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1920 - Mushrooming of Factions

In the ranks of the Communist party, including the supreme leadership, discord was growing. A number of Communist factions emerged, but suppression of Communist groups by terroristic methods was out of the question in this early period of the Soviet regime. At the root of the discord and confusion was the widespread disappointment in the "Socialist system" and "workers' state" as they appeared now in reality. The main target of criticism was what the oppositionists called "bureaucratism" a term which comprised more than it does in English; in the Russian sense it meant the resurrection of a huge state machinery, egotistical and comparatively secure during a time of general debacle, and deaf to the people's needs and worries ; it meant the emergence of a new, relatively well-to-do class, after "landlords and capitalists" had been abolished.

The inefficiency of the new management was another source of discontent. More freedom to propagate their views but only in the framework of the Communist party and not for other political trends was demanded by the leaders of the factions. Each faction had its own program of reform, most of them consisting of petty demands which could not rally the people. Many Communists arrived at the conclusion that trade unions, as purely workers' organizations, must be given a greater role in order to reduce the power of the "bureaucracy."

One Communist faction, the Democratic Centralists, which emerged in 1919, achieved some importance in 1920-21. Speaking at the party congress in 1920, its leader, T. V. Sapronov described the Leninist Central Committee as a "small handful of party oligarchs." Other members of the opposition complained that the Central Committee "was banning those who hold deviant views." I.A.Yakovlev was even more specific. "The Ukraine," he charged, "is being transformed into a place of exile. Those comrades who for any reason are not agreeable to Moscow are exiled there." P.C.Yurenev accused the Central Committee of "playing with men" and spoke of the dispatching of oppositionists to far places as a "system of exile." . . The disciplining of oppositionists took the relatively mild form of transfer of work assignments from the center to the periphery, and even such actions were not openly acknowledged.

Among the anti-Leninist Communist factions one of the most important was the Workers' Opposition. The very fact that a group in opposition to Lenin's "workers' party" called itself Workers' Opposition was significant. The program of the Workers' Opposition called for trade-union administration of industry, democratic management of the Party, and reliance on the industrial proletariat to direct state affairs. The movement was aimed largely against the tendency of the Party leadership to arrogate all important decision-making to itself.

In pressing for more autonomy and more workers' control, the Workers' Opposition registered a growing disillusionment with the failure to realize the Utopian, egalitarian slogans under which the Party had marched to power. Under the leadership of Madam [Alexandra] Kollontai and Alexander Shlyapnikov, a former metal-worker and the first People's Commissar for Labor, the Workers' Opposition gathered considerable rank-and-file support, particularly in the trade unions, but it found itself greatly handicapped in its bid for power by its failure to attract any of the first-rank leaders of the Party.

Trotsky became the proponent of a program of "statification" of trade unions, meaning the granting to them of a leading role in state-owned industry. The program attracted great attention because it represented the first instance of disagreement since 1916 between the two men considered to be the supreme leaders of bolshevism. Among the members of the Central Committee, Nikolai Bukharin was the only one who supported Trotsky. Lenin, the proponent of unlimited party rule, could not agree to an increased role for trade unions which might limit the party's (and his) powers. In this controversy between Lenin and Trotsky, Lenin was the winner.

Another issue of importance which divided the Communist ranks was the new army, in particular the part played in it by old "tsarist officers." Many party members found it hard to endure the commands of the "reactionaries."

More serious was the challenge offered by the so-called Military Opposition led by V.Smirnov, also a former Left Communist. The Military Opposition was sharply critical of the policy of employing former Tsarist officers as military specialists in the Red Army and of organizing the army on the basis of professional military discipline; it called, instead, for primary reliance on partisan detachments. In a test vote at the Party Congress in 1919, Smirnov's resolution mobilized 95 votes to 174 for the majority. Again, no effort was made to invoke Party discipline against the opposition.

These factional fights inside the party Lenin saw as symptoms of a basically untenable situation. "The party is in a fever," he said ; fundamental changes were necessary if Communists were to maintain power. Lenin's remedy was the series of reforms known as the New Economic Policy.

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Page last modified: 30-01-2016 19:10:17 ZULU