L.D. Trotsky

What is the Meaning of
Rakovsky’s Surrender?

(March 1934)

Written: 31 March 1934.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 17, 28 April 1934, p. 3.
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.

Rakovsky’s declaration making known his intention, in view of the acute sharpening of international reaction, to submerge bis differences with the “Party” and to submit completely to “discipline” came to many as a bolt from the blue. And no wonder! In the course of the years of his exile the old fighter was transformed from a human figure to a symbol, not only for the I.L.O. but for wide strata of the working class in general.

The average reader’s reaction to Rakovsky’s surrender is that it is a victory for the bureaucracy, or – if this strata be given its personal pseudonym – a great victory for Stalin! True, Rakovsky did not declare his views false nor sing Byzantian paeans of praise to the bureaucratic leadership, but in any case by his declaration he acknowledged that in the struggle against international reaction, cessation of the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy is necessary. If from the purely individual point of view his declaration contains nothing of the revolting and shameful self-abasement and self-degradation which have become now indispensable conditions for “Bolshevist” party loyalty, it appears at first glance all the more important from the political point of view.

It would, however, be absolutely false to dwell only on the immediate impressions and purely psychological effects of events. It is the bounden duty of every Marxist to appraise Rakovsky’s case not as a case in itself but as a political symptom, that is, to bring it in relation with the deeper processes of development.

Center Shifted to West

Already more than half a year ago, we wrote:

“The extremely difficult conditions under which the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists work exclude them from the possibility of playing the leading role on the international scale. More than this; the Left Opposition group in the U.S.S.R. can develop into a new party only as a result of the successful formation and growth of the new International. The revolutionary centre of gravity has shifted definitely to the West where the immediate possibilities of building parties are immeasurably greater”. (The Soviet Union and the Fourth International, page 28)

These lines were no chance remark but summed up rather the whole experience of the last decade. The Russian Left Opposition which set itself the direct aim of reconstituting the Bolshevik party and of shunting its policy back on the rails of the international revolution, succumbed in the struggle. One may suffer a defeat because one pursues a fundamentally false policy. But also with a correct policy one may fall victim to an unfavorable relation of forces. Engels repeatedly pointed out that a revolutionary party which suffers a decisive historic defeat is inevitably reduced to nought organizationally At first glance it would seem that the fate of the Bolshevik party which, despite the defeat of 1905, twelve years later achieved the greatest revolutionary victory in world history contradicts this. But on closer scrutiny this example only strengthens Engel’s statement. As a mass organization the Bolshevik party disappeared from the scene during the years 1907–1911. There remained only a few scattered, for the most part vacillating cadres, there remained a tradition, there remained above all the emigrant staff with Lenin at the head. The rising tide of 1912–1914 brought a new revolutionary generation to its feet, roused a part of the old Bolsheviks out of their lethargy and thus created a new party organization, which was historically – but in no way organizationally – the continuator of the old Bolshevik party. This example by no means exhausts the question with which we are concerned but offers certain points of support for its understanding.

The Struggle for Industrialization

The Left Opposition began with the struggle for the industrialization and agrarian collectivization of the Soviet Union. This fight it won in a certain sense – namely in that, beginning with 1928, the whole policy of the Soviet government represents a bureaucratically distorted application of the principle of the Left Opposition. Without this the Soviet Union would not be in existence any longer. But the economic questions of the U.S.S.R. formed only one part, and a subordinate one at that, of our program, whose center of gravity rested in the sphere of international revolution. And in this sphere we have during the last eleven years, together with the whole world proletariat, suffered nothing but defeats: in 1923 in Bulgaria and Germany, in 1924 In Esthonia, 1926–27 in China 1926 in England and Poland, 1928–32 the progressive bureaucratic degeneration of the Comintern, 1933 the Nazi victory in Germany, 1934 the Austrian catastrophe. In all these events and processes the analyses and prognoses of the Left Opposition have been strikingly although unfortunately negatively confirmed. One may read carefully, for instance, the two novels of the French writer Malraux: Les Conquerants nd La Condition Humaine. Without fully realizing the political interrelations and consequences, the author presents here an annihilating indictment against the Comintern’s policy in China and strengthens in a most striking manner thru his images and figures all that the Left Opposition had already laid down in its theses and formula before the events themselves. No one can dispute these invaluable theoretical triumphs of the Marxian method! But just so in the year 1905 not the Marxian method but the Bolshevik party was defeated. Later, after a period of years the methods proved victoriously correct. Right after the defeat, however, 99% of the cadres – including the members of the Central Committee – quit the party, turned into peaceful citizens, sometimes even into Philistines.

Defeats of the Proletariat

It is not by chance that national reaction triumphed in the U.S.S.R. on the basis of the social achievements of the proletarian revolution, The proletariat of the West and the oppressed peoples of the East exhibit nothing but defeats. Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of fascism preads. Irrespective of what the reasons for this may be, since the revolution itself proved inadequate, the idea of the international revolution was bound to suffer discredit. The Left Opposition above all, as the representative of the principles of the International Revolution, experienced a loss of confidence in the eyes of the toiling masses of the Soviet Union. This is the real reason for the growth of the autocratic rule of the bureaucratic apparatus in the Soviet Union and of its national-conservative degeneration.

Every Russian worker feels now too with his whole heart his solidarity with the proletariat of the rest of the world and hopes that it be finally victorious, but the international revolution as a practical factor has gradually disappeared from the field of vision of the Russian masses. They pin their hopes on the economic successes of the Soviet Union, they discuss passionately the problems of food and shelter, they grow optimistic on the basis of a good crop – but what concerns the international working class movement has become the profession of Manuilsky-Kuusinen-Losovsky, whom no one in the country takes seriously.

