L. Trotsky

Bolshevik Congresses Once and Now

On the Eve of the Congress

(January 1934)

Written: 20 January 1934.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 7, 10 February 1934, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The impending congress of the ruling party of the Soviet Union is being called upon to give its approval of the political leadership, the economic plan and the work of the Comintern, in accordance with a formula prepared in advance. However, these three closely interconnected spheres present a number of burning questions which the congress cannot and does not want to answer. Not because these questions conflict with the interests of the workers’ state but because their very presentation is Incompatible with the interests of the ruling bureaucracy.

First of all: why wasn’t a regular party congress convened in three years and eight months? Under the most onerous conditions of underground struggle and emigration, from the years 1903 to 1907, four congresses took place: in Brussels-London, Geneva, Stockholm and again in London. The years of reaction and of the complete decline of the party that set in, interrupted the regular succession of congresses. Only in 1912 did a Bolshevik conference gather in Prague, equivalent in importance to a congress. No sooner did the revolutionary movement revive (1912–1914) than the war broke out.

In April 1917 a new party conference is called, similarly equal in importance to a congress. Four months later, at the end of July 1917, under conditions of semi-illegality, the Sixth party congress assembles and sets out the political premises for the October uprising. Eight mouths later a new party congress is called upon to solve the Brest-Litovsk disagreements. The following five congresses are convened at regular intervals of a year, and each, of them marks an important epoch in the development of the party and of Soviet policy. Each congress is preceded by a discussion unfolded with complete freedom.

* * * *

Such was the regime prior to the death of Lenin and prior to the declaration of war against “Trotskyism”. The 13th and 14th congresses already took place after great delays, necessitated by backstage bureaucratic maneuvers. The 15th congress was called, contrary to the party statutes, more than two years after the 14th: it was necessary first to smash the opposition. In the autumn of 1927 the Central Committee decided – although the statutes did not and could not grant it such a right – to convene all future congresses every two years. This decision was carried not without inner friction in the apparatus itself: it was difficult to explain openly why the Bolshevik party as a ruling party was denied the right which it enjoyed in the revolutionary underground: the right to control its apparatus and to give it instructions for the future. The 16th congress (June 1930) however, was convened not two years after the 15th (January 1928) but two and a half years after, that is, already in violation of the new statutes. Finally, between the 16th and the 17th congresses three and two-thirds years have elapsed. During the twenty months that the Central Committee ruled by usurpation, not merely in fact but according to the letter of the statutes as well, not a voice of protest was raised in the party. For two reasons: (1) no one believes that the apparatus congress is capable of changing anything in the work of the ruling summits; (2) if any one would try, in his simplicity, to protest, he would immediately be expelled from the party. The “cleansing” which preceded the congress expelled tens of thousands of people for lesser sins. If in the classic period of Bolshevism a discussion lasting a number of weeks preceded the congress, the present congress was preceded by a bureaucratic cleansing which dragged out for a half a year. Under these conditions the congress will be a ponderous parade of the bureaucracy.

Liberals and social democrats have frequently drawn a very superficial analogy between Bolshevism and Fascism. The late Serrati, former leader of the Italian Maximalists and a Communist during the last years of his life, said to me in 1914: “To our shame, Mussolini learned more from the Bolsheviks than we did.” It is not necessary to explain the irreconcilability of the aims which the two principal world currents serve: one wants to perpetuate decaying capitalist society by means of universal police-rule, the other wants to liquidate classes and states by methods of the revolutionary dictatorship, thus liberating society and the human being. But in the course of a combat mortal enemies frequently exchange weapons. The fact is that if in the struggle for power the Fascists have borrowed greatly from Bolshevism then in the last period the Soviet bureaucracy has familiarized itself with many traits of victorious Fascism, first of all by getting rid of the control of the party and establishing the cult of the Leader.

