Stalinism: Its Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993

The Origin of the Workers’ Bureaucracy

III: The post-Revolutionary Crisis

At the time of the second Russian Revolution of February 1917, the Bolshevik Party was a small illegal party whose leaders were in exile. By October, they had taken state power at the head of the Russian working class. By 1922, they had built the most powerful army in the world, defeated the armies of 14 imperialist countries, taken control of one-eighth of the world’s land mass and were at the head of the first-ever world party, which included the best, revolutionary elements in all the capitalist countries of the world.

And yet, by 1940 the only living member of the Central Committee that had made the Revolution was Stalin. He had executed the entire leadership of the Red Army. The same degeneration had affected the parties of the International, whose leaders were now invariably functionaries and acolytes. Fascism dominated Europe and the USSR was totally unprepared for the approaching war.

How had this astonishing transformation taken place? What had happened to the party which had made the Revolution?

To understand the social forces which led to this degeneration of the Communist International we must understand the extraordinary social conditions which prevailed in Russia. But above all this means understanding that the fate of the Russian Revolution was decided not within the borders of the USSR but on the international arena. Once the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had been transformed, the same transformation inevitably imposed itself in turn upon the International.

The Civil War Begins

The Revolution of November 1917 was almost bloodless. However, within a very short time, the forces of reaction regrouped themselves. Czarist Russia had already been devastated by the imperialist war and the peasant army dispersed and returned to the villages as soon as peace talks began. Trotsky, sent to Brest-Litovsk to negotiate peace with the German high command, played for time, while Bolshevik agitation was carried out among the German troops. But in March the Germans launched a new offensive, and the Bolsheviks signed immediately.

An international campaign was then mounted by all the imperialist powers to crush the Revolution.

In December 1917, General Kornilov raised a force of Cossacks in the Caucasus and attacked the Revolution from the South. The German puppet Skoropadsky took the Ukraine and General Denikin advanced towards Moscow from the South. Pilsudski took Kiev for the Poles. General Yudenich’s White Army advanced on Petrograd. The Japanese landed at Vladivostock. The British and French landed at Murmansk in the North. A Czech legion of ex-prisoners of war attacked from Siberia supported by Admiral Kolchak from Omsk.

Independence was granted to the Baltic nations after uprisings took place in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. The new governments of these nations immediately invited imperialist ‘protectors’ into their territory and launched attacks on the Revolution.

Within a year of the Revolution, the Red Army had been built. The Red Army was led by worker-Communists who provided political leadership, while ex-Czarist officers provided military expertise; the mass of the troops were, as ever, peasants.

The German Revolution Murdered by Social-Democracy

October 1918. Europe was in ruins. Germany was ready to explode. Bukharin was sent secretly into Berlin to persuade the German Social-Democrats to prepare for Revolution.

On October 23, an amnesty was declared for political prisoners, and Karl Liebknecht was released from prison and was greeted by a demonstration of 200,000 workers in Berlin. On 30 October 1918, sailors of the Germany North Sea Fleet mutinied. A strike wave spread through the major cities in defence of the sailors. Workers began setting up workers’ councils, inspired by the Russian Soviets. On November 4, a Soviet was formed and took control of the port of Kiel.

On November 8, a Soviet Republic was declared in Bavaria under the control of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD). By November 9, the general strike had spread across the whole country. Workers and Soldiers Councils took control of Berlin and other major cities of Germany. The SPD tried to head the movement off with fake copies of the Soviets, saying that the abdication of the Kaiser ‘was under discussion’. In Berlin, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Spartacists joined forces and began to plan an insurrection. Phillip Scheidemann, the right-wing SPD leader, stood before the throng and proclaimed a Republic. Two hours later, Karl Liebknecht stood before the royal palace and declared: ‘The day of revolution has come. ... We now proclaim the free socialist republic of Germany’.

