UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


1922-27 - Stalin versus Trotsky

From the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and into the early NEP years, the actual leader of the Soviet state was Lenin. Although a collective of prominent Communists nominally guided the party and the Soviet Union, Lenin commanded such prestige and authority that even such brilliant theoreticians as Trotsky and Nikolai I. Bukharin generally yielded to his will.

But when Lenin became temporarily incapacitated after a stroke in May 1922, the unity of the Politburo fractured, and a troika (triumvirate) formed by Stalin, Lev B. Kamenev, and Grigorii V. Zinov'ev assumed leadership in opposition to Trotsky. Lenin recovered late in 1922 and found fault with the troika, and particularly with Stalin. Stalin, in Lenin's view, had used coercion to force non-Russian republics to join the Soviet Union; he was "rude"; and he was accumulating too much power through his office of general secretary. Although Lenin recommended that Stalin be removed from that position, the Politburo decided not to take action, and Stalin remained general secretary when Lenin died in January 1924.

After Lenin's death, two conflicting schools of thought regarding the future of the Soviet Union arose in party debates. Leftwing Communists believed that world revolution was essential for the survival of socialism in the economically backward Soviet Union. Trotsky, one of the primary proponents of this position, called for Soviet support for permanent revolution around the world. As for domestic policy, the left wing advocated the rapid development of the economy and the creation of a socialist society.

In contrast with these militant Communists, the right wing of the party, recognizing that world revolution was unlikely in the immediate future, favored the gradual development of the Soviet Union through NEP programs. Yet even Bukharin, one of the major right-wing theoreticians, believed that socialism could not triumph in the Soviet Union without assistance from more economically advanced socialist countries.

Even before Lenin's death the elimination of Trotsky, who in the general view was the likely successor to the post of the supreme leader, had become the main preoccupation of Lenin's three lieutenants, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. When Lenin died, Trotsky, ill himself, was on his way to a resort in the Caucasus. The triumvirate in Moscow advised him not to return to the capital :

" . . .The funeral takes place on Saturday. You will not be able to return in time. The Politbureau thinks that because of the state of your health you must proceed to Sukhum." The funeral actually took place on Sunday, January 27. Trotsky could have been there. He stated that Stalin kept him away deliberately. Stalin wanted to weaken the association in the people's minds between Lenin and Trotsky. "

While Trotsky was continuing his medical treatment, the Moscow leadership was consolidating its power. Stalin saw to it that no friends or supporters of Trotsky advanced to prominent position in the party or government.

Trotsky wrote [Trotsky, My Life, pp. 500, 501] "... it was a real conspiracy []. A secret political bureau of seven was formed ; it comprised all the members of the official Politbureau except me, and included also Kuybyshev, the present chainnan of the Supreme Economic Council. All questions were decided in advance at that secret centre, where the members were bound by mutual vows. They undertook not to engage in polemics against one another and at the same time to seek opportunities to attack me. There were similar centres in the local organizations, and they were connected with the Moscow "seven" by strict discipline. For communication, special codes were used. This was a well-organized illegal group within the party, directed originally against one man. Responsible workers in the party and state were systematically selected by the single criterion: Against Trotsky. . . . "

From the end of 1923, the same work was carried on in all the parties of the Communist International; certain leaders were dethroned and others appointed in their stead solely on the basis of their attitude toward Trotsky. Zinoviev and Kamenev at first supported Stalin in the anti-Trotsky drive. Soon, however, they became apprehensive about Stalin's growing power and gradually moved toward opposition.

Stalin took the initiative in breaking up the triumvirate : he refused to consult his partners or to concert with them his moves before the sessions of the Politbureau. To all intents and purposes he was the indisputable master of the party, even though Kamenev was still entrenched in the organization of Moscow, while Zinoviev still led the Bolsheviks in Leningrad.

The two antagonists held different views of the ideological divergencies between them. Trotsky, leader of the "Lefts," more extreme in some respects than the rest of the leaders, felt that the ruling group had lost its revolutionary fervor and developed into mediocre "bureaucrats"; they hated him, he believed, for his adherence to old ideals, to world revolution, to equality.

". . . the ideas of the first period of the revolution were imperceptibly losing their influence in the consciousness of the party stratum that held the direct power over the country. In the country itself, processes were shaping themselves that one may sum up under the general name of reaction. ...

The visiting at each other's homes, the assiduous attendance of the ballet, the drinking-parties at which people who were absent were pulled to pieces, had no attraction for me. The new ruling group felt that I did not fit in with this way of living, and they did not even try to win me over. It was for this very reason that many group conversations would stop the moment I appeared, and those engaged in them would cut them short with a certain shamefacedness and a slight bitterness toward me. "

In Trotsky's view, the Stalinist group had become narrow-minded nationalists, concerned only with the fate of their own state. To Trotsky, Stalin's course in the Comintern was nonrevolutionary; Stalin's instructions suggesting collaboration with the Kuomintang in China in the middle 1920's were to Trotsky an act of treason; Stalin's scheme for building socialism in Russia was, to Trotsky, a ridiculous effort to erect "socialism in one country" ; the pace of "industrialization" under Stalin was too slow; Stalin's rule in the party was contrary to the principles of inner-party democracy.

