Stalin: 50 years after the death of a tyrant - Part one

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Fifty years ago today the world heard the news of the death of Stalin. For decades the Stalinist propaganda machine had assiduously encouraged the myth of Stalin as "the Lenin of today", who was supposed to have led the Bolshevik Party together with Lenin. But all this was merely a construction to justify the usurpation of power by a tyrant who destroyed Lenin's party, liquidated the political conquests of October and wrecked the Communist International.

"The revolution explodes the social lie. The revolution is true. It begins by calling things and the relations between things by their proper names […] But the revolution itself is not an integral and harmonious process. It is full of contradictions […] The revolution itself produces a new ruling stratum which seeks to consolidate its privileged position and is prone to see itself not as a transitory historical instrument, but as the completion and crowning of history." (Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification.)

Fifty years ago today the world heard the news of the death of Stalin. For decades the Stalinist propaganda machine had assiduously encouraged the myth of Stalin as "the Lenin of today", who was supposed to have led the Bolshevik Party together with Lenin. But all this was merely a construction to justify the usurpation of power by a tyrant who destroyed Lenin's party, liquidated the political conquests of October and wrecked the Communist International.

In actual fact, Stalin played a very secondary role in the history of the Bolshevik Party. He was made a member of the Central Committee at a time when there was a shortage of experienced people in Russia. Stalin attended the Fifth Party Congress in London in 1907, but uttered not a single word in any of the sessions. Stalin was what one might call a "practico" - a committeeman who was involved in the practical and administrative aspects of the work of the revolutionary party. He was never a theoretician, a writer or an orator. He was interested in building the Party machine.

People like this can play an important role in the Party, as long as they are kept under the firm control of a theoretically developed and ideologically firm leadership. But if they try to take control of the Party and substitute organisational narrowness for theory, it is always a recipe for disaster. Lacking the political and moral authority, they will always resort to the apparatus to resolve internal problems. This is a finished recipe for crises and splits. Moreover, they tend to approach every problem from an organisational and administrative point of view. This has happened more than once in the history of the revolutionary movement - and always with the most negative results.

Lenin never saw the Party in such a way, although he was perfectly capable of building an apparatus, and did so more than once. For Lenin, the Party was in the first place, programme, ideas, methods and traditions, and only in the second place an apparatus to put these ideas into practice. He understood the dangers that could arise if the Party machine escaped from political control.

Stalin and the October revolution

On several occasions Lenin clashed bitterly with the Bolshevik committeemen on this question. At critical moments, those "practicos" showed their complete inability to understand the revolutionary ideas and theory of Marxism and lost their bearings. So it was with Stalin, the archetypal committeeman or Party apparatchik. With such people, organizational intransigence (or plain bullying) is the reflection not of strength but of political weakness. Stalin was inclined to the Bolsheviks, not because of their political and theoretical clarity, but because they were a disciplined and centralised organisation. Not for nothing was Lenin's faction in 1903 described as "the hards" as opposed to "the softs" who supported Martov.

However the "hardness" of the Bolsheviks, their revolutionary intransigence, was only an expression of their political line, which in turn was rooted in Marxist theory. The centralised organisation has no meaning in and of itself. It is only a means to an end. However, the committeemen tended to see it as an end in itself. In a peculiar way they repeated the view of the revisionist Bernstein, who said: "the movement is everything, the final goal nothing". Such a statement (actually quite meaningless) reflects the mentality of the Party "practico", the narrow-minded apparatchik or bureaucrat who sees the revolution not as the self-movement of the working class, but purely through the spectacles of Party organization.

Like many other committeemen, Stalin was able to show intransigence in a narrow sphere, but in the broader stage of the class struggle and above all revolution, he was out of his depth. At every key moment in the history of the Bolshevik Party in the period before the revolution, Stalin vacillated and adapted himself to opportunism and conciliationism. He even described the differences between Lenin and the Mensheviks as a "storm in a tea cup" and an émigré squabble. That led to sharp conflicts with Lenin, for example in 1912 and again in February 1917, when together with Kamenev he was in favour of unification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

Stalin in 1917

In April 1917 when Lenin demanded that the Bolsheviks come out firmly against the bourgeois Provisional Government, Stalin and Kamenev immediately disowned him in the pages of Pravda, stating that his position was "unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended [...]." (Pravda, April 21 (8) 1917.) Only after a sharp internal struggle did Lenin succeed in winning over the Party for his position.

