Crisis in the Right-Center Bloc

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written November 1928


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Published: Archives of the Revolution, The New International, Vol. VII No. 11, December 1941, pp. 310–6 & Vol. VIII No. 1, February 1942, pp. 24–30.
Collection(s): New International

PART I[edit source]

Editor’s Note: This is one of the very last articles written by Leon Trotsky on the soil of the Soviet Union. Banished from Moscow to remote Alma-Ata after his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1927, Trotsky continued to subject the ruling régime to a merciless and unanswerable criticism. The Left Opposition had been expelled from the party by a leadership composed of Rightist elements, like Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, and Centrist bureaucrats, typified and led by Stalin. Once the Trotskyism were ousted, the bloc of the bureaucrats fell apart into two wings. Around the middle of 1928. Stalin suddenly launched a campaign against a Right wing which had no body or head or name – an anonymous campaign. It was the beginning of the drive which ended with the frame-up and physical extermination of Bukharin and all his associates, and of the whole of the old Bolshevik Party. Trotsky’s article on the crisis in the Right-Center bloc, which we publish for the first time in English, deals with the opening of this campaign against the Right. It is in several respects one of his most remarkable contributions to a study and understanding of the “Russian question.” Granted that hindsight is easier and wiser than foresight, the article discloses not only the strong and unassailable elements in Trotsky’s analysis but also what subsequent events have proved to be the weak and untenable elements in it. The forecast about the impending disintegration of the Stalinist gang did not materialize. Instead, the bureaucracy succeeded in consolidating and crowning its rule – not forever, to be sure! – at the cost of the complete destruction of the rule of the workers. We shall take the opportunity of commenting on this aspect of Trotsky’s analysis at the end of the article.


(A few short weeks after it was written, however, Stalin found Trotsky’s presence anywhere on the soil of the Soviet Union unendurable. By decree, and under GPU escort, Trotsky was virtually smuggled out of the country and exiled to Turkey.)

THE CAMPAIGN against the Right constitutes in a certain sense the opening of a new chapter. This campaign is distinguished from others by a good deal of noise and extraordinary tumult – without containing any political certainty. Above all, it is literary camouflage for the organized work of the Stalinists behind the scenes; it is an attempt to justify this work before the party. Politically also the campaign cannot take on a concrete form since this would mean the enumeration of the sins committed in common by the Center and the Right. But at the same time the campaign is a symptom of the crisis (a serious crisis which is not yet one of collapse) that is passing through the ruling bloc. The backsliding up to now has prepared the transition of quantity into a new quality. The open social transformation of important groups and milieus of the party is evident everywhere. Centrism is frightened (particularly under the blows of the Opposition) at the sight of the “ripest” fruit of its work. But Centrism is bound hand and foot – by its acts of yesterday, by its “national-socialist” approach to problems, by its piecemeal policy, by its theoretical poverty. In attacking the Right it is particularly mindful not to wound itself. Thence the character of deep duplicity of the whole campaign: if from the practical point of view it may mean the elimination from the party of the most arrogant Ustrialovist elements and the retarding or abatement of the back-sliding and transformations, it means at the same time also a new disorganization of the mind of the party, by further weakening the Marxist method and by preparing anew even more confused and more dangerous stages in the development of the party.

Stalin and Molotov attempt to present the matter as though their line is the same irreconcilable struggle against the liquidators of the Right as against the “pessimists” of the Left.

The central idea of the present campaign, that Marxist policy consisted of a struggle against the Right and against the Left with the same irreconcilable spirit, is thoroughly absurd. To the Right of Marxist policy stands a mighty world imperialism with its still enormous agency of collaborationists. There is the enemy. To the Left of the Marxist line there can be only wrong tendencies within the proletariat itself, infantile diseases in the party, and so forth. The most extreme expression of this false “Leftism” is anarchism. But the strength and influence of the latter are all the smaller and less significant the more resolutely, the more determinedly, the more consistently the revolutionary party fights against opportunism. Precisely therein lies the special historical merit of Bolshevism. In its annals, the struggle against the Left always bore an episodic and subordinated character. The Stalinist formula of a struggle “with the same intransigence” against the Right and the Left is no Bolshevik formula but the traditional formula of petty-bourgeois radicalism. Its entire history has been nothing but a struggle against “reaction” on one hand and against the proletarian revolution on the other. The social democracy of today has taken over this tradition in all its nuances. The formula of struggle against the Right and Left as a guiding formula characterizes, generally speaking, every party that maneuvers between the main classes of modern society. Under our present conditions, this formula is the political passport of Centrism. Otherwise it would be entirely impossible to solve the following question: How could the Stalin-Molotov faction constitute an indissoluble bloc with the Right faction of bourgeois restoration? And furthermore: How can it continue, in practice, to maintain this bloc to the present day? The answer is very simple: The ruling bloc was not an unnatural alliance of Bolshevism with bourgeois restoration but an alliance of backsliding Right-Centrism with Ustrialovism. There is nothing unnatural in such a union. A bloc of Centrists of various shades with open conciliators and even with real traitors for a sharp struggle against the Left is to be found at every step in the history of the whole working-class movement. When Stalin and Molotov today make a “furious” characterization of the Right wing, by copying partly from the platform of. the Opposition, they best characterize themselves, their line and their group. Without at all realizing it they are exercizing a fatal “self-criticism.” But perhaps the situation has now radically changed after the declaration of the so-called implacable struggle against the Right deviation? For the moment it would be thoughtless, at the very least, to draw any conclusion. The Leninist wing has been sent behind the Urals and the Caucasus; the Right wing occupies the leading positions. That is what is decisive. One thing is clear: the period of carefree existence of the bloc between the Center and the Right is finished. The February shift of Centrism has its internal zig-zags: from February to July, from July to November, and so forth. Those comrades judged very hastily who thought that the July Plenum put an end to the fight of the Centrists and the Right and that the contradictions between them had lost all political significance. No, this is wrong. Nevertheless it would be still more erroneous to consider the rupture conclusive. Finally, only an absolutely thoughtless person could regard a return to Centrism to the road of the Right as impossible.

From this general characterization of the campaign with its thorough duplicity, arise the tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninists. On one hand, they will support every real, even if timid and insufficient, step toward the Left taken by Centrist leaders; on the other hand, they will oppose these militants to the Centrist leadership so as to expose the lack of principle and incompetence of the leadership. Both these tasks will be accomplished basically by the same method. Support for every move toward the Left will be expressed precisely by the Bolshevik-Leninists formulating clearly and distinctly the real aim of the struggle in every concrete case, by propagating genuine Bolshevik methods, by exposing the mediocrity and fakery of the Centrist leadership. There can be no other support. It is also the most effective.

The clarity of the general tasks does not relieve us of the duty to examine the new stage more closely and more concretely in the light of the general development of the party and the revolution.

II. Five Years of Social-Political Reaction on the Basis of the Proletarian Dictatorship[edit source]

We must say clearly and distinctly: The five years after the death of Lenin were years of social and political reaction. The leadership of the party that followed Lenin was an unconscious, but for that an all the more effective, expression of this reaction; it was also its instrument.

Periods of reaction, as distinct from those of counter-revolution, arise without changing the rule of a class. Feudal absolutism knew periods of “liberal” reform and “anti-abolitionist” counter-reform. The rule of the bourgeoisie, beginning with the epoch of the great revolutions, knew alternating periods of stormy advances and periods of recession. This among other things, determines the succession of different parties in power during various periods of the domination of one and the same capitalist class.

Not only theory but also living experiences of the last eleven years show that even a proletarian regime can go through a period of social and political reaction as well as through a period of ascending movement. Naturally, it is not a matter of reaction “in general” but of reaction on the basis of the victorious proletarian revolution which stands opposed to the capitalist world. The alternation of these periods is determined by the course of the class struggle. The periods of reaction do not change the basis of class rule, that is, they do not signify the passage of power from one class to another (that would already mean the counter-revolution); but they signify that there is a change in the relation of class forces and a regrouping of elements within the class. With us, the period of reaction that followed the period of powerful revolutionary advance was called forth chiefly by the fact that the former possessing classes, defeated, repulsed or terrorized, were able, thanks to objective conditions and to the errors committed by the revolutionary leadership, to gather their forces and pass gradually to the offensive, using mainly the bureaucratic apparatus. On the other hand, the victorious class, the proletariat, not supported from without, encountered ever new obstacles and difficulties; it lost the strength and spirit of the first days; differentiation set in by the establishment above it of a bureaucracy acting more and more in its own interests and the recruitment of the tired or the completely hopeless elements. In contrast to the weakening of the spirit of the proletariat is the growing activity of the bourgeois classes, that is, above all of those strata of the petty bourgeoisie striving to advance by the old ways of exploitation.