While the masses were rising in revolt, Rosa Luxemburg was kept locked in her prison cell in Breslau for two weeks after the amnesty, supposedly ‘in protective custody’. Now the tide of revolution reached Breslau and Rosa was released. She went straight to the Cathedral square where she was cheered by a mass demonstration. Transport was paralysed, and it was another two days before she could reach Berlin, where she threw herself into ‘the colourful, fascinating, thrilling and tremendous spectacle of revolution’.

The reactionary government of Prince Max von Baden had no choice but to resign. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. A Republic was proclaimed with Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the SPD, as President, in a coalition with the Independents.

Mass strikes broke out and Soviets were set up in Holland. The Revolution which had begun in Germany threatened to spread across Europe. The Allies immediately signed an armistice with the new Germany government so that they could concentrate their forces to suppress the rising German workers revolution. The capitalist governments which had been engaged yesterday in a fight to the death now joined hands to suppress the workers’ Revolution. While the right-wing SPD leaders acted as “fig leaves”, the reactionary Hohenzollern military caste retained real power. For a time, the SPD was able to retain control of the insurrection.

Responding to Rosa Luxemburg’s calls of “down with the government!” a group of Spartacist members occupied the office of Vorwarts, the SPD paper, on Christmas Day and called for immediate insurrection.

The occupiers had acted independently, and were persuaded to withdraw. But this undisciplined action showed the immaturity of the German Communists, and their urgent need for a disciplined revolutionary party. Accordingly, the German Communist Party (KPD) was founded on December 30. Its program was written by Rosa Luxemburg:

‘the immediate task of the proletariat is nothing less than making socialism come true and exterminating capitalism root and branch’.

‘Now it is necessary to direct all of the proletariat’s power against the underpinnings of the capitalist system in a fully conscious way. Down where each employer confronts his wage slaves, down where all the administrative institutions of class political rule come face to face with those whom they rule, the masses, that is where we must progressively wrest the institutions of power away from the rulers and take them into our hands’.

Three-quarters of the new KPD’s founding members were under 35, only one was over 50. Congress proceedings were quite chaotic and leaders like Clara Zetkin had not even got to know of it before it was over. Of the 127 delegates, about half were workers, and only five were women.

In January 1919, a new, spontaneous insurrectional general strike broke out. But the KPD was still far too small and immature to lead the struggle. Seizing its opportunity, the Ebert government launched a reign of terror against the workers, unleashing the military against the population of Berlin. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested on January 15 and murdered. Denied leadership, the insurrection was crushed.

This trend was repeated across Europe[8]: hundreds were killed as a workers’ revolt in Rumania was suppressed; 100,000 workers struck in Glasgow; mutinies among the British soldiers in France, England and in the British Expeditionary Force in Murmansk were put down; a Soviet Republic assumed power in Hungary in March 1919; it was drowned in blood by ‘Allied’ intervention after the withdrawal of the Social-Democrats.

The British massacred protesters in Amritsar as the Indian masses rose up, and a new nationalist upsurge began in Beijing in May. In September 1919 a widespread uprising of workers in Italy was betrayed by the Italian Socialist Party and crushed by the bourgeois-liberal government of Giolitti. With Soviet support, Ataturk founded a republic in Turkey. Insurrections were sweeping Egypt and Persia, and meeting brutal imperialist repression. [9]

The effect of these defeats – above all others, the defeat of the German Revolution and the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, the heroes of the European working class – was devastating for the Russian workers. Correctly, the Bolsheviks had judged that the end of the war would unleash revolutionary uprisings in Germany – Germany where the workers’ movement was so powerful, so organised and politically developed, so devastated by defeat in the imperialist war, and so betrayed by its rotten Social-Democratic leaders. The Bolsheviks had based their whole tactics on a successful revolution in Germany.

Lenin had written on October 3 1918:

‘The crisis in Germany has only begun. It will inevitably end in the transfer of political power to the German proletariat. The Russian proletariat is following events with the keenest attention and enthusiasm. Now even the blindest workers in the various countries will see that the Bolsheviks were right in basing their whole tactics on the support of the world workers’ revolution, and in not fearing to bear all sorts of heavy sacrifices’.

