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Paul Thompson & Guy Lewis

The Revolution Unfinished?

2. Trotsky and the degeneration of the revolution

We begin this section by giving a brief account of Trotsky’s role and attitudes during the degeneration of the revolution in the 1920’s. It is impossible to explain Trotsky’s theories without putting them into a developing historical context.

The background situation

In 1921 the exhausting and destructive three year Civil War against the counter-revolution finally ended. But Bolshevik Russia was in a mess:

The material foundations of its existence were shattered. It will be enough to recall that by the end of the civil war Russia’s national income amounted to only one third of her income in 1913, that industry produced one fifth of the goods produced before the war, that the coal mines turned out less than one tenth and the iron foundries one fortieth of their normal output, that the railways were destroyed, that all stocks and reserves on which any economy depends for its work were utterly exhausted, that the exchange of goods between town and country had come to a standstill, that Russia’s cities and towns had become so depopulated that in 1921 Moscow had only one half and Petrograd one third of its former inhabitants, and that the people of the two capitals had for many months lived on a food ration of two ounces of bread and a few frozen potatoes and had heated their dwellings with the wood of their furniture – and we shall obtain some idea of the condition in which the nation found itself in the fourth year of revolution. (Deutscher, The Prophet Armed)

Famine and civil war had decimated the industrial working class, the vanguard of the revolution. The working class, its unions, clubs, co-operatives, the soviets were an empty tell. Even worse, the expected European revolution had not happened. After the wave of revolutionary struggles that swept Europe in the first couple of years after the war, the old regimes had stabilised to some extent. The failure of a pathetic attempt at a communist uprising in Germany set the seal on the isolation of the revolution in Russia for the time being. It was in these conditions that dreams of a vital working class democracy, outlined in Lenin’s masterpiece State and Revolution was supposed to take root. Of course, there was no chance, instead everywhere the revolution was in retreat. The Bolsheviks had partially been thrust, and partially had assumed a position of absolute power. Their organic link with the proletarian vanguard was fast disappearing. In its place only the aspirations to preserve the revolution and act in the interests of a newly constructed working class, who would one day be in a position to resume the brief responsibility they once had in 1917-18 to direct the country’s affairs through the soviets. But in these adverse conditions they felt forced to embark on what was a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating course.

They set up the CHEKA (Extraordinary Commisssion for Repression against counter-revolution, speculation and desertion) which acted on its own, controlled by bureaucrats not only against counter-revolutionaries but against genuine critical communist and Party cadres. Most of the other political parties had been suppressed; for good reason. The Mensheviks and Right Social Revolutionaries were openly against the revolution and for a return of bourgeois power; the left Social Revolutionaries and anarchists (many of whose best activists had joined the Bolsheviks) didn’t worry about stooping to terror and other tactics of utopian disorder. But the necessary repression of political opinion soon became the repression of all criticism; even within the party. As Deutschersaid:

They did not realise that they could not ban all controversies outside their ranks and keep it alive within their ranks: they could not abolish democratic rights for society at large and preserve those rights for themselves alone.

The left opposition in the party had been represented earlier by leading Bolsheviks from Leningrad such as Bukharin and Radek, the Democratic Centralists and other people who were protesting about the extent of the retreat from the ideals of the revolution. Concessions to the rich peasants (Kulaks) and foreign capitalism, the arbitrary rule of the Politbureau, the over-centralistic methods of government were all targets for attack. The most important was the Workers’ Opposition, composed mostly of disillusioned veteran Bolshevik workers and cadres. Their criticisms are worth noting because they were the first systematic critique and can be compared with the criticisms later developed by Trotsky.

The Workers’ Opposition

They acknowledged that the worsened material environment, the economic and political chaos was the main factor in forcing the retreat. But they said that the leadership had not learned where to stop. It was under pressure from the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, former capitalists, traders and petty officials. It had to contend with the growing influence of specialists, technicians and managers, who in their ideas and methods were tied to bourgeois ways of running the economy. Most importantly, the party was being subverted from within. It had to fill posts in government, industry and unions and wanted to control these people. But by admitting so many non-proletarian elements they were being swamped by people, many of whom were interested only in personal power and jumping on the bandwagon. Bolsheviks who had fought in the underground before the revolution formed only 2% of the membership in 1922 – during this time the membership had grown from 23,000 to 700,000.

