J. V. Stalin

The Discussion, Rafail, the Articles by Preobrazhensky and Sapronov,
and Trotsy's Letter

December 15, 1923

Source : Works, Vol. 5, 1921 - 1923
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The Discussion

The discussion on the situation within the Party that opened a few weeks ago is evidently drawing to a close; that is, as far as Moscow and Petrograd are concerned. As is known, Petrograd has declared in favour of the line of the Party. The principal districts of Moscow have also declared in favour of the Central Committee's line. The general city meeting of active workers of the Moscow organisation held on December 11 fully endorsed the organisational and political line of the Central Committee of the Party. There is no ground for doubting that the forthcoming general Party conference of the Moscow organisation will follow in the footsteps of its districts. The opposition, which is a bloc of a section of the "Left" Communists (Preobrazhensky, Stukov, Pyatakov, and others) with the so-called Democratic Centralists (Rafail, Sapronov, and others), has suffered a crushing defeat.

The course of the discussion, and the changes that the opposition went through during the period of the discussion, are interesting.

The opposition began by demanding nothing more nor less than a revision of the main line in internal Party affairs and internal Party policy which the Party has been pursuing during the past two years, during the whole NEP period. While demanding the full implementation of the resolution passed by the Tenth Congress on internal Party democracy, the opposition at the same time insisted on the removal of the restrictions (prohibition of groups, the Party-standing rule, etc.) that were adopted by the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Party Congresses. But the opposition did not stop at this. It asserted that the Party has practically been turned into an army type of organisation, that Party discipline has been turned into military discipline, and demanded that the entire staff of the Party apparatus be shaken up from top to bottom, that the principal responsible workers be removed from their posts, etc. Of strong language and abuse of the Central Committee there was, of course, no lack. The columns of Pravda were replete with articles, long and short, accusing the Central Committee of all the mortal sins. It is a wonder that it was not accused of causing the earthquake in Japan.

During this period the Central Committee as a whole did not intervene in the discussion in the columns of Pravda, leaving the members of the Party full freedom to criticise. It did not even think it necessary to repudiate the absurd charges that were often made by critics, being of the opinion that the members of the Party are sufficiently politically conscious to decide the questions under discussion themselves.

That was, so to speak, the first period of the discussion.

Later, when people got tired of strong language, when abuse ceased to have effect and the members of the Party demanded a business-like discussion of the question, the second period of the discussion set in. This period opened with the publication of the resolution of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission on Party affairs. 1 On the basis of the decision of the October Plenum of the Central Committee, 2 which endorsed the course towards internal Party democracy, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee and the Presidium of the Central Control Commission drew up the well-known resolution indicating the conditions for giving effect to internal Party democracy. This marked a turning point in the discussion. It now became impossible to keep to general criticism. When the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission presented their concrete plan the opposition was faced with the alternative of either accepting this plan or of presenting a parallel, equally concrete, plan of its own for giving effect to internal Party democracy. At once it was discovered that the opposition was unable to counter the Central Committee's plan with a plan of its own that would satisfy the demands of the Party organisations. The opposition began to retreat. The demand for cancellation of the main line of the past two years in internal Party affairs ceased to be part of the opposition's arsenal. The demand of the opposition for the removal of the restrictions on democracy that were adopted by the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Party Congresses also paled and faded. The opposition pushed into the background and moderated its demand that the apparatus be shaken up from top to bottom. It deemed it wise to substitute for all these demands the proposals that it was necessary "to formulate precisely the question of factions," "to arrange for the election of all Party bodies which hitherto have been appointed," "to abolish the appointment system," etc. It is characteristic that even these much moderated proposals of the opposition were rejected by the Krasnaya Pres-nya and Zamoskvorechye district Party organisations, which endorsed the resolution of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission by overwhelming majorities.

This was, so to speak, the second period of the discussion.

We have now entered the third period. The characteristic feature of this period is the further retreat, I would say the disorderly retreat, of the opposition. This time, even the latter's faded and much moderated demands have dropped out of its resolution. Preobrazhensky's last resolution (the third, I think), which was submitted to the meeting of active workers of the Moscow organisation (over 1,000 present), reads as follows :

"Only the speedy, unanimous and sincere implementation of the Political Bureau's resolutions and, in particular, the renovation of the internal Party apparatus by means of new elections, can guarantee our Party's transition to the new course without shocks and internal struggle, and strengthen the actual solidarity and unity of its ranks."

The fact that the meeting rejected even this very innocuous proposal of the opposition cannot be regarded as accidental. Nor was it an accident that the meeting, by an overwhelming majority, adopted a resolution "to endorse the political and organisational line of the Central Committee."


