The worst thing that can befall the leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class he represents, and for the realization of the measures which that domination implies . . . Thus he necessarily finds himself in an insolvable dilemma. What he can do contradicts all his previous actions, principles and the immediate interests of his party, and what he ought to do cannot be done . . . Whoever is put into this awkward position is irrevocably doomed. Friedrich Engels 1
In the spring of 1924 . . . I said to Smirnov: “Stalin will become the dictator of the U.S.S.R.” Smirnov knew Stalin well . . . “Stalin?” he asked me with amazement. “But he is a mediocrity, a colorless nonentity.” “Mediocrity, yes; nonentity, no,” I answered him. “The dialectics of history have already hooked him and will raise him up. He is needed by all of them — by the tired radicals, by the bureaucrats, by the nepmen, the kulaks, the upstarts, the sneaks, by all the worms that are crawling out of the upturned soil of the manured revolution.” Leon Trotsky 2
According to Marx, being the leader of a community inevitably requires defending first and foremost the individuals who are most politically active. Given the conservative nature of political activity, that means defending first and foremost those who are socio-economically dominant. Failing to give an established elite primary representation, an advocate for equality must either make war against them or abandon the quest for leadership.
The idea of an equalitarian leader in a non-equalitarian society not undergoing violent conflict is a contradiction in terms. That Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders forgot or ignored this fundamental Marxist axiom explains the personal tragedies which befell them in the years which followed their mighty October.
War Communism: 1917-21
As noted in part I of this essay, prior to the revolution, Russia’s Marxist intellectuals had agreed it was going to be capitalist in nature. The various historical stages Marx described would have to be traversed; skipping a stage was impossible. Since Russia was feudal, it followed that its bourgeois-democratic period would be next: “Lenin accepted as unequivocally as the Mensheviks the bourgeois character of the incipient revolution, and the necessity to pass through the stage of bourgeois democracy on the way to socialism”.3 According to Lenin, “He who seeks to advance toward socialism by any other road, bypassing political democracy, inevitably arrives at conclusions both inept and reactionary.”4
The Bolsheviks also argued, and most Mensheviks agreed, that by transforming their country’s relationships with capitalist Western Europe, and by strengthening the resolve of West European workers, a victorious bourgeois revolution in Russia would,“spark” proletarian-socialist revolutions on the continent. In turn, Western Europe’s socialist revolutions would then “spark” a subsequent proletarian-socialist revolution in Russia.5
The Bolshevik-Menshevik accord broke down over the question of what to do after Russia’s bourgeois revolution occurred. Concluding the process which would eventually bring about its socialist revolution would take many years, the Mensheviks urged tempering the capitalist government’s hurtful practices by working from within. The Bolsheviks, conversely, argued the “sparking” would be rapidly completed, and stood for opposing the bourgeois government from without, contending that would expedite continental Europe’s, then Russia’s, passage to the socialist stage of history.
In keeping with their analyses, the Marxist intellectuals uniformly welcomed the February 1917 revolution as capitalist. The Mensheviks moved to support it, while the Bolsheviks adopted a stance of semi-loyal opposition; although their opposition was sufficiently moderate that it, too, often entailed assistance.
Yet, given the theoretical framework they employed, the Bolsheviks’ hesitancy to vigorously oppose the Provisional Government made sense. Who would have the audacity to suggest Russia’s bourgeois-democratic stage could be passed through in only a few months; that the proletarian-socialist revolution was already approaching before the predicted outbreak of Western Europe’s socialist revolutions had even begun.
Initially, Lenin alone proved to be so rash. Returning to Russia in April, “Lenin shocked the party leaders by stating flatly that ‘the bourgeois or bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia had been completed.’”6 Small wonder that he was promptly regarded by his fellow Bolsheviks as mad.
Lenin’s identification with Russian workers and peasants was much closer than that of other Bolsheviks. He had little that was bourgeois about him. “When he lived in the Kremlin Lenin quite unaffectedly continued to live in the most simple style, sleeping on an iron bedstead in a carpetless room; he did not even consciously dispense with luxuries, but was merely rather irritated when anyone tried to force them upon him.”7
Between February and October 1917, Lenin’s empathy for the cruel suffering of peasants and workers repeatedly led him to interpret events in ways compatible with their interests and understandings; though unlike them, he filtered those interpretations through an absolutistic understanding of Marx’s paradigm in reaching his conclusions.
It was the logic of the worker-peasant-soldier experience that no revolutionary change whatsoever had occurred in February. The Provisional Government was still guarding the interests of the preindustrial elite, just as the Tsar had always done. It was attempting to prevent peasants from seizing land and workers from taking over factories, and it continued to prosecute the disastrous war.
Simple survival required the workers, peasants and soldiers to oppose the Provisional Government. They had no elaborate theoretical justification. Nor did they need one. They found the egalitarian perspective which defending their social existence demanded self-evidently true. “Among the wage-earners and the land-working people it was common to hear talk of ‘all land to the peasants, all factories to the workers.’”8
Soon after the February uprising, Lenin began to offer a rationalization for the actions which workers, peasants, and soldiers were finding imperative. In his pamphlet State and Revolution, and again in his April Theses, he described the proletarian revolution which he insisted was near at hand. “’The peculiarity of the current moment in Russia,’” Lenin reasoned, “’consists in the transition from the first stage of the revolution, which gave power to the bourgeoisie as a result of the insufficient consciousness and organization of the proletariat, to its second stage, which should give power into the hands of the proletariat and poorest strata of the peasantry.’”9
While believing Russia’s socialist revolution was at hand required Lenin to turn Marx’s theory inside out and upside down, his depiction of the approaching transformation was certainly radical-equalitarian. Quoting Engels at length, in State and Revolution, he prophesied:
“‘The proletariat seizes state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with. But thereby it abolishes itself as the proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, and abolishes also the state as state. . . . /The/ proletarian state will begin to wither away immediately after its victory because the state is unnecessary and cannot exist in a society in which there are no class antagonisms.'”10
“The bureaucracy and the standing army,” Lenin argued, “are a ‘parasite’ on the body of bourgeois society — a parasite created by the internal antagonisms which rend that society, but a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores.”11
Taking power into their own hands, Russia’s workers, peasants and soldiers would smash the existing bureaucratic state, abolish the army, and establish a proletarian state whose exclusive function would be to control the bourgeoisie while the sources of its power were discovered and dismantled. That quickly accomplished, the workers/peasants/-soldiers would then disassemble their proletarian state, which no longer served any useful purpose.
As Lenin envisioned the proletariat’s remarkable undertaking:
“. . . the ‘state’ is still necessary, but this is now a transitional state. It is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word; for the suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of the wage slaves of yesterday is comparatively so easy, simple, and natural a task that it will entail far less bloodshed and it will cost mankind far less . . . Naturally, the exploiters are unable to suppress the people without a highly complex machine for performing this task, but the people can suppress the exploiters even with a very simple ‘machine,’ almost without a ‘machine,’ without a special apparatus, by the simple oganization of the armed people (such as the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, we would remark, running ahead)”.12
Furthermore, this very simple peoples’ machine, “almost not a machine at all,” would require no special expertise or grand emoluments to run.
“. . . the great majority of the functions of the old ‘state power’ have become so simplified and can be reduced to such exceedingly simple operations of registration, filing and checking that they can be easily performed by every literate person, can quite easily be performed for ordinary ‘work-men’s wages,’ and these functions can (and must) be stripped of every shadow of privilege, of every semblance of ‘official grandeur’.”13
Lenin and Trotsky were both adhering to this utopian vision at the moment of the Provisional Government’s overthrow.
“Fellow workingmen!” Lenin wrote a few days after the October Revolution, “Remember that you yourselves now govern the state. No one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take the whole business of state in your own hands. Your soviets are from now on the organs of state authority.”14
In a speech declaring the end of the Provisional Government Trotsky proclaimed:
“We, today, the Soviet of Soldiers’, Workers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, are going to undertake an experiment unique in history, the establishment of a government that will have no other aim than the satisfaction of the needs of the soldiers, workers, and peasants. The state must become the instrument of the masses in the struggle for their liberation from all slavery.”15
The Natural Necessity of the New Industrial-Elite
Following the overthrow of the Tsar, Russia’s workers, peasants and soldiers had faced a collapsed economy. Their situation was one in which they could preserve their socio-economic existence only by discontinuing the war and seizing land and factories. It was no longer possible for them to sanction a continuation of the feudal institutional structure which formerly the Tsar and now the Provisional Government defended. Peasants were already expropriating landlords and workers were taking over industries, despite the Provisional Government’s reproach.
While the workers, peasants and soldiers were prepared to tolerate arguments which rationalized what they were doing, they had no need for the involved theoretical justifications which Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolsheviks offered. Such justifications did not evolve naturally out of a defense of their lowly status. On the other hand, since permitting the Bolsheviks’ interpretation of events to hold sway did not prevent them from defending their social existences, workers, peasants and soldiers made no effort to reject it. Initially, they seemed puzzled by, and indifferent to, the Marxists’ theorizing. They were enthusiastic when Lenin proclaimed Russia must stop fighting the war, or when he urged peasants to seize the land and workers the factories. But his elaborate philosophical arguments made little impress.
For Menshevik and Bolshevik leaders, however, it was a very different matter. If Lenin’s analysis was correct, if workers, peasants and soldiers were preparing to make another revolutionary gesture, it would be necessary for the Marxist intellectuals to come up with a new theoretical defense of their favored social existence.
Although, in sum, Lenin’s arguments would require modifications here, reformulations there, they promised to serve that critical function. Certain aspects of his proposed program greatly disturbed his fellow Bolsheviks, particularly the talk about a genuine worker-peasant state. But there was another, much less radical Lenin, who directly addressed their personal interests. That more cautious Lenin spoke of:
“. . . the practical need, which he had propounded almost at the same moment with no less vigor in Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, to take over and utilize the technical apparatus of economic and financial control created and left behind by capitalism. . . . /In that essay/, Lenin had cautiously foreseen that the new regime would need a greater number than ever before of ‘engineers, agronomists, technicians, scientifically trained specialists of every kind,’ who would have ‘for the period of transition’ to be paid a higher wage than other workers.”16
This more practical Lenin, appealed to the Bolsheviks, and to Mensheviks, as well. The analysis he presented could, and did, become the basis for an elite dictatorship in the name of, rather than by, the teeming masses, a dictatorship which would protect the Marxist intellectuals’ superior status against challenges coming from the below.