Contrary to the old mythology, Stalin's role in the October revolution was insignificant. The attempts made by the falsified histories of the 1930s to claim a special role for the so-called Military Revolutionary Centre of which Stalin was a member are absurd. In fact, this committee was only a sub-committee of the Military Revolutionary Council, which was headed by - Leon Trotsky. In fact, the famous MRC never even functioned, and was only remembered years later when it became necessary to find some kind of a role for Stalin in October.

A poor speaker, Stalin's real sphere of action was not the barricades, factories or barracks but in the Party offices, where he was working to cultivate a layer of cronies. Maria Joffe, the widow of the Bolshevik leader Adolph Joffe, who committed suicide in protest at the Stalinists in the 1920s, and who herself spent 28 years in Stalin's camps, comments:

"But one of the Smolny men, puny and insignificant […] never went round visiting factories and regiments; he sat permanently at the end of the wire, connected with all the provinces and all the towns. Although it was the charming, gentle Elena Stasova who was the secretary of the Central Committee, all daily instructions, all answers to urgent queries and the ordinary routine telegraphic traffic - all bore his [Stalin's] signature. Thus it happened that the various county and regional organizations mostly saw and remembered one particular name. And, conforming to an instruction, the replies were also addressed to him. No one at the time took any notice of the fact that this one man was gradually and persistently wooing the provinces, getting them used to him and winning them to his side. On occasions he would call some leading worker to come and see him and at Party conferences he appeared to have more friends than anyone else. Inviting them to a ‘friendly' drink, he would get to know in detail how a particular organization functioned. That's how it was in 1917." (Maria Joffe, One Long Night, pp. 69-70.)

The fact that Stalin was virtually unknown outside a narrow circle of Party activists in 1917 is immediately clear from reading John Reed's famous account of the October revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. Lenin described this book in his introduction as "a most truthful version of events". He "strongly recommended this book to all the workers of the world" and adds that this is "a book I would like to see published in millions of copies […] and translated into all languages". But in this book, which emphasises Trotsky's role, Stalin is hardly mentioned, although he does speak of a vast number of people of greater or lesser importance in 1917. The book index shows that whereas Trotsky is mentioned 54 times, Stalin is mentioned only twice. This accurately expresses the real state of affairs. It also explains why Reed's book, despite Lenin's enthusiastic recommendations, was withdrawn from all Soviet libraries in the 1930s and not republished again in the USSR in Stalin's lifetime.

Soviet democracy

One of the most disgusting slanders that is constantly repeated today is that Leninism and Stalinism are the same. In fact there is nothing in common between the regime of workers democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky and the totalitarian monstrosity that Stalin erected over the dead bones of the Bolshevik Party.

Already in State and Revolution, written in the revolutionary days of 1917, Lenin laid down the four conditions for Soviet power - not for Socialism or Communism, but for the first days of workers' power:

Free and democratic elections with right of recall for all Soviet officials.

No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.

No standing army or police force but the armed people.

Gradually, all the tasks of running the state must be done by everybody in turn. "When everybody is a ‘bureaucrat' in turn, nobody is a bureaucrat."

These elementary principles of Leninism were contained in the 1919 Party Programme. It is true that, under difficult conditions where the revolution was isolated amidst terrible backwardness, hunger and illiteracy, there were inevitable distortions. As early as 1920 Lenin said that "ours is a workers state with bureaucratic deformations". But these were relatively small deformations, and nothing like the monstrous regime later established by Stalin.