“Military Communism”, 1918 - 1921

Once the Armistice ending the First World War had been concluded, the armies of intervention began to close in on the Revolution.

In October 1919, a White Army of 25,000 marched on Petrograd, the birthplace of the Revolution. Lenin and most of the leadership were reconciled to going back to working as an underground party. But, as Victor Serge relates:

‘Trotsky arrived with a train, that famous train, ... they took everything in hand. It was magical. Trotsky kept saying “It is impossible for a little army of 15,000 ex-officers to master a working-class capital of 700,000 inhabitants”. He had posters put up proclaiming that the city would “defend itself on its own ground, ... that the White Army would be lost in a labyrinth of fortified streets and there meet its grave”’.[10]

The Politburo adopted Trotsky’s resolution:

‘Recognising the existence of an acute military danger, we must take steps to really transform Soviet Russia into a military camp... Petrograd not to be evacuated. To defend Petrograd to the last drop of blood, to refuse to yield a foot. To carry the struggle into the streets of the city’.

In the working class suburbs of Petrograd, the White Armies were turned back. They retreated at such speed that the Red Army could barely keep up. The tide was turned, but the victory had been achieved at the cost of twenty million Soviet lives.

By 1921, the economy was operating at about 20% of the pre-war level. It was isolated and blockaded; looting and banditry were rife, millions faced starvation. In 1918-19, at least 12 million people died of typhus; by 1922 a further 20 million were affected by typhus, cholera or scarlet fever. Fuel for heating was almost non-existent. The people war-weary; dissent and disillusionment were everywhere, and what remained of the Soviet economy was run along military lines.

The Soviet regime during this period of Civil War consisted of a military organisation in which everything was subordinated to the needs of the front, grain was requisitioned from the peasantry by force, factories were run by workers under military regimentation, food was distributed by strict rationing; party activists were military commanders, not only at the front, but in the economy. [11]

The responsibility of averting famine and social disintegration on a huge scale now fell upon the shoulders of a few revolutionaries who were becoming accustomed to using the methods of administrative command, rather than the methods of political leadership and workers’ democracy.

While these habits of command were becoming a part of the life of the Bolshevik Party, the instruments of command, including the death penalty, were also in danger of becoming a permanent feature of the Revolution.

Abolition of the death penalty was one of the Revolution’s first decrees, and during the first three months after the revolution no death sentence was pronounced, but the death penalty was restored, unavoidably, as a temporary measure for Civil War.

The Cheka [12], a secret-police organisation set up in 1918 to defend the revolution against covert counter-revolution, had gained during 1918 almost total independence from control of the Party.

On 17 January 1919, the Soviet Government passed a resolution again abolishing the death penalty. That night, before the decree was published, the Cheka executed hundreds of prisoners, and, with White armies pressing from all sides the decree was later revoked.

Victor Serge commented:

‘I am well aware that terror has been necessary up till now in all great revolutions, which do not happen according to the taste of well-intentioned people, but spontaneously, with the violence of tempests; and that it is our duty to employ the only weapons that history affords us if we are not to be overwhelmed through our own folly. But at the same time I saw that the perpetuation of terror, after the end of the Civil War and the transition to a period of economic freedom, was an immense blunder. I was and still am convinced that the new regime would have felt a hundred times more secure if it had henceforth proclaimed its reverence, as a Socialist government, for human life and the rights of all individuals without exception.

‘... despite everything I was committed to the regime’s survival; ... the Russians, who had made superhuman efforts to build a new society, were more or less at the end of their strength; and that relief or salvation must come from the West’. [13]

The regime of “military communism” had not been a matter of choice. The Communist Party had had to mobilise the entire resources of the country to defend the Revolution. The Russian Revolution was the first workers’ revolution in history to take and hold state power, and mistakenly, in these early days:

‘The Soviet government hoped and strove to develop these methods of regimentation directly into a system of planned economy in distribution as well as production. In other words, from “military communism” it hoped gradually, but without destroying the system, to arrive at genuine communism’. ...

