[Book] Lenin and Trotsky - What they really stood for

7. Lenin’s Struggle Against Bureaucracy

“In the last period of his life Lenin was desperately concerned about the growth of bureaucracy in the Soviet state and in the Party.” (Cogito, p. 22)

Monty Johnstone, having given one paragraph to the Russian Revolution, and one paragraph to the Civil War, maintains his “balance” by granting an equal amount of space to Lenin’s struggle against the forces of internal reaction in the Soviet state and party.

How did Lenin deal with the question of the Soviet bureaucracy? Did he simply remain “desperately concerned” about it? Or did he attempt something which our “theoreticians” of the Communist Parties today persistently avoid, namely an analysis of the causes of bureaucracy in order to wage an implacable struggle against it?

Monty Johnstone refers to “bureaucracy” as if it were simply a matter of “bureaucratic behaviour”, excessive red-tape, officialdom, etc. Such an approach has nothing in common with the Marxist method, which explains bureaucracy as a social phenomenon, which arises for definite reasons. Lenin, approaching the question as a Marxist, explained the rise of bureaucracy as a parasitic, capitalist growth on the organism of the workers’ state, which arose out of the isolation of the revolution in a backward, illiterate peasant country.

In one of his last articles, ‘Better Fewer, But Better’, Lenin wrote:

“Our state apparatus is so deplorable, not to say wretched, that we must first think very carefully how to combat its defects, bearing in mind that these defects are rooted in the past, which, although it has been overthrown, has not yet been overcome, not yet reached the stage of a culture that has receded into the past.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 487)

The October revolution had overthrown the old order, ruthlessly suppressed and purged the Tsarist state; but in conditions of chronic economic and cultural backwardness, the elements of the old order were everywhere creeping back into positions of privilege and power in the measure that the revolutionary wave ebbed back with the defeats of the international revolution. Engels explained that in every society where art, science and government are the exclusive of a privileged minority, then that minority will always use and abuse its positions in its own interests. And this state of affairs is inevitable, so long as the vast majority of the people are forced to toil for long hours in industry and agriculture for the bare necessities of life.

After the revolution, with the ruined condition of industry, the working day was not reduced, but lengthened. Workers toiled ten, twelve hours and more a day on subsistence rations; many worked weekends without pay voluntarily. But, as Trotsky explained, the masses can only sacrifice their “today” for their “tomorrow” up to a very definite limit. Inevitably, the strain of war, of revolution, of four years of bloody Civil War, of a famine in which five million perished, all served to undermine the working class in terms of both numbers and morale.

The NEP stabilised the economy, but created new dangers by encouraging the growth of small capitalism, especially in the countryside where the rich “kulaks” gained ground at the expense of the poor peasants. Industry revived, but, being tied to the demand of the peasantry, especially the rich peasants, the revival was confined almost entirely to light industry (consumer goods). Heavy industry, the key to socialist construction, stagnated. By 1922 there were two million unemployed in the towns. At the Ninth Congress of Soviets in December, 1921, Lenin remarked:

“Excuse me, but what do you describe as the proletariat? That class of labourers which is employed by large-scale industry. But where is this large-scale industry? What sort of proletariat is this? Where is your industry? Why is it idle?” (Works, vol. 33, p. 174)

In a speech at the Eleventh Party Congress in March, 1922, Lenin pointed out that the class nature of many who worked in the factories at this time was non-proletarian; that many were dodgers from military service, peasants and de-classed elements:

“During the war people who were by no means proletarians went into the factories; they went into the factories to dodge war. And are the social and economic conditions in our country today such as to induce real proletarians to go into the factories? No. It would be true according to Marx; but Marx did not write about Russia; he wrote about capitalism as a whole, beginning with the fifteenth century. It held true over a period of six hundred years, but it is not true for present-day Russia. Very often those who go into the factories are not proletarians; they are casual elements of every description.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 299)

The disintegration of the working class, the loss of many of the most advanced elements in the Civil War, the influx of backward elements from the countryside, and the demoralisation and exhaustion of the masses was one side of the picture. On the other side, the forces of reaction, those petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements who had been temporarily demoralised and driven underground by the success of the revolution in Russia and internationally, everywhere began to recover their nerve, thrust themselves to the fore, taking advantage of the situation to insinuate themselves into every nook and cranny of the ruling bodies of industry, of the state and even of the Party.