I think that Rafail is the most consistent and thorough going representative of the present opposition, or, to be more exact, of the present opposition bloc. At one of the discussion meetings Rafail said that our Party has practically been turned into an army organisation, that its discipline is army discipline, and that, in view of this, it is necessary to shake up the entire Party apparatus from top to bottom, because it is unfit and alien to the genuine Party spirit. It seems to me that these or similar thoughts are floating in the minds of the members of the present opposition, but for various reasons they dare not express them. It must be admitted that in this respect Rafail has proved to be bolder than his colleagues in the opposition.

Nevertheless, Rafail is absolutely wrong. He is wrong not only from the formal aspect, but also, and primarily, in substance. If our Party has indeed been turned, or is even only beginning to be turned, into an army organisation, is it not obvious that we would now have neither a Party in the proper sense of the term, nor the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor the revolution?

What is an army?

An army is a self-contained organisation built from above. The very nature of an army presupposes the existence at its head of a General Staff, which is appointed from above, and which forms the army on the principle of compulsion. The General Staff not only forms the army, but also supplies it with food, clothing, footwear, etc. The material dependence of the entire army on the General Staff is complete. This, incidentally, is the basis of that army discipline, breach of which entails a specific form of the supreme penalty—death by shooting. This also explains the fact that the General Staff can move the army wherever and whenever it pleases, guided only by its own strategic plans.

What is the Party?

The Party is the advanced detachment of the proletariat, built from below on the voluntary principle. The Party also has its General Staff, but it is not appointed from above, it is elected from below by the whole Party. The General Staff does not form the Party; on the contrary, the Party forms its General Staff. The Party forms itself on the voluntary principle. Nor does there exist that material dependence of the Party as a whole upon its General Staff that we spoke of above in relation to the army. The Party General Staff does not provide the Party with supplies, does not feed and clothe it. This, incidentally, explains the fact that the Party General Staff cannot move the ranks of the Party arbitrarily wherever and whenever it pleases, that the Party General Staff can lead the Party as a whole only in conformity with the economic and political interests of the class of which the Party is itself a part. Hence the specific character of Party discipline, which, in the main, is based on the method of persuasion, as distinct from army discipline, which, in the main, is based on the method of compulsion. Hence the fundamental difference between the supreme penalty in the Party (expulsion) and the supreme penalty in the army (death by shooting).

It is sufficient to compare these two definitions to realise how monstrous is Rafail's mistake.

The Party, he says, has been turned into an army organisation. But how is it possible to turn the Party into an army organisation if it is not materially dependent upon its General Staff, if it is built from below on the voluntary principle, and if it itself forms its General Staff? How, then, can one explain the influx of workers into the Party, the growth of its influence among the non-Party masses, its popularity among working people all over the world?

One of two things:

Either the Party is utterly passive and voiceless— but then how is one to explain the fact that such a passive and voiceless party is the leader of the most revolutionary proletariat in the world and for several years already has been governing the most revolutionary country in the world?

Or the Party is active and displays initiative—but then one cannot understand why a party, which is so active, which displays such initiative, has not by now overthrown the military regime in the Party, assuming that such a regime actually reigns in the Party.

Is it not clear that our Party, which has made three revolutions, which routed Kolchak and Denikin, and is now shaking the foundations of world imperialism, that this Party would not have tolerated for one week that military regime and order-and-obey system that Rafail talks about so lightly and recklessly, that it would have smashed them in a trice, and would have introduced a new regime without waiting for a call from Rafail?

But: a frightful dream, but thank God only a dream. The fact of the matter is, firstly, that Rafail confused the Party with an army and an army with the Party, for, evidently, he is not clear in his mind about what the Party and what an army is. Secondly, the fact of the matter is that, evidently, Rafail himself does not believe in his discovery; he is forced to utter "frightful" words about an order-and-obey system in the Party so as to justify the principal slogans of the present opposition: a) freedom to form factional groups; and b) removal from their posts of the leading elements of the Party from top to bottom.

Evidently, Rafail feels that it is impossible to push through these slogans without the aid of "frightful" words.

That is the whole essence of the matter.

Preobrazhensky's Article

Preobrazhensky thinks that the chief cause of the defects in internal Party life is that the main Party line in Party affairs is wrong. He asserts that "for two years now, the Party has been pursuing an essentially wrong line in its internal Party policy," that "the Party's main line in internal Party affairs and internal Party policy during the N.E.P. period" has proved to be wrong.