Given this, the Workers’ Opposition said the leadership had chosen the wrong road: relying on managers, cultivating a bureaucracy, over-centralising the political and economic apparatuses, stifling the soviets and factory committees and replacing collective with “one-man” management. Even with a partially decimated working class it was necessary to involve it in economic management; to slowly develop its creative powers. The alternative was to alienate the workers, lose the impetus for productivity rises, risk increasing absenteeism and, most importantly, slowly strangle the working class as a political force. The debate came to a head around the role of the trade unions. The Workers’ Opposition and others wanted to see the unions established as an independent force, enabling the workers to control the economy. On the other extreme, Trotsky saw no role for the unions, they were to be an arm of the state, limited to “education” of the workers, getting them to increase productivity and maintain labour discipline. Lenin took a position which eventually won out, that denied the unions a say in economic management but maintained their semi-independence as a connecting link between the states and the needs and aspirations of the workers.

The Workers Opposition also called for the restoration of full democracy within the party, and the ending of appointments from above rather than elections from below, except in cases of unavoidable expediency. Unfortunately, some of their other suggestions were totally utopian in the circumstances, such as the expulsion from the party of all non-proletarian elements and their carefully vetted re-admission; every party worker to be required to live and work 3 months as worker or peasant and the revision of wage policies to replace money wages gradually with rewards in kind.

The NEP and Kronstadt

Despite this, the Workers’ Oppositions questions – “What type of economic development and who directs it?” – were crucial ones. Even more so In the context of the economic retreat forced on the Bolsheviks, contained in the New Economic Policy (NEP). This gave tax and other concessions to the peasants, freedom of trade; freedom of production by craftsmen, concessions on attractive terms to foreign capital and partial freedom for private enterprise. It amounted to, as Lenin admitted, a partial restoration of capitalism in an attempt to get the economy moving again and to appeal to the peasants in their backward and isolated stage of development. We will return to this question later.

All the accumulated problems reached their explosion point at Kronstadt (an old revolutionary stronghold) where there was a popular rebellion of sailors, workers and peasants against the Bolshevik regime. Many of its demands were correct, “but it could not be allowed to succeed”. As Serge explains:

Soviet democracy lacked leadership, institutions and inspiration; at its back there were only masses of starving and desperate men. The popular counter-revolution translated the demand for freely elected soviets into one for “soviets without communists”. If the Bolshevik dictatorship fell, it was only a short step to chaos, and through chaos to a peasant rising, the massacre of the Communists and the return of the emigres , and in the end, through the sheer force of events, another dictatorship; this time anti-proletarian. (p.128, op. cit.)

In this context the oppositionists within the party, including Serge, decided to fight the rebels, who were eventually crushed, on the ice outside Kronstadt.

The early role of Trotsky

During these early years Trotsky had built the Red Army from almost nothing to 500,000 men in two years and had brilliantly led them to victory against the White armies and their foreign allies. He had also shown brilliance as an organiser and administrator on the railways and other aspects of economic planning. His other great ability was as a political orator and mobiliser of the masses, an invaluable asset in this period. In foreign affairs he also played a major role in developing the Communist International (CI).

But there was little hint of Trotsky’s later role as an oppositionist. In fact he had been one of the most extreme disciplinarians. He indicted the Workers’ Opposition on behalf of the Central Committee before the party and the CI. He was loud in his condemnation of criticism within the party and a major supporter of the suppression and banning of the Workers’ Opposition at the 11th Congress (1921), which banned all factions. He was the most extreme opponent of workers’ control of the economy, advocating the fusion of unions and state: the biggest advocate of a layer of bureaucratic functionaries with material privileges. After the civil war he advocated the most authoritarian policies, continuing the unfortunate necessities of “war communism”. The best known aspect of this was “the militarisation of labour”, through which the labour force was to be treated like an army – to be moved around and disciplined from above. So rigid and authoritarian were his attitudes that he was distrusted by many of the old Bolsheviks. This was compounded by the fact that he had only joined the party in 1917. Straight away he “parachuted” to the summit of the Bolshevik organisation as leader of the Red Army and major figure on the Central Committee. To the masses and to revolutionaries outside Russia he was seen with Lenin as the leader of the revolution. But to the old guard he was, as Mikoyan put it, “a man of the state, not of the party”.

Trotsky in decline 1922-3

This goes some way to explain Trotsky’s rapid fall from power. He became increasingly isolated at the top of the party, distrusted by the oppositionists and the emergent bureaucracy in the old guard. The major determinant of his fall was Lenin’s growing illness and paralysis. He was becoming increasingly unable to take part in the decision-making process and it was obvious that he would not last long. In that partial void the struggle for the political succession and therefore the direction of the revolution began. In this struggle Trotsky was a pre-determined loser, his inexperience of party life and practice and his lack of a firm power base (except perhaps in the army) were deciding factors. It is wrong to see Trotsky as a cynical fighter for political power, who having lost, then turned oppositionist. In fact he showed no real ability or willingness to indulge in political in-fighting at this stage.