Immediately after the seizure of power, the only political party which was suppressed by the Bolsheviks was the fascist Black Hundreds. Even the bourgeois Cadet Party was not immediately illegalised. The government itself was a coalition of Bolsheviks and Left Social-Revolutionaries. But, under the pressure of the Civil War, a sharp polarisation of class forces took place in which the Mensheviks, SRs and “Left SRs” came out on the side of the counter-revolution. Contrary to their own intention, the Bolsheviks were forced to introduce a monopoly of political power. This monopoly, which was regarded as an extraordinary and temporary state of affairs, created enormous dangers in the situation where the proletarian vanguard was coming under increasing pressure from alien classes.

In February, 1917, the Bolshevik Party had no more than 23,000 members in the whole of Russia. At the height of the Civil War, when party membership involved personal risk, the ranks were thrown open to the workers, who pushed the membership to 200,000. But as the war grew to a close, the party membership actually trebled reflecting an influx of careerists and elements from hostile classes and parties.

Lenin at this time repeatedly emphasised the danger of the Party succumbing to the pressures and moods of the petty-bourgeois masses; that the main enemy of the revolution was:

“everyday economics in a small-peasant country with a ruined large industry. He is the petty-bourgeois element which surrounds us like the air, and penetrates deep into the ranks of the proletariat. And the proletariat is de-classed, i.e. dislodged from its class groove. The factories and mills are idle – the proletariat is weak, scattered, enfeebled. On the other hand the petty-bourgeois element within the country is backed by the whole international bourgeoisie, which retains its power throughout the world.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 23)

The “purge” initiated by Lenin in 1921 had nothing in common with the monstrous frame-up trials of Stalin; there was no police, no trials, no prison-camps; merely the ruthless weeding out of petty-bourgeois and Menshevik elements from the ranks of the Party, in order to preserve the ideas and traditions of October from the poisonous effects of petty-bourgeois reaction. By early 1922, some 200,000 members (one-third of the membership) had been expelled.

Lenin’s correspondence and writings of this period, when illness was increasingly preventing him from intervene in the struggle, clearly indicate his alarm at the encroachment of the Soviet bureaucracy, the insolent parvenus in every corner of the state apparatus. Thus, in a letter to Sheinman in February, 1922:

“At present the State Bank is a bureaucratic power game. There is the truth for you, if you want to hear not the sweet communist-official lies (with which everyone feeds you as a high mandarin), but the truth. And if you do not want to look at this truth with open eyes, through all the communist lying, you are a man who has perished in the prime of life in a swamp of official lying. Now that is an unpleasant truth, but it is the truth.” (Works, vol. 36, p. 567)

Contrast this fearless honesty of Lenin with all the saccharine falsehoods with which all the Communist Party leaders and “theoreticians” fed the international communist movement about the Soviet Union for generations, and judge for yourself the depths of degradation in which the self-styled “Friends of the Soviet Union” have plunged the ideas and traditions of Lenin! Again, in a letter dated April 12, 1922:

“The more such work is done, the deeper we go into living practice, distracting the attention of both ourselves and our readers from the stinking bureaucratic and stinking intellectual Moscow (and, in general, Soviet bourgeois) atmospheres, the greater will be our success in improving both our press and all our constructive work.” (Works, vol. 36, p. 579)

At the Eleventh Congress, Lenin placed before the Party a searing indictment of bureaucratisation of the state apparatus:

“If we take Moscow,” he said, “with its 4,700 Communists in responsible positions, and if we take the huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom? I doubt very much whether it can be truthfully said that the Communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth, they are not directing, they are being directed.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 288, our emphasis)

To carry out the work of weeding bureaucrats and careerists out of the state and party apparatus, Lenin initiated the setting up of RABKRIN (the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate) with Stalin in charge. Lenin saw the need for a strong organiser to see that this work was carried out thoroughly; Stalin’s record as a party organiser appeared to qualify him for the post. Within a few years, Stalin occupied a number of organisational posts in the Party: head of RABKRIN, member of the Central Committee and Politburo, Orgburo and Secretariat. But his narrow, organisational outlook and personal ambition led Stalin to occupy the post, in a short space of time, as the chief spokesman of bureaucracy in the party leadership, not as its opponent.