It is unnecessary to demonstrate that all these processes of internal reaction could develop and gain in strength only under conditions of cruel defeats of the world proletariat and an ever stronger position of the imperialist bourgeoisie. In turn, the defeats of the world revolution in the last five or six years were decisively determined by the Centrist line of the leadership of the Communist International, a line that is especially dangerous in an ambience of great revolutionary crises.

One can retort: How can you call the period of the economic growth of the country of socialist construction, and so forth, the period of reaction? But this objection is not to the point. Economic construction is a contradictory process. The first stage of growth following the years of collapse and famine, the stage of restoration, were just the ones that created the conditions for the existence of social and political reaction. The famished working class was inclined to believe that everything would continue to go forward without hindrance. They were even persuaded of this from above. But in the meantime this growth showed its contradictions, accentuated by the blind and false policy of the leadership, causing a diminution of the special importance of the proletariat, weakening its feeling of self-confidence. Of course, the fact that the progress of industry reassembled the proletariat in the shops and factories, renewed and supplemented its cadres, and created the social premises for a new revolutionary proletarian advance. But this already belongs to the next stage. Certain symptoms are at hand which permit the belief that this political revival has already begun and is one of the factors that drive the Centrists forward to “self-criticism,” to the struggle against the Right, and so forth. It is needless to add that the steel column of the Opposition, which no surgeon in the world can remove from the body of the party, is also working in this direction. Both of these circumstances (the revival of the working masses and the vitality – so “unexpected” by those at the top – of the Opposition), open up, unless all signs fail us, a new period, and it is no accident that it coincides with the struggle of the Center against the Right. The preceding period, which developed on the ground of the reconstruction processes and all its illusions, was characterized by the fall in activity of the proletariat, by the revival of the bourgeois strata, the strangulation of workers’ democracy and the systematic destruction of the Left Wing. In other words, it was a period of social and political reaction.

From the ideological point of view it was marked by the struggle against “Trotskyism.” With this name the official press designates heterogeneous and often absolutely incompatible ideas, debris from the past, Bolshevik tasks of the present, counterfeit quotations, and so forth. But in general this name was given to everything which the backsliding official leadership was forced to repulse at every step. Social and political reaction, despite the complete empiricism of its leadership, is unthinkable without revising and refuting the clearest and most intransigent ideas and slogans of Marxism. The international character of the socialist revolution and the class character of the party: there are the two ideas whose pure bloom is insupportable to the politicians of the reactionary period who swim with the stream. The struggle against these two fundamental ideas was conducted, at first apprehensively and in a roundabout manner and then more and more arrogantly, under the pretext of a struggle against “Trotskyism.” The results of this struggle were two miserable and contemptible ideas of the leadership which will remain forever the disgrace of the reaction against the October Revolution: the idea of socialism in one country, or national socialism, and the idea of dual composition workers’ and peasants’ parties, that is, a Chernoviad. The first of these ideas, which serve especially to conceal a policy of following at the tail of economic events, brought great dangers to the October Revolution. The second of these ideas inspired the theory and practice of the Kuomintang and strangled the Chinese revolution. Stalin is the author of both these “ideas.” They are his sole theoretical assets.

As already stated herein, the difference between the period of reaction and that of counter-revolution is that the first develops under the rule of the class in power while counter-revolution means the change of class rule. But it is quite dear that while reaction is not the same thing as counter-revolution, it can prepare the necessary political conditions for the latter and can appear as an introduction to it. If we keep to this broad historical scale, that is, leave aside all secondary considerations, it can be said that the exhaustion of the ruling bloc, splitting into Centrists and Right Wingers, becomes openly manifest at a time when the methods of social and political reaction border directly upon the Thermidorian methods.

It is superfluous to explain that the present struggle of the Centrists against the Right not only does not contradict our analysis on the Thermidorian danger but, on the contrary, confirms it completely, in the most official manner, so to speak. The Opposition never thought that the gliding toward Thermidor would be uninterrupted, uniform and equal for the whole party. We predicted dozens and hundreds of time that this backsliding would mobilize the enemy classes, that the heavy social tail would hit the apparatus over the head; that this would provoke a division not only in the broad party ranks but also in the apparatus; and finally, that this division would create new and more favorable conditions for the work of the Bolshevik Leninists, an activity directed not only against the open conciliators but also against Centrism.

Thus the present campaign is a confirmation of the analysis of the Opposition in a particular case and is closely bound up with its general analysis of the Thermidorian danger.

III. The Bureaucratic Regime as an Instrument of Reactionary Tendencies and Forces[edit source]

Like all other events in the party, the struggle of the Centrists and the Right must be considered not only from the broad angle of class tendencies and ideas but also from the narrow angle of the bureaucratic regime. It is no secret that the noisy and hollow struggle of “ideas” against the Right is only the accompaniment to the machinations being prepared by the apparatus against Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. This question is not without importance if one considers the positions that this trio occupy in the present system of the party and the Soviets. Rykov and Tomsky have always felt a “sympathy” for opportunism, “an almost unwholesome attraction.” In the October days this was shown openly and clearly. But had the life of the party been healthy and its leadership correct, their opportunist penchant would be limited to themselves. The same must be said of Bukharin too, with his passing from ultra-Left to ultra-Right capers. If we consider this question from the personal standpoint (as Lenin did, for example, in his Testament) it must be said that Stalin’s falling out with this trio was predetermined before even this trinity found themselves on a Right platform. This rupture, resulting from the tendency of the bureaucratic regime toward personal power, was predicted with perfect precision by the Opposition more than two years ago, in September 1926, when there was no talk at all about any struggle against the Right. The document of the Opposition On the Unity of the Party said:

“The aim of these discussions and organizational measures is the complete destruction of the kernel which up to now has been called the Old Leninist Guard and its substitution by the personal leadership of Stalin supported by a group of comrades who always agree with him. Only a blockhead or a hopeless bureaucrat can seriously believe that the Stalinist struggle ‘for the unity of the party’ can really assure this unity, even at the cost of the destruction of the old leading group, and in general of the whole present Opposition. The closer Stalin seems to be to this aim, the further he is from it in reality. A leadership of the party based on a single individual, which Stalin and his intimate group call ‘the unity of the party,’ demands not only the destruction, the elimination and the decapitation of the present united Opposition, but also the gradual elimination from the leadership of the most authoritative and most influential representatives of the present ruling faction. It is quite clear that neither Tomsky, nor Bukharin, nor Rykov, because of their past, their moral authority, and so forth, are not and cannot be capable of playing the rôle under Stalin that is played by Uglanov, Kaganovitch, Petrovsky and company. To amputate the present Opposition would in fact inevitably mean the transformation into an opposition of the rest of the former group in the Central Committee. A new discussion would then be in order, in the course of which Kaganovitch would unmask Rykov, Uglanov would do the same for Tomsky, while the Slyepkovs, Stalins and company would expose Bukharin. Only a hopeless blockhead can fail to see the inevitability of this perspective. In the meantime the openly opportunist elements in the party will begin to fight Stalin as one who is steeped in the prejudices of the ‘Left’ and who prevents the more rapid and more outspoken backsliding.”

In verifying this prediction after more than two years only the allusion to Uglanov and Slyepkov has proved erroneous. But in the first place this is only a detail, and secondly, have patience; they will make good their “mistakes.”

Let us hear now how our wise Tomsky is now obliged to recognize that he understands nothing, that he foresaw nothing, that his good faith was abused. Here is what a well-informed comrade writes on the matter:

“In talking with his friends, Tomsky complained: ‘We thought that after we were finished with Trotsky we would be able to work peacefully; but now it appears (!!) that the same methods of struggle are to be applied against us.”

Bukharin expresses himself in the same way, only more pitifully. Here is one of his declarations, absolutely authentic:

“Who is he?” (He is speaking of the Boss.) “An utterly unprincipled intriguer. He cares only to maintain power and he subordinates everything to this. He changes his theories brusquely according to the person he needs to wipe out in the given moment” ... and so forth.