Stalin, at the time supported by Lenin (who believed he was the best man to consolidate the party’s hold on affairs and stifle criticism) became manager of the party machine as General Secretary. With Lenin out of the way the bureaucracy was consolidating its hold, led by the Triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. They accelerated previous tendencies towards authoritarianism, over-centralisation, and constructed an apparatus above the party; using this apparatus to stifle all criticism and to trample on the rights of the smaller nations in the republic, in particular the Georgian Bolsheviks. They knew that to consolidate their power they needed to eliminate Trotsky as a power in the party. Trotsky was the most obvious successor to Lenin as leader of the party in many people’s eyes – he was certainly the figure of greatest stature, as theoretician, organiser and orator, able to dominate meetings for hours on end.

Trotsky for his part began to be alarmed at his isolation amid the growing power of the triumvirate. He began to protest at the abuse of bureaucratic power, although not against its existence. But it was not just on the question of inner party democracy that he began to split with the Politbureau. Over a period of time he had been advocating greater economic planning and a strengthening of the state sector as against the private sector, the towns as against the countryside. With great foresight he envisaged the role long- term planning and the state could play, while the rest of the Politbureau was concerned only with the day to day running of the NEP. The advocacy of such policies created opposition, it challenged the existing policies and the tendency towards more and more concessions to private commerce, business and the peasantry. This section of the party, led by Rykov, charged Trotsky with hostility towards the peasantry, a charge that was to be used frequently in future.

Meanwhile, Lenin was beginning to be alarmed at the tendencies developing and the power of Stalin and the triumvirate. He violently opposed Stalin’s suppression of the Georgian Bolsheviks. He wrote a letter to Stalin threatening to break off all personal relations and confided (so Krupskaya told Kamenev) to crush Stalin politically. He told Trotsky to oppose Stalin at the Central Committee and to accept no compromise, but again underestimating their power Trotsky thought that Lenin’s opposition would ensure their decline. Unfortunately Lenin had another relapse and the triumvirate went about consolidating their power. By the time Lenin finally died they were strong enough to suppress Lenin’s last testament which called for the removal of Stalin as General Secretary and described Trotsky as “the most able man in the present Central Committee”. (But it should be borne in mind that this “will” is open to debate and has been misused by both sides). During this key period Trotsky remained largely isolated, incurring the wrath of the managers and administrators for his attacks on their inefficiency, the pro-peasant wing of the party and failing to support the Workers’ Opposition. He remained impassive at the 12th Congress when the Workers’ Opposition demanded the disbandment of the triumvirate and attacked the General Secretariat. He was on the defensive, still claiming absolute solidarity with the Central Committee. However, he was building up some support quietly as others flocked to Trotsky as a new and leading oppositionist.

Trotsky as oppositionist

The first signs of serious opposition came with the Statement of the 46, a document using Trotsky’s terms of analysis, directed against the official leadership. These included Trotsky’s political friends and allies – Preobrazhensky, Pyatokov, Sosnovsky, Antonon-Ovseenko and Smirnov; but they also included leading members of the Workers’ Opposition and the Decemists like Sapronov, Bubnov, plus Ossinsky. Although still a loose grouping and coming together for different reasons, a united left opposition was being built.

Everyone of the 46 held, or had held, important positions in government and party, so they could not easily be suppressed. The 46 statement and two of Trotsky’s documents – The New Course and Lessons of October gained a large degree of support in party cells, especially in the large factories, the army and the youth and student organisations. The triumvirate had to retreat and join in the critique of “officialdom”, a critique that was superficial enough to be recuperated by the bureaucracy. The accusations and attacks on the 1923 opposition grew to an unprecedented height and the triumvirate strengthened its position (as it was to do many times in the future) by taking and distorting elements of the opposition’s proposals and putting them into practice. This came with the “Lenin Levy”. Trotsky had attacked the weakness of the “proletarian cells” as the chief cause of “bureaucratic deformation”. This in itself was a shallow and faulty analysis, reducing a political problem simply to one of class composition. What was more it was open to distortion. The triumvirate, between Lenin s death and February 1924 recruited 240,000 workers to the party. Presented as a “homage to Lenin”, in fact it was a means of smashing opposition by swamping the party with a mass of raw and easily manipulated new recruits.

