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1927-30 - Stalin Versus the Rightists

No sooner had the "Leftist" groups (Trotsky's and Zinoviev's) been suppressed and their leaders exiled than a new rift occurred in the apparently solid majority of the party's leadership. A fight developed between the "Rights" (Bukharin, Rykov, Tomski) and Stalin's faction. Within a comparatively short time less than 2 years the "Rights" were defeated, dispersed, and removed from leadership.

The essence of the "Rightist" program consisted in demands for continuation of the NEP, further concessions to the peasantry, no compulsory collectivization, and consequently, a slower pace of industrialization. The program was opposed to "liquidation of the kulaks" 108 except on a gradual and voluntary basis; "enrich yourselves" was a slogan of Bukharin's addressed to the individual farmers. The "Rights" protested the terroristic acts of the government against the peasantry. They maintained that "the state," as embodied, in the first place, in the police and army, must "wither away" (in accordance with the teachings of the founders of the Communist movement) and a gradual liberalization of the political system ensue. Some members of the "Rightist" group advocated the admission of a second political party to activity.

Stalin, on the other hand, was for rapid industrialization and collectivization of farming, goals which could be attained only by application of tremendous pressure; terrorism was an inevitable part of this policy. Despite his hatred of Trotskyism, Stalin maintained that "Right deviation [is] the chief danger in the Party at the present time." Stalin denounced the right faction as pursuing a "liberal bourgeois policy."

In the fight between the factions, Stalin proved to be far shrewder, more ruthless, and the better master of intrigue; his opponents lacked the stamina for the life-and-death struggle with their formidable adversary. Personal relations within the Politburo were disrupted; tension mounted. In their despair, the "Rights" tried to make contact with the recently removed "Leftist" group of Kamenev and Zinoviev, which in itself was a crime in the eyes of the Stalinists.

On July 11, 1928, Bukharin and Kamenev had a secret interview arranged by Sokolnikov. "[Bukharin] gave the impression of being "at bay"; his lips "trembled with emotion"; he was terrified of carrying on him anything "in writing." Why? "Do not let anyone know of our meeting. Do not telephone; it is overheard. The GPU is following and watching you also."

In his conversation with Kamenev, Bukharin described the essence of Stalin's program and its shortcomings. Stalin, Bukharin said, proceeded on the following theory: " . . . "Capitalism has developed through its colonies, through loans, and by exploiting the workers. We have no colonies and no loans, so our basis must be tribute paid by the peasants.". . . According to Stalin, [Bukharin said] "the more socialism grows, the stronger will grow the resistance" (which Bukharin describes as "idiotic illiteracy") and as a result "a firm leadership is necessary." . . . "This [Bukharin declared] results in a police regime." . . . [Bukharin charged that] "He [Stalin] is eaten up with the vain desire to become a well known theoretician. He feels that it is the only thing he lacks."

. . . Stalin knows only vengeance . . . the dagger in the back. We must remember his theory of sweet revenge." (One summer night in 1923, opening his heart to Dzerzhinsky and Kamenev, Stalin is supposed to have said, "To choose one's victim, to prepare one's plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance and then to go to bed. . . . There is nothing sweeter in the world.")

To inform Zinoviev of his conversation with Bukharin, Kamenev made a written record of it, a copy of which fell into Stalin's hands. This aggravated the situation in the extreme, and the fate of the "Rights" was sealed.

Events now unwound toward a familiar denouement. In a speech before a joint session of the Politburo and the presidium of the Central Control Commission at the end of January 1929, Stalin announced the "discovery" of a factional right-wing group led by Bukharin, Tomsky, and Rykov. Bukharin, he pointed out, had engaged in negotiations with Kamenev to establish a bloc with the former Left Opposition. Bukharin's article, "Notes of an Economist," was a veiled attack on the Politburo line. Stalin warned that factionalism would not be tolerated. At the April plenum of the Central Committee and the Control Commission, Stalin launched a full- scale offensive against Bukharin and his colleagues.

Stalin then pronounced the verdict of the plenum : to condemn the views of Bukharin and his group and to remove Bukharin and Tomsky from their official posts with a warning that they would be expelled from the Politburo in the event of any future insubordination. Measures would also be taken, Stalin promised, to prevent any member or candidate member of the Politburo or any Party journals from giving expression to any views departing from the Party line. On April 23, 1929, Bukharin was removed from the leadership of the Comintern. On June 2, Tomsky lost his position as head of the trade unions. On November 17, the plenum of the Central Committee approved the expulsion of Bukharin from the Politburo.

At the Sixteenth Party Congress (June 26 to July 13, 1930), Tomsky was dropped from the Politburo. Toward the end of December, Rykov was also removed from that body, as well as from his position as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. The rout of the Right Opposition was complete.

Like the other anti-Stalinist factions after their defeat, the "Rights" not only capitulated but publicly acknowledged that Stalin was right and they were wrong. They promised, and appealed to their followers all over the country, "to fight against all deviations including the Right deviation." Their unworthy manner of submission did not soften the ire of the new autocrat of Russia, nor did it save their lives. This self-humiliation of the anti-Stalinist groups was one of the most tragic phases of the Soviet period in Russian history.

Following the rout of the oppositions, many of the dissident and now repentant Communists previously exiled to Siberia or Central Asia were permitted to return and take jobs in governmental agencies. They did not, however, try to become politically active again. For all the horror with which his [Stalin's] methods filled them, they felt that they were all, Stalinists and anti-Stalinists, in the same boat. Self-debasement was the ransom they paid to its captain. Their recantations were therefore neither wholly sincere nor wholly insincere. On returning from the places of their exile they cultivated their old political friendships and contacts, but carefully refrained from any political action against Stalin. Almost till the middle of the thirties nearly all of them kept in touch with the members of the new Politbureau. Some of the penitents, Bukharin, Rykov, Piatakov, Radek, and others, were either Stalin's personal advisers or members of the Government. If they had wanted to assassinate either Stalin or his close associates they had innumerable opportunities to do so.

The self-degradation was crowned by the attitude of the defeated leaders at the Seventeenth Congress of the Communist party, which was held in January 1934. The formerly famous leaders Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov one after another took the floor to praise the wisdom of the party's leadership and condemn their own past.

Stalin told the congress: "The present congress is taking place under the flag of the complete victory of Leninism, under the flag of the liquidation of the remnants of the anti-Leninist groups. . . . The majority of the adherents to these anti-revolutionary groups had to admit that the line of the Party was correct and they have capitulated to the Party.

At the Fifteenth Party Congress it was still necessary to prove that the Party line was correct and to wage a struggle against certain anti-Leninist groups; and at the Sixteenth Party Congress we had to deal the final blow to the last adherents of these groups. At this congress, however, there is nothing to prove and, it seems, no one to fight. Everyone sees that the line of the Party has triumphed."

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