‘Reality, however, came into increasing conflict with the program of “military communism”. Production continually declined, and not only because of the destructive action of the war, but also because of the quenching of the stimulus of personal interest among the producers. The city demanded grain and raw materials from the rural districts, giving nothing in exchange except varicoloured pieces of paper, named, according to ancient memory, money. And the muzhik [14] buried his stores in the ground. ... The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever seen. The country, and the government with it, were at the edge of the abyss.

‘The utopian hopes of the epoch of military communism came in later for a cruel, and in many respects just, criticism. The theoretical mistake of the ruling party remains inexplicable, however, only if you leave out of account the fact that all calculations at that time were based on the hope of an early victory of the revolution in the West.’ [15]

Even had the reformists not succeeded in betraying the revolution in Europe,

‘it would still have been necessary to renounce the direct state distribution of products in favour of methods of commerce.’ [16]

The end of the period of "Military Communism" [17] is marked by the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, March 1921, which agreed the New Economic Policy (NEP). While this Congress was meeting, the Kronstadt [18] uprising broke out. Delegates took leave from the Congress to join the troops and storm Kronstadt. Many from both sides died, but the revolt was crushed.

Victor Serge, an anarchist who sympathised with the aims of the Kronstadt rebellion, wrote of this time:

‘After many hesitations, and with considerable anguish, my Communist friends and I finally declared ourselves on the side of the Party. ... The country was absolutely exhausted, and production practically at a standstill; there were no reserves of any kind, not even reserves of stamina in the hearts of the masses. The working class elite that had been moulded in the struggle against the old regime was literally decimated. ... If the Bolshevik dictatorship fell, it was only a short step to chaos, and through chaos to a peasant rising, the massacre of the Communists, the return of the emigrés, and in the end, through the sheer force of events, another dictatorship, this time anti-proletarian. ... in European Russia alone there were at least fifty centres of peasant insurrection.’ [19]

The tragedy of Kronstadt was all the greater given that the demands of the rebels for relief from the hardships of “military communism”, were being addressed by the Congress at that very time, and its implementation of the NEP marked the beginning of a new period for the Revolution.

Serge’s comments supporting the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion are important, because they show how polarised politics had become in the Soviet Union. The Civil War left no middle ground. “By force of events” you were either for or against the workers’ dictatorship. In these circumstances, it had become impossible to guarantee meaningful freedom of political association, even within the workers’ movement.

This suppression of political debate outside of the Bolshevik Party was further aggravated by difficulties inside the Bolshevik Party.

Between November 1920 and March 1921 there was a complex and acrimonious debate on the role of the trade unions, in which there were no less than seven factional groupings led by Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Kollontai, Bubnov, Ignatov and Dzerzhinsky respectively. The source of the dispute was in reality not trade union policy, but the accumulation of problems in the direction of the economy arising from the prolongation of “military communism”. The dispute was resolved, and unity restored to the ranks of the Party, with the 180º turn from “military communism” to the NEP decided at the Tenth Congress.

Following this traumatic experience, and as a temporary measure, in the midst of Civil War, Lenin consented to the banning of factions in the Party in April 1921. But Lenin’s consent to the banning of factions was highly qualified, to say the least. Speaking against an amendment to ban election according to a platform, he said:

‘I do not think we have the power to prohibit [elections according to platforms]. If we are united by our resolution on unity, and of course, the development of the revolution, then there will be no repetition of elections according to platforms. The lesson we have learned at this Congress will not be forgotten. But if the circumstances should give rise to fundamental disagreements, can we prohibit them from being brought before the judgment of the whole Party? No, we cannot! This is an excessive desire, which is impracticable, and I move that we reject it’. [20]

It would be another two years before the country was freed from foreign armies. Although the economy was at a standstill, by the beginning of 1921 the Revolution had been secured. At the same time, the workers’ uprisings in Europe following the end of the War had been crushed.

IV: The New Economic Policy

Beginning in 1921, the market was legalised and the capitalist mechanism of supply and demand was utilised to regenerate the economy. Only higher prices for their agricultural produce could motivate the millions of small peasant proprietors to produce surplus for the cities. It was equally necessary in the case of small-scale industry. The major industries, banks and utilities remained in the hands of the State, and a stable gold-based currency was created as the foundation for the market economy.