These unfortunate “leaders” who understand nothing and foresee nothing are naturally inclined to see the principal cause of their mishaps in the perfidy of their opponent. So they attribute to his personality such gigantic proportions as it does not really possess. The fact is that the backsliding from a class line leads inevitably to the omnipotence of the bureaucratic machine, seeking a representative who is “adequate” for it. The regroupings within and between the classes have created the conditions for the victory of Centrism. What was demanded from the apparatus-men who came forward under the old standards was above all else that they do not understand what is taking place and that they swim with the stream. For this, men of the empirical type were needed who make their “rules” for each occasion. The Stalins, the Molotovs and others, lacking entirely in theoretical horizon, appeared as those least immune from the influence of the invisible social processes. It we examine individually the political biographies of these elements who before, during and after the October, occupied second or third or tenth rate positions, and who have now come to the fore, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that in all important questions, when left to themselves, they leaned toward opportunism, Stalin included. The historical line of the party must not be confused with the political line followed by a part of its cadres that rose to the top with the wave of social and political reaction of the last five years. The former was realized in the course of a sharp struggle of tendencies within the party, by constantly overcoming internal contradictions. In this struggle the elements at present in the leadership played no determining role; for the most part they represented the yesterdays out of which the party was passing. That is just why they felt themselves lost in the decisive days of the October and had no independent role. Still more: at least half of the present leaders who call themselves the “Old Guard” were on the other side of the barricades in October; the majority of them had a patriotic or pink pacifist position during the imperialist war. There is no reason to believe that these elements, as the history of recent times has shown, constitute an independent force capable of resisting the reactionary tendencies on a world scale. It is not for nothing that they have so easily assimilated the Martinovs, the Latins, the Rafeses, the Lyadovs, the Petrovskys, the Kerzhentsevs, the Gussevs, the Krzhizhanovsky and others. It is precisely this section which, in the opinion of Ustrialov, is most capable of gradually bringing the ruined country back to “order.” Ustrialov takes the remote example of the troubled times (end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries) and refers to Kliutchevsky, who said that “the Muscovite state emerged out of its frightful troubles without resorting to heroes it was saved from misfortune by excellent, but mediocre, people” (Kliutchevsky, 1923 Ed., Vol. 3, p. 72.) One can doubt the “excellence” of the present candidates for saviors from trouble (the “permanent” revolutions). But otherwise the quotation by Ustrialov is not without merit and hits the nail on the head. In the final analysis, the Boss, with his qualifications for intrigue and downright treachery, is nothing but the incarnation in a single personality of the apparatus that has no personalities. His triumphs are the victories of social and political reaction. He has helped it in two ways: by his blindness to the deep-going historical processes and his tireless combinations behind the scenes, in a direction suggested to him by the regrouping of class forces against the proletariat.

The hopeless struggle of bureaucratic Centrism for a “monolithic” apparatus, that is, a struggle for exclusive power in reality, leads under the pressure of class forces to ever new splits. All this does not take place in a vacuum: the classes fasten themselves on to the splits produced in the leadership, they widen them, they fill the bureaucratic groupings with a certain social content. The struggle of the Stalin group in the Political Bureau against the trio, the struggle of Centrism against the Right, has become the local point of the pressure of the classes; if it grows, it can (and at a certain stage it must) be transformed into open class struggle. Be that as it may, Centrism will offer no resistance to this “transformation of growth.”

IV. What Is Centrism?[edit source]

The question of the social basis of the groupings in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is quite naturally stirring the minds of the comrades who can reflect and learn, that is, above all the Bolshevik-Leninists. This question must not, however, be considered mechanically and schematically, with the intention of allotting each faction a well-defined social basis. We must remember that we have before us transitional forms, incomplete processes.

The main social reservoir of international opportunism, that is, of class-collaborationism, is the petty bourgeoisie, as a broad, amorphous class, or more correctly, a reservoir of numerous lower classes resulting from pre-capitalist production and those newly created which bind the proletariat with the capitalist bourgeoisie in various stages. In the period of ascendancy of bourgeois society this class was the protagonist of bourgeois democracy. Now this period is long passed, not only in the advanced capitalist countries of the West, but also in China, in India, and so forth. The complete decline of the petty bourgeoisie, the loss of its independent economic importance, deprived it forever of the possibility of working out an independent political representation that could lead the revolutionary movement of the working masses. In our epoch the petty bourgeoisie oscillates between the extreme poles of contemporary ideology: fascism and communism. Precisely these oscillations give the politics of the imperialist epoch the character of a malarial curve.

Collaboration in the workers’ movement has a stable character just because the direct protagonists are not the “independent” parties of the petty bourgeois but rather the labor bureaucracy which sinks its roots into the working class by way of the labor aristocracy. The ideas of collaborationism, thanks to their origin and the sources from which they are fed, have experienced a historical change through the intervention of the labor bureaucracy; these ideas passed over from their old defenders to the new, assuming a socialist tinge; with the collapse and putrefaction of the old democratic parties they received a new vitality on a new class basis.

The labor bureaucracy, by its conditions of existence, stands closer to the petty bourgeoisie (officialdom, liberal professions, and so forth) than to the proletariat. Nevertheless it constitutes a specific product of the working class movement; it is recruited from its ranks. In their primitive aspect, collaborationist tendencies and moods are elaborated by the whole petty bourgeoisie; but their transformation, their adaptation to the peculiarities, to the needs and above all to the weaknesses of the working class, is the specific mission of the labor bureaucracy. Opportunism is its ideology, and it inoculates and imposes it upon the proletariat by utilizing the powerful pressure of the ideas and institutions of the bourgeoisie, by exploiting the weakness and immaturity of the working masses. The forms of opportunism to which the labor bureaucracy resorts – open collaborationism, Centrism or a combination of both – depends upon the political traditions of the countries, on the class relations of the given moment, on the offensive power of communism, and so forth and so on.

Just as under certain circumstances the struggle between bourgeois parties can assume a most violent and even sanguinary character, while remaining a struggle for the interests of property on both sides, so the struggle between open collaborationism and Centrism can assume an extremely violent and even desperate character at certain times, remaining within the limits of petty bourgeois tendencies adapted by the labor bureaucracy in different ways for the maintenance of their position of leadership in the working class.

Up to August 4, 1914[1], the German social democracy bore an essentially Centrist character. The right stood in opposition to the leadership, as did the Left radical wing which was not clearly formed. The war showed that Centrism was incapable of leading the party. The Right seized the helm without encountering any resistance. Centrism revived only later in the form of an opposition. The situation is the same at present in the Third International and in the Amsterdam International. The main strength of the international labor bureaucracy is its collaborationist wing. Centrism is only an auxiliary spring in its mechanism. The exceptions existing in certain parties, as in Austria for example, are essentially only of a potential character and only prove the rule.

It must be added that since the war the Right, together with the Center, are much closer to the bourgois state than were the Right in the period before the war (particularly in Germany). Thereby room was made for a Centrism that was more radical, less compromised, more “Left” than the so-called Left social democracy. The policy of post-war Left-Centrism appeared in large measure under the name of communism (in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in England, and so forth). Great historical events will inevitably lay bare this situation and perhaps in a catastrophic manner.

Now, how do things stand under the workers’ state, which obviously cannot be conceived of without a labor bureaucracy, and, at that, one that is more numerous, has greater ramifications and is infinitely more powerful than that of the capitalist countries? What about the line of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which, in recent years, has glided from the class to the apparatus, that is, to the bureaucracy?

The simplest and easiest way of testing the policy of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is on the international field, for there the peculiarities of the situation of the ruling party in the country of the dictatorship of the proletariat are abolished, the new character of the situation cannot mask the class tendencies, the political line can be judged on the basis of well established Marxist criteria. The policy of the Central Committee in China was not Centrist, but Menshevist, rather Right-Menshevist, that is, it was closer to the Menshevism of 1917 than that of 1905 (direct submission to the leadership of the bourgeoisie plus open restraining of the revolutionary offensive of the masses). The policy of the Central Committee in England was of a Right-Centrist character in the decisive period of the struggle (support to the opportunists and traitors pus a half-hearted criticism at home). In Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in France, and so forth, the policy bore a Left-Centrist character, repeating under the new conditions the policy of the pre-war social democracy. In Poland, during the coup d’etat of Pilsudski, the line of the leadership was somewhere between the English and Chinese examples, that is, between Right-Centrism and Right Menshevism. In general it can be said that the Centrism of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union sank more decisively into the Menshevist rut the more revolutionary was the situation, the more it required political perspicacity and audacity. It can adorn itself with “Leftism” only in the noise and bustle of political trivia. That makes possible the examination in the last place, irrevocably, of the whole line pursued by the leadership that succeeded Lenin.