It is impossible to read without a feeling of embarrassment and sometimes shame the Soviet press where in each column, in each article, each telegram and report of a meeting, the “Leader” is honored and praised in the very same unchanged and universally obligatory expressions. Even a journalist like Louis Fischer, who is not very critical with regard to the Soviet bureaucracy, found it necessary to point out the insufferable character of these standardized panegyrics.

The connection between deifying the leader and the leaders (local leaders are deified within the limits of a definite territory) and the violation of the statutes, the abolition of criticism of the summits, the convocation of congresses it arbitrary intervals, after even more arbitrary cleansings – is absolutely evident. All these phenomena in their entirety mean the liquidation of the party as an active political whole that checks, elects and renews its apparatus. The first question which arises before the Congress reads: where and why did the Bolshevik party disappear?

Bureaucratic Dictatorship and Social Contradictions

For social development in general, for proletarian dictatorship in particular, a course and norms of pure reason cannot be prescribed. it is naive to say that the Soviet itate is not a dictatorship of the proletariat merely on the basis that the given form of a dictatorship does not correspond to our a priori conceptions. But if reality cannot be judged by ideal norms, it is just as inadmissible and no less dangerous to elevate the Soviet reality into an ideal norm. The historic failure of the Comintern is caused primarily by the fact that it proclaimed the Soviet state, more precisely, the Soviet bureaucracy, as a categoric imperative. Meanwhile, the international proletariat as well as the Soviet state itself need nothing more urgently than free, unhampered Marxian criticism.

The harsh character of the dictatorship is caused by the need of suppressing the resistance of the overthrown ruling classes and to undermine their economic roots. But according to the official theory this basic task of the workers’ state is in the main achieved. The second five year plan will merely have to complete it. The 17th party conference already decided – this decision is now repeated day in – day out – that the task of the second five year plan is not only the “liquidation of capitalist elements and classes in general” but “complete liquidation of causes which engender class distinctions and exploitation” as well. In the conditions that the second five year plan is to create, state power will have nothing more to do. The struggle against external dangers would require, of course, also in a socialist society, a powerful military organization but by no means internal government coercion, not a regime of class dictatorship. Where the causes disappear the consequences also disappear.

In reality no one of the rulers of the U.S.S.R. believes in such a perspective. The second five year plan, calculated on a full and complete liquidation of class distinctions, does not foresee at all a mitigation of government coercion, nor a decrease in the budget of the G.P.U. The ruling bureaucracy does not prepare in the least to give up its commanding positions, on the contrary, it supplies them with ever new and more material guarantees. Coercion, even within the formal framework of the party, already has such a harsh character as it never had during the years of civil war. Moreover, in all the official speeches and articles the perspective of a further intensification of the methods of the dictatorship is pictured. This crying divergence between two perspectives, the economic and the political, demonstrates irrefutably that the ruling bureaucracy obviously does not know how to make both ends meet theoretically.

Young Soviet theoreticians, it is true, have attempted to present the matter in such a way that the socialist growth of the country and the liquidation of the classes lead before our very eyes to the mitigation and weakening of purely state functions. Some people believed them. Louis Fischer, is one of his generally not very fortunate excursions into the realm of theory, tried to present the merging of the Commissariat for Trade with the trade-unions as the beginning of the liquidation of the state. In reality, we have only a merging of two bureaucratic apparatuses. The new statutes of the party, which are to be ratified by the 17th congress, make a decisive turn towards the merging of the state and the party, – but how? – by a final and formal replacement of the party as well as of the mass Soviets by the single bureaucratic apparatus. It is not a question of the “withering” away of the state in the Engels sense, but on the contrary, of its further bureaucratic concentration. It is no wonder that the ruling summits severely rebuked the careless young theoreticians for attempting to draw political conclusions from the “liquidation of the classes”.

The withering away of the party in the socialist sense of the word presupposes the liquidation of politics in general, therefore also of state coercion, and signifies the approach to an anarchistic society and by no means to a bureaucratic regime. Is it this that we see in reality? If “politics” has disappeared in the U.S.S.R. it has disappeared for the masses only. All politics is monopolized, centralized, personalized. It would be the greatest naivete to think that the constant “deification” of the Leader is engendered by personal bad tastes and by official subserviency. This purely psychologic explanation explains nothing. In reality the deification of the leader is a necessary element of the present political regime of the U.S.S.R. Since the workers are denied the possibility of re-electing and directing their apparatus, some other instance is necessary to solve state problems.