What has been the Party's main line since the N.E.P. was introduced? At its Tenth Congress, the Party adopted a resolution on workers' democracy. Was the Party right in adopting such a resolution? Preobrazhensky thinks it was right. At the same Tenth Congress the Party imposed a very severe restriction on democracy in the shape of the ban on the formation of groups. Was the Party right in imposing such a restriction? Preobrazhensky thinks that the Party was wrong, because, in his opinion, such a restriction shackles independent Party thinking. At the Eleventh Congress the Party imposed further restrictions on democracy in the shape of the definite Party-standing rule, etc. The Twelfth Party Congress only reaffirmed these restrictions. Was the Party right in imposing these restrictions as a safeguard against petty-bourgeois tendencies under the conditions created by the N.E.P.? Preobrazhensky thinks that the Party was wrong, because, in his opinion, these restrictions shackled the initiative of the Party organisations. The conclusion is obvious: Preobrazhensky proposes that the Party's main line in this sphere that was adopted at the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses under the conditions created by the N.E.P. should be rescinded.

The Tenth and Eleventh Congresses, however, took place under the direct leadership of Comrade Lenin. The resolution of the Tenth Congress prohibiting the formation of groups (the resolution on unity) was moved and steered through the congress by Comrade Lenin. The subsequent restrictions on democracy in the shape of the definite Party-standing rule, etc., were adopted by the Eleventh Congress with the close participation of Comrade Lenin. Does not Preobrazhensky realise that, in effect, he is proposing that the Party line under the conditions created by the NEP, the line that is organically connected with Leninism, should be rescinded? Is not Preobrazhensky beginning to understand that his proposal to rescind the Party's main line in Party affairs under the conditions created by the NEP is, in effect, a repetition of some of the proposals in the notorious "anonymous platform,"3 which demanded the revision of Leninism?

It is sufficient to put these questions to realise that the Party will not follow in Preobrazhensky's footsteps.

What, indeed, does Preobrazhensky propose? He proposes nothing more nor less than a reversion to Party life "on the lines of 1917-18." What distinguished the years 1917-18 in this respect? The fact that, at that time, we had groups and factions in our Party, that there was an open fight between the groups at that time, that the Party was then passing through a critical period, during which its fate hung in the balance. Preobrazhen-sky is demanding that this state of affairs in the Party, a state of affairs that was abolished by the Tenth Congress, should be restored, at least "partly." Can the Party take this path? No, it cannot. Firstly, because the restoration of Party life on the lines that existed in 1917-18, when there was no NEP, does not, and cannot, meet the Party's needs under the conditions prevailing in 1923, when there is the NEP. Secondly, because the restoration of the former situation of factional struggle would inevitably result in the disruption of Party unity, especially now that Comrade Lenin is absent.

Preobrazhensky is inclined to depict the conditions of internal Party life in 1917-18 as something desirable and ideal. But we know of a great many dark sides of this period of internal Party life, which caused the Party very severe shocks. I do not think that the internal Party struggle among the Bolsheviks ever reached such intensity as it did in that period, the period of the Brest Peace. It is well known, for example, that the "Left" Communists, who at that time constituted a separate faction, went to the length of talking seriously about replacing the existing Council of People's Commissars by an other Council of People's Commissars consisting of new people belonging to the "Left" communist faction. Some of the members of the present opposition—Preobrazhensky, Pyatakov, Stukov and others—then belonged to the "Left" communist faction.

Is Preobrazhensky thinking of "restoring" those old "ideal" conditions in our Party?

It is obvious, at all events, that the Party will not agree to this "restoration."

Sapronov's Article

Sapronov thinks that the chief cause of the defects in internal Party life is the presence in the Party's apparatuses of "Party pedants," "schoolmistresses," who are busy "teaching the Party members" according to "the school method," and are thus hindering the real training of the Party members in the course of the struggle. Although dubbing the responsible workers in our Party apparatus "schoolmistresses," Sapronov does not think of asking where these people came from, and how it came to pass that "Party pedants" gained control of the work of our Party. Advancing this more than reckless and demagogic proposition as proved, Sapronov forgot that a Marxist cannot be satisfied with mere assertions, but must first of all understand a phenomenon, if it really exists at all, and explain it, in order then to propose effective measures for improvement. But evidently Sap-ronov does not care a rap about Marxism. He wants at all costs to malign the Party apparatus—and all the rest will follow. And so, in Sapronov's opinion, the evil will of "Party pedants" is the cause of the defects in our internal Party life. An excellent explanation, it must be admitted.

Only we do not understand:

1) How could these "schoolmistresses" and "Party pedants" retain the leadership of the most revolutionary proletariat in the world?

2) How could our "Party schoolchildren" who are being taught by these "schoolmistresses" retain the leadership of the most revolutionary country in the world?