However, enough experiences have been accumulated up to now in the country itself to be able to recognize and expose Centrism even without the international criteria.

The labor bureaucracy which has grown to such enormous proportions among us has elaborated a quite new theory in recent year with which to approach all essential questions and above all that of estimating its own value. The sense of this theory consists in considering that since we have the dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletarian character of all the social processes is guaranteed a priori and forever. If we have a workers’ state, the peerless Molotov teaches us, how can we bring it closer to the workers? Since we have the dictatorship of the proletariat, then we also have a proletarian kulak who is growing into socialism. Since we have the socialist revolution, how can we be threatened by the danger of Thermidor, that is, of bourgeois restoration? Since we have the Soviet power, the uninterrupted growth of socialism is assured, irrespective of whether the situation of the working class in this period is improved or worsened. And finally, since we have a Leninist party, how can the “Leninist” Central Committee make mistakes? Is not all criticism directed against it condemned in advance to play the r&le of a Right or Left “deviation,” according to which side the secretariat of the Central Committee sees itself criticized from? Dialectical materialism, utilized to estimate two driving forces of the proletarian dictatorship, has been replaced at every point by an immanent idealism which has become the specific philosophy of the bureaucracy of the party and the Soviets in its struggle for the stability and irreplaceableness of their own positions, for perfecting their power for independence from the control of the working masses. The fetichism of the apparatus and its functionaries whose existence has become an aim in itself, who cannot be removed by a decision of the party but only by a civil war (Stalin): there is the axis of the immanent philosophy that sanctifies the practical steps of usurpation and prepares the way for real Bonapartism.

The radical change in the bases of social appreciation attests the new social rôle of the labor bureaucracy and the Soviet bureaucracy in general toward the proletariat as well as toward the other classes. Parallel with its independence from the proletariat, this bureaucracy becomes more and more dependent upon the bourgeoisie. The inviolability of the workers’ state “as such” is a mask for this dependence. Everything proceeds here according to law. Hence follows with iron logic the organic predilection of our bureaucracy for the petty bourgeois leaders, for the “solid” trade union bureaucrats of the whole world (China, England, Poland; the course o£ Tomsky, Kaganovitch and others toward Amsterdam, and so forth). This international affinity of the labor bureaucracy, created by their intrinsic qualities, can neither be suppressed nor eliminated even by the most ultra-Left zig-zags of Centrism.

Of course, the labor bureaucracy in the West develops its activity on the basis of capitalist property. With us the labor bureaucracy has grown up on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But from this deep contradiction one cannot conclude, as both theory and experience have shown, that there is an immanent contradiction, that is, one assured by an inner value, between our labor bureaucracy and that of the capitalist countries. The new social basis, which, considered by itself, is immature and has little power of resistance, does not guarantee the new character of the superstructure whose transformation, on the contrary, can become an important factor in the transformation of the basis itself. In these fundamental questions the scholasticism of Bukharin (yes-yes, no-no) only serves to cover up the processes of social transformation. The Jacobins also considered themselves the immanent antagonists of the monarchy and of monarchist Caesarism. Nevertheless, Napoleon later recruited his best ministers, prefects and detectives among the old Jacobins, to whom he himself had, moreover, belonged in his youth.

The social and historical origin of our bureaucracy, without insuring them as we have said above against a transformation, nevertheless gives the ways and forms of this process an uncommon singularity; in the given situation it gives the Centrist elements an obvious and undeniable predominance over the right, lending to Centrism itself a special, extremely complicated character which reflects the various stages of backsliding, the various states of mind and the different methods of thought. That is why the speeches and articles of the leading Centrists remind one most often of a manuscript written in Russian, Latin and Arabic letters. This explains the frightful illiteracy, not only theoretical, but also literary, of most of the Centrist writers. It is enough to read Pravda these days. After the apostles of Centrism partake of the grace of the secretariat they immediately begin to speak a foreign tongue. This is surely a sign of the power of grace, even if it is almost impossible to understand them. It may be objected: If the present leading tendency in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is Centrism, how can one explain the present sharp attitude against the Left social democracy which is itself nothing but centrism? This is no serious argument. Our Right also, which, according to the opinion of the Centrists, is following the road to the restoration of capitalism, proclaims itself the irreconcilable enemy of the social democracy. Opportunism is always ready, when conditions demand it, to establish its reputation on a clamorous radicalism to be used in other countries. Naturally, this exportation of radicalism consists for the most part of words.

But the hostility of our Centrists and Right against the European social democracy is not entirely composed of words. We must not lose sight of the whole international situation and above all of the huge objective contradictions between the capitalist countries and the workers’ states. The international social democracy supports the existing capitalist régime. Our internal opportunism, which grew up on the basis of the proletarian dictatorship, can only evolve on the side of capitalist relations. Despite the elements of dual power in the country and the Thermidorian tendencies in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the antagonism between the Soviet power and the bourgeois world remains a fact which can be denied or neglected only by “Left” sectarians, by anarchists and their like. The international social democracy, by its whole policy, is obliged to support the designs of their bourgeoisie against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This alone creates the basis of a real, and not merely a verbal, hostility, despite the rapproachment of the political line.

Centrism is the official line of the apparatus. Its protagonist is the party official. But the officialdom is no class. It serves classes. Then which among them is represented by centrism? The reviving property-owners find their expression, timid though it is for the present, in the Right faction. The proletarian line is represented through the Opposition. By the method of elimination we get ... the seredniak – middle peasant. And in reality Centrism with us has shed its skin of Bolshevism by clinging to the idea of winning the middle peasant. The Leninist slogan of the alliance of the ruling proletariat with the middle peasantry has been replaced by the fetish of the middle peasant as the highest criterion of proletarian policy. To this day the Centrists cannot be reconciled with M.N. Smirnov, who in the autumn of 1927 developed the correct thought that the alliance of the proletariat with the middle peasantry is predicated on the readiness of the party, in time of need, to sever the alliance in order to carry through a correct proletarian policy and thereby to create new conditions for a more durable and more lasting alliance with the middle peasants. For such an alliance is not possible on the basis of some sort of equable class line but only on the basis of the proletarian line. The partial concessions to the middle peasants can bear only an auxiliary character. Any other attempt only leads to turn the course ever more to the kulaks, to the bourgeoisie in general. The middle peasantry cannot have any independent party. An “independent” peasant party is always in reality a bourgeois-kulak party. Our Centrism, theoretically poverty-stricken, with its short memory, has not understood this. Thence its reactionary, caricature idea of the “dual-composition workers’-peasants’ party” (Stalin). In reality, the dually composed party signifies the Kuomintang, that is, the political muzzling of the workers and the peasants by the bourgeoisie.

The Stalinist idea of the workers’ and peasants’ party is the most important inspiring idea of the Right wing. In broad bureaucratic circles, especially in the Ukraine, no little has been said recently of the party possessing a reserve: to go back from the proletarian dictatorship to the formula of 1905, that is, to the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. The party, to which the Right wing belongs, has really become a dually-composed party. The retreat to the position of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry can only mean the restoration of capitalism and nothing else. Just as the middle peasantry has been raised as the highest criterion against the strategic proletarian line, so have the Rights quite consciously drawn from the independent principle of middle-peasant policy kulakist conclusions. To the extent that he stands opposed to the proletariat, there can be no other road for the middle peasant than the kulakist road. In the course of the last few years the Centrists have hidden their heads from these conclusions in the rubbish especially prepared for them by Yakovlev and company. This does not prevent this same Yakovlev today, in his masked polemic against Bukharin, from zealously cribbing arguments from the old volumes of the Opposition, by issuing these volumes for the Notes of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (see Pravda, No. 253, Y. Yakovlev, On the Question of the Economic Tasks of the Next Year, from the Notes of the WPI). Even if Yakovlev occupies himself only with the “splinters” and “fragments” of the Opposition’s platform, this alone proves sufficient to deal with the Observations of an Economist. But the kulak has crawled forward out of the rubbish and into the grain collections. Today the Centrists vacillate between Article 107 and the raising of the grain prices. Simultaneously they erect as before the naked idea of the middle peasantry as the main principle that separates them from the Opposition. They only show thereby that they have no point of social ‘support and no independent class policy. The line of Centrism is the zig-zag line of the bureaucracy between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie while the dissatisfaction of both classes grows irresistibly. The hybrid policy of Centrism slowly but surely prepares its liquidation which is possible in two directions, that is, by issuing forth along the proletarian or the bourgeois roads.

