The Fourth International

The Long March of the Trotskyists

Chapter 2: From 1923 to 1929 The Bolshevik-Leninist Faction in the USSR

The revolutionary period opened by the Russian Revolution of 1917 was followed from 1923 to 1929 by an ebbing of the revolutionary tide and a period of relative stabilisation of capitalism. The European economy was recovering; American capitalism gained world ascendancy, replacing British capitalism, which experienced its first big crisis in 1926. In China the struggle of the colonised masses against imperialism began its great and tragic course. In the Soviet Union, economic progress was smell; a bitter internal political struggle went on, in the course of which the bureaucracy succeeded in shifting the axis of Soviet policy from world revolution to 'socialism in one country'. In several European countries, Socialist parties were in power, while the Communist International was in crisis, traversing the first stages of its bureaucratic degeneration.

The first period of our movement extended from 1923 to 1929. During that period, there was indeed no international Bolshevik-Leninist movement: there was a Bolshevik-Leninist faction of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but liaison with individuals or groups of supporters in other countries was confined to correspondence. There was no real, collective international elaboration of political thought and action.

From the moment of its birth, the Bolshevik-Leninist faction in the USSR evinced one of the essential characteristics of our movement -- internationalism. The faction was created in 1923 on the basis of an understanding of the changes in the international situation; its principal battles in the course of these six years bore as much on specifically Soviet questions as on problems of the world revolution.

The point of departure was the turn in the world situation after the defeat of the German revolution in October 1923. The German CP was losing ground, while the Social Democracy was moving ahead. Trotsky, against the majority of the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party (the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin troika), maintained that the international situation had changed from top to bottom, that the revolutionary wave of the post-war period was spent, that a period of relative stabilisation of capitalism had started, and that all this imposed new tasks for the Communist international and its sections in capitalist countries -- as well as for the problems of building socialism in the USSR.

From 1923 to 1929 the Bolshevik-Leninist faction in the USSR fought on three main questions:

* The policy of the leadership in the USSR.
* The Anglo-Russian Committee (1926).
* The second Chinese revolution (1925-27).

Policy in the USSR

We shall limit ourselves here to a few lines on this question, since it has been thoroughly treated by Trotsky in his Draft Programme of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals, and The Revolution Betrayed.

The establishment of the New Economic Policy (NEP) after the end of the civil war and the waning of the labour movement had a very great effect on social relations in the USSR, as well as on the ranks of the Bolshevik Party. Political passivity developed in the ranks of the workers. Part of the best revolutionary elements had lost their lives on the field of battle. Another part, which had reached command positions in the Red Army, found executive positions in the state and in the economy, where they applied the methods of command inherited from the army. With the NEP as a base, capitalist elements developed in the cities and in the countryside. The relationship of forces was evolving in a direction opposite to that of the revolutionary period. These factors gave the state apparatus increased independence and power. The entire last portion of Lenin's political activity was devoted to denouncing this danger. We have, he said, a workers state with bureaucratic deformations. Just read his report to the Eleventh Congress of the Russian party to see to what extent he denounced these evils![1]

The bureaucratisation of the state was accompanied and abetted by a bureaucratisation of the Bolshevik Party. As a revolutionary instrument, the latter was rusting away. A layer of parvenus, satisfied with what had already been obtained, gained the upper hand. These social layers and the state apparatus found their most responsive political expression in the organisational Secretariat of the party, in the person of that 'old Bolshevik' Stalin. The last conversations between Lenin and Trotsky were concerned with organising a faction to conduct the struggle against this party Secretariat. Lenin's last two letters to the Central Committee, known as 'Lenin's Testament', point out the danger of a split and propose to dismiss Stalin from the post of party secretary.[2]

In October 1923 Trotsky, pointing out the mounting dangers, proposed a 'new course', to be characterised by a struggle against the bureaucratisation of the party and in favour of the following: admitting young proletarian elements, who had proved themselves, into the leading bodies of the party; making these bodies elective; a plan for industrialisation; a certain number of measures to set the poor peasants against the kulaks.

In the beginning, this 'new course' was not openly rejected by the majority of the Political Bureau; but the latter did nothing to implement it. On the contrary, the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin leadership (at that time these names were mentioned in that order) initiated a violent struggle against 'Trotskyism', bringing up -- and distorting -- twenty-year-old differences between Lenin and Trotsky, long outdated by events. Later Zinoviev and Kamenev admitted they had invented 'Trotskyism' for this occasion.

