L. Trotsky

Increasing Oppression
the Path of Bureaucracy

Leon Trotsky Analyses the Revelations of theBolshevik Tarov

(6 September 1935)

Written: September 6, 1935.
First Published: New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 45, 2 November 1935, pp. 7 & 8.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Share & Attribute).

We have a remarkable document in the letter of comrade Tarov, one of the Soviet Bolshevik-Leninists, a mechanic who of necessity finds himself today outside the Soviet Union. Early in 1928, Tarov was arrested as a “left Oppositionist”; he spent three years in exile, and sat four years in prison, in harsh solitary confinement, and then, once again, he spent several months in exile. What crimes did Tarov commit against the Revolution?

It appears that as early as 1923, he was of the opinion that the October revolution had created the possibilities for industrialization, immeasurably more rapid than was the case with capitalist countries. Together with other Tarovs he raised the alarm against the policy of staking everything upon the kulak which would lead to a crisis for the entire Soviet system. He demanded that efforts be focussed upon the peasant poor and the systematic switching of rural economy on to the rails of collectivization. Such were his chief crimes for the period of 1923–1926. He was more penetrating and far-sighted than the ruling upper crust. In any case, such were the crimes of the tendency for which Tarov bore the responsibility. In 1926, all the Tarovs demanded that the Soviet trade unions bring to an end, the political friendship with the General Council of British Trade Unions that was betraying the miners’ strike, together with the General Strike: it was precisely for this service that Citrine, the head of the General Council, the former ally of Stalin and Tomsky, was knighted by His Royal Majesty during the Jubilee celebrations. Together with other Leninists, Tarov protested in 1926 against the Stalinist theory of a “democratic workers’ and peasants’ state” – a theory which impelled the Polish Communist party to support Pilsudski’s coup. But even this does not exhaust the list of Tarov’s crimes. As an internationalist, he was vitally interested in the fate of the Chinese revolution. He considered those Kremlin decisions criminal which compelled the young and heroic Communist party of China to enter into the Koumintang and to submit to its discipline; in addition to which, the Koumintang itself, a purely bourgeois party, was accepted into the Communist International, as a “sympathetic” organization. The time came when Stalin, Molotov and Bukharin, sent a telegram from Moscow, calling upon Chinese Communists to put down the agrarian movement of the peasants, so as not to “scare away” Chiang Kai Shek and his officers. Tarov, together with other disciples of Lenin, considered such a policy to be a betrayal of the revolution.

The Tarovs had several other similar crimes to their credit. From 1923 on, they demanded that work proceed on the drafting of the Five Year Plan; and when, in 1927, the draft of the first Five Year Plan was finally outlined, all the Tarovs argued that the annual increase in industry should be set not at 5–9 percent, as was done by the Political Bureau, but two or three times greater. True, this was all soon confirmed. But since the Tarovs by virtue of their foresight had exposed the backwardness of the ruling upper crust, they were therefore guilty of undermining the revolution (i.e. the prestige of the bureaucracy). The Tarovs paid a great deal of attention to the working class youth. In their opinion the youth had to be given an opportunity to do some independent thinking, to study, make mistakes, and learn to stand on its own feet. They protested against the fact that revolutionary leadership had been replaced by a regime of bulldozing corporals. They forecasted that this barrack-room strangulation of the youth must lead to demoralization and to the growth of outright hooligan and reactionary moods in its midst. These warnings were branded as an attempt to set the young generation against the old, as mutiny against the “Old Guard” – the very same “Old Guard” which has been calumniated, smashed and committed to jails, or demoralized by Stalin with the aid of his Praetorians.

Such are Tarov’s crimes. To this we must add that the Bolshevik-Leninists, including Tarov, never attempted to impose their ideas by force. They did not call for an uprising against the bureaucracy. For a period of almost ten years they sought and hoped to convince the party. They fought primarily for their right to bring their criticism and their proposals before the party. But the bureaucracy which had raised itself to autocratic rule upon the defeats of the world proletariat, counterposed to the Leninist Opposition not the force of argument, but the armed detachments of the G.P.U. Tarov happened to be among several thousands who were arrested during the Thermidorian annihilation of the Opposition in 1928. Thereafter he spent more than three years in exile, and about four years in jail. From his present brief story the reader is able to acquaint himself with the conditions that prevail in these jails: abuse, corporal punishment. the 14-day torture of a hunger strike, and in answer to it, forced feeding and new abuse. All this because the Bolshevik-Leninists posed the problem of collectivization before Stalin did, because they issued a timely warning against the consequences of the perfidious alliance with Chiang Kai Shek and the future Sir Walter Citrine ...

