracy makes behind their backs with the cooperation of damagers from the right or from the left. The anxiety of the workers, their dissatisfaction, their as yet mute protests – all this follows the line of criticism of the Left Opposition.

The strengthening of the economic foundation of the dictatorship the numerical growth of the proletariat and the growth of its self-confidence, lead not to the strengthening but to the weakening of the political position of the bureaucracy. Its ranks begin to scatter. A small minority holds on even more strongly to Stalin as to an anchor of safety. The others look about in search of reassurance. The Besedovskys, Agabekovs, Dmitrievskys, perverted careerists, clever scoundrels, hundred-per-cent swindlers – how many of them are there in the apparatus – cast about for the nearest fence over which to make a jump into the camp of the class enemy.

The honest elements of the apparatus – fortunately, they are a majority – listen to the voices from below, compare the stages passed and the discarded slogans of the years 1923–26–28–30–32, – all these zigzags of bureaucratic blindness, and convince themselves with horror that the Stalinist “general line” is a myth, an illusion, a hazy shadow of the vacillations of the apparatus itself. Thus opens up the chapter of making the settlement for the revision of the basis of scientific socialism, for the brazen violation of the party.

The mistakes and crimes of the bureaucracy for the nine years have not passed unpunished. The Stalinist system is nearing a decisive crisis. The episode with the “half-Trotskyist” Yaroslavsky would have seemed absolutely impossible a year, or a year and a half ago, when I wrote of the first “creak in the apparatus”. Now this episode does not astonish anyone, on the contrary, it is accepted as an unmistakable symptom of a deeper process. The Stalinist apparatus has ceased to be the Stalinist apparatus. It has become a system of contradictions and breaks. As the workers become ever more impatient with the bossing of the bureaucracy, the apparatus becomes ever more distrustful of the leadership of Stalin; the two processes are connected with each other. The more fiercely, therefore, is the crowded Stalinist faction forced to fight for the retention of its leading positions.

You started the struggle against “Trotskyism” under the flag of “the old Bolshevik Guard”. To the false pretense, invented by yourselves, of a one-man leadership on the part of Trotsky, you counterposed “the collective leadership of the Leninist Central Committee”. What has remained of the collective leadership and what has remained of the Leninist Central Committee? The apparatus independent of the working class and of the party prepared the dictatorship of Stalin independent of the apparatus. Now to pledge loyalty to the “Leninist Central Committee” would mean the same as openly to raise the banner of rebellion. The only acceptable formula of loyalty is an oath to the name of Stalin. Orator, propagandist, journalist, theoretician, pedagogue, sportsman – must include in his speech, article, or lecture, the phrase of the infallibility of the policy of the Central Committee “under the leadership of Stalin” which means of the infallibility of Stalin riding astride the Central Committee. This means that every party member and Soviet employee, from the president of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars to a modest provincial clerk, must give openly, before the whole country an oath to the effect that in case of disagreement between the Central Committee and Stalin, he, the undersigned, will support Stalin against the C.C. To this level are now practically reduced the by-laws of the party and the Soviet constitution.

This sort of thing is going further and further. The official anniversary article on the Red Army (February 23) states that the “Communist Party” with its Leninist Central Committee headed by comrade Stalin is the leader of all the armed forces of the Soviet Union. This means that the Red Army is called upon to be loyal to the Soviets of the working masses, to the proletariat and Its vanguard as long as Stalin will remain “at the head” of the party. This means that on the day when the party will no longer desire this costly leadership, the Red Army will have to support Stalin against the party. There can be no other meaning in the oath to the name of Stalin. This is a new stage in a systematic, planned, persistent preparation of bonapartism. Re-read history!

When you started the struggle within the party under the name of the struggle against “Trotskyism”, you formed within the official Politburo a secret Politburo, or “the seven” – against me. You had your secret meetings, your discipline secret from the party, your secret code for communications with agents of the conspiracy in the provinces. The baiting of Trotsky and of “Trotskyism” went parallel with the stifling of the party’s independence; one and the other were equally necessary for the triumph of bureaucracy.

Now similar work, although in caricatured, bonapartist form, is being performed on a new historic stage. Doubtlessly the narrow faction of Stalin has its own secret staff, its slogans and pass-words its agents and its codes; the conspiracy against the apparatus is pushed full speed ahead, while the apparatus is still in conspiracy against the party. The despotism of Stalin undermined from below hastens to assume ever more finished forms from above.

The party threatens to intervene in the conflict which has started between Stalin and the apparatus. It must intervene, lest the class enemy intervene. To help the party intervene powerfully is the aim of the Left Opposition. Of this very thing Stalin is in mortal fear. He wants to strangle the party completely before he settles with the apparatus. That is why the XVIIth party conference was treated to a new campaign against “Trotskyism”. That is why this conference was transformed into a roll-call of those loyal to Stalin. And that is why it was necessary to complete the conference by your decision of February 20th. The meaning of this policy is, that each new blow at the party is inseparable from a blow to “Trotskyism”. In this lies the strength of the Opposition. In this lies the doom of Stalin.

