Soviet Economy in Danger - Letter to the SAPD

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 26 January 1933


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Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 15, 3 March 1933, pp. 1 & 2.
Collection(s): The Militant

Trotsky Replies to S.W.P. Editors on Opposition’s View of Soviet Economy

The following letter was addressed to the editorial board of the Sozialistische Arbeiterzeitung (central organ of the German Socialist Workers Party). After the press of the S.W.P. reprinted the deliberate falsification of the Stalinist bureaucracy about the “liquidation of the Trotskyists”, comrade Trotsky was obliged to refrain from sending the letter. As the letter nevertheless retains its importance, we publish it here. – Ed.

Dear comrades:

In the two numbers of your paper, January 11 and 12, there appeared an article on my brochure Soviet Economy in Danger. As it deals with an extremely important question, about which every revolutionary worker must form a clear opinion, if not today then tomorrow, I request you to afford me the possibility to elucidate to your readers by the present letter, in the shortest possible terms, those sides of the question which in my opinion were submitted to a false interpretation in your paper.

1. In the article it says a number of times that you are “not in agreement with everything” and “far from agreeing with everything” in Trotsky’s conceptions on Soviet economy. Differences of opinion between us are all the more natural as we belong to different organizations. Nevertheless I cannot suppress my regret that – with one single exception, dealt with below – you did not indicate which conceptions you are not in agreement with. Let us recall how Marx, Engels and Lenin censured and condemned evasiveness in fundamental questions, which finds expression mostly in the empty formula “far from agreeing with everything”. What every revolutionary worker can demand of his organization and of his paper is a definite and clear attitude towards the questions of socialist construction in the U.S.S.R.

2. In only one point does your article endeavor to delimit itself more concretely from my conceptions. “We believe”, you write, “that Trotsky considers matters somewhat onesidedly when he ascribes the main blame for these conditions to the Stalinist bureaucracy” (!) ... Further on the article sets out that the main blame does not lie in the bureaucracy but in the circumstance that tasks of too great dimensions are put before economy, for the fulfillment of which the necessary qualified forces are lacking. But who was it that set up these exaggerated tasks if not the bureaucracy? And who was it that warned in proper time against their exaggerated dimensions if not the Left Opposition? Thus it results that precisely your article “ascribes” the whole blame to the bureaucracy.

Your reproach to me is wrong also for a deeper reason. To shift the responsibility for all the difficulties and for all the phenomena of crisis upon the ruling faction, could be done only by one who believes in the possibility of a planned development of the socialist society within national boundaries. But this is not my standpoint. The main difficulties for the U.S.S.R. arise out of: (a) the economic and cultural backwardness which forces the Soviet state to solve many of the tasks which capitalism has solved in advanced countries; (b) the isolation of the workers’ state in an epoch in which the division of labor between the states of the whole world has become the most important postulate of the national productive forces.

Bureaucratic Centrism

3. We do not charge the Stalinist faction with the blame for the objective difficulties, but for its lack of understanding of the nature of these difficulties, of inability to foresee the dialectic of their development and unintermitent mistakes of leadership springing therefrom. We are far from the idea naturally, of explaining this “lack of understanding” and this “inability” by the personal qualities of the individual leaders. It is a question of the system of thinking of the political tendency, of the factions which have grown out of old Bolshevism. We observe one and the same methodology in the economic leadership of Stalin as in the political leadership of Thaelmann. One cannot fight success fully against the zigzags of Thaelmann without having understood that it is a question not of Thaelmann but of the nature of bureaucratic Centrism.

4. Elsewhere your article calls to mind that the Left Opposition especially and primarily Rakovsky warned against the over-stretched tempos of construction in good time. But right next to this you write of allegedly analogous warnings of Bucharin, Rykov and Tomsky. Your article refers twice to the perspicacity of the latter with out recalling with a single word the irreconcilable antagonisms between the Right and the Left Opposition. I deem it all the more necessary to clarify this point because it is precisely the Stalin faction which recoils from no attempt to cover up or to wipe out the deep antagonisms between the opportunist and the Marxian wings in the camp of Bolshevism.

Since 1922, the Left Opposition more correctly its future staff, conducted a campaign for the working out ot a five year plan, the axis of which was to be the industrialization of the country. As far back as that time, we proved that the tempo of the development of the nationalized industry could, in the very next years, exceed the tempo of Russian capitalism (6 percent annual increase) “two-, three- and more fold.” Our opponents called this program nothing but an industrial phantasy. If Bucharin, Tomsky, Rykov distinguished themselves in any respect from Stalin-Molotov, it was only in the fact that they fought even more resolutely against our “super-industrialism”. The struggle against “Trotskyism” was theoretically nurtured almost exclusively by Bucharin. His criticism of “Trotskyism” later on also served as the platform of the Right wing.

Bucharin’s Stand

In the course of a series of years Bucharin was, to employ his own expression, the preacher of “tortoise-pace” industrialization. So he remained, at that time, when the Left Opposition demanded going over to the five year plan and to higher tempos of industrialization (in 1923–1928) as well as in the years of the ultra-Left zigzags of the Stalinists, when the Left Opposition warned against the transformation of the five year plan into a four year plan and especially against the adventurist collectivization (in 1930–1932). From Bucharin’s mouth spoke not the dialectical appraisal of Soviet economy in its contradictory development, but an opportunistic attitude from the very beginning, an economic minimalism.

5. How unfortunately your article mixes up Bucharin’s criticism with the criticism of Rakovsky, is perceptible from the following circumstance: In the same days that your paper called attention to the apparent perspicacity of Bucharin in the past, Bucharin himself categorically and completely renounced all his former criticism at the Plenum of the Central Committee, and all his former prognoses, as fundamentally false (Pravda, January 14, 1933). Rakovsky, however, renounced nothing at the Plenum, not because he is chained to Barnoul as an exile, but because he has no need of renouncing anything.

6. Right after the appearance of my brochure Soviet Economy in Danger, a turn-about-face took place in Soviet economic policy which throws a bright light upon the problem engaging us and makes possible an infallible check upon all the prognoses of the various factions. The story of the turn-about-face – in two words – is the following:

The XVII Conference of the C.P.S.U. approved in January 1932 the principles of the second five year plan. The tempo of growth of industry was established at approximately 25 percent, with Stalin declaring at the conference that this is only the minimum limit, and, that in the working out of the plan this percentage must and will be raised.

The Second Plan

The Left Opposition characterized this whole perspective as a fruit of bureaucratic adventurism. It was, as is to be understood, accused of striving for the counter-revolution, for the intervention of Japan and for the capitalist if not the feudal restoration.

Exactly one year has passed. At the last Plenum of the Central Committee Stalin brought forward a new project for the second five year plan. But not a single word did he mention of the tempos approved the year before as the minimum. Nobody decided to remind him of them. Now Stalin proposed for the second flve year plan a 13 percent annual increase. We do not at all conclude from this that Stalin calculates upon engendering a Japanese intervention and the restoration of capitalism. But we draw the conclusion that the bureaucracy arrived at a moderation of the tempos not on the grounds of Marxian foresight but behind-handedly, after its head had collided against the disastrous consequences of its own economic adventurism. That’s just what we accuse it of. And that’s just why we think that its new emergency zigzag contains no guarantees at all for the future.

Even more glaring do the distinctions in the three conceptions (the Right, the Centrist and the Marxian) appear on the field of agriculture. But this problem is too complex to be touched upon even fleetingly within the limits of a letter to the editorial board. In the course of the next few weeks I hope to issue a new brochure on the perspectives of Soviet economy.

Prinkipo, January 26, 1933