If the Marxist intellectuals wished to secure their hegemonic social existences in the developing post-February crisis they would need to drag their feet where the implementation of revolutionary change was concerned. Insofar as the change took place anyway, they would be best served by gaining control of it, using the inherently elitist features of Lenin’s theory. Which, of course, is how they behaved.
Except for Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks had balked at the idea of an uprising against the Provisional Government, though most workers believed it was imperative. Of the Bolshevik Central Committee’s discussion of insurrection held only days before the government was actually deposed, John Reed reported:
“All night long the 23rd they met. There were present all the party intellectuals, the leaders, and delegates of the Petrograd workers and garrison. Alone of the intellectuals Lenin and Trotsky stood for insurrection. Even the military men opposed it. A vote was taken. Insurrection was defeated! Then arose a rough workman, his face convulsed with rage. ‘I speak for the Petrograd proletariat,’ he said harshly. ‘We are in favor of insurrection. Have it your own way, but I tell you now that if you allow the Soviets to be destroyed, we’re through with you!'”17
When the Bolsheviks seized power two days later they did so because they were forced into it; defensively responding to the Provisional Government’s attempt to crush them once and for all.
Having gained power, the Bolshevik Party next proved reluctant to cease involvement in the war. In a speech to the soldiers’ delegates on November 11, Lenin acknowledged: “The vast majority of peasants, soldiers and workers are in favor of a policy of peace. . . . This is not the policy of the Bolsheviks: it is not a ‘Party’ policy at all; but it is the policy of the workers, soldiers, and peasants, that is, of the majority of the people.”18 “The soldiers were tired of fighting.” ‘They are voting with their feet,’ said Lenin mockingly to those who wanted him to continue with the war.”19 “In a stormy meeting of Bolshevik leaders on 8 January 1918 Lenin was voted down by an absolute majority for continuing the war.”20
Only by threatening resignation, only by confronting his fellow Bolshevik intellectuals with the wrath of the masses, did Lenin wreak his will. “Under threat of Lenin’s resignation his peace policy scraped through the Central Committee on 23 February, and on 3 March 1918 the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed.”21
The Bolshevik coup had conclusively stripped the last remnant of institutionalized political protection from the landholding, preindustrial-elite. While for a brief time the war with Germany had served to preserve nearly everyone’s social existence, it was now necessary for defending those with feudal interests alone, and was therefore no longer to be waged.
For the feudalists, the overthrow of the Provisional Government had been a changing-of-the-guard. With the treaty of Brest-Litovsk they would either accept expropriation, or, they would have to fight. Predictably, they chose to do the latter. The actual revolution, the productive order conflict between those whose social existences could be sustained only if Russia’s feudal structure was preserved, and those who could no longer survive unless it was razed and an industrial system of production constructed, was about to begin: the Russian civil war.
The feudalists were immediately assisted by military forces from nations with shared interests. “Even before the war /with Germany/ ended in November 1918, Soviet territory was invaded by British, French, Japanese, United States’ and other allied troops.”22 Like Russia’s feudal elite, the foreign powers were acting defensively, and Lenin had predicted their involvement saying: “the confiscation of the landed estates will provoke the resistance not only of Russian land-owners, but also of foreign capital, with whom the great landed properties are connected through the intermediary of the banks”.23
For three years, the Civil War would ravage Russia’s economy. When the fighting finally ended, the pro-industrial forces controlled the country and the feudal order of production and distribution was being dismantled. But, however necessary and progressive, the Soviet Union emerging from the womb of feudal Russia would have no more to do with the classless world of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky’s dreams than did England or France after undergoing the same struggle in the 1640s and 1789 respectively.
Throughout the Civil War all the various Russian social segments continued to follow the courses of action which most readily defended their social existence. By the spring of 1918 the distribution of land to the peasantry was essentially completed. But, although “the expropriation of the landlords and the state lands brought the peasants upwards of half a billion gold rubles a year, . . . in the prices of state products /they/ were paying out a much larger sum.”24
To protect themselves the peasants began hoarding and engaging in what the government regarded as black market trading. The Bolsheviks’ arguments for sharing notwithstanding, peasants resisted sending their produce to the cities via channels established by the new government. “The city demanded grain and raw materials from the rural districts, giving nothing in exchange except varicolored pieces of paper . . . and the muzhik buried his stores in the ground. The government sent out armed workers’ detachments for grain. The muzhik cut down his sowings.”25 Whatever small quantities of industrial goods the peasants required were most profitably acquired by doing their own trading.
Workers who had been most thoroughly urbanized, and whose connections with the countryside had long ago been severed, were naturally those most in need of industrialization. Hence, they were the ones who had been most willing to prosecute the civil war against the feudal forces. They formed the nucleus of the Red Army which defeated the White Russians and the invading foreign armies. Five million strong, they suffered and died in behalf of establishing the industrial framework without which they, like the nascent industrial elites, could no longer exist.
Other, less urbanized workers, joined with the poorest peasants in suppressing and expropriating wealthier peasants who would not share.
“. . . the Bolsheviks appealed to those among the peasantry who had least to gain by speculative hoarding, and most to lose by the defeat of the revolution. They formed Committees of Poor Peasants in every village, gave them wide rights of search and confiscation, and entrusted to them the provision of food for the towns.”26
“. . . the machinery of exchange and distribution established by recent decrees was quickly pushed aside; and for some time to come the most effective instruments in extracting grain from the peasants were the ‘iron detachments’ of workers from towns and factories reinforced by the local committees of poor peasants.”27
“/T/he Bolshevik workers’ detachments, a Left speaker declared, were conducting ‘little short of war declared by the town on the country.’”28
With the Soviet economy in total disarray, millions of workers who had more recently arrived in the city and retained some rural roots, sought to preserve their socio-economic existence by returning to the countryside. During this period there was “a mass exodus of industrial workers from the towns and reversion to the status and occupation of peasants. The dislocation of industry in the first winter of the revolution had already started such a movement. The larger the city, the greater the decline; Petrograd had lost 57.5 percent of its population in three years, Moscow 44.5 percent.”29
“By the autumn of 1920 peasant discontent was too widespread to be concealed.” Lenin acknowledged “the majority of the peasants feel only too bitterly the cold and hunger and intolerable imposts” and “the majority of those who have spoken openly or indirectly abused the central power.”30
The situation was even worse for many workers. “The British Labour delegation visiting Russia in the spring /of 1920/ noted ‘the ragged and half-starved condition’ of factory workers, and learned that the peasants employed men at higher wages than the factories, plus /had/ a plentiful supply of food which the town worker does not get.’”31
Victor Serge wrote of “Petrograd, where the people are dying of hunger in the streets and dead horses are piled up in front of the Grand Opera.”32 “Nobody knows how many millions died by violence, by starvation, by epidemics. The Moscow food-cards in 1918 gave each recipient about one-seventh of the calories which the Germans received on their ration cards during the war, and about one-tenth of what was distributed in Great Britain.”33
Meanwhile, in defense of their favored socio-economic existences, the sons and daughters of the tsarist nobility, including some members of the nobility itself, had been flooding into the Bolshevik party, or into close association with the party, from the very moment of the October uprising. “Early in 1917 /the Bolshevik Party/ had no more than 23,000 members in the whole of Russia.” By 1922 that number had risen to 700,000.34 According to Trotsky, within five years of October more than 97 percent of the party consisted of members who had joined after the victory of the revolution.35 E.H. Carr writes: “It is indisputable that the Soviet bureaucrat of these early years was as a rule a former member of the bourgeois intelligentsia or official class, and brought with him many of the traditions of the old Russian bureaucracy.”36 The Thermidor of the revolution had already begun.
The needs of the indicated elite elements immediately brought them into conflict with the more equalitarian Old Guard of the Bolshevik Party; those disciples of Lenin and Trotsky who had closer ties with the worker-peasant masses. Isaac Deutscher reports that as late as 1922:
“The Old Guard still lived by its austere code of revolutionary morality. Under the partmaximum a party member, even one who held the highest office, was not allowed to earn more than the wages of a skilled factory worker. True, some dignitaries were already availing themselves of loopholes and supplemented meagre earnings by all kinds of benefits. But such evasions were still the exception.”37
More recent members of the Bolshevik Party, now the great majority, abided by no like morality. Having a higher status to defend, they were far more energetic when it came to wooing and pressuring the Old Guard than were the worker-peasant masses.
As a consequence, despite the conviction they were engaged in building an egalitarian society, when the Old Guard, Lenin and Trotsky included, employed violence to induce compliance with the Party’s (increasingly conservative) dictates, they employed it against those who were poorer and less politically active.
For dealing with peasant horders of food Lenin prescribed the gun. In January 1918 he “advocated ‘mass searches’ of all storehouses and goods’ yards and the shooting on the spot of speculators found to be holding up grain supplies.”38 For anarchists, who insisted power should at once be equalized by dismantling the political state, and whose position was closer to that of Lenin in State and Revolution than was his own spring 1918 stance, likewise, death.
In April 1918, his consciousness remarkably transformed, Trotsky declared:
“I am asked further: ‘You call yourselves socialist Communists, and yet you shoot and imprison your comrades, the anarchist Communists?’. . . I will first explain in a few words wherein the mistake of the anarchist doctrine lies. The anarchist declares that the working class needs no state power; what it does need is to organize production. State power, he says, is a bourgeois service. State power is a bourgeois machine, and the working class must not take it into its hands. This is a thoroughly mistaken view . . . We say: in order to organize production in a new manner, it is necessary to wrest the state apparatus, the government machine, from the hands of the enemy and grasp it in our own hands”.39
For making this ”mistake”, Lenin and Trotsky dictated anarchists would have to pay with their lives.
But whereas recalcitrant peasants and anarchist workers were to be handled violently, those who would constitute the new industrial-elite would be coaxed into giving assistance through economic and social rewards. Equality would be built by encouraging inequality. Despite Lenin’s contention in State and Revolution that “’technicians, managers, and bookkeepers, as well as all /Party/ officials, shall receive salaries no higher than a ‘worker’s wages’”, “no specific commitment was undertaken to equalize wages; nor was any serious attempt made to enforce equality in practice.”40
“For the purpose of fighting intervention, officers from the old army, doggedly supervised by political commissars, had been employed by the Red Army. Similarly, many of the old civil servants had to be re-employed. Both these categories remained to form the centre of that ‘soviet bureaucracy’ which Lenin never tired of denouncing, but which has proved so tenacious of life.”41
The Bolshevik policies soon provoked a reaction.
