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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter XII:
Real Economic Differences

MY Marxian reader is impatient by this time of so much personal and political history, unrelated to the prevailing economic currents of Russian life. I have purposely postponed mentioning the economic differences between Trotsky and the bureaucracy – certain minor ones because they were not sufficiently important, and the major ones because they are more important than anything else. The question of “commodity intervention” – the purchase by the Government of foreign goods in order to supply the peasants at reduced prices with articles of manufacture – is an example of the minor economic questions raised at the same time with the problem of Workers’ Democracy. Trotsky and most of the “opposition” advocated this measure, and it was denounced along with everything else they advocated as a “petty bourgeois deviation.” In his speech to the Party Congress Trotsky replied to this denunciation: “Comrades, let us wait a little with these questions, let us wait a little ... so far as there is a disagreement, it is of a purely empirical, practical character.” And now, eight months later, Rykov has announced that this policy, having been adopted in some small measure last year, will be extended this year, and that “if industry does not develop fast enough, we shall have to contemplate for a certain time the introduction of some foreign merchandise ... The question is being studied.” [1] In short, Trotsky’s “deviation” here consisted of a quicker grasp of the practical realities of the problem. It is absurd to try to convict either side of a “deviation” upon the ground of these practical disagreements, which are, of course, continual and inevitable.

There have been, however, three major differences about economic problems between Trotsky and the triumvirate – three differences fundamental enough to justify raising the question of a deviation from revolutionary Marxism. The first was about the need for a concentrated organisation and systematic planning of Socialist industry. I have already told you that Lenin came round, after some objection, to the substance of the change demanded by Trotsky in this matter. A resolution was adopted by the Twelfth Congress of the party (April, 1923) in accord with their views. But not only was Trotsky himself prevented from playing any part in the fulfilment of this resolution – no substantial motion was taken toward the fulfilment of it. An aggressive Communistic intention having been expressed, the policy of “muddling along” continued to prevail. And Trotsky’s letter to the Central Committee of October, 1923, besides demanding a New Course towards Workers’ Democracy, demanded the real carrying out of this resolution of the Twelfth Congress.

He wrote:

“I pointed out to the Central Committee before the Congress the great danger that our industrial problem would be presented to the convention in the abstract agitatorial form, whereas the task is to demand a turning of the attention and will of the party toward concrete life problems, with the goal of cheapening the price of the State products.”

In actual reality, he continued, the department of State Planning, since the Twelfth Congress, has gone still further backward.

“To a greater degree even than before the Congress, the most important industrial problems are decided in the Politburo, in a hurry, without preliminary preparation, and out of their planned connections.”

The truth of these statements of Trotsky was confessed by all the other members of the Politburo in the resolution on Workers’ Democracy, which demanded that the Department of State Planning be given “that position in reality which was assigned to it in the resolution of the Twelfth Congress.”

In short, the disagreement upon this economic question was psychologically similar to the disagreement about Workers’ Democracy. Trotsky demanded a real application of the revolutionary Leninist programme that had been adopted; his opponents, having adopted the programme in an “abstract agitatorial” manner, were content to let the actual reality of things continue to slide in the opposite direction. The programme has now been put in real operation, and the dominance of the Department of Government Planning is the most striking and most hopeful feature of Soviet policy. To accuse Trotsky of a “deviation to the right” in this matter is manifestly absurd.

That the ruling group are guilty of a deviation to the right, comes out more clearly in the second fundamental question at issue between them – the question of restoring the old czarist policy of financing the Government by means of a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of vodka. This scheme was long ago proposed by Zinoviev and opposed by Lenin. It was revived when Lenin fell sick, and would have been adopted by the ruling group had not Trotsky and Rakovsky vigorously opposed it. In his letter to the Central Committee, Trotsky reminds them also of this incident. He describes it as “an attempt to found our budget on the sale of vodka – that is, to make the income of a workers’ government independent of constructive industry.” And he makes this further observation, which I commend to the most thoughtful attention of the reader:

“It is absolutely indubitable that there is an inner connection between the self-sufficient character of our secretarial organisation, growing continually more independent of the party, and the attempt to create a budget as independent as possible of the success or unsuccess of the collective constructive work of the party.”

This “ruinous plan,” condemned by Lenin, and fought off by Trotsky and Rakovsky so long as their authority was feared by the triumvirate, has been adopted at last – Trotsky and the wife of Lenin opposing it in the Central Committee – and the revolutionary government is now financing itself upon the czarist method, with a difference (for the time being, at least) of 10 per cent, in the strength of the vodka. The revolutionary government has made its life dependent, in other words, upon the successful progress of the ancient industry of debauching the Russian people. Trotsky’s policy was to make it dependent upon the education of those people in the art of constructive Socialist industry. If Trotsky is an anti-Leninist here, then Leninism is something that was born since Lenin died.