The Communist International

The triumvirate had a tough job explaining the way Trotsky and the opposition were being treated to foreign communists. Trotsky was still seen outside Russia as the embodiment of the revolution.

So before the end of 1923 the Central Committees of the French and Polish Communist Parties protested about the treatment of Trotsky and the German CP had asked that he lead the planned insurrection in Germany. But two factors destroyed the rumblings of discontent. Firstly, with a shallow and clumsy plan the German party failed in their insurrection, calling it off half-way through and leaving the Hamburg workers, who fought on hopelessly, isolated and then routed. Together with similar setbacks in Poland and Bulgaria the prospects for revolution in Europe receded for a number of years. This confirmed the opinions of the “isolationists” in the Bolsheviks who thought that Russia must stand alone, and weakened Trotsky’s position as the advocate of permanent revolution and the necessity of European revolution to save the Russian revolution. The triumvirate also managed, amazingly, to pin some of the blame for the German setback on Trotsky and his associates . But the key factor in the case by which the Communist International was swung round behind the triumvirate had its roots in the past. Right from the start the Russians had acted as the unifying and dominating factor in the International – sometimes for good reasons. But they had a tendency to impose the lessons of the Russian experience on the diverse parties and conditions in other countries. With Trotsky often acting as chief agent they were used to browbeating and dictating to the rest, who dared not challenge the Russian formula. When the triumvirate asked for their approval for the action taken against Trotsky in 1924 the Communist International, used to unquestioning acceptance of the Bolshevik line, submitted, only Boris Souvraine, the French delegate, voting against.

A month later, at the Fifth Congress, the Russians, led by Zinoviev, “Bolshevised” the submissive parties, suppressing all opposition before congress. Ignoring Lenin’s last speech at the Fourth Congress, which warned against a mechanical and slavish imitation of Russian methods, they made sure that in future the Communist International would became a farce, a plaything for the needs of the Russian bureaucracy.

The Opposition is joined by Zinoviev

There followed a relative lull in the battle for 18 months into the summer of 1926, in which Trotsky’s’ position was further weakened by debates on literature and the history of the revolution. But there soon followed an event of momentous importance – the triumvirate was splitting. This was lucky because the opposition was getting very weak. Trotsky had again showed a lack of political tactics, for example in his refusal to challenge the triumvirate on the suppression of Lenin’s will and being drawn into a phoney conciliation. Asked merely to “maintain contacts and cadres of the 1923 opposition” the Trotskyists had dwindled into small groups, except in Moscow.

Despite a facade of social peace, the nation was still riddled with poverty and social tension. It was the major social antagonism – that between town and country – that was to split the Bolshevik leadership. It split into a left, a right and a centre. Some of the divisions reflected changes in the hierarchy of power. Those pushed out began to be more critical, those in office for several years less tolerant of criticism. But it was the question of economic development that was at the centre of the controversy. A new right wing emerged, led by the ex-left Communist, Bukharin. Saying that Russia was and would continue to be isolated from any chance of European revolution, he urged further concessions to the peasants. This was a policy that had not borne much fruit in the past. The peasants did not own the land, the Kulaks did. Bukharin advocated a continuation of the NEP – building at a snail’s pace “dragged along by the peasant’s handcart”: ignoring the fact that the Kulaks got rich by squeezing the labourers, poor farmers and workers and generally slowed down accumulation in the state sector by striving to accumulate themselves.

The strongest reaction against this tendency was from the party organisation in the big cities like Leningrad. They found their voice in Zinoviev, who became the leader of the “left”. The Bolshevik cadres and workers in such places had had enough of the retreat at the expense of the working class. Significantly Zinoviev came out with a critique of “socialism in one country”. The Soviet Union might remain isolated for a long time but any chance of achieving full socialism was unreal without revolution abroad.

Stalin and his followers defined their position as “centre”. This was a key development. The growth of the Stalinist monolith received great impetus. By remaining at the centre, Stalin set himself the strategy of capturing and totally dominating the now fused party/state apparatus. With power as strategy, Stalin could use and distort the politics of left and right, playing them off one against the other, and finally destroying them. This is precisely what Stalin proceeded to do, using the left to politically defeat the right, he then systematically removed the left from positions of power inside the apparatus.

In isolation, both groups suffered and the Leningrad opposition dwindled to a few hundred. At the Fourth Congress, removed from power, they were reduced to calling for a return to proletarian democracy. A proletariat they themselves had partly been responsible for dispersing, disintegrating and destroying its political vigour. However, after considerable delay and heartsearching on both sides, there was a fusion of the opposition.