The real cause of the problems faced by the Bolsheviks was the isolation of the revolution. Lenin and Trotsky formed the Communist International in 1919 as a means of breaking out of this isolation. This was the only way forward. The 1919 Party Programme was written in terms of uncompromising proletarian internationalism. It started from the premise that "the era of the world-wide proletarian revolution had begun".

It explained that "deprivation of political rights and any kind of limitation of freedom are necessary as temporary measures" due to war and that "the Party will aim to replace and completely abolish them". But this aim was postponed by the invasion of the Soviet state by 21 armies of foreign intervention that plunged the country into a bloodbath.

Despite everything the working class enjoyed democratic rights. The 1919 Party programme specified that "all the working masses without exception must be induced to take part in the work of state administration". Direction of the planned economy was to be mainly in the hands of the trade unions. Collectivisation was not mentioned, but rather support for various types of co-operatives.

This document was immediately translated into all the main languages of the world and widely distributed. However, by the time of the Purges in 1936 it was already regarded as a dangerous document and all copies of it were quietly removed from all libraries and bookshops in the USSR.

A commission was set up, with Stalin as chairperson, to produce a new Party programme. Besides Stalin there were 25 other Party officials, including Voznesensky, Beria and Bagirov - each of whom were later shot as "enemies of the people". When Lenin and Trotsky stood at the head of the Party, its congresses were held every year without fail, even in the difficult years of the Civil War. Under Stalin, thirteen years passed before the 19th Party congress was held in October 1952. We had the grotesque situation where for many years the USSR was ruled by a Party whose (theoretically still valid) programme was actually banned by the censorship.

The general secretary

The general secretary was never the most important post in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, having a mainly administrative character. Before Stalin the general secretary was Sverdlov, an outstanding organizer and a man of high moral character. But Sverdlov died in March 1919. Lenin was anxious to find a replacement and thought that Stalin was the best candidate. But Stalin was no Sverdlov. From 1919, with the growth of the new party apparatus, the post of general secretary became much more important. In December 1919 a new rule was passed making district secretaries a full-time post.

From 1920 on there was a steady stream of complaints about "bureaucratism" in the Party. But these complaints were at first concerned with the abuses of individuals, red tape, etc. At this stage this was a relatively healthy workers' state, with only minor bureaucratic deviations. But this was about to change.

To the degree that the working class was exhausted and weakened by the long years of war, revolution and civil war, they fell into passivity. This led to a colossal increase in bureaucracy. The end of the civil war greatly increased the problem. The demobilization of the Red Army meant that a large number of former military personnel were absorbed into the state apparatus. These people were mainly honest Communists, but had got used to the method of command.

Lenin wanted a strong person at the centre of the Party apparatus to root out corruption and bureaucratism. He thought that Stalin was such a person, but he was mistaken. Once installed in such an important post, Stalin began to staff the Party's central offices with cronies such as Kaganovich, who was put in charge of the Party's Organizational Department (Orgotdel). This committee controlled appointments. It therefore had powers of patronage. It would never have occurred to Sverdlov to use this position for personal gain. And the Party itself was very clear on the question of appointments and non-elective positions in general. The Tenth Party Congress, held under very difficult circumstances, passed the following resolution on the trade unions:

"It is above all necessary to put into practice […] on a wide scale the principle of elections to all organs […] and to do away with the method of appointments from the top."

On the Party, another resolution stated that all members must be ensured "an active part in the life of the party, in the discussions of all questions arising in the party". Moreover, "the nature of workers' democracy excludes every form of appointment in place of election as a system". (See KPRSS v rezolyutsiyakh, vol. 1, pp. 516-27 and 534-49.)

In general, the system of appointments would only be permissible in underground conditions. However, Stalin systematically used the system of appointments to build a base of support among Party officials grateful to him for promotion.

Lenin versus Stalin

Every bureaucracy tends to become a closed caste of privileged elements, anxious only to defend their vested interests. To imagine that a workers' state is somehow immune to such tendencies is foolish. But in a workers' state in conditions of extreme backwardness, with a weak and exhausted working class and a largely illiterate peasant population, the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration were extreme. That is why Lenin was alarmed. He saw that the bureaucracy could undermine and destroy the Soviet state - and history has proved him correct.