Disagreements within the uncontrolled bureaucracy must be settled from above, by the “Leader” who is but the personification of the apparatus.

But if it is not a question now of the withering away of the state but of its highest intensification, there should be deep social contradictions which give rise to this process. In what direction must we look for them?

Polemizing in 1932 against the author of these lines in the columns of the Berliner Tageblatt, Radek explained to us with his usual playfulness that socialism means the nationalization of the means of production and distribution and nothing more, and that if working class children do not get enough milk, this is explained by the scarcity of cows and not by the absence of socialism. Despite all its captivating simplicity this theory is radically false. Socialism presupposes not only the nationalization of the means of production but also the ability of the latter to satisfy all human needs. Precisely because of this the old primers stated that socialist society is possible only on a certain level of development of the productive forces.

It is true that social democrats drew from this proposition the reactionary conclusion that the Russian proletariat must not take power in general. They came to the same conclusion for Germany of 1918 as well and through the officers of Noske brought this admonishment forcefully to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. But the conclusions of the social democracy are no less false than those of Radek. The theory of Kautsky, Otto Bauer, Leon Blum and others assumes an extremely harmonious evolution of social forms: having reached the necessary maturity, the productive forces invite Messrs. socialist leaders to power. Everything takes place within the framework of democracy with full comfort for all the participants. In reality, the principal characteristic of historic development is the constant disruption of the equilibrium between the productive forces and politics, inside the productive forces themselves, for example, between industry and agriculture, between the social weight of the bourgeoisie and the weight of the proletariat, between the potential power of the proletariat and the real force of its party, etc. Contradictory historic conditions forced the Russian proletariat to take power first, although from the point of view of “sensible” socialist accounting it would have been infinitely more advantageous for the proletariat of the United States, England, or Germany to have taken power first. Had the Russian proletariat, however, obeyed the Mensheviks, not seized power in 1917 and not nationalized the means of production, Russia would have been doomed to the fate of China.

However, the disproportions of the belated and jumpy economic and cultural development have not disappeared in the dictatorship of the proletariat: they have merely taken on an unrecognizable form. The productive forces of the U.S.S.R. develop now in a nationalized form but they still pass the stages left far behind by the advanced capitalist countries – especially if reckoned on a per capita basis. From this follow, despite the “liquidation of classes”, the social contradictions of Soviet society as well as the great theoretical confusion of the leaders.

Socialism, that is a society of harmonious production and distribution, presupposes at any rate that all the children should drink milk to their heart’s content. If the cows are nationalized but their number is insufficient, or their udders dry, it is still not socialism, because for lack of milk conflicts arise: between the city and village, between the Kolkhoses, Sovkhoses and individual peasants, between various layers of the proletariat, between all the toilers and the bureaucracy. Precisely these sharp constant conflicts which take on inevitably a social, and in their tendencies, a class character, demand the powerful intervention from above, that is, state coercion. Sometimes, we see how a fight about milk leads to a malicious destruction of dairy cattle, and this forces the government authorities to de-nationalize the cow, giving it back to the peasants as private property. Only very recently the government found itself obliged for the same reasons to transfer the horses to life-time use of the peasants. The real key to the puzzle of bureaucratic omnipotence lies in these simple facts. We say, and not at all for paradox’s sake, that if certain ancient religions, also because of insufficiency of cattle, based themselves on the bull Apis, the religion of bureaucratic sovereignty bases itself on the cow – not on the one that exists, but on the one that is lacking.

The problem is, of course, not exhausted by milk, it only begins with milk and bread. The contradictions pass through the whole system of economy and of social relations. The question, however, is too complicated and requires a special article.

January 20, 1934

L. Trotsky

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