The workers were war-weary, and though the Russian workers had made enormous sacrifices for the Revolution, they would not tolerate military discipline in the factories any longer. Seizures of grain from the peasants could not continue. Consequently, the retreat from the command economy of “military communism”, to the utilisation of the market for agriculture and small-scale manufacture was obligatory.

To win the co-operation of technical experts and specialists, the egalitarian principles of “military communism” were also moderated. Lenin explained why the Revolution decided to offer higher salaries to technical experts, as follows:

‘Because of our backwardness we must get these specialists from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, and they demand higher pay ... It is clear that such a measure is a compromise, that is a deflection from the principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average workers ... The corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute, both on the Soviets and on the mass of workers. But all thinking workers and peasants will agree with us and will admit that we are unable to get rid at once of the evil heritage of capitalism.’

As a result of the NEP, production revived quickly, industrial production reaching the pre-war level by 1926, and although more slowly, agricultural production grew. At the same time:

‘differentiation among the peasant mass began to grow. This development fell into the old well-trodden ruts. The growth of the kulak [21] far outstripped the general growth of agriculture. The policy of the government under the slogan “face to the country” was actually a turning of its face to the kulak ... the enrichment of the minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority’. [22]

Trotsky argued that a rapid expansion industrial production was possible. Furthermore, it was urgently necessary in order to provide a flow of cheap industrial products to the peasantry. This would provide the only means of maintaining the connection between city and countryside and stimulating the growth of agriculture.

Trotsky’s policy was rejected however. The Central Committee majority supported instead the policy Bukharin called ‘socialism at a snail’s pace’, that is gradual industrialisation, and his slogan of "peasants enrich yourselves!", relying on the better-off peasants to revive agriculture.

Preparing for the Revolution in Europe

The revolutions which had broken out in the aftermath of the War had failed. The diverse forces that had rallied to the Communist International brought with them many political problems, as outlined in Chapter 1 above. The Bolsheviks had to patiently explain the hard-won lessons of Russia’s thirty years of preparation for the October Revolution to the Communists of the West. Lenin expressed the tasks of the Communists in the West this way:

‘The chief thing ... has already been achieved: the vanguard of the working class has been won over, has ranged itself on the side of the Soviet government and against parliamentarianism, on the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat and against bourgeois democracy. All efforts and all attention should now be concentrated on the next step ... the search after forms of the transition or the approach to the proletarian revolution. ...

‘It is not difficult to be a revolutionary when revolution has already broken out and is in spate, when all people are joining the revolution ... It is far more difficult – and far more precious – to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist, ... To be able to seek, find and correctly determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, decisive and final revolutionary struggle – such is the main objective of communism in Western Europe and in America today’ ["Left-Wing: Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Lenin’s emphasis]. [23]

For, while millions had rallied to the cause of the Revolution, few had any idea of how to go about emulating it. For the time being, the Soviet Union would have to survive on its own, building and strengthening the International, until the next upsurge of the workers in the West.

The immaturity of the Communist leadership in the West was demonstrated in Germany in March 1921. The miners in central Germany went into battle against repressive measures taken by the right-wing SPD government of Prussia. Under the leadership of the Comintern [24] representative Bela Kun, the German Communist Party (KPD) proclaimed an insurrection.

After a week of fighting between KPD members and police, the fighting began to slow down. Despite this slowing down, the KPD then issued a call for a general strike. The call led to little response, and as a result the Communists suffered serious casualties and many of their members and supporters were arrested. Following this adventurist action, there was a decline in the membership of the KPD.

The Communist International explained to the German party how to turn to the masses with agitation and propaganda, and how to educate and strengthen their forces. The social and economic crisis in Germany continued to worsen, and the KPD would recover from this set-back.