“In the spring of 1918 . . . opposition began to come from Left groups within the party which accused the party leadership of opportunist tendencies and of an abandonment of Bolshevik principles. . . . /The opposition/ turned its attention to the critical economic situation, attacking Lenin’s policy on such matters as the employment of specialists, the formation of industrial trusts and one-man management in industry. . . . At the Eighth Party Congress of March 1919, with the civil war at its height, a ‘military opposition’ unsuccessfully challenged Trotsky’s building up a new national conscript army with professional officers partly drawn from the old Tsarist army. At the Ninth Congress of March 1920 a group using the party slogan of ‘democratic centralism’ objected to the introduction of one-man management in industry and secured the support of the trade unions in the person of Tomsky . . . A special ‘Kremlin control commission’ was set up to investigate ‘Kremlin privileges,’ which were giving rise to complaints within the Party, and ‘to bring them, insofar as it was impossible to eliminate them alto-gether, within limits which would be understood by every Party comrade.’”42
“/I/n its theses read at the Party gathering of 4 April 1918 and published a fortnight later in Kommunist, /the opposition/ referred indignantly to ‘a labour policy designed to implant discipline among the workers under the flag of ‘self-discipline,’ the introduction of labour service for workers . . . of piece-rates, of the lengthening of the working day, etc., and argued that ‘the introduction of labour discipline coupled with the restoration of the leadership of the capitalists in production . . . threatens the enslavement of the working class and excites the discontent not only of backward strata, but of the vanguard of the proletariat.'”43
In the autumn of 1920 a group which came to be known as the “Workers’ Opposition” formed.
“Its program was a hotch-potch of current discontents, directed in the main against the growing centralization of economic and political controls, against the growing efficiency and ruthlessness of the machine . . . /I/t protested against the predominance of intellectuals in the party and called for a drastic purge of nonworkers; and it wanted open election to all party posts and free discussion within the party, with facilities for the dissemination of dissident views.”44
Neither Lenin nor Trotsky showed any sympathy for these early reactions from the left.
“Trotsky accused the Workers’ Opposition of putting forward dangerous slogans. ‘They turn democratic principles into a fetish. They put the right of workers to elect their own representatives above the Party, thus challenging the right of the Party to affirm its dictatorship, even when this dictatorship comes into conflict with the evanescent mood of the workers’ democracy. We must bear in mind the historical mission of our Party. The Party is forced to maintain its dictatorship without stopping for these vacillations, nor even the momentary falterings of the working class. This realization is the mortar which cements our unity. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not always have to conform to formal principles of democracy.'”45
Lenin and Trotsky had travelled a long way in a very short time, and their journey had not been in the direction of anything resembling a socialist, let alone a communist, society. Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit describe Lenin’s and Trotsky’s actions as reactionary in that respect. They note, and their argument is certainly supported by the evidence, that the party program, even in the early post-revolution years, constituted a complete renunciation of the program Lenin outlined in State and Revolution. It was an even more pointed renunciation of socialism ala Marx.
However, the Cohn-Bendit’s then go on to blame the Bolsheviks for creating the bureaucratic counter-revolution, and in doing so, they are guilty of the very thing for which they took Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party to task when they claimed the Party’s vanguard efforts had created the revolution. As Marx emphasized over and over, neither an individual nor a collaborative group of individuals/a party ever determines the course of a nation’s history. Rather, its history is the result of material forces impinging on all of its citizens and the sum of their self-interested reactions to those forces. The Bolsheviks did not start, could not have started, the Russian Revolution. Just as no small body of individuals has the power to begin a revolution, neither can it determine its course once the revolution is in progress.
To be sure, Lenin and Trotsky must bear their share of responsibility for helping to stultify or redirect egalitarian currents in the Russian revolution. Particularly after the beginning of the civil war, the thrust of their efforts worked against, rather than for, the construction of a classless society.
But the Cohn-Bendits neglect to ask themselves the most important question; namely, “Why did Lenin and Trotsky behave that way?” Clearly, it was not out of a desire for a new hierarchically structured social order. Trotsky, and in particular Lenin, yearned for communism far more than the majority of Russians, peasants and factory workers included. The problem was that neither their hegemonic social existence nor the political consciousness which that hegemonic social existence produced, prepared the Bolsheviks to represent the classless community of their aspirations.
Given the conditions existing in the Soviet Union at the time, and the nature of political activity, Lenin and Trotsky were continually forced to choose between relinquishing power or abandoning their egalitarian objectives. They repeatedly opted to do the latter, often reluctantly, and with convoluted rationalizations.
But far from being singularly to blame for the establishment of a new bureaucratic-capitalist elite, Lenin, Trotsky, and most other members of the Bolshevik Old Guard, were unwilling to move right fast enough or far enough to be relevant as leaders very long. In only a few years most of the Old Bolsheviks would be dead, Trotsky exiled and subsequently killed, because of their hesitancy to adequately solidify the power and positions of the new industrial-elite and their Bolshevik Party protectors in the context of the world economic collapse that began in the late 1920s.
In retrospect, there is nothing very puzzling about the path of the Russian Revolution. The Marxist intellectuals were right when they argued the country had reached a point at which either the feudal productive order must be razed and an industrial system established, or, the majority of Russians would be unable to maintain their social existence and growing numbers would fail to survive. In this regard, Milovan Djilas said of the Marxists:
“. . . only the Communist parties were both revolutionary in their opposition to the status quo and staunch and consistent in their support of the industrial transformation. In practice, this meant a radical destruction of established ownership relations. No other party went so far in this respect. None was ‘industrial’ to that degree.”46
Yet, if it was their aggressive pro-industrialization stance which made the Bolsheviks momentarily relevant, they soon discovered that insofar as razing the country’s feudal strucure permitted peasants and workers to move back from whence they had fallen, they automatically diminished their political activity. For them to battle with the educated sons and daughters of the old Tsarist nobility, particularly when they needed their unique industrial-world skills, would be a far more disruptive undertaking than to vie with each other within the state-capitalist framework aborning. E.H. Carr remarks of the post-revolutionary period: “The rank and file for the most part made their submission or abandoned political activity.”47
“’The chief shortcoming of the masses,’” Lenin “told the chairmen of provincial soviet executive committees in July 1918, ‘is their timidity and reluctance to take affairs into their own hands.’”48 It is another irony that this reluctance was due in no small part to the fact that tens-of-thousands of Marxist intellectuals were struggling hard to prevent such an eventuality, even Lenin and Trotsky often providing them assistance. The Marxists might yearn for a genuinely socialist man. But, in defense of their own hegemonic interests, for the moment they would have to cripple or kill any who began to arise.
Despite Marx’s personal abhorrence of capitalism, if given an absolutistic and Hegelian interpretation, his theory would be useful for justifying the construction of a state-capitalist order. The anarchist Michael Bakunin had foreseen this in 1873 when he prophesied that Marx’s followers would:
“. . . proceed to liberate humanity in their own way. They will concentrate the reins of government in a strong hand. They will establish a single state bank, concentrating in its hands all commercial, industrial, agricultural, cultural, and even scientific production, and then divide the masses into two armies – industrial and agricultural – under the direct command of state engineers, who will constitute a new privileged scientific and political class.”49
Faced with foreign invading armies, with peasants and workers who acted upon their immediate self-interest, with military men, technicians, party bureaucrats and professionals of every kind who did the same, it was a relatively simple matter for Lenin and Trotsky to proceed dictatorially. Like the other Marxist intellectuals, they already had the requisite condescending attitude.
“The Bolsheviks had never contented themselves with giving expression to the actual moods or aspirations of the working class. They regarded it as their mission to shape those moods and to prompt and develop those aspirations. They looked upon themselves as political tutors of the working class and were convinced that as consistent Marxists they knew better than the oppressed and unenlightened working class could know what was its real historic interest and what should be done to promote it.”50
The more anarchic the situation became, the more Lenin and Trotsky strove to centralize political power, to take the reins into their own hands, believing they might somehow steer the nation in the “proper” direction. It was a notably non-Marxian assumption which underlay their effort. Marx started with the proposition that all of politics is superstructure, that political relationships and institutions, including the state, will merely reflect relationships of an economic variety. The former can never be used to create a new form of the latter. Lenin and his followers discarded this idea as passe and became builders of the Russian state-capitalist productive-distributive order whose birth they had once predicted. Lenin sometimes appeared to understand and accept this. In May, 1918 he argued:
“Evolution towards state capitalism—there is the evil, there is the foe against whom we are invited to struggle. And yet when I read these references to such enemies in the paper of the Left communists, I ask: What has happened to these people, how can they through poring over extracts from a book forget reality? Reality says that state capitalism would be for us a step forward. If we in Russia in a short space of time could get state capitalism, that would be a victory. How could they fail to see that the small proprietor, small capital, is our enemy? How could they see the chief enemy in state capitalism?”51
The Lenin who had once argued Bolsheviks should oppose Russia’s revolutionary capitalist order from without, now dogmatically justified representing and defending it from within.
Neither Lenin nor Trotsky were willing to accept that in the final analysis the Russian people—acting upon immediate self-interest–were dictating the course of events, not the Bolshevik party, or they as the party’s leaders; though at different times both men seemed near to reaching that conclusion. In a conversation during the civil war Lenin likened himself to the engineer of a runaway train, hurtling downhill along a track. By using all his strength, Lenin observed, the engineer might nudge the train almost imperceptibly left or right against the rails. But he could not alter its speed, and he could not change its direction.
By 1921 the battle of each against all–peasants against workers, lower peasants against middle and upper peasants, soldiers now against workers, now against peasants, party bureaucrats against anyone who threatened their political, hence their socio-economic dominance–was threatening to destroy the last semblance of national existence.
“Theft in factories was so common it was estimated that half the workers normally stole the things they themselves produced.”52 “Cases occurred in which the workers, having taken over a factory, simply appropriated its funds or sold its stock and plant for their own advantage.”53
“Russia’s national income /in 1921/ amounted to only one third of her income in 1913 . . . industry produced less than one-fifth of the goods produced before the war . . . the coal mines turned out less than one-tenth and the iron foundaries only one-fortieth of their normal output. . . . the railways were destroyed . . . all stocks and reserves on which any economy depends for its work were utterly exhausted . . . the exchange of goods between town and country had come to a standstill . . . Russia’s cities and towns had become so depopulated that Moscow had only one-half and Petrograd one-third of its former inhabitants.”54
By the end of 1921 famine was raging in the Volga farming areas, and the number affected had climbed to 36 million. “Cannibalism reappeared, a ghastly mockery of the high socialist ideals and aspirations emanating from the capital cities.”55 And all the while the nouveau elites and members of the rapidly growing Bolshevik bureaucracy strove to secure their own favored socio-economic positions, the latter fighting more radical party members with a vigor which kept pace with, because it was a defensive reaction to, the deepening crisis.