PART II[edit source]

V. What Is the Right Wing?[edit source]

Matters stand more simply and clearly with regard to the Right Wing.

The Thermidorian tendency in the country, in the broadest sense of the term, is that of the property-holders as opposed to proletarian socialism. While covering the essence, it is the most general definition that can be given. The petty bourgeoisie its driving force, but which petty bourgeoisie? That which is most addicted to exploitation, that which strives for position, that which is being transformed, or tends to be transformed into the middle bourgeoisie, that which seeks its ally in the big bourgeoisie, in world capitalism? The central figure of this Thermidorian army is the kulak, the protagonist of the moods and aspirations of the Bonapartist counter-revolution.

Inside the ruling apparatus and party, as an ally or semi-ally of the proprietors of Bonapartist inclinations, is the “completely hardened” official who wants “to live in peace with all the classes.” There exist social causes for this: materially or intellectually he is related to the new proprietor; he himself has grown fat, he wants no commotion, he regards with raging hatred the perspective of a “permanent” revolution; he has had more than enough of the Revolution, which God be praised, is happily in the past and now permits him to harvest its fruits of national socialism – there is his arena.

This firmly established official, as we said above, is the ally of the Bonapartist kulak. However, even between them there is a difference that is very important for the given stage. The kulak would like to discard the whole hated system by using the army or by an insurrection. The bureaucrat, however, whose growing welfare is linked with the Soviet apparatus, is opposed to the open Bonapartist road; he is for the path of “evolution,” of a camouflaged Thermidor. We know from history that Thermidor was only a step leading to the Bonapartist coup d’état. But that was not understood at that time. The active Thermidorians sincerely rejected as a base calumny every suggestion that they were merely preparing the road for military-bourgeois usurpation.

These transitional relationships of the two sections of Thermidorianism are the cause of the weakness of the right wing. To take up the gauge of battle, it must openly mobilize all the propertied elements and instincts in the country. This was readily done during the struggle against the Opposition, but the bloc with the Center and the banner of the party served to conceal it. The powerful rear guard of the proprietors, encouraged by the leadership during these past years, exercised a pressure on all sides upon the party, helping to terrorize the proletarian kernel and to demolish the Left Wing. But since the struggle began openly between the Centrists and the Right, even though conducted with half measures,the political situation is changing brusquely. It is the Centrist apparatus that now speaks in the name of the party. This mask can no longer be assumed by the Right in this struggle. They can no longer base themselves upon the proprietors anonymously. They must now publicly and openly straddle a new war horse.

In the lower ranks of the right faction, the difference between the party bureaucrat and the kulak presents hardly any difficulties in the way of common action. But the higher one goes, the nearer the industrial sections, the political centers, the more obstacles are encountered by the Right – vital ones, as for example the dissatisfaction of the workers; dying ones: the traditions. The present leaders of the Right are not yet “ripe enough” to straddle publicly the proprietors’ war horse against the official party. Driven into a blind alley by the pressure of the apparatus, the bureaucrats of the Right either resign, or else, like Uglanov, they make moving pleas that they be not “crippled.”

The “unripeness” of the Thermidorian wing of the party, the absence of political connection between this wing and the reserve formed by the proprietors, explains the easiness of the present victory of the Centrists over the Right. Instead o£ military operations there is an apparatus parade and nothing more.

There is also another reason for this “easiness.” But this reason has its roots in the mutual relations between the Centrist apparatus and the proletarian kernel of the party. Its head was stuffed for more than five years so as to incite it against the Left Wing; for this purpose it was terrorized by the pressure of the bourgeois classes. As a result, we find that at the end of the sixth year of struggle, they are obliged anew to call for an intensified offensive against the so-called “remnants.” In return, the proletarian kernel is ready to struggle against the Right, not out of fear but out of conviction. Even if the present campaign is entirely impregnated with bureaucratism that completely suppresses the initiative of the masses; even though “sentinels” have been posted ahead to indicate with their red pennants the limits to which the Centrist parade shall proceed; even though the masses are disoriented, perplexed and unprepared, especially in the provinces, the proletarian kernel of die party nevertheless supports the Centrist apparatus incontestably in this struggle, if not actively, at least passively; in no case does it aid the Right.

These are the essential reasons why the Centrists have vanquished the Right so easily – inside the party. But these same reasons explain the whole meagerness and superficially of this triumph. To understand this better, let us examine more closely what they are disputing about.

VI. Differences Between Center and Right[edit source]

A proletarian revolutionist cannot be an empiricist, that is, he cannot let himself be guided only by what happens under his nose at the moment. That is why the struggle against the Right is of importance to us not only from the point of view of the immediate budget questions, credits allocated for collective farming in 1929, and so forth, around which the struggle seems to hinge (though even on these points they keep within the bounds of allusion and commonplaces), but above all from the point of view of the general ideas that it introduces into the mind of the party.

What then is the ideological baggage of the Centrist struggle against the Right?

A. The Danger of Thermidor[edit source]

Before all, let us examine wherein lies essentially the Right danger. As our guide on this point, as well as on the others, let us take the fundamental (and alas! the most insipid) document of the whole campaign: the speech of Stalin at the Plenum of the Moscow Committee and the Moscow Control Commission on October 19, 1928. After recounting the differences with the Right – of which more later – Stalin concludes by saying:

It is incontestable 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.

In this case, as in all others where Stalin turns upon the Right, 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. Arid really, if one takes Stalin’s characterization of the Right seriously, it appears as the nub of Thermidorian reaction inside the party. The danger of counter-revolution is simply that of the “restoration of capitalism in our country.” The Thermidorian danger is a masked form of counter-revolution, accomplished in its first stage through the right wing of the governing party: in the eighteenth century through the Jacobins, today through the Bolsheviks. In so far as Stalin, by repeating what was said by the Opposition, declares that “the victory of the Right deviation would ... increase the chances for the restoration of capitalism,” he is only saying that the Right Wing is the expression of the Thermidorian danger in our party.

But left us hear what he says a few lines further on about the Left Wing, about the Opposition. From this side, you see, the danger consists in that the Opposition “does not see the possibility of constructing socialism with the forces of our country alone; it despairs and is obliged to console itself by chattering about the Thermidorian danger in our party.”

This example of Centrist confusion could be called classic if confusion could have its classics. Indeed, if to speak of the Thermidorian danger in our party is to chatter, then what is the declaration of Stalin that the victory of the Right Wing in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would open the road to the restoration of capitalism? In what else, if not in this, does the Thermidor lie in the socialist revolution? To what point must one be muddled to accuse the Right Wing of collaborating in the restoration of capitalism and in the same breath to characterize words pointing out the Thermidorian danger in the party as “chatter”? There is your real chatter, and specifically Centrist at that. For the principal trait of Centrism is that it mechanically stacks up the contradictions instead of overcoming them dialectically. Centrism has always united in its beggar’s purse the “reasonable” and “admissible” elements of the Right and Left Wings, that is, o£ opportunism and Marxism, neutralizing the one with the other and reducing its own ideological content to zero. We know from Marx that petty-bourgeois thought, even the most radical, always consists of admitting “on the one side” so as to deny “on the other.”

In general, the whole manner of characterizing the Opposition adopted in the speech of Stalin is scandalously impotent. The danger of the Left deviation is supposed to be that “it overestimates the forces of our enemies, the forces of capitalism; it sees only the possibilities of the restoration of the latter, but it does not see the possibility of constructing socialism with the forces of our country; it despairs and is obliged to console itself by chattering about the Thermidorian danger in our country.”

Understand it who can! The Opposition “despairs” because it sees only “the possibilities of the restoration of capitalism” (that is, the danger of Thermidor); but it “consoles itself [?] with Thermidorianism in our party,” that is, still with the same danger of the restoration of capitalism. Understand it who can. What can really drive one to despair, is this idealess Centrist rigmarole. But the Opposition hopes to triumph over this pestilence long before the complete socialist society is built up in our country.

