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Archive for October, 2017

Trotskyists on Trial Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR-Donna T. Haverty-Stacke

Posted by admin On October - 20 - 2017 Comments Off on Trotskyists on Trial Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR-Donna T. Haverty-Stacke


On June 27, 1941, the FBI carried out a raid on the offices of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Twenty-nine SWP members were then put on trial under the Smith Act for conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. Although no such conspiracy existed, the Smith Act was used to assert that the SWP’s Trotskyist beliefs constituted a threat to national security. Known as the “Minneapolis sedition trial,” eighteen defendants were sent to prison, a decision that set the legal precedent for the McCarthyite witch hunts of the Cold War. It effectively ruled that being a Marxist was an act of sedition.
Last year, the historian Donna T. Haverty-Stacke published Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR. The book is a well-researched blow-by-blow account of the sedition trial, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath. For that reason alone, it’s a valuable resource for socialists and Trotskyists eager to learn about their history.
The Minneapolis sedition trial was a key flashpoint in the history of American Trotskyism. But Haverty-Stacke, who comes from outside of the socialist movement, approaches the trial from a different angle, as a key flashpoint in the struggle for civil liberties. She portrays the Trotskyists as waging a heroic struggle against political persecution that would shape civil liberties struggles for decades to come. Its lessons remain relevant even today, as socialists and left-wing activists face renewed threats of state repression.
Roosevelt and the “Little Red Scare”
Haverty-Stacke places the Minneapolis sedition trial in the context of an event known as the “little red scare.” After Stalin, engaging in one of his many bureaucratic zigzags, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939, a wave of anti-Communist and xenophobic paranoia spread across the country. The panic ended once Stalin reversed course and looked to form an alliance with U.S. and British imperialism in World War II to which the Stalinists subordinated everything else including the class struggle. The “little red scare” isn’t as well known as the bigger red scares of the McCarthy era or in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. But during this period, the Roosevelt administration made use of the anti-Communist and xenophobic hysteria as an excuse to crack down on the socialist and working class movements that had developed since the early 1930s.
Many activists today look fondly on the Roosevelt administration, and see the New Deal era of the Democratic Party as a model to follow. But Haverty-Stacke reveals that the Democratic Party under Roosevelt was the main driving force behind the crackdowns on civil liberties that would later flourish under McCarthyism. The Smith Act was named after Democratic Congressman Howard Smith. Meanwhile, another Democratic Congressman, Martin Dies Jr., would lead the House Un-American Activities Committee, later made notorious by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Ostensibly the Smith Act was intended to help protect the United States against the threat of fascism. Fascist forces were a real threat at the time, with pro-Hitler “Silver Shirt” gangs violently attacking labor struggles, and a significant layer of the U.S. ruling class was sympathetic to Hitler. But during the “little red scare” the Smith Act quickly morphed into an attack on “extremism” in general, and left-wing activism in particular. Under the bill, mere advocacy of revolutionary change was criminalized. Legislation of this sort had already existed during times of war, but this was the first time since John Adams that speech of this sort was criminalized during peacetime. The bill was also xenophobic to the core, playing on fears of radical immigrants meddling in America’s affairs on behalf of the Kremlin. Originally called the “Alien Registration Act,” it allowed for the deportation of immigrants who held revolutionary views. An earlier version of the bill even included provisions for detention camps of suspicious immigrants. At that point, any pretense that this was about fighting fascism could be safely thrown out the window.
The bill’s first target would not be fascists or members of the Communist Party, but the Trotskyists who had fought against Stalin’s political counter-revolution, which overturned the institutions of workers democracy in the Soviet Union and brought a privileged bureaucracy to power. In 1934, the Trotskyists, then called the Communist League of America, politically led the Minneapolis Teamsters strike. This was one of three key strikes that year which paved the way for the rise of mass industrial unionism and the launching of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) the following year. Teamsters Local 544 was a key center of both the militant labor movement and the Trotskyist movement. This made them an ideal target.
Unfortunately, Haverty-Stacke sometimes gets confused about various aspects of the Trotskyists’ politics. She mixes up the concept of the popular front with that of the united front and falsely claims the Trotskyists were opposed to working with other leftists. And she is quite confused in her account of the women’s auxiliary during the Minneapolis Teamster strike. This was a body set up for the purpose of consciously including women in a strike in the male-dominated trucking industry, but she seems to think it was set up to exclude them. Despite her confusion about the Trotskyists’ politics, she rightly recognizes their role as a significant force in the workers’ struggles of the 1930s.
During World War II, the SWP held a correct, but controversial, position that it was an imperialist war and that the working class shouldn’t rely on the U.S. military to fight fascism. Instead they advocated an independent, working-class struggle against fascism. Party members who were conscripted into service advocated this position within the army. They also supported anti-colonial struggles and stood for the defense of the Soviet Union against Hitler’s invasion. A number of young American Trotskyists heroically volunteered for the Murmansk run helping bring vital supplies to besieged Russia and some lost their lives. Critically, they were one of the few groups willing to continue labor battles even during wartime. This brought them continued support from the working class, especially in Teamsters Local 544, but brought the wrath of the Teamsters international bureaucracy around President Daniel Tobin, as well as the U.S. political establishment.
As Haverty-Stacke explains, the FBI had been keeping tabs on the Trotskyists for years. But after the Smith Act passed, an internal dispute within Local 544 was turned into an excuse for the FBI and the Tobin bureaucracy to crack down on the local. An anti-communist faction had developed in the local, called the Committee of 99, which was opposed to the SWP’s “unpatriotic” views. Although this group had no real support in the local, it had the support of Tobin, who used the dispute to undemocratically put the local under trusteeship. The SWP, with the support of the rank and file, waged a fight to break the local from the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) and join the more militant CIO. In the heat of this anti-bureaucratic struggle, the FBI stepped in.
Socialism on Trial
Under the Smith Act, the SWP was accused of a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. For evidence, the court relied on wild fantasy stories from the Committee of 99. Haverty-Stacke reveals how, in front of the grand jury, one prosecution witness testified, entirely through hearsay, that the SWP had “ammunition planted between the walls of churches, and it is better than the Army’s. It will go through an inch thick of armed plate.” No evidence of such ammunition was ever found, but the grand jury blocked testimony from witnesses who provided counter-testimony, and the twenty-nine SWP members were indicted.
Ultimately, the SWP members were not on trial for any real conspiracy, but for being socialists. In fact, during the trial, possession of pictures of Trotsky and copies of the Communist Manifesto were held up as evidence of a conspiracy. It didn’t matter if the stockpiles of weapons in the walls of churches were made up. As long as you believed in Marxism, you were engaging in a conspiracy.
The SWP were completely open about their revolutionary Marxist politics. And that guided how they waged their defense campaign. Their lawyer, Albert Goldman, was a member of the SWP and one of the defendants. The main defense testimony came from SWP leader James Cannon, who used his testimony as a lesson in Marxism given to the jury and the wider public. Explanations were given of the nature of capitalism, socialism, and class conflict, as well as what Marxists meant by revolution, and why they felt it was necessary to change society in the interests of working people. Cannon went over the history of the Russian Revolution and the Trotskyists’ struggle against Stalinism.
These attempts at explaining the reality behind the more contentious aspects of Marxist thought were fundamental to the defense. So much so that Cannon’s testimony during the trial was later published as a book, Socialism on Trial, and Goldman’s closing arguments were published as a pamphlet, In Defense of Socialism. Even today, Socialism on Trial is used by socialists for educational purposes as an introduction to socialist and Marxist thought.
But it is precisely on these issues where Trotskyists on Trial is at its weakest. Haverty-Stacke is no Trotskyist. She is writing as a liberal civil libertarian who may hate what the Trotskyists have to say but will defend to the death their right to say it. But for the SWP, defending their civil liberties wasn’t an end in itself. They were a party built for the purpose of mobilizing the working class in its own interests up to and including the overturn of capitalism. The prosecution got that part right.
A central part of Cannon’s testimony and Goldman’s closing remarks consisted of “patient explanation” of the more controversial aspects of their Marxist politics, A key sticking point was the notion of “violent revolution,” which the prosecution used to conjure up images of a small, conspiratorial, group of revolutionaries instigating an armed putsch. In reality, a socialist revolution is carried out by the masses, and the violence comes from the undemocratic attempts of the deposed ruling class to violently overturn the revolution. This was borne out in the Russian Revolution, where the October insurrection was largely bloodless, but was followed by a bloody, counter-revolutionary civil war instigated by the White armies.
But as far as Haverty-Stacke is concerned, the SWP’s revolutionary politics were a blemish that only served the prosecution’s case, while all the attempts at explaining Marxist politics were just an awkward attempt at getting themselves out of a legal hole.
At one point, Haverty-Stacke, in summarizing Goldman’s closing remarks, makes the utterly false claim that “In arguing for the Trotskyists’ innocence, Goldman had to insist on their impotence.” She defends her claims by heavily distorting two passing statements Goldman made in his remarks. At one point, Goldman stressed, in contrast to the conspiracy charge, that they would submit to the majority, so long as their opposition to the war remained a minority view. At another point Goldman explained that class struggle is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and not something the SWP willed into existence. Neither of these comes close to a declaration of impotence, but were clearly directed at the wild conspiracy theories conjured up by the prosecution.
Haverty-Stacke’s assessment of Goldman’s closing remarks says more about her own views than it does about Goldman’s or the other Trotskyists. In fact, there was a conflict during the trial between the SWP and the ACLU precisely because the ACLU wanted to defend the Trotskyists on the basis of their alleged impotence. For liberal civil libertarians, the goal is a stable capitalist democracy that tolerates unpopular views, from socialists and fascists alike, safe in the knowledge that those ideas will never catch on. But with capitalism in crisis, such a view is utopian. And, as Haverty-Stacke’s own historical account makes clear, it was those trying to preserve a stable capitalist democracy who led the crackdown on the left.
In contrast to the ACLU, the SWP’s approach was, as defendant Felix Morrow put it, “to get those jurors to cease abhorring socialism and to recognize and respect the sincerity, sanity and seriousness of the defendants and their ideas.” This can be contrasted with the approach that the Communist Party would later take during the more well-known McCarthyite witch-hunt, in which party members would hide their identity and “plead the fifth.” The testimony in the sedition trial was the work of unapologetic revolutionaries who wanted to win the masses over to their revolutionary politics. That is why books like Socialism on Trial retain such value today.
Fighting for Civil Liberties
If Haverty-Stacke is weak in explaining the Trotskyists’ politics, she excels in showing what the trial meant for the fight for civil liberties. She shows what state repression meant in real terms for the SWP membership and for the wider workers’ movement. And she shows how the trial paved the way for more well-known attacks on civil liberties, from McCarthyism to COINTELPRO.
In the end, the defendants got a more lenient sentence than anticipated, but eighteen of the defendants were nonetheless found guilty and imprisoned.
The trial became an important educational opportunity for the socialist movement, as the defense testimony espousing Marxist ideas received widespread coverage in the mainstream press. But the jailings and continued state harassment had a real material impact on the SWP. The leading members of the SWP, including its most prominent union organizers, were now in prison. Beyond prison, they faced further repression. Albert Goldman was disbarred. Carl Skoglund, a Swedish immigrant and one of the leaders of the 1934 Teamsters strike, was faced with repeated deportation threats that lasted until his death. FBI harassment of the SWP, including infiltration and break-ins, would continue for decades.
The SWP was able to withstand these blows and, after the war, it was able to grow to its highest membership under the impact of the biggest strike wave in U.S. history. But within the Teamsters union, the impact of the trial was devastating. The sedition trial served as the final blow to the Teamster militancy of the 1930s. In the union dispute, the majority of the workers had followed the Trotskyists into the CIO. But supporters of the Committee of 99 formed a rump local that remained in the AFL. And in the wake of the sedition trial, a court ruled in 1942 that the AFL rump local would be the sole bargaining agent for the Minneapolis Teamsters. This expunging of union militancy paved the way for the bureaucratic Hoffa era in the Teamsters union.
The Minneapolis sedition trial also served as a legal precedent for a wider assault on the left. In 1941, Stalin was allied with Roosevelt, and the Communist Party was one of the most vociferous proponents of the anti-Trotskyist witch-hunt. But, after cutting their teeth on the Trotskyists, the U.S. government turned their fire on the Stalinists in the McCarthyite witch-hunts against the Communist Party beginning in the late 40s. A similar fate awaited Jimmy Hoffa who, like Tobin, allied himself with the FBI during the sedition trial. Once Hoffa had consolidated his grip on the union, the FBI would make him their main target in their cold war anti-union activities.
With the recent growth of the far right, a number of debates have broken out about how to fight fascist and semi-fascist forces while defending civil liberties. Marxists advocate mobilizing mass movements to block fascists and other far-right forces from using public platforms to mobilize, incite attacks, and recruit. But, we also oppose empowering the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state in order to fight fascism. This is because the capitalists will turn that power against the movements of the working class. This comes out starkly in the experience of the Minneapolis sedition trial. The trial, which legitimized decades of undemocratic attacks on the left, were inflicted by the Roosevelt administration under legislation allegedly written to protect “American democracy” from the threat of fascism. But it was used against socialists and the labor movement instead. And the legal precedents set by the trial were used much more consistently against the socialist movement than against the fascists.
It wouldn’t be until 1986, after a protracted legal battle, that the courts would eventually overturn the sedition ruling and vindicate the SWP. By then, the SWP had degenerated politically and made a number of unnecessary concessions in order to get a positive ruling. Even then, as Haverty-Stacke points out, the threats to civil liberties haven’t gone away.
In the conclusion to Trotskyists on Trial, Haverty-Stacke goes beyond the sedition trial and looks at the current state of civil liberties. She warns that “The SWPs 1986 victory against the FBI was a fleeting one.” That court ruling rejected the excesses of the Smith Act, McCarthyism, and COINTELPRO, and ruled that the specific attacks on the SWP were unconstitutional. But a new wave of crackdowns on civil liberties would be unleashed shortly afterwards. And, once again, this would not be a simple case of bad Republicans versus good Democrats. It was the Clinton administration that led the charge with the Antiterrorism Act, to be followed up by the Bush administration’s USA PATRIOT Act which overwhelming bipartisan support.
Since the book was published, Donald Trump was elected president, unleashing a new wave of threats to civil liberties, from Muslim bans, to attempts at classifying anti-racist and anti-fascist groups as terrorists. But, as with Roosevelt in the 1940s, the Democratic Party has directed popular concerns about the right into attacks on the left. This is seen in the hysteria around the so-called “alt left” and the attempts to lump together the far left and the far right as being Russian-controlled puppets, as when the Washington Post promoted a blacklist of a number of left-wing websites which it accused of being “pro-Putin propaganda.” By looking to the history of past struggles, Haverty-Stacke has shown us what we’re up against.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia -Tasneem Khalil

Posted by admin On October - 19 - 2017 Comments Off on Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia -Tasneem Khalil


Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia
Pluto Press, London, 2016. 166 pp., £11.50

Dr Guy Lancaster is the editor of the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture and author of Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883–1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality (Lexington Books, 2014).
Most studies of state terror, especially the use of “death squads” for the torture and murder of dissidents, center their analysis within an explicitly genocidal context. They view armed squadrons as a tool for eliminationist campaigns against racial or ethnic others, or they examine these death squads as part of the system of governance for dictatorships, serving at the pleasure, and for the preservation, of a small clique of elites, by cracking down upon “agitators” and their ilk. Either way, the presence of death squads allegedly constitutes an exception to the traditional liberal order; this type of organization would surely be anathema in a functioning democracy, or even a government in transition. Moreover, governments that employ such death squads are popularly viewed as having turned their backs upon the modern, international order in favor of a more limited and barbaric worldview.

That is, indeed, the popular conception, but as Tasneem Khalil documents in Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia, this view proves incorrect. Khalil, a journalist who survived kidnapping and torture at the hands of Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, surveys the apparatus of state terror in South Asia and arrives at the following conclusions: 1) death squads are a continuation of models of oppression instituted by the old colonial powers of Europe, 2) death squads function within the capitalist order even within nations like India, which has dubbed itself the world’s largest democracy, and 3) these death squads are part of an international system of terror supported by the likes of the United States, China, and Israel. The title of his book, Jallad, comes from a word common to Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, meaning “hangman” or “executioner”.

Khalil opens his book by hearkening back to the Rowlatt Act of 1919, described as a “black law” by Mohandas Ghandi, which allowed the Raj to impose a permanent state of emergency in British-occupied India, complete with preventative detention without trial, warrantless search and seizure, and juryless trials. Such laws, imposed during the colonial era, serve as a template for modern “black laws,” such as India’s National Security Act of 1980/1984, or the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act of 1983. These laws allow special police forces to use lethal force against civilians while protected by blanket immunity. These laws target not just armed insurgents, but also the poor and downtrodden, who reside in the impoverished “disturbed areas” at the periphery. ‘Marred by socio-economic injustices, these can be entire regions in a country or areas within the metropolis, like Punjab in 1919 or the present-day slums of Mumbai. These are the new colonies of the post-colonial mother country’ (10). Post-colonial states, asserts Khalil, have adapted colonial forms of repression, becoming modern national security states.

Khalil devotes individual chapters to five separate South Asian states, explicating the emergence of the national security state apparatus in each, beginning with his native Bangladesh. There, Pakistan inaugurated a wave of genocidal oppression as what was then East Pakistan sought its separation, but the rise of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, former leader of the independence movement, unleashed his own reign of terror, creating the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, a paramilitary death squad, in 1972. Similar units, such as the Bangladesh Rifles and the Rapid Action Batallion, have been employed against various groups—the former against the indigenous jummas of the nation’s hill country, the latter against “common criminal and petty thugs who come from the slum,” so-called “economic terrorists” who eventually “outlive their usefulness or become burdensome for their political sponsors” (22). Khalil next moves to India, where the government has made use of black laws from the colonial era, and even paramilitary units originally founded by the British themselves, such as the Assam Rifles, in order to repress a population. As he writes, ‘The history of India’s independence is the history of coercive recolonisation campaigns and brutal repression in the new colonies…. It is also a history of pervasive structural violence and massive economic exploitation endured by the people of the peripheries—the adivasis of the Red Corridor and internal migrants living in the slums of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and other metropolises’ (44–45).

Nepal provides one exception in this book, given that it was never part of the British Raj, but its conflict with Maoist rebels led to the formation of paramilitary units and to the nation coming under the influence of the international “War on Terror” coalition, as well as regional powers like India. ‘For many Indian national security experts, Nepal’s war against the Maoists was an extension of India’s own war against revolutionary Naxal groups’ (58). Next, Khalil moves to Pakistan, where death squads have been employed against a number of groups, most notably those advocating for the independence of the mineral-rich Balochistan. That nation’s own international partnerships for the sponsorship of its regime of state terror transcend ideology; not only has it partnered with both capitalist and communist powers against each other and against India, but ‘Pakistan, the Islamic Republic, was a major US ally in its war against Islamic terrorism’, and has been one of the states ‘in the periphery of the world capitalist system’, where ‘Western national security states outsourced their torture needs’ (71, 70). Finally, Khalil wraps up in Sri Lanka, a state that has used a number of black laws, including the 1947 Public Security Ordinance enacted by British colonial rulers, to suppress dissent. However, this oppression did not end with the 2009 defeat of the Literation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), for, funded by the United States, Pakistan, China, and Israel, Sri Lanka’s national security state continues to target journalists, human rights activists, and others who vie against elite priorities.

Jallad would serve as a good companion to Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2015), which draws connections between the implementation of black laws in India and a legacy of capitalist exploitation that has left some eighty percent of the population living in poverty. After all, India has laws outlawing even thinking antigovernment thoughts, namely the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, backed up by military and paramilitary groups that can murder those even suspected of insurrectionary activities. But this goes further than a critique of regional subjectivities. Not only does the international system of state terror, exemplified in the five nations under examination in Jallad, operate in support of capitalist exploitation, but it actually, according to Khalil, follows the capitalist model, exhibiting all the traits of a franchising operation. ‘That is to say, at the global level, the business of state terror is always dependent on the relationship between the sponsor (franchiser) states and the affiliate (franchisee) states. In our world, without exception, terror is perpetrated by states that are either affiliated with global or regional hegemons or that are hegemons themselves’ (118).

Also, Khalil’s exposé calls into question the very weakness of our concept of “democracy” itself. After all, if we can see the death squad as part and parcel of a formal democracy like India, then we may well describe other phenomena in history by the same term. For example, the typical American lynch mob could be viewed in the light of the death squad model, especially what W. Fitzhugh Brundage has dubbed the “private mob”, the small group of armed men, often masked, who conducted kidnapping, torture, and murder under the cover of darkness. Lynching, after all, was regularly employed against dissidents, especially African Americans who “forgot their place”, and challenged white authority in some fashion. The fact that such acts of violence were rarely prosecuted made them essentially a component of state terror, given that the motives of lynch mobs and the state aligned in the preservation of white supremacy and the capitalist order. The United States had its own death squads, but, in true American fashion, they were democratic and existed on an ad hoc basis. So if a formal democracy can exist alongside black laws and death squads, then, perhaps, we need to redefine the term to represent not just ostensible political equality but also true economic equality, that is, if we want “democracy” to be a true term of aspiration, to represent a concept that excludes state terror.

Jallad suffers from some repetition, and its journalistic style means that some content is arranged more for fostering a captivating narrative than for providing a logical progression of development. However, Tasneem Khalil has packed a lot of information into this slim volume, drawing linkages that are often overlooked and demanding justice as only one who has suffered the opposite can do (a closing chapter relays his own experience of kidnapping and torture). Jallad not only demands a deeper study of state terror in both South Asia and the world at large, but it also demands justice for all the victims thereof—past, present, and, unfortunately, future.

10 July 2017
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Explains the Evolution of the Human Mind-Kevin N Laland

Posted by admin On October - 19 - 2017 Comments Off on Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Explains the Evolution of the Human Mind-Kevin N Laland


Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Explains the Evolution of the Human Mind
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2017. 464pp., £27.95 hb
ISBN 9780691151182
Reviewed by Patrick Ainley


Patrick Ainley was Professor of Training and Education in the School of Education and Training (as was) at the University of Greenwich where he is now associated with the Business School.


Not so long ago – certainly on an evolutionary timescale – it was received wisdom among many Marxists that Marx and Engels had completed Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony. Whether or not Darwin turned down Marx’s offer to dedicate Capital to him (on the reasonable grounds that he had not read the volume Marx sent him), Marx definitely considered The Origin of Species as ‘the basis of natural history for our views’, even though he also thought Darwin’s theory influenced by contemporary capitalist economics. So much so that Engels elaborated The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, where he declared ‘labour begins with the making of tools’. Tool use was long considered a distinguishing feature of humans compared with other animals by those as late as Jacob Bronowski in 1973 presenting The Ascent of Man, if not via all the stages from lower savagery to upper barbarism through which Engels followed Morgan in tracing The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

As Laland shows in the many examples of animals using tools across the panorama of evolutionary emergence marshalled in his book, this previously accepted distinguishing feature of humanity has long lost its uniqueness. Nevertheless, demonstrating ‘a major gulf between the intellectual capabilities of humans and other animals’ (231), ‘is a necessary platform for this book’ (16). Not because ‘the primate brain expanded to cope with the demands of a rich social life’, which is ‘The currently dominant view’ (144), but because of the significance of evolutionary feedback, i.e. learning from experience, which many animals – from fish to frogs, crabs to crows – pass down their generations in the form of cultures.

This is different from what is called epigenetics, which also explains the inheritance of stable traits without change to DNA, especially through the extraneous activation and suppression of gene expression, but it has similar effects in speeding up evolution. Laland is thus not alone in meeting the objections of those for whom the succession of inherited accidents recounted by neo-Darwinism cannot account for all the intricacies of evolution. This idea of acquired animal cultures augmenting inherited behaviour is not new and is widely observable in the regional variations of birdsong, or the use of tools by monkeys and many other animals, including innovations which are then adopted and adapted by successive generations. However, for Laland this acceleration became exponential amongst a restricted family of primates, the hominidae, which developed language to enable the transmission of culture by teaching.

Symbolic language, as distinct from the often elaborate signalling systems of other creatures, is another crucial marker that, like tool use, is often claimed to distinguish the species homo from other primates. As another tool, language is seen as co-evolving with the use of tools by what Darwin called ‘the law of correlation of growth’ through which, as Engels described it in the Transition, ‘Changes in certain forms involve changes in the form of other parts of the body, although we cannot explain the connection.’ Laland can as he mathematically models the selective advantage conferred by hand, eye, voice and brain co-evolution to assert, ‘Language originally evolved to teach, and specifically to teach close relatives.’ (191) Laland therefore sees teaching as unique to humans – with the possible exception of cats. It imparts the hierarchical syntax that structures the forms languages take, giving all languages the underlying generative grammar that Chomsky derives from a supposed universal Language Acquisition Device innate to humans. Instead, ‘Human language is unique (among extant species) because our species uniquely constructed a sufficiently diverse, generative, and changeable cultural world that had to be talked about.’ (192 in the Chapter ‘Why We Alone Have Language’) ‘We’ thus ‘constructed our niche’ through ‘our species capacity to control, regulate and transform the environment … chiefly due to our extraordinary capacity for culture’ (230) and for cultural transmission through teaching, which Laland defines as ‘behaviour that functions to enhance the fidelity of information between tutor and pupil’ (his Italics p.158).

Although he occasionally writes of ‘coaching’ and ‘training’, this pedagogic conception of cultural learning and language ‘as an adjunct to teaching’ (318) is an impoverished one because Laland neglects what has been called The Tacit Dimension of building a culture through apprenticeship to it. He therefore misconceives learning and teaching by reducing them to their basis in copying for the competence imparted by training. The imaginative leap to understand new knowledge or achieve skilful performance is thus lost, whether acquired for the first time by novices or introduced as a new discovery or improvisation. Because such acquired characteristics are not heritable, this whole expanding corpus of human culture has to be relearnt by each new generation. Indeed, Resnik and other US psychologists who translated Vygotsky’s Marxism into ‘activity theory’, present children as little apprentices picking up the cultures and subcultures into which they are born by learning on the job as it were. Beyond a Chinese whispers effect, this entails losses and gains since cultures are not transmitted unchanged but are themselves altered in practice. This is an essential part of the dialectical conception of praxis – simply the Greek word for human action. The transmission of culture is therefore more than mere copying, otherwise no change would be possible and as Marx wrote in Capital,

A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of its cells; but what distinguishes the worst of architects from the best of bees is namely this. The architect will construct in his imagination that which he will ultimately erect in reality. At the end of every labour process, we get that which existed in the consciousness of the labourer at its commencement.

Laland’s pedagogic notion of cultural transmission not only unpoetically lacks imagination – ‘the Human Being itself’, as Blake called it – but also misses the philosophical depth of Engels’ emphasis upon tools – including language – that is more than technological determinism but which serve to distance consciousness from the reality it is focussed upon, thus giving us ‘an interpreted world’ in which even ‘the knowing animals are aware / that we are not really at home…’ (Rilke).

Laland is repeatedly in ‘awe if not wonder’ at the vast accumulation of commodities he sees all around him, evidence to the coordination of the capitalist enterprises involved in effecting the voluntary cooperation to assemble and move these goods around the world. He argues ‘The large-scale cooperation observed solely in human societies arises because of our uniquely potent capacities for social learning, imitation and teaching, combined with the co-evolutionary feedbacks that these capabilities have generated on the human mind.’ (281) However, far from seeing genetic propensities shaping behaviour as sociobiology does, Laland recognises that ‘the gene-culture leash tugs both ways’ (229). Our potent culture and the genetic feedback it generated resulted in the human development that his book explains by the teaching theory of cultural transmission. Laland can then account for the apparent stasis of Oldowan technology, when for some 700,000 years stone tools did not alter very much amongst humans and their close relatives, by the catching up necessary for proto-languages to evolve into more effective communication. Once that happened, the momentum was unstoppable and exponential. Only it wasn’t, as Engels shows clearly if schematically.

Engels’ explanation is also an example of his Dialectics of Nature which have long been almost universally derided (including by many Marxists) as mechanical and outmoded, but which have resurfaced recently in complexity theory and elsewhere to show how emergence involves progression from a lower to a higher level of determination with the new forms of existence taking control of the system by a process of maturation to a new whole that is more than the sum of its previous parts. In the case of what Engels called the primitive communism of classless tribal societies, age and gender were the principle divisions of knowledge and labour, but once the council of wise old men had been usurped by their sons and new king-priests installed by the warrior class violently imposing their new state through their monopoly of weapons, a new dynamic controlled the direction of social development. Previous taboos on the inheritance of wealth by sharing it amongst the whole tribe were broken and reversion to earlier forms – of matriarchal rule, for example – were ruled out. The new more or less violent struggles that arose between classes now determine social development and are often acutely manifest in culture where ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas of society’, as Marx said. Nevertheless, they do not go uncontested by the sub-, counter- and not only class-cultures that contend with them in multiplely divided societies. Consequently, today what is produced and how is usually decided by owners or shareholders seeking profit who generally have the last word over how to deploy new technologies to maximise output. There is not therefore a simple exponential development ever onward and upward but a series of crises of overproduction and speculation leading from boom to bust. So the logic of cultural evolution is not identical to that of biological evolution with ‘memes’ supplanting genes. ‘Biology provides no substitute for a comprehensive historical analysis,’ Laland concedes in conclusion (314) but then asserts ‘Human culture is indeed amenable to evolutionary analysis’ (320). This is not the usual evo-devo but is just as reductive in its own way.

Despite all the exemplary reference to inter- and cross-disciplinary archaeological studies, mathematical modelling and artistic collaborations that Laland details, his frame remains one of science narrowly conceived and not extended to even the possibility of a social science. In what calls itself a University (St. Andrews) this is bizarre; especially in an epoch – which Laland labels the ‘anthropocene’ (more precisely the ‘capitalocene’) – requiring sustainable development to preserve what is left of the ‘endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful’, whose origin Darwin had delineated but which humanity, as the one species self-consciously aware of its own existence, is in danger of destroying along with itself. The violent origin of civilisation emphasised by Engels but neglected by Laland explains the self-inflicted intra-species mass violence, again often claimed to uniquely mark humanity. In the ‘more or less subdued civil war’ within class societies – not the unity Laland supposes – this unconscious legacy is augmented by the symbolic violence of culture. This reinforces whilst simultaneously occluding through its religious and other ideological forms the root violence of class and gender oppressions. Violence is also amplified by technology, especially when inflicted by one people upon another in imperial conquest. However, from the natural scientific perspective which Laland maintains, ‘The Evolution of Intelligence’ celebrated in Chapter Six as ‘the ability of an animal to solve problems, comprehend complex ideas, and learn quickly’ (125), appears less of an achievement and more of a possibly lethal mutation.