As early as 1920, Trotsky criticised the working of RABKRIN, which from a tool in the struggle against bureaucracy was becoming itself a hotbed of bureaucracy. Initially, Lenin defended RABKRIN against Trotsky. His illness prevented him from realising what was going on behind his back in the state and party. Stalin used his position, which enabled him to select personnel to leading posts in the state and party to quietly gather round himself a bloc of allies and yes-men, political nonentities who were grateful to him for their advancement. In his hands, RABKRIN became an instrument for building up his own position and eliminating his political rivals.

Lenin only became aware of the terrible situation when he discovered the truth about Stalin’s handling of relations with Georgia. Without the knowledge of Lenin or the Politburo, Stalin, together with his henchmen Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze, had carried out a coup d’état in Georgia. The finest cadres of Georgian Bolshevism were purged, and the party leaders denied access to Lenin, who was fed a string of lies by Stalin. When he finally found out what was happening, Lenin was furious. From his sick-bed late in 1922 he dictated a series of notes to his stenographer on “the notorious questions of autonomisation, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”.

Lenin’s notes are a crushing indictment of the bureaucratic and chauvinist arrogance of Stalin and his clique. But Lenin does not treat this incident as an accidental phenomenon – a “regrettable mistake”, like the invasion of Czechoslovakia, or a “tragedy”, like the crushing of the Hungarian worker’s commune, but the expression of the rotten, reactionary nationalism of the Soviet bureaucracy. It is worth quoting Lenin’s words on the state apparatus at length.

“It is said that a united state apparatus was needed. Where did that assurance come from? Did it not come from the same Russian apparatus, which, as I pointed out in one of the preceding sections of my diary, we took over from Tsarism and slightly anointed with Soviet oil?

“There is no doubt that that measure should have been delayed until we could say, that we vouched for our apparatus as our own. But now, we must, in all conscience, admit the contrary; the state apparatus we call ours is, in fact, still quite alien to us; it is a bourgeois and Tsarist hotchpotch and there has been no possibility of getting rid of it in the past five years without the help of other countries and because we have been “busy” most of the time with military engagements and the fight against famine.

“It is quite natural that in such circumstances the ‘freedom to secede from the union’ by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riff-raff like a fly in milk.” (Works, vol. 36, p. 605, our emphasis)

After the Georgian affair, Lenin threw the whole weight of his authority behind the struggle to remove Stalin from the post of General Secretary of the party which he occupied in 1922, after the death of Sverdlov. However, Lenin’s main fear now more than ever was that an open split in the leadership, under prevailing conditions, might lead to the break-up of the party along class lines. He therefore attempted to keep the struggle confined to the leadership, and the notes and other material were not made public. Lenin wrote secretly to the Georgian Bolshevik-Leninists (sending copies to Trotsky and Kamenev) taking up their cause against Stalin “with all my heart”. As he was unable to pursue the affair in person, he wrote to Trotsky requesting him to undertake the defence of the Georgians in the Central Committee.

Needless to say, the documentary evidence of Lenin’s last fight against Stalin and the bureaucracy has been suppressed for decades. Lenin’s last writings were hidden from the Communist Party rank-and-file in Russia and internationally. Lenin’s last letter to the Party Congress, despite the protests of his widow, was not read out at the Congress and remained under lock and key until 1956 when Khruschev and Co. published it, along with a few other items (including the letters on Georgia) as part of their campaign to throw the blame for all that had happened in the past thirty years on to Stalin’s shoulders.

Monty Johnstone and his like sneer at the material of Lenin – letters, minutes, etc. – suppressed by the Soviet bureaucracy, which has been published in the West “on Trotsky’s authority”. But the same wretched Jesuits of Stalinism also dismissed as “forgeries” the Suppressed Testament and Lenin’s last letters, published by Trotskyists, not after the Twentieth Congress (of blessed memory) but thirty years before the Communist Party leaders were prepared to admit their existence. Communist Party members and Young Communist Leaguers must ask themselves honestly whose word they prefer to take: that of Trotsky and his followers who told the truth about Lenin’s struggle against Stalinist bureaucracy and published works which the Communist Party leaders had denied to their rank-and-file for a whole historical period, or that of Monty Johnstone and his friends whose entire political past indicates their complete dishonesty in regard to the heritage of Lenin and the history of the Russian revolution.

