Letter to the Plenum of the CC and the CCC, July 1926

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NOTE: Village and urban soviets (councils) had sprung up during the revolution as representative bodies of the insurgent workers and peasants. Because the soviets were originally intended as a means of mobilizing wage workers, poor peasants, and their allies among the poor and oppressed sectors of the population to carry out the tasks of the revolution, the Russian constitution and the constitutions of the other republics had explicitly disenfranchised employers of hired labor or persons living on interest from capital. When the orientation toward the well-to-do peasant gained momentum, it was reflected in changes in electoral policy as well as agrarian policy: in the course of 1924 electoral rights were restored to kulaks who employed labor and rented out land. The soviet elections held in the winter of 1925-26 had been marked by aggressive participation by the petty-bourgeois elements of town and countryside, including bribery, threats, and physical violence, in an attempt to gain control of the soviets.

The party plenum of July 1926 examined the 1925-26 elections through a resolution introduced by Molotov and Kaganovich, which condemned the extension of the franchise to the kulaks and other petty-bourgeois elements but issued no substantial criticism of party policy in the previous period.

The reference to the Amsterdam International on p. 100 throws light on another Stalinist measure taken to try to discredit the Opposition. Ever since 1923, feelers had been extended between the Prof intern (Red International of Labor Unions, based in Moscow) and the IFTU (International Federation of Trade Unions, based in Amsterdam) on the subject of trade union unity. When it became obvious that the IFTU would not consider a merger, the Soviet trade unions, through their All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, began negotiations to enter the Amsterdam International.

Trotsky viewed these developments with alarm, for they appeared to he an extension of the line the Comintern was following in Britain, of seeking an alternative to the hard road of party-building through the inviting prospects of the large, Social Democratic-led trade unions. The negotiations were protracted throughout 1924 and 1925, and only came to an end when the IFTU refused unequivocally to entertain them any longer.

Despite Trotsky’s open opposition to the negotiations and to any talk of affiliating the Soviet trade unions to the IFTU, Stalin systematically spread the rumor that the Opposition advocated a bloc with Amsterdam (possibly on the basis that Zinoviev, like virtually every other majority leader, had been involved in one stage of the negotiations in 1924). In similar fashion, on the eve of World War II, Stalin would accuse his opponents of collusion with Hitler — moments before signing the Hitler-Stalin pact.

By permission of the Harvard College Library. The text has been slightly abridged to avoid repetition.

The Elections to the Soviets

To the Plenum of the CC and the CCC:

We are voting against the resolution, introduced by Comrade Molotov in the name of the majority of the Politburo, because its political conclusions are totally at variance with those facts of great importance which the resolution itself acknowledges, though in glossed-over fashion.

There is no doubt that the moods of the middle peasants and of the urban petty bourgeoisie have become incomparably more favorable than they were, not only under war communism but also in the first years of NEP. However, it would be impermissible to underestimate the dangers to the proletarian revolution that the petty-bourgeois element conceals within itself. The lag of industry behind the development of the economy as a whole, accelerating the social differentiation within the village and nourishing the private trader, heightens the economic role and the political self-confidence of the petty bourgeoisie. Less than ever, under such conditions, is it permissible to expand the voting rights of the small property-owner, to bend the policies of the cooperatives toward the upper strata in the villages, or to minimize the dangers hidden within these trends.

The essential facts about the elections, according to Comrade Molotov’s resolution itself, are the following:

(a) ‘The rise in the political activity of the agricultural workers and poor peasants has not kept pace with the increased activity of other layers in the village.” But it is precisely the agricultural workers and poor peasants who constitute the social base of the party and the workers’ state in the village.

(b) In the town, as the resolution states, “there has been a noticeable increase in the proportional representation of the petty bourgeoisie in the soviets.” This means a relative weakening of the representation in the soviets of the proletariat, i.e., of the ruling class.

(c) There have been] violations of the Soviet constitution, in the form of [electoral] instructions favoring the petty-bourgeois elements.

It is fundamentally wrong, however, to try to portray these essential facts as the result of accidental circumstances and individual errors. The worst kind of policy is to make a partial acknowledgment of certain dangers, in order to get past them and go on to the immediate tasks of the day, that is, to continue the policies which gave rise to the dangers in the first place. We consider correct, although phrased with exaggerated caution, the conclusion drawn by the party’s central newspaper: “The results of the election campaign are to a certain extent in contradiction with the line laid down by our party congress” {Pravda, July 7, lead article entitled “Lessons of the Elections to the Soviets”).

Without understanding the contradiction referred to by Pravda, one cannot arrive at the proper conclusions. The contradiction is that our general political directives declare that the main danger is excessive pressure from the industrial workers, farmhands, and poor peasants upon the kulaks and the petty bourgeoisie as a whole — when in fact the main danger has shown itself to be the pressure from the kulaks and petty bourgeoisie.

The party’s fire was directed not against the real danger, but against those who warned against this danger ahead of time.

It is wrong to dump the blame for the passivity of the agricultural workers solely on their “lack of culture.” It was by relying above all on these elements in the countryside that the working class and its party fought and won a colossal peasant war. Over the past few years the cultural level of the lower strata in the villages has risen, not fallen. If nevertheless their political activism has lagged behind that of the other layers, a significant share of the blame for this lies with the incorrectness of the party’s policies. …

We emphatically and categorically reject these tendencies, which have not been evaluated properly in Comrade Molotov’s resolution. The agricultural cooperatives are among the most powerful instruments in the hands of the party and state for placing agriculture on the road to socialism. To put this instrument in the hands of the upper strata in the villages would be to transform the cooperatives from instruments of socialism into instruments of capitalism.