7 September 2017
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Unpacking BJP’s Hegemony and the Need for a New Left Narrative in India-Anup Kumar

Posted by admin On October - 15 - 2017 Comments Off on Unpacking BJP’s Hegemony and the Need for a New Left Narrative in India-Anup Kumar


(Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres decked up a statue of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, with saffron flags and a portrait of Chatrapati Shivaji, during a dharna in Tirupati on November 10, 2010. File photo: K.V. Poornachandra Kumar)
India under the Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a new hegemony of the Right, which is attempting to replace a Left-leaning dominant narrative. What is being contested in this ideological sparring is the manner in which India was conceived and shaped by its founders.
In this article, Anup Kumar, Associate Professor in Communication, Cleveland State University, U.S., draws on Stuart Hall’s famous explication of Thatcherism to understand Modi-ism. Hall’s essay was simultaneously an explication of a political conjuncture as a crisis, and a call for action. Hall called for forging of a new left modernity in the face of authoritarian populism. This article argues that that in this political conjuncture dominated by the Right, as represented by hegemonic articulation of Modi-ism, India needs a new Left politics that can foster a counter-hegemony of its own. It suggests that way forward is an alternative vision of progressive nationalism.
In India and world over, it seems as if the Left1 is on the retreat. Today the Right is more visible as the principal actor at the grassroots and in the media. This politics of the Right is shaped by contradictory forces of individual aspirations and resentments rooted in social antagonism of race, caste, and religion. In his new book2, Lord Meghnad Desai has taken this ascendance of the Right as evidence of collapsed and collapsing “liberal order.” By liberal order Desai means a “ruling hegemony of ideas and attitudes” favouring social inclusion, market driven globalisation, and cosmopolitanism that consolidated itself in a post-1989 world. I am tempted to say, not so fast Lord Desai! For example, look at how the aspirational politics is faltering under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a groundswell of opposition seems to be gathering in the country to his economic, cultural, and social policies.
To restore politics on an even keel soon, the Left needs a new plan for reinvigoration and resurgence. Any backlash to the ugly manifestations of nationalist politics of the Right on the streets may help. However, this by itself will not restore the liberal order.
Yet, we cannot gloss over the fact that we are at a political conjuncture in which a new hegemony 3 of the Right is attempting, if it has not already, to replace the old hegemony of the Left. To restore politics on an even keel soon, the Left needs a new plan for reinvigoration and resurgence. Any backlash to the ugly manifestations of nationalist politics of the Right on the streets may help. However, this by itself will not restore the liberal order.
The first step is to acknowledge that we did not arrive at this conjuncture through the course of a single election campaign in India or elsewhere in the world. In India, the Right, since the early 1990s, was chipping-away at the old hegemony carefully constructed by the “Congress System” 4 and the Left-leaning civil society including media, academia, unions, and NGOs. The Right was exploiting the seeming hypocrisy in the praxes of ruling elites that arose from contradictions between politics of exploiting social difference for electoral purposes and the ennobling goal of social democracy. The new Left must first recognise that the material conditions that supported the old hegemony, represented by the Congress System in India, have all but disappeared.
In 2014, we were reluctant to accept that a paradigm shift was happening in real time when the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha election 5 . Lately, many astute observers of Indian politics have suggested that it was looking like Narendra Modi-led BJP’s grip on power is here to stay. In politics, long-term forecasting of fortunes of any political party is dangerous. And surely, political winds will blow in the other direction as well. As no political conjuncture is permanent.
Yes, the BJP’s electoral success is still nowhere near what the Congress had in its heydays. There have been a few significant electoral reversals for the BJP as well. Then the percentage of votes polled by the BJP, excluding the NDA, in the last general election hovered around one-third. All this may seem comforting. However, it would be overly optimistic reading of how the vote-share pans out in a multi-cornered contest in the first-past-the-post system. After witnessing how the BJP crafted a new social coalition 6 in the Uttar Pradesh and then weaned away Nitish Kumar’s party back into its fold, it would be difficult to say how a joint opposition, a new maha-gatbandhan, would fare in a bipolar contest with the Modi-led BJP. Moreover, merely forging a pre-election coalition will not be enough. It will help. So will the setback to the economy that seems to be floundering following the botched-up implementation of demonetisation and rickety start of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The economic decline has already shattered the myth of Modinomics. Running the Indian economy is not the same as running the economy of Gujrat. However, the central task in mounting a challenge to the ascendant Right for the Left, including the liberal civil society, is first and foremost cognitive.
To perform this cognitive task, I suggest we must go back and learn from a similar conjuncture in the 1980s in the U.K. and the U.S. Desai and others have often stressed that Modi-ism shares a striking parallel with the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively 7 . The parallels are not only in a popular yearning for a strong leader. It is more than that. For the Left, the lessons are on understanding the hegemonic articulation 8 of Thatcherism and Reaganism, and how not to contest it, like new Labour and new Democrats did respectively.
To unpack Modi-ism and hard realities that the Left must confront on its path towards a renewal, I would like to draw attention to Stuart Hall’s insightful essay that explains the political conjuncture represented by Thatcherism and the return of the Right in the U.K. Hall’s essay was simultaneously an explication of a political conjuncture as a crisis, and a call for action. Hall called for the forging of a new left modernity in the face of authoritarian populism 9 .
Thatcherism/Modi-ism and regressive modernisation
Drawing on Antonio Gramsci, Hall had reminded his fellow Leftists to attend “to the specificity of historical conjecture: how different forces come together, conjecturally, too, to create a new terrain, on which a different politics must form up. That is the intuition that Gramsci offers us about the nature of political life, from which we can take a lead.” 10 Hall argued that the crisis faced by the Left, in Britain, was rooted in its failure to see that Thatcherism was a political project, not just a power grab, which was in the making for a long time. It was chipping-away on the compromise arrived at between the Keynesian welfare state and neo-liberalism after the World War II. In Thatcherism, British conservatism was produced and reproduced via the neo-liberal and monetarist revolutions.
Similarly, in Modi-ism conservatism of Hindutva is being produced and reproduced in the moralism of crusade against black money, Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, Aadhaar, Demonetisation, and the GST. In its articulation, Modi-ism, on the one hand, is deploying symbols of patriotism that retroactively hold together aspirations for economic transformation and rejuvenation of national political community, whereas, on the other hand, Modi-ism is using resentment bred by the Hindutva Movement to carve out a new social imagination that is exclusionary of Muslims. This may seem confounding. Again, reading Hall, one is reminded of the Indian Left’s predicament. Hall writes:
“It [Thatcherism] is a project—this confuses the Left no end—which is simultaneously regressive and progressive… the idea that the best the future holds is for them to become, for a second time, ‘Eminent Victorians’. It’s deeply regressive, ancient and archaic.… But don’t misunderstand it. It’s also a project of ‘modernisation’. It is a form regressive modernisation. Because, at the same time, Thatcherism had its beady eye fixed on one of the most profound historical facts about the British social formation: that it never properly entered the era of modern bourgeois civilisation. It never made that transfer to modernity. It never institutionalised, in proper sense, the civilisation and structures of advanced capitalism—what Gramsci called ‘Fordism’. It never transformed its old industrial and political structure.” 11
The disparate political issues that constitute the regressive and progressive strands are held together by sentiments of imagined “former glories” 12 of the empire and symbols of authentic British-ness. The political project of Thatcherism was draped in the Union Jack 13 .
The historical project of Modi-ism is to dismantle the Nehruvian postcolonial state and replace it with a new state that hybridises the imagination of the sacred geography symbolised by ‘Bharat’ with the neoliberal forces of the market.
The historical project of Modi-ism is to dismantle the Nehruvian postcolonial state and replace it with a new state that hybridises the imagination of the sacred geography symbolised by ‘Bharat’ with the neoliberal forces of the market. For Modi-ism too the memory of the former glories comes from the deep past. And like Thatcherism, Modi-ism is deeply conservative in its ethos, yet seemingly liberal in terms of the faith it has placed on economic forces of the market and hegemonic developmentalism. Alluding to new hegemony of Modi-ism, Faisal Devji suggests that we see it as an illusion of universalising identity -free politics of development and nationalism in the context of federalism where exploitation of social difference is reserved for “regional arenas” 14 .
The late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who had also served as the U.S. ambassador to India, described politics of free markets as an “innocent fraud” on the very people governments claim to help. “It is innocent because most who employ it are without conscious guilt… It is a fraud because it is quietly in the service of special interest,” wrote Galbraith 15 . Modi-ism as a hegemonic project calls upon the plebs to suspend their fears of its deeply conservative and divisive roots and keep focus on fruits of development that the mind of market will make equally accessible to all (sabka saath, sabka vikas). The most disastrous consequence of market driven developmentalism is reflected in the euphemistic reference to ‘ease of doing business’. This reliance on the market has been concentrating wealth and income at the top and transforming the hinterland into a wasteland. Ironically, the developmentalism is having a devastating effect on the ecology of the sacred geography of Bharat that seems to have attracted foot soldiers for Modi-ism outside the Hindutva cadre.
Moreover, on closer examination, even the seemingly progressive strands of Modi-ism too are tainted by regressive forces of Hindutva represented by ugly majoritarianism marked by gau-rakshak vigilantism. Once again, to seek insight into the above discussed contradictory and confounding characteristics of Modi-ism, a close reading of Hall will be helpful. Hall writes:
“We are perplexed by the contradictory nature of Thatcherism. In our intellectual way, we think that the world will collapse as the result of a logical contradiction: this is the illusion of the intellectual—that ideology must be coherent, every bit of it fitting together, like a philosophical investigation. When, in fact, the whole purpose of what Gramsci called an organic (i.e. historically effective) ideology is that it articulates into a configuration [of] different subjects, different identities, different projects, different aspirations. It does not reflect, it constructs a ‘unity’ out of difference.” 16
So, it is not surprising to see that, like the Left was paralysed in the face of Thatcherism, the Left in India is stuck within its own anachronistic categories. The readily available analytical construct, which is popular in the press commentary, to counter the nationalist articulation of the BJP is the “idea of India”. Use of the “idea of India” 17 as a metaphor to question Modi-ism is understandable, but more likely a convenient one as the idea has been a dominant doxa of Nehruvian liberalism. But the problem is that in praxes—the idea that was articulated through an idealised reading of western categories of modernity and enlightenment—liberals have been selling the idea short, of its core idealism, for now almost two hundred years 18 .
Like Thatcherism, Modi-ism thrives on images of Bharat/authentic Indian-ness and not a fine print of policies.
That said, an important hint from Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism is that a large plurality of Indians has been voting for Modi-led BJP, not because their lives are getting better, but because his message resonates with aspirational collective identity and self-worth. For example, despite having gone through the misery of the standing in queues for hours to change old currency to new ones the people of Uttar Pradesh voted for the BJP with a thumping majority. Like Thatcherism, Modi-ism thrives on images of Bharat/authentic Indian-ness and not a fine print of policies. The imagination of India as a national political community gives hope to escape the drudgery of endless political fragmentation, including the fragmentation of Hindu social imaginary. And Hall would have argued, Modi-ism “addresses the fears, the anxieties, the lost identities, of a people… has dominated that idiom, while the Left forlornly tries to drag the conversation round to ‘our policies’” 19 .
Counter-hegemony of progressive nationalism
The truth that we do not hear often in liberal circles is that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the principal actor, and he is backed by a strong plurality of Indians who are willing to accept his leadership. Additionally, the BJP has been successful in framing the political opposition as reacting to his agenda without offering a new politics. In this the first step is to call out the ‘innocent fraud” in developmentalism, which was recently compellingly symbolised in the media meme vikas gando thayo che (Development has gone crazy). But a mere meme will not be enough. What is needed is an alternative vision that resonates with public aspirations and inherent progressive values of ordinary people. The new hegemony that the Right has built using idioms, symbols and images of regressive nationalism can only be challenged by a counter-hegemony of progressive nationalism.
For social production of a counter-hegemony, the Left must re-learn Antonio Gramsci’s lessons for modern politics on manoeuvring and tactical resistance in the war of movement and war of position respectively 20 . As the war of position is being fought by intellectuals and academics on university campuses and in the field of knowledge production, politicians and civil society must engage in war of movement in the political filed, at the grassroots, in the media including social media.
If the Left is recalcitrant to give up the old theory of the case, despite noticing that it is not working in practice, then there isn’t much hope but to wait until 2024. To mount a counter-hegemony the Left must appreciate positive appeal of nationalism and articulate a progressive version of paying homage to the gods of the polis. Intellectual production requires denial of the gods of the polis 21 , but for a politician denial of nationalism is a luxury that she cannot afford.
This brings me to the relative success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP’s victory in Delhi and performance in Punjab were central to whatever little reinvigoration we saw in the Left, or to be precise a new Left. The Kejriwal-led AAP came out of a populist andolan that had an anti-establishment political idiom, yet projected itself as nationalist. The Jan Lokpal Andolan used metaphors and symbols such as “bharat mata” and “tiranga” to establish equivalence among seemingly contradictory motivations of its supporters who cut across social difference 22 . Patriotic nationalism was the glue that tied together disparate ideas in Kejriwal’s manifesto of Swaraj 23 . Although, since coming to power, the AAP under the leadership of Kejriwal decided to confront the nationalist appeal of Modi with crude tactics. The BJP was successful in spinning AAP’s crude handling of nationalism as self-flagellation on the issue of national security.
The Left has failed to appreciate the power of patriotic national imagination to move people, especially when articulated in opposition to a politically antagonistic frontier. Nationalism gives a sense of protection to ordinary people, from even the imperfect apparatuses of the nation-state, when they are faced with the tyranny of a local oppression. The complex link between socio-economic deprivation and historic legacy of local alienation is often lost in the public debate.
The Left needs to produce its own new hegemonic articulation that retroactively holds together the disparate demands and aspirations of the people with collective identity, while simultaneously responding with a fresh insight to overcome old social antagonisms in body politic. For this it needs an idiom that on the one hand respects the nationalism of patriotic masses, and on the other hand, offers an alternative to the innocent fraud of developmentalism offered by Modi-led BJP.
The lesson of the twentieth century has been that politics of the Left that does not hybridise pluralism with national imagination is doomed for failure.
So, to overcome the present paralysis in responding to the political conjuncture represented by Modi-ism, the Left must act, and not only react, with an alternative political vision that presents the national political community that is based on reconfiguring of an inclusive social imagination and avoiding clichéd odes to fragments. The lesson of the twentieth century has been that politics of the Left that does not hybridise pluralism with national imagination is doomed for failure. The Left politician should leave the job of critiquing and dismantling of nationalism as an ideology to intellectuals and academics teaching critical political theory. Modern politics works within the confines of nation-states; as political parties they are in the business of nationalism.
To conclude, progressive nationalism will be central in mounting a counter-hegemony to the hegemony of Modi-ism in the next general election of 2019.
Notes and references:
[All URLs were last accessed on October 05, 2017].
1.^ The Left and the Right are imprecise concepts. Hence, here I will be using the Left as a catchall placeholder for favourable political attitudes on the need for pluralism and social justice. As a corollary, the Right privileges a unitary view of a national community with the faith in the market to distribute income fairly. For our purpose, here, I especially call upon readers to bracket political attitudes on individual liberty because as ideological coalitions neither the Left nor the Right care much for freedom of an individual to dissent. Return to Text.
2.^ Lord Meghand Desai, Politicshock: Trump, Modi, Brexit and the Prospect for Liberal Democracy, New Delhi: Rupa Publications, 2017. Return to Text.
3.^ Hegemony is about articulating legitimacy of a political ideology with the consent of the dominated. Hegemony works through consensual means that foster intellectual and moral leadership. Antonio Gramsci’s in his seemingly counterintuitive reflections on the failure of the “proletarian moment” in Italy (and Western Europe) showed how the anti-fascist political forces had failed to create a new hegemony to counter the old hegemony of the Italian state. See, Antonio Gramsci, (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York, NY: International Publishers, 1971. For a philological analysis of “hegemony” in political theory and history see Perry Anderson, The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony, London: Verso Bo0oks, 2017. Return to Text.
4.^ Kothari, R. 1964. “The Congress ‘System’ in India”, Asian Survey, December, Vol. 4, No. 12, pp. 1161-1173. Return to Text.
5.^ Kumar, A. 2014. “Modi-wave or Modi-hype: A Paradigm Shift in Indian Democracy?”, The Hindu Center for Politics and Public Policy, April 22. Return to Text.
6.^ Farooqui, A. and Sreedharan, E. 2017. “Failure of pre-election of coalition: Uttar Pradesh Elections 2017”, Economic & Political Weekly, April 15, Vol. 52, No. 15. Return to Text.
7.^ Das,G. 2014. “Modi Needs to Give India Its Thatcher Moment”, The Financial Times, May 18. Return to Text.
8.^ “Articulation is an important concept in discursive approaches in social sciences that explores how meaning is produced in a chain of signification (Kumar 2014).” See Anup Kumar, “Looking Back at Obama’s Campaign in 2008: ‘True Blue Populist’ and Social Production of Empty Signifier in Political Reporting”, Journal of Communication Inquiry 38(1), 2014, 5-24. Also see Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart, Laclau: A critical reader, London, U.K.: Routledge, 2004. Return to Text.
9.^ Hall, S. 1988. “The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left”, London, U.K.: Verso Books, November. Return to Text.
10.^ Hall, ibid, p. 163. Return to Text.
11.^ Hall, ibid, p. 164. Return to Text.
12.^ In the case of the Modi-ism these actual and imagined former glories are in the pre-colonial past. Return to Text.
13.^ The British Left responded to Thatcherism by either trying to recover a proletarian moment without realising that the terrain had changed or by hybridising Keynesianism with neo-liberal economics and British militarism that gave birth to the politics of the Third Way represented by Tony Blair. This led to resurgence of the Left only in the name. Today the Left in Britain is once again faced with a situation where it must counter the nationalism of Brexit, while at the same time fight the neoliberal economic orthodoxy of the European Union. James Corbyn-led Labour Party seems to have lost its way while articulating support for progressive Europe and criticising the neoliberalism of Brussels. There are lessons for the Indian Left here too. Return to Text.
14.^ Devji, F. 2016. “The Rediscovery of India in Making Sense of Modi’s India”, New Delhi: Harper Collins (ebook). Return to Text.
15.^ Galbraith, J.K. 2006. “Free Market Fraud”, Progressive Magazine, April 12. Also see, Galbraith, J.K. 2004. Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth of Our Times. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Return to Text.
16.^ Hall, ibid, p. 166. Return to Text.
17.^ Guha, R. 2011. “The Enemies of the Idea of India”, (ebook/Winklets: Visions through Versions). Kottayam: D.C. Books, December 15. Return to Text.
18.^ Mishra, P. 2017. “Age of Anger: A History of the Present”, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York. Return to Text.
19.^ Hall, ibid, p. 167. Return to Text.
20.^ Gramsci, ibid, pp. 230-43. Return to Text.
21.^ Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss on Plato’s Symposium (Ed. Seth Benardete), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Return to Text.
22.^ Kumar, A. 2014. “Vernacular Publics, News Media and the Jan Lokpal Andolan” in Taberez Ahmed Neyazi, Akio Tanabe, Shinya Ishizaka, eds., Democratic Transformation and the Vernacular Publics in India. London: Routledge (Routledge Series on New Horizons in South Asian Studies), pp. 95-112. Return to Text.
23.^ Kejriwal, A. 2011. Swaraj (Hindi). New Delhi: Harper Collins. Return to Text.
(Anup Kumar teaches communication at School of Communication, Cleveland State University, and is the author of “The Making of a Small State: Populist Social Mobilisation and the Hindi Press in the Uttarakhand Movement”.)
E-mail: a.kumar64@csuohio.edu
Share31 4
Appreciate Mr. Anup Kumar’s perspective. A few thoughts that arose as I read the article: Opinion based narratives have become the norm in post truth societies. Mr. Modi and his body politic have used well-articulated opinions and stoic silence to shape the minds of the individuals. Others are reduced to reactive utterances, effectively conceding Mr. Modi’s hegemony. This put Mr. Modi on a higher pedestal as an undefeatable crusader. Clever positioning of Mr. Modi as a humble Chaiwala to humble PM, reiterated often, connects well with common man. Mistakes are transferred or rationalised. More than ideological orientation, existential realities pushed people to empathise with Modi-ism. Conferring right wing party status to reluctant BJP has given ideological sanctity to its loose mix of nationalism, conservatism, majoritarianism, and utilitarianism. Hopefully, there will be an alternative narrative for common man, who is oblivious to ideological discourse. Just the politics of it.
from:  A. Xavier Raj
Posted on: Oct 9, 2017 at 21:37 IST
Left’s core ideology is not indigenous and organic and though left are patriotic their narrative can never be
compatible with Indian nationalism as left prefers in wiping out the diversity and build a pseudo equality and
homogenization of the masses by selective appeasement of minorities instead of working on everybodies
success in a nation. Time and again such endeavor in history has only brought bloodshed and down fall of a
Nation. Pot pol, Mao, Stalin are to name a few. For the liberal left everything from traditional value is either
superstition or stupidity and this treatment of such values are only done on Hindu values. Any other value
system is not treated the same way in the name of secularism and little do they understand India is not just
secular but also plural and mutual respect is important. The western citations the author provides here
clearly shows he has missed what he claims left is missing I.e come up with your own treatment rather than
comparing Tacherism etc .
from:  Senthil
Posted on: Oct 6, 2017 at 21:55 IST
Dear Mr. Kumar,
You reduce a longstanding, complex and historical issue to the usual binary of Left-Right politics. In doing so, you do away with the rainbow of political positions which a person can opt for while analyzing this issue. The analysis glosses over the realities of our nation. It is no longer the nation with a moderate sized aristocracy and a huge mass of illiterate and malnourished people. It has morphed into a nation with a very sizeable middle class. It has the ability to call a spade as one when it does see one.
from:  Avishek Deb
Posted on: Oct 6, 2017 at 00:10 IST
Thank you for writing this. Along with the processes you describe that developed in the 1990s there’s something else; an increasing boldness in formalising, bringing to the surface and ‘partifying’ business practices that have their own politics which till lately may have diverged from party politics. I’m thinking of the long and distinguished history of lobbies in particular (see Stanley Kochanek, lately Chirashree DasGupta); sometimes affecting formal policy (see also Karuna’s work on the labour laws and factories Acts which shows just how deliberate was the creation of the informal economy); more often affecting how policy was implemented – ignoring, capturing, sabotaging. Such policies are now being formalised (see the SEZs literature). In that sense what’s interesting about liberalisation is not so much the kink point but the continuities. Its the increasing boldness of the interests involved that’s new rather than the regulations.
Posted on: Oct 5, 2017 at 15:54 IST
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Is IS actually bad? UnIslamic?-Pervez Hoodbhoy

Posted by admin On October - 15 - 2017 Comments Off on Is IS actually bad? UnIslamic?-Pervez Hoodbhoy


(The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.)
PAKISTAN’S military and government have proscribed the militant Islamic State (IS, aka Daesh) group and declared it an enemy organisation. They have never explained why. Of course, IS’s atrocities — which include beheadings, crucifixions, suicide bombings, and intimidation of civilians in captured territories — have been condemned by many. It is also a fact that IS has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. But is IS to be faulted for bad tactics or is its goal to create an Islamic state in Pakistan itself wrong? Should attempts to make a global caliphate be condemned or, instead, assisted?

Our generals and politicians would rather bomb IS than argue logically against it because they know IS’s stated goal resonates with millions of ordinary Pakistanis. Through its internet machinery, IS declares it will establish God’s principality (mumlikat-i-khudadad) headed by a righteous caliph who would govern by God’s law. For this to happen territory must be seized and secured, idolatry and heresy eliminated, and the immoral mixing of men and women stopped. This is sweet music to many Pakistani ears.

IS literature claims that Muslims can properly practise their faith only in an Islamic state. This also resonates perfectly. The leader of Kashmiri separatists and a member of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, put it succinctly: “It’s as difficult for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim society as it is for a fish to live out of the water.”

More support comes from Allama Iqbal, Pakistan’s celebrated poet-philosopher who declared that the ultimate goal of Muslims is to create a caliphate. In his influential 1934 lectures The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal said: “In order to create a really effective political unity of Islam, all Muslim countries must first become independent: and then in their totality they should range themselves under one caliph. Is such a thing possible at the present moment? If not today, one must wait.”

Pakistan’s generals and politicians would rather bomb IS than argue logically against it.

With such a powerful voice advocating the caliphate as an eventual goal, should one then accept IS’s vision as authentically Islamic? Does IS genuinely represent Muslim thought and Muslim aspirations today? For two strong reasons — the ones that generals and politicians fail to articulate — I think not.

First, IS claims its legitimacy through Islam. But this is futile. IS’s takfiri Islam is definitely not mainstream Islam. This one particular strain must be contrasted against countless gentler, differently reasoned, more humane forms that reject IS’s harsh interpretations. To say which one of these is the truer Islam is irresolvable since Islam does not have a central authority like the pope.

But IS wants ‘purification’ and so those Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims who disagree with its version have been declared apostates, stoned, killed, and had their hands and feet cut off. Like the Afghan Taliban, IS delights in destroying humanity’s common heritage. It despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. Even if some Muslims agree with IS’s deeds, most reject them.

Second, IS’s claim that Islam insists upon a caliphate is not supported by the Holy Quran. Every Islamic scholar has to agree that the Quran does not mention a territorial Islamic state. In fact, there is no word for a territorial state in classical Arabic. That which comes closest today is dawlah but this word acquired its current meaning well after the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, when the European concept of a geographically defined nation-state was born.

Islam’s greatest sociologist and political scientist, Ibn-i-Khaldun (1332-1406), had emphatically rejected the concept of an Islamic state and opposed using religion in politics. Others such as al-Mawardi (earlier) and Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi (later) thought otherwise, but all agree that the holy texts are not governance manuals.

Quarrels among scholars would have been stilled if the Quran or hadith had defined even the broad outlines of statehood. However these texts provide no hint of an executive or of government ministries. How should administrative units be determined, and the police or army organised. Would there be jails?

Most tellingly, the holy texts leave us guessing on how an Islamic state’s ruler is to be chosen and what might be legitimate cause for his removal. To this day there are furious disagreements as to whether Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did or did not specify his successor — or even a procedure for determining one. This created an enduring schism on how to select the next leaders of the faithful. So, for example, is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi acceptable as the present caliph or should it be someone else?

There can surely be hugely different opinions on religious and political matters, including whether a caliphate is desirable or possible in a globalised world. These are tolerable, arguable differences. But what Pakistan absolutely must not tolerate is messianic radicalism that encourages the killing of innocents after labelling them kafirs. Whether a group is anti-Pakistan (IS, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), or pro-Pakistan (Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad) is irrelevant. Every group that calls for violence against civilians inside or outside national borders should be banned. A victory of religious fanatics would ensure limitless suffering and the destruction of every Muslim society on this planet.

So far ideologically unchallenged, IS is now fast increasing its presence across Pakistan and particularly in Balochistan. Even as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria, its propaganda units are trying to create new generations of religious extremists, much as they have done in Europe. Decrying IS as a rogue movement is insufficient to reverse this trend. It is also futile to claim that IS has nothing to do with Islam because its leadership carefully quotes supportive holy doctrines to justify every major atrocity. Therefore IS must first be defeated on ideological grounds — military action can come later if necessary.

Counter narratives to radicalisation do exist within the Islamic paradigm. A meeting of ulema called by the National Counter Terrorism Authority that I attended earlier this year cogently argued that radical takfiri groups depart from Islamic tradition and that their interpretation of Islamic sources is incorrect. But these wise recommendations, like many before them, have met obscurity. No Pakistani civil or military leader of significance has had the courage to endorse or own them. Extremism can breed rapidly in this climate.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2017


Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

The Chimes at Midnight: Trotskyism in the USSR 1926-1938-Doug Enaa Greene

Posted by admin On October - 15 - 2017 Comments Off on The Chimes at Midnight: Trotskyism in the USSR 1926-1938-Doug Enaa Greene

To the memory of my grandparents, Dorothy and Charlie, who probably wouldn’t have approved of the content of this essay, but hopefully I still made them proud
I. Midnight in the Century

October 13, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — In Victor Serge’s novel, Midnight in the Century, set in the 1930s, two members of the Trotskyist Opposition ponder their fate in exile. The Russian Revolution has seemingly grown cold both at home and abroad. There appears to be little hope of a thaw. When reflecting on this moment, one of exile asks: “What’s to be done if it’s midnight in the century?” To which the other responds: “Midnight’s where we have to live then.”[1] And despite the fact that they ultimately lost, through a combination of unfavorable objective circumstances, their own mistakes and poor strategy, the Trotskyist Opposition[2] managed to fight on against impossible odds for a renewal of the ideals of the Russian Revolution, internationalism and Soviet democracy.

II. The United Opposition

a. Program of Trotsky and the United Opposition
By late 1926, the inner-party struggle within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was heating up. The previous year, two prominent party leaders, Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, previously supporters of Stalin and Bukharin, then leading the party and country, broke with them. Zinoviev and Kamenev believed that the rich peasants or kulaks in the countryside represented a danger which threatened industrialization and socialist construction. Zinoviev also criticized the theory of socialism in one country, promoted by Stalin and Bukharin stating: “The final victory of socialism is impossible in one country. The victory of the socialist order over the capitalist will be decided on an international scale.”[3] Furthermore, both had grown concerned with the growth of the bureaucratic apparatus within the party that they believed threatened to strangle inner-party democracy. The differences came into the open in September 1925 during a meeting of the Central Committee. Later, at the Fourteenth Party Congress in December, Zinoviev and Kamenev found themselves in a minority and were defeated.

Despite the fact that both Zinoviev and Kamenev had previously been part of the ruling troika and led the charge against “Trotskyism,” they now found it necessary to turn to Trotsky. Ironically, they now found that their criticisms of Party policy overlapped with those of Trotsky and the Left Opposition, who had been defeated in 1925 (signified by Trotsky’s removal from the post of Commissar of War). After several meetings with Zinoviev and Kamenev, Trotsky agreed to join forces with them. As part of the new alliance, Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed to admit that Trotsky was correct in his criticisms of 1923 and that they had fabricated “Trotskyism” to bar Trotsky from power. In return, Trotsky agreed not to defend the theses of “permanent revolution.”[4] The following year, in preparation for the Fifteenth Party Congress, the United Opposition (despite the formal ban on factions) prepared its own platform. It is worth looking at the Platform and some of Trotsky’s proposals to see what program the Opposition envisioned for the USSR. Although the Platform and Trotsky’s ideas were not in full agreement, due to programmatic compromises with Zinoviev and Kamenev, his ideas were clearly reflected in it. The Platform developed ideas which Trotsky had been advocated since the early 1920s, such as the creation of a central economic plan (the section of the Platform dealing with industry was written by Trotsky). While the NEP had restored Russian agriculture to its prewar level, industry had lagged behind. This caused conflict between industry and agriculture, which manifested itself in the “scissors crisis” where the peasants, who produced a great deal of grain, could only sell to the towns at high prices due to the backwardness of industry. To solve this problem, and maintain the worker-peasant alliance (or smychka), Trotsky argued that industry needed to adapt itself to the needs of the peasantry by reducing production costs and increasing labor productivity. All of this required a central plan and industrialization.[5] However, Trotsky and the Opposition warned that without the development of industry, crisis loomed in the Soviet Union, principally from the kulaks: “The smychka is threatened at this moment by the lag in industry, on the one hand, and by the growth of the kulak, on the other.”[6] Class differentiation in the countryside threatened to grow acute if it was not managed. Although there were dangers that came from rapid industrialization, there were even greater dangers that could result if nothing was done. To finance his industrialization plan, Trotsky realized that the peasantry (and the proletariat) needed to be taxed. Trotsky also argued that the USSR could not develop its economy in isolation from the rest of the world, but needed to foster proper foreign trade relations with the capitalist west. According to Richard Day, in his studies of Trotsky’s economic proposals of the 1920s, Trotsky’s plan involved a system of comparative coefficients

which would compare the efficiency of Soviet production in terms of price and quality with that of other countries. These coefficients would then serve as a guide to both to the import plan and new investments. Domestic production would be rationalized and standardized in order to lengthen runs and reduce costs. In the meantime he urged that ‘commodity intervention’ be undertaken in those areas where the coefficient was least satisfactory. Inexpensive foreign goods were to be sold in the Soviet market the profits being uses to subsidize retail prices of the corresponding domestic commodity. The proposal for commodity intervention was designed to provide a short-run solution to the scissors. Trotsky’s longer-run intention was to use the grain thus brought to market in order to finance the import of new industrial equipment.”[7]

Thus, Trotsky argued that the Soviet Union could begin the construction of socialism (although could not complete it) by developing links with the world economy as opposed to isolation. The Platform of the Joint Opposition did not have a plan for the whole-scale collectivization of agriculture (although they wanted to encourage collective farms), but they understood that small-scale farming would continue to exist for the foreseeable future until the appropriate material base had been created for it: “The growth of land-renting must be offset by a more rapid development of collective farming. It is necessary systematically and from year to year to subsidize largely the efforts of the poor peasants to organize in collectives. At the same time, we must give more systematic help to poor peasants not included in the collectives, by freeing them entirely from taxation, by a corresponding land policy, by credits for agricultural implements, and by bringing them into the agricultural co-operatives.”[8] The Opposition envisioned gradualism and strictly voluntary measures in the development of cooperatives for agriculture: “A successful co-operative structure is conceivable only upon condition of a maximum activity by the co-operating population. A true union of the co-operatives with large-scale industry and the proletarian state assumes a normal regime in the co-operative organizations, excluding bureaucratic methods of regulation.”[9] The kulaks were not to be expropriated, but they were to be heavily taxed.

However, Trotsky did not believe that the proletariat would respond to this plan unless their standards of living were raised. “The decisive factor in appraising the movement of our country forward along the road of socialist reconstruction, must be the growth of our productive forces and the dominance of the socialist elements over the capitalist — together with an improvement of all the conditions of existence of the working class.”[10] By raising the living conditions of the workers, and through the expansion of industry, the weight of the proletariat in Soviet society would be increased. The development of industry (and culture) would ultimately free the proletariat from the shackles of feudalism, making them fit to rule. Therefore, bureaucracy needed to be reduced and the workers needed to be in firm control of the Soviets, trade unions and the Party:

(1) To adopt a firm policy of struggle with officialism to wage this struggle as Lenin would, on the basis of a real fight to check the exploiting tendencies of the new bourgeoisie and the kulaks, by way of a consistent development of workers democracy in the party, the trade unions, and the Soviets. (2) To apply the slogan of bringing the worker, the farm-hand, the poor peasant and the middle peasant against the kulak into close contact with the State, and unconditionally subordinating the State apparatus to the essential interests of the toiling masses. (3) As the basis for reviving the Soviets, to heighten the class activity of the workers, farm-hands, and poor and middle peasants. (4) To convert the town Soviets into real organs of proletarian power and instruments for drawing the broad mass of the working people into the task of administering socialist construction to realize, not in words but in deeds, the control of the town Soviets over the work of the regional executive Committees Platform of the Joint Opposition-Chapter 5: The Soviets and the organs subject to these committees. (5) To put a complete stop to the removal of elected Soviet officials, except in case of real and absolute necessity, in which cases the causes should be made clear to the electors. (6) We must bring it about that the most backward unskilled worker and the most ignorant peasant woman are convinced by experience that in any state institution whatever they will find attention, counsel, and all possible support.[11]

The Platform pointed out some of the noxious effects from the growth of bureaucracy and changes in the make-up of the Party, demanding changes: “Not only have careerism, bureaucratism and inequality grown in the party in recent years, but muddy streams from alien and class-hostile sources are flowing into it for example, anti-Semitism. The mere self-preservation of the party demands a merciless struggle against such defilement.”[12] The Joint Opposition stressed the necessity of a single party and the need for strengthening that party: “We will struggle with all our force against the formation of two parties, for the dictatorship of the proletariat demands as its very core a single proletarian party. It demands a single party. It demands a proletarian party that is, a party whose policy is determined by the interests of the proletariat and carried out by a proletarian nucleus.”[13]

The international section of the platform, written by Zinoviev, does not include a defense of permanent revolution (since Trotsky had renounced it); rather it deals with Comintern policy in China and Britain. According to Trotsky’s later remarks, “In the Platform, the question of the Chinese revolution is dealt with very insufficiently, incompletely, and in part positively falsely by Zinoviev.”[14]

Trotsky’s ideas and those of the Platform of the Joint Opposition were not pessimistic about beginning the construction of socialism in the USSR. Nor was a forced march to industrialization projected (that was a smear of Bukharin) or the abolition of NEP at a stroke. Rather, market and plan were to coexist. The NEP was seen as continuing for some time, while the development of industry was encouraged and the poorer peasants were aided by the state along with lower prices from goods and foreign trade that would fill gaps in the Soviet economy. The Party and state were to be democratized. The USSR could not build socialism in isolation, but it could begin that process, but ultimately they needed the aid of revolutions from abroad.

b. An Alternative?
Richard Day has postulated that if Trotsky’s proposals had been implemented as early as 1925-6, then “the final collapse of the smychka and forced collectivization might not have occurred. There can be little doubt that the principal error of the party leadership was to commit excessive resources to heavy industry during the period of goods famine.”[15] However, the policy of import-dependency would have run into difficulties with the onset of the Great Depression when the conditions of trade turned against the USSR.[16] Yet socialist historian John Eric Marot argues that Trotsky’s plan was not feasible since the “collapse of grain-exports at the outbreak of World-War One persisted throughout the NEP and cut off the possibility of significant trade relations with the West, as the tsarist state had once enjoyed; trade-relations that had provided late-Imperial Russia the economic wherewithal to industrialize and to enhance its military power. The loss of the Russian market caused barely a ripple in the capitalist economies of Western Europe, let alone America.”[17] In the end, without a marketable surplus and no foreign revolutions to come to their aid, this left the Soviet Union isolated and forced to industrialize only with their own resources.