In an attempt to fight against bureaucracy, Lenin set up Rabkrin - the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate and put Stalin in charge of it. But instead of fighting bureaucracy, Rabkrin became a hotbed of bureaucracy. In one of his last letters Lenin says that Rabkrin does not have a shred of authority and demands its reorganisation. Lenin warned many times, especially in his last writings and speeches, of the danger of bureaucratism in a workers' state. His advice to remove Stalin from the post of general secretary was no accident. He gradually realised that Stalin represented the very bureaucratic tendencies he was warning against.

During Lenin's last illness, he launched a sharp struggle against Stalin over his handling of the national question - a matter of life and death for the October revolution. In 1920, without consulting the leadership, Stalin staged what amounted to a coup when he engineered the invasion of Georgia, a soviet republic where the Mensheviks were in control. Faced with a fait d'accompli, Lenin reluctantly acquiesced but issued stern warnings that the Georgians were to be treated with sensitivity and respect.

Stalin's henchman Ordzhonikidze was made virtual dictator of Georgia. Lenin bombarded him with directives urging moderation and advising that concessions should be made to the Georgian Mensheviks. This advice was ignored. The situation got so bad that Stalin's agents were acting like an occupying force. The Georgian Bolshevik leaders protested, but they were answered with the tactics of bullying and intimidation. On one occasion, a Georgian Bolshevik was physically assaulted by Ordzhonikidze. Such an act was completely unprecedented, although it was nothing compared to the wholesale violence later used by Stalin and his gangsters.

In 1922 Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze were using violence and bullying tactics to force the Georgian government to accept the dictates of Moscow. With Lenin, now seriously ill, Stalin used his control of the Party apparatus to isolate Lenin completely. But Lenin found out about the Georgian affair, and he was scandalised by the conduct of Stalin and his henchmen Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze. It had serious implications not just for the national question but also for the future of Soviet democracy in general. He clearly understood that Stalin and his bureaucratic clique was behind all this - hence his decision to remove Stalin as general secretary.

Stalin attempted to isolate Lenin, using his control over the Party apparatus and the Kremlin doctors. Despite his failing health, Lenin dictated a series of notes to his secretaries, which he managed to smuggle out with the assistance of his wife, Krupskaya. One of these messages was a secret memorandum to Trotsky, asking him to take charge of the defence of Lenin's positions at the forthcoming Party congress. The existence of this correspondence between Lenin and Trotsky was revealed to Kamenev by Trotsky, who did not know that Kamenev and Zinoviev had formed a secret bloc with Stalin.

On the 22nd of December 1922, Kamenev wrote to Stalin:

"Joseph,
"Tonight T[rotsky] phoned me, saying he had received a note from St[arik] (i.e. Lenin, AW), who, though he is happy with the congressional report on Vneshtorg (the Ministry of Foreign Trade, AW), wants T[rotsky] to deliver a report on this question to a faction of the Congress and to prepare the ground to put this question to the Party Congress. Apparently, he means to strengthen his position. Trotsky did not offer his opinion, but he asked that the matter be handed over to the section of the CC responsible for the conduct of the Congress. I promised him to tell you about it, and I am doing this.

"I could not reach you by phone.

"In my report I am going to present the resolution of the CC Plenum with fervour, I shake your hand.

"L. Kam[enev]"

Stalin answered immediately:

"Comrade Kamenev!
"I have received your note. I think we should confine ourselves to the statement in your report without bringing this up at the faction. How did Starik manage to organize this correspondence with Trotsky? Foerster utterly forbade him to do it.

J. Stalin."
(Izvestiya Ts. Kom. KPSS, 1989, p. 191.)

These two letters were not published in the Soviet Union until 1989. When Stalin found out about the memorandum he flew into a fury and phoned Krupskaya to warn her not to meddle. Krupskaya tried to defend herself and in the course of the conversation Stalin swore at her and abused her in the most shameless fashion, calling her a "whore" and a "syphilitic bitch". These expressions sufficiently illustrate Stalin's character and the degree of his loyalty and affection to the dying Lenin.