The Moscow Opposition -- the first faction gathered together by Trotsky to struggle for a 'new course' -- which consisted in large part of veteran militants of the revolution and the civil war, and constituted the first organisation of our movement, was prevented by bureaucratic methods from getting a hearing in the party, after having won some preliminary success in the Moscow cells.

Unbeknown even to some of its initial protagonists, the fight on the question of past differences concealed the struggle of the bureaucratic layers against internationalist revolutionary policy. As the policy followed by the leadership of the Bolshevik Party slid more and more to the right, in 1925-26 Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with Stalin, who then pursued that policy with Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky as allies. The rightist policy was supposed to 'integrate the kulak into socialism', which would be achieved 'at a snail's pace' (Bukharin); industrialisation was denounced as an absurdity ('the peasant needs a cow, not a phonograph', declared Stalin).

The Opposition formed in 1926 by the Zinoviev-Trotsky bloc, forced to meet clandestinely, struggled to impose an industrialisation programme and a policy directed against the kulak, the Nepman, and the bureaucrat. A five-year plan was finally accepted in 1927 by the Bukharin-Stalin leadership, but the very limited yearly increases projected in the plan indicated the scepticism and hostility of that leadership. Under pressure from the Opposition, another plan was prepared, with higher yearly goals.

Towards the end of 1927, and without any confidence, the bureaucracy launched the first five-year plan. Early in 1928 -- less than three months after having broken party unity and exiled the Opposition to Siberia -- a frightened Stalin acknowledged the kulak danger, broke with the rightist Bukharin faction, made a sudden zigzag to the left, and began an ultra-left policy (the five-year plan had to be completed in four years, agriculture had to be 100 per cent collectivised, etc.). Put into practice in a bureaucratic way, by force of decree, and in a brutal manner by a party shorn of any real political life, this orientation brought the country to the brink of catastrophe.

The old Bolshevik Party -- after elimination of the left and right oppositions -- subsisted only as the political machine of the bureaucracy. The revolutionary cadres were exiled or exterminated. From that date on, the bureaucracy's domination increased and its policy developed in a series of zigzags, ranging from the most contemptible opportunism to the most unbridled ultra-leftism. In the final analysis, however, its general direction was very strongly opportunistic. The ultra-left zigzags have now ceased.

The Anglo-Russian Committee (1926)

The affair of the Anglo-Russian Committee marks the beginning of the Stalinist faction's policy of dissociating the fate of the USSR from that of the world revolution. It was on this question that they began the policy of putting pressure on foreign governments as a substitute for revolutionary struggle in defence of the USSR. This was done particularly through political combinations and subterfuges in which Communist parties abandoned part of their revolutionary programme on the pretext of thus attracting larger masses than they could mobilise by themselves.

The centre of world reaction right after the First World War was still British imperialism, despite the fact that its decline had already begun and despite the phenomenal rise of American capitalism. British imperialism's policy was all the more anti-Soviet in that the Russian Revolution set an extremely attractive example for the colonial peoples oppressed by the Empire. From a political point of view, the British labour movement was developing considerable strength. In 1924 the Labour Party had formed a minority government, although the Tories and Liberals soon found it opportune to oust it. Around 1926 a turn to the left occurred in the British trade unions.

The British CP was very weak -- it still is today -- and the Minority Movement it had activated in the trade unions was also rather weak. In order to counter British imperialism's threat to the USSR, Stalin proposed to the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party that efforts be made to establish a committee of English and Russian trade unions under the pretext of working towards rebuilding trade union unity on an international scale. A united front of Russian and British trade unions for the establishment of worldwide trade union unity was politically admissible, although it presented the danger of being mostly a summit operation, difficult for the rank and file to control. For Stalin, however, the real object of this Anglo-Russian Committee was to turn it into the 'centre of the struggle against imperialist war' -- the political centre of the struggle for the defence of the USSR. In answer to Trotsky, who was at the time still a member of the Political Bureau and who stressed the necessity of relying only on the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, Stalin retorted:'What can you do with your English Communists?'

The dispute concerning the aims of the Anglo-Russian Committee did not remain merely a battle of words. The class struggle in Great Britain gave it a tragic content. The leftward swing of the British workers was expressed by the miners' struggle against any wage cuts, giving rise to a strike that was supported by the British working class as a whole. In May 1926 a nine-day general strike forced the British Empire to its knees. This was the first manifestation of the crisis of British capitalism (a crisis that reached full bloom after the end of the Second World War). But British capitalism was able to pull itself out of this grave difficulty thanks to the British trade union leadership's betrayal: they ended the general strike and let the miners continue the struggle alone for several months.