Marot goes on and says that Trotsky mischaracterized the peasantry as a nascent capitalist class, which meant that he was hostile to the pro-peasant line championed by Nikolai Bukharin,[18] whom he saw as representing capitalist elements among the peasantry. This misunderstanding ultimately led Trotsky to reject any effort to form an alliance with Bukharin and his forces that could have driven Stalin from power. Marot further argues that both Trotsky and Bukharin believed in the myth of growing class differentiation in the countryside and did not see the unity among all strata of the peasantry to defending their way of life. Rather, Marot says that the Trotskyists did not present an alternative to Stalin, but that only Bukharin did because he was “prepared to subordinate the development of the forces of production to the more important goal of preserving the NEP, preserving the smychka, respecting the self-determination of the immediate producers at the point of production, even if this meant not developing the forces of production at all. In contrast, the Left Opposition was not prepared to sacrifice economic development to the political necessities of maintaining the NEP, and ended up, willy-nilly, ‘critically’ supporting what it characterized as Stalin’s ‘left’ turn.”[19]

While it is true that the bulk of the Joint Opposition would later go over to Stalin (as we shall discuss), it is also true that both Trotsky and Bukharin’s programs were concerned with preserving the worker-peasant alliance. Bukharin slandered Trotsky as a super-industrializer and a threat to the peasantry, while Trotsky did not support Bukharin’s embrace of socialism in one country or his slow industrial development strategy.[20] Yet in actuality, there was a certain degree of convergence between Trotsky and Bukharin’s positions on a number of issues. By the late 1920s, Trotsky’s collaborators such as Preobrazhensky were arguing for lower rates of industrial growth while Bukharin seemed to be open to a quicker rate of industrialization and the inevitably of disharmonious growth.[21]

While Trotsky supported the first five year plan and the turn to the left by Stalin, over time he came to see the validity of many of Bukharin’s points about the dangers of prematurely abolishing the NEP and the market, arguing in 1932 that, when Stalin allowed private plots on collective farms, “all around collectivization … extraordinarily lowered the labor incentives available to the peasantry…The answer to this was the legalization of trade. In other words … it was partially necessary to restore the NEP, or the free market, which was abolished too soon and too definitely.”[22] In his 1932 work, The Soviet Economy in Danger, Trotsky said that planning needed to make use of the market:

The innumerable living participants in the economy, state and private, collective and individual, must serve notice of their needs and of their relative strength not only through the statistical determinations of plan commissions but by the direct pressure of supply and demand. The plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market. The regulation of the market itself must depend upon the tendencies that are brought out through its mechanism. The blueprints produced by the departments must demonstrate their economic efficacy through commercial calculation.[23]

So there was a chance, if more time had passed, that a joining could have occurred between the views of Trotsky and Bukharin. Whether Trotsky’s plan or a combination of his ideas with those of Bukharin could have successfully led to the industrial development of the USSR without the immense costs and dislocations that actually occurred is something we will never know. Whoever was in charge of the USSR would have faced the immense task of industrializing in an isolated, largely uneducated and backward country surrounded by hostile capitalist states. And it is one thing to develop a good plan, which Trotsky did, but as Moltke warned, no plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy. Reality always overtakes our plans. As it was, Trotsky and the Joint Opposition did not possess the power to put their ideas into action, since they were soon outmaneuvered, isolated and expelled from the party. It is to that struggle which we now turn.

c. End of the United Opposition
After a lull in activities from 1926-7, the defeat of the Chinese Revolution and the massacre of thousands of workers by Chang Kai-shek breathed life into the now-United Opposition. Eighty-four members of Opposition signed the Declaration of the Eighty Four that condemned the policies of the Comintern (then headed by Bukharin) and the CPSU which had contributed to this disaster. However, neither the Comintern nor the CPSU were willing to face criticism for the failed line. Instead, both Stalin and Bukharin covered up what had happened.[24] The Declaration also connected the failed Comintern line in China with the internal policies of the CPSU and to overcome them, demanded “the revival of democracy within the party and reinforcement of the real, living, and effective links between the party and the working class.”[25] In July 1927, as the danger of war threatened the USSR, Trotsky refused to back down from his criticisms, stating in his famous “Clemenceau Declaration,” that criticism of the Party leadership could serve the needs of defense. The Party leadership denounced Trotsky as a counterrevolutionary, who threatened a coup when the country was under attack. The previous muted Opposition was now going on the attack.

Needless to say, the official leadership of Stalin and Bukharin along with their partisans went on the offensive. According to Victor Serge, a member of the Opposition, their meetings were attacked and broken up with the sanction of the Central Committee.[26] At political meetings, the time given to members of the Opposition to speak was also limited in contrast to those supporting the leadership. When the Opposition speakers were finally able to speak, they were met with “interruptions and shouts, mingled with insults, would burst out at once: “Traitors! Mensheviks! Tools of the bourgeoisie!”[27] Trotsky and other members of the Opposition thus found themselves unable to speak to cells of workers. In one ugly episode, agitators used anti-Semitic slurs, they “hinted darkly that it was no matter of chance that the leaders of both were Jews-this was, they Suggested, a struggle between native and genuine Russian socialism and aliens who sought to pervert it.”[28] In response, Trotsky wrote an angry leader to Bukharin denouncing the use of anti-Semitic slurs by party activists who operated with impunity. It was unconscionable to Trotsky that a party founded on internationalist principles would resort to such depths. The Party leadership claimed ignorance and the matter was dropped.

By September 1927, the United Opposition had written its Platform in order to present their views to the forthcoming 15th Party Congress. A decisive was taken by the Opposition to reach beyond the Party and spread their program publicly with the masses by collecting signatures in its support and holding meetings to discuss their views (despite official prohibition on them). Things got off to a rocky start when the first printer of the Platform was arrested as an agent of the White General Wrangel. Still, the Opposition managed to get its Platform printed by a state printing press, whose director was also arrested. The print run, according to the Trotskyist historian Pierre Broué, was “thirty thousand copies, according to the Politburo, and 12,000 according to the Opposition, of which the greatest part were seized. Under the cover of a literary work, The Road of the Struggle, by Furmanov, it began to circulate. Zinoviev and Kamenev counted on 20,000 to 30,000 signatures to make Stalin retreat. But after the first thousand progress was slow.”[29]

The adoption of this new strategy meant the Opposition was now breaking Party discipline by reaching out to the workers in their homes and factories. Trotsky describes the atmosphere at these meetings as follows in his autobiography,

In spite of a monstrous terror, the desire to hear the opposition awoke in the party. This could be achieved only by illegal means. Secret meetings were held in various parts of Moscow and Leningrad, attended by workers and students of both sexes, who gathered in groups of from twenty to one hundred and two hundred to hear some representative of the opposition. In one day I would visit two, three, and sometimes four of such meetings. They were usually held in some worker’s apartment. Two small rooms would be packed with people, and the speaker would stand at the door between the two rooms. Sometimes everyone would sit on the floor; more often the discussion had to be carried on stand big, for lack of space. Occasionally representatives of the Control Commission would appear at such meetings and demand that everyone leave. They were invited to take part in the discussion. If they caused any disturbance they were put out. In all, about 20,000 people attended such meetings in Moscow and Leningrad. The number was growing.[30]

For Victor Serge, when the Opposition decided to appeal directly to the masses, this was the return of the Party back to its revolutionary roots, “It was a simple, reassuring sight: the men of the proletarian dictatorship, who had yesterday been the greatest in the land, coming back like this to the districts of the poor, there to seek support from man to man.”[31]

Sympathy for the Opposition was on display at a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets held in October in Leningrad. According to Serge, when Trotsky and Zinoviev were seen on the platform by those present, the “crowd had eyes only for them…. this point the demonstrators made a silent gesture by lingering on the spot, and thousands of hands were outstretched, waving handkerchiefs or caps. It was a dumb acclamation, futile but still overwhelming.”[32] Although Zinoviev was enthusiastic at their reception, Trotsky was more cautious, remembering later that “The working masses of Leningrad demonstrated their dissatisfaction in the form of platonic sympathy for the leaders of the opposition, but they were still unable to prevent the apparatus from making short work of us. On this score I had no illusions.”[33]

The Opposition planned a further demonstration on November 7, which was the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, to present its ideas and slogans before the masses. There were official parades and marches planned in major cities, where the Opposition planned to march in separate contingents and unfurl their own banners with the following slogans “’Strike against the kulak, the N.E.P.-man, and the bureaucrat!’, ‘Down with opportunism!’, ‘Carry out Lenin’s testament!’, ‘Beware of a split in the party!’, ‘Preserve Bolshevik unity!’”[34] Yet the party leadership, according to Trotsky had “learned their lesson in the Leningrad demonstration, and this time their preparations were much more efficient.”[35] When the Opposition marched, they were isolated. In Leningrad, there were “fraternal” clashes between the militia and the demonstrators. The situation in Moscow was different, “the disturbances and fights had a far less ‘good humored’ and ‘comradely’ aspect. Commandos of activists and police struck with cold and swift brutality.”[36]

The events of the day showed that the Opposition was isolated amongst both the Party and the working class. Isaac Deutscher, biographer of Trotsky says of the demonstrators that “they marched obediently along the prescribed routes, shouted the prescribed slogans, and observed mechanically the prescribed discipline, without betraying their thoughts or venting their feelings in a single flash of spontaneity…. 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.”[37] A week later, at an extraordinary meeting of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission decided to expel Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Central Committee for organizing a counterrevolutionary demonstration.

Only two days later, Trotsky’s longtime comrade and fellow oppositionist, Adolfe Joffe, who was gravely ill, committed suicide. In his suicide note, addressed Trotsky, he made the following pertinent observations on his friend’s political weaknesses in comparison to those of Lenin:

I have always believed that you lacked Lenin’s unbending will, his unwillingness to yield, his readiness even to remain alone on the path that he thought right in anticipation of a future majority, of a future recognition by everyone of the rightness of his path. Politically, you were always right, beginning with 1905, and I told you repeatedly that with my own ears 1 had heard Lenin admit that even in 1905, you, and not he, were right. One does not lie before his death, and now I repeat this again to you … But you have often abandoned your rightness for the sake of an overvalued agreement, or compromise. This is a mistake … the guarantee of the victory of your rightness lies in nothing but the extreme unwillingness to yield, the strictest straightforwardness, the absolute rejection of all compromise; in this very thing lay the secret of Lenin’s victories.[38]

Three days later, there was a public procession and funeral for Joffe in Moscow attended by several thousand workers. At the cemetery, Trotsky delivered the eulogy for his friend. This was Trotsky’s last public appearance and speech in the Soviet Union.[39]

In December, the 15th Party Congress convened, and Stalin, speaking for the Party, made it clear what he expected from the Opposition: “The Opposition must surrender unconditionally and totally, both on the political and the organizational level… They must renounce their anti-Bolshevik views, openly and before the whole world. They must denounce the crimes which they have committed against the party, openly and before the whole world.”[40] In his biography of Trotsky, Tony Cliff states that there were no Opposition members among the 1,600 delegates present.[41] The Opposition also issued a new statement, The Statement of the 121, which showed the divided tendencies within their ranks. On the one hand, the Opposition stated that “The unity of the Communist Party is the highest principle in the epoch of the proletarian dictatorship … we have taken the path of factionalism, which at times took extremely sharp forms; and on several occasions we resorted to methods which go against party discipline … There are no programmatic differences between us and the party.” Yet this was contradicted by the following remark: “We are convinced that we express the views of all those who share our ways of thinking who have been expelled from the party, and that, on the basis of this declaration, the party should take the first step toward restoring a normal party life, by readmitting those who have been expelled, releasing from prison those who have been arrested for Oppositional activities, and giving each of us the opportunity to demonstrate the firmness of our resolve by our work in the party.” Yet the whole statement ended with the Opposition declaring that they “have decided to submit to the congress…”[42] The Opposition wanted it both ways, to submit and to fight on. A split was inevitable.

Zinoviev and Kamenev capitulated and renounced their positions, asking to be let back into the Party. They also urged their followers to do likewise. Trotsky had nothing but contempt for their craven behavior and surrender as demonstrated by the following exchange between him and Zinoviev. “Leon Davidovich, the hour has come when we should have the courage to capitulate. . . ” Trotsky: “if that kind of courage were enough, the revolution would have been won all over the world by now…”[43] Zinoviev and Kamenev believed that they could not be right against the party, whereas Trotsky was determined to struggle, even against the party (although he didn’t believe a new party was needed). Zinoviev and Kamenev would eventually be readmitted into the party (only to be expelled several years later), whereas Trotsky and his followers were expelled. In the end, the Fifteenth Congress expelled 75 Oppositionists, followed shortly thereafter with a further 1,500 Oppositionists expelled, but 2,500 signed statements of recantation (mainly Zinovievists).[44]

Despite the fact that the Left Opposition had included in its ranks a number of stellar Marxist theorists and prominent Bolshevik leaders, such as Trotsky, Evgeny Preobrazhensky, Christian Rakovsky, Grigorii Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Karl Radek – they totally failed to capture leadership of the CPSU. The Opposition was small, as Tony Cliff puts it, “even if we accept the highest estimate – 10,000 who voted for the Opposition and 20,000 who were sympathetic – it was still a tiny proportion of all party members. In 1927 the party had 724,000 members.”[45] Secondly, the leaders of the Opposition, such as Trotsky, were ill-suited for inner-party politics and had made a number of tactical blunders going back to the early 1920s. Trotsky also had a repeated habit of striking his opponents at the wrong time. By contrast, Stalin was an exceptionally skilled politician. Trotsky was also hampered by the fact that he was a late-comer to the CPSU (despite playing a predominant role in both the Revolution and Civil War) whereas Stalin had been in the party from the beginning. And Trotsky’s arrogant, administrative and charismatic nature (for some his Jewish roots were also a problem) alienated many party members, who feared that he was a potential Bonaparte whereas Stalin appeared to respect the norms of collective leadership.

Furthermore, the Opposition had no formal leader and was not a united or cohesive movement. As Victor Serge put it: “Our Oppositional movement in Russia had not been Trotskyist, since we had no intention of attaching it to a personality, rebels as we ourselves were against the cult of the Leader. We regarded the Old Man only as one of our greatest comrades, an elder member of the family over whose ideas we argued freely.”[46] The Opposition also tied its own hands in advance, by accepting the 1921 ban on factions and tried to present their own ideas the right Party line (as opposed to the current leadership). The line of “party patriotism” was tortuously described by Trotsky as follows: “Comrades, none of us wants to be or can be right against the party. In the last analysis, the party is always right, because the party is the sole historical instrument that the working class possesses for the solution of its fundamental tasks. I have already said that nothing would be simpler than to say before the party that all these criticisms, all these declarations, warnings, and protests – all were mistaken from beginning to end.”[47] Only in 1927, to a limited degree, did the Opposition agitate outside the Party, and by then it was too late. Lastly, the slogan of “socialism in one country” appeared as a concrete mission for the USSR that appealed to party cadre and workers who were exhausted by years of war and revolution. “Socialism in one country” also seemed to promise that Russia could build socialism and raise the standard of living without the aid of revolutions from the rest of the world. And the cadre of CPSU and the wider population of the USSR had certainly grown receptive to this message as opposed to trusting in the distant prospects of world revolution or the wars that would accompany “permanent revolution” (certainly this was a caricature of Trotsky’s views) that would risk the defeat of socialism in the USSR.[48]

d. Why Stalin?
Yet the question of why Trotsky lost the challenge for power is not fully answered just by highlighting the weaknesses of the Joint Opposition. What exactly were the material conditions that made it possible for Stalin to rise to power? This takes us to the “Russian Question” which has been one of the most hotly debated questions on the revolutionary left for the past century, producing libraries of books, polemics, newspapers ranging from the good, the bad, and the ridiculous which have dealt with every angle of the issue. It is not the goal here to give a final verdict on this question, but to offer some sketches of the material conditions in the USSR that contributed to the rise of Stalin.

In a speech delivered in 1920, Trotsky had said that “Our Position is in the Highest Degree Tragic.”[49] This was no exaggeration on his part. When the Bolsheviks had seized power in 1917, they not only became rulers of a devastated and backward country, that was falling apart after years of world war and millions dead, but they were immediately set upon by invasion from fourteen hostile states and several counterrevolutionary white armies. What followed were three more years of civil war and terror, both red and white, where no quarter was given because none was to be expected. The Bolshevik government instituted the policy of war communism to manage a crumbling nationalized industry, feed starving cities by requisitioning grain and build an effective army.[50]

However, war communism concentrated enormous powers in the party and state alongside the development of authoritarianism and a siege mentality, since the Bolsheviks correctly saw the whole capitalist world against them. As a result, the soviets broke down and power was increasingly concentrated within the Bolshevik Party and state. According to Isaac Deutscher, the Bolshevik Party had the “usurper’s role thrust upon it,” but he asks “What could or should the party have done under these circumstances? Should it have thrown up its hands and surrendered power? A revolutionary government which has waged a cruel and devastating civil war does not abdicate on the day after its victory and does not surrender to its defeated enemies and to their revenge even if it discovers that it cannot rule in accordance with its own ideas and that it no longer enjoys the support it commanded when it entered the civil war.”[51] Indeed, the Bolsheviks had “substituted” themselves for the proletariat because it no longer existed as a cohesive social force.

The working class was effectively declassed in Soviet Russia by the time the civil war was over. The working class had dropped from 2.6 million in 1917 to 1.2 million in 1920. The population in cities such as Moscow and Petrograd had dropped by half. Industry had fallen from a 1913 gross output of 100 in 1913 to 31 in 1921. Pierre Broué gives the following bleak picture of the Soviet economy:

The whole economic structure seemed to have collapsed. Industry produced 20% in quantity of its prewar production, and 13% in value. The output of iron represented 1.6% and that of steel 2.4%. The production of oil and of coal, sectors least affected, represented only 41% and 27% of that of pre-war; in other sectors, the percentage varied between zero and 20%. Capital equipment was wearing out: 60% of locomotives were out of action and 63% of the railway tracks could not be used. Agricultural production had fallen in quantity and value alike. The area under cultivation was down by 16%.[52]

The peasantry had supported the Bolsheviks during the war because they had promised land, but now the countryside was gripped with famine and revolts were spreading. The black market had also developed as living standards plummeted.[53]

Following the victorious conclusion of the civil war and the Kronstadt naval revolt, the Bolsheviks changed course and implemented the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was instituted in order to provide breathing space for the Bolsheviks and to restore production. The NEP relaxed state control over the economy – allowing for the creation of small businesses and private trade, ended requisitions and permitted the development of a money economy. By 1927, the NEP had restored Soviet industry and agriculture to its pre-war levels, but it also led to the growth of the class of rich peasants and the private traders known as the NEP-men.

However, the Bolshevik victory in the civil war had left them alone and isolated in Russia, without aid from the international revolution, particularly in Germany. Now, the unforeseen prospect of having to develop socialism, alone in a backward country, confronted the Bolsheviks. In a situation where revolution was not on the immediate agenda, many party members came to accept the promise of developing socialism in one country, which was put forth by Stalin and Bukharin.[54]

The Bolsheviks emerged victorious as the sole ruling party in Russia; all other parties had opposed the revolution. Yet at the moment of victory it was seen as necessary for the Party to close their ranks. In 1921 at the Tenth Party Congress, the previously open atmosphere of the party ended as factions were banned. This reinforced the siege mentality within the party and made any criticism appear as potentially “counterrevolutionary.”

While the soviets had lost their influence and the social base for the Bolsheviks had disappeared, the most politically conscious and courageous workers had entered the party, government and the army. Yet according to Isaac Deutscher, they “did not in fact belong to the working class any longer. With the passage of time many of them became estranged from the workers and assimilated with the bureaucratic environment.”[55] At the same time, the Bolshevik Party expanded enormously. From 23,000 members in 1917, it had grown to 700,000 in 1922, but it now was filled not just with dedicated revolutionary militants, but Tsarist bureaucrats since it fell to the Party to run the government, industry, and the army. It would soon become clear to many communists, such as Lenin, that alien elements had entered the Bolshevik Party and that many communists were becoming infected with bureaucratism, careerism, and national chauvinism.[56]

In order to administer the Soviet state and economy, the party needed expand to its apparatus, “in the month of August 1922, there was a count of 15,325 full-time officials of the party, 5,000 of whom were employed at the level of districts or factories.”[57] This new apparatus of party and state grew more elaborate with Stalin at the summit as General Secretary. And without a working class capable of ruling, the social and political weight of functionaries correspondingly increased. Naturally, this layer enjoyed greater material privileges than the average worker, which affected not only their outlook, but was reflected by how both the party and state operated.

By the 1920s, the USSR was a ruined and devastated country with a declassed working class, a hostile peasantry, and a merged party and state, which were increasingly separated from the masses. International revolution was not on the horizon. Both the Party and the people were exhausted from years of struggle. This made the prospect of “socialism in one country,” appear as both realistic and desirable, where the USSR would develop a modern industrial socialist society to not only face the dangers of capitalist encirclement, but deliver the people from backwardness by creating a higher standard of living and a radiant future which would allow Russia to serve as a beacon to humanity.[58]

As Deutscher says,

Socialism in one country also stirred the people’s national pride, while Trotsky’s pleas for internationalism suggested to the simple-minded that he held that Russia could not rely on herself and so he maintained that her salvation would ultimately have to come from a revolutionized West. This could not but hurt the self-confidence of a people that had achieved the greatest of revolutions-a self-confidence which, despite all the miseries of daily life, was real enough even though it was curiously blended with political apathy.[59]

Stalin lambasted the disbelief of the Opposition in the ability of Russia to build socialism, stating:

Well, as the victory of the revolution in the West is rather late in coming, nothing remains for us to do, apparently, but to loaf around. The congress held, and said so in its resolution on the report of the Central Committee, that these views of the opposition implied disbelief in victory over our capitalists….But from the support of the workers of the West to the victory of the revolution in the West is a long, long way… The opposition, however, affirms that we cannot finish off our capitalists by our own efforts….

It follows that we are capable of completely building a socialist society by our own efforts and without the victory of the revolution in the West, but that, by itself alone, our country cannot guarantee itself against encroachments by international capital—for that the victory of the revolution in several Western countries is needed. The possibility of completely building socialism in our country is one thing, the possibility of guaranteeing our country against encroachments by international capital is another.

In my opinion, your mistake and that of your comrades is that you have not yet found your way in this matter and have confused these two questions.[60]

Whereas Trotsky appealed to internationalism, this call did not fall on receptive ears, since Deutscher says, for “many rank and file Bolsheviks world revolution had become a lamentable myth by 1924, while the building of socialism in Russia was the exacting and exhilarating experience of their generation. Despite all his verbal tributes to Leninist internationalism, Stalin became the chief mouthpiece of this sentiment. He elevated the sacred egoism of the Russian revolution to a supreme principle — this was the real meaning of his idea of ‘socialism in one country.’”[61] An unfortunate outcome of this outlook was that the USSR often placed their own national interests above those of the world revolution and many foreign communists found themselves embracing “sacred egoism” of the USSR by subordinating their own activities to the dictates of Soviet policy (largely to their detriment).

III. Revolution From Above: The First Five Year Plan

a. The Interval
Following the expulsion of the Opposition from the CPSU, Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata in early 1928 (where he would remain for the next year). During that time, while Trotsky was under surveillance, he managed to remain in contact with his followers.[62] According to Pierre Broué, the Oppositionists consisted of three groups, first were those in exile, deportation, or in colonies in Siberia and Central Asia. Secondly, those who were free and active in clandestinely (such as Trotsky’s first wife Aleksandra Sokolovskaya and Victor Serge). Lastly, those in prison called “isolators” whom Broué says “we know very little…about the fate of the arrested oppositionists.”[63]

On the other hand, there is far more information available in regards to the Oppositionists who remained at liberty. Some were active in Moscow, publishing leaflets and statements, who stayed close contact with Trotsky throughout 1928. The Moscow Opposition managed to produce 10,000 copies of a leaflet for May Day 1928. Broué lists other cities where Oppositionists remained active – Leningrad, Kiev and Kharkov, Baku and Tiflis, in Odessa, Dniepropetrovsk, Nikolaev, Saratov, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Krasnoyarsk, Ekaterinoslav, Kremenchug, Rostov, Tula, Kostroma, Briansk, Nizhni Novgorod, Tver, Zaporozhe, etc.[64] Some Oppositionists were able to gain a hearing in open meetings, elected in unions or factory committees and were involved working class mobilization.[65]

However, the Oppositionists were also subjected to repeated waves of arrest, deportation and imprisonment throughout the year with their numbers reaching approximately 8,000. Yet there was an ebb and flow to their activity as older members dropped out or capitulated and new recruits joined from the prisoners. The active cadre of the Opposition probably never totally more than 1,000 and 2,000. Most of them were deported to distant portions of the USSR. Deutscher describes the lives of the deportees as follows:

the conditions in which they found themselves, though painful and humiliating, were not yet crushingly oppressive, the Oppositionists reverted to a manner of existence which had been familiar to them before the revolution. The job of the political prisoners and exiles was to use enforced idleness in order to clear their thoughts, learn, and prepare for the day when they would once again have to shoulder the burdens of direct struggle or the responsibilities of government. For this kind of work the conditions seemed propitious. In many colonies there were educated men, brilliant theorists, and gifted writers whom their comrades provided with a choice audience. An intensive exchange of ideas helped to keep up self-discipline and self-respect.[66]

The exchange of ideas or “literary activity” amongst the exiles kept them intellectually active. Trotsky distributed his own letters and essays to the various colonies of exiles, who also exchanged information with one another. Many prominent Oppositionists such as Preobrazhensky, Radek and Rakovsky (whom we shall discuss presently) wrote substantial theoretical works during their enforced idleness.

Christian Rakovsky was one of Trotsky’s closest comrades in the Opposition. He had a long career of revolutionary activism spanning several countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (where he was head of the government from 1919-23). He also was a skilled diplomat, representing the USSR at the Genoa Conference in 1922 and served as the Soviet ambassador to France from 1925-7.[67] According to Deutscher, Rakovsky “a had a very clear and penetrating mind; and perhaps also a greater capacity for philosophical detachment.”[68] In this moment of defeat, Rakovsky asked what had brought about the passivity of the working class and the abuse of power within the Bolshevik Party, which had originally been composed of dedicated and honest revolutionaries.

Rakovsky shared with Trotsky a belief that the cause for the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik Party could be traced back to the country’s backwardness, isolation and the small size of the working class. Yet Rakovsky went further than Trotsky, arguing that even in an advanced capitalist country the workers could succumb to passivity, and that a bureaucracy could usurp their power. A similar phenomena had occurred during the earlier English and French Revolutions. Rakovsky summed up the problem of bureaucracy as follows:

This political position (of directing class) is not without its dangers: on the contrary, the dangers are very great. I do not refer here to the objective difficulties due to the whole complex of historical conditions, to the capitalist encirclement on the outside, and the pressure of the petty bourgeois inside the country. No, I refer to the inherent difficulties of any new directing class, consequent on the taking and on the exercise of power itself, on the ability or inability to make use of it. You will understand that these difficulties would continue to exist up to a certain point, even if we allowed, for a moment, that the country was inhabited only by proletarian masses and the exterior was made up solely of proletarian states. These difficulties might be called the “professional dangers” of power…

When a class takes power, one of its parts becomes the agent of that power. Thus arises bureaucracy. In a socialist state, where capitalist accumulation is forbidden by members of the directing party, this differentiation begins as a functional one; it later becomes a social one. I am thinking here of the social position of a communist who has at his disposal a car, a nice apartment, regular holidays, and receiving the maximum salary authorized by the party; a position which differs from that of the communist working in the coal mines and receiving a salary of fifty or sixty rubles per month. As regards workers and employees, you know that they are divided into eighteen different categories …

The unity and cohesion which formerly were the natural consequences of the struggle of the revolutionary class cannot now be maintained but by the application of the whole system of measures which have for their aim the preservation of the equilibrium between the different groups of this class and of this party, and to subordinate these groups to the fundamental goal.[69]

As opposed to Trotsky, Rakovsky was far more pessimistic about the future political prospects of the Opposition. He believed that “all party reform which is based on the bureaucracy is utopian” and that the Opposition needed to set itself the mission of “educating the party and the working class was a long and difficult task, and that it was that much more so because the minds have first of all to be cleansed of all the impurities introduced into by them the practices of the soviets and of the party and by the bureaucratization of these institutions.”[70] Considering that Rakovsky believed that the working class had been corrupted by the bureaucracy, he did not advocate in appealing to them for change. Due to the passivity of the proletariat, only the bureaucracy held initiative in society. Deutscher says Rakovsky’s conclusion was that the Opposition “could only hope to work for the future mainly in the field of ideas” away from the centers of power.[71] For radical Trotskyists, this was anathema since they expected and hoped for the masses to rise against the bureaucracy. On the other hand, there was a growing group of Oppositionists, known as conciliators who saw the bureaucracy itself in ferment and turning “left” by adopting their program. They did not want to be on the wayside as their ideas were seemingly implemented.

Before discussing Stalin’s “Revolution From Above” and the response of the Opposition to it, we need to clarify Trotsky’s relation to Rakovsky’s theories of the bureaucracy. Although Trotsky praised Rakovsky’s work (which would be extensively quoted in his 1936 Revolution Betrayed),[72] he still believed that the bureaucracy was capable of being reformed. In fact, Trotsky argued that the Stalinist “center” was an ally of the Opposition against the Bukharinist “right.” Trotsky condemned the center for failing to adequately defend the dictatorship of the proletariat and opening the way to Thermidor (discussed further below). As he put it in 1933, “Through all its zig-zags, its delays, its forward-leaps, bureaucratic Centrism has not strengthened the dictatorship of the proletariat, but on the contrary, has increased the danger of Thermidor. Only cowards can fear to name this result out loud, Facts are stronger than words. In order to struggle against inimical facts, we must call them by their right names. We must also call those responsible by their names; Stalin and his clique.”[73] In other words, while Rakvosky saw the Thermidor as basically accomplished, Trotsky still saw it as a future danger.

When Stalin went after the Right Opposition, Trotsky said “he does not devise his own powder, but uses the weapons forged in the arsenals of the Opposition, breaking off as much as he can of the Marxist point.”[74] Trotsky ruled out any support for the right-wing, since he believed that “the victory of the Right deviation would unleash the forces of capitalism, would undermine the revolutionary positions of the proletariat and increase the chances for the restoration of capitalism in our country.”[75] However, as events were later to prove, Trotsky would look to Bukharin as a possible ally against Stalin.

While Trotsky accepted a great deal of Rakovsky’s analysis, he would not allow himself to believe that the Thermidor had already occurred. He was not willing to believe that there was no room for political action or chance of victory by the Opposition. He was determined to fight on, even if hope was fleeting.

b. The Left Turn
By late 1927 and early 1928, the alliance between Stalin and Bukharin was fracturing. The policies previously advocated by Bukharin of developing socialism at a “snail’s pace,” delaying industrialization and supporting the kulaks had produced an acute crisis. Workers in the city had to endure higher food prices. The production of grain had also fallen anywhere between a third and a half. All of this threatened to not only to starve the cities, but to reduce the funds available for industrial expansion. Stalin and the Party concluded that the kulaks were holding the country to ransom by withholding grain. In response to the “grain strike”, the party instituted extraordinary measures across the countryside with activists, volunteers and the GPU [intelligence service] sent to collect grain.