“Now that we were in power,” recalled Victor Serge, “we were surrounded by revolutionists of the latest vintage, who would have been glad to turn against us at the first sign of bad weather. Already they occupied a good many offices, each one demanding his little bit of power, his special ration of herring and tobacco – and an automobile at the first possibility.”56
“The end of the civil war revealed the full extent of the losses and destruction which it had entailed and removed the restraints of loyalty which war commonly imposes; discontent with the regime became, for the first time outside political circles, widespread and vocal, extending both to peasants and factory workers . . .” 57
The Kronstadt rebellion, an uprising of soldiers and sailors who demanded freedom and an end to party dictatorship, took place in 1921.58 The Makhno movement, a largely peasant fight against all central authority and for total democracy, reached its zenith the same year.59
Something drastic would have to be done if the Soviet Union was going to remain a nation. As is ever the case in a crisis of this sort, the alternatives before Lenin and Trotsky reduced to a sharp move either to the left or or to the right.
Unfortunately, a sharp left turn would put workers and peasants in direct conflict with the nascent industrial-elite and their Bolshevik party defenders; neither of which would accept socio-economic diminishment without a bloody struggle. In effect, an assault on the new state-capitalist elite would entail asking workers and peasants to continue with civil war, to go on jeopardizing their lives. And for what? Even if they were successful, the workers and peasants would lose, since the new elite included the chemists, engineers, physicists, teachers, etc., needed for industrializing the country, and they would leave for the capitalist west where their talents would be rewarded. It’s reasonable to assume the workers and peasants would not have heeded such a suicidal call if it had been given; in which case Lenin and Trotsky would immediately have fallen from power.
With reluctance and expressed misgivings on the part of some, the Bolshevik leaders elected to move to the right, embarking upon a “New Economic Program” (NEP), which Lenin described as taking “one step back” so that the country could subsequently take “two steps forward.” Under the NEP state-capitalism would be openly encouraged, and the favored social existences of the pro-industrial elites made secure. With his usual candor, Lenin acknowledged that the NEP was a “retreat.”
The radical swing to the right would at least enable most workers and peasant to survive, though it would mean continued suffering for many of them, and it would greatly strengthen the hand of their new masters. Because it had the backing of party bureaucrats and the nascent industrial-elite, along with the acquiesence of the worker-peasant masses, moving to the right would also permit Lenin and Trotsky to continue as leaders for awhile.
But while the natural necessity of veering right is apparent, there was an obvious contradiction in Lenin’s decision to oversee it. In 1900 he had conceded the Tsarist regime was sufficiently viable to last a few more years. Only weeks before the February Revolution he argued that he did not expect the anti-feudal revolution to occur within his life time. Yet on neither occasion did he recommend abetting feudalism because of what he considered its momentary inevitability. The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski has given a pithy explanation why being a revolutionary always means acting out a denial of the immediately inevitable, writing: “The striving for revolution cannot be born only when the situation is ripe, because among the conditions for this ripeness are the revolutionary demands made of an unripe reality.”60
In determining to make peace with an unripe reality Lenin was moving still further away from the revolutionary posture with which he had begun. The Lenin of 1917 was rapidly withering away.
Lenin appears to have employed the time-worn liberal justification for moving right: “If I don’t do it, an extremist will take my place and the result will be yet more abhorrent.” Certainly, in embarking upon the NEP he attempted to centralize Bolshevik political authority more than ever before out of an expressed fear that reactionaries might otherwise gain control. Lenin spoke of the need for ever greater vigilence and discipline when a step back is being undertaken. Using the analogy of a retreating army he warned of the possibility some people might start running, causing much that had been accomplished to be lost.61
Trotsky, too, endorsed the further destruction of what little remained of party democracy, using the same sort of reasoning. The Party must remain aloof from, and uncontaminated by, the temporary retreat. “We allow the NEP-men,” Trotsky acknowledged, “but in the party we will allow no NEP-manism or petty bourgeois, no – we shall burn it out of the party with sulphuric acid and red hot irons”.62
With its redoubled emphasis on the importance of leaders in determining the course of history, the Bolshevik’s new position was non-Marxist to the core.
The Results of the NEP
“Insecure from the beginning of its tenure of power,” Harold Shukman observes, “the Bolshevik government lurched towards stability on the two crutches of political oppression and economic concession.”63
“/The/ economy revived . . . With it came a revival of theaters, restaurants and entertainment establishments. Hundreds of thousands of people of the various professions who spent the vigorous years of the Civil War in a kind of coma, now revived, stretched out their limbs and began to take part in the re-establishment of normal life. All of them were on the side of the opponents of permanent revolution.”64
Victor Serge, a poet of the revolution as well as an activist, writes:
“In a few years time the NEP restored to Russia an aspect of prosperity. But to many of us this prosperity was sometimes distasteful and often disquieting. . . . Money lubricated and befouled the entire machine just as under capitalism. A million and a half unemployed received relief–inadequate relief–in the big towns. Saloons were open until three o’clock in the morning in the heart of the cities. There was gambling, drunkenness, and all the old filth of former times . . . Classes were reborn under our very eyes; at the bottom of the scale, the unemployed receiving 24 rubles a month; at the top, the engineer receiving 800; and between the two, the party functionary with 222, but obtaining a good many things free of charge. There was a growing chasm betwen the prosperity of the few and the misery of the many . . . There was squalid, heartbreaking poverty, an ulcer in our young society, while wealth was arrogant and self-satisfied. Our socialist militia arrested the poor apple-woman who neglected to take out a license, while the fat shop-keeper, enriched by the sale at speculative prices of articles manufactured by our socialist industry, looked on and decided that by and large, order was returning . . . “65
The process was repeated in the countryside. Recovery commenced, but “the growth of the kulak far outstripped the general growth of agriculture.”66
The rightist mood even swept the campus, where “teachers and students staged anti-communist demonstrations and strikes, and communists were man-handled for singing the Internationale, the revolution’s anthem.”67
“Cries of betrayal” now began to come from the left of the party ranks.68 “Shlyapnikov and Kollontai /of the Workers’ Opposition/ charged the government with promoting the interests of the new bourgeoisie and of the kulaks, with trampling upon the workers’ rights, and with the gross betrayal of the revolution.”69 “Men of the Workers’ Opposition had already said that NEP stood for the New Exploitation of the Proletariat; and the quip had become something of a slogan.”70
Consistent with Marx’s logic, the bureaucratic elites quickly gained the political control of the party apparatus needed to defend their hegemonic social status. With the arrival of the NEP, Serge notes:
“The old militants, those who had experience of prison and the love of ideas, were only a handful; and these few were placed in jobs isolating them from the rank and file . . . Already bureaus were replacing the party; the worker, the militant rank-and-filer, hardly dared open his mouth. We sensed the coming omnipotence of the functionaries.”71
“Professor Ustryalov wondered whether the New Economic Policy of 1921 was a ‘tactic’ or an ‘evolution.’ This question disturbed Lenin very much. The further course of events showed that the ‘tactic,’ thanks to a special configuration of historical conditions, became the source of ‘evolution.’ The subsequent strategic retreat of the revolutionary party served as the beginning of its degeneration.”72
By April of 1922 Lenin was reported to be deeply troubled about the course events were taking, “suffer/ing/ from long spells of insomnia.”73 ” /I/n November 1922, he admitted that the old state apparatus, which ought to have been smashed, had instead taken over, and might yet win out over the communists even while they thought they were at its helm.”74 A month later he complained: “That which we call our apparatus is still completely alien to us; it represents a bourgeois, tsarist mechanism.”75 In 1923 Lenin again described the Soviet state as “a bourgeois Tsarist machine . . . barely varnished with socialism.”76 “Our anxiety at seeing this degradation of the state and these first symptoms of the bourgeoisification of Soviet society,” says Serge, “was, of course, not emotional, it was intellectual.” “Lenin died on January 21, 1924, haunted by this anxiety,” Serge continues. ‘Is not the helm escaping from our hands?’ he asked.”77
There is no denying that Lenin played a counter-equalitarian role in promoting the New Economic Policy, a policy which “followed lines not far removed from those adumbrated by Left SRs and Mensheviks at the eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.”78 It brought into full flower the use of piece-work rates, preferential rations, bonuses, all the myriad methods “appealing to personal, selfish interests.”79
At the same time, Lenin was the first Old Guard casualty of the thermidorian process through which the Soviet industrial-elite established unchallenged authority over the country. There “appears to have been a sudden change of Lenin’s attitude during the last few months of his working life.”80 Alarmed at the turn of events emanating from the NEP, he suddenly returned to his former concern with the growth of the bureaucracy. In February of 1922 he came out against the growing nationalism of the bureaucrats, stressing once more the dependency of Russian socialism upon the success of socialism in industrialized nations. “’We have always proclaimed and repeated this elementary truth of Marxism,’” he exhorted, “’that the victory of socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced countries.’”81
Increasingly anxious, in May of 1922 Lenin suffered the first of a series of major strokes. His speech was impaired, his right arm and leg paralyzed. Following the stroke he seemed more determined than ever to take on the bureaucracy.
“With great effort he drew up a comprehensive survey of the situation of the country, worked out a program of action, and tried hard to persuade his colleagues on the Politburo and the Central Committee to accept it. This program, which was not requested by the members of the Politburo, involved considerable changes in government methods, in personnel, and to some extent in objectives. The majority of the Politburo were unenthusiastic.”82
“After every spell of illness, when he returned to watch anew the movements of the state machine, Lenin’s alarm grew; and with pathetic determination he struggled to grip the steering wheel in his paralyzed hands.”83 His conflict with the bureaucracy inevitably brought him up against Stalin, the epitome of an amoral, apolitical, bureaucratic personality.