For any revolutionary with the most elementary knowledge of the Leninist position on the united front, this betrayal would have demanded an immediate break by the Russian unions from the Anglo-Russian Committee -- plus an appeal to the British workers to stand up against their leadership. But considering the essential object of the Anglo-Russian Committee to be the 'defence of the USSR', and conceiving the latter as a task separate and distinct from the revolutionary struggle of the masses, Stalin kept the committee -- whose activity for months and months was reduced to nothing but talk, anyway -- in existence. When the militant members of the British Communist Party and the Minority Movement denounced the reformist leaders of their unions as traitors, the latter therefore had an easy reply at hand:'That's not what the Russians think -- and you can't very well accuse them of being reformists and traitors. There they are, in the same committee with us!' This policy disarmed and demoralised the British CP as well as the Minority Movement, which eventually disappeared.

Several months after the general strike, the leaders of the British trade unions, having thoroughly exploited the committee (which was no longer of any use to them) for their own purposes, denounced the financial aid provided to the striking miners by the Russian unions as an interference in the internal life of their organisations, and used this excuse to break up the Anglo-Russian Committee.

The Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition had exposed Stalinist policy on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee and had conducted a very strong campaign for breaking from this committee at the time of the betrayal of the general strike.

The second Chinese revolution (1925-27)

A big upsurge occurred in the revolutionary movement in China in the period 1925-27. The merchant and industrial bourgeoisie, whose political party was the Kuomintang, tried to exploit this revolutionary upsurge for their own purpose -- the unification of China. At that time the country was divided into a certain number of provinces governed independently by warlords, who were continually at war with each other to extend their dominions.

In the years following the First World War, a Chinese Communist Party had been established around Chen Tu-hsiu, a Peking professor who had been active in revolutionary struggles in China since about 1910. The young Chinese CP lacked experience of any kind, and it was the leadership of the Communist International that bore complete responsibility for the CCP's policies during that period. The Soviet bureaucracy, the political expression of which was Stalinism, was hostile to the development of an autonomous revolutionary struggle by the proletariat and poor peasants, in whom the Stalinists had no confidence. To serve the needs of its nationalist policy, the bureaucracy favoured a policy of alliance with the Chinese bourgeoisie. In order to justify such a class-collaborationist policy, the Stalin-Bukharin leadership elaborated the theory of a 'bloc of four classes' for China (a combination of workers, peasants, intellectuals, and capitalists -- the last-named being considered 'progressive' in a colonial or semi-colonial country), developed the concept of two-class worker and peasant parties, and the necessity for a 'revolution by stages' with the 'democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants' as an intermediate stage between capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Put into practice, this policy of class collaboration resulted in an order to the Chinese Communist Party to enter the Kuomintang. The Chinese CP thus renounced an independent policy and, in particular, opposed the creation of soviets during the ascending period of the revolution; it was also opposed to the development of the agrarian revolution, so that the landholdings of Kuomintang army officers could remain intact. For months and months the Communist International and its sections praised the Kuomintang leaders to the skies as allies of the proletariat and champions of the anti-imperialist struggle. The head of the Kuomintang armies, Chiang Kai-shek, was particularly singled out for praise, being depicted as the 'hero' of the Chinese revolution (see l 'Humanite, late 1926, early 1927).

As the Kuomintang armies neared Shanghai in their march from the commercial South to the North, the workers rose up and seized the city. Their class instinct led them to refuse Chiang Kai-shek's troops entry into Shanghai. But, on orders from the Communist International, the Chinese Communists prevailed upon the workers to allow Chiang Kai-shek and his soldiers to enter the most industrialised centre of China. No sooner was he installed than Chiang Kai-shek set about the wholesale slaughter of the Communist movement of China.

A little later the Chinese Communists, still under orders from the Stalinist leadership of the Third International, resumed the same policy of collaboration with a wing of the Kuomintang, the 'left Kuomintang' led by Wang Ching-wei, with the same result. When Chen Tu-hsiu, secretary of the Chinese CP, joined the Left Opposition, he revealed that Borodin, a representative of the Communist International, had declared that 'the worker must be the coolie of the Kuomintang'.