You long ago substituted for inner-party democracy, “self-criticism”. In the beginning it meant that one may criticize any one outside of the Central Committee. Later it means that one may criticize only those whom the C.C. orders to be criticized. Now it means that one may criticize any one but Stalin and must bait any member of the C.C. who does not swear by the name of Stalin. Above the party, above the apparatus, above criticism – stands Stalin. The law of his infallibility takes on a retroactive character. The history of the party is rebuilt around the Stalinist infallibility as around a new axis. Any one who has not succeeded in rearming himself, inevitably falls under the knife.

It was found necessary to turn a revolutionary party which bases itself on a scientific doctrine and a great tradition into a temple where Kaganovitch, in the role of high priest, burns incense to the idol of eternal perfection. All that is lacking to complete the system is that the dogma of the immaculate conception be added to the dogma of infallibility.

Can there be anything more malignant, more debased and shameful than the introduction of supermonarchical authority into the party of the proletariat. Perhaps you do not know where it leads to: Re-read history. The dogma of lifetime infallability is the most unquestionable, the most shameful expression of the fact that Stalin’s management is in irreconcilable contradiction with the economic, political and cultural development of Soviet democracy, and – what is no less important – with the historical problems of the world proletarian vanguard.

Just think of it, only after one decade and a half since the October revolution there stands at the head of the Comintern, Manuilsky. You know this person no less than I do. None of us over took him seriously. During all critical moments he vacillated, was confused and retreated; always and ever he sought a master. In 1918 he declared in print that Trotsky saved Bolshevism from national limitedness. In 1923, once more in print, he called Lenin and Trotsky the creators of the theory and practice of the Communist International. You will say that he was motivated by personal reasons? I will not dispute it. But in that case he miscalculated. “The three” gave Manuilsky an ultimatum: either to start a campaign against Rakovsky who was universally respected, or to be crushed. You know Manuilsky: he chose the first. And now, frightful to think: Manuilsky is the leader of the Comintern!

The strategy of Marx and Lenin, the historical experience of Bolshevism, the great lessons of 1917 – everything is distorted, maimed, slandered. Yesterday’s mistakes of the bureaucracy are not disclosed and not refuted, are transformed into an obligatory tradition and on each turn of the road serve as traps and pitfalls. The leadership of the Comintern has become an organized sabotage of the international proletarian revolution. Its crimes are countless. And now before your very eyes is being prepared the most terrible of them all.

The theory of social Fascism in which the ignorance of Stalin is coupled with the irresponsibility of Manuilsky has become a noose around the neck of the German proletariat. Under the whip of the Stalinist clique the miserable, confused, frightened, terrified C.C. of the German Communist Party helps with all its might – cannot but help – the leaders of the German social democracy to betray the German working class for crucifixion by Hitler.

And do you think that the forged scrap of paper of February 20th will stop the developments of Bolshevik criticism? Stop us from the fulfillment of our duty? Frighten our adherents?

Already in not less than twenty countries there are cadres of Bolsheviks who by right feel themselves to be the continuators of the Marxian tradition, of the school of Lenin, of the commandments of the October revolution. You will not shut them up!

Of course, Stalin has not had his last practical say. The arsenal of his means is known: Lenin weighed them and characterized them. But these means can now suffice only for personal revenge. The blows at the old intransigent fighter Rakovsky, the shooting of the “traitor” Blumkin and his substitution by the real Stalinist Agabekoff, the shooting at Bolsheviks interned in the solitaries, the small, very modest and unnoticeable aid to class enemies against a revolutionary opponent, – for this the Stalinist arsenal will yet suffice. But not more than for this!

You know Stalin no less than I do. Many of you, in conversations with me or with persons near to me, evaluated Stalin more than once and without illusions. The strength of Stalin was always, not in himself but in the apparatus; or in himself in so far as he remained the complete incorporation of bureaucratic automatism. Separated from the apparatus, counterposed to the apparatus – Stalin is but an empty space. The man who was yesterday the symbol of bureaucratic power, will be tomorrow in the eyes of all the symbol of bureaucratic bankruptcy. It is time to do away with the Stalinist myth. It is necessary to entrust oneself to the working class and its real, not fake party.

Read again the resolutions of the plenums of the Central Committee for the years 1920 and 1927, read again the statements of the Opposition, you have a fuller set of documents than I have. And you will be convinced again that the whole evolution of the party, of the apparatus, of the Stalinist clique were foretold by us, all the milestones were indicated before. The decomposition of the Stalinist system accuses with the exact observance of the manner indicated by the Opposition. Do you want to follow this road further? But there is no road further. Stalin has brought you to an impasse. You cannot come out on the road without liquidating Stalinism. You must trust to the working class, give the proletarian vanguard the possibility, through free criticism from top to bottom, to review the whole Soviet system and pitilessly cleanse it of the accumulated rubbish. It is time, finally, to fulfill the last urgent advice of Lenin: to remove Stalin.

In the work of the regeneration of the party and of Soviet democracy the Left Opposition is ready to take a direct part at any time. It can be trusted. It represents a selection of revolutionists, whole-heartedly devoted to the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a priceless leaven for the crushed, torn party, undermined from the top by careerism and servility.

Great problems are again being placed by history on the order of the day: in the Far East and especially in the centre of Europe, in Germany. When measures of great policy are needed Stalin finesses with petty police measures. The Opposition will step over the decision of February 20th as a worker on the way to work steps over a mud puddle.

Bolshevik-Leninists, forward!

Prinkipo, March 1, 1932


return return return return return

Last updated on: 31.5.2013