On Those Who Have Forgotten the ABCs

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 28 December 1932

First Published: 1933.
Source: Two Articles on Those Who Have Forgotten the ABCs, Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 3 Numbers 3 & 4, March-April 1933.
Collection(s): The Class Struggle

The protest of some German comrades against the article, With Both Hands, may be interpreted in two different ways: First, as an attempt to find a suitable pretext for capitulation: Second, as errors of principle on the part of honest oppositionists, who have fallen into confusion. I set aside the first alternative, as being without theoretical interest. The second deserves to be investigated.

The article With Both Hands, warns that Stalin’s policy in the most important questions has approached such decisions that can take on an unalterable character. The article recalls that the Stalin fraction has solidarized itself with the Kellogg pact, and the American disarmament plan. As to the correctness of this extremely important action, there never were any differencss of opinion among us. The article quotes Stalin’s scandalous conversation with Campbell, which very glaringly lights up the road Stalin has entered upon.

“But do you really think that Stalin is capable of treachery?” chimes in an objection. An astonishing argument, which proves that many comrades in spite of their youth, have got to the point of forgetting the Marxian ABC. Do we then judge of a policy as depending upon a predetermined trust or mistrust of this or that person? The political line emerges through the pressure of the class struggle and the objective circumstances and develops its own logic.

In the year 1922 the Soviet Republic went through a severe economic crisis. On the November Plenum of the Central Committee, Stalin and others brought in a solution for the abolition in substance of the foreign trade monopoly. How shall we characterize such a resolution? As a betrayal or not? Subjectively certainly Stalin did not wish to betray the Socialist future. But the abolition of the monopoly is not in any way different in its inevitable consequences from the abolition of the nationalization of the means of production. Not for nothing did the whole capitalist world exert itself in the first year of the Soviet regime for the “moderation” of the foreign trade monopoly. Objectively the resolution of November 1922 was an act of betrayal of Socialism. Subjectively the result was that Stalin and others did not oppose a sufficient theoretical and political resistance to the pressure of the economic crisis.

The historical example of the foreign trade monopoly best illustrates the disputed questions of today. We have so far been able to observe Stalin’s policy in a whole course of important historical stages. How shall we characterize his polices in China – i.e. his alliance with Chiang Kai Shek against the proletariat? We have always characterized them as treacherous. In this case the right zig-zag of bureaucratic centrism was carried to its last logical inference. Can any oppositionist deny that Stalin’s policy in China served the bourgeoisie – against the proletariat? Let us remember in this connection that Stalin carried out this policy through the crushing of those Russian Bolsheviks who wanted to help the Chinese proletariat against the bourgeoisie. What is this if not betrayal?

Since November, 1922, more than ten years have passed. The situation of the USSR has entered upon a period of extremely sharp crisis. In the world situation too, there are many dangers which can increase simultaneously with the further sharpening of the inner difficulties. The criminal policy of the complete collectivization and the adventurous tempo of industrialization has finally got into a blind alley. If we remain within the framework of bureaucratic centrism, there is no way out. The only possibility is a search for palliatives, and delays. Foreign credits could no doubt bring about a moderation of the inner crisis. America says she is not ready to renounce the war debts without “equivalents”. Equivalents are also required for new credits. The program of her demands is well enough known to us from the past. Recognition of the debts of the war and before the war, “moderation” of the foreign trade monopoly, a real break with the Communist International, support of the American policy in the Far East, etc.

Certain concessions in regard to the debts are perfectly admissible. But just this equivalent interests the United States the least. But how do matters stand with the Comintern? It is already five years since a Congress has been called. Is that just an accident? One of Stalin’s motives is doubtless the thought, there is no use in irritating Hoover. The international proletarian vanguard will manage to get along without a congress. Then what is left of the Comintern in Moscow? Pitiable Plenums under the leadership of Manuilsky, whose worth Stalin very well knows. Would it be difficult to give up these “remains”?