The Example of Kirov

As to the spiritual make-up of the ruling upper crust of the Soviet Union, one example is highly illuminating – how Kirov expressed himself at the last party congress. “How beautiful it is to live now it is almost impossible to express.” Kirov is no chance figure, he is a member of the political bureau and the political governor general of Leningrad: he occupies that post within the party which Zinoviev held at the pinnacle of his influence. That Kirov rejoices over the technical successes and the mitigation of the food scarcity is quite understandable. There is not an honest worker in the whole world who does not rejoice over this. The frightful part of it consists in that Kirov sees only these national partial successes but leaves out of sight the whole field of the international workers’ movement. Military dictatorship rules in neighboring Poland, blackest reaction in all other neighboring states. Moscow is forced to preserve “friendship” with Mussolini and the Italian proletariat remains after twelve years of fascism still completely powerless and dispersed. The Chinese revolution was wrecked; Japan rules in Manchuria; the Soviet Union sees itself forced to deliver to Japan the Chinese Eastern Railway, the most important strategic instrument of the revolution in the East. In Germany the Nazis have scored a victory without a fight and no bureaucratic cheat or trickster will dare any longer to pass this victory off for the “acceleration” of the proletarian revolution. In Austria the chained and bleeding proletariat lies prostrate on the ground. The Comintern is compromised, beyond redemption, it has become a brake on the revolution. Despite its crimes the social democracy becomes anew the strongest party of the working class and in all “democratic” countries prepares the way for Fascist slavery. In France Thaelman’s policy is being carried on by Thorez. While in Germany the elite of the proletariat languishes in concentration camps and prisons, the Comintern bureaucracy works indistinguishably as though an accomplice of the social democracy, to make the whole of Europe, yes, and the whole world, into one fascist concentration camp. And Kirov, a member of the leading body of the first workers’ state in the world, admits that he lacks words to express the joy of living today. Can this be simple stupidity? No, the man is not stupid; moreover he gives expression not only to his own feelings. His winged word is repeated and praised by the entire Soviet press. Speakers and listeners alike simply forget the whole world: they act, think, feel only Russian and even in this frame only bureaucratically.

Effects of Isolation

The capitulation statements of Sosnovski and Preobrajenski reflect the same spirit. They close their eyes to the world proletariat. That alone makes it possible for them to reconcile themselves to the national perspectives of the Soviet bureaucracy. And if they seek reconciliation, they need it because they see no point of support, no lever, no great historic possibility in the storms of proletarian catastrophes in the West, following one on the heels of the other.

After Hitler’s victory which brought the pre-history of the Fourth International (“Left Opposition”) to an end, it was not easy for us in Germany as well as in Europe in general – that is the law of inertia that rules in all fields – to realize that now we must build new proletarian parties in relentless struggle with the old. Had we, however, not taken this road in time the Left Opposition would not only not have emerged from its pre-history into its own history proper but would have disappeared from the political scene altogether. How much more difficult, however, it is for the old cadres of the Left Opposition in the U.S.S.R., dispersed, isolated, disorientated, or what is worse, systematically misinformed, to embark on the new road. Rakovsky is a great revolutionary temperament, a personality, a lucid mind. But no one should be deified. Rakovsky too is only a man and, having been for years separated from the great historic perspectives which inspire the cadres of the Fourth International, the “human” in him won the upperhand. By this we do not at all mean to justify Rakovsky. For fighters to explain does not mean to forgive, it means only to strengthen one’s revolutionary certainty.

The “Gleichshalting” (co-ordination) proceeded downwards for years from revolutionary internationalism to national reformism, from Lenin to Kirov. Thus the victory over Rakovsky is only the most glaring symptom of the degradation and wreckage of Marxism in the country which became a workers’ state due to Marxism. A remarkable dialectic, a bitter dialectic, but it is actually here and cannot be evaded by mental acrobatics.

Hitler Aided Stalin

Rakovsky’s declaration is the expression of a subjective impasse and of pessimism. Without exagerating by a hair’s breadth we can say that Stalin got Rakovsky with the aid of Hitler. That means, however, that Rakovsky’s road leads to a political nowhere. His example can carry away a dozen or more young comrades. In the scope of the international politics of the proletariat it will change nothing. In Rakovsky we mourn a lost political friend. We do not feel ourselves weakened by his elimination from the struggle, since it strengthens, although tragically from the personal point of view but politically unshakeably, our fundamental principles. As a revolutionary factor the Comintern is dead. From the Moscow leadership the world proletariat can expect only obstructions, difficulties and sabotage. The situation is difficult to an unheard of degree but by no means hopeless since our difficulties are only the difficulties of world capitalism transformed through both bureaucracies. Two processes run alongside of each other, into and through each other: on the one hand the decomposition of the old structure, the renunciation of old beliefs, capitulations before Hitler and, as a shadow thereof, capitulations before Stalin; on the other hand, however, the awakening of criticism, a feverish search for the broad revolutionary road, the gathering of the cadres of the Fourth International.

Light Will Come From West

The Leninist current in the Soviet Union can from now on only be revived by great revolutionary successes in the West. Those Russian Bolsheviks who remain true to our cause under the unheard of pressure of national reaction – and there are more of them than we suspect – will be recompensed by the further course of development. But now the light will come not from the East but from the West. Even the shamelessly betrayed Chinese revolution waits for a new impulse on the part of the world proletariat.

We have no time to weep long over lost friends – be it even comrades of thirty years of struggle. Let every Bolshevik say to himself: “A sixty-year-old fighter with experience and prestige left our ranks. In his place I must win three twenty-year old ones and the gap will be filled”. Among the twenty-year-old ones new Rakovskys will be found, who with us or after us, will carry forward our work.

      March 31 1934

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 13 May 2016