The Bolshevik-Leninist faction in the USSR conducted a struggle of increasing intensity against the Stalinist policies in China; the peak of this struggle coincided with the peak of the entire struggle by the Soviet Bolshevik-Leninists against Stalinism.

Permanent revolution vs. socialism in one country

The three principal questions on which the struggle of the Left Opposition in the USSR was based can, on the theoretical level, be subsumed into one single question: the struggle for permanent revolution against the theory of 'socialism in one country'; the struggle for maintaining a policy of world proletarian revolution against the nationalist, reactionary policy of the Soviet bureaucracy. This fight, begun in 1923, had nothing to do with a power struggle between individuals -- as some people, obviously incapable of any political insight whatsoever, still think; nor did it have anything to do with a struggle between two revolutionary schools of thought with divergent views on the strategy to follow for the victory of world socialism -- as certain bourgeois political leaders and journalists still write, whether through ignorance or through their desire to depict Stalinism as a revolutionary bogeyman. This fight was, primarily and above all, a struggle between two political formations representing two different social groups. The Left Opposition consciously represented the fundamental historical interests of the world proletariat; the Stalinist faction represented the interests of the party and state bureaucracy, anxious to stabilise, consolidate, and, subsequently, increase its privileges. Inasmuch as the leaders of that faction had come out of the Bolshevik Party, for most of them the slide did not take place on a conscious level -- in the beginning, at any rate. But they became prisoners of the social layers whose political spokespersons they were, and in a few years this faction became the most conscious, and the most dangerous, counter-revolutionary force inside the working class movement.

The climax of the struggle in the USSR occurred on the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, in November 1927, when the Oppositionists participated in the official Moscow and Leningrad demonstrations under their own slogans, with their own banners and placards against the kulak, the Nepman, and the bureaucrat. For months the Stalinist faction had been accumulating frame-up charges against the Opposition, which had been reduced to clandestine activity. The former had especially sought to plant provocateurs inside the organisation. To avoid being quietly disposed of, it was necessary to take political action out in the open. The tenth anniversary served as a pretext for the Stalinist faction to consummate the split in the party and exile the Bolshevik-Leninist militants to Siberia. [3]

In the following year, the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union continued its struggle in an organised fashion; its centre was set up by Trotsky, in exile in Alma Ata. That was why Stalin decided to expel him from the Soviet Union.

After 1929, the Trotskyist Opposition in the USSR, our mother section, found itself more and more cut off from its principal leader, Leon Trotsky; as a result, the organisational axis of our movement shifted. From that time on we had but little information about our faction, which was subsequently crushed by the Stalinist repression.

Some information about the political life of Opposition leaders in the Verchne-Uralsk 'isolator', long before the Moscow trials, can be found in Anton Ciliga's Au pays du grand mensonge (In the Country of the Big Lie). This information, however, must be taken with reservations -- considering that it comes from a man who broke with Bolshevism and passed into the camp of petty-bourgeois liberalism.

The most important document of the Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition in the USSR for the period under discussion is The Platform of the Left Opposition (1927), drawn up in agreement with the Zinovievists (whose first capitulation took place right after the Fifteenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party).

One more word about our faction in the USSR: its leading elements included not only old Bolsheviks whose names are well known for their role in the October Revolution, but also an entire group of young cadres trained during the years of the Revolution and civil war, some of whom were well-developed Marxists who never for one moment capitulated. To be cut off from them was a great Loss to our movement.


[1] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 33, pp. 263-324

[2] These two letters were banned in the USSR. Nevertheless, on two occasions, Stalin could not avoid mentioning their existence. Since the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, publication in the Soviet Union of these letters (see Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 36, pp. 594-96) and other of Lenin's writings, as well as the 'Journal of Lenin's Duty Secretaries' (ibid.. Vol 42, p. 480), has completely confirmed what Trotsky wrote, namely that in the last period of his life, Lenin had sought and obtained Trotsky's support to fight a weakening in the foreign-trade monopoly, the repressive measures taken by Stalin against the 'nationalist' faction of Georgian Bolsheviks led by Mdivani and, above all, to fight the bureaucracy in the party -- particularly its political spokesman, Stalin -- at the next party congress. Illness, then death, prevented Lenin from so doing.

[3] Ten years later, during the Moscow trials, Stalin for the first time made the claim that an attempt at 'insurrection' had been involved.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005