He blamed Stalin for the "absolutist bureaucracy" in power in Russia, for the development of an "unbridled oligarchy." He protested against the privileges enjoyed by the "higher-ups" and Stakhanovites. He perceived in the social structure of Soviet Russia a "monstrous perversion of the principles of the November revolution.

Stalin's counterattack against Trotsky's vigorous criticism was likewise strong. Stalin adhered, of course, to the program of the world revolution. "... To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient, this is proved by the history of our revolution. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organization of Socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of a peasant country like Russia, are insufficient; for that, the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are required."

The theory of "socialism in one country," Stalin maintained, emanated from Marx and Lenin, and Soviet Russia had no alternative but to follow this road. The kind of "party democracy" that Trotsky advocated was contrary to the decisions of the party congresses. Trotsky, the army leader, was a potential "Bonaparte." Trotsky had "... set himself up in opposition to the C.C. [Central Committee] and imagines himself to be a superman standing above the C.C, above its laws, above its decisions. . . "

In his fight against Trotsky, Stalin joined with a group of Politburo members who constituted the emerging "right opposition," a faction which insisted on concessions to private peasant economy; the group consisted of Nikolai Bukharin, Mikhail Tomski, and Aleksei Rykov. Stalin's highhanded methods, however, alienated his former partners, Zinoviev and Kamenev. Despite interdictions, organized factions continued to exist. Inner-party "discussions" and excited meetings took place; polemics were aired in newspapers and pamphlets. The fight reached a climax in 1926-27.

Against this backdrop of contrasting perceptions of the Soviet future, the leading figures of the Ail-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) the new name of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) as of December 1925 competed for influence. The Kamenev-Zinov'ev-Stalin troika, supporting the militant international program, successfully maneuvered against Trotsky and engineered his removal as commissar of war in January 1925. In October 1926 Trotsky was expelled from the Politburo, at the same time that Zinoviev was removed from the presidency of the Communist International.

At the party's Fourteenth Congress in December 1925, the resolution to approve Stalin's report on behalf of the Central Committee was carried by an overwhelming majority of 559 to 65. The Stalinist apparatus demonstrated itself in complete control of the proceedings.

By the beginning of 1926, the Stalinist machine was so solidly entrenched in all the key positions in the Party apparatus as to be virtually impervious to attack. The opposition could muster a brilliant coterie of generals, but they were generals whose forces were scattered, disorganized, and improvised, and they confronted an enemy who securely controlled both the local organizations and leading organs of the Party.

Stalin gradually consolidated his power base and, when he had sufficient strength, broke with Kamenev and Zinov'ev. Belatedly recognizing Stalin's political power, Kamenev and Zinov'ev made amends with Trotsky to join against their former partner. Two former adversaries, the Trotsky group and the Zinoviev-Kamenev faction, joined forces in 1926 to oppose Stalin's leadership. Despite its sporadic vigorous attacks on the "apparatus," however, it did not gain force. The political end of this opposition came in November 1927.

On 7 November 1927, during the official celebration of the tenth anniversary of the October revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev led their followers in separate processions through the streets of Moscow and Leningrad. Though the processions were of peaceful character and the banners and slogans carried by the demonstrators were directed against the ruling group only by implication, the incident brought the struggle to a head. Trotsky and Zinoviev were immediately expelled from the party. On 18 December the congress expelled seventy-five leading members of the opposition, in addition to many others already expelled or imprisoned.

A day later the opposition split. Its Trotskyist section refused to yield to the demands of the congress. Trotsky was deported to Alma Ata, Rakovsky to Astrakhan. Zinoviev, Kamenev, and their followers, however, issued a statement in which they renounced their views. The opposition was defeated by this defection no less than by Stalin's reprisals.

Stalin countered their attacks on his position with his well-timed formulation of the theory of "socialism in one country." This doctrine, calling for construction of a socialist society in the Soviet Union regardless of the international situation, distanced Stalin from the left and won support from Bukharin and the party's right wing.

With this support, Stalin ousted the leaders of the "Left Opposition" from their positions in 1926 and 1927 and forced Trotsky into exile. By the end of the NEP era, free debate within the party thus became progressively limited as Stalin gradually eliminated his opponents.

Trotsky stayed in Turkestan until February 1929, when he was exiled abroad. He lived successively in Turkey, France, Norway, and Mexico. He was assassinated in Mexico by an agent of the Soviet secret police in August 1940.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 26-03-2016 21:09:14 ZULU