Leon Trotsky

20,000 Oppositionists Expelled from the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
in Recent ‘Cleansing’

(11 January 1936)

Written: January 11, 1936.
Source: New Militant, Vol. II No. 5, 15 February 1936. From the The Militant Collection at the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Online Version: Marxists’ Internet Archive, 2002.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: David Walters.

A new purge is being concluded in the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This time it bears the modest label of a “check-up on party credentials.” The difference between this purge and all those that preceded it lies in the fact that it is being effected without even the nominal participation of the party itself; no general meetings, no personal confessions, no public denunciations, no corroborating testimony. The checking machinery operates entirely behind the scenes: for, you see, this is merely a matter of “credentials.” In reality approximately 10 percent of the party has been expelled as a result of this modest technical check-up. The check-up of party candidates has not been completed as yet. But already, many more than 200,000 have been ejected from the ranks of the party. Let us recall, incidentally, that this was almost the numerical strength of the entire Bolshevik Party during the period when it led the proletariat to the conquest of power.

The January 2 issue of Pravda breaks down the figures of the expelled into the following main categories: “From Trotskyists, Zinovievists, opportunists, double-dealers, alien elements, swindlers, adventurers, down to spies of the foreign agencies.” The list you will observe, reproduces the general formula of all Thermidorian amalgams. It would be utterly naïve to become “indignant” over the coupling of Trotskyists with swindlers and spies. Every régime at loggerheads with the people persecutes, on the one hand, revolutionists, and on the other, criminals. From time immemorial these two categories lived side by side in the prisons of the tsar, as they live today in the prisons of the bourgeoisie of the entire world. Kerensky in his own time swore again and again that the Bolsheviks were in collusion with Black Hundred gangs and German spies. Stalin remains entirely true to tradition. Instead of growing “indignant” over the statistical amalgam, let us analyze it more closely.

First of all we note the striking fact that from among the more than 200,000 expelled, the “Trotskyists” are officially assigned the first place. Does this imply that they are so large a group numerically? Or is it that the bureaucracy, after liquidating “the remnants and splinters” of Trotskyists no less than ten times, still continues to consider them as its most dangerous enemy? Both. We shall shortly prove on the basis of official statistics that the number of the expelled Bolshevik-Leninists during the last purge alone (the latter part of 1935) amounted to no fewer than 10,000, and, in effect, a great many more. The bestiality of the repressions is ample indication of the extent to which the bureaucracy fears this “category.”

The Trotskyists and Zinovievists are commonly lumped together in a single category by the official accounts. The Zinovievists always represented a purely Leningrad grouping; in other parts of the country they consisted of only scattered individuals, and, aside from their instability, they never had an independent political character. Thus we obtain six categories of the expelled: (1) Bolshevik-Leninists; (2) Zinovievists; (3) “opportunists” (recorded here more for symmetry and camouflage: the individual reports do not mention them at all as a rule); (4) double-dealers and alien elements (former White Guards, etc.); (5) swindlers and adventurists; (6) foreign spies. With slight variations these categories are repeated in the district reports, correspondence, leading articles, etc.

Before passing to the analysis of the numerical strength of the Bolshevik-Leninists, we wish to point out that not one single listing of the categories of the expelled, or any of the commentaries we have examined, contains any mention either of Mensheviks or of Socialist Revolutionaries. Both these parties are politically non-existent. Their reactionary policy in 1917, as Comrade Tarov has recently so correctly pointed out, has barred them from all approach to the new generations in the city and countryside. And as the Yugoslav comrade Ciliga, yesterday’s captive of Stalin, has stressed on several occasions, the only serious opposition in the country is that of the Bolshevik-Leninists. In other words, the opposition to Bonapartism in the Soviet Union flows not from the principles of petty-bourgeois democracy but from the conquests of the October Revolution, and marches under its banner. Let us keep this fact firmly in mind, for it is of colossal importance for the future.

After all the preceding purges and campaigns of physical extermination it seems almost incredible that among the various categories of the expelled – not hundreds, not thousands, but a minimum of 200,000 – the Bolshevik-Leninists should be listed in the first place. How many of them were there? The Soviet press refrains cautiously from citing any totals on this score. Only in individual articles and remarks dealing with provinces and districts do we run across direct or indirect (most often indirect) mention of the number of the expelled “Trotskyists.” This is the data we propose to dwell upon.

Khataevich, secretary of the Dnieper-Petrovsk province, reports in his article that during the checking of the documents in his satrapy, 2,646 people were expelled from the party – 8 percent of the entire organization. During the checkup, it appears that “we succeeded in uncovering not only isolated individuals but entire counter-revolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist groups skulking in the ranks of the party.” Khataevich does not supply their number. But he does cite other figures: “1,500 White Guards, kulaks, members of Petlyura, Makhno, and other bands; 300 frauds and swindlers who wormed their way into the party with forged documents” (Pravda, December 26, 1935). These two groups together comprise 1,800. In addition, the article also refers obscurely to “foreign spies who penetrated into the party”; but here the reference can only be to individuals, not more than a score at the most. Subtracting the above-mentioned categories, there remains to the share of Trotskyists and Zinovievists, as well as oppositionists of all types, not less than 1,600. Or is Khataevich perhaps hiding some other categories of the expelled? Which ones? Why? But even if only a half or a third of the above number falls to the share of the “Trotskyists,” even then we get a very imposing number (500 to 1,000). Naturally, this number is still purely hypothetical in character.