“One of the bitterest disappointments for Lenin was to see that the very commissariat which had been created for the purpose of combating red tape, corruption, and other ills of bureaucratism, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection headed by Stalin, turned out to be the worst of them all.”84
“The so-called ‘Lenin testament”‘- that is, his last advice on how to organize the Party leadership – was written in two installments during his second illness; on December twenty-fifth, 1922, and on January fourth, 1923. ‘Stalin, having become General Secretary,’ declares the testament, ‘has concentrated enormous power in his hands, and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution.’ Ten days later this restrained formula seemed insufficient to Lenin, and he added a postscript. ‘I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another,’ who would be, ‘more loyal, more courteous and more considerate to comrades, less capricious, etc.'”85
To his wife Krupskaya Lenin said of Stalin, “he is devoid of the most elementary honesty, the most simple human honesty”.86 But there was no interest among the bureaucrats for this sort of thing. A month later Lenin severed all personal relations with Stalin.87 “And when at last, a dying man, his mind ablaze, he moved to retrieve the revolution from its heavy encumbrance,” writes Isaac Deutscher, “it was to Trotsky that he turned as his ally.”88
However, Trotsky, usually very farsighted concerning matters political, hesitated to take up the attack upon Stalin. In Deutscher’s estimation, at the time:
“The truth is that Trotsky refrained from attacking Stalin because he felt secure. No contemporary, and he least of all, saw in the Stalin of 1923 the menacing and towering figure he was to become. It seemed to Trotsky almost a bad joke that Stalin, the willful and sly but shabby and inarticulate man in the background, should be his rival.”89
Following Lenin’s first stroke, the party machine came under the control of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev working as a team. While Lenin had tapped Trotsky as his natural heir, the conservative bureaucrats found those three “masters of mediocrity” more to their liking. Initially, Trotsky even went so far as to assist the triumvirate in keeping Lenin’s testament from being made public. But his commitments were far too radical for him to long find acceptable the path they immediately began to follow.
“/T/he triumvirs sought assiduously to please everybody, promising something to every social class and group, pandering to every kind of complacency, and flattering every imaginable conceit.”90 Meanwhile, Stalin “used his wide powers of appointment to eliminate from important posts, in the centre and in the provinces, members who might be expected to follow Trotsky”.91 “Trotsky watched this change in the party, grasped its significance, but could do nothing to arrest it. There was only one way in which he might have tried to counteract it: by appealing openly to the rank and file.”92 That he hesitated to do.
In the summer of 1923 workers in Petrograd and Moscow engaged in spontaneous opposition to the labor policies of the triumvirate.
“Throughout July and August there was a great deal of industrial unrest. Workers felt that they were made to carry too much of the burden of industrial recovery. . . . ‘Wild’ strikes broke out in many factories, spread and were accompanied by violent explosions of discontent. The trade unions were caught by surprise; and so were the party leaders. The threat of a general strike was in the air; and the movement seemed on the point of turning into a political revolt.”93
The triumvirs lashed out at their most visible and vocal adversaries, the Workers’ Opposition.94 Myasnikov, Kuznetsov, and Moiseev, who back in April and May had circulated a manifesto “denouncing the New Exploitation of the Proletariat and urging the workers to fight for Soviet democracy,” were arrested.95 Left groups active in the factories, such as the “Workers’ Truth,” were suppressed.
At this point, Trotsky began to dissociate himself from the triumvirs. However, his initial reactions were notably moderate. After verbal clashes with them he “asked to be sent abroad as ‘a soldier of the revolution’ to help the German party to prepare its revolution.”96 When his request refused by the party, Trotsky finally began to go on the offensive, hesitantly, feeling his way. Then, at the close of 1923 he formed the “Left Opposition,” “dedicated to revolutionary internationalism and the restoration of workers’ democracy inside the Soviet Union and the Communist International.”97
At the outset Trotsky stood virtually alone among the intellectuals. Nor could he hope to gain much support from within the party, considering that by 1924 “those who had belonged to the Bolshevik party since the early days of 1917 already formed less than 1 percent of the membership.”98 In addition, “only 15 or 16 percent of the entire membership consisted of factory workers.”99 And these were predictably the elite of that element, hardly good prospects for building a serious opposition.
Moreover, because the triumvirs were responding to worker protests with carrots and sticks in an ad hoc fashion, there was no wide base of support for the Left Opposition within the working class. The Opposition was urging permanent revolution, identification with and concern for the international movement. It argued for stopping the growth of a wealthy kulak class, and for moving against the interests of party bureaucrats. “‘Strike against the Kulak, the NEP-man and the Bureaucrat!’, ‘Down With Opportunism!’, ‘Carry out Lenin’s Testament!’, ‘Beware of a Split in the Party!’, ‘Preserve Bolshevik Unity!;, such were the Opposition’s watchwords.”100 For workers and peasants to follow the Left Opposition would have meant a return to violent struggle.
“The last thing the workers, most of whom had their roots in the country, could look forward to was a conflict with the peasantry. They wished for safety first. As this was what Stalin seemed to offer them, they were wary of sticking out their necks for the Opposition. Stalin’s strength lay in the appeal he made to the weary and disillusioned mass, and not merely the ‘petty official and hanger-on’ responded to the doctrine of consolidation more readily than to the heroic evocation of permanent revolution.”101
“Ten years ago the workers of the two capitals were ready to give their lives at Trotsky’s word of command. Now they would not even turn their heads to listen to him.”102
Trotsky was becoming politically irrelevant. As he subsequently reflected:
“The masses lacked faith that the new situation could be seriously changed by a new struggle. Meantime the bureaucracy asserted: ‘For the sake of an international revolution, the Opposition proposes to drag us into a revolutionary war. Enough of shakeups! We have earned the right to rest. We will build the socialist society at home’. This gospel of repose firmly consolidated the apparatchiki and the military and state officials and indubitably found an echo among the weary workers, and still more the peasant masses.”103
“. . . the workers were tired. . . . On the other hand, the bureaucracy fought with extraordinary ferocity.”104
The lines were now sharply drawn. To be for Stalin was to be against Trotsky. It was to be for socialism in one country (an impossibility according to Marx), and against a primary commitment to the world revolution. It meant being for the NEP encouragement of inequality and against Trotsky’s insistance that further socio-economic leveling be undertaken.
The minority of workers who were sympathetic to the Left Opposition justified their inaction with the sort of arguments individuals have always used when asked to risk their socio-economic existence, possibly their lives, for offensive purposes. “’You understand, said the printers in my /Serge’s/ unit. If I join up with you and you are defeated, what’s going to become of me and all the kids?’”105
And leading members of the Opposition, quite reasonably, did expect to lose.
“I did not believe in our victory /Serge recollected/, and at heart I was even sure that we would be defeated. When I was sent to Moscow with our group’s messages for Lev Davidovich /Trotsky/, I told him so. We talked in the spacious office of the Concessions Comitteee. . . . /H/e was suffering from a fit of malaria; his skin was yellow, his lips were almost livid. I told him that we were extremely weak, that we, in Leningrad, had not rallied more than a few hundred members, that our debates left the mass of workers cold. I felt that he knew all this better than I did. But he, as a leader, had to do his duty and we, as revolutionaries, had to do ours. If defeat was inevitable, what else could one do but meet it with courage?”106
“Off the record /Trotsky/ admitted that the ideas and slogans of the ruling group met an emotional need in the rank and file, that this overlaid their antagonism, and that the Opposition was at variance with the popular temper. It is not the business of the Marxist revolutionary, Trotsky reflected, to bow to the reactionary mood of the masses. At times when their class consciousness is dimmed, he must be prepared to become isolated from them. . . . The revolutionary has to fight no matter whether he is destined to end as Lenin did – to live and see his cause triumph – or to suffer Liebnecht’s fate who served his cause through martyrdom. In his private notes and in talks with friends Trotsky hinted at this last alternative more than once; and . . . he seemed already more and more resigned inwardly to ‘Liebnecht’s fate.'”107
In terms of numbers, the Opposition was hardly worthy of its name. “The estimates of its actual membership . . . vary from 4,000 to 8,000. . . . Compared with the party’s total membership, which amounted to about three-quarters of a million, a few thousand oppositionists formed a tiny minority.”108
Serge recorded Trotsky’s address to the Central Committee meeting which preceded the Opposition leaders’ subsequent expulsion from the Central Committee:
“Trotsky: ‘Through the present apparatus, through the present regime, the proletarian vanguard undergoes the pressure . . . ‘ (The noise increases more and more, the orator can hardly be heard.) ‘of the upstart bureaucrats including the worker-bureaucrats’ (tumult, whistling), ‘of the administrators, the petty bosses, the new-born proprietors, the privileged intellectuals of city and country . . . “‘Voroshilov: ‘Zinoviev, it’s outrageous!’ Skrypnik: ‘The platform of the Central Committee wasn’t made for such infamy.’109
On October 23rd, 1927, Stalin asked the Central Committee for Trotsky’s expulsion, along with that of Zinoviev, who by then had gone from being an enemy of the Opposition to a central member.
Of the latter meeting, Serge writes:
“There was a morbid tenseness in the air, such as might be felt at an execution where hangman and accomplices view their victim with deep hatred but also with deep awe and with gnawing uncertainty about the justice of the deed and the consequences. At the session, the Stalinists and the Bukharinists constantly interrupted Trotsky’s last pleas with bursts of hatred and vulgar vituperation. They shut their ears to his arguments; and they urged the chairman to shut his mouth. From the chairman’s table inkpots, heavy volumes, and a glass were flung at Trotsky’s head while he spoke.”110
The expulsions from the Central Committee carried. The following month Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Communist Party, and in January 1928 Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata, a few hundred miles from China’s border. One year later he was exiled from the country.
The Material Logic of Stalinism
The “natural leader” during a time of political reaction will necessarily possess unique qualities. Since it is his function to defend an existing state of affairs, and defending the existing state of affairs requires no broad theoretical constructs, he must be an atheoretical, non-philosophical personality. Toward the same end–preserving the status quo–he must also be extremely sensitive to which way the various political winds are blowing, attuned to the lay of forces which are pulling in other directions. In that regard, it’s helpful if he possesses a sizeable ego, since being egoistic will lead him to personalize every disagreement with his own position, thus providing him with the requisite political sensitivity. Finally, an innate lack of consistency, save for the constant desire to be in charge, even a devious opportunism, will stand him well.
Stalin had all of the requisite attributes in abundance. “Cautious, cunning, and caring not a straw for logical and doctrinal niceties, he borrowed ideas and slogans from both right and left and combined them often quite incongruously.”111 A supporter of the Provisional Government’s war policy following the February Revolution, Stalin immediately fell silent when Lenin returned to urge defeatism. As soon as he saw that Lenin’s stance was gaining mass support, he embraced it as though it had always been his own. Long considered an intellectual weathercock by party members, indecisive, moving with the winds of the moment, he possessed the narrow vision and aphilosophical disposition required to oversee the country’s descent into fascism in seemingly automatic fashion.