The Joint Opposition enters battle

The joint opposition (JO) engaged with the Stalinists and with Bukharin for about 18 months. It was a battle for the Bolshevik rank and file, with the odds heavily stacked in Stalin’s favour. As long as it was a battle between small groups he could win, backed by the party/state machine. The majority of people were unaware of the battle and anyway would favour Stalin insofar as he represented the myth of peace, stability and Russian self-sufficiency. The JO attempted to address factory and community cells; everywhere they went thugs followed to heckle and abuse them.

The hacks and careerists dominated the meetings, repressing support. They were increasingly forced to act clandestinely, holding their meetings in workers’ houses, tramping the streets as in the old days, agitating amongst small groups of proletarians. Their membership stood at between 5 and 8,000 at maximum. The battle took place on three fronts: economic and agricultural policy, party democracy and foreign affairs.

Economics and agriculture

A detailed counter policy in these areas was outlined in the 1926 Platform, signed by 17 members of the Central Committee. Serge explains its basic outline:

The 100 pages of the platform attacked the anti-socialist forces that were growing under the NEP system, embodied in the Kulak, the trader and the bureaucrat. Increase in indirect taxation, bearing heavily on the masses, real wages held static at an excessively low level, barely that of 1913; 2 million unemployed, trade unions fast becoming organs of the employer state (we demanded the preservation of the right to strike); 30-40% of the peasantry poor and without horses or implements, and a rich 6% cornering 53% of the corn reserves; we advocated tax-exemption for poor peasants, the development of collective cultivation and a progressive tax system. We also advocated a powerful drive for technological renewal and the creation of new industries and mercilessly criticised what was the first, pitifully weak version of the five-year plan.

Foreign affairs

The policy of socialism in one country was having a predictably disastrous effect on foreign policy. Giving up hope of revolution abroad and subordinating everything to Russian stability they imposed a reformist line of development on foreign CP’s. Believing that capitalism had stabilised itself they encouraged an accommodation with social democratic parties and reformist trade unions. In no way did such pacts and reformist united fronts further the class struggle. Nowhere was this clearer than in Britain. The British Communist Party was encouraged to form an alliance with left trade union leaders like Purcell and Hicks. When the General Strike came about the CP had not prepared the working class for the necessary break and independence of action from the reformist left. Hence during the struggle the CP was confused and impotent, the unions retreated and the strike was lost. Precisely these developments were predicted by Trotsky in his 1925 book Where is Britain Going?

This is just one example. There were other notable setbacks involving the Comintern, notably the temporary defeat of the Chinese revolution.

Party democracy and Thermidor

The platform also called for a restored life for the soviets, revitalisation of the party and the trade unions and a restoration of inner party democracy and debate. In their position these proposals were doomed and it was precisely through the control of the party/state apparatus that the leadership was to humiliate and crush the JO. Their attempt to win over the party cells having predictably failed the JO were demoralised and on the retreat, still clinging to the idea that Russia was a “workers’ state” and that the Bolshevik monopoly power, now the Stalinist bureaucracy, must be defended. They yielded ground and accepted “truce” terms little short of surrender. Stalin soon cynically broke the truce by kicking Trotsky off the Central Committee and Zinoviev off the Executive Committee of the Comintern.

Trotsky began to accept that they were in for a period of isolation, bowing to the “reactionary mood of the masses”. The question which now dominated the-opposition in the relative calm of winter 1926-7 was the “Soviet Thermidor”, (i.e. counter-revolution generated by forces inside the party). The left of the JO, including some Trotskyists, believed that the Thermidor had long passed and that the party was ossified monolith speaking for the Kulaks, the “NEP bourgeoisie” and the bureaucracy against the working class. But Trotsky maintained that the Thermidor had not yet happened. The forces interested in a Thermidorian counter-revolution he defined as the Kulaks, the NEP men and sections of the bureaucracy. He said the party would divide on these cleavages, the chief instigator or ally of a Thermidor being the Bukharinist right. The Stalinist centre had no programme and no social backing, it would lose in a counter-revolution, therefore it must be supported against the right. But as we said before, the fact that the Stalinist centre had no programme and no social backing was precisely its strength. To identify the counter-revolution with the increasingly ineffective Bukharinist right was a grave error which conditioned many of the future mistakes Trotsky made.