The monopoly of foreign trade places more obstacles as “equivalent”. But here also it cannot be a question of any absolute guarantees whatsoever. If ten years ago, when the Soviet industry was in a condition of complete ruin, Stalin approached the greatest concessions to foreign capital on this question. Now a surrender of the position on which industry has considerably grown, must be all the more shunned. “We are so strong, the apparatus will tell the workers, that we can permit a moderation of the foreign trade monopoly.” The capitulatory weakness in relation to world capital, in this as in many other cases will hide under the appearance of strength. Upon what are the objections of these mistaken comrades really founded? In the belief in Stalin’s good intentions. Only on that and nothing more. In any event, they think or say, “Stalin has so far not betrayed the Soviet Republic.” What remarkable profundity! First, we answer, one of the lies in the energetic actions of the Opposition, which never exuded soulful confidence, but on the contrary, aroused the workers at each critical moment to determined alertness. Secondly, Stalin’s policy in China has in any event had full fling and has led the second Chinese revolution to a complete collapse.

Here the objectors, hopelessly in error, take up a new position. “These are all your suppositions”, they will say, “You cannot prove them.” This is correct: In order to prove them, one must await the results – i.e. the collapse of the Soviet fatherland as the result of the completed policy of bureaucratic centrism.

Were the Apparatus under the control of the Party, were the workers to discuss questions of policy and were they able to control their executive organs, we would have serious guarantees of the responsible carrying out of policy. But just this is lacking. Nobody outside of the narrow and ever narrowing circle around Stalin knows what means for solving the crisis will be prepared. Can one seriously rely on that revolutionist, who in such a situation, where mighty historical factors are at work, bases his perspective upon psychological conjectures or upon moral estimations? When Ustrjalow expressed the hope, that the NEP would lead the Bolshevik party to a capitalist regime, Lenin said, “Such things of which Ustrjalow speaks, are possible.” History knows such revolutions of all sorts; to rely upon persuasion, devotion and similar signally mental qualities, is a quite frivolous thing in politics.” Lenin said this about the party in the year, 1922. What can be said today?

Many of the objectors want to conjure up the ghost of Urbahns in connection with our article, according to them we have approached his estimation of Stalinism. It is really painful to have to analyze such an argument at the end of December, 1932. Between Urbahns and us, was carried on the struggle on the nature of the Soviet state. Urbahns could not understand and until today has not understood that the Centrist policy based as it is on the foundation of the proletarian state does not yet in anyway alter automatically the character of the state. It all depends upon the degree, upon the relation of forces in the struggle, upon the stage, which the development of contradictions has reached, etc. Bureaucratic centrism weakens the proletarian dictatorship, hinders its development, undermines its bony structure of the proletariat like a sickness. Only, sickness does not mean death. One can be cured of a sickness. But Urbahns declared the dictatorship liquidated, while we fight for the restoration and strengthening of the dictatorship, still living, still enduring, although deeply undermined by Stalinist centrism.

But what can we say of those unfortunate oppositionists, who base the fact of the endurance of the proletarian dictatorship upon the necessity of trust in bureaucratic centrism, which has undermined this dictatorship? What can be said of such “physicians”, who suddenly make the discovery that it would be best for the welfare of the patient to overlook the symptoms of his disease, to color up the situation, and instead of a systematic treatment to content themselves with the hope that the patient, with God’s help, will get better by himself?

Our objectors reveal just such a deep lack of understanding of the vital relations between the Soviet State and bureaucratic Centrism as Urbahns. Only they cover their lack of understanding with a different color.

Only the terribly low level upon which the Stalin bureaucracy keeps the Communist movement, can explain the highly grievous fact that comrades, who have been learning for several years in the school of the opposition, can fall into such pitiable and compromising errors. There is nothing to be done! We will lose a little time with the repetition of the ABC; if it does not help, we will step over the stiff-necked lagging ones and go forward.

Prinkipo, 28 December 1932