In the same issue of Pravda, in a small item, we find that in the Azov-Black Sea region, 4,324 people were expelled, 7 percent of the total number checked. The checkup revealed that “in several city organizations there existed counter-revolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist groups (the ‘Krasny Aksai’ plant, the regional agricultural department, the fruit and grape trust).” This brief item does not state what proportion of the expelled these groups composed, but it does admit that even after the check-up “unexposed enemies” continue to crop up in the regional organizations.

In the West Siberian region, 3,576 members of the party were expelled (11 percent) and 1,935 candidates (12.8 percent). Secretary Eikhe writes in Pravda: “Among the expelled, the largest number are kulaks and White Guards from Kolchak’s armies – these constitute almost a third. Then come the Trotskyists and Zinovievists ...” (December 23, 1935). According to this statement, the Bolshevik-Leninists take the second place numerically. All the expelled, with the exception of the White Guards, fall into not more than four categories. If the expelled were divided equally among these categories, each would number more than 900. Yet Eikhe himself states that the Trotskyists and Zinovievists comprise the largest groups numerically, after the White Guards. Therefore, there cannot be less than 1,000 expelled Bolshevik-Leninists in the West Siberian region alone, or approximately 20 percent of all those expelled. Says Eikhe, “From the total number of Trotskyists and Zinovievists expelled from the party about one-half worked in the educational institutions ... The Trotskyist-Zinovievist garbage (!) took particular pains to pervade the ideological sector, seeking to utilize it for propaganda.” The reference here is obviously to new party members, from the student working class youth. We may grant that Siberia is an exception as regards the high percentage of Bolshevik-Leninists: the youth is obviously being subjected to the influence of the exiles (the same phenomenon, we might add, was to be observed under tsarism as well.)

In the Kharkov district, out of 50,000 members, more than 4,000 were expelled. Secretary Zaitsev breaks down into categories only 2,356 cases of expulsion, checked by the highest bodies. Among these are: 907 kulaks and White Guards; 594 moral degenerates and breakers of discipline; 120 frauds and swindlers; 42 bourgeois nationalists; and, finally, 120 Trotskyists. This time we are given quite a definite figure, and, moreover, without any mention of Zinovievists. If we take into consideration the fact that in Kharkov, the satrapy of S. Kosior, Petrovsky, and Company, the physical extermination of the Opposition has been going on since 1923, with a bestial ruthlessness so thorough that its fame has spread throughout the entire Soviet Union, then even the modest number of 120, comprising more than 5 percent of the expelled (2,356), seems truly astounding.i

It is all too clear that the bureaucracy has not and cannot have the slightest motives for exaggerating the influence of the Bolshevik-Leninists. That is why we must look upon the figures that have seeped into the press as the minimum. Moreover, since 1924 the Stalinist clique has preferred to expel Oppositionists as “moral degenerates” and even as “White Guards.” There can be no doubt that precisely the most influential and active Bolshevik-Leninists were expelled under these very categories: it is all the easier to make short shrift of them in the concentration camps or en route to exile.

If we take the West Siberia co-efficient, then we would arrive at a number of not less then 40,000 expelled “Trotskyists” and Zinovievists for the entire Soviet Union. We have already stated why this number must be considered as too large. But even if we take the deliberately minimized Kharkov percentage of the expelled “Trotskyists,” i.e., over 5 percent, then, out of the 200,000 expelled, we would get more than 10,000. If, finally, we take the average between the West Siberian and Kharkov figures, then we get 25,000. In all probability the latter number would be closer to the truth.

The enormous political significance of the above data is clear enough to anyone. One question remains: Why does the bureaucracy, on the one hand, keep the total secret, while, on the other, it makes public partial data which is sufficiently clear for general orientation? The answer is very simple: the bureaucracy crawls out of its skin to avoid giving publicity to the Bolshevik-Leninists, while at the same time it is compelled to broadcast a warning: Beware! “They” are many! “They” are growing! In any case, there is no longer any talk about “remnants” and “handfuls still to be crushed.”