This use of coercion against the peasantry managed to collect grain, but it inevitably led to the development of class war in the countryside as the party embarked on a campaign of collectivization and liquidating the kulaks as a class – ultimately causing Stalin to break with both Bukharin and the NEP. It seemed that Trotsky and the Opposition had been vindicated in regards to the kulak danger, although no one in the Opposition had even contemplated forced collectivization. Furthermore, Stalin began a campaign of industrialization and the Five Year Plans to provide machinery for the collective farms to develop the Soviet economy.

Yet industrialization and planning was done at an accelerated rate and breakneck speeds, beyond anything proposed by either Trotsky or Preobrazhensky. The goal was on achieving accelerated growth and developing heavy industry without the balanced approach which Bukharin had championed. Bukharin was horrified at this turn, believing that the campaign of collectivization would alienate the peasantry and ruin the revolution. All of this led Bukharin into conflict with the party line and Stalin. One of the most famous of Bukharin’s writings opposed to collectivization was the Notes of an Economist,[76] while seemingly criticizing Trotsky’s policies was actually a veiled attack on Stalin. He warned of disaster for the USSR if Stalin’s line was pursued. However, Bukharin kept most of his criticisms veiled using Aesopian language and behind closed doors inside the Party, not daring to openly oppose Stalin.

Even though Bukharin was deeply opposed to Trotsky and the defeated Left Opposition, he was willing to ally with them against Stalin. Kamenev, who remained at liberty, met with Bukharin, and passed details of their meeting and the possibilities of an alliance to the Opposition in Moscow. Trotsky still saw Bukharin as his main enemy, declaring “With Stalin against Bukharin? Yes. With Bukharin against Stalin? Never.”[77] Despite this, Trotsky was willing to make a limited pact with Bukharin to restore inner party democracy, but he would not compromise his fundamental ideas. However, the alliance between the former Left and Right oppositions fell through before it even began because the rank-and-file followers in both camps were too distrustful of each other.

While Trotsky was willing to consider an alliance with Bukharin, this went against the whole grain of his thinking. The Right Opposition was seen by him as the greater danger and he welcomed its defeat. As Deutscher points out, “Trotsky’s many anxious alarms about the ‘danger from the right’, i.e. from Bukharin’s faction, and his evident underestimation of Stalin’s power, one may marvel at the short-sightedness or blindness which in this instance characterized the man so often distinguished by prophetic foresight.”[78] Yet Trotsky was still viewing events within the prism of NEP where the possibilities of capitalist restoration were quite real. Now the “revolution from above” had completely altered the terrain.

As Broué points out, Trotsky viewed the situation in Russia in 1928 as fluid and open with different outcomes possible: “the response to the offensive by the rich peasants and the reflection in Russia of the intensifying class struggle in Europe. The “left turn” could rapidly come to an end, which would not be very likely, because it would then be necessary to go much further to the right than the right-wing advocates of a new NEP could even dream about.”[79] Therefore, Trotsky saw the turn to the left as confirming his analysis of Stalin’s faction as centrist, zig-zagging from right to left (something also seen in the ultra-revolutionary line adopted by the Comintern’s 6th Congress).

In the previous year, there had been tension brewing within the Opposition as two opposing camps emerged. The first were the “Irreconcilables” (who tended to be younger) included Trotsky and Rakovsky who opposed to Stalin and wanted to fight for their program to the bitter end. The others were the “Conciliators,” who included Radek and Preobrazhensky, whom did not advocating outright surrender to Stalin, but wanted to reconcile with the Party on the basis of the new line. Preobrazhensky said that the Opposition should “be based on the zigzag to the left and on the workers’ activity to turn this zigzag into real left policy.”[80] For the Conciliators, it appeared that their program was finally being carried out and they finally vindicated. The Conciliators were more interested in industrialization and economic development as opposed to restoring proletarian democracy and combating the bureaucracy. No doubt, the strains of exile and being cut off from political life took their toll.[81] Despite the intense debate within the Opposition in 1928, most followed Trotsky’s course and stayed outside the CPSU.

In 1929, the divisions within the Opposition resurfaced again. By now, Trotsky had been exiled to Turkey and was no longer able to directly exercise leadership over his compatriots. The first five year plan and collectivization were moving into high gear. The voice of conciliation was raised once again by Radek and Preobrazhensky who acknowledged that while Stalin was not restoring inner party democracy, “he was carrying out so much of the Opposition’s program there was reason to hope that he would eventually carry out the rest of it as well. In any case, Oppositionists would be better able to further the cause of inner-party freedom if they returned to the ranks than if they remained in the punitive colonies, from where they could exercise no practical influence.”[82] For committed communists, who were cut off from political life and straining under exile, this must have appeared as a very compelling argument.

However, Irreconcilables such as Rakovsky argued that the left course of Stalin was temporary and that he would soon follow it up by making concessions to the right and the kulaks. For the irreconcilables, their program still remained valid. Yet the irrelevance of the Opposition’s program was something that both the conciliators were coming to accept and those to the left of the irreconcilables who believed that the USSR was “no longer a workers’ state; that the party had betrayed the revolution; and that the hope to reform it being futile, the Opposition should constitute itself into a new party and preach and prepare, a new revolution.”[83] Yet the tensions were growing as both sides saw the other as traitors and renegades. Three months after Trotsky’s exile, the Opposition’s unity finally shattered.

The Party used a mixture of the carrot and the stick to foster division within the Opposition. For the conciliators, terror served to frighten and soften them, it also drove a wedge between them and the irreconcilables, who were driven further into isolation. Deutscher says that “The terror was selective: the G.P.U. spared the conciliators but combed the punitive colonies, picking out the most stubborn Oppositionists and transferring them to jails, where they were subjected to the harshest treatment: placed under military guards; crowded in damp and dark cells unheated in the Siberian winter; kept on a meager diet of rotten food; and denied reading matter, light, and facilities for communication with their families.”[84] For the Conciliators, it was not so much terror that softened them, but the left course of Stalin. By April 1929, he was openly attacking Bukharin and pushing ahead with industrialization and collectivization. The situation in the country was the most dire it had been since the civil war. The revolution was seemingly in peril. It seemed impossible to hold onto old slogans now. A choice had to be made.

In April, Preobrazhensky appealed to the Opposition to accept the new course, entering into “negotiations” with the Party in Moscow.[85] By July, Preobrazhensky, Radek and 400 other Oppositionists announced their capitulation. They would be followed by a stampede of others. This was just at the climax of the inner party struggle with Bukharin. Strangely, Trotsky’s prediction that the left would unite with the center against the right had proven to be right, albeit not in the way he expected. Not only had Stalin managed to neutralize the Opposition, but he had “won over “many valuable cadre who “were men of high talent and experience with whom he would fill industrial and administrative posts from which the Bukharinists were being squeezed out. He knew that the capitulators would throw themselves heart and soul into the industrial drive…”[86] Many of these former Oppositionists would later find themselves annihilated during the Purges.

Trotsky, who was cut off from communication in the USSR, was only able to restore contacts in the autumn, but by then he could do little. In response to the capitulations, the ailing Rakovsky circulated a declaration of more than 500 signatures (which was published abroad by Trotsky’s Bulletin of the Opposition). The declaration, although remaining defiant did not meet with the approval of the extreme Irreconcilables. Rakovsky

appealed to the Central Committee to “make it easy for us to return to the party”, and he repudiated “factional means of struggle”. However, he demanded also the right of the opposition to defend its views within the party and that party democracy “be implemented in its entirety”, with the election of all officials and the possibility of removing them. The declaration also reaffirms that “the complete organization of socialist production is possible only on an international scale”. Finally, the declaration demands that Trotsky be brought back from exile.[87]

Trotsky was contemptuous of the capitulations, stating “Some of the isolated and weaker elements do not withstand this pressure. But the majority of the capitulations are obviously simulated. Broken and exhausted, they sign what they do not believe.”[88] On the other hand, he praised Rakovsky’s stand as supported by the stalwarts of the Opposition and showing the application of the united front. Yet the ambivalence of the Trotsky’s position remained, even here, he proclaimed loyalty to the Party, but also that “We must explain the meaning of our proposal, name those responsible for its rejection, and proclaim our indestructible determination to fight for our opinion and to increase twofold, fivefold, tenfold our efforts to consolidate the Bolshevik-Leninist faction.”[89] However, Rakovsky’s declaration ensured him further exile and imprisonment, but even he too would finally capitulate and return to the Party in 1934.[90]

By the end of 1929, the Opposition had crumbled from a total of 8,000 to less than a thousand. Trotsky and Rakovsky remained the only prominent members who were still unbowed. The others were in exile or prison.[91] The Opposition as a major force had effectively been marginalized and broken. Yet not completely. Trotsky, with his boundless energy, was determined to continue fighting onward. The upheavals and social disruptions of the revolution from above offered the hope or the fear (for some) that it could be revived. And furthermore, thousands of capitulators (along with the Zinovievists) were now back in the Party. Although holding no positions of prominence, but they were still “administrators, the economists, and the educationists were assigned to posts on all rungs of the government, where they were bound to exercise an influence. Although Stalin could not doubt their zeal for the left course, especially for industrialization, he knew what value to attach to the recantations he had extracted from them. They remained Oppositionists at heart.”[92] Despite their signed statements, they had not given up all their ideas and could now influence Soviet policy. As time went on, Stalin feared the possibility that they were still in league with Trotsky and in light of the convulsions of the “Revolution From Above,” he believed there was a chance that they planned to replace him with an alternative leadership. Some ex-Oppositionists still argued for Trotsky’s return and took his ideas seriously, as avid readers of his Bulletin of the Opposition.[93] Thus, the possibility remained, increasingly remote, that changes in the CPSU leadership could bring Trotsky back from exile.

In assessing the failure of Trotsky and the Opposition during this period, Marot says that despite their criticism of the Stalin leadership’s methods, “they were ‘full of praise for the collectivization and industrialization, although very critical of the methods Stalin used to carry it out’.”[94] And in their enthusiasm to follow the new course of socialism in one country, the Opposition tossed aside the other aspects of their program such as restoring inner-party democracy. Yet even for the Irreconcilables, such as Rakovsky, advocated that the Opposition needed “to give the party and the Central Committee full and unconditional assistance in carrying out the plan for socialist construction by participating directly in the construction and by helping the party overcome the difficulties that are in the way.”'[95] Rakovsky also supported the return to labor discipline imposed as part of the Five Year Plan and opposed factional activity within the CPSU, let alone outside it, since “the unity of the Communist Party had to be preserved because only through the Communist Party could the dictatorship of the proletariat be preserved, and so democracy was to be reserved to those who agreed with the party-line, set by the Central Committee.”[96] Indeed, this ensured the political paralysis of the Opposition. As Marot points out and we have already discussed, the irreconcilables believed that “Stalin’s policies were still

uncertain, unstable; they might not weaken the power of the kulaks enough or implement industrialization full-blast.”[97] This whole approach stemmed from the conception shared by both Trotsky and the Opposition’s “substitutionalist” view (as Marot puts it) that there could be no independent political activity outside of the CPSU and that it could still be reformed. It would only be in 1933 that Trotsky would break with this whole approach.

c. Transformation of the USSR
Within ten years, Stalin’s “Revolution from Above,” that officially began in 1929 with the first Five Year Plan, completely transformed the USSR from a backward peasant country into a modern industrial and military power, independent and capable of standing against the capitalist states. Whole new industrial cities such as Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk were built. According to Robert Tucker, the USSR “had been transformed from an agrarian country whose industrial output was 48 percent of the total in 1928 into an industrial one for the comparable figure was 70 percent in 1932. The five year industrial plan had been had been fulfilled by 93.7 percent in four years; the heavy industrial part of it, by 108 percent.”[98] The focus of the Five Year Plan was overwhelmingly upon heavy industry, which meant that light industry and consumer goods, not to mention agriculture, were neglected.[99]

However, the collective farms faced many problems since the drive for collectivization and securing a reliable base for agriculture was a cornerstone of the Five Year Plan. From a country composed overwhelmingly of small peasant farms in the mid-1920s, by 1936 at least 90 percent of the peasantry lived on collective farms and 94 percent of crops were cultivated there. This was achieved through a combination of government persuasion, tax incentives and force. However, many peasants lacked experience with livestock, which when combined with combined with poor planning, and a lack of modern farm equipment, ultimately meant that socialized agriculture did not show its superiority over individual production for many years. Furthermore, many peasants, particularly the rich kulaks resisted collectivization and grain procurement by slaughtering their livestock and refusing to farm. In 1932-3, a combination of mismanagement by the government, overzealous party activists, kulak resistance and poor weather had brought about a famine that disrupted the food supply and cost at least three to four million lives.[100] As a result, the number of livestock plummeted and the grain harvest declined from 73 million tons in 1928 to 68 million in 1933, only recovering in 1935 to 75 million tons. Soviet agriculture would remain the weak link in the economy and the embitterment of the peasantry would last for decades to come.[101]

The working class also increased in size from 11.3 million in 1927-8 to 22.8 million in 1932, and in 1939 it had reached 39 million. According to the historian Moshe Lewin, urban workers now constituted at least half of the national labor force. There were also massive shifts within the working class as women entered in large numbers, jumping up to 43 percent of the total in industry by 1940. Education had expanded to keep up with the demands of industrialization and room was open on an unprecedented scale for social advancement in all areas of society. However, the focus on heavy industry meant that there was not enough housing in the cities, the service sector was overburdened, and the economy was ravaged by all kinds of shortages. Furthermore, due to famine in 1932-3, rationing was introduced in the cities and the morality rate shot up. The consumption of meat and lard per capita in the cities dropped by two thirds between 1928 and 1933. Despite the harsh working and living conditions, there was no unemployment, in contrast to the capitalist world, which was then in the depths of the Great Depression.[102]

A whole new working class had now been created, drawn largely from the peasantry. Overnight, this peasantry moved out of a rural world that was still within living memory of feudalism and into a modern industrial society where they were expected to learn and adapt to overnight. This movement of the peasantry into the cities came as a result partly due to the violence of collectivization, but for many there were also the real opportunities for social advance in the cities compared to the new collective farms.

Yet the working class did not rule in the USSR. According to Deutscher, “The working class could not at first derive strength from its own growth in numbers. That growth became, on the contrary, a new source of weakness. Most of the new workers were peasants, forcibly uprooted from the country, bewildered, lacking habits of industrial life, capacity for organization, political tradition, and self-confidence.”[103] This is not to say that the working class accepted their fate and was completely passive. As we shall see, there was resistance and sympathy for the Opposition among a minority of workers. Overall, power within in the USSR became ever more concentrated within the Communist Party and the state bureaucracy.

In order to plan the economy and allocate resources, the Soviet state and the CPSU needed to greatly expand its powers. The party could not rely solely upon the genuine and overzealous enthusiasm felt by many communists and workers to build a new world. They needed administrators, managers, engineers, and a whole array of professionals. The central leadership also lacked effective control over the vast new apparatus that expanded too quickly and as a result, this meant that power was too decentralized and meant that many potentially “undesirable” elements were flocking to the party.[104] Naturally, the effect of transforming the USSR so quickly brought breakdowns, bottlenecks, shortages, and other disruptions. Many of these mistakes were blamed on wreckers and agents of foreign powers, leading to the first show trials such as that of the “Industrial Party” in 1931. The powers of the NKVD (as the Soviet Secret Police was called in the mid-1930s) increased as evidenced by the growth of labor camps and those in exile, whose prisoners swelled with mass arrests following collectivization (and later the purges) and numbered close to 3.5 million by the late 1930s.[105]

The beginning of the Five Year Plan saw revolutionary fervor evident in multiple ways: the workers and party activists who built new cities and went out to the countryside to requisition grain. Communist millennialism was also expressed in the “cultural revolution” that attacked bureaucracy, privilege, promoted class war militancy, rejected the traditional education and the family, and called for a break with bourgeois cultural norms. However, as the 1930s wore on, this ultra-revolutionary militancy was in retreat, replaced by “respectability.” According to the historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, “respectability meant new cultural and moral values, reflecting the metaphorical transition from proletarian youth to middle-class middle age; a striving for order and manageable routine; and acceptance of a social hierarchy based on education, occupation, and status. Authority was to be obeyed rather than challenged. Tradition was to be respected rather than flouted.”[106] This conservative turn was manifested with a return to traditional modes of education, a glorification of the family and motherhood, the outlawing of homosexuality and abortion, a rewriting of history to promote the current party line, and a more positive view of Russian nationalism.[107] Needless to say, Marxism was reduced from a revolutionary theory to a dogma that was used to legitimize the policies of the Communist Party.

The conservative wind was also manifested in the defense of privilege in a speech delivered by Stalin in late 1931 where he launched a polemic against “”leftist’ egalitarianism in the sphere of pay.” Stalin’s point was to attack the system of Soviet wages and advocate a different wage scale in order to give workers greater incentives to stay at their jobs and reduce turnover. This was an open disavowal of the values of the revolution. The following year, alongside a new wage scale, piece work was reintroduced, which increased inequality by widening the gap between skilled and unskilled workers, and “made the pay ratio between the least and most skilled labor, which had been two to one, as high as 3.7 to one.”[108] The conservative turn in labor relations, masked under a leftist guise, was seen in the Stakhanovite movement which encouraged workers to exceed production quotas, but also opposed conservatism in the trade unions and management.

This was an open disavowal of the values of the revolution. The Party maximum, which had limited the amount of pay of all party members to that of a skilled worker was formally abolished in 1932, allowing members of the CPSU to enjoy greater material benefits. Party members and government officials could shop at special shops, they lived in better homes, dachas and apartments, had access to chauffeurs and cars that created a social distance between them and ordinary people. At the same time, the manners and dress of the Party, industrial managers and government leaders changed, becoming more refined and presentable. Yet Moshe Lewin observed that as these “social and ideological divisions kept widening” within Soviet society, they “were concealed for ideological reasons. This policy was deemed indispensable for normalizing the social climate and imparting stability to the regime. None of those selected for preferential treatment had an easy time of it in these years. Their relations with the top leadership were, to say the least, bumpy. Whenever official policy and ideology suffered setbacks, the higher and lower strata of officialdom served as scapegoats and were sacrificed to popular indignation. This was easy to do, given the gulf between ordinary citizens and these privileged officials, especially when they were in positions of political or economic responsibility. Thus, ‘privileges’, much coveted by those seeking to climb the social ladder, were also a dangerous trap in the political conditions of the period.”[109] Indeed, during the Purges of the later 1930s, many workers used the opportunity to express discontent and denounce those seen as privileged bureaucrats and “enemies” and causing sabotage to the economy.[110]

d. Glimmers of Life
In Soviet society, there was sympathy for the Opposition (sometimes expressed vaguely) among a minority of the population. Despite the isolation of the Opposition, these expressions of sympathy and support were enough to cause the Party leadership to worry. As the situation in the USSR became critical in 1928-1929, Stalin, according to Michal Reiman, “could not ignore the fact that the left opposition still remained a potential nest of serious resistance. The overall deterioration of urban conditions had led to a growth in political activism. Once again, opposition leaflets were being distributed widely, and members of the opposition had penetrated the workers’ ranks, helping to organize their social struggle. Trotsky’s articles, letters, and notes, illegally obtained from Alma Ata, were circulating among party member.”[111] Furthermore, according to GPU reports (arguably exaggerated), the Opposition possessed sectors of strength in the Ukraine, the army, and navy. Still, repression by the GPU, the fragmentation of the Opposition, and the adoption of the left course by the Soviet leadership – which saw most of the Opposition return to the Party – destroyed the Opposition as a coherent political force.[112]

In 1927-1928, among a small minority of the working class, there was support for the ideas of the Opposition. Kevin Murphy, in his study on the Hammer and Sickle factory in Moscow provides some examples of their activity. As the Five Year Plans began, labor discipline, repression and co-option were employed, that either won over or silenced the majority of workers. Yet discontent remained. There were strikes at the factory in 1926-7, often led by party members (caught between their loyalty to their fellow workers and party policy).[113] In 1928, when wages were lowered, workers at the factory shouted down Party loyalists and Oppositionist activity was noticeable. As we mentioned earlier, Opposition activity was actually quite strong in Moscow, with their leaflets distributed in the tens of thousands.[114] Through 1929, Oppositionist activity at the factory managed to attract enough support that the Party leadership denounced “Trotskyist activity.” Yet as Murphy observes, due to the repression, “Trotskyism in Moscow persisted only as a symbol of resistance rather than as an organized activist current with a presence in the factories.”[115]

Oppositionists at liberty had to operate carefully, otherwise they faced prison and exile. For instance, Victor Serge lived a precarious existence in Leningrad from 1928-33 feverishly writing and working as a translator until he was arrested and sent into exile in the desolate city of Orenberg near the Ural Mountains, along with other members of defeated Party Oppositions. While there, he was denied work and nearly starved to death. Serge’s international reputation as a writer helped to ensure his release after an international campaign was launched on his behalf in France, he managed to leave the USSR in 1936 just before the first Moscow Trial.[116]

Serge wrote on the lives of the Oppositionists during this period in his book, Russia Twenty Years After and his novel Midnight in the Century.[117] Although Midnight in the Century was a fictionalized portrayal of Oppositionists in both exile and prison, but he insisted that it was “truthful” in explaining the political and historical context of the period.[118] Despite the cautions that come from using a novel of historical evidence, Serge does portray the debates, mood and the hopes and fears of the Oppositionists.

Serge describes the international context in which the Opposition is living in when the revolution at home and abroad has stalled, with the triumph of Stalin and Hitler, resulting in “midnight in the century”:

There are singular congruencies between the two dictatorships. Stalin gave Hitler his strength by driving the middle classes away from Communism with the nightmare of forced collectivization, famine, and terror against the technicians. Hitler, by making Europe abandon the hope of socialism, will strengthen Stalin. These grave-diggers were born to understand each other. Enemies and brothers. In Germany, one is burying an aborted democracy, the child of an aborted revolution. In Russia, the other is burying a victorious revolution born of a weak proletariat and left on its own by the rest of the world. Both of them are leading those they serve—the bourgeoisie in Germany, the bureaucracy here at home—toward a catastrophe.[119]

Serge goes on and describes the harsh living conditions of the Oppositionists in exile:

The clandestine pages murmured: prison, prison, prison, prison, endless prison. Bars, fences, windows sealed with iron mesh. Regulations, barracks, conflicts, hunger strikes. Mail passed through toilet pipes, through holes pierced in walls, from window to window hanging by a thread over the sentry’s head. (And the condemned men awaiting death in the room below, carefully keep it for a while. They’re good lads, you can trust them.) Mail written while your ears are cocked and you pretend to read. Then you get a migraine. You despair because of the disagreements, the irreducibly opposed viewpoints. Splits are ripening. You can see repudiations coming. Years pass. You wrench yourself away from the barracks, the bars, the comrades. You’re free, yet it’s another form of captivity.[120]

The way Serge tells it, the Oppositionists seem to be resigned to their fate, accepting their defeat, in the Marxist fashion as part of the dialectic of history: “there is nothing left but our defeat, firmly accepted since it must be. For we can neither separate ourselves from the proletariat, nor disobey the truth, nor ignore the course of history. And for the moment the dialectic of history has placed us under the wheel. Life goes on, thanks to us.”[121] Despite this resignation, Serge says that the Oppositionists remained determined to fight on, regardless of the cost or the impossible odds: “History moves slowly, it only produces hurricanes every hundred and twenty years or so. Kropotkin gave that approximate figure for the periodic cycle of great revolutions, but that old Utopian didn’t understand anything about Marxism. In any case, decades will pass before our Russia starts to move again. Think of this old agricultural country, of its old, exhausted, depleted proletariat devoured by new ideas and new machines, of its young peasant proletariat which knows nothing about itself yet . . .”[122]

In fact, if Serge’s account is correct, the Opposition seemed to be questioning their ideas of critical support for the CPSU and their refusal to operate politically outside of the Party, even though cadre remained attached to old formula that the USSR was still a proletarian dictatorship: “This dictatorship which is no longer anything but violence and lies directed against the proletariat, is still proletarian, in spite of itself, because it maintains the property-relations established by the October Revolution . . .”[123] Yet others amongst the exiles considered that the time had come to recognize that “the old bureaucratized Party is finished for the Revolution and that the moment has come to consider starting everything over again.”[124] Indeed, if the Opposition concluded that the USSR was no longer a proletarian dictatorship, this would mean asking who ruled society? Serge stakes out the various positions as follows (these debates would find their way into the larger Trotskyist movement): “We no longer have Soviets, we don’t have socialism because . . . Is the bureaucracy a class? A subclass? A caste? A corrupted element of the conscious proletarian vanguard? A fraction of the middle classes? The involuntary instrument of international capitalism? Is it . . .”[125] In 1933, as we shall see, Trotsky himself would finally break with the idea that the USSR could be reformed, and declare that a new bureaucratic caste ruled society that needed to be overthrown by a political revolution.

The Oppositionists are coming to the realization, as time goes by, that while the “essential thing is to remain true,”[126] they also knew that “Only a few thousand of us were left who wanted to continue the Revolution, which everyone had had enough of. The world was subsiding into inertia and nothing was finished.”[127] Indeed, among the exiles, as opposed to the capitulators, their resistance to the ruling party and government was growing firmer and intransigent. One Oppositionist warns that

There’s no group more practical, more cynical, more inclined to resolve everything by murder than the privileged plebeians who float to the surface at the end of revolutions, when the lava has hardened over the fire, when everybody’s revolution turns into the counter-revolution of a few against everybody. It forms a new petty-bourgeoisie with itching palms which doesn’t know the meaning of the word conscience, doesn’t give a damn about what it doesn’t know, lives on steel springs and steel slogans, and knows perfectly well it stole the old flags from us. It is ferocious and base. We were implacable in order to change the world; they will be implacable in order to hold onto their loot. We gave everything, even what wasn’t ours—the blood of others with our own—for an unknown future. They say that everything has been achieved so that no one will ask them for anything. And for them, everything has been achieved since they have everything. They will be inhuman out of cowardice.[128]

Through it all, Serge shows that the exiles hoped to keep the torch of revolution blazing, even in the darkest night as the chimes at midnight struck.

Serge’s novelistic account of the Opposition was written while he was still an adherent to the Trotskyist movement (he left in 1938). A less flattering account of the Opposition is provided in the Russian Enigma, by Ante Ciliga, who was a Croatian imprisoned in the USSR during the 1930s. Ciliga’s work details the conditions inside the prisons, the resistance by the inmates, and their many political debates. Although Ciliga was initially a supporter of the Trotskyists, he politically broke with them after questioning the ideas of both Lenin and Bolshevism. In comparison to the other leftist opposition currents, Ciliga declares that “Trotskyism was the only Opposition grouping that carried any weight in Soviet society, the others being practically negligible.”[129] Yet he came to conclude that the “Trotskyist majority had no great program to oppose to Stalin’s official policy…Their outlook was not very different from that of the Stalinist bureaucracy; they were slightly more polite and human, that was all.”[130]

While the Opposition in the USSR was driven underground, Trotsky lived abroad in Turkey from 1929-1933. While there, Trotsky not only worked on major historical and theoretical works, such as The History of the Russian Revolution, but received visitors from oppositional communist currents throughout the world, including the USSR. For instance in 1929, Trotsky met with Jacob Blumkin, a high official of the G.P.U.’s foreign department. Blumkin sympathized with the Opposition, but had never partaken in any of its activities and remained a member of the GPU. Blumkin volunteered to pass on some general messages to Oppositionists still at large within the USSR. However, Blumkin had been watched and was arrested and executed upon his return to the USSR. Something like this had never happened before. Although members of the Opposition had died from hunger and imprisonment, as Deutscher said this “the first party member on whom capital punishment was inflicted for an inner party offence, an offence no graver than being in contact with Trotsky.”[131] It was a practice that would become routine by 1937 within the Soviet Union.

Trotsky’s major link with the movement in the USSR was writing articles for the Bulletin of the Opposition on Soviet and international affairs that was first published in Paris, then in Berlin and back to Paris (in 1933). The publication of the Bulletin was handled chiefly by his son, Leon Sedov. The royalties from his other writings helped to fund the publication costs.[132] According to Deutscher, the Bulletin never printed more than one thousand copies, but it “circulated in Moscow-party men returning from assignments abroad, especially members of embassies, smuggled it home and passed it on to friends…comments and forecasts and the choice morsels of his invective spread quickly by word of mouth.”[133]

What would the readers of the Bulletin of the Opposition have found within its pages? For one, articles by Oppositionists such as Rakovsky would be prominently placed. Other articles contained defenses of Trotsky’s views from official communist slanders, denunciations of the capitulators, and a defense of the larger Opposition movement from persecution and their right to speak (although he accepted the accusations leveled against the Industrial Party in 1931). The Bulletin also contained essays devoted to Stalin, the class nature of his “Bonapartist usurpation” and the zig-zag nature of the “left course.” Trotsky was also without mercy in his condemnation of the Comintern’s third period, which he saw as ultra-leftist in their condemnation of social democracy as “social fascist” which he believed was leading the Comintern to disaster in places such as Germany.[134] The overall perspective that of Trotsky and the Bulletin, until 1933, was critical support for the USSR and the possibility for reform.[135]

However, Trotsky and the Opposition were extremely isolated during this period. Most of the Opposition within the USSR had capitulated, those who were not in prison and exile, operated without any cohesion or direction. By contrast, the Soviet Union was seemingly going from success to success. Yet this was not to say that Trotsky and the Opposition were totally finished. Trotsky himself remained ever defiant and as Deutscher says, he

stood alone as the proxy of Bolshevism in opposition. His name, like Stalin’s, became something of a myth; but whereas Stalin’s was the myth of power sponsored by power, his was the legend of resistance and martyrdom cherished by the martyred. The young people who in the nineteen-thirties faced executioners with the cry ‘Long Live Trotsky!’ often had no more than a mere inkling of his ideas. They identified themselves with a symbol rather than a program, the symbol of their own anger with all the misery and oppression that surrounded them, of their own harking back to the great promise of October and of their own, rather vague, hope for a ‘renascence’ of the revolution.[136]

Within a few short years, for the Soviet leadership, the symbol of Trotsky would be transformed into a demon who was in league with foreign powers directing wrecking, sabotage and terror inside the USSR to overthrow Stalin and restore capitalism.

IV. Bloc and Break[137]

a. The Riutin Platform
No organized political opposition existed within the CPSU by 1932, since the majority of right and left oppositionists had capitulated. While there had been widespread support for Stalin’s policies of industrialization and collectivization, a change of mood was beginning to manifest itself within the party. Former oppositionists and high level officials believed that the country was heading for ruin. This mood can be traced to the famine of 1932, hunger in the cities, rising prices, and scarce goods – all of which served to produce doubts and opposition to the official line. By the end of the year, this nebulous opposition began to coalesce into three groups.

The first group consisted of Martemyan Riutin, an old Bolshevik, an ex-member of the Right Opposition and formerly a district organizer in Moscow. Worried about the situation in the USSR, in August 1932, Riutin met with a dozen or so other party members to discuss nearly 200 page document entitled “Stalin and the Crisis of the Proletarian Dictatorship” that criticized Stalin for breaking with Leninism, establishing a personal dictatorship, disastrous economic policies, undermining socialism, and ending with a provocative call: “The mistakes of Stalin and his clique have turned into crimes. . . . Elimination of Stalin’s dictatorship may be fulfilled only by the party and the working class, and they will fulfill it, whatever the difficulties to be overcome and whatever the sacrifices it will require…”[138] The members of the group decided to distribute the platform secretly in Moscow and Kharkov.

Although no solid evidence exists on how far the Platform spread or its influence within the Party, Stalin and the leadership quickly learned of its existence. The open call to overthrow the “Stalin dictatorship” did not merit a gentle response. It turned out that one of those who received the Platform was an agent of the secret police. On September 30, 1932, the police raided the apartment that contained the original document. Subsequently, all of the writers of the Platform were arrested, expelled from the party and thrown into prison for being members of a “counterrevolutionary organization.” Riutin himself would be executed in 1937. Following their arrest, other former oppositionists such as Zinoviev, Kamenev and Radek were interrogated by party disciplinary bodies about their connections with the group. Many of them were expelled from the Party just for possessing knowledge of the existence of the Platform (regardless of whether they had read it).

Many of the criticisms raised by Riutin dovetailed with those of Trotsky, who also believed that the USSR under Stalin was in crisis and on the road to ruin. Trotsky had called for a change in course and democratization inside the Party. Despite the capitulation of most of the Left Opposition, Trotsky still possessed contacts inside the USSR, through the intermediary of Lev Sedov. Despite his condemnation of capitulators such as Karl Radek, Sokolnikov, and Preobrazhenskv, Trotsky maintained contact with them. One of his contacts was the ex-Left Oppositionist I. N. Smirnov whom in late 1932 Trotsky convinced to return to active opposition by forming an underground organization of “Bolshevik-Leninists.”[139] The Bolshevik-Leninist organization was quickly smashed by the police and its members arrested. Despite this setback, Trotsky also let it be known in letters to the Politburo that he was willing to appeal to rank-and-file party members. All of Trotsky’s activity was bound to antagonize the leadership of the CPSU.