Monty Johnstone quotes odd passages from Lenin’s Suppressed Testament, but nowhere does he make clear what the content of that letter was. Lenin warns of the danger of a split in the Party, because “our party rests upon two classes, and for that reason its instability is possible…” Lenin did not see the disagreement between Trotsky and Stalin as accidental, or flowing from “personalities” (although he gives a series of penetrating sketches of the personal characteristics of the leading members of the Party).

Lenin’s last letter must be seen in the context of his other writings of the previous few months, his attacks on bureaucracy and the bloc which he formed with Trotsky against Stalin. Lenin worded his letter very cautiously (he had originally intended to be present at the Congress for which according to his stenographer Fotieva, he had “prepared a bombshell for Stalin”). For each of the leading members, he gives both the positive and negative features of their character: in Trotsky’s case, he refers to his “exceptional abilities” (“the most able man on the Central Committee at the present time”) but criticises him for his “far-reaching self-confidence” and “a tendency to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs” – faults which, however serious they may be in themselves, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Permanent Revolution, “Socialism in one Country”, or any of the other canards invented by the Stalinists.

In relation to Stalin, Lenin writes that “Comrade Stalin having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands, and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution.”

That is already a political question, and linked up with Lenin’s struggle against the bureaucracy in the Party. In ‘Better Fewer, But Better’, written shortly before, Lenin commented: “Let it be said in parentheses that we have bureaucrats in our Party offices as well as in Soviet offices.” In the same work, he launched a sharp attack on RABKRIN, which was clearly meant for Stalin:

“Let us say frankly that the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection does not at present enjoy the slightest authority. Everybody knows that no other institutions are worse organised than those of our Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection and that under present conditions nothing can be expected from this Peoples’ Commissariat.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 490)

In a postscript to his letter, Lenin advocated the removal of Stalin from the post of General Secretary, ostensibly on grounds of “rudeness” – but advocating his replacement with a man “who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority – namely, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc.” The diplomatic mode of expression does not conceal the indirect accusation, very clear in the light of the Georgian events, of Stalin’s rudeness, capriciousness and disloyalty.

In presenting Lenin’s Testament as a document merely concerned with the “personalities” of the leaders, the Communist Party “theoreticians” fall into a completely vulgar misrepresentation of Lenin. Even if the Testament leaves room for ambiguity (it does not, except for slovenly minds) the whole body of Lenin’s last writings provide a clear programmatic statement of his position, which cannot be distorted.

Repeatedly, Lenin characterised the bureaucracy as a parasitic, bourgeois growth on the workers’ state, and an expression of the petty-bourgeois outlook – which penetrated the State and even the Party.

The petty-bourgeois reaction against October was all the more difficult to combat because of the exhausted state of the proletariat, sections of which were also becoming demoralised. Nonetheless, Lenin and Trotsky saw the working class as the only basis for a struggle against bureaucracy, and the maintenance of a healthy workers’ democracy as the only check on it. Thus, in one article Purging the Party Lenin wrote:

“Naturally, we shall not submit to everything the masses say because the masses, too, sometimes – particularly in time of exceptional weariness and exhaustion resulting from excessive hardship and suffering – yield to sentiments that are in no way advanced. But in appraising persons, in the negative attitude to those who have “attached” themselves to us for selfish motives, to those who have become “puffed-up commissars” and “bureaucrats”, the suggestions of the non-Party proletarian masses and, in many cases, of the non-Party peasant masses, are extremely valuable.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 39)

The rise of bureaucracy was understood by Lenin as the product of economic and cultural backwardness which was the result of the isolation of the revolution. The means of combating this were linked, on the one hand, with the struggle for economic progress and the gradual elimination of illiteracy, which was linked inseparably with the struggle to involve the working masses in the running of industry and the state. Lenin and Trotsky always relied upon the masses in the fight against the “puffed-up commissars”. Only by the conscious self-activity of the working people themselves could the transition to socialism be assured.