The Bolshevik-Leninists were and remain the most irreconcilable enemies of the bureaucracy, which seeks to perpetuate its position as a ruling caste. Small wonder that the Stalinist clique assigns the first place in its amalgam lists to the “Trotskyists.” They have earned the honour by their entire struggle. The very nature of the most recent purge testifies in the best and clearest possible way to the growth of their influence. The bureaucracy can no longer make short shrift of its enemies by means of the terrorized party, or even publicly before its eyes. The public purge has been replaced by a star chamber, i.e., it is transferred entirely into the hands of the GPU. Of course, the expelled, too, are placed in the same hands – for physical extermination. This method is so well adapted to the interests of the bureaucracy that Stalin has immediately projected a new purge: from February 1 to May 1 of the current year. Old party cards (these, it appears, have become “tattered”) must be exchanged for new ones, and the instructions of the CC contain a rigid proviso that during the replacement of party cards the secretaries, i.e., the organs of the GPU, must once again check the entire party personnel and issue new cards only to those who have earned “confidence.” Perhaps six months later we shall learn how many new Bolshevik-Leninists will thereby be promoted from the party to the concentration camps.

The above-cited data may perhaps appear utterly unexpected to many. We have purposely done all our computations before the reader’s eyes so as to exclude the possibility of any suspicions of subjectivism or bias on our part. The whole gist of the matter lies in the fact that under the influence of the Stalinist press and its agents (like Louis Fisher and similar gentlemen) not only our enemies but also many of our friends in the West have imperceptibly become accustomed to the idea that if any Bolshevik-Leninists still exist in the USSR, then they are almost all in hard labour camps. No! That is not the case at all! The Marxist program and the great revolutionary tradition cannot be rooted out by means of police measures. To be sure, in the USSR the Bolsheviks find it harder to work today than in any other country in the world (of greatest interest in this respect is the fresh testimony of the Yugoslav comrade Ciliga). Nevertheless, the functioning of the revolutionary mind is not suspended for a single day. If not as a doctrine, then as a mood, as a tradition, as a banner, our tendency has a mass character in the USSR, and today it is obviously drawing to itself new and fresh forces. Among the ten to twenty thousand “Trotskyists” expelled during the last months of 1935, the representatives of the older generation, the participants in the movement of the years 192328, comprise tens, perhaps hundreds, but not more. The basic mass – all are the new recruits. Moreover, we must not forget that the above data applies only to the party. But there also exists the Communist Youth League, with its millions of youth! It is precisely among them that unrest assumes a particularly aggravated character. It is frightfully difficult for young revolutionists to learn Leninism in the USSR. But without any doubt their level is incomparably higher than the level of the Stalinist “party.” The great tradition lives on. In secret places lies hidden the old Oppositionist literature. On the shelves stand the books of Marx, Engels, and Lenin (they dare not proscribe them as yet). The Soviet papers are compelled to publish news of events in the entire world. The international literature under the banner of the Fourth International is already a very rich one today. Our ideas and slogans penetrate into the Soviet Union through a thousand channels – in part, through our Russian Biulleten. Thus the precious primacy of revolutionary thought is being made secure.

Under the lash of the bureaucracy, and not without direct provocation on the part of the Yagodas, Medveds, and others, isolated elements of the youth take the path of individual terror, i.e., the path of despair and hopelessness. The Bonapartists avidly seize upon terrorist acts in order to justify their bloody repressions of the Opposition: this method is as ancient as the ancient baseness of privileged despots. But the main section of the revolutionary youth does not tear loose from its class to take to the road of individualistic adventures. The program of the Fourth International, even though it does not promise instantaneous miracles, does point to the only correct and unconditionally certain way. The growth of the Fourth International on the world arena strengthens and inspires our friends and followers in the USSR. We can state with certainty that despite the thirteen years of hounding, slander, and pogroms, unsurpassed either in vileness or cruelty; despite capitulations and betrayals, more dangerous than the persecutions; even today the Fourth International already has its strongest, numerically largest, and most tempered section in the USSR.

No, we have not the slightest grounds for falling into apathy. Progress is neither smooth nor straight. The struggle of the oppressed demands great sacrifices. But the future is ours. The latest bureaucratic purge in the USSR is proof even to the blind: the future is ours!

P.S. – Insistent mention of “spies of foreign agencies” expelled from the party during the purge deserves particular attention. Such cases are of course entirely possible. But by their very nature, they can only be rare exceptions. An ordinary secret circular letter would have sufficed to take care of forwarding the information. But why do the newspapers keep harping about spies? The Stalinist press could never have presumed to be so bold without special instructions from above. But what is the purpose of the issued order? It can be correctly divined.

During the years of Stalinist autocratic rule in the USSR not a few foreign Communist-Oppositionists have been shot. A far greater number are languishing in solitary confinement, concentration camps, and exile. Ever more news about this is penetrating abroad. Of exceptional value are the reports of A. Ciliga, who recently tore free from the Stalinist chains. The bureaucracy must in some way parry these revelations, by arming its foreign lackeys with at least some semblance of an explanation. There would be nothing astonishing were the agents of the Comintern to proclaim all the foreign Communists shot and arrested in the USSR as “spies of foreign agencies.” These villainies, however, will not pass scot-free. The working masses will hear the truth. The organizations of the Fourth International will be at their posts.


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Last updated on: 20 March 2018