As though to make the contrast with Lenin more glaring, the bureaucracy have publicly “explained” this reactionary measure – adopted for financial reasons pure and simple – on various ideological grounds as remote as possible from finance. The peasants are making bad home-brew, they would better have good alcohol, Marxism ought not to be “moralistic,” etc., considerations entirely irrelevant to the question of a government monopoly on the manufacture and sale of vodka. When Lenin took a backward step on the road to Communism, he stated that he was doing that, andhe stated exactly why.

The third economic disagreement between Trotsky and the ruling group was about the present condition of international capitalism and the prospects of the world-revolution. Trotsky declared last summer that the development of the world revolution is in a temporary ebb, and that the central fact at this moment is the domination of Europe by American capital. “America,” he said, “has put Europe on rations.” The question of the prospects of revolution, therefore, ought not to be put this way: “What is the strength of the social-democrats?” But this way: “What are the chances that American capital, by means of its stingy financing of Europe, will succeed in supporting the new regime?”

Here again the bureaucracy has, after six months, substantially come round to his view – driven to it by the mere crude piling up of the facts in front of them. But their first reaction was to deny these facts, or to waver and qualify, and dodge a real decision, until they gradually drifted into a position tantamount to denying them. After a month’s meditation, Stalin answered Trotsky’s declarations in an article which every day following has proven to be erroneous. There was no ebb in the revolutionary wave, according to Stalin. The decisive fight was still to come. The interference of American capital in Europe had “not solved any of the old contradictions in Europe, but merely supplemented them with new contradictions, the contradictions between Europe and America” (whatever that may mean).

“One of the surest signs [he said] of the frailness of ‘the democratic pacifist regime,’ one of the most indubitable symptoms that this regime itself is but foam on the surface from deep revolutionary processes taking place in the bosom of the working class, we must consider the decisive victory of the revolutionary wing in the Communist parties of Germany, France and Russia ... [That is – speaking for France and Russia at least – the victory of Stalin and Zinoviev over Trotsky.]”

That is the way in which the triumvirate persuaded themselves, or half-persuaded themselves, that there was a general “strengthening of the revolutionary elements in the workers’ movement,” exactly at the moment when there was a weakening of those elements. In obedience to this persuasion, they described the situation of the Communists in Germany as a “victory,” although the party membership had fallen from 350,000 to 150,000, and the decline continued. [2]

It is not difficult to see the connection between these three points of real disagreement between Trotsky and the triumvirate. Underlying them all is that one conflict, indicated by Trotsky in the passage just quoted, between the “abstract-agitatorial” attitude, and the attitude of a Marxian engineer engaged with the “concrete life-problems” of the revolution. Trotsky demands that the party shall aggressively attack the work of Communist construction in Russia while awaiting, and preparing for, the real development of revolutions elsewhere. The triumvirate are content to hold the power in Russia – and that upon a fiscal foundation devised by the czars – while satisfying their revolutionary dispositions and professional habits with abstract-agitatorial gesticulations in the International. [3]

Lenin abolished Utopianism out of the practice of Socialism, just as Marx abolished it out of the theory. In the place of the abstract idealistic agitator, he gave us the concrete realistic engineer. If the reader will go back to the days when Lenin’s character and attitude first began to dawn upon the Western movement, he will remember that this was the essence of the phenomenon. And in this, Trotsky was absolutely at one with Lenin. The question of employing bourgeois specialists, of studying the Taylor system, of using the czarist generals, the question of the Terror, of the new role of the co-operatives – all those questions of realistic practical technique which Lenin had to drive into the minds of so many of his followers with a sledge hammer, were as natural to Trotsky’s mind as they were to his. A partial lapse from this concrete practical driving realism of Lenin’s – and from that honesty of mind which is an indispensable part of it – a lapse into the old vague talk, the emotional self-deception, the separation of theory from practice, the practical Utopianism of the pre-Lenin days – that is what the triumvirate represents in these real disputes with Trotsky.


1. Speech at the recent Congress of the Trade Unions.

2. Figures received in November, 1924.

3. The most astute minds in the counter-revolution instinctively understand where their hope lies in Russia. “In the interest of European civilization,” says the London Morning Post (Jan. 20th, 1925), “it is perhaps a satisfaction to learn at last definitely that the triumvirate has won; for Trotsky ... in those diabolical qualities which lure men to destruction, is infinitely superior to the clique which has ... replaced him.”

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009