B. The Conciliatory Tendency[edit source]

The struggle against the Right is conducted under cover of anonymity, in the sense of personalities as well as actions. Apart from the Mandelstamms, everyone votes unanimously against the Right; and even the Mandelstamms are now probably voting with the others. It is natural that the workers in the ranks of the party ask: But where is this Right Wing? Stalin replies to them as follows:

The comrades who emphasize the question of the persons who symbolize the Right deviation, in the discussion on this question, are equally wrong ... It is a wrong way of posing the question ... It is not a question of persons here, but rather of conditions, of the circumstances which give birth to the Right danger in the party. Certain persons can be eliminated, but that does not mean that by this we would uproot the Right danger in our party.

Such reasoning is the consummation of the philosophy of conciliation; it is the most striking and most solemn departure from the fundamental Leninist tradition on the field of the struggle of ideas and the education of the party. To pass over the persons representing the Right deviation for the conditions which give birth to it – there is the typical argument of the conciliators. That was essentially the real error committed by the old “Trotskyism” that opposed it to the methods of Lenin. Of course there are “objective conditions” that give birth to kulaks and sub-kulaks, to Mensheviks and opportunists. “It is not a question of persons here, but rather of conditions.” A remarkable revelation. The old “Trotskyism” never formulated the theory of conciliation with such triviality and vulgarity. The present Stalinist philosophy is a caricature of the old “Trotskyism,” and all the more mischievous because it is unconscious.

Lenin invariably taught the party to hate and scorn the methods of struggle against opportunism “in general,” to reduce oneself to declarations, without clearly and precisely naming its most responsible representatives and their deeds. For the struggle by declarations very often serves to taint the atmosphere, to divert the dissatisfaction of the masses accumulating against the slipping toward the Right; this struggle can also be utilized to frighten the Right slightly, so that they will not let themselves be carried away too far and reveal their rear guard. Such a struggle against the Right can in the end appear as a protection and concealment for them merely practiced by more complicated and diverse roads. Centrism needs the Right, not at Ichim, Barnaoul or Astrakhan, but in Moscow, as its main reserve, and it needs such Rights who submit to command, who are tamed and patient.

C. Socialism in One Country[edit source]

The crowning of the Right policy is the theory of socialism in one country, that is, of national socialism. The Centrists maintain this theory completely, holding up the rotting parts of the structure with new props. Even the most docile delegates to the Sixth Congress complained in the corridors; “Why are we forced to swallow this fruit in the program?” It is not necessary to argue here about the basis of the national-socialist philosophy. Let us wait for what its creators will reply to the criticism of the program. In spite of everything, they will be forced to answer; they will not succeed in evading it by silence.

Let us limit ourselves to point out a new prop that Stalin tried to put up at the Moscow Plenum on October 19. In their turn, Stalin came forward against the opportunists “on the one hand” and the Marxists “on the other,” and proved that we can ...

Achieve the final victory over capitalism, if we carry through an intensified activity for the electrification of the country ... From this follows [??] the possibility of the victory of socialism in our country.

The speech refers to Lenin, of course, and falsely as usual. Yes, Lenin placed great hopes in electrification, as a road leading to the technical socialization of industry in general and of agriculture in particular. “Without electrification,” he said, “there can be no talk of a real socialist foundation for our economic life.” (Vol. XVIII, pt. 1, p. 260). But Lenin did not separate the question of electrification from that of the world revolution, and he certainly did not oppose them to each other. This time also, it can be proved by documents as can generally be done in all cases where the unfortunate creators of the national-socialist theory try to base themselves on Lenin. In his preface to the book of the defunct Skvortsov, The Electrification of the RSFSR, Lenin says:

Special attention should be paid to the beginning of the sixth chapter where the author ... superbly refutes the common “light” skepticism toward electrification ...

Now what does Skvortsov-Stepanov say at the beginning of the sixth chapter that Lenin emphasizes it and recommends it so warmly to the reader? Skvortsov there combats precisely the conception according to which we are supposed to believe in the realization of electrification and the construction of the socialist society within national limits. Here is what he says:

In the common conception of the realization of electrification, one generally loses sight of still another aspect: the Russian proletariat has never thought of creating an ISOLATED socialist state. A self-sufficing “socialist” state is a petty bourgeois ideal. [Hear, hear! L.T.] One can conceive of a certain movement in the direction of this ideal while the petty bourgeoisie predominates economically and politically; by isolating itself from the world, it seeks the means for consolidating its economic forms which new technique and new economies transform into the most unstable forms.

It would seem that no one could express himself more clearly. It is true that after Lenin died, Skvortsov-Stepanov expressed himself differently; he began to qualify as petty bourgeois not the idea of the isolated socialist state but rather the negation of this idea. But Stalin himself has traversed the same path. Up to the end of 1924, he believed that at the basis of Leninism was the recognition of the impossibility of constructing socialism in a single country, above all in a backward country; after 1924, he proclaimed the construction of socialism in our country one of the foundations of Leninism.

A successfully conducted socialist construction [said Skvortsov-Stepaanov in the same chapter] is only possible with the utilization of the immense industrial resources of Western Europe ... Should the proletariat take political power in its hands in one of the first-class industrial countries, in England or in Germany, the combination of the powerful industrial resources of that country with the immense, still intact, natural treasures of Russia, would give the possibility of driving rapidly toward the building of socialism in both countries.

It is just this elementary Marxist idea that has been denounced for the last three years in every meeting as the fundamental heresy of Trotskyism. Now how did Skvortsov-Stepanov estimate the construction of socialism in our country before the victory of the proletariat in the more advanced countries? Here is what he had to say:

Naturally, if the economic region embraced by the dictatorship of the proletariat is sufficiently vast and has a great variety and richness of natural stores, its isolation does not exclude the possibility of the development of the productive forces, which is one of the premises of proletarian socialism. But the advance toward this will be a despairingly slow one, and this socialism will for a long time remain extremely meager, if only its economic premises do not become undermined, a probable alternative under such circumstances. (Chap. 6, pp. 174–179.)

So Skvortsov believed that without the European revolution, the construction of socialism would inevitably have a “despairingly slow” and “meager” character; that is why he considered it “very probable” that under such circumstances the economic premises would be undermined, that is, that the dictatorship of the proletariat would collapse without foreign military intervention. That is how Skvortsov-Stepanov expressed himself in the sixth chapter of his book, as a man of little faith, they would say today. And it is just on the subject of this so-called skeptical estimate of our construction that Lenin wrote:

Special attention should be paid to the sixth chapter, where the author gives a splendid account of the meaning of the New Economic Policy [that is, our “socialist construction.” L.T.] and then superbly refutes the common “light” skepticism toward electrification ...

The unfortunate child of the aboriginal Centrist thought has no luck. Every attempt to present another argument in its favor invariably turns against it. Every new prop can only shape the building constructed with rotten material.

A characteristic trait of the Right Wing, as is shown by the articles and resolutions that are all patterned on the same model is its aspiration for a peaceful life and its fear of commotion. That has been correctly pointed out, or, more exactly, copied from the documents of the Opposition. But it is right there that lies the tested hatred (penetrating to the very innards) against the idea of the permanent revolution. Of course it is not a question here of the old differences which can only interest historians and specialists now, but rather of the perspectives of tomorrow. There are only two possible courses: one toward the international revolution, the other toward reconciliation with the native bourgeoisie. The Right Wing was consolidated in the work of defaming “the permanent revolution.” Under cover of the theory of national socialism, it is marching toward reconciliation with the native bourgeoisie so as to guard itself against any convulsions.

So long as the campaign against the Right is conducted under the sign of the theory of socialism in one country, we have before us a struggle going on within the limits of revisionism itself. This must not be forgotten for a single moment.

D. Vital Practical Questions[edit source]

If we pass to the vital political questions, the balance of Centrism is almost equally unfavorable.

