Documents of the 1923 opposition

Reprinted with permission from Index Books.
Copyright by New Park Publications. Indexreach Ltd. Registered office: 4-5 King Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1ND.
Transcribed by Martin Fahlgren in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line



1 Trotsky opens the attack
   From Trotsky’s letter

2 The Platform of the 46
   To the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party

3 The Moscow—Party meeting December 11 1923
   Sapronov’s speech
   Preobrazhensky’s speech

4 The Moscow Provincial Conference January 10-11 1924
   Preobrazhensky’s speech

5 The Thirteenth Party Conference January 16-18 1924
   Pyatakov’s speech
   Preobrazhensky’s speech

Biographical Notes


The conditions under which Trotsky began his fight against the growing dangers of bureaucracy in post-revolutionary Russia were ones of considerable difficulty. A proletarian party had led a successful revolution in a still backward and mainly peasant country. World War I had wreaked havoc on the Russian economy. Subsequent revolutions, the ravages of civil war and, more than anything, the temporary isolation of the Soviet Union set in motion conservative and reactionary forces in Russian society which found their expression within the Bolshevik Party. It was against these trends that Lenin (until his death in early 1924) and Trotsky took up their fight. In his last writings, such as ‘Better Less, But Better’ and ‘On the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection’. Lenin had drawn attention to the emergence of a bureaucratic layer within the Party and the state. He had described the regime as ‘a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations’ and in a letter to Trotsky had proposed a bloc to fight them. These dangers had been considerably increased by the grave economic situation resulting from the war and the civil war and had made necessary a temporary retreat in the shape of the New Economic Policy (NEP). Under NEP a partial restoration of capitalism was allowed, although always within the limits of a planned economy. But the encouragement NEP gave to private trade and accumulation by the richer peasants (Kulaks) and a new class of petty capitalists (Nepmen) offered a social base for these trends and thus required an utmost vigilance and struggle in combating them.

The workers’ state thus faced grave dangers and the Communist Party was necessarily plunged into a deep crisis, a crisis further aggravated by Lenin’s death. Effective power was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the Party secretary, Stalin, who, together with Zinoviev and Kamenev, constituted an informal ruling troika. Stalin was the dominant force, a position achieved through his control of the Party apparatus. He relied upon the support of a considerable layer of Party and state functionaries whose power and privileges increasingly cut them off not only from the masses but from the rank and file of the Party itself. This new ruling group was to find its ideological expression in the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, the complete revision of Marxism which Stalin first announced in 1924. In political terms this meant the abandonment of working-class internationalism. At the same time it also strengthened the conditions which enabled the growing bureaucracy to isolate, drive out and finally liquidate all those who stood fast by the traditions of Bolshevism.

It would be wrong, of course, to think that when Trotsky and his supporters took up the fight and wrote the documents and made the speeches which we shall publish they could have seen the full extent of this development. What they did was to draw attention to the dangerous symptoms and signs which threatened the future of the revolution and the Party. Trotsky’s analysis of these developments is contained in his series of analysis of these developments is in his series of articles published as The New Course [New Park Publications. 1972]. Here Trotsky stressed that the ‘old guard’ of the party was by no means immune to degeneration, to the ‘gradual and imperceptible weakening of the revolutionary and proletarian spirit in its ranks’. Trotsky was acutely aware, throughout the early period of the fight, of the crucial importance of the question of Party generations. It was only by active collaboration with the new Party generations that the old guard would retain its revolutionary standing. He warned of the lessons of the German social democracy in the period before 1914. He depicted in considerable detail the dangers to the Party if it allowed itself to become separated from the masses. For Trotsky and his followers bureaucracy was a social phenomenon, not the product of ‘power hungry individuals’ or the ‘bad habits’ of office holders. Its roots were to be found in the situation confronting the Soviet regime in a backward peasant country isolated temporarily in a hostile capitalist world.

Despite the growing bureaucratization of the Party, there was still some degree of democracy and freedom for discussion within its ranks and leadership in 1923. It was during Trotsky’s enforced absence through illness in 1923 and the still relatively free conditions that old Bolsheviks in support of Trotsky’s fight, such as Preobrazhensky and Pyatakov, had to carry forward the struggle. But like all political struggles, its outcome was not to be decided merely by the abstract correctness of the arguments in the fight. If this were the only consideration then Trotsky and the Opposition won the fight hands down. Not only were they proved completely correct about the dangers of a continuation of the NEP. They also anticipated the enormous dangers to the Soviet state that were present in the theory of socialism in one country which was to become the lode star of Stalinism from 1924 onwards. We must always remember that Trotsky and what later became the Left Opposition fought against the rise of Stalinism and the bureaucracy under extremely unfavourable circumstances. Starting with the 1923 defeat of the German revolution, followed by the defeat of the 1926 British General Strike and the crushing of the Chinese revolution, 1927, a series of defeats for the international revolution considerably strengthened the hand of Stalinism within the Communist International. These defeats were the first consequences of Stalin’s political line of ‘socialism in one country’ and its corollary ‘peaceful co-existence’ with imperialism. It was only as a result of these objective conditions that Stalin was able to defeat his opponents. Trotsky was first expelled from the Party and in 1929 forced into exile. But until 1933 Trotsky still held out the prospect for a defeat of the Stalin faction within the Communist International. He still hoped that experience would lead the Party back to the principles of Leninism. It was the defeat of the German working class at the hands of Hitler which was to change Trotsky’s attitude to Stalinism. This catastrophic defeat, the biggest and most decisive ever suffered by the European working class, was the direct result of Stalin’s ultra-left policies which had split the German working class and prepared f. r Hitler’s counter-revolution. Trotsky and his followers were now obliged to face up to the fact that Stalinism could no longer be reformed. Its actions in Germany had established that it had now gone over to the bourgeois order and become the most counter-revolutionary force within the working-class movement. Trotsky and his supporters had to prepare to found the Fourth International which they did in 1938.

Peter Jeffries

December 1

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