A prerequisite for raising the level of political activism among industrial workers, farmhands, and poor peasants, given the existing level of culture, is that the class content of the policies of the party, and of all state and public organizations, must go to meet such activism more than halfway, encourage it, and nourish it. The course charted toward the strong middle peasant inevitably dampens the activism of the farm laborers and poor peasants. The elections have merely made this fact plain. From what we have said the erroneousness of Comrade Kaganovich’s motion must be quite obvious. It proposes to condemn that section of the CC and CCC which warned in advance against the dangerous deviations reflecting the pressure of the petty-bourgeois element and which pointed in a timely way toward a more energetic policy of industrialization, a firmer and more correct policy toward the kulak, and above all, the creation of the conditions for greater activism by the proletarian vanguard. Every party member must realize that we cannot rectify the party line, in the sense of a more clear-cut proletarian policy, if blows are aimed at those who defend and uphold this policy.

The bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks now place their hopes primarily on the degeneration of the soviets, just as during war communism they placed their hopes on military intervention. The hopes of the bourgeoisie and Mensheviks rest on the capitalist tendencies in our country’s development, on the disproportion [between high prices for industrial goods charged to the peasants by state industry and the relatively low prices paid by the state for agricultural products], on the scissors, on the growth of the kulaks, the growth of private trader elements, and the increasing influence of the kulaks. Our policies are aimed at ensuring the preponderance of the socialist elements in our economy and preventing the slightest shift of real power from the hands of the proletariat and the rural poor, in close alliance with the middle peasant, into the hands of the petty-bourgeois elements who are trying to draw the middle peasants and poor peasants along after themselves, and who are in part succeeding. Especially in the current period, when the economic disproportion between town and country is intensifying, we must take a vigilant attitude toward any and all signs of a reduction in the political weight of the proletariat within the Soviet system.

We must continually engage in criticism of our own mistakes even though our enemies are watching. They will inevitably snap up every word of self-criticism. However, those who seek to suppress self-criticism by referring to the bourgeois enemy render the best service to that very enemy. It is not criticism but the glossing over of mistakes that can truly weaken us and aid our enemies.

We categorically reject the charge that we have used inaccurate statistics as the basis for our criticism of the line of the Politburo majority. The fundamental political processes and trends revealed in the soviet elections are beyond all question, regardless of the accuracy of one or another particular set of figures, all of which we took from the statistics of the Commissariat of the Interior or of the Central Committee itself.

On the contrary, we consider profoundly mistaken every attempt to play with figures in order to gloss over the fundamental political processes, on whose development in one direction or another the fate of the proletarian dictatorship depends.

An impermissible experiment in juggling statistics was made last autumn in regard to the fodder and grain question, with the aim of camouflaging the stratification of the village and minimizing the economic growth of the kulak. Everything that has happened in the area of economic policy since that time (the dumping of grain on the market in the spring, on the one hand, and the elections to the local soviets, on the other) constitutes a most emphatic warning against any and all attempts to bend statistics to fit preconceived political notions.

We reject the attempt to portray our ideological struggle against certain errors and deviations and for a definite line as the struggle of a factional group dictated by certain petty motives.

Such insinuations are insulting to the party as a whole and discredit those who resort to them.

Equally we reject any and all attempts to attribute to us certain ideas and inclinations with which we have nothing in common and which are, if anything, much closer to the views we are combating — and to do this instead of direct and open criticism of our actual views, which we have formulated clearly and precisely.

Only disrespect for the opinions of the party as a whole can explain the attempt made in a certain satirical article in Pravda and in several speeches at the plenum to attribute to us by hints, insinuations, and patchwork combinations — a sympathetic or tolerant attitude toward such proposals as the handing over of the bulk of state industry, or its leading elements, to foreign capital in the form of concessions; affiliation to the Amsterdam trade union international; indiscriminate and unworthy attacks on the Comintern; the counterposing of state industry to ruralism, etc., etc. We do not have the slightest affinity with such ideas, nor have we had in the past, nor could we — considering our fundamental positions. Only ideological poverty and lack of discrimination in the choice of tactics could dictate the use of such methods to fight us.

We are obliged to state, at the same time, that while attributing to us views that have nothing in common with those we really hold, the proponents of the leading group absolutely do not fight against similar mistakes, or even more glaring ones, when they are made by supporters of their own faction. We do not doubt for a minute that the party will separate the ideological core of the dispute from the mound of trash heaped upon it and that the party will have the final word both in the essence of the matter and in regard to the impermissible methods used in the debate.

In conclusion we declare that the incorrect positions of file leadership, which we have made clear, and the political errors flowing from them, do not in any way, or from any point of view, diminish the tremendous work that the party has carried out in educating and consolidating the ranks of the working masses in the city and the countryside, in all areas of public life, especially in the realm of Soviet construction.

Timely and clear-cut correction of errors will provide the opportunity to expand this positive work even more fully and to link it even more closely with the proletariat and the rural poor.

N. Muralov

N. K. Krupskaya

L. Kamenev

Yu. Pyatakov

G. Zinoviev

M. Lashevich


L. Trotsky