On the tenth anniversary of the revolution, the opposition made a belated “appeal to the masses”. In the parades they shouted the slogans “Strike against the Kulak, the NEP man and the bureaucrat”, “Carry out Lenin’s testament”, “Down with opportunism”’ and, paradoxically, “Preserve Bolshevik unity”. Stalin’s agents and the police smashed them on the streets before the largely uncomprehending masses. Not long after Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party for “inciting counter-revolutionary demonstration and insurrection”. They appealed to the next congress but with not one opposition delegate it went unheeded. The JO disintegrated. Many of the Zinoviev wing capitulated as expulsions multiplied. Their leaders announced that they accepted all the decisions of the congress. Some remained true to their beliefs and along with the majority of the Trotskyists they were [expelled].

Trotsky in exile

The leaders of the vanquished opposition attempted to set up a clandestine organisation in the vain hope that events would prove them right and they would be strong enough to achieve rehabilitation, freedom of speech and propaganda. Trotsky worked hard to maintain contacts and act as link man for the scattered opposition.

Hopes were actually raised by the major event that characterised the brief period in exile. A new social crisis shook the country in the winter of that year. There was a grain shortage and widespread hunger. In this context the Stalinists and Bukharinists engaged battle. The latter wanted to give the peasants further concessions and were against forced collectivisation and “premature” industrialisation, and as is usual for the defeated in a power battle, against the growing totalitarianism. To get out of the crisis Stalin adopted a supposedly “left” course, borrowing from the opposition.

From 1928-9 onwards the Politbureau turned to its own use the fundamental ideas of the newly expelled opposition (excepting of course that of working class democracy) and implemented them with ruthless violence. We had proposed a tax on the rich peasants – they were actually liquidated! We had proposed limitations and reforms of NEP – it was actually abolished! We had proposed industrialisation – it was done on a colossal scale which we “super-industrialisers”, as we were dubbed, had never dreamed of, which moreover inflicted immense suffering on the country. At the height of the world economic crisis food stuffs were exported at the lowest possible price to build up gold reserves, and the whole of Russia starved. (Serge, p.252, op. cit.)

Stalin’s left course threw the fragmented opposition into disarray. After recovering from the shock, Trotsky said that they should critically support the left course. Following the wrong logic of previous analysis he still saw the Stalinist apparatus as a bulwark against the Kulak and the NEP man. He believed that this struggle would bring the party closer to the working class, rehabilitating them in the process as “the party still needs us.” Indeed in some senses Stalin still did need some of the oppositionists – talented theorists, planners and experts to supplement his largely faceless men of the party machine.

But he needed them on his terms. So he encouraged those within the opposition who urged a conciliation with Stalin on the grounds that he was carrying out, albeit imperfectly, their policies. Trotsky was against a pact on the existing terms, but a substantial number eventually went over, led by Preobrazhensky, who claimed that they were merely carrying Trotsky’s policies to their logical conclusion.

Most oppositionists, however, remained irreconciled to the regime. Younger ones, less attached to the party and more concerned with proletarian democracy than economic policy, were sympathetic to the extreme left of the opposition – the old Workers Opposition and Decemists, who judged correctly that the revolution and the Bolsheviks were unfortunately dead – even if their analysis of the nature of the Stalinist regime was way off course, (they denounced it as a “bourgeois” or “peasants” democracy, and accused Stalin of restoring capitalism when he was about to destroy the private farmer.)

The final tragedy was Trotsky’s attempts in late 1928-9 at a pact with Bukharin and the right! Stalin had restarted his “left” course with a vengeance and was preparing for the final crushing of Bukharin. In fear and desperation the Bukharin decided to appeal to the left opposition before Stalin did. At first Trotsky kept to his original analysis, while becoming more critical of the left course. Then, to the amazement and indignation of the opposition, he said he was prepared to work with the right purely on the issue of restoring inner party democracy. Believing their only hope of salvation lay in a temporary alliance of all “anti-Stalinist” Bolsheviks. However, the brief flirtation had no sequel, both sets of followers resisted it.

Despite these farces and the isolation of the opposition, it was gaining more adherents in the political and economic chaos. The GPU (political police) had to imprison or deport thousands more new oppositionists and there were plenty more where they came from if things got worse. The mystique and power of Trotsky was the magnetic force behind this revival, so Stalin prepared to bring him down with another blow against the opposition. Unable to physically eliminate him, Stalin, in January 1929 finally had Trotsky exiled to Constantinople. He spent the next five years on the island of Prinkipo, interpreting the events in Europe from a distance.

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Last updated on 13.11.2002