At all events it is clear that it is easier to talk about "Party pedants" than to understand and appreciate the very great merit of our Party apparatus.

How does Sapronov propose to remedy the defects in our internal Party life? His remedy is as simple as his diagnosis. "Change our officers," remove the present responsible workers from their posts—such is Sapronov's remedy. This he regards as the principal guarantee that internal Party democracy will be practised. From the point of view of democracy, I am far from denying the importance of new elections as a means of improving our internal Party life; but to regard that as the principal guarantee means to understand neither internal Party life nor its defects. In the ranks of the opposition there are men like Byeloborodov, whose "democracy" is still remembered by the workers in Rostov; Rosenholtz, whose "democracy" was a misery to our water transport workers and railwaymen; Pyatakov, whose "democracy" made the whole of the Donets Basin not only cry out, but positively howl; Alsky, with the nature of whose "democracy" everybody is familiar; Byk, from whose "democracy" Khorezm is still groaning. Does Sapronov think that if the places of the "Party pedants" are taken by the "esteemed comrades" enumerated above, democracy will triumph in the Party? Permit me to have some doubts about that.

Evidently, there are two kinds of democracy: the democracy of the mass of Party members, who are eager to display initiative and to take an active part in the work of Party leadership, and the "democracy" of disgruntled Party big-wigs who think that dismissing some and putting others in their place is the essence of democracy. The Party will stand for the first kind of democracy and will carry it out with an iron hand. But the Party will throw out the "democracy" of the disgruntled Party big-wigs, which has nothing in common with genuine internal Party democracy, workers' democracy.

To ensure internal Party democracy it is necessary, first of all, to rid the minds of some of our responsible workers of the survivals and habits of the war period, which cause them to regard the Party not as an independently acting organism, but as a system of official institutions. But these survivals cannot be got rid of in a short space of time.

To ensure internal Party democracy it is necessary, secondly, to do away with the pressure exerted by our bureaucratic state apparatus, which has about a million employees, upon our Party apparatus, which has no more than 20,000-30,000 workers. But it is impossible to do away with the pressure of this cumbersome machine and gain mastery over it in a short space of time.

To ensure internal Party democracy it is necessary, thirdly, to raise the cultural level of our backward units, of which there are quite a number, and to distribute our active workers correctly over the entire territory of the Union; but that, too, can not be achieved in a short space of time.

As you see, to ensure complete democracy is not so simple a matter as Sapronov thinks, that is, of course, if by democracy we mean not Sapronov's empty, formal democracy, but real, workers', genuine democracy.

Obviously, the entire Party from top to bottom must exert its will to ensure and put into effect genuine internal Party democracy.

Trotsky's Letter

The resolution of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission on internal Party democracy, published on December 7, was adopted unanimously. Trotsky voted for this resolution. It might have been expected, therefore, that the members of the Central Committee, including Trotsky, would come forward in a united front with a call to Party members for unanimous support of the Central Committee and its resolution. This expectation, however, has not been realised. The other day Trotsky issued a letter to the Party conferences which cannot be interpreted otherwise than as an attempt to weaken the will of the Party membership for unity in supporting the Central Committee and its position.

Judge for yourselves.

After referring to bureaucracy in the Party apparatus and the danger of degeneration of the old guard, i.e., the Leninists, the main core of our Party, Trotsky writes:

"The degeneration of the ‘old guard' has been observed in history more than once. Let us take the latest and most glaring historical example: the leaders and the parties of the Second International. We know that Wilhelm Liebknecht, Bebel, Singer, Victor Adler, Kautsky, Bernstein, Lafargue, Guesde, and others, were the immediate and direct pupils of Marx and Engels. We know, however, that all those leaders—some partly, and others wholly—degenerated into opportunism.". . . "We, that is, we ‘old ones,' must say that our generation, which naturally plays a leading role in the Party, has no self-sufficient guarantee against the gradual and imperceptible weakening of the proletarian and revolutionary spirit, assuming that the Party tolerates a further growth and consolidation of the bureaucratic-apparatus methods of policy which are transforming the younger generation into passive educational material and are inevitably creating estrangement between the apparatus and the membership, between the old and the young.". . . "The youth—the Party's truest barometer—react most sharply of all against Party bureaucracy.". . . "The youth must capture the revolutionary formulas by storm. . . ."

First, I must dispel a possible misunderstanding. As is evident from his letter, Trotsky includes himself among the Bolshevik old guard, thereby showing readiness to take upon himself the charges that may be hurled at the old guard if it does indeed take the path of degeneration. It must be admitted that this readiness for self-sacrifice is undoubtedly a noble trait. But I must protect Trotsky from Trotsky, because, for obvious reasons, he cannot, and should not, bear responsibility for the possible degeneration of the principal cadres of the Bolshevik old guard. Sacrifice is a good thing, of course, but do the old Bolsheviks need it? I think that they do not.