The next day, Krupskaya wrote to Kamenev, protesting bitterly about Stalin's conduct:

"Lev Borisych,
"With regard to the short dictation I took from Vlad. Ilyich with his doctor's permission, Stalin spoke to me yesterday in the rudest terms. This is not my first day as a Party member - and during these 30 years I have not heard a single rude word from any of my comrades. The Party interests and those of Ilyich are no less dear to me than to Stalin. Now I need to exercise great self-control. I know better than any doctor what I may or may not tell Ilyich, as I know what agitates him and what does not. At any rate I know it better than Stalin. I am appealing to you and to Grigorii (Zinoviev, AW), as the closest friends of V.I. and I beg you to defend me from the rude interference into my personal life, from unseemly swearing and threats. I don't doubt the unanimous decision of the Control Commission, with which Stalin took liberties to threaten me, but I have neither the strength nor the time to spend on this stupid squabble. I am a human being and my nerves are extremely strained.

N. Krupskaya"
(Lenin, Collected Works in Russian, vol. 54, 1965, pp. 674-5.)

On March 5th 1923, Lenin dictated a letter to Stalin in which he broke off all personal and comradely relations with him - an unprecedented action. On the same day Lenin offered Trotsky a bloc against Stalin. He asked Trotsky "urgently to undertake the defence of Georgia in the Central Committee". The following day Lenin sent Trotsky three notes on the national question that he had dictated some ten weeks before.

If Lenin had not fallen ill, Stalin would undoubtedly have been removed from his post of general secretary. One of his secretaries remarked that Vladimir Ilyich was "preparing a bomb" for Stalin at the Party Congress. He sent a note to the Georgian Bolshevik leaders Mdivani and Makharadze, giving them his support "with all my heart" against Stalin.

Although Lenin had broken all relations with Stalin and demanded his removal as general secretary, Stalin managed to hold onto his position by a series of manoeuvres. As a result Lenin's Testament was not made public, despite Krupskaya's protests. At the meeting of the Politburo and Presidium where the matter was discussed, Stalin said:

"I suggest there is no reason to publish, especially as Ilyich gave no instructions to do so." (D. Volkogonov, Trotsky, p. 243.)

Lenin's step in breaking off relations with Stalin is unprecedented. His Testament was a devastating blow. But the message was never made public. Lenin's Testament remained hidden from the people of the USSR until Khrushchov quoted it in the secret session at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. Before that it had been published by the Trotskyists in the West, but denounced as a forgery by the Stalinists. They were rude and disloyal to Lenin's last wish.

After Lenin's death

As long as Lenin was alive, the Stalin clique had to proceed cautiously. The memories of the October revolution were too recent, and Lenin's personal authority too great. But once Lenin was removed, they began manoeuvring to seize control of the Party. Stalin's ambition was fuelled by the death of Lenin, whom he mortally feared. After Lenin's death, a caste of privileged officials usurped power in the Soviet Union. They were represented inside the Party by the bureaucratic faction that formed around Stalin.

A secret triumvirate was formed of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, aimed at isolating Trotsky. In his Testament, Lenin not only referred to Trotsky as the most capable member of the Central Committee but also stated that his non-Bolshevik past "should not be held against him personally". Yet the triumvirate ignored Lenin's advice and launched a vitriolic campaign against Trotsky, inventing the myth of "Trotskyism". As part of this they created the cult of Lenin. Against Krupskaya's wishes, his body was embalmed and placed on public display in the mausoleum in Red Square. Later Krupskaya stated: "All his life Vladimir Ilyich was against icons, and now they have turned him into an icon."