Tarov’s Mistake

But then came a new thunderclap from the blue: Hitler came to power in Germany. The policy of the Communist International had cleared the road for him. When Hitler was hoisting himself into the saddle, his stirrup was held by none other than Stalin. All the floods of eloquence poured forth by the Seventh Congress will not wash away from the ennobled Leaders the blots of this historic crime. All the more rabid became the hatred of the Stalinist clique for all those who had foreseen and forewarned in time. The captive Leninists had to pay with their ribs for the deadly policy which combined ignorance with perfidy: it is precisely this combination that provides the essence of Stalinism.

Yet, Tarov, alarmed by the triumph of National Socialism, turned to the authorities in Moscow with the following proposal: he pledges to give up Oppositionist activity, in return for which, he, Tarov, is to be given the right to return to the ranks of the party, as a disciplined soldier, and there carry on the struggle against the Fascist danger. It is not difficult to explain the psychological causes for Tarov’s step. There is no position more torturous for a revolutionist than to be bound hand and foot while the imperialist reaction is capturing one proletarian trench after another. But Tarov’s political proposal was doubly unrealistic. In the first place, to support Stalin’s struggle against Fascism uncritically is, in the last analysis, to help Fascism – this has been irrefutably proved by the entire history of the last 12 years; in the second place, Tarov’s proposal was not acceptable, and could not have been accepted by the bureaucracy. Even a single Leninist unselfishly and courageously fulfilling the tasks assigned him, in full view, without recanting publicly and without spitting upon the best traditions of Bolshevism would be a silent refutation, of the legend entitled “Trotskyism as the vanguard of the bourgeois counter-revolution.” This asinine legend wobbles on its mythical underpinnings, and has to be propped up daily. Concurrently, Tarov’s example, if he were successful, would inevitably arouse emulation. This could not be allowed. It is impermissible to allow bold men to return to the party who surrender only the public expression of their views – no, they must renounce their ideas, their right to think altogether. They must spit upon views which have been confirmed by the entire course of events.

Signpost of Stalinist Corruption

Nothing so characterizes the Stalinist regime, Its internal corruption and fraud, as its utter inability to assimilate a sincere revolutionist ready to serve obediently, but who refuses to lie. No! Stalin needs apostates, bellowing renegades, people who are shamelessly ready to call black white, who beat their hollow breasts, pathetically, while their minds are actually occupied with pie-cards, automobiles and summer resorts. The party and the state apparatus is overrun with such swindlers, double-dealers, and corrupt cynics. They are unreliable but indispensable: bureaucratic absolutism which has come into an irreconcilable contradiction with economic and cultural requirements of the workers’ state is in acute need of swindlers ready for anything.

Thus, Tarov’s attempt to return to the ranks of the official “party” met with complete failure. Tarov was left with no recourse other than to flee from the Soviet Union. His experience, for which he paid so dearly, is an invaluable lesson both for the Soviet and the world proletariat. The Open Letter issued by the organizations standing under the banner of the Fourth International finds a new and a clear-cut confirmation in the Tarov case. The Open Letter states, “By means of persecutions, frauds, amalgams and bloody repressions the ruling clique seeks to nip in the bud every movement of Marxist thought. Nowhere in the world is genuine Leninism so bestially hounded as in the U.S.S.R.’’ These lines, superficially considered, appear exaggerated: Isn’t Leninism being ruthlessly hounded in Italy and Germany? As a matter of fact there is no exaggeration in the Open Letter. In Fascist countries the Leninists are subjected to persecution along with other opponents of the regime. Hitler, as is well known, vented his greatest malice upon his oppositionist brothers-in-arms In the party, the “left wing,” which reminded him of his own yesterday. The Stalinist bureaucracy vents the same bestial cruelty upon the Bolshevik-Leninists, the genuine revolutionists, who embody the traditions of the party and of the October revolution.


The political conclusions to be drawn from the case of comrade Tarov are quite evident. It would be sheer insanity to think of “reforming” and “regenerating” the C.P.S.U. today. A bureaucratic machine which serves primarily the purpose of keeping the proletariat in a vise cannot possibly be made to serve the interests of the proletariat. Revolutionary terror, which during the heroic period of the revolution served as a weapon in the hands of the awakened masses against the oppressors, and as a direct safeguard of the rule of the proletariat, has been completely supplanted by the cold blooded and venomous terror of the bureaucracy which fights like a mad beast for its posts and sinecures, for its uncontrolled and autocratic rule – against the proletarian vanguard. This is precisely why Stalinism is doomed!