Secondly, it is impossible to understand how opportunists and Mensheviks like Bernstein, Adler, Kautsky,

Guesde, and the others, can be put on a par with the Bolshevik old guard, which has always fought, and I hope will continue to fight with honour, against opportunism, the Mensheviks and the Second International. What is the cause of this muddle and confusion? Who needs it, bearing in mind the interests of the Party and not ulterior motives that by no means aim at defence of the old guard? How is one to interpret these insinuations about opportunism in relation to the old Bolsheviks, who matured in the struggle against opportunism?

Thirdly, I do not by any means think that the old Bolsheviks are absolutely guaranteed against the danger of degeneration any more than I have grounds for asserting that we are absolutely guaranteed against, say, an earthquake. As a possibility, such a danger can and should be assumed. But does this mean that such a danger is real, that it exists? I think that it does not. Trotsky himself has adduced no evidence to show that the danger of degeneration is a real danger. Nevertheless, there are a number of elements within our Party who are capable of giving rise to a real danger of degeneration of certain ranks of our Party. I have in mind that section of the Mensheviks who joined our Party unwillingly, and who have not yet got rid of their old opportunist habits. The following is what Comrade Lenin wrote about these Mensheviks, and about this danger, at the time of the Party purge:

"Every opportunist is distinguished for his adaptability . . . and the Mensheviks, as opportunists, adapt themselves ‘on principle,' so to speak, to the prevailing trend among the workers and assume a protective colouring, just as a hare's coat turns white in the winter. It is necessary to know this specific feature of the Mensheviks and take it into account. And taking it into account means purging the Party of approximately ninety-nine out of every hundred of the Mensheviks who joined the Russian Communist Party after 1918, i.e., when the victory of the Bolsheviks first became probable and then certain." (see Vol. XXVII, p. 13.)

How could it happen that Trotsky, who lost sight of this and similar, really existing dangers, pushed into the foreground a possible danger, the danger of the degeneration of the Bolshevik old guard? How can one shut one's eyes to a real danger and push into the foreground an unreal, possible danger, if one has the interests of the Party in view and not the object of undermining the prestige of the majority in the Central Committee, the leading core of the Bolshevik old guard? Is it not obvious that "approaches" of this kind can only bring grist to the mill of the opposition?

Fourthly, what reasons did Trotsky have for contrasting the "old ones," who may degenerate, to the "youth," the Party's "truest barometer"; for contrasting the "old guard," who may become bureaucratic, to the "young guard," which must "capture the revolutionary formulas by storm"? What grounds had he for drawing this contrast, and what did he need it for? Have not the youth and the old guard always marched in a united front against internal and external enemies? Is not the unity between the "old ones" and the "young ones" the basic strength of our revolution? What was the object of this attempt to discredit the old guard and demagogically to flatter the youth if not to cause and widen a fissure between these principal detachments of our Party? Who needs all this, if one has the interests of the Party

in view, its unity and solidarity, and not an attempt to shake this unity for the benefit of the opposition?

Is that the way to defend the Central Committee and its resolution on internal Party democracy, which, moreover, was adopted unanimously?

But evidently, that was not Trotsky's object in issuing his letter to the Party conferences. Evidently there was a different intention here, namely: diplomatically to support the opposition in its struggle against the Central Committee of the Party while pretending to support the Central Committee's resolution.

That, in fact, explains the stamp of duplicity that Trotsky's letter bears.

Trotsky is in a bloc with the Democratic Centralists and with a section of the "Left" Communists—therein lies the political significance of Trotsky's action.


Pravda, No. 285, December 15, 1923


1. This resolution was adopted at a joint meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) and of the Presidium of the Central Control Commission, held on December 5, 1923, and was published in Pravda, No. 278, of December 7, 1923.

2. This refers to the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the R.C.P.(B.), held on October 25-27, 1923, in conjunction with representatives of ten Party organisations. (For the resolution adopted by this Plenum, see "Resolutions and Decisions of C.P.S.U.(B.) Congresses, Conferences and Central Committee Plenums," Part I, 1941, pp. 531-32.)

3. This refers to an anonymous platform issued just before the Twelfth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) by an underground counterrevolutionary organisation which called itself the "Workers' Group." (This group was formed in Moscow, in 1923, by Myasnikov and Kuznetsov, who had been expelled from the Party. It had few members, and it was dissolved in the autumn of 1923.)