Documents of the 1923 opposition

1 Trotsky opens the attack

In the summer of 1923 strikes broke out in certain key industries in the Soviet Union. Workers in engineering plants in Sormovo, Kharkov, the Donets Basin and elsewhere stopped work over the non-payment of wages which in a number of cases were three months in arrears. In August the State Bank attempted to bring down the sharply rising prices of industrial goods by cutting credit facilities to industrial enterprises, but at the same time further strengthened the rich peasants (the Kulaks) and the capitalist merchants (the Nepmen).

The circulation of paper money was increased to finance the harvest while the prices of food products dropped, thus impoverishing the poor peasants. Meanwhile the discontent in the working class was aggravated by the Communist Party’s growing detachment from the masses and led to the revival of factional groups in the Party which agitated for greater workers’ democracy, coupled with a weakening of the Party apparatus.

In response to this mounting economic, financial and political crisis the Party’s Central Committee appointed three special commissions at the end of September 1923; one was to examine the growing divergence between the prices of industrial goods and agricultural products; another to look into the question of the level of workers’ wages and the third headed by Dzerzhinsky to make recommendations for overcoming factional groups and disunity within the Party itself.

Taking as his starting-point a recommendation of Dzerzhinsky’s commission Trotsky delivered a letter on October 8 to the Central Committee in which he launched his attack on the regime developing inside the Party and the mistakes of the Politburo leaders, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin. The entire letter has never been published, but below we reprint extracts containing Trotsky’s analysis of the crisis inside the Party.

From Trotsky’s letter

One of the proposals of Comrade Dzerzhinsky’s commission declares that we must make it obligatory for Party members knowing about groupings in the Party to communicate the fact to the GPU, the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission. It would seem that to inform the Party organizations of the fact that its branches are being used by elements hostile to the Party, is an obligation of Party members so elementary that it ought not to be necessary to introduce a special resolution to that effect six years after the October Revolution. The very demand for such a resolution is an extremely startling symptom alongside of others no less clear. . . . The demand for such a resolution means: a) that illegal oppositional groups have been formed in the Party, which may become dangerous to the revolution; b) that there exist such states of mind in the Party as to permit comrades knowing about such groups not to inform the Party organizations. Both these facts testify to an extraordinary deterioration of the situation within the Party from the time of the Twelfth Congress. . . .

In the fiercest moment of War Communism, the system of appointment within the Party did not have one-tenth of the extent that it has now. Appointment of the secretaries of provincial committees is now the rule. That creates for the secretary a position essentially independent of the local organization…

The Twelfth Congress of the Party was conducted under the sign of democracy. Many of the speeches at that time spoken in defence of workers’ democracy seemed to me exaggerated, and to a considerable extent demagogish, in view of the incompatibility of a fully developed workers’ democracy with the régime of dictatorship. But it was perfectly clear that the pressure of the period of War Communism ought to give place to a more lively and broader Party responsibility. However, this present régime—which began to form itself before the Twelfth Congress, and which subsequently received its final reinforcement and formulation—is much farther from workers’ democracy than the régime of the fiercest period of War Communism. The bureaucratization of the Party apparatus has developed to unheard-of proportions by means of the method of secretarial selection. There has been created a very broad stratum of Party workers, entering into the apparatus of the government of the Party, who completely renounce their own Party opinion, at least the open expression of it, as though assuming that the secretarial hierarchy is the apparatus which creates Party opinion and Party decisions. Beneath this stratum, abstaining from their own opinions, there lies the broad mass of the Party, before whom every decision stands in the form of a summons or a command. In this foundation-mass of the Party there is an unusual amount of dissatisfaction. . . . This dissatisfaction does not dissipate itself by way of influence of the mass upon the Party organization (election of Party committees, secretaries, etc.), but accumulates in secret and thus leads to interior strains….

It is known to the members of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission that while fighting with all decisiveness and definiteness within the Central Committee against a false policy, I decisively declined to bring the struggle within the Central Committee to the judgment even of a very narrow circle of comrades, in particular those who in the event of a reasonably proper Party course ought to occupy prominent places in the Central Committee. I must state that my efforts of a year and a half have given no results. This threatens us with the danger that the Party may be taken unawares by a crisis of exceptional severity…. In view of the situation created, I consider it not only my right, but my duty to make known the true state of affairs to every member of the Party whom I consider sufficiently prepared, matured and self-restrained, and consequently able to help the Party out of this blind alley without factional convulsions.

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Last updated on 16 April 2007