Lenin’s Last Struggles

Josef Stalin, a Central Committee member, was regarded as knowledgeable on the nationalities of the Soviet Union, and he had been appointed Commissar for Nationalities. However, from this position he initiated repressive measures against party opponents in his native Georgia. He also proposed to end the federative structure of the multi-national Russian Federation, and absorb the Republics in a “union”.

In April 1922, Stalin was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

The banning of factions in April 1921 had had the effect of placing enormous authority in the hands of the central organising group of the Soviet Communist Party. Meanwhile, Lenin was ill and Trotsky, also very ill and near to exhaustion, was absorbed in the conduct of the Civil War. This meant that enormous power had been concentrated in the hands of the CPSU General Secretary, Josef Stalin.

From his death-bed, Lenin fought his last struggle against Stalin. Using his authority as General Secretary, Stalin prevented Lenin from communicating with his comrades, and his last writings, “Lenin’s Testament”, had to be dictated to secretaries who smuggled them out with the help of Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya.

The crucial Twelfth Congress of the Party was scheduled for April 1923, where Lenin fervently wanted to speak, and where he intended to remove Stalin as General Secretary, enlarge to one hundred the Central Committee,[25] with the inclusion of rank-and-file workers to give the leadership more stability. A number of other measures were intended to strengthen Trotsky’s position and deal with Great Russian chauvinism and tendencies towards bureaucratism.

Lenin had a stroke in March, and his active life was at an end. Krupskaya feared that Lenin’s letters would provoke a split and kept the Testament under lock and key until the Thirteenth Congress in April 1924. But it was already too late. Stalin consolidated his leading position in the Party from the Twelfth Congress, and within a year conditions inside the leading bodies of the Party were such that Lenin’s stunning condemnation of Stalin were brushed aside and rationalised by the delegates.

The German Revolution: A missed Opportunity

Under the guidance of the Communist International, the KPD had turned to the masses, and by mid-1923 had become very strong.

The occupation of the Ruhr by France in June 1923 generated an enormous social crisis; the Reichstag was dead-locked; the state forces were still very small; inflation was out of hand and the economy in ruins; the fascists were demoralised and even petit-bourgeois layers were turning to the KPD. Everybody expected a Communist Revolution.

Having ‘burnt its fingers’ in March 1921, the KPD hesitated to respond decisively to this revolutionary situation. They simply continued the policy of propaganda and gradual build-up in their forces, and failed to demonstrate their preparedness to resolve the crisis by revolution. Trotsky urged the Comintern to advise the Germans to prepare an insurrection and Zinoviev called for ‘bold action’, while Radek and Stalin called for the KPD to be “restrained”. But the revolutionary mood began to ebb.

In October, the Politburo finally agreed that the KPD should set a date for an insurrection, and with Zinoviev’s assistance the KPD began a bold turn to revolutionary agitation. KPD members established a rebel coalition government in Saxony, the KPD set a date for the insurrection and began to work for it.

But the KPD’s influence was now declining [2]. The bourgeoisie was becoming more self-confident, and had initiated repressive measures against the KPD. The economy also had begun to improve. The Saxony rebels were given an ultimatum. The KPD called a general strike. There was no response. An uprising in Hamburg was crushed in 48 hours. Recognising that the balance of forces was now unfavourable, KPD leader Heinrich Brandler called off the insurrection.

Brandler was blamed for the defeat, and made a scapegoat. But the moment had passed. The culpability of the Comintern leadership – its vacillation, its internal crisis, its failure to read the situation, its reluctance to accept responsibility for organising the insurrection – was covered over.

On a world scale, the post-war revolutionary crisis had now passed [27].

The Comintern had established itself as a force to be feared. The European workers would soon recover from the defeats and disappointments of this period, but the Russian workers yearned for a sign of workers from the West coming to their aid. The ‘ebb tide’ had a powerful effect on them and upon the internal struggles within the International. It was in this situation that contradictions within the leadership of the Revolution came to a head.

V: The New Course, 1923

The split in the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International began in October 1923. There were two issues at the centre of the dispute:

• the appropriate pace and direction of growth of the economy, and

• the need to make an objective assessment of the failure of the German Revolution.