  1. The Right is opposed to the “present” tempo of industrialization. But what is the “present” tempo? It is the arithmetical result of Khvostism, the pressure of the market, and the lashes of the Opposition. It accumulates contradictions instead of diminishing them. It does not contain a single idea thought out to the end. It furnishes no guarantee for the future. Tomorrow, the “present tempo” can be something else. The hysterical cries about “super-industrialization” signify that the doors are left open for a retreat.
  1. The Right denies the “expediency” of allocating credits for the collectives and the Soviet farms. And the Centrists? What are their plans, the span of their activity? To proceed to the work in a revolutionary manner one must begin with the agricultural laborers and the poor peasants. Audacious and resolute measures are necessary (wages, spirit of organization, culture) so that the agricultural workers feel that they are a part of the ruling class of the country. A league of poor peasants is necessary. It is only by preparing these two levers, and if industry really has a leading role, that one can speak seriously of collective and Soviet farms.
  1. The Right is for “relaxing the monopoly of foreign trade.” There is an accusation that is a little more concrete. (Yesterday it was still called calumny to point out the existence of such tendencies in the party.) But here also it is not specified who proposes the relaxation and within what limits: is it within those fixed by Sokolnikov and Stalin in 1922 in trying to effect this “relaxation” or have these limits been extended further?
  1. Finally, the Right denies “the expediency of the struggle against bureaucratism on the basis of self-criticism.” It is futile to speak seriously of this difference of opinion. There exists a precise decision of the Stalin faction saying that for the purpose of maintaining “a firm leadership,” self-criticism must not touch the Central Committee, but must be limited to its subordinates. Stalin and Molotov have explained this decision in a scarcely concealed form in speeches and articles. It is clear that this reduces self-criticism in the party to zero. At bottom we have a monarchist-Bonapartist principle which is a slap in the face to all the traditions of the party. It is natural that “the subordinates” should also want to avail themselves of a little bit of the supreme inviolability. There is only a hierarchical and not a principled difference.

The present extension of “self-criticism” pursues temporary factional aims, among others. We simply have here a repetition, only on a larger scale, of the “self-criticism” that the Stalinist faction organized after the Fourteenth Party Congress, when the Stalinists “implacably” accused the Zinovievists of practicing bureaucratic oppression. It is superfluous to explain what regime the Stalinists themselves established in Leningrad after their victory.

E. The Question of Wages[edit source]

But the manner in which the Centrists characterize the Right Wing is especially remarkable for what it passes over in silence. We hear of the underestimation of capital investments for collectivization, and of “self-criticism.” But not a word is said about the material and cultural situation of the proletariat in its daily and political life. It appears that on this field there are no differences between the Center and the Right. But a correct appreciation of the differences between the factions can only be obtained from the point of view of the interests and the needs of the proletariat as a class and of every individual worker (see Chapter Two of the Platform of the Bolshevik-Leninists, The Situation of the Working Class and the Trade Unions).

The articles and resolutions against the Right clamor a good deal, but without precision, of capital investments in industry, but they do not contain a single word on wages. This question, however, must become the main criterion for measuring the success of socialist evolution; and consequently, also the criterion to apply to differences. A socialist rise ceases to be such if it does not uninterruptedly, openly and tangibly improve the material position of the working class in its daily life. The proletariat is the basic productive force in the construction of socialism. Of all the investments, that which is put into the proletariat is “the most profitable.” To consider the increase of wages as a premium for the increase of the intensity of labor is to be guided by the methods and criteria of the period of the primitive accumulation of capitalism. Even the progressive capitalists in the epoch of capitalist prosperity and their theoreticians (the Brentano school, for example), put forward the amelioration of the material situation of the workers as a premise for the increase of labor productivity. The workers’ state must generalize and socialize at least this viewpoint of progressive capitalism, in so far as the poverty of the country and the national limitation of our revolution does not permit us and will not permit us for a long time to be guided by a real socialist criterion. That is to say, production has the task of satisfying consumption. We will not come to such really socialist mutual relations between production and consumption for a series of years yet, under the condition that the revolution is victorious in the advanced capitalist countries and our country is included in a common economic system. But since we have socialized the capitalist means of production, we must at least socialize also, so far as wages are concerned, the tendencies of progressive capitalism and not those of primitive or declining capitalism. And for this purpose we must crush and throw to the winds the tendencies that imbue the last joint resolution of the Russian trade unions and the Supreme Council of National Economy relating to wages for 1929. It is a decree of the Stalinist Political Bureau. It announces that with few exceptions, amounting to nearly 35 million rubles, there must be no mechanical (remarkable word!) increases in wages. Innumerable newspaper articles explain that the task for 1929 is to fight for the maintenance of the present scale of real wages. And at the same time they let loose the rattles that announce the mighty rise of socialist construction. At the same time gods are on sale in the village. Unemployment grows. Credits for the protection of labor are insignificant. Alcoholism is on the increase. And as a perspective we have for the coming year the struggle to maintain the present wage of the workers. This means that the economic rise of the country is being accomplished at the cost of decreasing the share of the proletariat in the national revenues as compared to that of the other classes. No statistics can refute this fact, which is in equal parts the result of the policy of the Right and the Center.

In the reconstruction period, work followed the old roads blazed by capitalism. This period hardly brought the main cadres of the proletariat the reestablishment of pre-war wages. In the work of reconstruction we utilized the experiences acquired by Russian capitalism which we had overthrown. Basically, it is only now that the epoch of independent socialist development is beginning. The first steps taken along this road already showed very clearly that in order to succeed we must have, on an absolutely new scale, initiative, ingenuity, perspicacity, creative will and all this not only from the upper leading circles but also from the main proletarian cadres and the working masses in general. The affairs in Donetz is eloquent not only, of the incapacity and the bureaucratic spirit of the leadership, but also of the weak cultural and technical level of the workers of Schakhty, as well as their lack of socialist interest. Has anyone ever calculated what the “socialist construction” at Schakhty cost? Neither the Right nor the Center has done it, so as not to burn their fingers. Nevertheless, one can boldly assert that if half, or even a third of the criminally despoiled millions had been employed at the right time to raise the material and cultural level of the Schakhty workers, to interest them more and more in their work from the socialist viewpoint, production would be at a far higher stage today. But the Schakhty affair is no exceptional one. It is only the most flagrant expression of bureaucratic irresponsibility above, and the backwardness and material and cultural passivity below.

If we speak seriously of an independent socialist construction, proceeding from the miserable economic basis we have inherited, we must be fully and wholly imbued with the idea that of all the economic investments, the most undeniable, expedient and lucrative is that which is put into the proletariat by systematically and opportunately increasing real wages.

They do not even dream of understanding this. The myopic conceptions of the petty bourgeois manager is the most important criterion. Whipped by the lash of the Opposition, the “masters” of the Center have only dimly understood, ten years after the October, that without making investments in heavy industry at the proper time, we are preparing for the future a sharpening of the existing contradictions and undermining the basis of light industry; on the other hand, these companions in misfortune, with all their underlings, have not understood to this day that without timely investments in work for a wholly qualified workmanship from a social, political, technical and material point of view, they are surely preparing the collapse of the whole social system.

The stereotyped reply: Where will we get the means? is only a bureaucratic subterfuge. It is enough to compare the state budget reaching almost eight billions in 1929, the gross production of state industry amounting to 13 billions, capital investments of more than one and a half billion, with the miserable 35 millions constituting the annual fund for wage increases. No one disputes that bricks and iron, as well as their transportation, must be paid for. The necessity of calculating the costs of production is admitted at least in principle. But the costs of extensive reformation of socialist workmanship, the expense necessary to render it more qualified, remains the last reserve in all calculations, to the detriment of which all the contradictions of our economy, which is conducted in a miserable manner, are liquidated. It is not the Centrists who will put an end to this state of affairs.

VII. Possible Consequences of the Struggle[edit source]

When we speak of the possible consequences of the present campaign, the question can and must be approached first of all from the aims and plans pursued by the Centrist leading group, and then from the viewpoint of the objective results that can and must develop in spite of all the schemes of the Centrist staff.