Engels on Stalin

On February 20, 1889, Engels wrote Kautsky a truly remarkable letter – published only recently – on the class relations during the epoch of the Great French Revolution. Among other things, it states the following: “as regards terror, so long as it had any meaning, it was in its essence a war measure. The class, or a certain section of it, which was alone able to guarantee victory to the revolution, not only remained in power thanks to the terror ... but also assured itself elbow-room, the freedom of movement, the possibility to concentrate forces at the decisive points, i.e. at the frontiers.” But once the frontiers had been safeguarded thanks to military victories, and after the destruction of the frenzied Commune which had sought to carry liberty to other peoples on bayonets, terror outlived itself as a weapon of the revolution. Robespierre, it is true, was at the height of his power; but says Engels, “henceforth terror became a means of self-preservation for him, and thus it was reduced to an absurdity” (Engel’s emphasis). These lines are remark; able for their simplicity and profundity. There is no need here to expatiate upon the distinction between the present and the past epoch: it is quite well known. No less clear is the difference between the historic roles played by Robespierre and Stalin: the former assured the victory of the revolution over its internal and foreign enemies during the most critical period of its existence; but in Russia this work was accomplished under the leadership of Lenin. Stalin came to the forefront only after this period had come to a close. He is the living embodiment of a bureaucratic Thermidor. In his hands, terror was and remains primarily the instrument for crushing the party, the trade unions and the Soviets, and for establishing a personal dictatorship which lacks only ... an imperial crown. Terror, which has fulfilled its revolutionary mission and has become transformed into a weapon of self-preservation for usurpers, thus transforms itself into an “absurdity,” to use Engels’ expression. In the language of dialectics this means that it is doomed to inevitable collapse.

The Basis of the Terror

The senseless bestialities, which grew out of bureaucratic methods of collectivization, as well as the vile reprisals and violence against the best elements of the proletarian vanguard inevitable arouse exasperation, hatred and yearning for revenge. This atmosphere engenders moods of individual terrorism amongst the youth. The petty Ukrainian Bonaparte, S. Kossior, famous for his brazenness, said not long ago that Trotsky “calls in the press for the assassination of Soviet leaders,” while Zinoviev and Kamenev, as proved – if you please by the Yenukidze case – participated directly in the preparation of the Kirov assassination. Since everybody who has access to the writings of Trotsky can easily verify whether or not Trotsky has called for “the assassination of Soviet leaders” (if one were to allow, in general, that there are adult people who have to verify canards of this sort), this itself casts sufficient light upon the other half of Kossior’s lie which concerns Zinoviev and Kamenev. We do not know whether there are now in process of manufacture any fraudulent documents with the aid of “Latvian consuls” or “Wrangel officers.” The Kossiors of the Bonapartist regime are still able to hound, strangle and shoot quite a number of impeccable revolutionists, but this will not change the essence of the matter: their terror is an historical absurdity. It will be swept away together with its organizers.

Fallacy of Individual Attempts

Do we call for the assassination of the Soviet leaders? The bureaucrats who have deified themselves may be sincerely under the delusion that they are making history, but we on our part do not share this illusion. Stalin did not create the apparatus. The apparatus created Stalin – after its own image. The replacement of Kirov by Zhdanov changed absolutely nothing in the state of affairs. Unlike the situation that prevails with goods for mass consumption, the assortment of Kossiors is unlimited. They vary from one another a centimeter or so in height and a few centimeters in girth. That is all! In everything else they are as alike as their own eulogies of Stalin. The replacement of Stalin himself by one of the Kaganovitches would introduce almost as little novelty as did the replacement of Kirov by Zhdanov. But would a Kaganovitch have sufficient “authority”? There is no cause for worry, all the Kossiors – the first, the fifteenth and the one thousand and first – would immediately provide the necessary authority for him by means of the bureaucratic conveyor, just as they created Stalin’s “authority,” i.e., “authority” for themselves, for their uncontrolled rule.

That is why individual terror appears so pathetic and puny in our eyes. No, we have not unlearned the ABC of Marxism. Not only the fate of the Soviet bureaucracy but the fate of the Soviet regime as a whole depends upon factors of a world historic magnitude. Only successes on the part of the international proletariat can restore self-confidence to the Soviet proletariat. The basic condition for revolutionary successes is the unification of the world proletarian vanguard around the banner of the Fourth International. The struggle for this banner must be waged in the U.S.S.R. as well: prudently but unyieldingly. The historical absurdity of an autocratic bureaucracy in a “classless” society cannot and will not endlessly endure. The proletariat that has achieved three revolutions will once again lift up its head. But won’t the bureaucratic “absurdity” resist? The proletariat will find a large enough broom. And we shall assist them.

September 6, 1935

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