“Stalin looked neither far ahead nor far behind,” observed Milovan Djilas.112 “His mind,” said Trotsky, “is not only devoid of range but is even incapable of logical thinking. Every phrase of his speech has some immediate political aim. But his speech as a whole never rises to a logical structure.”113 “When faced by great problems Stalin always retreats – not through lack of character as in the case of Kamenev, but through narrowness of horizon and lack of creative imagination. His suspicious caution almost organically compels him at moments of great decision and deep difference of opinion to retire into the shadow, to wait, and if possible to insure himself against both outcomes.”114
If Stalin’s qualities led him to take positions which workers and peasants now found more acceptable than those of the Opposition, those same qualities were indispensible to the bureaucracy as well. Trotsky observes:
“Before he felt out his own course, the bureaucracy felt out Stalin himself. He brought it all the necessary guarantees: the prestige of an Old Bolshevik, a strong character, narrow vision, and close bonds with the political machine as the sole source of his influence. The success which fell upon him was a surprise at first to Stalin himself.”115
Stalin “was dependent on the system created under his administration, and on the opinions of the party oligarchy”, adds Djilas. “He could do nothing against them nor could he dispense with them.”116 From the moment of his rise to prominence, Stalin defended the pro-industrial party-state elite as though the revolution had occurred principally to serve their interests, which, in a Marxist-materialist sense, it had.
“In Georgia, Mensheviks /came/ into power and persecuted Old Bolsheviks. While the men who had fought in 1917 were expelled from the Party—soon to be deported—newcomers, who had been counter-revolutionaries during the Civil War, carved out splendid careers for themselves by their zeal in approving the new leader.”117
“Under Stalin,” Serge argues, . . . the party became a mass of ideologically disinterested men, who got their ideas from above, but were wholehearted and unanimous in the defense of a system that assured them unquestionable privileges.”118 Stalin’s thermidor “stood for the crystallization of a new privileged stratum /and/ the creation of a new substratum for the economically dominant class.”119 “To guard the nationalization of the means of production and of the land,” observed Trotsky, “is the bureaucracy’s law of life and death, for these are the social sources of its dominant position.”120 “The weight of its responsibilities renders the bureaucracy implacable,” echoed Serge. “It must defend itself. . . . Its entire policy since the consecration of its power, has been aimed solely at the preservation of that power and has been dominated by fear and panic. The Stalinist bureaucracy no longer pursues the policies of the working class, but its own policies. This is the inner significance of its acts.”121
Djilas writes: “No other class in history has been as cohesive and singleminded in defending itself and in controlling that which it holds—collective and monopolistic ownership and totalitarian authority.122. . . A communist member of the new class also believes that without his Party society would regress and founder. . . . But he is not conscious of the fact that he belongs to a new ownership class, for he does not consider himself an owner and does not take account of the special privileges he enjoys.”123 “The leader who succeeds in getting to the top, along with his assistants, is the one who succeeds in most logically expressing and protecting the interests of the new class at any given time.”124
“During the /early Stalinist/ period the kulak was allowed to rent his land from the poor peasant and to hire the poor peasant as his laborer. Stalin was getting ready to lease the land to private owners for a perior of forty years. . . . The kulak, jointly with the petty industrialist, worked for the complete restoration of capitalism.
“In Marx’s letter concerning the Gotha program of the German Social Democracy, Stalin found a phrase to the effect that during the first period of Socialism inequality will still be preserved, or as he expressed /it/, the bourgeois prerogative in the sphere of distribution. . . . /The bureaucracy/ charged that the Left Opposition was trying to deprive qualified labor of the higher wage to which it was rightfully entitled. . . . With unbridled cynicism, equality was denounced as a petty bourgeois prejudice . . . The struggle against equality welded the bureaucracy more strongly than ever not only to the agrarian and urban petty-bourgeoisie but to the labor aristocracy as well.”125
Until 1928, Stalin’s policies succeeded in maintaining the socio-economic existence of nearly everyone, including the majority of peasants and workers; though for many this existence continued to be miserable by any humane standard. But then the world economy entered the outer rim of the Great Depression, and Russia, being an economically weaker, only partially industrialized nation, began to feel the savagery of its grip before Japan and highly developed western nations. Suddenly it became necessary for a large segment of Soviet society to be expropriated if the remainder were to be sustained.
To take on the proindustrial bureaucracy would be a major, and in many respects an immediately self-defeating effort for workers. Factories would close and the functioning of Soviet society would grind to a halt as the management abilities and technical skills of this nouveau elite were removed. Conversely, the bureaucracy needed the workers if its own social existence was to be protected. Under the circumstances, the peasant masses were foredoomed.
“In order to feed the cities, it was necessary immediately to take from the kulak the daily bread. This could be achieved only by force.”126
“When the kulak began directly to threaten the bureaucracy itself, it turned its weapons against the kulak. The panic of aggression against the kulak, spreading also to the middle peasant, was no less costly to the economy than a foreign invasion. But the bureaucracy . . . defended its position.”127
“/A/fter the Great Slump . . .the terms of trade turned sharply against the Soviet Union.” “The value of Soviet exports shrank to one-third and that of imports to one-fourth between 1930 and 1935. Part of this fall was due to adverse trade terms.”128
“In January 1928 the working class stood faced with the shadow of advancing famine.”129 In February Stalin directed a full-scale attack upon the peasantry, a procedure which entailed prompt and wide-reaching collectivisation. Stalin, who had villified Trotsky as anti-kulak, pragmatically apolitical Stalin, now used the word kulak to identify as an enemy almost anyone with a couple of pigs or a cow.
“Almost every village became a battlefield in a class war, the like of which had never been seen before, a war which the collectivist state waged, under Stalin’s supreme command, in order to conquer rural Russia and her stubborn individualism.”130
“These years are a nightmare. Famine comes to the Ukraine, the Black lands, Siberia, to all the Russian granaries. Thousands of peasants flee across the frontiers to Poland, Rumania, Persia, or China. They escape. . . . For the theft of a sheaf of wheat from a kolkoz: the death penalty. By virtue of the decree of August 7, 1932, socialist property is declared sacred; its theft is punished by death.”131
And there was no one to whom the peasants might turn for help. “The peasants say with right: ‘The army is well fed and dressed; it will not support us.”132
Confronted with expropriation, many peasants attempted to slaughter and sell what they could of their livestock.
“Collectivization appeared to the peasant in the form of an expropriation of all his belongings. They collectivized not only horses, cows, sheep, pigs, but even new-born chickens. . . . As a result there was an epidemic selling of cattle for a song by the peasants, or a slaughter of cattle for meat and hides.”133
“Men, women, and children gorged themselves, vomited, and went back to the fleshpots. . . . People suffocated with the stench of rotting meat, with the vapours of vodka, . . . Such was often the scene upon which a brigade of collectivizers descended to interrupt the grim carouse with the rattle of machine-guns; they executed on the spot or dragged away the crapulous enemies of collectivization and announced that henceforth all remaining villagers would, as exemplary members of the kolkhoz, strive only for the triumph of socialism in agriculture. . . . In 1931 and 1932 vast tracts of land remained untilled and the furrows were strewn with the bodies of starved muzhiks.”134
Peasants who sent their small children out to the field to “steal” an ear or two of corn, thinking the collectivizers would not kill children, often found their bodies lying between the rows.
Simultaneous with the forced collectivization and expropriation of the peasantry, the pace of industrialization was accelerated. “Self-satisfied quietism was replaced by a panic of haste.”135
While millions of peasants starved, vast quantities of their expropriated foodstuffs were sold to Europe in order to obtain the money needed to maintain the social existence of the elites and speed up industrial development.
Although factory workers did not suffer and die like the peasants, they, too, felt the growing crisis. “‘They are squeezing us and how!,’” one worker wrote to Serge. “‘Twenty-five percent increase in the productivity of labor and 1.9 percent increase in wages. For three years wages have not varied, though production has very much increased.'”136
However, since factory workers were the primary source of the elite’s largesse, their interests were given second priority during the years of international depression, and most workers comprehended the favored treatment they received. Along with the speed-up of industrialization an elite corps of workers was created. Called Stakhanovites, they were given special rewards. Recognizing Stalin’s policies were preserving their social existence during a time of terrible crisis (never mind that millions of peasants were being destroyed in the process), many workers joined the bureaucracy in building a cult of worship around their sturdy helmsman.
“Two million workers in White Russia sign/ed/ a message in verse addressed to the beloved leader:
O wise master, genius of geniuses!
Sun of the workers!
Sun of the peasants.
Sun of the world!
Power of rivers,
Glory and pride of labor!”
“Peter Vetchora, the Ukranian poet, exclaims:
Stalin’s greatness is a halo
Around the constellations of the firmament,
Around men and factories.
“The poet Kabard:
Stalin, thou golden sun, thy name
Speaks the death of our enemies . . . “137
This was 1936. “In Moscow, a market woman was arrested for saying that he was the people’s misfortune.”138 Tens of thousands were being placed in slave labor camps for the slightest hint of opposition.
“Four to five thousand Oppositionists were arrested between 1928 and 1930. The number of suspects was even higher. After 1934 and the assassination of Kirov by a young Leningrad communist, communists and other suspects were herded into captivity by tens and more probably hundreds of thousands. With this labor, excluded from the benefits of the Labor Code, canals are dug, strategic roads built. Several hundred thousands of prisoners worked on the Baltic-White Sea Canal. How many of them died in the process? The official writers do not tell us.”139
Human personalities becomes more sharply defined during crises which have the dimensions of the one the Soviet Union was enduring. Serge refers to such emergencies as “an hour when the redeeming choice between cowardice and courage is possible.”140 Though they constituted a small minority of the population, there were thousands of Russians of profound courage and integrity who forfeited everything–including their lives–in opposition to Stalin-ism; Russians whose courageous acts will strengthen the resolve of other opponents of oppression in other times and other places.