In October 1932, before Smirnov’s arrest, Trotsky had sent a contact E. S. Goltsman, a former Trotskyist and current Soviet official to meet with Sedov in Berlin with a proposal about forming a united oppositional bloc. The proposed bloc would be composed of Trotskyists, Zinovievists, the Right Opposition, and others. Trotsky voiced cautious approval, not wanting capitulators to be involved and stressing: “The bloc does not exclude reciprocal criticism. Any propaganda by our allies in favor of capitulations (such as Grünstein, etc.) will be inexorably and pitilessly resisted by us.”[140] Trotsky saw the bloc functioning primarily as a means “of exchange of information. The allies keep us informed about what concerns the Soviet Union, while we do the same for them as far as the Communist International is concerned. We should reach an agreement about very exact means of corresponding.”[141] Therefore, based on the evidence, there was no terrorist or wrecking role for the Bloc whatsoever (as was alleged at the Moscow Trials). The Bloc was able never able to get off the ground since its leading participants were soon arrested. The USSR almost certainly knew about the existence of the Bloc from its formation, as the historian J. Arch Getty observes, “Trotsky’s and Sedov’s staffs were thoroughly infiltrated, and Sedov’s closest collaborator in 1936, Mark Zborowski, is said to have been an NKVD agent.”[142]

Although this repression seemingly put a stop to Trotsky’s efforts, there still appeared to be hope for him to return to the USSR. Most of the Oppositionists were either imprisoned or deported, but the execution of party members still lay in the future. Yet the situation changed in early 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany. Until this moment, Trotsky had refused to contemplate a break with the Comintern or the CPSU, since the vast majority of revolutionary workers remained loyal to both. Yet the defeat in March 1933 of the world’s largest Communist Party (outside of the USSR), without a struggle caused him to announce a break with the Third International in July.[143]

Trotsky had hoped that the majority of Communist Parties would realize the bankruptcy of Comintern policies and break with it as well. They did not. Furthermore, Trotsky made one final effort to be allowed to legally return to the USSR by addressing a letter to the Politburo on March 15. According to J. Arch Getty,

Trotsky’s letter was based on his perception that economic catastrophe was overwhelming the party leadership which now needed the support and participation of all factions in order to rebuild the party and maintain power….Trotsky thus proposed that the Left Opposition be allowed to return to the leadership as a ‘tendency’ within the party, and insisted that his group would not publicly renounce its critique and program. He was, however, leaving the door open for a deal under which agitation for this program could be held in abeyance for an indefinite period. Trotsky was willing to re-enter the leadership without the usual recantation but with the suggestion that for the sake of party unity he would refrain from criticism. This was a new proposal. Previously, he had demanded unlimited freedom of criticism for the opposition within the party, but now he was making oppositional criticism conditional on an ‘agreement’ to be worked out. The contradiction with Trotsky’s previous conditions and demands explains the secrecy of the letter.[144]

There was no response from Moscow, so six weeks later Trotsky followed up with another letter. Yet just as that letter was sent, Trotsky learned that Zinoviev and Kamenev had recanted and pledged their loyalty to the Stalin leadership.

This put an end to any prospect for a Bloc with other oppositionists in the USSR. Trotsky had kept his options open until the end, but on July 15, he finally crossed the Rubicon and broke with the CPSU and the Comintern. Now Trotsky was outside of the official communist movement and had no chance of returning to the Moscow leadership. And the rise of Hitler had caused whatever remnants of the Opposition remained in the USSR to rally around the leadership, since they now feared that a political crisis would expose the country to the Nazi threat.

The possibility of Trotsky returning to the USSR in 1932-33 or the Bloc becoming a political force may seem slim in retrospect, but at the time, these appeared to be very real possibilities. The USSR was in a state of extreme crisis and it seemed that the country was on the verge of coming apart. The criticisms of both Trotsky and Riutin coincided on many points which appeared to threaten the besieged party. Stalin and the CPSU responded with panic and fear to these dissidents who threatened the unity of the party at a crucial moment. And even more so, the actions of both the Riutin Platform and especially of Trotsky, showed the threat of carrying political disagreements outside of the party in order to agitate not only at the lower levels, but potentially politicize the masses in a way that could threaten the regime itself.

b. The New Line
For years, Trotsky had been warning of the dangers of Nazism and the need for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to form a united front with the Social Democrats (SPD) to fight them. However, the Comintern, then following the theses of the 6th Congress in 1928, believed that the SPD were social fascists and would only support a united front “from below,” which meant no united front at all. As the Nazis went from strength to strength in the elections, their storm troopers murdered workers in the streets, and the Weimar Republic fell apart, Trotsky desperately repeated his call for united resistance. He stated that a dire fate awaited the left should the Nazis triumph:

Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for anyplace; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left![145]

In March 1933, Hitler and the Nazis seized full dictatorial power in Germany. What little democratic liberties remained in Weimar were smashed. Labor unions were replaced by the Nazi-run German Labor Front. The Communists and Social Democrats were now in exile, underground, or in prison. Not only had Hitler smashed the crushed the largest working class movement in Europe, but the Nazis were virulently anti-communist and expansionist, meaning that the USSR was now threatened with war.

For Trotsky, the defeat in Germany was comparable to the collapse of the Second International in 1914. In July 1933, Trotsky made his break with the Comintern complete, stating that “Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.”[146] Trotsky also cut his last ties with the CPSU and the possibilities for reform:

For a long time we had calculated that we would succeed in reforming the CPSU itself, and through its mediation, in regenerating the Soviet regime. But the present official party now bears much less resemblance to a party than two years ago or even a year ago. The party congress has not taken place for more than three years, and nobody talks about it. The Stalinist clique is now whittling down and reconstructing its “party,” as if it were a disciplinary battalion. The purges and expulsions were at first intended to disorganize the party, to terrorize it, to deprive it of the possibility of thinking and acting; now the repressions are aimed at preventing the reorganization of the party. Yet the proletarian party is indispensable if the Soviet state is not to perish. There are many elements in favor of it but only in a struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy can they be brought to the surface and united. To speak now of the “reform” of the CPSU would mean to look backward and not forward, to soothe one’s mind with empty formulas. In the USSR, it is necessary to build a Bolshevik party again.[147]

Whereas before 1933, Trotsky had warned of the dangers of Thermidor due to the policies of Stalin. Now he stated that the Thermidor had already occurred, stating: “The smashing of the Left Opposition implied in the most direct and immediate sense the transfer of power from the hands of the revolutionary vanguard into the hands of the more conservative elements among the bureaucracy and the upper crust of the working class. The year 1924 – that was the beginning of the Soviet Thermidor.”[148] Trotsky admitted that the original definition of Thermidor that he had been using until 1933 was imprecise. Thermidor is a term that originated from the Great French Revolution of the 1790s. It connotes a reaction within the revolution or the onset of a conservative phase. For instance, in 1794, the radical Jacobins were overthrown and a reaction came upon the French Republic, leading eventually to the creation of Napoleon’s Empire. The Russian counterpart to the Thermidor, according to Trotsky, could be traced to 1923 and Stalin’s initial victories over Trotsky’s Left Opposition. At this point, there was an ebb in revolutionary energy as Stalin gave concessions to the bureaucracy against the interests of the masses. The Soviet bureaucracy eventually developed the productive forces of the country which “provided an outlet for the energies of active and capable organizers, administrators and technicians. Their material and moral position improved rapidly. A broad, privileged stratum was created, closely linked to the ruling upper crust. The toiling masses lived on hopes or fell into apathy.”[149]

Trotsky fully developed his analysis of the Soviet bureaucracy and Thermidor in his 1936 work, The Revolution Betrayed, which also serves as his political testament.[150] The Revolution Betrayed was part a theoretical treatise and polemic. By 1936, the USSR had claimed to have achieved socialism with the successes of industrialization and collectivization. A new constitution had been implemented in the USSR, that claimed to be the ‘most democratic in the world.’ This was also a time when material and social inequality was growing throughout Russia. A new hierarchy was coming into place. Tsarist ranks were being restored in the army. Bureaucratic conservatism was evident in the sciences, family life, education and the arts. There was also competition of laborers for the privileges and necessities of life. Was this really the society which Marx and Lenin had set out to build as the slogans claimed? Trotsky’s answer was an emphatic no.

Trotsky set out to refute the claim that Stalin’s Russia was socialist. He believed (in line with classical Marxist thought), that social forms of ownership was not necessarily socialism (although it was essential). To Trotsky, socialism entailed a society of abundance, not want and poverty. In the USSR, want and poverty had produced not socialism but a new hierarchy. Stalin was using Marxism, particularly the phrase ‘to each according to his labor’ (from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program) to justify inequality. To Stalin, Marx had said that there would be inequality in socialism, whereby each would be rewarded according to their labor, meaning some would get more than others. This seemed to justify the socialism that Stalin was promoting, whereby inequality was growing. Yet Trotsky pointed out that Marx believed that whatever inequalities existed in socialism would diminish, not grow, as that society transitioned toward socialism. This inequality in the USSR meant that Trotsky believed that it had not reached socialism, but rather was a society in transition.

Furthermore, Trotsky believed (again as a classical Marxist) that socialism would entail the withering away of the state. This was because the need for the state had originally come from class conflicts and the need to maintain a particular mode of production and the dominance of a ruling class. With the onset of socialism, class antagonisms and inequality were supposed to disappear (in the USSR inequality remained). Trotsky believed that the state, in the lower stage of socialism, would move progressively to administer things and not people. What Trotsky advocated was a state in the process of withering away in the manner of the Paris Commune (also touched on by Lenin in the State and the Revolution), which would be democratic and non-coercive in regards to the people.

In the USSR, the state was clearly an instrument of coercion and its role in society was growing. Trotsky believed that the dangers of capitalist encirclement were not wholly to blame for the need of a powerful state (although they were certainly real). Trotsky argued that the state in the USSR was needed to protect the privileges of the ruling elite from the workers and peasants.

Trotsky’s position on the state in Soviet society leads naturally to his theory of the bureaucracy. Trotsky believed that the Soviet system could be defined as the defense of privileges. The rulers protect their interests against workers and other sources of discontent. The rulers don’t want revolutionary adventurers abroad because that could also threaten to bring the whole structure down upon them. The USSR abroad thus relied on traditional diplomacy and was interested in great power politics to solidify itself than revolutionary advances (ex. Soviet policy in China and France).

Who made up this elite? Trotsky says that the rulers (or the bureaucracy) were composed of administrators, high ranking party officials, the general staff of the Red Army and civil servants. This stratum of Soviet society made up 10-15% of the population.

Was the bureaucracy inevitable under socialism? Trotsky says no (as opposed to Rakvosky) but looks at the unique characteristics in Soviet history that made it possible. The bureaucracy in the USSR grew due to the want and poverty that was found in the country. Trotsky says that no revolution can abolish inequalities immediately upon taking power, differentials would remain (even in an advanced capitalist nation). The revolutionary state (in this case the USSR) would have to provide for skilled workers and technicians, and administrators to help develop the economy, while at the same time attempting to abolish privileges. The development of the economy was necessary in order to increase the social wealth and education of society. This would help reduce the gap between mental and manual labor (which was endemic to capitalism).

However, the USSR was a contradiction. On the one hand, it had to develop and defend social property but also bourgeois wage differentials. Trotsky argued that due to this contradiction, the socialist elements in Soviet society had declined and bourgeois elements were gaining the upper hand especially in the bureaucracy. The bourgeois elements could be seen in the policemen keeping order amidst a shortage of goods. Although the bureaucracy was ruling and developing the USSR, in Trotsky’s view it was not a new class (a controversial statement amongst his followers ever since).[151]

For Trotsky, the bureaucracy possesses managerial functions. It acts like owns the state and society, but it doesn’t legally own it. Unlike capitalists in the west (or other ruling classes), the bureaucracy can’t appropriate the means of production and pass it on to their children. The ownership of the bureaucracy was bound up to state ownership of the means of production. In order to continue reaping the benefits of state property, the bureaucracy has to defend it. In Trotsky’s view, the bureaucracy’s defense of that ownership was progressive (in his view the USSR remained a degenerated workers’ state).

Yet the bureaucracy’s defense of state property and its rule was unstable in Trotsky’s view. It could not last forever. To him, either capitalism or socialism would ultimately prevail. Trotsky posed the outcomes before the Soviet society as follows: the bureaucracy could form a new class which would expropriate state property. This would lead the USSR back to capitalism. Or the workers would overthrow the bureaucracy and build socialism (more below). Trotsky believed that Stalin’s rule was leading to the first outcome.

Stalin was encouraging bureaucracy in their acquisition of wealth and power, which would ultimately threaten the achievements of the revolution. Yet Stalin’s position was also contradictory. He was constantly purging the bureaucracy, keeping it in a state of flux and preventing it from forming a new stable class. It was hard for the bureaucrats to become a full-fledged capitalist class when they could be sent to prison at a moment’s notice. This state of flux (absolutist or totalitarian during Stalin’s tenure) seemed to grow stable under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Ultimately there was a full-fledged capitalist restoration under Gorbachev. So in a sense, Trotsky was right that the Soviet rulers would seek to become a new ruling class in the manner of the capitalist west, although his timing was far off.

What about the second option? To Trotsky, Soviet workers recognized that the bureaucracy defended state property. Yet he believed that the proletariat would drive them out if they had the chance. He thought that would happen when the Soviet workers rose up and in a violent political revolution, not through peaceful reform. This political revolution would seek to defend state property, but would not be a social revolution in changing the mode of production (ex. moving from capitalism to socialism). The new workers’ state would be democratic and bring about greater equality. Even though this was to be a political revolution, it would have great social consequences (i.e. French Revolution in 1848 moved from a monarchy to republic, but remained capitalist).

Trotsky also laid out his own program for the Bolshevik-Leninists, whom he hoped were going to lead the political revolution to overthrow Stalin and the bureaucracy. As he put it: the Bolshevik-Leninists “ would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution-that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy-the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.”[152] In other words, the political revolution would “have deep social consequences, but in itself it will be confined within the limits of political revolution.”[153]

How did Trotsky sum up the USSR? To him, Stalin’s regime was one of a Bonapartist character, which meant it was unstable. Stalin’s system was defending state property, which meant he periodically purged the bureaucrats to prevent the crystallization of a new class. On the other hand, Stalin also encouraged bureaucratic privileges while curtailing Soviet democracy, all of which could lead to a capitalist restoration if not halted by the workers. This was an unstable system that Trotsky didn’t believe would outlast another world war (which he clearly foresaw). Trotsky could see that if the workers of Europe didn’t rise up, then imperialism would defeat the USSR and restore capitalism.

So what was the proposed program of Trotsky’s political revolution? Trotsky laid them out as follows:

The fundamental elements of the program are already clear, and have been given throughout the course of this book as an objective inference from an analysis of the contradictions of the Soviet regime. It is not a question of substituting one ruling clique for another, but of changing the very methods of administering the economy and guiding the culture of the country. Bureaucratic auto(‘lacy must give place to Soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. Free discussion of economic problems will decrease the overhead expense of bureaucratic mistakes and zigzags. Expensive playthings-palaces of the Soviets, new theaters, show-off subways-will be crowded out in favor of workers’ dwellings. “Bourgeois norms of distribution” will be confined within the limits of strict necessity, and, in step with the growth of social wealth, will give way to socialist equality. Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will g o into the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes, and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And, finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism.[154]

Here was Trotsky’s final assessment of the post-revolutionary regime which had emerged in the USSR after years of struggle and deep thinking. Despite its flaws and contradictions, The Revolution Betrayed was to prove to be an essential text for all subsequent critiques of the USSR. Yet the political revolution which Trotsky had hoped for would never come to pass. As this work was published, the last remnants of the Opposition within the USSR were about to be wiped out.

V. Purges
a. The Great Terror[155]
In late January and early February 1934, the Soviet Communist Party held its Seventeenth Congress, called “The Congress of Victors.” The Congress celebrated the triumph of the First Five Year Plan of industrialization and the transformation of the USSR. The country had weathered the storms of 1932 and 1933, that had threatened its survival, but now they were securely on the march to socialism. Amidst the public acclamations for Stalin by the Party (including former Oppositionists), there was discontent underneath and a failed effort to replace him with the Leningrad Party leader Sergei Kirov.

Despite the failed party shake-up, there was a feeling of normalcy returning to the USSR with rationing was lifted in 1935 and the media celebrated the achievements of socialist construction. That same year, the USSR and the Comintern dropped talk of revolutionary offensives in favor of popular fronts and collective security with the bourgeois democracies to meet the growing fascist threat. This new liberal mood was crowned with the introduction of a new Constitution in 1936. Another wind was blowing though, one that promised a storm. On December 1, 1934, a lone man named Leonid Nikolayev (whose precise motivations remain unclear) assassinated Kirov in his Leningrad office. Mass arrests followed in Leningrad. Yet this was just a drop in the bucket to what was coming.

Concurrently, from 1933-6, the CPSU was undertaking a routine purge to update their records and “uncover local corruption, bureaucratism, and malfeasance, they encouraged lower-level mass input as a check against entrenched local party machines.”[156] However, this encouraged decentralization by the local and regional party leaders, who used the purges to develop their own networks and loosen their dependence upon Moscow. As Getty notes, “The party in the thirties was neither monolithic nor disciplined, its upper ranks were divided, and its lower organizations were disorganized, chaotic, and undisciplined. Moscow leaders were divided on policy issues, and central leaders were at odds with territorial secretaries whose organizations suffered from internal disorder and conflict.”[157] To Stalin and the leadership in Moscow, this was hardly satisfactory and they wanted to rectify it. Soon, the need to centralize control would overlap with the hunt for enemies, spies and traitors, assuming monstrous proportions.

On 29 July 1936, the Central Committee sent a secret letter to all local party organizations “Concerning the terroristic activity of the Trotskyist-Zinovievist counterrevolutionary bloc”[158] stating that the former Oppositionists were behind the Kirov assassination and actively plotting against Soviet power. Shortly thereafter, the first Show Trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev was conducted in Moscow, where the two old Bolsheviks were convicted of Kirov’s murder and quickly executed. This was followed by two more major show trials in 1937 and 1938, that also contained other major party leaders and former Oppositionists such as Pyatakov, Rykov, Rakovsky, and (most famously) Bukharin. The charges at the trials ranged from wrecking, terrorism and sabotage to collusion disloyal elements in the Red Army and foreign powers to overthrow the Soviet leadership and restore capitalism. All the defendants were convicted and most were summarily shot. At the center of this vast conspiracy was Trotsky, who was supposedly an agent of Britain and Nazi Germany and directing conspiratorial operations from abroad. No corroborating evidence existed to prove the charges, only the coerced confessions of the defendants.[159]

Although there had been other instances of terror in the Soviet Union, before most of them had been directed against class enemies and had occurred during wartime. The Great Purge, reaching its high point in 1937 was directed at Communists, elites, intellectuals, and people in all walks of society. According to Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of 1956, “Of 1,966 delegates [to the Congress of Victors] with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes.”[160] The Purges decimated the Old Bolsheviks of Lenin’s generation, the civil war, and collectivization. The continuity of leadership was practically broken and by the end of the decade, according to Sheila Fitzpatrick, “only twenty-four members of the Central Committee elected at the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939 had been members of the previous Central Committee, elected five years earlier.”[161] The army, leaders of industry, intelligence services and the intelligentsia (even members of foreign communist parties) were also ravaged by purges with lasting damage to the USSR. New and inexperienced people were promoted to jobs for which they had little training. For example, the military genius Marshal Marshal Tukhachevsky was executed on the frame-up of being in league with German intelligence. As Moshe Lewin points out, the purge of the Red Army left the country severely under-prepared for war with Germany: “In the summer of 1941, 75 per cent of field officers and 70 per cent of political commissars had been in post for less than a year, so that the core of the army lacked the requisite experience in commanding larger units.”[162]

Some brief figures will show the scale of the purges. The latest records show that at the height of the Terror, according to Getty, “681,692 people were shot in 1937-38.”[163] Furthermore, “the population of all labor camps, labor colonies, and prisons on 1 January 1939, near the end of the Great Purges, was 2,022,976.”[164] Finally, the total number of “excess deaths” due to the repression of the 1930s was in the range of 2 million.[165] Although this far below the 20 million number given by anti-communists such as Robert Conquest, it is still horrendous.

There was also a “popular element” to the purges. Ordinary people complained about the abuses of power by local officials and party leaders by denouncing them. And certainly real grievances were involved, but in an atmosphere of rampant paranoia, many of these denunciations had little to do with justice, and more to do with revenge and self-interest. This mania to undercover spies and wreckers caught hold amongst the population, propelling the terror forward. As Fitzpatrick observes “the Great Purges could not have snowballed as they did without popular participation.”[166] Yet the terror of 1937 was primarily state terror, where the most prominent victims were not the bourgeoisie, but members of the Communist Party.

There was no grand master plan by Stalin to launch the terror, as evidenced by various changes in policy, twists and turn by party leaders. Yet Getty concludes, the terror was “a joint project of a power-hungry Stalin and an insecure elite to centralize power, protect the regime, and clean up the party. Stalin certainly had a drive constantly to prepare his positions and to increase his personal power and authority.”[167] And while Stalin was a skilled operator, the momentum for the terror came from other sources as well – the secret police, local party leaders, ordinary citizens – and threatened to escape his control, so it ultimately had to be reined in after 1938. Yet in the end, the power of the party was crushed, the atmosphere within the USSR was chilled, and Stalin emerged as an unchallenged autocrat.

b. Rivers of Blood
Shortly after Victor Serge was exiled to Belgium in1936, he established contact with Trotsky. The two men corresponded throughout the summer of 1936 in lively exchange. Not only had both escaped from the terror in the USSR, but the international situation was heating up – France had seen massive strikes and the election of the Popular Front, Spain was drifting towards war and revolution, and the first Show Trials were due to begin in Moscow. Both Serge and Trotsky would also find themselves having to refute the mountain of slanders being heaped on the Old Bolsheviks (and Trotsky) as traitors to the revolution.

Serge’s letters to Trotsky give some detail of the state of the Opposition. In a letter dated May 27, 1936, Serge states that there were approximately 500 Trotskyists in the USSR. Despite their small numbers, Serge praised these comrades, since they “will not give way, they are tempered characters who have learnt to think and feel for themselves and who accept calmly the prospect of a persecution without end.”[168] Serge also mentioned that the Trotskyists had “no great unity of viewpoints.”[169] There were divisions among them on questions ranging from the dictatorship of the proletariat, Soviet democracy, and the nature of the USSR (some isolators believed it was state capitalist). The Soviet Trotskyists, according to Serge, took a great interest in the tactics of the International Left Opposition (there was debate as to whether founding a Fourth International was more useful as agitation as opposed to a real possibility). Due to the capitulations of Opposition leaders such as Rakovsky, this left Trotsky as the acknowledged leader: “In Russia you have an incomparable moral standing and an absolute devotion.”[170] Serge also says that the mass arrests of “Trotskyists” following Kirov assassination was done indiscriminately and of the arrested, the “mass majority…are absolutely worthless: informers, alcoholics, part-philistine.”[171] Serge ends his letter optimistically, declaring: “We certainly have genuine reserves as big or even bigger elsewhere in the party and even outside the party.”[172]

Trotsky was optimistic about the Soviet section of the Fourth International, believing that the repression it endured was only effective against a class disappearing from the scene not the proletariat. He argued that the bureaucracy’s violence against the Fourth International could not save “a caste which, if the Soviet Union is destined in general to further development, has outlived itself.”[173] However, even Trotsky was forced to admit that the conditions that his followers endured were undeniably harsh: “Today it is still weak and driven underground. But the illegal existence of a party is not nonexistence. It is only a difficult form of existence.”[174] Trotsky held out hope to the very end that the Opposition within the USSR would lead the forthcoming political revolution against the bureaucracy.

However, it was a forlorn hope. By 1934, the unrepentant Trotskyists were not only few in number, as Trotsky and Serge recognized, but scattered in prisons across the USSR where they endured persecution and suffering. They were totally isolated from society. Yet the mania of the purges made it seem as if Trotskyists were everywhere within the USSR, wrecking the economy and actively plotting to overthrow Stalin in collusion with capitalist powers. Soon hundreds of thousands of suspected Trotskyists were thrown into prison, swelling the ranks of those already there.

The regime in the camps was harsh, as Deutscher recounts, with long hours and little food, but the Trotskyists led resistance by the prisoners:

Yet the camps were once again becoming schools and training grounds of the opposition, with the Trotskyists as the unrivaled tutors. It was they who were at the head of the deportees in nearly all the strikes and hunger strikes, who confronted the administration with demands for improvements in camp conditions, and who by their defiant, often heroic behavior, inspired others to hold out. Tightly organized, self-disciplined, and politically well informed, they were the real elite of that huge segment of the nation that had been cast behind the barbed wire.[175]

The last stand of the Trotskyists occurred in the prisons of Vorkuta and Ukhta-Pechora and was recounted in a remarkable document with the author identified only as “M.B.” that was published by the Socialist Messenger in 1961.[176] The Trotskyists numbered approximately 500 at Vortuka, 1,000 at the camp of Ukhta-Pechora, and several thousand in the whole district. The Trotskyists were brought to work at the Vortuka mines in 1936. The whole camp numbered around 100,000 prisoners, but many of these prisoners were other capitulators who had recanted or had belonged to other Oppositional groupings. And there were many who had never been Trotskyists or belonged to any Oppositional groups, but willingly tied their fate to the Trotskyists.

Within the ranks of the Trotskyists there were several different groupings: partisans of Bukharin, Trotsky, the Workers’ Opposition (from the early 1920s), the “Democratic Centralists” who believed that the USSR had already undergone bourgeois degeneration in the 1920s. Yet as M.B. states, “In spite of their differences, all of these groups at the mine lived in a friendly enough fashion under one common denominator, “the Trotskyists.” Their leaders were Socrates Gevorkian, Vladimir Ivanov, Melnais, VV Kossior and Trotsky’s ex-secretary, Poznansky.”[177] Some of these men had long records of distinguished party activity and more than ten years in prison behind them.

The Trotskyists lived in two barracks where they refused to work underground and demanded an 8 hour day as opposed to the 10-12 hour day then practiced in the camps. Despite the risk, the Trotskyist prisoners disobeyed the camp regulations. Within time, their disorganized resistance became more organized.

Following the executions of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1936, the orthodox Trotskyists held a meeting to honor them as martyrs. The meeting was quite short, but the prisoners declared their clear opposition to Stalin and the threat he posed to the gains of the revolution:

It is now evident that the group of Stalinist adventurers have completed their counter-revolutionary coup d’etat in our country. All the progressive conquests of our revolution are in mortal danger. Not twilight shadows, but those of deep black night envelop our country. No Cavaignac spilled as much working class blood as has Stalin. Physically annihilating all the opposition groups within the party, he aims at total personal dictatorship. The party and the whole people are subjected to surveillance and to summary justice by the police apparatus. The predictions and the direst fears of our Opposition are fully confirmed. The nation slides irresistibly into the Thermidorian swamp. This is the triumph of the centrist petty-bourgeois forces, of which Stalin is the interpreter, the spokesman, and the apostle. No compromise is possible with the Stalinist traitors and hangmen of the revolution. Remaining proletarian revolutionaries to the very end, we should not entertain any illusion about the fate waiting us. But before destroying us, Stalin will try to humiliate us much as he can. By throwing political prisoners in with common criminals, he strives to scatter us among the criminals and to incite them against us. We are left with only one means of struggle in this unequal battle: the hunger strike. With a group of comrades, we have already drawn up a list of our demands of which many of you are already informed. Therefore, I now propose to you that we discuss them together and make a decision.[178]

On October 27, they began a hunger strike (in which Trotsky’s younger son Sergei took part in) to protest their conditions and make the following concrete demands (which were adopted unanimously):

1.Abrogation of the illegal decision of the NKVD, concerning the transfer of all Trotskyists from administrative camps to concentration camps. Affairs relating to political opposition to the regime must not be judged by special NKVD tribunals, but in public judicial assemblies.

2.The workday in the camp must not exceed eight hours.

3.The food quota of the prisoners should not depend on their norm of output. A cash bonus, not the food ration, should be used as a production incentive.

4.Separation, at work as well as in the barracks, of political prisoners and common criminals.

5.The old, the ill, and women prisoners should be moved from the polar camps to camps where the climatic conditions were more favorable.[179]

The strike, which had 1,000 members at its height, spread to every barracks, with all the Trotskyists participating and many non-Trotskyists following the call as well. The prison administration feared that the strike would spread, transferred some of the Trotskyists to away from the camp and in March 1937, and they accepted all the demands. In the end, the strike lasted 132 days with minimal deaths and only two inmates breaking (neither were Trotskyists). The Trotskyists had seemingly won a great victory and their spirits were elated. Yet the terror was reaching its height in 1937. Food rations were cut and prisoners were summarily shot. Criminal gangs were set upon the Oppositionists like rabid dogs. Political prisoners were isolated and guarded by the soldiers, who relentlessly tormented them.

Then in March 1938, the final Cavalry began. A list of twenty-five prisoners was announced and they were told to prepare themselves for transfer. Within fifteen minutes of leaving, they were executed. Two days later, there was another call up of forty names. They too were shot. The executions continued through May with a few called in intervals of a day or two. The Trotskyists went to their end with dignity and bravery, defiant to the end, which is recounted in one moving episode: “One time, a group of nearly a hundred, composed mainly of Trotskyists, was led away to be shot. As they marched away, the condemned sang the “Internationale,” joined by the voices of hundreds of prisoners remaining in camp.”[180] By the end of May, fewer than a hundred remained. Few actual Trotskyists remained among the living in the USSR. It would be years before the truth would be leaked out.

As Deutscher concluded:

During the remaining fifteen years of Stalin’s rule no group was left in Soviet society, not even in the prisons and camps, capable of challenging him. No centre of independent political thinking had been allowed to survive. A tremendous gap had been torn in the nation’s consciousness; its collective memory was shattered; the continuity of its revolutionary traditions was broken; and its capacity to form and crystallize any non-conformist notions was destroyed. The Soviet Union was finally left, not merely in its practical politics, but even in its hidden mental processes, without any alternative to Stalinism.[181]

None of those in the great show trials were unrepentant Trotskyists, since their cooperation with the confessional script could not be guaranteed. Rather, only former Trotskyists were placed in the dock. The bravery of those who refused to confess at the height of the Terror was recognized by those beyond their ranks such as Leopold Trepper, the legendary anti-fascist intelligence agent:

But who then, at that time, protested? Who stood up to shout his disgust?

The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honor. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did….

Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not ‘confess,’ for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism.[182]

However, the hunting of Trotskyists was not limited to just the USSR. In Spain, then in the middle of Civil War, Soviet aid was not just used to arm the Republican army against Franco, but to wipe out “Trotskyist-fascists” such as the POUM (including killing their leader Andres Nin).[183]

In the atmosphere of the purges, no one was safe, not even members of the secret police. Foreign gents abroad were often imprisoned upon their return. Ignace Reiss, chief of a network of Soviet intelligence in Europe, resigned from his post in protest against the purges in July 1937. In Reiss’ final letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the CPSU, he returned his Order of the Red Banner refusing to wear the medal “simultaneously with the hangmen of the best representatives of the Russian worker.” Reiss declared: “the day is not far when international socialism will sit in judgment over all the crimes committed in the last ten years. Nothing will be forgotten, nothing forgiven. History is harsh….For the Fourth International!”[184] Six weeks later, Reiss was dead in Switzerland, killed by GPU assassins.[185] Trotsky penned an obituary that declared that “by breaking with the Comintern and the G.P.U. Reiss gave proof of his courage as a revolutionist. He knew better than anybody else the danger that threatened his transfer of allegiance from the camp of the Thermidorian hellhounds to the camp of revolution.”[186]

The GPU had also infiltrated the ranks of the Left Opposition in France, in the person of Mark Zborowski, who ensured that he died during a routine medical operation in February 1938.[187] Trotsky himself was not safe from assassins, ultimately being struck by an ice axe in his Mexican exile on August 20, 1940. He died the next day.

It was not without exaggeration that Trotsky viewed what the purges as showing a break between Bolshevism and Stalinism, viewing the latter as counter-revolutionary and covered in blood: “The present purge draws between Bolshevism and Stalinism not simply a bloody line but a whole river of blood. The annihilation of all the older generation of Bolsheviks, an important part of the middle generation which participated in the civil war, and that part of the youth that took up most seriously the Bolshevik traditions, shows not only a political but a thoroughly physical incompatibility between Bolshevism and Stalinism.”[188]

VI. Conclusion

In September 1938, thirty delegates from Europe and the United States attended the founding conference for the Fourth International in Paris. The Fourth International was founded as an alternative to the Second and Third Internationals, both of which were seen as incapable of leading the proletariat to socialism. The Fourth International declared that “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”[189] which they naturally planned to fill.

In regards to the USSR, the Fourth International reiterated Trotsky’s call for a political revolution against Stalin and the bureaucracy: “Only the victorious revolutionary uprising of the oppressed masses can revive the Soviet regime and guarantee its further development toward socialism. There is but one party capable of leading the Soviet masses to insurrection – the party of the Fourth International!” Yet the International’s boast that “It is the banner of …approaching victory” turned out to be ill-founded and premature.

Yet within the USSR, the last remnants of the Left Opposition were dead or numb. Throughout Europe, fascist and right-wing authoritarian regimes held sway with the labor movement crushed. In Spain, the Republic was losing the war. Darkness had cast a long shadow. Soon the Second World War would begin, raising the working class from apathy and defeat. Yet they would turn to the Communist Parties allied to Moscow as their instruments, not the Fourth International. No echoes of Fourth International would be felt in the USSR. It had come too late. Yet the militants who founded the Fourth International followed the path begun by their brave comrades who had stayed true to the revolutionary banner when the chimes struck midnight in the Soviet Union.