Early in 1924, Trotsky began to criticise the policy of the Comintern which had allowed this revolutionary opportunity to be missed. His book, Lessons of October, in the guise of a review of the October 1917 revolution, pointed in fact to the mistaken policies of the Comintern in Germany.

‘The internal discussions in the Russian Communist Party did not lead to a system of groups until the events in Germany in Autumn 1923. ... it was on that basis that the Left Opposition was formed’ wrote Trotsky later.

Behind these political differences there were underlying changes taking place in the Party which Trotsky identified as bureaucratism. A number of factors had combined to lead to this growth in bureaucratism[28] in both the state and the Party:

• The failure of the revolution in Europe, with its depressing effect on the Russian working class,

• the international isolation,

• the cultural backwardness of the masses, their war-weariness and the low level of the economy,

• the growing confidence of the petit-bourgeoisie as a result of the NEP, and the growing influence of the petit-bourgeoisie in the Soviets,

• the absorption of the Communist cadre in state administration and their habit of command.

In December 1923 the Politburo unanimously adopted the resolution known as ‘The New Course’. The resolution had been written by Trotsky and was aimed at stemming the growth of bureaucratism, and resolving the problems building up as a result of the New Economic Policy. Trotsky was ill and the resolution was in fact vigorously opposed by the majority on the Politburo, but the pressure of public opinion forced them to adopt the resolution.

The ‘New Course’ resolution:

1) Pointed to the low productivity of the state industries, the high cost of its products to consumers, and lack of co-ordination of the different sectors of the economy. It emphasised the importance of planning to ensure the delivery of cheap, good quality industrial products to the peasantry. It also pointed to a “loss of perspective of socialist construction” among Party members absorbed in economic activity, influenced by “bourgeois elements” and bureaucratism.

2) Called for recruitment and training of new party members drawn from the industrial workers above all, and the working class youth, landless peasants and rural teachers.

3) Whilst accepting the prohibition on factions, called for the “active implementation of the principles of workers’ democracy”. This meant a real opening up of party discussions; the reduction in the right of leading bodies to appoint to lower bodies in the Party, while setting a minimum length of Party membership for qualification for particular offices; purging the Party of bourgeois and opportunist elements.

4) ‘Immediate measures for realising workers’ democracy’ aimed at ensuring the openness of all Party discussions, mandatory reporting back of the higher to the lower body, more frequent congresses.

5) Measures to increase the effectiveness of control commissions as means for the masses to place a check on the state apparatus and economic activity, while limiting the severity of disciplinary measures which could be used against party members, and measures to increase the accountability of all branches of bureaucracy through proper public accounting.

In fact, only Trotsky fought for the implementation of the policy. The majority of the Party leadership adapted itself instead to pressures coming from below.

The bureaucracy had been recruited from the ranks of the former Tsarist civil service, the petit-bourgeoisie and the ‘NEP-men’. [29] The bureaucracy tightened their grip both on the Soviet state apparatus and the lower ranks of the party. The kulaks and the bureaucracy together controlled the economy.

Through its control of the economy, the state apparatus and the lower ranks of the Party, the bureaucracy brought the Party leadership under its sway.

The Triumvirate (Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev) initiated the ‘Lenin levy’: between February and May 1924 the doors of the Party were opened. The Bolshevik Party was no longer an illegal party membership of which entailed sacrifice and risk, but the ruling party. Only 1 per cent of the Bolshevik Party of 1924 had been members before March 1917! [30]

250,000 people – loyal but politically uneducated workers, petty officials, careerists and all kinds of opportunists were admitted to membership, to be used as a battering ram against the Left Opposition. Open political discussion became increasingly difficult within the Bolshevik Party.

Russia was just beginning to haul itself out of famine. Following the defeat of the German workers, the revolutionary tide had ebbed. While millions of workers and peasants loyally supported the Bolsheviks, conditions inside the Party had degenerated.

By the time of Lenin’s death, a sustained and vitriolic campaign of political vilification was being waged by Stalin and his supporters against Trotsky.