A fatal role in all this was played by Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were motivated by petty considerations of ambition and jealously to open up a campaign of calumny against Trotsky. When Lenin described Trotsky in his Testament as the most capable member of the Central Committee it offended Zinoviev in particular, who regarded himself as the natural successor to Lenin. Of course, such things as personal animosities, jealousy and rivalry can never determine the outcome of broad historical processes. They rather fall under the heading of historical accident. But as Hegel explained with such profundity, necessity expresses itself through accident. By acting as they did Kamenev and Zinoviev undoubtedly facilitated Stalin's task and greatly accelerated the process of bureaucratic degeneration.

Lenin did not trust Kamenev and Zinoviev, and warned in his Testament that their conduct during the October revolution was not an accident. Again, his judgement was shown to be correct. Stalin used them for the purpose of discrediting Trotsky, and then turned against them. More correctly, they turned against Stalin when they realised where he was leading the USSR. For a time they participated with Trotsky in the Left Opposition. Then, typically, they capitulated to Stalin when things got difficult.

Stalin's speech at Lenin's funeral was a typical example of his hypocrisy. He was relieved that Lenin had died, since he knew that Lenin was determined to have him removed. Yet he delivered a funeral oration in terms of Byzantine worship. It was quite safe to flatter Lenin once he was dead - sometimes dead men are more useful than living ones. Couched in the language of the Orthodox Church liturgy that Stalin had learned in the seminary, it was more like a religious incantation than a Marxist speech. This was no accident, for while building up a religious cult of Lenin, Stalin was trampling underfoot the most elementary principles and policies of Leninism. Under the banner of "Leninism" he was establishing a new creed of Stalinism, the polar opposite of the ideas of the Bolshevik Party.

There is, of course, nothing new in all this. Every usurpatory caste in history has always been obliged to conceal its revisionism under the guise of "orthodoxy". The revolutionary communist ideas of the early Christians were turned into a defence of privilege and worldly wealth when it was taken over by the state under Constantine. The church had changed into its opposite, and became the church of the rich and privileged, but was nevertheless compelled to pay lip service to the name of the son of a poor Jewish carpenter and rebel from Galilee. In the same way Napoleon Bonaparte, while trampling underfoot the traditions of the French revolution, and placing the imperial crown on his head, continued to speak in the language of the Republic of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The United Opposition

More than an idea, Stalinism began as a definite mood of reaction among the officials. The campaign against "Trotskyism" was in essence the reflection of a petty bourgeois reaction against October. The numerous caste of Soviet officials were tired of the storm and stress of revolution, which they associated with the idea of "permanent revolution", although the real meaning of this idea was a closed book for them.

In a manoeuvre to dilute the Party with raw elements and swamp the Leninist vanguard, Stalin organised the so-called Lenin Levy. The doors were thrown open and a mass of new recruits were allowed to join and vote in the congress, in disregard of the Party rules, according to which they only had the status of candidate members.

Maria Joffe recalls: "The Party gates, guarded so vigilantly so as not to admit anyone unworthy, were flung wide open: workmen, office workers, civil service bureaucrats entered in their masses, lured by the promise of much scope. All they needed was to prove themselves to be ‘disciplined' and ‘aware'. The deeply convinced political meaning of the ‘Lenin enrolment' was mainly to water down the revolutionary front ranks - by human raw material, neither hardened in battle, nor experienced, and not of independent mind, but certainly possessing the ancient and now greatly cultivated Russian habit of fearing the authorities and blindly obeying them." (Maria Joffe, One Long Night, pp. 71-2.)

By the end of 1927, over 60 percent of the secretaries of the primary Party cells had joined the Party after 1921 -that is, after the end of the Civil War. In the period of the revolution and Civil War, Party membership conferred no advantages and involved only risks and sacrifices. But after 1921 this changed. The Party was in power and attracted all sorts of careerist elements. They owed their advancement to Stalin and could be relied upon to support him against the Party's left wing.

In August 1922 the number of full-time Party officials was 15,325. At the time of the Fourteenth congress in 1925 it was about 20,000. These functionaries were paid up to 50 percent more than the scales laid down for comparable government employees and, more importantly, enjoyed privileges not available to workers. They therefore had material interests to defend.