[1] Victor Serge, Midnight in the Century (London: Writers and Readers, 1982), 118.

[2] The generic terms of Oppositionist and Trotskyist will be used throughout this essay, but the Opposition also went by several names during the different phases of its existence: Left Opposition (1923-1925), United (or Joint) Opposition (1926-1927), and Bolshevik-Leninist (mainly used by Trotsky in exile).

[3] Quoted in Tony Cliff, Trotsky 1923-1927: Fighting the Rising Stalinist Bureaucracy (London: Bookmarks, 1991), 131.

[4] Cliff 1991, 147-8.

[5] See Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1968), 143-4; Leon Trotsky, The Platform of the Opposition: The Party Crisis and How to Overcome It, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), 301-394.

[6] Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 270.

[7] Richard B. Day, “Leon Trotsky on the problems of the smychka and forced collectivization,” Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory 13:1 (1982): 59-60. Earlier, in his 1925 essay, Towards Capitalism or Socialism, Trotsky had described the links between the USSR and the world economy as follows (translation is modified): “Our economy has now entered the world system. This has resulted in the forging of a new link in the union of town and country. Peasant grain is now being exchanged for foreign gold. Gold is exchanged for machines, implements and the various other articles required by town and village. Textile machinery obtained in exchange for the gold received from the export of grain re-equips the textile industry, and thereby reduces the price of cloth sent into the villages. The general process of circulation has become much more complex, but the basis of it remains as before the definite economic relation between town and village.” See Leon Trotsky, Towards Capitalism or Socialism, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 381-2. This is also quoted in Day 1982, 60 and is discussed in relation to Trotsky’s developmental strategy by Richard B. Day in Leon Trotsky and the Politics of Economic Isolation (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1973), 138-42. It is also worth comparing Trotsky’s 1925 remarks with what he said following expulsion from the party in 1928: “Like the wise owl which comes flying only in the dusk, the theory of socialism in one country pops up at the moment when our industry, which exhausts ever greater proportions of the old fixed capital, in two-thirds of which there is crystallized the dependence of our industry on world industry, has given indication of its urgent need to renew and extend its ties with the world market, and at a moment when the problems of foreign trade have arisen in their full scope before our economic directors.” See Trotsky 1970, 46.

[8] Trotsky 1980, 326.

[9] Ibid. 329. The Left Opposition economist, Evgeny Preobrazhensky was often accused of wanting to apply the methods of primitive capitalist accumulation in the development of socialism. Yet he explicitly ruled them out in his major theoretical work, The New Economics: “Let us now dwell upon the methods of primitive accumulation which we have enumerated, based mainly on plundering of small-scale production and non-economic pressure upon it, and let us see how matters stand in this connection in the period of primitive socialist accumulation. As regard colonial plundering, a socialist state, carrying out a policy of equality between nationalities and voluntary entry by them into one kind or another of union of nations, repudiates on principle all the forcible methods of capital in this sphere. This source of primitive accumulation is closed to it from the very start and forever.” See Evgeny Preobrazhensky, The New Economics (London, Oxford University Press, 1965), 88.

[10] Trotsky 1980, 311.

[11] Ibid. 344. Trotsky’s views on bureaucracy in the CPSU and his proposals on restoring inner-party democracy during this period are covered well by Paul Le Blanc, Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles of the Revolutionary Party, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 26-40.

[12] Trotsky 1980, 354.

[13] Ibid. 394.

[14] Trotsky 1970,128.

[15] Day 1982, 65.

[16] Ibid. 65-6.

[17] John Eric Marot, The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect (Boston: Brill, 2012), 24.

[18] See my take on Bukharin, see “Bukharin: Favorite of the Whole Party,” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4291

[19] Marot 2012, 13. This argument is developed throughout the first chapter.

[20] Day 1982, 57.

[21] Alexander Erlich, The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 1924-8 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 83-9 and 146-64.

[22] Quoted in Day 1973, 182.

[23] Leon Trotsky, “The Soviet Economy in Danger,” Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/10/sovecon.htm

[24] Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Trotsky 1921-1929 (New York: Verso Books, 2003a), 265. For more on Trotsky and Opposition on China see Leon Trotsky, Problems of the Chinese Revolution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967); “The Class Struggle in the Chinese Revolution” in Victor Serge: The Century of the Unexpected, Essays on Revolution and Counterrevolution. Edited by Al Richardson. (London: Socialist Platform, 1994), 54-141. The Opposition also criticized Comintern policy in Britain, see Leon Trotsky, “Where is Britain Going?” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/britain/wibg/ and Deutscher 2003a, 182-88, 224-5, 279.

[25] Leon Trotsky, Declaration of the Eighty-four, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), 224-239.

[26] Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York: New York Review of Books, 2012), 259.

[27] Ibid. 252.

[28] Deutscher 2003a, 217.

[29] Pierre Broué, “The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR: Chapter X. The Struggle of the Unified Opposition,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Broué/1971/ussr/ch10.htm

[30] Leon Trotsky, My Life (New York: Pathfinder Press, 2001), 608-9.

[31] Serge 2012, 256.

[32] Ibid. 255.

[33] Trotsky 2001, 610.

[34] Deutscher 2003a, 313.

[35] Trotsky 2001, 611.

[36] Deutscher 2003a, 315.

[37] Ibid. 316

[38] Quoted in Trotsky 2001, 614-5.

[39] Deutscher 2003a, 321-2. The last public demonstration of the Opposition was in January 1928, where thousands came to see Trotsky before his exile to Alm-Ata. Ibid. 329-331.

[40] Quoted in “The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR: Chapter X. The Struggle of the Unified Opposition,” (note 29).

[41] Cliff 1991, 269.

[42] The Declaration of the 121, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), 481-3.

[43] Serge 2012, 271.

[44] Cliff 1991, 273-4.

[45] Ibid. 267-8. Robert C. Tucker gives different figures on the strength of the Opposition. According to him, 4,000 Party members out of 854,000 voted for the Trotskyists in 1927. He also says that at most, the Trotskyists had 12,000 sympathizers within the Party, many of whom later left. See Stalin in Power: Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990), 431.

[46] Serge 2012, 408.

[47] Leon Trotsky, Speech to the Thirteenth Congress in Trotsky 1975, 178-9.

[48] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin as a Revolutionary 1879-1929 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973), 377-90.

[49] Quoted in Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys, ed., History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism (New York: Verso Books, 2007), 118.

[50] For background on the Russian Civil War see: W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History Of The Russian Civil War, 1918-1921 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1989); Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972); Alexander Rabinowitch, Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007): Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1994), 68-92; Arno J. Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

[51] Deutscher 2003a, 9.

[52] Pierre Broué, “The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR: Chapter VII. The Crisis of 1921: The Beginnings of the N.E.P. and the Rise of the Apparatus,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Broué/1971/ussr/ch07.htm

[53] Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), 63-82.

[54] See “Bukharin: Favorite of the Whole Party,” (note 18).

[55] Deutscher 2003a, 5.

[56] For background on Lenin’s last struggles within the USSR in regards to the growing bureaucracy see Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005); Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century (New York: Verso, 2005), 32-43.

[57] “The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR: Chapter VII. The Crisis of 1921: The Beginnings of the N.E.P. and the Rise of the Apparatus,” (note 52).

[58] Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8-11.

[59] Deutscher 2003a, 241.

[60] J. V. Stalin, “The Possibility of Building Socialism in our Country,” Marx2Mao.com. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1926/02/10.htm

[61] Isaac Deutscher, Russia After Stalin (London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1953), 31.

[62] Deutscher 2003a, 332-38.

[63] This section draws heavily upon Pierre Broué, “Bolshevik-Leninist Faction,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Broué/1988/xx/blf.html

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Deutscher 2003a, 338.

[67] For more background on Christian Rakovsky see Gus Fagan, “Biographical Introduction to Christian Rakovsky,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/rakovsky/biog/index.htm

[68] Deutscher 2003a, 366.

[69] Christian Rakovsky, “The “Professional Dangers” of Power,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/rakovsky/1928/08/prodanger.htm

[70] Ibid.

[71] Deutscher 2003a, 368.

[72] Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972a), 88, 100, 101-102, 141, 271 .

[73] Leon Trotsky, The Danger of Thermidor, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972b), 76.

[74] Leon Trotsky, Crisis in the Right-Center Bloc, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1981), 321

[75] Ibid.

[76] Nikolai Bukharin, Notes of an Economist in Selected Writings on the State and the Transition to Socialism (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1972), 301-330.

[77] Deutscher 2003a, 264 and 370-9. See also, Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution. A Political Biography 1888–1938 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973, and London: Wildwood House, 1974), 290-1.

[78] Deutscher 2003a, 264.

[79] “Bolshevik-Leninist Faction,” (note 63)

[80] “Bolshevik-Leninist Faction,” (note 63)

[81] Ibid. and Deutscher 2003a, 37-8.

[82] Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Trotsky 1929-1940 (New York: Verso, 2003b), 50.

[83] Ibid. 50-1.

[84] Ibid. 51-2.

[85] As we mentioned, Preobrazhensky had never considered forced collectivization in his New Economics, rather he admitted that Stalin had, which he admitted at the 17th Party Congress in 1934: “Collectivization, that is the essential point. Did I foresee collectivization? I did not…What was needed was Stalin’s remarkable far-sightedness, his great courage in facing the problems, the greatest hardness in applying policies.” Quoted in Preobrazhensky 1965, xv. According to Richard Day, Preobrazhensky’s theory of primitive socialist accumulation actually dovetailed with socialism in one country, since he “interpreted the problem of the peasant, of the relation between industry and agriculture, almost exclusively with reference to Russia’s internal economy. Trotsky viewed the same question in a larger international context, relating it to the danger of contraband and to forces operating on Russia from beyond her own frontiers….Preobrazhensky’s narrow attachment to industry and his virtually total commitment to internal accumulation made Trotsky’s behavior seem increasingly inscrutable, if not perverse. When Stalin finally recognized that high industrial prices should be viewed as a major instrument of socialist accumulation, Preobrazhensky deserted the opposition.” Day 1973, 148. For more on Preobrazhensky’s theories within the debates of the 1920s, see Maurice Dobb, “The Discussions of the Twenties on Planning and Economic Growth,” Soviet Studies 17:1 (October 1965): 198-208.

[86] Deutscher 2003b, 58-9.

[87] “Biographical Introduction to Christian Rakovsky,” (note 67) See also Christian Rakovsky, “The Russian Opposition Replies to the Capitulators,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/rakovsky/1929/xx/capitulators.htm

[88] Leon Trotsky, Open Letter to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: The State of the Party and the Tasks of the Left Opposition, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1930) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 146.

[89] Ibid. See also Deutscher 2003b, 64.

[90] Ibid. 225-6.

[91] Ibid. 65.

[92] Ibid. 365.

[93] Ibid. 365-7.

[94] Marot 2012, 104.

[95] Ibid. 101.

[96] Ibid. 102.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Tucker 1990, 200.

[99] Information on the five year plans was also drawn from Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory Volume II (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), 548-604; Nove 1982, 160-268; Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 296-342; Maurice Dobb, Soviet Economic Development Since 1917 (New York: International Publishers, 1968), 230-290; Moshe Lewin, Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates, From Bukharin to the Modern Reformers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 97-124.

[100] Fitzpatrick 1994, 139.

[101] Nove 1982, 160-88.

[102] See Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), 121; Lewin 2005, 53-4; Fitzpatrick 1999, 40-2.

[103] Isaac Deutscher, Russia in Transition (New York: Grove Press, 1960), 56.

[104] See J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 21-37.

[105] J Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, ed., The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 589 and Lewin 2005, 113-26.

[106] Fitzpatrick 1994, 157.

[107] Ibid. 156-63.

[108] Tucker 1990, 111.

[109] Lewin 2005, 53.

[110] See Robert Thurston. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

[111] Michal Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism: The USSR on the Eve of the ‘Second Revolution'(Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 97.

[112] Ibid. 47 and 55.

[113] Kevin Murphy, Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory (Chicago: Haymarket, 2007), 105-7.

[114] Ibid. 110-1.

[115] Ibid. 209. Sheila Fitzpatrick also notes the presence of Trotskyist and other oppositionist currents in Moscow in 1929, stating: “The 1929 elections were noisy and tumultuous, with many “anti-Soviet” statements and attempts at organized opposition from religious and party Opposition groups. More people were disfranchised in this election than in any previous one, and the onset of collectivization and the drive against religion generated an exceptionally tense atmosphere. In addition, members of the defeated Left Oppositions (Trotskyite and Zinovievite) were still active and made their voices heard during the election campaign. In Slavgorod, for example, Trotskyites put out statements saying “the existing system of party dictatorship suffocates everything vital,” while in Moscow Trotskyite groups in factories tried to nominate their own candidates to run against the official ones.” Fitzpatrick 1999, 181.

[116] See Serge 2012 344-75; Richard Greeman, “The Victor Serge Affair and the French Literary Left,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/backiss/vol5/no3/greeman.html

[117] Victor Serge, Russia Twenty Years After (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1996), 103-115.

[118] Victor Serge, Midnight in the Century (New York: New York Review of Books, 2015), vii. (Different edition from footnote 1)

[119] Serge 1982, 76.

[120] Ibid. 121-2.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Ibid. 168-9.

[123] Ibid. 179.

[124] Ibid. 139.

[125] Ibid. 83-4.

[126] Ibid. 79.

[127] Ibid. 46.

[128] Ibid. 169.

[129] Ante Ciliga, “The Russian Enigma,” libcom. https://libcom.org/library/russian-enigma-ante-ciliga (file accessed through site).

[130] Ibid.

[131] Deutscher 2003b, 67-72.

[132] Pierre Broué, “In Germany for the International: Excerpt from Leon Sedov,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Broué/1993/xx/sedov.html See also Deutscher 2003b, 174.

[133] Deutscher 2003b, 67. Serge gives a fictional description of how a Soviet engineer in London finds the Bulletin and how it winds up getting him arrested. See Serge 1982, 93-103.

[134] See also Trotsky’s diagnosis of the USSR’s economy during this period which is quite nuanced and could almost be described as “market socialist” or Bukharinist: “In this connection three systems must be subjected to a brief analysis: (1) special state departments, that is, the hierarchical system of plan commissions, in the centre and locally; (2) trade, as a system of market regulation; (3) Soviet democracy, as a system for the living regulation by the masses of the structure of the economy. If a universal mind existed, of the kind that projected itself into the scientific fancy of Laplace – a mind that could register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the results of their inter-reactions – such a mind, of course, could a priori draw up a faultless and exhaustive economic plan, beginning with the number of acres of wheat down to the last button for a vest. The bureaucracy often imagines that just such a mind is at its disposal; that is why it so easily frees itself from the control of the market and of Soviet democracy. But, in reality, the bureaucracy errs frightfully in its estimate of its spiritual resources. In its projections it is necessarily obliged, in actual performance, to depend upon the proportions (and with equal justice one may say the disproportions) it has inherited from capitalist Russia, upon the data of the economic structure of contemporary capitalist nations, and finally upon the experience of successes and mistakes of the Soviet economy itself. But even the most correct combination of all these elements will allow only a most imperfect framework of a plan, not more.” “The Soviet Economy in Danger,” (note 23).

[135] Alec Nove, “A Note on Trotsky and the ‘Left Opposition’, 1929-31,” Soviet Studies, 29: 4 (Oct., 1977): 576-589.

[136] Deutscher 2003b, 100.

[137] Sources for this section are following: Getty and Naumov 1999, 52-67; Getty 1985, 119-128; J. Arch Getty, “Trotsky in Exile: The Founding of the Fourth International,” Soviet Studies, 38: 1 (Jan., 1986): 24-35; Pierre Broué, “The “Bloc” of the Oppositions against Stalin in the USSR in 1932,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Broué/1980/01/bloc.html; Tucker 1990, 209-12.

[138] Getty and Naumov 1999, 54.

[139] Leon Trotsky, On the State of the Left Opposition, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-1933) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972b), 34.

[140] “The “Bloc” of the Oppositions against Stalin in the USSR in 1932” (note 137).

[141] Ibid.

[142] Getty 1986121.

[143] See my “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany,” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4122

[144] Getty 4th International 30. Thomas Twiss argues contrary to Getty that Trotsky’s delay in breaking with the Comintern were not based on opportunistic reasons, but political ones. Firstly, Trotsky wanted to explain to his own supporters the need for a break after Hitler’s triumph. Secondly, Trotsky’s letter actually contained no major concessions of his program, rather it was a proposal for a preliminary agreement to negotiate. Thirdly, Trotsky’s support for the Bloc was not motivated by personal ambition, but in the hopes that the Bloc could become a force for reform within the Party that could have supported the return of all Oppositionists. Lastly, Trotsky hoped that the disaster in Germany would have caused the USSR to change course. By the summer of 1933, even his optimistic hopes were completely dashed. See Thomas Twiss, “Trotsky’s Break with the Comintern: A Comment on J. Arch Getty,” Soviet Studies 39: 1 (Jan., 1987): 131-137.

[145] Leon Trotsky, “For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1931/311208.htm

[146] Leon Trotsky, “To Build Communist Parties and an International Anew,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330715.htm

[147] Leon Trotsky, “It is Impossible to Remain in the Same International with the Stalins, Manuilskys, Lozovskys & Co.,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330720.htm

[148] Leon Trotsky, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1935/02/ws-therm-bon.htm

[149] Ibid.

[150] See Trotsky 1972a.

[151] For a summary of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed and objections to it, see Marcel van der Linden, Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917 (Boston: Brill, 2007), 63-9.

[152] Trotsky 1972a, 252-3.

[153] Ibid. 288.

[154] Ibid. 289.

[155] This section draws heavily on Getty 1985; Getty and Naumov 1999; Thurston 1996.

[156] Getty 1985, 43.

[157] Ibid. 43.

[158] Getty and Naumov 1999, 250-255.

[159] For my take on “sophisticated apologetics” for the Moscow Trials, see “On Grover Furr and the Moscow Trials,” The Blanquist. http://blanquist.blogspot.com/2017/05/on-grover-furr-and-moscow-trials.html

[160] Nikita Khrushchev, “Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U.,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm

[161] Fitzpatrick 1994, 165.

[162] Lewin 2005, 110.

[163] Getty and Naumov 1999, 591.

[164] Ibid. 90.

[165] Ibid. 592. For a summary of the costs of the terror see Lewin 2005, 106-112.

[166] See especially Fitzpatrick 1994, 168; Fitzpatrick 1999 190-217; Thurston 1996, 170-194.

[167] Getty and Naumov 1999, 581.

[168] David Cotterill ed., Serge-Trotsky Papers (London: Pluto Press, 1994), 60.

[169] Ibid.

[170] Ibid. 61.

[171] Ibid.

[172] Ibid.

[173] Trotsky 1972a, 288.

[174] Ibid.

[175] Deutscher 2003b, 335-6.

[176] See George Saunders, Samizdat: Voices of the Soviet Opposition (New York: Monad Press, 1975), 206-17; Vadim Z. Rogovin, 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror (Greenfield Park: Mehring Books, 1998), 374-92; Deutscher 2003b, 336-40; Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Volume II (New York: Harper & Row, 1992) 134, 315, 317-21, 387-90, 442.

[177] Saunders 1975, 208.

[178] Ibid. 210-1.

[179] Ibid. 211.

[180] Ibid. 216.

[181] Deutscher 2003b, 340.

[182] Leopold Trepper, The Great Game: The Memoirs of the Spy Hitler Couldn’t Silence (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977), 55-6.

[183] For background on the Spanish Civil War, see my “The POUM: Those Who Would?” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4229 On the repression in Spain: “Stalin had sent Alexander Orlov [Soviet Secret Police agent-DEG] to the country and had given him the task of purging the revolutionary Marxist opposition to the Communists, the POUM.” Ronald Radosh and Mary R. Habeck and Grigory Sevostianov, ed., Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 106. For more on Soviet involvement in the suppression of the POUM following the May Days see ibid. 121-2. See also document 33 on ibid. 129-33. For a Trotskyist perspective on the repression of the POUM and the Revolution see Rogovin 1998, 335-373.

[184] The full resignation letter of Ignace Reiss can be found in Elisabeth K. Poretsky, Our Own People: A Memoir of ‘Ignace Reiss’ and His Friends (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 1-3.

[185] For more on the circumstances surrounding the death of Reiss see Poretsky 1969; Deutscher 2003b, 315-318, 320-321, 329-330; Susan Weissman, Victor Serge: The Course Set On Hope (New York: Verso, 2001) 210-3; Vadim Z. Rogovin, Stalin’s Terror of 1937-8: Political Genocide in the USSR (Greenfield Park: Mehring Books, 2009), 321-6.

[186] Leon Trotsky, A Tragic Lesson , in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1936-1937) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1978), 448

[187] Rogovin 2009, 391-6.

[188] Leon Trotsky, “Stalinism and Bolshevism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/08/stalinism.htm

[189] Leon Trotsky, “The Transitional Program,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

A revolutionary power to heal-Vijay Prashad

Posted by admin On October - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on A revolutionary power to heal-Vijay Prashad


October 9, 1967, in southern Bolivia, near the barren and desolate village of La Higuera, the Bolivian Army, under instructions from the government of the U.S., trapped the isolated guerrilla column led by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Che, a hero of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, believed that Cuba, only 90 miles away from the mainland of the U.S., would remain vulnerable unless other revolutions succeeded in the world. His reaction to the violent U.S. bombardment of Vietnam had been similar, not enough to defend Vietnam, he had said, but it was necessary ‘to create two, three, many Vietnams’. Failure to spark revolution in Congo led Che to Bolivia, where its army trapped him. He was eventually captured and brought to a schoolhouse. Mario Terán Salazar, a soldier, was tasked with the assassination. Che looked at this quivering man. “Calm down and take good aim,” he told him. “You’re going to kill a man.” Che died on his feet.

From man, Ernesto Guevara (b.1928) became a myth. It is difficult not to be moved by the life of this Argentinian doctor who became a revolutionary.

Radicalised by reality

His tutelage in revolutionary thought came from his experiences among the leprosy patients of Venezuela and the tin miners of Bolivia, among the revolutionaries of Argentina and the 1954 coup in Guatemala. Reality radicalised him. Only later would he recount that he had been influenced by, as he put it, ‘the doctrine of San Carlos’, his sly reference to Karl Marx.

In 1953, in Mexico, Guevara met Hilda Gadea, a revolutionary from the Peruvian APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance). Gadea schooled Guevara in Marxist theory and in the radical currents then inflaming the region. They moved to Guatemala in September 1954, which was then in the midst of a major struggle against the U.S. government and U.S.-based corporations. A democratically elected government led by Jacobo Árbenz attempted to conduct basic land reforms, which ran afoul of the United Fruit Company. Guevara was marked by the role of this corporation in governing Guatemala.

To his aunt Beatriz, he wrote, “I have had an opportunity to go through the land owned by United Fruit, and this has once again convinced me of the vileness of these capitalist octopuses. I have sworn before a portrait of old, tearful Comrade Stalin not to rest until these capitalist octopuses have become annihilated. I will better myself in Guatemala and become a true revolutionary.”

When the U.S. initiated the coup against Arbenz’s government, Guevara took to the streets. No good came of it. Guevara and Gadea fled to Mexico. It was there that they, thanks to Gadea, met Raul Castro and eventually his brother Fidel. Not long after, Guevara would board a rickety boat, the Granma, with the Castros and 79 others to launch the Cuban Revolution. When their boat arrived in Cuba, the military killed 70 of the revolutionaries. The survivors rushed inland, and with sheer grit proceeded to build the peasant army that eventually overcame the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista at the close of 1959.

The young revolutionaries inherited a bankrupt country. Batista had shifted $424 million of Cuban reserves to U.S. banks. Loans were not forthcoming. In a late night meeting, Castro asked if there were an economist among them. Che raised his hand. He became the head of Fifty years after Che’s death, the ideas that keep his legend
the economy. Later when Castro asked him about these credentials, Che answered that he thought Castro had asked, “Who is a communist?” Che took to his task with energy and determination. The U.S. had set an embargo against the island in 1962. It suffocated Cuba. The Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano went to interview Che in 1964. “I don’t want every Cuban to wish he were a Rockefeller,” Guevara said. He wanted to build socialism, a system that “purified people, moved them beyond egoism, saved them from competition and greed”. It was a daunting task, made difficult by the poverty of the treasury and of the population; although the Cuban people’s spirit drove them to volunteer their labour to build their resources.

The Cuba years

“Cuba will never be a showcase of socialism,” Guevara told Galeano, “but rather a living example.” It was too poor to become paradise. It could however exude love for its own people and for the world. For Guevara, love was everything, key to his idea of socialism. In a letter to his five children written en route to Bolivia, Guevara said, “Always be able to feel deep within your being all the injustices committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality a revolutionary can have.”

The afterword

As for the fate of those who killed Guevara 50 years ago, Bolivian dictator René Barrientos died a year later when his helicopter burst into flames. General Joaquín Zenteno Anaya, who led the operation against Che, was shot to death in the streets of Paris. Major Andrés Selich Chop, who led the Rangers to capture Che, was killed by the dictatorship of Hugo Banzer. Monika Ertl, a member of the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, killed Colonel Roberto Quintanilla Perez, who had announced Che’s death to the world, in Hamburg.

Mario Terán Salazar, the soldier who shot Che, went into hiding. Many years later, in 2006, the Cuban government operated on Che’s killer to remove a cataract from his eye without charge. Che’s legacy was not revenge. It remains a doctor’s love for humanity.
Vijay Prashad is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He is working on a book on Third World Communism
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

The Lenin behind the distortions-Review by Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On October - 5 - 2017 Comments Off on The Lenin behind the distortions-Review by Paul Le Blanc


The Dilemmas of Lenin:
Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution
By Tariq Ali
Verso, 2017 · 384 pages · $26.95

This important work on Lenin’s life and times, and his revolutionary thought and practice, produced by a major figure on the international Left, is what some might term “a literary event.” Tariq Ali’s vibrant contribution in this anniversary year of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution engages the reader with a restless, critical intelligence coming to grips with intersections of history, culture, and politics.

One is reminded of Edmund Wilson’s 1940 classic To the Finland Station, in which the great literary critic employed similarly wide-ranging sensibilities and knowledge to tell his readers about the people and ideas shaping the history of socialism and the Russian Revolution. One difference is that Ali focuses on the central figure of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov—known globally by his revolutionary pseudonym “Lenin.” Another is that this author’s life (in contrast to Wilson’s) has included experience in the revolutionary movement as a militant activist. This gives him an intimate feel for much in the story he tells. A third difference is that we are presented with a dramatic narrative covering the whole of Lenin’s life, particularly what happened after 1917. Finally, it is offered from a different moment in history—not in the midst of Stalin’s bureaucratic tyranny, but decades after Communism’s collapse.

It is striking that this major contribution to Lenin studies seems to studiously ignore so much recent work. There is not even a breath or a shrug—at least not explicitly—regarding major offerings from Lars Lih, August Nimtz, Alan Shandro, Antonio Negri, Tamás Krausz, John Riddell, or Eric Blanc. Ali seems content to make good use of what existed before this array of authors carried out their own extensive research. The result is still extremely rich—but might have been richer yet had he engaged with more of the complexities and controversies within Russian social democracy to which Lenin was so central (Lih, Blanc), the interplay in Lenin’s thought between political philosophy, economics, and practical strategy (Shandro, Krausz, Negri), Lenin’s remarkably intensive involvement with election campaigns (Nimtz), and his role in the first four congresses of the Communist International (Riddell).

The book that Ali did choose to write, however, is incredibly fine in multiple ways. His contextualizing methodology can be off-putting, at first, with fits and starts of discursion on multiple streams of Russian labor history, literature, anarchism, international revolutionary movements, etc. But always, or almost always, the seeming tangent flows directly into the experience, thought, and political practice of Lenin, yielding a multifaceted sense of this great revolutionary (and very interesting person) that is missing from so many other accounts.

An additional strength is that—unlike so many of the standard and still-influential interpretations emanating from the Cold War era—Ali has immersed himself in a serious reading and consideration of what Lenin actually wrote. Time after time, we are treated to discussions of Lenin’s ideas that are not a rehash of someone else’s interpretation (or misinterpretation), but instead draw from how the revolutionary himself explained what he was thinking.


Ali joins other serious scholars in debunking the slanderous portrait of Lenin as an inhumane elitist and mass-murdering totalitarian fanatic. The Dilemmas of Lenin amply demonstrates that the Bolshevik leader, the organization he led, and the struggle he spearheaded were—with an uncompromising revolutionary seriousness—radically democratic and humanistic in their goals, in their sensibilities, and in their mode of functioning (within the constraints of tsarist repression, of course, as was the case with all revolutionaries in Russia). Ali does not deny that these qualities were overwhelmed by the horrific multiple crises of 1918–1921, but he sees this for what it was: emergency measures gone wrong and made permanent, a tragic development central to the “dilemmas of Lenin.”

Ali also has no time for the fiction that Lenin distrusted the working class. Some have alleged that “real workers” wanted only improved conditions under capitalism to be won by trade unions, and that the Bolshevik leader was therefore intent upon establishing a dictatorship of revolutionary intellectuals pushing the workers forward to socialism. As Antonio Gramsci would later famously explain, the actuality of Leninism (the “Leninism” of Lenin) saw all people as intellectuals-in-the-making. It was a method of developing working-class intellectuals as a democratic-collective Modern Prince. “Conscious” working-class activists would build a revolutionary workers’ movement. Such a movement would engage in trade unionism and reform struggles, at the same time helping spread socialist consciousness. It would be capable of winning political power (“winning the battle of democracy,” as Marx and Engels had put it) and establishing the cooperative commonwealth of socialism.

Then there is the music question. Ali puts it well, with an interesting flourish:

Lenin once told Maxim Gorky in Capri that to become a revolutionary he had to give up three vices: chess, Latin, and music. His famous remark, which had to do with not being able to listen to Beethoven’s Pathétique because it made him “soft,” is usually distorted through decontextualization and was sometimes taken literally by many a bourgeois philistine. In fact, Lenin never stopped listening to music, as was known to his entire circle. [Inessa] Armand herself was a gifted pianist and often played for him. Lenin could sing well and surprised Volsky in Geneva when, climbing a mountain, they came across a vista so stunning that they stopped to observe it in silence. Suddenly Lenin burst into song, a poem by Nekrasov extolling nature, which surprised the party even more.

Lars Lih has been particularly adept in emphasizing and documenting (from primary Russian-language sources) precisely such points in recent years, thereby generating widespread and well-deserved appreciation. What The Dilemmas of Lenin demonstrates—making the same points from long-available English-language sources—is that there is no good excuse for the grotesque yet all-too-common distortions of Lenin in English-speaking countries. It further helps to clear the decks for a serious consideration not only of the actual history of the Russian Revolution but also of what Lenin has to offer to humane and democratic-minded people who in our own time are inclined to struggle for a better world.

At the same time, without mentioning Lih by name, there is an obvious point of sharp contention between him and Ali regarding Lih’s iconoclastic interpretation of the elemental continuity between Lenin and most of the Bolshevik leadership in early 1917, after the popular overthrow of the monarchy. Trotsky was one of the most prominent chroniclers of a rift that opened up in 1917 around Lenin’s “April Theses”—with many leading comrades recoiling from Lenin’s notion that the Provisional Government should be overthrown in favor of “all power to the soviets” and a proletarian-socialist revolution. As Ali restates the standard version: “Most of the leaders at home were heading towards a reconciliation with the Mensheviks [socialists who had favored a worker-capitalist alliance in the democratic revolution]. And poor old Molotov was sacked as editor of Pravda by Kamenev and Stalin for being too rash and radical.” It took Lenin—coming back from abroad with a clearer sense of the “big picture” and of the need to move decisively forward—to rally a Bolshevik majority to get the “old Bolshevik” leaders (particularly the overly-accommodating Lev Kamenev) in line with what must be done.

Lih has argued, over the past decade, that Kamenev was more right than wrong in this debate, that the debate itself has been overblown, that it was Lenin (who had gone overboard to some extent) who had to be pulled back to the traditional Bolshevik orientation that he himself had formulated in arguments for a worker-peasant alliance to make the democratic revolution, to be followed later by the socialist triumph. This “old Bolshevik” orientation was, Lih asserts, most adequate for the new revolutionary tasks, as Kamenev aptly pointed out at the time, and which (suggests Lih) Lenin finally conceded. But Ali is simply not having it: “Some revisionist academic is bound, sooner or later, to come up with a new version, ‘proving,’ via carefully selected documents that actually there was no real division at all and the party was on the same track as Lenin, who simply had to be corrected on one or two issues, and so forth.”

He goes on to assert that the internal conflict generated by Lenin’s April Theses “was erased from later official histories and, more surprisingly, from Krupskaya’s memoir.” This last point (more a throw-away line than an essential element in Ali’s argument) is, however, simply not accurate. Krupskaya’s account in Reminiscences of Lenin is succinct and to the point:

Lenin expounded his views as to what had to be done in a number of theses. In these theses he weighed the situation, and clearly set forth the aims that had to be striven for and the ways that had to be followed to attain them. The comrades were somewhat taken aback for the moment. Many of them thought that Ilyich was presenting the case in much too blunt a manner, and that it was too early yet to speak of a socialist revolution.