On the other hand, Lenin repeatedly explained that the terrible strains imposed upon the working class by the isolation of the revolution in a backward country put immense difficulties in the way of the creation of a really cultured, and harmonious, classless society. Time and again Lenin stressed the problems that arose from the isolation of the revolution. Monty Johnstone asserts that Lenin, towards the end of his life, was coming to accept the position of “Socialism in One Country”, citing as proof of this the statement in On Co-operation that “NEP Russia will be transformed into socialist Russia” since it possessed “all that is necessary and sufficient” for building a socialist society. (Cogito, p. 29)

Comrade Johnstone, after a desperate search through Lenin’s Selected Works, can find only one quotation which can be even vaguely interpreted as implying the acceptance of the idea of “Socialism in One Country”. Alas! the vagueness is dispelled by even a cursory glance at the text of this rough, uncorrected document which the Stalinists attempted, after Lenin’s death, to summon to their aid. What Lenin is referring to in this article is not the “building of socialism” within the frontiers of the Tsarist empire, but the social forms which are necessary to carry out the gradual elimination of the elements of “state capitalism” (NEP) and then begin the tasks of socialist construction (electrification, industrialisation, etc.). Lenin’s careful qualifications, which emphasise the absence of the material basis for socialism, leave no doubt as to his position. Thus, referring to the need for a “cultural revolution” for the overcoming of material backwardness (and therefore of class conflicts in society) Lenin wrote:

“This cultural revolution would now suffice to make our country a completely socialist country; but it presents immense difficulties of a purely cultural (for we are illiterate) and material character (for to be cultured we must achieve a certain development of the material means of production, must have a certain material base).” (On Co-operation, Works, vol. 33, p. 475)

To cover himself against possible misrepresentation, Lenin, in any case, explains that he is dealing with the question of education in abstraction from the problem of the international position of the revolution:

“I should say that emphasis is shifting to educational work … were it not for the fact that we have to fight for our position on a world scale. If we leave that aside, however, and confine ourselves to internal economic relations, the emphasis is shifting to education.” (ibid., p. 474)

Far from Lenin “in the last period of his working life coming more and more in practice” to adopt the perspectives of Socialism in One Country, Lenin resolutely explained that the difficulties of the revolution: the problems of backwardness, of illiteracy, of bureaucracy could only finally be overcome by the victory of the socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries. This perspective, which was hammered home by Lenin hundreds of times from 1904-5 onwards, was accepted as a truism by the entire Bolshevik Party up to 1924. In the last months of his life, Lenin never lost sight of this fact. Among his last writings are a series of notes which made his position abundantly clear:

“We have created a Soviet type of state,” he wrote, “and by that we have ushered in a new era in world history, the era of the political rule of the proletariat, which is to supersede the era of bourgeois rule. Nobody can deprive us of this, either, although the Soviet type of state will have the finishing touches put to it only with the aid of the practical experience of the working class of several countries.

“But we have not finished building even the foundations of socialist economy and the hostile power of moribund capitalism can still deprive us of that. We must clearly appreciate this and frankly admit it; for there is nothing more dangerous than illusions (and vertigo, particularly at high altitudes). And there is absolutely nothing terrible, nothing that should give legitimate grounds for the slightest despondency, in admitting this bitter truth; we have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism – that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 206, our emphasis)

In these lines of Lenin there is not an ounce of “pessimism” or of “underestimation” of the creative capacities of the Soviet working class. In all the writings of Lenin, and especially of this period, there is at once a burning faith in the ability of the working people to change society and a fearless honesty in dealing with difficulties. The difference in the attitudes of Stalinism and Leninism towards the working class lies precisely in this: that the former seeks to deceive the masses with “official” lies and smug illusions about the building of “Socialism in One Country” in order to lull them into passive acceptance of the leadership of the bureaucracy, while the latter strives to develop the consciousness of the working class, never patronising it with lies and fairy-stories, but always revealing unpalatable truths, in the full confidence that the working class will understand and accept the need for the greatest sacrifices, provided the reasons for them are explained honestly and truthfully.