The refrain one hears in this whole campaign is the entirely absurd affirmation that “basically” the Right and Left Wings are one and the same thing. This is not simply nonsense that rests on nothing and which it is impossible to formulate in a clear manner; this nonsense has a definite purpose, it serves a well-determined task: at a certain stage of the struggle, at the moment when the Right has been sufficiently terrified, fire will be brusquely opened again against the Left Wing. It is true that even without this the fire does not cease for a single moment. Behind the scenes of the anonymous struggle against the Right, an unrestrained struggle is conducted against the Left. Here the “bosses” do not stick to the “objective conditions.” Determined long ago to stop at nothing, they lead an enraged hunt for “the persons.” Since the “remnants” are not content to live, but “raise their heads,” the main task dominating the whole policy of the Centrist staff is to bring the struggle against the Left Wing around to a new stage, a “higher” one, that is, to renounce definitely all attempts to convince them (in which they are obviously powerless) and to make use of stronger methods. Article 58 must be replaced with one that is still more effective. It is not necessary to explain that it is precisely on this road that the leadership condemned by history will break its neck. But the Centrist bankrupts, armed with the power of the apparatus, have no other road before them. To apply these more decisive measures, the Centrist leadership must make an end of the remnants of the “conciliatory tendency” inside the apparatus itself and around it. It is not a question here of conciliation with the Right Wing: that conciliation is the very soul of Stalinist Centrism. No, we speak of the tendency of conciliation toward the Bolshevik-Leninists. The campaign against the Right serves only as a springboard for a new “monolithic” attack upon the Left. He who has not understood this has understood nothing.

But the plans of Centrism are only one of the factors, even though still a very important one in the process of the development of the inner-party struggle. That is why it is necessary to examine what are the consequences, “unforeseen” by the strategists of the Center, that follow from the crisis of the ruling bloc.

It is evidently impossible to predict now at what point the present campaign of the Center will be brought to a halt, what regroupings will immediately take place, and so forth. But the general character of the results of the crisis of the Center-Right bloc can be clearly perceived. The abrupt zig-zags that Centrism is forced to describe give no guarantee for the coming day. On the other hand, Centrism never accomplishes them with impunity. Oftenest of all, these zig-zags form the point of departure for a differentiation within Centrism, for the separation of one of its layers, of a part of its adherents, for the appearance within the Centrist leadership of various groupings, which, in turn, facilitates the work of Bolshevik agitation and recruiting. Centrism is the strongest force in the party for the moment. Whoever sees Centrism as something completely finished, and neglects the real processes taking place within and behind it, will either remain forever the oracle of some radical literary club or else he will himself roll toward Centrism or even further to the Right. A Bolshevik-Leninist must clearly understand that even if the Right-Center crisis does not immediately set broader masses into motion (and that depends upon us to a certain degree), it leaves behind it seriously increasing cleavages that penetrate the masses, and around which will grow new, deeper and vaster groupings. It goes without saying that this manner of seeing the internal processes of the party has nothing in common with the impatient striving to grab at the tail of Centrism, no matter where or how, so as not to arrive too late with one’s Opposition baggage for the departure of the next special train.

The reinforcement of Centrism from the Left, that is, by the proletarian kernel of the party, even if this happens as a result of the struggle against the Right, will doubtless be neither very serious nor lasting. In fighting the Opposition, the Centrists are forced to weed out with the right hand that which they sow with the left.

The victory of the Centrists will not bring any real and tangible change either in the material situation of the workers or in the party regime, unless the workers led by the Bolshevik-Leninists exercise a strong pressure. The alert mass will continue to think in its own way about the questions of the Right danger. In this the Leninists will help them. On the left flank of Centrism there is an open wound which does not heal, but, on the contrary, goes deeper, keeps Centrism in a feverish agitation and does not leave it in peace.

At the same time, Centrism will also weaken to the Right. The proprietor and the bureaucrat saw the Centre-Right bloc as a whole; they saw in it not only the “lesser evil” but also the embryo of an internal evolution; that is why they supported it. Now they are beginning to distinguish between the Centrists and the Right. They are evidently dissatisfied with the weakness of the Right and their lack of character. But they are their own people who have only lost their way. The Centrists, on the other hand, are now strangers, almost enemies. By its victory on both fronts, Centrism has betrayed itself. Its social basis contracts in the same proportion as its power in the apparatus increases. The equilibrium of Centrism more and more approaches that of a tight-rope walker; there can be no talk of its stability.

A serious regroupment will be effected within the Right Wing as well. It is not absolutely impossible that a certain part of the Right elements – elements who seriously believed in the existence of “Trotskyism” – and who were educated in the struggle against it, will begin to re-examine their ideological baggage seriously under the impact of the shock they have just received and then turn abruptly toward the Left, even as far as the Opposition. But it goes without saying that only a very small, sincere minority will take this path. The main movement of the Right Wing will be in the opposite direction. The lower sections will be dissatisfied with the capitulatory spirit of the upper circles. The proprietor will press hard. The Ustrialovists will whisper finished formula: into the ear. Numerous bureaucratic elements of the Right will submit, of course, that is, they will mask themselves as Centrists, take their place at the order of their superiors and vote against the Right deviation. The number of careerists, people who live only to save their hides, will grow in the apparatus. But the more stable and vigorous Right elements will mature rapidly, will think out their tasks to the end, will formulate clear slogans, and will seek to establish more serious connections with the Thermidorian forces outside the party. So far as the group of “leaders” is concerned, predictions are especially difficult. In any case, for the work that the Right has before it, the Voroschilovs and the Uglanovs are much more important that the Bukharins and the Rykovs. In citing these names, we are not thinking so much of specific persons as of political types. As a result of the regroupings, the “annihilated” Right Wing will become stronger and more conscious.

It is true that the Right wants to be at peace. Nevertheless one must not think that the Right Wing is entirely and absolutely “pacifist.” In fighting for order, the exasperated petty bourgeoisie is capable of causing the greatest disorder. Example: Italian fascism. In fighting against crises, against commotions and dangers, the Right Wing, at some subsequent stage, can help the new proprietors and all the discontented in general to shake the Soviet power so as to drive out the dictatorship of the proletariat. We must remember that the instincts of the petty bourgeoisie, when they are confined and repressed for a long time, contain in themselves an enormous explosive force. Nowhere and never in the course of history have the instincts and aspirations of preservation and property been so long and so pitilessly curbed as under the Soviet regime. There are many Thermidorian and fascist elements in the country. They have become very strong. The confidence they feel in themselves, from a political point of view, grew in the process of annihilating the Opposition. With good reason did they consider that the fight against the Opposition was their fight. The policy of zig-zag consolidates them, tortures them and spurs them on. In contrast to Centrism, the Right Wing has great reserves of growth which, from the political point of view, has as yet scarcely broken through.

The final result is therefore the following: Strengthening and formation of the wings at the expense of Centrism, despite the growing concentration of power in its hands. This means a growing differentiation within the party; the false monolithism thus has to pay very dearly. There is no doubt that for the dictatorship of the proletariat this involves not only heavy costs in general, but even presents direct dangers. There is the curse of Centrism. Consistent Marxist policy made the party more compact by giving it revolutionary homogeneity. Centrism, on the contrary, appears like an ideologically shapeless axis around which Right and Left elements turn for a certain period. In the last five years the party swelled beyond measure, losing in precision what it won in numbers. The Centrist policy is on the way to being repaid now in full: first from the Left side, now from the Right. A Centrist leadership in the last analysis always involves the crumbling of the party. To attempt now to get out of the processes of differentiation in the party and the definite formation of factions by means of tearful supplication or else by conferences behind the scenes would simply be stupidity. Without a general delimination according to lines of principle, we will only have the crumbling of the party into molecules, followed by the catastrophic crash of the usurpatory apparatus, pulling the conquests of October down with it.

Despite their great scope, the two campaigns of the Centrists against the wings (against the Bolshevik-Leninists and against the Thermidorians of the Right) have only a preliminary, preparatory, preventive character. The real struggles still lie in the future. The classes will decide. The question of the power of October with which the Centrist dancers are juggling on the rope, will be decided by millions and ten of millions of people. Whether sooner or later, in installments or at one blow, by the direct use of violence or within the limits of the restored constitution of the party and of the Soviets, will depend on the tempo of the internal processes and the changes in the international situation. Only one thing is clear: the Bolshevik-Leninists have no other path to follow than tp mobilize the living elements and those capable of living for their party, to weld together the proletarian kernel of the party, to mobilize the working class as a whole, to keep itself tirelessly in contact with the struggle for a Leninist line in the Communist International. The present Centrist campaign against the Right must show every proletarian revolutionist the need and duty of multiplying tenfold his efforts to follow an independent political line, forged by the whole history of Bolshevism and proved correct throughout the greatest events of recent years.

Leon Trotsky

Alma-Ata, November 1928

  1. In the printed text the date is given as 1924, but from the context it is clear that this should be 1914.