She notes that Lenin’s theses were published in the Bolshevik paper Pravda, followed by a polemic from Kamenev “in which he dissociated himself from these theses. Kamenev’s article stated that they were the expression of Lenin’s personal views, which neither Pravda nor the Bureau of the Central Committee shared. It was not these theses of Lenin’s that the Bolshevik delegates had accepted, but those of the Central Committee Bureau, Kamenev alleged.” She concludes: “A struggle started within the Bolshevik organization. It did not last long.” The party reoriented along the lines of the April Theses. All of which actually gives credence to the interpretation Ali champions.

One could argue that Lih and others are correct in pushing back against a dismissive attitude toward Kamenev and other Bolshevik veterans—but Ali makes it clear that his primary concern is to reject any academic revival of minimizing the gulf that separates Lenin from one very particular “old Bolshevik”—Joseph Stalin. In the same breath that he deplores “revisionist academics,” Ali castigates Stephen Kotkin’s new biography of Stalin for claiming, “that Lenin’s last testament (which, among other things, denounced Stalin’s ‘rudeness’ and authoritarianism) was forged by his widow and secretariat staff!” (He goes on to refer readers to Tony Wood’s more detailed critique of Kotkin in New Left Review 95, September–October 2015.)

Dilemmas of Lenin argues that the greatest dilemma of all involved what was done by Stalin in the name of Lenin—starting with the worshipful mummification of the Bolshevik leader’s body. “The revolutionary was being transformed into a Byzantine saint,” Ali notes. “Having mummified Lenin, within a few years the committeemen and their leader would mummify his ideas as well.” He offers this telling quote from Lenin’s The State and Revolution on the desecration of revolutionaries by those falsely claiming to carry on their work: “After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”

Ali is insistent that genuine Leninism must be seen as the opposite of Stalinism. As Georg Lukács once put it, under Stalin “Leninism, in which the spirit of Marx lived, was converted into its diametrical opposite,” and the ideological perversion “systematically built by Stalin and his apparatus, [must] be torn to pieces.” Ali couldn’t agree more—convinced that activists of today and tomorrow need Lenin’s living ideas: “And all one can hope is that, by the time his body is finally buried, some of his ideas, especially those related to the primacy of politics, imperialism, self-determination and the commune-state, are revived.”


The debunking of myths, however, is quite subordinate to the central quality of the book, which might be defined as an illuminating convergence of great themes. One need not accept all of Ali’s interpretations to be stimulated, informed, and enriched by what he has done. Titles of the five major sections in which the book’s sixteen chapters are organized suggest what is in store for the fortunate reader—“Terrorism and Utopia,” “Internationalism,” “Socialism,” “Empires and War,” “1917–20: States and Revolutions,” “The Question of Women,” “The Last Fight Let Us Face.”

Within this expansive literary canvass, there is much to stir one’s thinking. In exploring anarchist and social-revolutionary violence prevalent in late nineteenth-century Russia (a tradition which fatally attracted Lenin’s older brother), Ali interestingly considers similarities and differences with the suicide bombers of today’s religious fundamentalists. He goes on to suggest what he sees as a creative interplay in Lenin’s own conceptualizations, between the anarchist tradition and the perspectives of Marxism. This comes out particularly in the intimate 1918 conversation between a very respectful Lenin and a very critical, aged anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin, with the two agreeing that there are too many mistakes and too much bureaucracy in the Bolshevik regime, and both embracing the goal of a stateless socialism. But Lenin explains: “We do not need individual terroristic attempts and the anarchists should have understood long ago. Only with the masses, through the masses. . . . All other methods, including those of the anarchists, have been relegated to the limbo of history.”

Ali goes on to indicate the beguiling grandeur of the mass socialist movement animated by Marxist theory, created in Germany through the efforts of August Bebel and Karl Kautsky—while also chronicling Lenin’s shock and horror over the moral and political collapse of this imposing edifice when the imperialist global war exploded in 1914. Those who have read eyewitness accounts by John Reed, Albert Rhys Williams, and Leon Trotsky will find little that is new regarding the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution itself, yet Ali’s good use of non-Marxist sources (such as Dominic Lieven’s The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution) certainly strengthens what he has to say. In his sustained attention to the Russian civil war, Lenin seems to fade into the background—yet one is fascinated by Ali’s discussion of methodological conflicts between imperious Red Army commander Leon Trotsky and a defender of “proletarian” military methods (Stalin), as well as the perspectives of Red Army General Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky—all enhanced by use of John Ericson’s 1962 study The Soviet High Command: A Military-Political History, 1918–1941.

Ali also considers the centrality of what Marx once called “the feminine ferment” in the development of the revolutionary movement—from the revolutionary Russian terrorists Sofia Perovskaya and Vera Figner, to the decisive contributions in Germany and internationally of Marxist-feminist Clara Zetkin, culminating in the work and ideas of such key figures as Alexandra Kollontai and Inessa Armand in the early Soviet Republic. And he gives attention to what Moshe Lewin once termed “Lenin’s last struggle” against what would blossom into the bureaucratic and murderous tyranny that has been tagged as “Stalinism.”


In any labor of this scope it is inevitable that inaccuracies creep in. There are minor errors in this fine book, but also several significant ones that are in no way essential to the flow or thrust of Ali’s account. They can easily be combed out of future editions. Two crop up in chapter 15 (entitled “Till the Bitter End”), dealing with the incredibly difficult years immediately following the October Revolution. These years of foreign invasion, devastating economic blockade, and brutal civil war came to be known as the period of “war communism.”

In this period—under the pressure of events—the economy was much too rapidly nationalized and subjected to the extreme efforts of centralized planning. This contributed to multiple problems, given the extreme damage to which the economy had already been subjected, combined with the historic backwardness of the Russian economy, and with the considerable lack of experience that the workers had in regard to overseeing the functioning of a complex economy. There were mounting bottlenecks and breakdowns, as well as accelerating resentments, particularly among workers and peasants who had originally been supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution. Many were incensed over bureaucratic malfunctioning and related authoritarian bullying.

The result was an accumulation of angry strikes by workers and desperate peasant rebellions, and the full-scale uprising of early 1921 in what had been a Bolshevik stronghold, the Kronstadt naval base outside of “Red Petrograd.” The uprising was ruthlessly put down by the Bolshevik regime—but at the same time, Lenin and others pushed forward a dramatic shift in the regime’s overall economic program. This came to be known as the New Economic Policy (NEP), which lasted from 1921 to 1928. The NEP involved a move back in the direction of capitalism, pulling away from extreme economic centralization, encouraging the widespread use of market mechanisms, allowing the flourishing of private enterprise throughout much of Soviet Russia. The shift eased some extreme problems that had been causing discontent, got the economy moving again, contributed to increases in both production and productivity, and helped meet many human needs while generating economic surpluses. Also generated were growing inequality, corruption, and—ultimately—new contradictions and sources of discontent.

These are elements that Ali presents in “Till the Bitter End,” but there is an unfortunate garbling of details, giving the impression that the NEP was implemented beginning in 1920 and that the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 was partly in reaction against its negative aspects. But the yet-to-be proclaimed NEP could not be a target of the Kronstadt rebels—war communism and the authoritarian policies connected with it were the actual targets. Much of what Ali writes on these pages is good, but in a future edition it will be necessary to get the chronology right.

The other significant error has to do with the Workers’ Opposition; a dissident faction in the Russian Communist Party led by the veteran worker-Bolshevik Alexander Shlyapnikov and Bolshevik-feminist Alexandra Kollontai. Against the authoritarian and bureaucratic policies of war communism, Shlyapnikov, Kollontai, and co-thinkers within the party were arguing for implementation of the original ideals that had animated the October Revolution (not to mention Lenin’s own “April Theses” and his 1917 book The State and Revolution). The Workers’ Opposition had garnered considerable support through 1920, although it was decisively defeated in March 1921 at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party. At the same congress, the NEP was proclaimed, along with a presumably “temporary” prohibition of factions. Ali incorrectly says it was here that Lenin unsuccessfully proposed the expulsion of the Workers’ Opposition. The expulsion of Shlyapnikov was actually proposed (and rejected) several months later, in August 1921, the occasion being Shlyapnikov’s open attack on the NEP—presumably violating the resolution against factions. Again, basic dynamics of the situation are captured despite a (repairable) misplacement of details.


The fact remains that The Dilemmas of Lenin presents an incredibly powerful, panoramic, and insightful study of the central revolutionary figure of the twentieth century. The book’s qualities converge to make this figure not the animated statue that dominated the official biographies from the 1930s through the 1970s of the Soviet era, but someone intensely human. This comes through especially in the ways Ali handles Lenin’s relationships with Julius Martov and Inessa Armand.

For five years—1898 to 1903—Lenin and Martov were “close comrades and friends,” and for each the familiar Russian pronoun ty was how they addressed each other. With shared commitment to building a centralized Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, “the early collaboration between young Lenin and young Martov was exemplary,” Ali writes. “They worked well together on Iskra and both Lenin and numerous others admired the fierce moral tone in Martov’s articles denouncing various aspects of the autocracy.” Slowly but surely, however, nuances of difference began to pull them in different directions. While Martov initially felt “it was Lenin’s personality, his bossy style, his refusal to compromise, his supreme belief that he was right, rather than any major political issue, that was responsible for the drift,” Lenin increasingly suspected the opposite. After the organizational split of 1903, they became leaders of rival factions, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

As Ali notes, factional battles inside the same party can wreck old friendships in “a moment’s rashness and uncertainty.” Lenin never ceased to lament the loss of this intimate friend turned Menshevik adversary, always hopeful when their factions seemed to draw closer politically. He was deeply concerned for the Menshevik leader’s health when Martov contracted tuberculosis in the early 1920s. Ali plausibly suggests that Lenin regretted the loss of the relationship particularly as the dilemmas of the early Soviet republic sharpened. As he himself was entering his final illness, he ruefully commented to Krupskaya: “They say Martov’s dying too.” After Martov died, a sometimes delirious Lenin—as he descended toward his own death—found it difficult to accept that his old friend was finally gone, demanding that a meeting be arranged.

There has been controversy over Lenin’s relationship with Inessa Armand. “In fact, the only reason for the mystery was Lenin’s secretiveness on all matters personal,” according to Ali, “and the hagiographers who transformed him, after death, into a Byzantine saint, holy, infallible, pure and only designed to be worshiped. This is the tragedy of the global Lenin cult.” He notes two very informative biographies of the remarkable Armand. One by Michael Pearson agrees with the widely held belief that she and Lenin were lovers. The other, an earlier and even more detailed study by the outstanding historian Ralph Carter Elwood, emphatically disagrees. Actually—based on additional information—Elwood reversed his judgment in an essay written a decade after his biography, documenting the love between the two revolutionaries.

The Dilemmas of Lenin comments that for Armand’s family “her affair with Lenin was not a secret. Nor was it for a close circle of Lenin’s comrades in exile,” including Nadezhda Krupskaya. “Philistine biographers who write that there could have been no affair because [Armand] and Krupskaya remained friends do so in order to transfer their own values onto the Bolsheviks,” Ali writes. “Krupskaya, Kollontai, Zetkin, [Angelica] Balabanova and probably [Rosa] Luxemburg knew of Lenin’s ‘infatuation.’” An eyewitness seeing Lenin at Armand’s 1920 funeral after her death from typhus recalled: “He seemed to have shrunk; his cap almost covered his face, his eyes drowned in tears held back with effort.”

What strikes this reviewer as a serious gap in The Dilemmas of Lenin—somewhat diminishing both the portrait of Lenin and discussion of the Lenin-Armand relationship, is Ali’s failure to engage more seriously with the person who was Nadezhda Krupskaya and with the quality of the relationship that she had with Lenin. One is struck by the transitions in her appearance, of course: from the intelligent and determined countenance of an attractive young idealist whom the young Lenin married, to the knowledgeable, determined, seasoned revolutionary of later years, whose “looks” had been altered not simply by age but also by illness, a thyroid affliction sometimes known as Grave’s disease. Yet also, in various photographs of Krupskaya and Lenin together, as well as in her memoirs, the bond between them is clearly evident. Indeed, her Reminiscences of Lenin is an invaluable source on Lenin’s life and thought. In his 1935 diary (before Krupskaya’s forced public capitulation in the face of the horrific late 1930s purge trials), Trotsky commented—rightly—that she had “consistently and firmly refused to act against her conscience,” despite immense Stalinist pressures. It is unfortunate that Ali’s probing intelligence did not go further down this particular pathway.

Comrades and leadership

There are many more pathways that The Dilemmas of Lenin also doesn’t go down. One longs for an application of Ali’s sensibilities to the amazing polymath Alexander Bogdanov—physician, economist, philosopher, and science fiction writer—who was at first co-leader with Lenin of the Bolshevik faction. After the colossal tactical rupture of 1907–11, Bogdanov consistently denounced Lenin’s shift from armed struggle to “reformist” electoral and trade union efforts, and Lenin’s payback included scathing denunciations of “ultra-leftism” and the philosophical demolition job of Materialism and Empiro-Criticism.

Also attracted to Bogdanov’s influential left-Bolshevik faction was the brilliant culture critic Anatoly Lunacharsky, whose serious-minded engagement with religion (capably explored in recent work by Roland Boer) enraged Lenin, and whose enthusiasm for avant-garde innovations in art ruffled his more traditionalist sensibilities. Nonetheless, Lenin respected and generally supported Lunacharsky’s broad-minded, cutting-edge policies after 1917 in the Bolshevik regime’s Commissariat of Enlightenment.

Another edgy intellectual, but from the younger generation, was Nikolai Bukharin (also influenced by Bogdanov), whose relationship with Lenin seems to have fluctuated from tumultuous rebellion to loyal devotion, and who dynamically drew from, sometimes sharply conflicted with, yet also impacted upon Lenin’s own perceptions (feeding into The State and Revolution).

There were, of course, other Bolsheviks who’d had no connection with the Bogdanov faction because they had been aligned with Lenin all along. Two deserve special attention. One was the under-appreciated yet capable underground organizer who became an experienced publicist and editor, the sophisticated and congenial Lev Kamenev. Some have argued that Kamenev could be too congenial—crossing swords with Lenin over what he perceived as the Bolshevik leader’s penchant for uncompromising intransigence. Yet few had greater appreciation or affection for Lenin than this savvy “right-hand” man. The other intimate co-worker of Lenin—less secure and therefore sometimes more haughty than Kamenev—was Gregory Zinoviev, whose classic History of the Bolshevik Party shows him to be an outstanding and knowledgeable Marxist educator. He could also be a brilliant orator, although his record as an organizer and administrator (particularly when heading the Communist International) seems quite checkered. Nonetheless, at a decisive moment (the proposed October Revolution) he sharply and openly challenged his mentor. There are obvious and significant complexities in the relationships of both men with Lenin that merit more serious examination than is typically offered.

We are fortunate that two major other figures have themselves offered rich and multifaceted accounts of their relationship with Lenin which illuminate various qualities and complexities of his personality—the great writer Maxim Gorky (yet another who had been close to Bogdanov), whose feelings about Lenin’s politics fluctuated wildly over the years, as well as the fiercely polemical opponent-turned-intimate co-leader of the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky. Here too, there is much material of which Ali seems to have made minimal use.

The relationship that Lenin had with all these comrades and others goes well beyond the purview of “the personal”—because, in this case as in so many others, the personal is political. The qualities of Lenin as an incredibly effective revolutionary leader are intimately bound up with the kinds of relationships that he sustained (or in certain cases was unable to sustain) with such a diverse array of talented and energetic personalities.

Tariq Ali’s quite substantial contribution should not be faulted for not offering such extended explorations of Lenin’s many important relationships. These belong, rather, in the yet-to-be-written full-scale biography of Lenin. Isaac Deutscher—whose massive and pathbreaking life of Trotsky impacted all subsequent thinking and scholarship—died as he was just starting to write the Lenin biography that has long been needed. A valuable contribution of Ali’s new work (which makes no pretense of attempting to “complete” Deutscher’s project) is that it points the way to work yet to be done.

More than this, The Dilemmas of Lenin helps attentive readers comprehend something of what happened in history, the realities of our time, and how the future could unfold if we approach it with understanding and commitment.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Russia 1917:How the revolution we need today prevailed then-Chris Kinder

Posted by admin On October - 5 - 2017 Comments Off on Russia 1917:How the revolution we need today prevailed then-Chris Kinder

Fall of the Turkish Model
Long disparaged and denounced as it is, the Russian Revolution of 1917 still demands our attention today. No event in history was quite like the Russian Revolution, because no other event before or since has attempted to change the motive force of history in the fundamental way that this event did. By forming the world’s first and only lasting (if only for a few years) workers’ state, this revolution alone offered the promise of a world without the endless class conflict that defined all previous history: a world based on genuine human cooperation; free of exploitation, war, racism, sexism and national, ethnic and religious oppression. The promise of the Russian Revolution embodied the true goals of the vast majority of humanity then, and yes, of humanity today. The fact that this revolution soon was unraveled, betrayed and eventually destroyed only makes the lessons it holds for us today more important to understand.

Like the Paris Commune before it, the Russian Revolution established the dictatorship of the proletariat as the path to the eventual elimination of class-based society. But unlike the Commune, this revolution carved its way to power not by trying to take over the institutions of the bourgeois state, but by an uncompromising insistence that the working class take the power in its own name. Yet, that is not quite how it all began.

In February of 1917, a mass popular outpouring of women and men workers in Petrograd, exhausted, starved and fed up with the war, and soon joined by rank and file soldiers, toppled the brittle and inept Tsarist regime within a few days of strikes and street demonstrations. Workers councils (soviets) were immediately formed, but their reformist leadership turned state power over to a bourgeois Provisional Government which sought to keep the capitalists and landowners in power, and to continue Russia’s involvement in the world war, to which their class was committed by finance and treaty.

The masses had demanded more
The masses in the streets—workers who had been peasants, and soldiers who were peasants in uniform—had demanded much more. The women who led it off on International Women’s Day shouted calls for “bread” to address the chronic shortages of food for Petrograd’s workers, and shouts of “down with the war” were soon everywhere in the streets. With the Tsar gone days later (after 300 years of autocracy, his own generals told him his time was up), soldiers established committees which proclaimed equality and terminated both the rule of officers and the death penalty in the military. Desertions from the trenches of the war with Germany, already high, increased dramatically.

Workers demanded higher wages and workers’ control of production. Peasants in the countryside began to burn the mansions of the landlords and seize the land. In short, the working people were putting forward their own demands, for peace, land and bread: demands, which the bourgeoisie could not and would not accede to. It was a stand off, known as “dual power:” the soviets had the masses, but the bourgeoisie, though weakened, still held the reins of power.

The permanent revolution
In 2017—the centennial year of the Russian Revolution—plagued as it is with a degenerate but still dominant imperialist power in the throes of decline, and a world which seems embroiled in a Hobbesian nightmare1 of endless war, it is important to understand how the stand-off in Russia’s February evolved into a revolution, known as the October Revolution, which established a workers’ state in Russia. The question of leadership was key, but more than that, what were the principles upon which leadership operated to pull the masses together into a struggle to put them in power? Here we need to look first of all at the theory of permanent revolution.

The Russian Revolution of 1917, under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership, was nothing if not a confirmation of this theory. The “permanent revolution” is a Marxist concept, which is just as vital today as it was in 1917. Permanent revolution refers to the proposition that in the modern world—that is, since the abolition of feudalism in Europe—the bourgeoisie is incapable of achieving even the most basic demands of a democratic revolution. The lessons of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, as Marx and Engels made clear in their “Address of the Central Committee To the Communist League” in 1850, were that the bourgeoisie, now empowered after the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, had become a brake on any further revolution in order to prevent the working-class masses from becoming a threat to their property.

In the failed revolutions of 1848-49, the bourgeoisie had allied with its fellow propertied class, the aristocratic landowners and other hangovers from feudalism, in order to prevent any concessions to the working masses. They wanted to stop the revolution at their “stage,” i.e., with the bourgeoisie in power, regardless of the anti-democratic compromises that required. What Marx and Engels so brilliantly concluded, is that the working-class would not only have to complete the bourgeois revolution, but also needed to struggle independently to achieve its own socialist and internationalist goals:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible, and with the achievement, at most, of the above demands [final abolition of feudalism and of laws against usury, ‘democratic’ governmental forms, etc.,] it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of proletarians, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one.”2

Two years later, Marx detailed how the interests of the peasantry had radically changed since the Revolution of 1789 in France. Peasants had allied with the bourgeoisie in 1789; and following the destruction of the feudal nobility, which had held them as serfs, they had become small holders of agricultural plots. But now, they were the victims of the mortgages and taxes imposed on them by the new bourgeois ruling class. Agricultural production was down, and the peasants were immiserated, including “five million who hover on the margin of existence and either have their haunts in the countryside or…continually desert the countryside for the towns….”

“Therefore” Marx went on, “the interests of the peasants are no longer, as under Napoleon, in accord with, but are now in opposition to bourgeois interests, to capital. Hence they find their natural ally and leader in the urban proletariat, whose task it is to overthrow the bourgeois order.”3

Russian Marxists were divided into three camps
There could hardly have been a better description of the situation, and the revolutionary tasks, in Russia prior to the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. But Russian Marxists were divided in their analysis into roughly three camps. The Menshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) pointed to Russia’s backwardness to insist that the working class could only be an appendage to the bourgeoisie, which must lead the revolution to establish capitalism, which must develop before the workers could advance to socialism. “Always and everywhere,” said Trotsky in 1919, “the Mensheviks strove to find signs of the development of bourgeois democracy, and where they could not find them they invented them.” (Results and Prospects 1906—see footnote 5)

Lenin’s Bolsheviks, on the other hand, while accepting that a capitalist democratic republic was a necessary stage of the revolution, had absolutely no confidence in the ability of the bourgeoisie to overthrow Tsarism and carry out its own revolution. Lenin’s formula for the revolution was that the working class must make the revolution and establish a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” (DDPP), which alone, through workers and peasants sharing power together, could bring about bourgeois democratic revolution.

Lenin also foresaw something more, which gives a hint at least, that he understood the inherent contradiction of the DDPP, in which two classes with two separate interests could hold power together. “Its future [that is, the future of the DDPP] is the struggle against private property, the struggle of the wage worker against the employer, the struggle for socialism,” Lenin explained. Even under a democratic republic established by the DDPP, “A Social-Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage a class struggle for socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie…. Hence, the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy.”4

This last point—the need for a coherent revolutionary party—had been at the core of the 1903 split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and was to underlie all their growing differences. And it was to be a decisive feature of the Revolution of 1917.

The third vision of the coming revolution was that of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky, who after the 1903 split briefly went with the Mensheviks, then became independent, and finally joined Lenin in the Revolution of 1917, made the most coherent class analysis. In several works written around the time of the first (1905) revolution (in which he played a leading role as head of the Petrograd Soviet), he laid out his concept of the revolution in permanence in Russia. Having the most concentrated industry, and with the largest factories in Europe, combined with the most backward agricultural situation, Russia was saddled with a tsarist aristocratic state which rested on a powerful landed gentry born of another era. The capitalist enterprises, heavily invested in by foreign (principally French) capital, were fully intertwined with the landed aristocracy through financial arrangements. The capitalist class had been established within, was integral to, and was supportive of the gentry-dominated state. This “uneven and combined development”—modern capitalist industry imbedded within a dominant agricultural/aristocratic state just advanced from feudalism by inches—meant not only that the working class would have to make the bourgeois democratic revolution, as Lenin insisted, but that it would have to immediately press forward with its socialist, working-class demands.

Trotsky: permanent revolution
The standpoint that Trotsky and his co-thinker Parvus supported in 1904-05 was that, “… the revolution, having begun as a bourgeois revolution as regards its first tasks, will soon call forth powerful class conflicts and will gain final victory only by transferring power to the only class capable of standing at the head of the oppressed masses, namely to the proletariat. Once in power, the proletariat not only will not want, but will not be able to limit itself to a bourgeois democratic program…. It must adopt the tactics of permanent revolution, i.e., must destroy the barriers between the minimum and maximum program of the Social Democracy, go over to more and more radical social reforms and seek direct and immediate support in revolution in Western Europe.”5

Trotsky rejected Lenin’s slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry because it was embroiled in class contradictions. The peasantry, while it had sometimes managed to overthrow governments in Europe, had never been able to establish its own state power, largely due to the “unceasing class differentiation among the peasantry,” namely the inevitable conflicts between the richest peasants (kulaks, in Russia), middle peasants and landless peasants, who were agricultural laborers on other peasants’ farms. Either a new landed aristocracy (as in the endless imperial overturns in China, for example), or an urban class had always inherited the power after peasant revolts.

Furthermore, a two-class state would be rife with contradictions and could not survive. The peasantry must either give way to petty-bourgeois democrats, i.e., a new capitalist regime, or follow the lead of the proletariat, which, Trotsky said, “will bring all forces into play in order to raise the cultural level of the countryside and develop the political consciousness of the peasantry.” He goes on, “From what we have said above, it will be clear how we regard the idea of a ‘proletarian and peasant dictatorship.’ It is not really a matter of whether we regard it as inadmissible in principle, whether ‘we do or do not desire’ such a form of political co-operation. We simply think that it is unrealizable…” And if taking the lead in the coming revolution did not mean that “the advanced workers should magnanimously shed their blood without asking themselves for what purpose, but means that the workers must take political leadership of the whole struggle, which above all will be a proletarian struggle, then it is clear that victory in this struggle must transfer power to the class that has led the struggle, i.e., the Social Democratic proletariat.”6

The final split, and the war
Following the decisive split with the Mensheviks, which had happened in 1912; and with the experience of the inter-imperialist war then raging in Europe, by January of 1917 Lenin had come to a position on the revolution in Russia similar to Trotsky’s. Emphasizing that the coming Russian revolution would be a prologue to working-class revolution in Europe, Lenin said that “Undoubtedly, this coming revolution can only be a proletarian revolution, and in an even more profound sense of the word: a proletarian, socialist revolution also in its content.”7

Lenin was in exile in Zurich at this time, but as soon as he received word of the February Revolution and the setting up of a Provisional Government, he set about expounding his views. Noting that the workers of Petrograd were responsible for making the revolution happen, and had immediately established soviets as they had in 1905, Lenin said that, “…the new government that has seized power in St. Petersburg, or more correctly, wrested it from the proletariat, which has waged a victorious, heroic and fierce struggle, consists of liberal bourgeois and landlords… [this government] cannot give the peoples of Russia (and the nations tied to us by the war) either peace, bread or full freedom. The working class must therefore continue its fight for socialism and peace…”8 And in “Letters on Tactics,” written in April just after his return to Russia, he denounced his earlier slogan:

“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times…he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks.’)” Later, in the same writing, he attacked one of these “old Bolsheviks” for proposing that the party should follow the revolutionary masses instead of sticking to their own, communist program: “Comrade Kamenev contraposes to a ‘party of the masses’ a ‘group of propagandists.’ But the ‘masses’ have now succumbed to the craze of ‘revolutionary’ defencism. Is it not more becoming for internationalists at this moment to show that they can resist ‘mass’ intoxication rather than to ‘wish to remain’ with the masses, i.e., to succumb to the general epidemic? Have we not seen how in all the belligerent countries of Europe the chauvinists tried to justify themselves on the grounds that they wished to ‘remain with the masses?’”9

Lenin here refers to old Bolsheviks, principally Stalin and Kamenev, who had taken over leadership in the party press while Lenin was still in exile. The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), who comprised most of the leadership in the soviets, had guided the workers into collaboration with the Provisional Government, while the Bolshevik leadership had at first put forward opposition to the Provisional Government and the war more or less along the lines that Lenin had advocated. But Stalin and Kamenev, after returning from their Siberian exile in March, took over the editorship of the party paper Pravda and moved the position of the Bolsheviks sharply to the right. They advocated limited support to the Provisional Government, denounced the slogan “Down with the war,” and demanded an end to disorganizing efforts at the front, which Bolshevik agitators had been encouraging. Kamenev proclaimed in Pravda that, “‘While there is no peace, the people must remain steadfastly at their posts, answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.’ The slogan ‘Down with the war’ is useless, echoed Stalin the next day.”10

Lenin replied with his “April Theses,” spoken at the Finland Station, and delivered to the party within days of his arrival, and subsequent works and statements such as “The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution,” in which he hammered away on all his key points: no support to the bourgeois Provisional Government or the pursuance of the Anglo/French/Tsarist inter-imperialist war; for renunciation of all imperialist annexations, secret treaties and capitalist interests; and for the nationalization of the land under the control of peasant soviets, and the expropriation of the banks and capitalist syndicates. All of this was to be pulled together with a “new type of state,” bringing the working class to power, which “could only” be established through the soviets of workers and poor peasants.11

Lenin’s April Theses dumbfounded some Bolshevik leaders
This last point, of all power to the soviets, left Bolsheviks dumbfounded when Lenin first proposed it to an informal gathering of party members and others in Petrograd on the evening after his arrival at Finland Station, according to Nikolai Nikolayevich Sukhanov, a former Socialist Revolutionary, who was present at the event. “…no one had ever dreamt of them [i.e., the soviets] as organs of state power, and unique and enduring ones besides. …this whole schema was incomprehensible.”12 While Sukhanov clearly had his own conceptual lenses in this observation, Lenin was indeed a minority of one for a time on the main issues of his “April Theses,” which were first published in Pravda a few days later with only his signature—no one else had signed on—and with a disparaging introduction by the editors to boot.

This was a party cadre which, though it immensely respected Lenin as its historic leader, was nevertheless still stuck in its “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” formula, in which the workers would make the bourgeois revolution, and only then fight for their own demands, perhaps sometime later. However, it was also a committed and disciplined party, which was clear that this was a workers’ revolution. And since the immediate tasks in the workers’ eyes, such as ending the war, feeding the people, mobilizing against the counter-revolution, abolishing the landed estates, and even establishing an eight-hour work day were being actively opposed and resisted by the government of the capitalists and landlords, it was not long before most Bolsheviks came around to Lenin’s view. As Trotsky later related in his seminal History of the Russian Revolution:

“Once the Leninist formulas were issued, they shed a new light for the Bolsheviks upon the experience of the past months and of every new day. In the broad mass of the party, a quick differentiation took place—leftward and leftward, toward the theses of Lenin. ‘District after district adhered to them,’ says Zalezhsky, and by the time of the all-party conference on April 24, the Petersburg organization as a whole was in favor of the theses.’ The struggle for the re-arming of the Bolshevik ranks, begun on the evening of April 3, was essentially finished by the end of the month.”13

The revolution, enabled
So it was that Lenin, and soon the Bolshevik Party with him, had grasped the real issues in the class struggle that were operative in Russia in 1917, and come around to the permanent revolution analysis put forward by Trotsky in 1904-06, and first enunciated by Marx in 1850. This is what enabled the October Revolution: it laid the basis in the leadership for the conquest of power by the working class, and the subsequent transformation of Russia into a workers state that managed to survive for decades, despite the Soviet state’s later degeneration into a distorted, bureaucratic shadow of its former self. The impact of this historic 1917 victory still reverberates, and its lessons inform and instruct conscious revolutionaries to this day. Meanwhile Stalin, who in a few years would be condemning the permanent revolution as a Trotskyite heresy, quietly supported Lenin, and slipped into the background.

There were, of course, many hurdles between the acceptance of the April Theses and the final insurrection in October which established the new workers state, including continued opposition from the right within the Bolshevik Party, as well as some challenges from the left, such as when the Petrograd workers sought an immediate insurrection during the July days. The Bolsheviks opposed this at that time because the masses throughout the country were not ready for that as yet. And the Bolshevik Party was not strong enough. Lenin never sought decisive actions in isolation; only when the masses were clearly on board. The Kornilov affair, in which a reactionary Tsarist General organized an attempt at a counterrevolutionary assault on Petrograd, in collaboration with Kerensky, the “socialist” then head of the Provisional Government, was stopped in a well organized mass response by the Petrograd proletariat, who recruited most of Kornilov’s troops to the revolutionary banner, and thus demonstrated the working-class resolve to preserve and protect the revolution from any backsliding. And the October insurrection happened just at the opening of the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets as Lenin planned, despite some opposition on the timing, and the defection of Kamenev and Zinoviev (Lenin’s close ally in exile and collaborator at the Zimmerwald antiwar conferences) in opposing the insurrection plan in the public press!

Trotsky sees the need for the Bolshevik Party
Trotsky, who arrived back in Russia from exile in New York only by the 4th of May, when the theoretical re-arming of the Bolshevik Party was mostly completed, soon joined the Bolsheviks and became a stalwart ally of Lenin throughout the revolutionary period, including by serving as the chief organizer and leader of the Red Army throughout the Civil War. It should be noted that in his 1919 Preface to the re-issue of Results and Prospects, Trotsky acknowledged his error in not recognizing the importance of the Bolshevik Party earlier:

“…the author [i.e., Trotsky] did not fully appreciate the very important circumstance that in reality, along the line of the disagreement between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, there were being grouped inflexible revolutionaries on the one side and, on the other, elements which were becoming more and more opportunist and accommodating. When the Revolution of 1917 broke out, the Bolshevik Party constituted a strong centralized organization uniting all the best elements of the advanced workers and revolutionary intellectuals, which—after some internal struggle—frankly adopted tactics directed towards the socialist dictatorship of the working class, in full harmony with the entire international situation and class relations in Russia.”14

The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in October was fully in accord with the needs and demands of the masses, with the permanent revolution, and with Lenin’s April Theses, which had called for all power to the soviets. Other approaches to power from both within (rightists such as Kamenev) and without (Mensheviks and SRs) the Bolshevik Party, such as focusing on the Constituent Assembly or on a coalition of all the parties of the soviets, would have resulted in a petty-bourgeois government and a continuation of capitalism. After a thunderous endorsement of power to the soviets by the delegates of the second all-Russian Congress, 60 percent of whom were Bolsheviks, the first two decrees of the new government were proposed and passed overwhelmingly: peace and land. The Provisional Government, despite its many promises of reform, had in its nine months of existence come nowhere near the initial accomplishments of this workers’ government in these two critical decrees.