Kote Tsintsadze, a prominent Oppositionist who suffered jail and torture, was one of the many who gave his life. “Ill with tuberculosis, suffering from hemorrhages of the lungs, he fought on, went on hunger strikes, and died in pris-on. /Before his death Tsintsadze wrote to Trotsky:/ ‘Many, very many of our friends and of the people close to us will have to … end their lives in prison or somewhere in deportation. Yet in the last resort this will be an enrichment of revolutionary history: a new generation will learn the lesson.'”141
From his exile in Tara, Muralov wrote to Trotsky: “I capitulate? I shall die, but I shall never capitulate. They can draw and quarter me, but I shall not capitulate. Even if I remain alone I shall not capitulate. . . . They shall not make liars out of us or drive us to passivity.”142
Late in November of 1927 Adolf Abramovich Yoffe committed suicide. Sick, a disciple of Trotsky, forbidden by Stalin to leave the country, refused medical assistance, convinced that in his physical condition he could only prove a burden to the Opposition, he shot himself in the head. In a farewell message to Trotsky, Yoffe said:
“All my life I have been convinced that the revolutionary politician should know when to make his exit and that he should make it in time. . . . when he becomes aware that he can no longer be useful to the cause he has served. It is more than thirty years since I embraced the view that human life has sense only insofar as it is spent in the service of the infinite–and for us mankind is the infinite. To work for any finite purpose–and everything else is finite—is meaningless.”143
Several noted Russian artists also chose suicide over capitulation:
“Sergei Yessenin, a lyrical poet, opened the funereal series: Andrei Sobol, prosaist and tormented revolutionist, followed him; Mayakovsky, social poet, renowned, rich, and loaded with honors, blew out his brains a few days after having adhered to the party’s general line in literature. /Mayakovsky actually shot himself in the heart./ Young ones like Victor Dmitriev, passed away without noise . . . “144
“/E/ven after all the surrenders there were still unrepentent Oppositionists in the prisons and places of deportation; and in the early nineteen-thirties, while Rakovsky guided them, their ranks were at times reinforced by new adherents and by the return of capitulators disillusioned with surrender.”145
“From exile Trotsky repeatedly implored the Stalinist Politbureau to call a halt to the barbarous warfare against rural barbarism, and to revert to the more civilized and humane course of action to which their Marxist-Leninist heritage committed them.”146
Oppositionists of lesser mettle expressed regret for not going along with Stalin, or tried to make their peace the moment they realized he would be victorious over Trotsky.
“Radek packed his books, with the intention of selling them; and, handing out to those around him volumes of German poetry as souvenirs, muttered sarcastically: ‘Haven’t we been idiots! We are left penniless when we could have prepared a nice war chest. Lack of money is killing us. With our famous revolutionary probity we have been but feckless intellectuals full of scruples . . . ‘”147
As early as November, 1927, Zinoviev and Kamenev urged Trotsky: “Lev Davidovich . . . the time has come when we must have the courage to surrender.”148 In defense of their surrender, Zinoviev and Kamenev reasoned: “We must cling at the helm. This can only be done by supporting Stalin. We must not hesitate to pay him the price he demands”.149
“Smilga, an Oppositionist ‘capitulator’ . . . said: ‘We must retreat, surrender for the present, and when the masses awaken, we shall put ourselves at their head. . . . Zinoviev often said the same thing: we must remain within the party, even ‘flat on our belly in the mud,’ in order to be there on the day of the great awakening of the working masses, and not, by acting outside of the party, play into the hands of the counter-revolution”.150
Abandoning their revolutionary values in an effort to preserve life and position, many, including Zinoviev and Kamenev, did “crawl on their bellies in the mud.” But in most cases even that failed to save them.
“No sooner had Zinoviev and Kamenev announced their capitulation than the ruling factions declared that they did not accept it, and that the capitulators must fully repudiate their ideas and recant . . . On 18 December /1927/ Zinoviev returned and knocked at the doors of the congress to say that they condemned their own views as ‘wrong and anti-Leninist.’ . . . But Stalin and the majority, drunk with jubilation, went on to kick the prostrated. They refused to reinstate them even after the recantation.”151
In their effort to “keep a grip on the helm,” Kamenev and Zinoviev watched the peasant massacre in silence. Yet, Stalin was not willing to take a chance even on these two pliable Old Bolsheviks. In 1936 they were executed along with countless others as “agents of German fascism/accomplices of Trotsky.”
The bureaucracy and the military continued to be sparsely populated with equalitarian Old Bolsheviks, who might at some point permit themselves to recognize the fascist drift of events, so many of them would have to be killed. Their trials and liquidation were used to justify the argument that a dire threat existed, a threat severe enough to necessitate the vast concentration camp complex.
“Victor Kravchenko, a former high Stalinist official who survived the purges and escaped abroad, reports in his book, I Chose Freedom, that the victims numbered as many as ‘nine or ten million, including 60 to 80 percent of the top leaders of the Party, the Consomols, the armed forces, the government, industry, farming and national culture.’ The slave labor armies of the GPU swelled to unknown size. Some estimates of their number go as high as fifteen, twenty million, even more.”152
“The vast purges mark times of sharp danger to its existence which the bureaucracy sought to overcome by stricter consolidation around the personal dictatorship of Stalin.”153 “The Red Army was decimated . . . In 1937 the entire leading staff from Marshall Tukhachevsky down were shot without the pretense of an open trial.”154 At the 1936 Moscow trial, prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky “hints at one of the political motives behind the trial: ‘It is now clear,’ he reported, ‘why there are interruptions of supplies here and there, why, with our riches and abundance of products, there is a shortage first of one thing, then of another. It is these traitors who are responsible for it.’”155
The meaning of the purge trials of 1936 and 1937 is dramatically revealed by noting the identities of the accusers and the accused. Of the 1936 trial Joseph Hansen reports:
“Among the prisoners sat Gregory Zinoviev, Leon Kamenev, I.N. Smirnov, S.V. Mrachkovsky, G. Yevdokimov, V. Ter-Vaganyan, Ivan Bakayev and Y. Dreitser. They were outstanding figures in Lenin’s ‘general staff’ which led the November 1917 revolution in Russia, cofounders of both the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International, men who held the highest Soviet posts. Against them as prosecutor stood Andrei Vyshinsky, a former member of the counter-revolutionary, right-wing Menshevik opposition to Lenin’s regime in the early days.”156
Max Shachtman observed:
“Volumes are said by the fact that among the accused there is not to be found a single former kulak, manufacturer, banker, Czarist, White Guard, Menshevik, Social Revolutionary, anarchist, or any other one-time opponent of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Regime. Not a single one! All of them . . . are tried and true Old Bolsheviks.”157
Trotsky made the same observation respecting the purge trials of 1937. “Who are the principal defendents?” he asked. His answer:
“Old Bolsheviks, builders of the party, of the Soviet State, of the Red Army, of the Communist International. Who is the accuser against them? Vyshinsky, bourgeois lawyer, who called himself a Menshevik after the October Revolution and joined the Bolsheviks after their definitive victory. . . . The former editor of Pravda, Bukharin, is arrested. The pillar of Pravda is now Koltzov, bourgeois feuilletonist, who remained throughout the civil war in the camp of the Whites. Sokolnikov, a participant in the October Revolution and the civil war, is condemned as a traitor. Rakovsky awaits accusation. Sokolnikov and Rakovsky were ambassadors to London. Their place is now occupied by Maisky, Right Menshevik, who during the civil war was a minister of the White government in Kolchak’s territory. Troyanovsky, Soviet ambassador to Washington, treats the Trotskyists as counter-revolutionaries. He himself during the first years of the October Revolution was a member of the Central Committee of the Mensheviks and joined the Bolsheviks only after they began to distribute attractive posts. Before becoming ambassador, Sokolnikov was people’s commissar of finance. Who occupies that post today? Grinko, who in common with the White Guards struggled in the Committee of Welfare during 1917-18 against the Soviets. One of the best Soviet diplomats was Joffee, first ambassador to Germany, who was forced to suicide by the persecutions. Who replaced him in Berlin? First the repented Oppositionist Krestinsky, then Khinchuk, former Menshevik, a participant in the counter-revolutionary Committee of Welfare, and finally, Suritz, who also went through 1917 on the other side of the barricades. I could prolong this list indefinitely.”158
With the Moscow trials and the slave labor camp formation in the mid and late 1930s the last revolutionary impulse was exorcised from the Soviet system. The Stalinist bureaucracy had succeeded in turning Marxism-Leninism on its head and there would be no further threats to the nascent industrial-elite productive order. Henceforth the Party would automatically provide the new state-capitalist elite protection. Like Christianity and other revolutionary-equalitarian philosophies before it, the Soviet Union’s brand of Marxism had now been transformed into a justification for the grossest inequalities and a defensive strategy for those who profited from that inequality.
A theory has value only insofar as it facillitates the ordering of experience; i.e., only insofar as it leads to an understanding of what Marx called the “natural necessity” of events. Ironically, Trotsky, along with other self-described Marxist scholars, found it impossible to make any material sense of the Russian Revolution’s aftermath, particularly the Stalin phenomenon. Of the latter, Trotsky mused:
“It remains of course incomprehensible, at least with a rational approach to history, how and why a faction the least rich of all in ideas, and the most burdened with mistakes, should have gained the upper hand over all other groups, and concentrated an unlimited power in its hands.”159
Isaac Deutscher said of Trotsky:
“He did not and could not satisfactorily explain the change in the climate of the revolution which made his defeat both possible and inevitable; and his account of the intrigues by which a narrow-minded ‘usurpatory’ and malignant bureaucracy ousted him from power is obviously inadequate.”160
Deutscher, an avid admirer of Trotsky, is himself perplexed by Stalin’s easy success. “Tsardom had failed to stifle any opposition, even though it imprisoned, deported and executed the revolutionaries,” he reflects. “Why then should Stalin, who was not yet executing his opponents, succeed where the Tsars had failed?”161
Deutscher is puzzled by other features of the Russian Revolution as well. “How is one to account . . . for the abysmal wickedness and moral depravity which has revealed itself in the Bolshevik party,” he asks, “a party that had consisted of honest, dedicated, and courageous revolutionaries?” “It was not enough to blame the ruling group or the bureaucracy,” he concedes. “The deeper cause was the ‘apathy of the masses and the indifference of the victorious working class after the revolution.”162
But, using “apathy” to explain Stalinism does not demonstrate the natural necessity of that tragic event, and Deutscher is unable to identify any material reason for the apathy. He writes:
“Marxists had tacitly assumed that once the working class achieved the social self-integration and political awareness that made it a ‘class for-itself’ it would maintain itself indefinitely in that position and would not sink back into immaturity. Instead, the working class of Russia, having overthrown the Tsar, the landlords, and the capitalists, relapsed into the inferior condition of a class unconscious of its interests and inarticulate.”163
On the other hand, if one reasons from Marx’s basic proposition that all politics, including revolution, is conservative of social existence, it is a simple matter to expose the natural necessity of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, answering the questions posed by Trotsky and Deutscher.
The Russian revolution occurred because Tsarist Russia’s feudal socio-economic-political order was no longer able to preserve the socio-economic existence of that country’s large and growing population. Since people follow the path of minimum difficulty when it comes to maintaining their social existence, prior to 1917 the majority of Russians did it by struggling against one another. With the total collapse of the economy in 1917, that option was no longer available. For the majority, defending their social existence now required dismantling the feudal-elite structure and building an industrial replacement.
