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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Appendix II:

The Dispute about the Trade Unions

THE most important disagreement between Lenin and Trotsky arose in 1920, after the final victory of the Red Army. Trotsky, feeling that the energies of the revolution were at last released for Communist construction, devised a creative plan of co-operation and partial amalgamation of the trade unions and the branch of the Government which directs the industries. His purpose was to eliminate a wasteful friction between these two elements in the proletarian society, both of which have administrative functions in the same field. He proposed also to strengthen the trade unions by introducing into their administration a selected body of the ablest executives who had been developed in the organisation of the army. His plan – falsely described in our newspapers as a “militarisation of industry" – was by no means obviously unworkable, nor was it immediately opposed by Lenin. But Lenin’s mind was already travelling in the direction of the New Economic Policy. He felt that the country needed a rest. The Cronstadt rebellion came just in time to prove it. And in the end he opposed Trotsky’s plan, against which Zinoviev had already been conducting an agitation. This incident was a help to those people who wanted to believe that there was a fundamental disaccord between Lenin and Trotsky. And they were still further assisted by the fact that Trotsky, who, in zeal for his great plan, had committed one of his characteristic acts of childish presumption, received from Lenin a good sound scolding.

These words from a speech of Lenin make clear both what Trotsky had done and what he got for it:

“Only think of this: After two plenary sessions of the Central Committee devoted to an unbelievably detailed, long, hot discussion of the rough draft of the theses of Comrade Trotsky, and the whole party policy in the trade unions defended by him, this one member of the Central Committee, remaining alone out of nineteen, selects himself a group outside of the Central Committee, and, with the ‘collective work’ of this group as a ‘platform,’ appears and proposes to the party convention to ‘choose between two tendencies’! I do not speak of the fact that this invitation by Comrade Trotsky to choose between exactly two, and only two, tendencies, although Bucharin had already on the 9th of November appeared in the role of ‘buffer,’ plainly exposes the actual role of Bucharin’s group as helpers in the worst and most harmful kind of fractionalism. That is by the way. But I ask any member of the party: Does not such a sudden invasion and jumping in on the idea of a ‘choice’ between two tendencies in the trade union movement strike him as dizzy-headed?”

You can imagine the gratification which this afforded to those circles in the party who felt that Trotsky was an upstart, and that his immense prestige as a Bolshevik – created by the prodigious achievement of a few years rather than by the more hallowing process of the mere passage of time – was unjustified. They were very happy, and they lifted up their heads very high. And they did not by any means enter into the spirit of the words in which Lenin concluded his chastisement of Trotsky.

“The party,” he said, “will learn not to exaggerate disagreements. Here it is appropriate to repeat a correct observation of Comrade Trotsky in regard to Comrade Tomsky: ‘In the sharpest polemic with Comrade Tomsky I always said that it was perfectly clear to me that the leaders of our trade unions can only be people with the experience and the authority which Comrade Tomsky possesses ... An intellectual struggle within the party does not mean mutual rejection, but mutual influence.’ It goes without saying that the party will apply this correct observation to Comrade Trotsky.”

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009