The Reinstatement of Patriarchy

The Bolsheviks regarded the family as it existed in Old Russia, as a well-spring of reaction. Not only was the family the site of the domestic enslavement of women and the brutalisation of children, it was also the vehicle for the maintenance of religion, superstition and prejudice.

Their aim was to transcend the family by means of social services which would create the opportunity for ending of domestic slavery and social and educational policies to overcome the backwardness of Russian society.

The Civil War had shattered the family however. Whereas the economy had begun to rebuild by 1923, ‘the first destructive period is still far from being over in the life of the family’, wrote Trotsky in July 1923. [31] While it had been relatively simple to institute the political equality of men and women, the industrial equality was more difficult, ‘but to achieve the actual equality of man and woman within the family is an infinitely more arduous problem. ... and unless there is actual equality of husband and wife in the family ... we cannot speak seriously of their equality in social work or even in politics’. [32]

The devastation wrought by the Civil War however, had also undermined the Party’s program of social services and education. ‘Without a raising of the standard of the culture of the individual working man and woman, there cannot be a new, higher type of family. ... The workers’ state must become wealthier in order that it may be possible seriously to tackle the public education of the children and the releasing of the family from the burden of kitchen and the laundry.’

In this speech, Trotsky went on to urge a modest program which could be sustained: ‘the more enterprising and progressive families [could] group themselves even now into collective housekeeping units’ [33].

The policy that was implemented by the Stalin leadership was the opposite however.

The quality of the communal laundries and créches became so abysmal that people preferred not to use them, and they were abandoned. The formal equality of the sexes was not undermined at this point, in fact the marriage code of 1928 completed what had been begun in 1918. But without the social services to support the ‘new family’, the program of the Revolution could not be carried forward. Thus, the conservatism of the patriarchal family of Old Russia was allowed to re-establish itself to provide a point of support for pushing back the Revolution.

The Turning Point

1923 marks the point at which the balance between the tendency towards degeneration of the Revolution and the tendency towards renewal of the Revolution tipped in favour of reaction.

The conditions of Civil War which brought the Soviet Union to the brink of annihilation in 1919-21 had legitimised primitive and dictatorial relations between the leadership and the ranks of the Party which were hitherto alien to the Bolshevik Party.

The Civil War had also spawned within the State apparatus a ferocious instrument of repression (The Cheka) which had already proved to be a force beyond the control of the Party.

The market economy introduced by the NEP, provided the soil in which capitalist social relations and capitalist political forces could grow. This manifested itself in the prominence of ‘NEP-men’ and kulaks in social life generally and in the lower ranks of the Soviets and the Party.

Most important of all, the failure of the European Revolution after the War, and the failure of the German Revolution in 1921 and 1923 bred pessimism in the war-weary Russian workers. The delay in the world revolution immeasurably strengthened the hand of bureaucrats who had no interest in the revolution. Those, like Trotsky, who saw that the Revolution could in the long run only survive with support from the West, faced insuperable political difficulties at this time.

The misleadership of the Comintern in Germany in 1923 was less serious in its implications, than its failure to objectively evaluate the defeat. For, without such an objective evaluation, there could be no correction of its errors, no victory for the Revolution in the West, and consequently, in the last analysis there could be no Socialism in Russia.

That is why failure of the Comintern to make an objective evaluation of the defeat of the German Communist Party in 1923 was said by Trotsky to mark the beginning of the struggle of the International Left Opposition against the Stalin-majority of the Communist International.

The course of this struggle was determined not by the veracity and conviction of the arguments put forward by each side, but primarily by the course of the class struggle on the international arena.

The period which follows is characterised by a bewildering series of zig-zags in the Soviet Union. Beginning from the zenith of revolutionary struggle in 1917-21, the party of Stalin became stronger, while the party of Lenin and Trotsky was eclipsed.

By the end of the 1930s, all the leaders of the Revolution had been murdered, and the fascist holocaust had overtaken Europe.

To make sense of this period it is necessary to trace these sharp changes in the Soviet Union and to consider the social conditions which underlay each change.