However, once the old framework had been razed and its industrial-elite successor was being constructed, it again became the path of least pain for most Russians to secure their status by struggling with each other.
As in every nonegalitarian society, whatever it may call its political philosophy, the Russians who sought, gained and used the predominant amounts of political power were individuals with hegemonic statuses to protect. Some proindustrial bureaucrats were children of Tsarist bureaucrats. Many had been members of the Tsarist bureaucracy themselves. As late as the mid-1930s, in large cities, over 50 percent of the bureaucrats had been in office before the revolution. Having an elite status to defend, the bureaucrats fought with a vigor and a brutality which preserving their lowly social existence did not require peasants, soldiers and workers to match.
None of us is born with an assurance that at some point our expressed values and our lives will not become mutually exclusive. Finding their equalitarian values increasingly inimical to leadership after 1917, particularly after 1921, most Bolsheviks decided to place those values in storage and become reactionary, non-egalitarians, convincing themselves of the mind-numbing contradiction that they were doing it in behalf of building an eventual classless society. Thus did they preserve their favored socio-economic existence.
Many of the more rigidly moral Old Bolsheviks, Trotsky among them, soon fell by the wayside.
When in 1928 a new disaster struck in the form of an international depression, the Soviet Union’s economy was dealt a staggering blow. Since the new bureaucracy was proindustrial, the least costly alternative for the majority of people was to maintain their social existence by destroying a huge portion of the peasantry, along with any recalcitrants among their own numbers. And so it was done.
Whenever maintaining the social existence of a nation’s majority leads to the annihilation of a weaker element at home or abroad we refer to it as “fascism.” Stalin’s regime was a classic example, akin to Naziism in Germany, and, in terms of the number of lives taken, considerably worse. Many of the Old Guard Bolsheviks had humanistic predilections and could not be trusted. Therefore, they, too, were eliminated.
When the Soviet Union’s crisis became so profound that the new elite and the majority could only be socio-economically sustained through the use of slave labor, that labor was provided by labelling Stalin’s detractors, real or imagined, “reactionaries” and sentencing them to work camps.
Perhaps the most fundamental contradiction in the Marxist intellectuals’ position was that they wished to constitute a government which was truly “of the people.” As Marx understood, and consistently argued, given the conservative character of political activity, no one can ever perform that task except the people. A ”vanguard party” will always be the captive of those who exert primary political force, which will inevitably be the community’s socio-economic elites. The Cohn-Bendits argued that principle well when they wrote: “Democracy is not suborned by bad leadership but by the very existence of leadership.”164 The Russian experience provides a lesson to be remembered by all industrial-elite nation populations, as the world moves toward that point when some of their numbers will discover they can only be socio-economically sustained by the sudden creation of genuinely equalitarian systems.
Marx contended that elite elements within every progressive revolutionary community spontaneously create a political philosophy which enables them to justify taking control following the revolution. Russia’s Marxist intellectuals provided a sterling illustration of Marx’s point by transforming his materialistic and relativistic theory into an absolutistic and idealistic rationale for a new, state-capitalist elite to wield authority over Soviet society in the name of classlessness.
Had they looked, Russia’s Marxist intellectuals would have discovered materialist explanations for their own behavior as well as the course of their revolution in Marx’s writings. But, like their counterparts in the West, Russian “communists” found it more expedient to create their “Marxism” out of Hegelian cloth, and leave their prophet thrashing in his grave.
FOOTNOTES – Part II
1. Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany.
2. Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An appraisal of the man and his influence, New York: The Universal Library, Grosset & Dunlap, 1941, pp392-3.
3. E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, Baltimore,
Maryland: Penguin Books, 1950, p. 65.
5. Ibid., p. 73.
6. Alfred G. Meyer, Leninism, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., New
York: 1962, p. 169.
7. Christopher Hill, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Middlesex,
England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1971, p. 156.
8. John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, New York: Signet
Books, The New American Library, 1967, p. 29.
9. E.H. Carr, op. cit., p. 90.
10. V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution, in James E. Conner, ed.,
Lenin on Politics and Revolution, New York: Pegasus, 1968,
pp. 191, 200.
11. Ibid., p. 200.
12. Ibid., p. 221.
13. Ibid., p. 209.
14. Meyer, op. cit., p. 201.
15. Leon Trotsky, Leon Trotsky Speaks, New York: Pathfinder
Press Inc., 1972, p. 72.
16. E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, Baltimore,
Maryland: Penguin Books, 1952, pp. 185-6.
17. Reed, op. cit., p. 57.
18. Quoted in Meyer, op. cit., p. 42.
19. Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin, New York: Monad Press
(Pathfinder Press), 1973, p. 30.
20. Anatoly Vasilievich Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes,
New York: Hill & Wang, 1968, p. 50.
22. Sarah Lovell, in Leon Trotsky Speaks, op. cit., p. 93.
23. Quoted in Reed, op. cit., p. 264.
24. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, New York: Pathfinder
Press, Inc., 1972, p. 25.
25. Ibid., p. 22.
26. Hill, op. cit., p. 77.
27. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 129.
28. Ibid., p. 151.
29. Ibid., pp. 196, 198.
30. Ibid., pp. 171, 173.
31. Ibid., p. 197.
32. Serge, op. cit., p. 33.
33. Hill, op. cit., p. 133.
34. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II, New York:
Vintage Books, 1959, p. 17.
35. Leon Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 385.
36. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 190.
37. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, op. cit., p. 21.
38. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 55.
39. Trotsky, Leon Trotsky Speaks, op. cit., pp. 109-10.
40. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., pp. 117-18.
41. Hill, op. cit., p. 139.
42. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., pp. 195, 202,
43. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 115.
44. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., pp. 203-4.
45. Quoted in: Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete
Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, McGraw-Hill Book
Co., New York: 1968, p. 232.
46. Milovan Djilas, The New Class, New York: Praeger Paperback,
1957, p. 15.
47. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., p. 184.
48. Hill, op. cit., p. 126.
49. Sam Dolgoff et al., Bakunin on Anarchy, New York: Vintage
Books, 1971, p. xxii.
50. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., p. 12.
51. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit. p. 97.
52. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol II, op. cit., p. 7.
53. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op cit., p. 76.
54. Deutscher, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 4; See also: Hill, op. cit., p. 132.
55. Ibid., p. 5.
56. Serge, op. cit., p. 35.
57. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., pp. 183-4.
58. See: Harold Shukman, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, New
York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967, p. 199; Also: Serge, op. cit.,
p. 33; Cohn-Bendit, op. cit., pp. 220-45.
60 . Leszek Kolakowski, Marxism and Beyond, London: Paladin
Press, 1969, p. 92.
61. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., pp. 216-17.
62. Trotsky, Trotsky Speaks, op. cit., p. 173.
63. Shukman, op. cit., p. 200.
64. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 405.
65. Serge, op. cit., pp. 38-40.
66. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., pp. 25-6.
67. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 22.
69. Ibid., pp. 30-1.
70. Ibid., p. 44.
71. Serge, op. cit., p. 40.
72. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 405.
73. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 36.
74. Meyer, op. cit., p. 214.
76. Serge, op. cit., p. 44.
77. Ibid., p. 40.
78. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, op. cit., pp. 175-6.
79. Hill, op. cit., p. 144.
80. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, op. cit., p. 233.
81. Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, New York: Vintage
Books, 1970, p. 4.
82. Ibid., p. xii.
83. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, op. cit., p. 69.
84. Meyer, op. cit., pp. 214-15.
85. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 375.
87. Ibid., p. 377.
88. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 74.
89. Ibid., p. 93.
90. Ibid., p. 104.
91. Ibid., p. 105.
93. Ibid., p. 106.
94. Ibid., p. 107.
96. Ibid., p. 111.
97. Sarah Lovell, Trotsky Speaks, op. cit., p. 174.
98. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol, II, op. cit., p. 152.
99. Ibid., p. 122.
100. Ibid., p. 373.
101. Ibid., p. 283.
102. Ibid., p. 377.
103. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 92.
104. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 387.
105. Serge, op. cit., p. 51.
106. Quoted in: Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II. op. cit.,
107. Ibid., p. 309.
108. Ibid., pp. 281-2.
109. Serge, op. cit., p. 48.
110. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 366.
111. Ibid., p. 246.
112. Djilas, op. cit., p. 50.
113. Trotsky, op. cit., p. 393.
114. Leon Trotsky, The Russian Revolution, New York:
Doubleday Anchor, 1959, p. 301.
115. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 93.
116. Djilas, op. cit., p. 83.
117. Serge, op. cit., p. 51.
118. Ibid., pp. 48, 59.
119. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p. 408.
121. Serge, op. cit., p. 59.
122. Djilas, op. cit., p. 59.
124. Ibid., p. 81.
125. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., pp. 396-7, 407.
126. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 36.
127. Ibid., p. 273.
128. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Vol. III, New York:
Vintage Books, 1963, p. 103.
129. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 33.
130. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Vol. III, op. cit., p. 91.
131. Serge, op. cit., p. 60.
132. Ibid., p. 63.
133. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 39.
134. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Vio. III, op. cit., pp. 118-19.
135. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit., p. 35.
136. Serge, op. cit., p. 63.
137. Ibid., pp. 104-5.
138. Ibid., p. 108.
139. Ibid., p. 69.
140. Serge, op. cit., p. 142.
143. Ibid., pp. 78-9.
144. Ibid., p. 142.
145. Deutscher, Vol. III, op. cit., p. 124.
146. Ibid., p. 106.
147. Deutscher, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 380.
148. Ibid., p. 384.
149. Serge, op. cit., p. 98.
150. Ibid., p. 86.
151. Deutscher, Vol. II, op. cit., pp. 387, 389.
152. Joseph Hansen, in Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s Frame-Up System
and the Moscow Trials, New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1950,
153. Ibid., p. xvii.
154. Ibid., p. xiii.
155. Ibid., p. viii.
157. Max Shachtman, Behind the Moscow Trial, New York:
Pioneer Publishers, 1936, pp. 20-1.
158. Trotsky, Trotsky Speaks, op. cit., p. 292.
159. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, op. cit.
160. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, Volume I, New York,
Vintage Books, 1954, p. vii.
161. Deutscher, Vol. III, op. cit., p. 9.
162. Deutscher, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 436.
163. Deutscher, Vol. III, op. cit., p. 116.
164. Cohn-Bendit, op. cit., p. 250.