The first, on ending the war, demanded an armistice, and “immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.” The Bolshevik government declared that it “considers it the greatest of crimes against humanity to continue this war.” It denounced the secret diplomacy which had contributed to the start of the war, and pledged to “proceed immediately with the full publication of the secret treaties,” which it presently did, much to the chagrin of all the competing imperialist powers, whether friend or foe of Russia. The decree also denounced all plans of the Tsarist and other governments regarding annexations of territory, and declared that all such territories should have the right to a free vote on their fate. With this statement alone, the Bolsheviks announced to the world their renunciation of capitalism and imperialism, and secured their place in history by putting the interests of humanity first, ahead of nationalism, imperialism, and all exploitative interests.15

The Bolshevik land decree
The Decree on Land, which like the Decree On Peace is so important for understanding in today’s world, was also revolutionary in its intent and implications. The Decree, written by Lenin and fully supported by Trotsky, had as its first clause, “1. Landed proprietorship is abolished forthwith without any compensation,” period. And later, under the clause, “The most equitable settlement of the land question is to be as follows,” we have “1. Private ownership of land shall be abolished forever; land shall not be sold, purchased, leased, mortgaged, or otherwise alienated. All land, whether state, crown, monastery, church, factory, entailed, public, peasant, etc., shall be confiscated without compensation and become the property of the whole people, and pass into the use of all those who cultivate it.”16

Despite its clear wording of explicit state expropriation of the land—i.e., nationalization without compensation—the Land Decree did not have the immediate effect of abolishing private holding in land. While making land “become the property of the whole people,” it nevertheless allowed the land to “pass into the use of all those who cultivate it,” which meant that peasants, now freed from the rent and debt to landlord and money lender, which ever increasing burden they had suffered under ever since the abolition of serfdom in 1861, could divide up the large estates, and work the land that they had long held as their own, free and clear. The wording of the decree was in fact based on the “land to the tiller” program of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the descendants of Narodniks, populists who based themselves on the peasantry. Although the Land Decree was approved by a resounding acclamation, Lenin did face questions about it from some Bolsheviks. When asked after the passage of the Land Decree why he had applied the agrarian program of the SRs instead of his own, he said:

“Voices are being raised here that the decree itself and the Mandate were drawn up by the Socialist-Revolutionaries. What of it? Does it matter who drew them up? As a democratic government, we cannot ignore the decision of the masses of the people…. Let the peasants solve this problem from one end and we shall solve it from the other. Experience will allow us to draw together in the general stream of revolutionary creative work, in the elaboration of new state farms. We must be guided by experience; we must allow complete freedom to the creative faculties of the masses.” While the old, Tsarist government had only “fought the peasants,” Lenin continued: “The peasants have learned something during the eight months of our revolution; they want to settle all land problems themselves…. The point is that the peasants should be firmly assured that there are no more landowners in the countryside, that they themselves must decide all questions, and that they themselves must arrange their own lives.”17

Rosa Luxemburg on the land decree
Rosa Luxemburg, though a firm supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, said that “Formerly, there was only a small caste of noble and capitalist proprietors and a small minority of rich village bourgeoisie to oppose a socialist reform on the land. And their expropriation by a revolutionary mass movement of the people is mere child’s play.”18 Whose expropriation is “mere child’s play,” the noble and capitalist proprietors and rich village bourgeoisie, or them plus the mass of the peasantry, who thought the land belonged to them? And who was to do the expropriating, in the absence of an active, mass rural proletariat? Much as I respect Rosa Luxemburg, I must say that this statement is an over-simplification, which ignored the realities in Russia.

The peasants had indeed been learning something after the overthrow of the Tsar in the February Revolution, and the situation was “unstable” to say the least. In rural areas during the summer and fall of 1917 all hell was breaking loose. As the air of revolution permeated the countryside, peasants began to invade the big landed estates and cart off crops of hay and other resources such as tools and other implements. Some of the estate owners tried to get the weak Provisional Government’s support to protect their properties to no avail, up until July, that is. Many panicked and sold their estates to foreign investors, notably from France (which was Tsarist Russia’s major trade and investment partner.) The expropriation of the landlords was proceeding apace!

The peasants were also looking around for leadership. This is when the Socialist Revolutionaries, who promised, “land to the tiller,” surged to prominence as the peasants’ chief representatives. As Trotsky put it in 1923, “The Socialist Revolutionaries considered that the peasantry was created for the purpose of being under their leadership and, through them, to rule the country.”19 The inability of the peasantry to take power on its own, and the fact that the peasantry in power would mean rule by the petty-bourgeoisie, and hence the capitalist parties, completely escaped the understanding of the SRs. More to the point, the SRs along with Menshevik ministers were in fact the petty bourgeois government, by virtue of their majority in the Kerensky cabinet—Kerensky himself being an SR—as of May. Yet not only did they do nothing to implement their “land and freedom” program, which had the full backing of the peasantry, but after the defeat of the insurrectionary movement of the Petrograd workers in July, the Provisional Government (with its SR ministers!) sent troops to defend the landlords in the countryside, and managed to reverse some of the peasants’ gains. As a result, reports Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution, “…the peasants steadily lost confidence in both the government and the [SR] party. Thus the swelling out of the Social Revolutionary organizations in the villages became fatal to this universal party, which was rebelling at the bottom but restoring order at the top.”20

SRs had to be driven out of power
Despite all this, the SRs still had the nerve to criticize Lenin over the Land Decree: “The SRs cried: ‘A fine Marxist, who for fifteen years baited us from the heights of his grandeur for our petty-bourgeois lack of science, and then executed our program the moment he took power!’ And Lenin snapped back: ‘A fine party, that had to be driven out of power for its program to be realized!’”21

This brief exchange captured something fundamental: only the working class in power could finally uproot the aristocratic remnants of feudalism, and implement the basic democratic demands of the masses that petty-bourgeois or peasant parties were unable to bring about. But what about the socialist demands? Did the Bolsheviks’ failure to immediately establish a system of collective agriculture mean they had betrayed the permanent revolution, the theory Lenin adhered to, and which Trotsky had promoted early in the century?

The first thing to note in answer to this question is that Lenin’s Bolsheviks had adhered to their own formula, that this revolution had to be a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasantry. This support had not been acquired through the earlier Bolshevik slogan of a joint dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. This would have been two-class rule, as in, for instance (hypothetically,) a joint government of Bolsheviks and SRs. Rather; it had been achieved by the inability of the SRs to implement their own program, and by the accession to power of the Bolsheviks alone (along with Left SRs, who recognized the need for working class rule.) As Trotsky put it, “The chief task lay in the substance of the historic task itself—a democratic agrarian revolution.” (See footnote 19)

Secondly, the Leninists had not for an instant forgotten the need for a class differentiation in the countryside. Lenin had tirelessly pursued attempts to organize the agricultural laborers and other poor peasants into their own soviets and other organizations, counterposed to the kulaks, who were often their employers. As more and more big landlord holdings were being looted however, the kulaks and small-landowning peasants took the lead and had the advantage of well-fed horses and carts to hold crops and equipment. So, in the thirst for “land and freedom,” the peasants had instead rallied behind the better-off. Thus the Land Decree could only implement collectivization as a future goal, through state ownership of the land. As a result, the kulaks did become a brake on the further development of the revolution, by withholding grain from the cities and, in a few cases, supporting counterrevolutionary forces in the Civil War.

Third and finally, if the Bolsheviks hadn’t adopted the Land Decree when they did, the revolution could well have been doomed. In this massive and mostly agrarian country, peasant support was vital, and the peasants needed to be “…assured that there are no more landowners in the countryside,” as Lenin said in his opposition to critics (above.) Or, as Victor Serge said in his Year One of the Revolution, the Land Decree “alone would make the new authority invincible, by assuring it the support of millions of peasants.”22 A vital part of this is that the new workers’ state had to deal with providing the peasants with modern machinery—tractors, tools etc.—in order to make any collectives viable. This would have required a transformation of industry, which was essentially impossible, especially given the looming danger of counterrevolutionary assaults and imperialist interventions. If the Bolsheviks had immediately counterposed themselves to, and alienated the mass of the peasantry with collectivization efforts which they weren’t ready for, and which the state couldn’t provide the tools for, they easily could have gone down in flames in the ensuing civil war, and the chance of future socialization would have been lost. As it was, Bolsheviks did promote communal efforts, and special experimental farming collectives and other collective farms wherever possible. Overall, the Lenin and Trotsky-led workers state, threatened as it was in the next few years with all sorts of potential disasters, nevertheless did a spectacular job of implementing the permanent revolution.

The Bolshevik housing policy
The housing policy of the Bolsheviks, though a much less prominent feature of their program compared to the land policy, is nevertheless important for the lessons it carries for today. In both the land policy and the housing policy, the workers state sought to dissolve the bonds of private property.

In his polemic against anarchists in State and Revolution, Lenin outlined the principles of the Bolshevik position on housing, first by quoting Engels on The Housing Question:

“… one thing is certain: there is already a sufficient quantity of houses in the big cities to remedy immediately all real ‘housing shortage,’ provided they are used judiciously. This can naturally only occur through the expropriation of the present owners and by quartering in their houses homeless workers or workers overcrowded in their present homes.” Lenin quotes further, “…It must be pointed out that the ‘actual seizure’ of all the instruments of labor, the taking possession of industry as a whole by the working people, is the exact opposite of the Proudhonist [anarchist] ‘redemption.’ In the latter case the individual worker becomes the owner of his dwelling, the peasant farm, the instruments of labor; in the former case, the ‘working people’ become the collective owners of the houses, factories, and instruments of labor…”

Lenin himself added that, “The letting of houses owned by the whole people to individual families presupposes the collection of rent, a certain amount of control, and the employment of some standard in allotting the housing. All this calls for a certain form of state…. The transition to a situation in which it will be possible to supply dwellings rent-free depends on the complete ‘withering away’ of the state.”23 All of this adds up to a fundamental change in how society was organized, and how the needs of the masses were to be met, which, needless to say, would have been impossible without the complete abolition of capitalism which the Bolshevik insurrection and establishment of the workers state made possible.

These principles began to be implemented immediately after the October Revolution in major cities in Russia, as masses of working people in the cities moved into an active political life, forming committees of all sorts to make the workers’ state a reality on the ground, so to speak. On the question of housing, local soviets struggled to keep up. In September of 1918, for instance, the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Red Army Deputies issued a decree on the commandeering of dwellings, etc., which provided for a housing commission to be set up in each district “With the object of finding, and providing workers with healthy dwellings…” conducting inspections and redistributions of tenants as necessary, with preferences for working people and noting that: “Persons engaged in work of public necessity are to be provided with a dwelling in the region where they work.”24

Ongoing problems in housing
Of course there were problems involved with Soviet housing from the start, such as inability of the workers’ state to renovate old, and build new housing during the time of famine, civil war and counterrevolutionary threats both internally and from abroad. These led to conflicts within families over shared facilities, and problems of overcrowding. And such problems were compounded by an influx of former landowners and others into the cities, many of whom were declared “parasites” who needed to be moved out of town to make way for workers. In later years, many of these problems were indeed on going.

However, to judge by the numerous critiques of Soviet housing that emerged in modern times, one would think that problems such as these were the whole story, as they repeat endless horror stories about inadequate housing in the USSR. Yet, how many homeless people were there in the Soviet Union? Virtually none. One article, by Jeff Harrison of the University of Arizona, about the switch to private ownership following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, brought home another side of the story: today’s Russians don’t like mortgages, and can’t understand why Americans think they own their own homes if they are saddled with a mortgage. Harrison quotes Jane Zavisca in 2011, in a review of a then-forthcoming book of hers: “‘It may be a legacy of Soviet entitlement to housing, where housing is viewed as a right to them. Even though the Soviet government owned the housing, people thought of it as their own and had the right to pass it down to their children, or swap with someone who wanted to trade with you.’ She said Russians find it odd that Americans call themselves ‘homeowners’ from the day they close on a mortgage loan. For Russians, ownership only begins after all debts are paid off.”25 How true that was for millions of so-called “homeowners” in the U.S. who lost their homes in the mortgage fraud-induced crash of 2008!

Capitalism equals fraud and homelessness
Fighting against the endless rent increases, fraudulent mortgage foreclosures and homelessness under capitalism is indeed a very hard slog. Many cooperatives which start out as “affordable housing” opportunities eventually give way to privatization, and many private, including city-subsidized projects are still not affordable for the low-income would-be tenants. The market economy in housing promotes rapid gentrification, which is enriching landlords while destroying traditional low-income neighborhoods. Runaway increases in housing costs in San Francisco, for instance, are destroying the historic Mission district, and creating a teacher shortage by preventing education workers from living in the city where they teach.

Some cooperative housing organizations are able to make a small dent in the capitalist/landlord armor by adopting a mode which bears a resemblance to the principles of land and housing adopted in the Russian Revolution: the community land trust (CLT). A CLT operates by separating ownership of the land from ownership of the building in a contractual arrangement, which prevents privatization and preserves affordability for even the lowest income tenants. The Cooper Square Committee (CSC) in New York City got its start in 1959 by successfully opposing city planner Robert Moses’ “slum removal” and re-development assault on the Lower East Side neighborhood, which had threatened to displace thousands of inhabitants. It ultimately saved over 300 buildings. The CSC then set up a CLT based on donations, and on take-overs of buildings abandoned by landlords and owned by the City, and now manages nearly 400 low-income apartments in 23 buildings. More recently in California, the Bay Area Community Land Trust uses the same principles to provide low-income housing, currently in 18 buildings. Ownership of the land under the building by the CLT, combined with cooperative management of the housing and democratic leadership structures is what preserves the low-income housing. These solutions hold promise, but can only be fully implemented through the expropriation of the banks, and nationwide nationalization of the land, so that all working people may enjoy the benefits.

Lessons for today from the
revolution of 1917
Housing is a right, and homelessness is abolished! Mortgage debt to the big banks is liquidated, and rents are fixed at a reasonable percentage of a tenant’s income! The rich are expropriated, and their tenement buildings and multiple palatial homes and condominiums are divided up to provide adequate housing for all working people! Such are just some of the possibilities suggested by the Russian Revolution if its lessons were to be applied in the modern world today. But that is not all. If we widen the lens a bit, we can see applications of lessons from the Russian Revolution throughout the crisis of 2008, for instance. In this crisis, the U.S. government bailed out the big banks, not the homeowners who had lost their homes to fraud, and it also bailed out the auto industry when General Motors faced bankruptcy. Of course it was a different time with different conditions, but in the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks were very careful to address the specific situation with appropriate demands which carried the revolutionary process forward, such as “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers!” This demand addressed a particular situation—that of socialists serving in the Provisional government alongside bourgeois representatives—and helped the working class to see that by combining with capitalist forces, the Social Democrats were holding back the essential immediate demands of the working masses, summed up as bread, peace and land. Trotsky would later call this a “transitional demand,” which is a demand which, in order to be realized, must drive the class struggle forward toward workers’ revolution.

In 2008 in the U.S. there was no such revolutionary situation, and no mass revolutionary party to implement such a strategy. But if we focus on the lessons of the Russian Revolution, we can see how such a party might have begun to build itself up into a position to actually effect the class struggle. Instead of the government’s bail out of General Motors, we might have demanded: “Nationalize big auto without compensation and under workers’ control!” And we might have added, “Employ auto workers to transform the industry to make electric and hybrid autos only!” With that, we would have expanded our scope to include not just housing, and not just auto, but the threat of global warming as well, which challenges not just workers but the planet as a whole to wake up to what is ahead for all of us. And if that last demand (or maybe all of them) seems like a stretch, then so was the Russian Revolution itself. Lenin said in January 1917 that, “We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution. But I can, I believe, express the confidant hope that the youth…will be fortunate enough not only to fight, but also to win, in the coming proletarian revolution.”26 In a month or so, the Russian Revolution had entered into history.

Despite its many great achievements, this revolution degenerated into a shadow of its former self within six to seven years. Lenin, Trotsky, and Marx himself, along with most Bolsheviks, had expected the revolution to happen first in the most advanced industrial countries, such as Germany, rather than in backward Russia. And the Bolshevik leadership was clear that a socialist revolution in Russia could not survive unless it spread into Europe. There was a great revolutionary upsurge throughout Europe and the world following the revolution and the end of the war, but none besides Russia ended in the conquest of power by the working class. Then, with the failure of the German Revolution in October 1923—due to inadequate leadership both in the German party and at the head of the Communist International (CI)—things in Russia quickly began to change. The Russian workers, exhausted by civil war and deprivation—and with the untimely death of Lenin in 1924—became demoralized. The revolutionary state was captured by a conservative, bureaucratic clique headed by Joseph Stalin, who proclaimed that Russia would survive with “socialism in one country,” a formula unheard of before in the cannon of revolutionary and internationalist Marxism. The purposes for which Russia was ruled, the way it was ruled, and its leadership all changed. It was Russia’s Thermidor.27

Stalin distorted and destroyed the lessons of 1917
The Stalin regime distorted or dispensed with all the revolutionary lessons of 1917. That the working class needs an independent, disciplined revolutionary party to make a revolution even in a backward country was replaced with orders for the Chinese CP to enter the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang, which led to a slaughter of the revolutionary workers in 1927. That the workers should refuse to enter or support coalition governments with capitalist parties—as Social Democrats did in the Provisional Government in Russia—was replaced with support for the “popular front” of workers’ and bourgeois parties, which led to the defeat of the revolution in Spain in the 1930s. Even the principle of the united-front, in which the working class struggles independently but alongside other socialists against a counterrevolutionary threat (such as Kornilov) was abandoned, which led to the virtually unopposed coming to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933. All this was a result of Stalin’s international strategy, which abandoned revolutionary politics for a policy of diplomatic alliances to protect the Soviet Union. With the 1933 German defeat, Trotsky, now several years in exile, declared the Third International dead, and called for formation of a new Fourth International of revolutionary workers parties.

Every step of the way, from his work with a Left Opposition in Russia in the 1920s to his fight to build new revolutionary parties around the world, Trotsky fought to uphold and extend to the world the lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917. With regard to the great gains of the Russian Revolution, and the inspiration they provide for revolutionary answers to critical problems from the housing crisis to the largest global issues, we can only say, with Trotsky as he was dying from a blow inflicted by a Stalinist agent, “go forward.”

1 “…referring to the 17th century English author Thomas Hobbes, whose best-known work, Leviathan, describes a situation of unrestrained, selfish and uncivilized competition.” https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Hobbesian

2 Marx and Engels, “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” London, March 1850, Selected Works, vol. 1, Moscow 1962, p. 110.

3 Karl Marx, “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” New York 1852, in Selected Works, vol. 1, Moscow 1962, p. 338.

4 Lenin, VI, “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,” June-July 1905, in Collected Works, (CW) Vol. 9, Moscow 1962.

5 Trotsky, Leon, “Preface to the Re-Issue of this work,” (1919) in Results and Prospects, 1906. This preface is Trotsky’s summary of his views in 1904-05. About the “minimum” and “maximum” program, this was the rationalization of Social Democrats to justify their focus on reform of the capitalist system. When it came to imperialist war or socialism, they betrayed both Marxism and the working classes of the world.

6 Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects, 1906, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/rp-index.htm.

7 Lenin, VI, “Lecture on the 1905 Revolution,” January 9, 1917, in CW vol. 23, Moscow 1964.

8 Lenin, VI, “Draft Theses, March 4 1917” in CW vol. 23, Moscow 1964.

9 Lenin, VI, “Letters On Tactics,” April 8 and 13th, 1917, CW vol. 24, Moscow 1964.

10 Rabinowitch, A, Prelude To Revolution, The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising, Indiana University Press, 1968, page 36.

11 Lenin, VI, CW vol. 24, op.cit., contains both these documents.

12 Sukhanov, N.N., The Russian Revolution of 1917, Eyewitness Account, vol. 1. Oxford 1955, Harper reprint 1962, p. 283. Sukhanov’s history (which he denied was a history) is useful for it’s rare and lively eyewitness account of the 1917 events, despite his contradictory and often derogatory comments on Lenin and Trotsky.

13 Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, 1932-33, Sphere Books Edition, London, 1967, p. 307.

14 Trotsky, Results and Prospects, op.cit.

15 Akhapkin, Yuri, 1970, First Decrees of Soviet Power, Lawrence and Wishart, London, pp. 20-22.

16 Akhapkin, Yuri, op.cit., pp. 23-26

17 Lenin, CW, Vol. 26, page 261

18 Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, 1918, quoted in Tony Cliff, Rosa Luxemburg, https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1969/rosalux/7-bolpower.htm#f69

19 Trotsky, The New Course, 1924, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25), Pathfinder Press, New York, 1975, page 105.

20 Trotsky, History…, op.cit., Vol. 3 The Triumph of the Soviets, Chapter 1, “The Peasantry Before October,” pp 9 – 38.

21 Sukhanov, N.N., 1955 op.cit., vol. 2, p.661.

22 Victor Serge, 1930, Year One of the Russian Revolution, Peter Sedgwick translator, New York, 1972.

23 Lenin, VI, The State and Revolution, August 1917, CW vol. 25, Moscow 1964, quotes from Engels, The Housing Question, 1872, and writes, on pages 433 and 434.

24 Executive of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Red Army Deputies, Decree…, http://soviethistory.msu.edu//?=Housing.

25 Jeff Harrison, “Why Russians Think Americans Don’t Own Their Own Homes.” 2011 https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/why-russians-think-americans-don-t-own-their-homes

26 Lenin, VI, “Lecture on the 1905 Revolution,” op.cit., page 253.

27 The Revolution Betrayed, By Leon Trotsky

“Thermidor is a reference to the later stages of the French Revolution, when conservative forces took hold of society.”


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The End of Islamic Liberalism?-Daniel Johnson   

Posted by admin On October - 5 - 2017 Comments Off on The End of Islamic Liberalism?-Daniel Johnson   

Fall of the Turkish Model
Cihan Tuğal, The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism (Verso, 2016).

In the short time since the 2016 publication of Cihan Tuğal’s The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism, Turkey has endured an attempted coup, nearly a year of rule under a state of emergency, the widespread repression of dissent through imprisonment and mass firings of teachers and civil servants, and a (likely fraudulent) referendum that has institutionalized the autocratic rule of President Tayyip Recep Erdoǧan. Yet, unbelievable as it may seem, these developments are part of a continuum rather than a rupture, and Tuğal’s book is essential—if not unproblematic—reading for understanding contemporary politics in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.

The Fall of the Turkish Model (hereafter FTM) can be read as a sequel to Tuğal’s 2009 book, Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism. In this earlier work Tuğal analyzed the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey through a Gramscian lens, arguing that in the early twenty-first century the AKP successfully absorbed a populist, anticapitalist Islamic ideology prominent in Turkey (and elsewhere) in the 1990s. In this war of position the neoliberal AKP was able to establish its hegemony in part through the appropriation of revolutionary discourses and strategies that in practice reinforced existing patterns of domination—hence a passive revolution. The party’s ostensible commitment to liberal democratic norms, free markets, and “moderate Islam” turned Turkey into a Middle Eastern poster child for mainstream Western commentators and policymakers—hence the “Turkish model.”

As its title suggests, FTM analyzes the failure of the Turkish model (or “Islamic liberalism”). Deploying a comparative sociological method that discusses Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, Tuğal claims the “Arab revolts of 2011-13…pulled the rug from under the feet of the Turkish regime,” as hopes for the creation of liberal Islamic regimes throughout the region failed to materialize after 2011. In the wake of the Arab Spring’s implosion, the Turkish state’s suppression of the Gezi uprising in the summer of 2013 revealed the authoritarian underpinnings of the AKP government, and exposed the undemocratic tendencies of “Islamic actors” when they are undermined or challenged.

A key argument of FTM is that, contrary to most mainstream accounts, the failure of the Turkish model and the growth of authoritarianism in Turkey has not been a result of Erdoğan’s dictatorial ambitions or an essentialist “Turkish culture.” Rather, the emergence of the increasingly authoritarian state is attributable to the process of liberalization itself. A virtue of such an orientation according to Tuǧal is that it points to the “structural and conjunctural (as well as cultural) dynamics” behind the crisis in Islamic liberalism. FTM claims—somewhat confusingly—that the “neoliberal-liberal democratic model” was the central cause of Turkey’s crisis, and it was therefore the Turkish model itself that “allowed Erdoğan’s authoritarianism to pass as democratic during the last ten years.”

To explain the rise and fall of the Turkish model Tuğal deploys what he calls a “Political Society-Based Explanation,” the key theoretical contribution of FTM. According to this conception civil society groups cannot bring about substantial social transformation without the aid of “political society”—defined in FTM as “a field of actors and organizations that have comprehensive social visions.” These are often political parties, but they can also be groups and organizations more difficult to classify, especially in “dynamic situations.” Civil society actors pursue sectional interests or specific issues, whereas political society actors seek to regulate the totality of social life—even if this regulation leans in an ostensibly liberal direction, as with the early AKP. In Tuğal’s view, a primary virtue of an approach that stresses the contingencies involved in a passive revolution effected by political society is that in it the “lines between state and society, the elite and the people, are drawn and redrawn continuously.”

FTM argues that in the context of the Middle East, Turkey was uniquely situated for liberalization; the Turkish model was therefore never a realistically exportable product. In the 1960s and 1970s Islamists across the Middle East and North Africa held similar religious and political views, while neoliberal reforms were enacted throughout the region in the 1980s and 1990s. Economic liberalization was most pronounced in Turkey, however, and the phenomenal growth of the Turkish economy in the early 2000s under the AKP was a primary reason for Western pundits’ enthusiastic support for the Turkish model. By contrast, liberalization in Egypt and Iran was uneven and sporadic, and both countries have been unable to completely break with a corporatist past. Tunisia’s initial turn toward liberalism was thwarted by an increasingly authoritarian state, made possible in large part by the relative political weakness of Tunisian Islamists.

Only in Turkey did a unified and professionalized political society, along with relatively democratic political structures, exist. A military coup in 1980 crushed the left, while in the coup’s aftermath concessions to religious groups (historically repressed by the Kemalist security state) allowed an opening to Islamists in order to defuse the appeal of revolutionary Iran. As the state was slowly reformed along neoliberal lines the Welfare Party (RP), heir to Islamist parties previously shut down by the Turkish military, increased its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s with an anticapitalist and anti-Western discourse rooted in a corporatist religious doctrine.

After the RP was forced out of power in 1997 and dissolved the following year, the AKP was created by former RP member Tayyip Recep Erdoğan. More socially and culturally flexible than the austere RP, the new Islamist AKP took a softer stance toward Islamic law, the rights of women, alcohol, and abandoned the RP’s anticapitalist orientation. Thus the stage was set for a hegemonic project that appropriated the radical language of the anti-Western party and movement while adopting neoliberal economic policies—a liberalized Islamism with broad popular support.

FTM’s comparative discussion of the impacts of economic reform in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey are enlightening. Turkey’s more thorough embrace of a capitalist model of growth made it possible for the country to surpass others in the region in GDP—yet these policies also made  Turkey more vulnerable to the global recession of 2008. While absolute poverty has declined inequality has increased along with unemployment and precarious work. And though the expansion of social welfare to include previously excluded groups has been a major contributor to the AKP’s popular appeal, workers have suffered as union density has plummeted while work deaths have skyrocketed. Moreover, in many indicators of development—unemployment, education expenditure, expected years of schooling—Turkey has fared worse than others. In short, the Turkish economic model “has led to a phenomenal increase in wealth, but not to a better life for the citizenry at large.”

Tuǧal also provides an insightful comparison of the Arab Spring in North Africa (though readers interested in the impact of workers’ movements on the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt should read Joel Beinin’s Workers and Thieves). While according to Tuǧal militants in Egypt and Tunisia shared four central slogans—bread, social justice, freedom, and dignity—the left in both countries was ultimately unable to lead the revolutionary movements, and as we know the result was failure and conservative reaction. The absence of an organized left capable of taking the lead in the revolutionary institution-building process opened the field for passive revolutionaries and others with conservative or narrow agendas.

In Turkey, it was the Gezi uprising in the summer of 2013 that led to the ultimate breakdown of Islamic liberalism as the state’s suppression of the anti-government movement revealed the AKP’s authoritarian tendencies. Yet while FTM’s conceptualization of the AKP’s passive revolution in the early 2000s is convincing, the book’s analysis of Gezi and what it portends for leftist strategy is problematic.

The Gezi movement began as a protest against the destruction of Gezi Park in Istanbul, which Tuǧal sees as resistance to the neoliberal commodification of urban space. After a violent police response to park occupiers the revolt spread across the nation and incorporated a wide variety of groups and political orientations. While the revolt was certainly multiclass, FTM points to evidence protesters tended to be relatively well-educated while general support for the movement came disproportionately from the middle and upper classes. In fact, the “new middle class” conspicuous in the movement was in fact the same group that benefited from economic liberalization over the previous decade.

Since FTM’s primary argument is that the AKP’s version of neoliberalism directly led to Gezi, evidence that the movement was largely led by those who profited from liberalization’s effects creates logical problems. How does FTM explain this paradox? Tuǧal attempts to resolve the problem by pointing to the “contradictions at the heart of neoliberalism: it leads to a socially stifling world even for the groups it enriches.” If the Turkish model was at least temporarily successful in appeasing large sections of the urban poor through welfare distribution, the dissatisfaction of the new middle classes is fatal to Islamic liberalism, since “their boring life is what the model holds in store for the imagined future of these strata across the region.”

For a work as analytically sophisticated as FTM, to say nothing of its materialist orientation, the claim that what ultimately brought down Islamic liberalism was a nebulous lack of social fulfillment among a new middle class is unsatisfying. Tuğal might have drawn on Marx’s theorization of capital’s tendency to constantly produce new, unsatisfied needs among workers (even the relatively privileged)—a concept usefully developed in a number of recent works by Michael Lebowitz. He could also have discussed high levels of unemployment among newly-educated groups with new social aspirations across the region in conjunction with Pierre Bourdieu’s invaluable theories of economic, social, and cultural capital. In any case, while Tuǧal provides fascinating information regarding the revolt’s development, the causes of Gezi remain undertheorized.

More concretely, a deeper discussion of the inextricable relationship between economic and sociocultural issues (the AKP’s obsessive focus on the nuclear family and women’s subordination, a paternalist/corporatist evisceration of organized labor, attacks on “non-Turkish” cultural spaces and institutions, and the general limiting of democratic freedoms) would have made for a richer, and ultimately more convincing, explanation of the revolt. While Tuǧal is clearly knowledgeable about the “cultural” conflicts that have infused Turkish society in recent years, he unconvincingly marginalizes them in favor of an economistic interpretation of Gezi.

A second, and related, problem concerns what the analysis portends for leftist strategy in Turkey, the region, and the world. FTM is not a work of socialist strategy, and it may seem unfair to criticize a book for not doing what its author never intended to do. Nevertheless, it is disconcerting that a Gramscian analysis of the failure of a major rightist movement is largely lacking in ideas for a new war of position. Tuǧal seems to imply that what is needed on the left is its own “political society,” an organization (or party?) that transcends mere civil society groups. How this is supposed to come about is not seriously addressed, other than to suggest “A slow process of political maturation and ideological co-education (an interactive education, where intellectuals and masses are simultaneously transformed),” along with the building of cooperatives and other post-capitalist institutions.

This vagueness regarding strategy is at odds with Tuǧal’s frustration with anarchist tendencies prominent among the left in recent decades. The concept of “leaderless revolutions,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s notion of the “multitude,” and the “beautification of unorganized masses, a romanticization now in high fashion,” all contributed to the left’s failure to seize revolutionary initiative in Tuǧal’s view. While it is certainly the case that organization and the need to confront state power are essential in the present—truly frightening—political conjuncture, ridiculing the straw man of postmodern anarchism will not take us very far.

As a dense and scholarly work, FTM is a book for academics, and Tuǧal’s prescriptions are directed towards leftist intellectuals. Yet as Erdoǧan and the AKP intensify the repression of journalists and academics while at the same time concentrating political power, the notion of “political maturation and ideological co-education” seems increasingly distant and disconnected from reality. By contrast, grassroots political mobilization guided by demands for elemental democratic freedoms are the immediate essential organizational tasks for the left.

These criticisms aside, FTM is a major work of Marxist sociopolitical analysis that deserves attention and further discussion. This review, with its disproportionate focus on Turkey, has not done justice to the comparative expertise Tuǧal brings, and readers will learn much from the book about recent political history and revolutionary movements in Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, and especially Turkey. By analyzing in fascinating detail the failure of Islamic liberalism Tuğal helps create a framework in which a new, more just, social and political vision can be articulated. Just as in the 1990s the RP in Turkey appropriated leftist methods of organization and an anticapitalist ideology, so might the left learn from the mistakes and failures of the pseudo-populist right.

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