However, the anti-working class and anti-socialist policies of the bureaucracy had to be disguised in "socialist" phraseology. This was provided by the anti-Marxist "theory" of socialism in one country. But when Stalin advanced this reactionary slogan, violating every principle of Leninism, it was too much for Kamenev and Zinoviev. They broke with him. They then attempted to defend the basis ideas of Leninism and the October revolution, albeit in a half-hearted and vacillating manner.

Eventually, Kamenev and Zinoviev joined forces with Trotsky to form the United Left Opposition, which included, among many prominent Old Bolsheviks, Lenin's widow Krupskaya. She said at a meeting of the Left Opposition in 1926 that "if Vladimir Ilyich were alive today, he would be in one of Stalin's jails". This was an indication of how far things had gone. Later, when Kamenev and Zinoviev capitulated and were murdered by Stalin, Krupskaya was silenced by Stalin's threats and blackmail. He warned her that if she crossed him again he could always find another "Lenin's widow".

Stalin now veered to the right and joined forces with Bukharin, who stood at the head of that section of the Party that advocated concessions to the rich peasants (kulaks). He advanced the slogan directed at the peasants: "Enrich yourselves, develop your farms and do not fear that you will be subjected to restrictions."

Expulsion of the Opposition

The Opposition defended the principles of Leninism and October. It warned against the disastrous policy of compromising with the rich peasants, and advocated taxing the kulaks and industrialization, including five year plans, linked with measures to restore workers' democracy, against bureaucratism and for proletarian internationalism.

But the struggle was uneven. Stalin mobilized the full weight of the apparatus to crush the Opposition. Oppositionists were sacked from their jobs, expelled from the Party, persecuted and arrested. Stalin used hooligans to break up Opposition meetings. All this was completely alien to the clean traditions of the Bolshevik Party.

The rightward zig-zag in Russia was followed by a rightward zig-zag internationally. The policies of Stalin and Bukharin were ruinous to the Communist International. They ensured one defeat after another - in Estonia, Bulgaria, Britain, and worst of all in China.

Stalin, the narrow-minded "practico" tried to base himself on the right wing internationally, just as he tried to base himself on the kulaks in Russia. Having no confidence in the working class or the Communist International, he sought deals and alliances with the right wing trade leaders in Britain and with Chiang Kai Shek in China. Chiang was even put on the International Executive Committee of the Comintern, with only one vote against - that of Leon Trotsky.

Every new defeat for the international revolution deepened the disillusionment and despair of the Soviet workers and increased the confidence of the bureaucrats.

Finally, in 1927 the Fifteenth Party congress voted to expel the Opposition. It was packed with Stalin's supporters, so the result was a foregone conclusion. Trotsky and other Opposition speakers were heckled and barracked by the Stalinists - a blatant departure from the scrupulous democratic traditions of Lenin's party.

The bureaucracy triumphed not because of the mistakes of the Opposition, or because of the far-sightedness of Stalin, but because the working class was exhausted by the long years of war, revolution and civil war. They were disappointed and dispirited.

The Soviet functionaries yearned for peace and order, so that they could quietly get on with their administrative tasks. They did not understand Bolshevik internationalism and distrusted it. They were equally hostile to Soviet democracy that allowed the workers to "interfere" with their plans and the functioning of their departments.

"A political struggle is in its essence a struggle of interests and forces," Trotsky wrote, "not of arguments. The quality of leadership is, of course, far from a matter of indifference for the outcome of the conflict, but it is not the only factor, and in the last analysis is not decisive. Each of the struggling camps, moreover, demands leaders in its own image." (The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 86-7.)

The argument that Stalin won because he was more skilful and perspicacious than Trotsky is entirely false. The struggle was determined by the class balance of forces, which by this time was unfavourable to the proletarian vanguard. The personalities of the contending forces were an entirely secondary feature. What happened here was a triumph of the bureaucracy over the Soviet working class and its vanguard. In the person of Stalin the bureaucracy found a leader in its own image.

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