The arguments of Lenin were designed, not to stupefy the Soviet workers with “socialist opium”, but to steel them for the struggles ahead – for the struggle against backwardness and bureaucracy in Russia and for the struggle against capitalism and for the socialist revolution on a world scale. It was the sympathy of the working people of the world, Lenin explained, that prevented the imperialists from strangling the Russian Revolution in 1917-20. But the only real safeguard for the future of the Soviet Republic was the extension of the Revolution to the capitalist countries of the West.

At the Eleventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party – the last which Lenin attended – he emphasised repeatedly the dangers to the State and Party arising out of the pressures of backwardness and bureaucracy. Commenting on the direction of the State, Lenin warned:

“Well, we have lived through a year, the state is in our hands, but has it operated the New Economic Policy in the way we wanted in the past year? No. But we refuse to admit that it did not operate in the way we wanted. How did it operate? The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it. It was like a car that was going not in the direction the driver desired but in the direction someone else desired; as if it were being driven by some mysterious, lawless hand, God knows whose, perhaps of a profiteer, or of a private capitalist, or of both. Be that as it may, the car is not going quite in the direction the man at the wheel imagines, and often it goes in an altogether different direction.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 179, our emphasis)

At the same Congress Lenin explained, in a very clear and unambiguous language, the possibility of the degeneration of the revolution as a result of the pressure of alien classes. Already the most farsighted sections of the émigré bourgeoisie, the Smena Vekh group of Ustryalov, were openly placing their hopes upon the bureaucratic-bourgeois tendencies manifesting themselves in Soviet society, as a step in the direction of capitalist restoration. The same group was later to applaud and encourage the Stalinists in their struggle against “Trotskyism”. The Smena Vekh group, which Lenin gave credit for its class insight, correctly understood the struggle of Stalin against Trotsky, not in terms of “personalities” but as a class question, as a step away from the revolutionary traditions of October.

“The machine no longer obeyed the driver” – the State was no longer under the control of the Communists, of the workers, but was increasingly raising itself above society. Referring to the views of Smena Vekh, Lenin said:

“We must say frankly that the things Ustryalov speaks about are possible, history knows all sorts of metamorphoses. Relying on firmness of convictions, loyalty, and other splendid moral qualities is anything but a serious attitude in politics. A few people may be endowed with splendid moral qualities, but historical issues are decided by vast masses, which, if the few do not suit them, may at times treat them none too politely.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 287)

In these words of Lenin we find the defeat of the Left Opposition explained in advance with a million times more clarity than in all the pretentious theorising of the “intellectuals” about the relative psychological, moral and personal attributes of Trotsky and Stalin. The State power was slipping out of the hands of the Communists, not because of their personal failings or psychological peculiarities, but because of the enormous pressures of backwardness, of bureaucracy, of alien class forces, which weighed down upon the tiny handful of advanced, socialist workers and crushed them.

Lenin likened the relationship of the Soviet workers and their advanced guard to the bureaucracy and the petty-bourgeois and capitalist elements to that of a conquering and conquered nation. History has shown repeatedly that for one nation to defeat another by force of arms is not of itself, a sufficient guarantee of victory. In the event of the cultural level of the victors being lower than that of the vanquished, the latter will impose its culture upon the conquerors. Given the low level of culture of the weak Soviet working class, surrounded by a sea of small property owners, the pressures were enormous. They reflected themselves not only in the State, but inevitably in the Party itself, which became the centre of the struggle of conflicting class interests.

Only in the light of all this can we understand Lenin’s position in the struggle against bureaucracy, his attitude to Stalin, and the contents of his Suppressed Testament. That document expresses his conviction that the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin is “not a detail, or is a detail which can acquire a decisive significance”, in the light of the fact that “Our party is based upon two classes.” In a letter written shortly before the Eleventh Party Congress, Lenin explained the significance of conflicts and splits in the leadership in these words:

“If we do not close our eyes to reality we must admit that at the present time the proletarian policy of the Party is not determined by the character of its membership, but by the enormous undivided prestige enjoyed by the small group which might be called the Old Guard of the Party. A slight conflict within this group will be enough, if not to destroy this prestige, at all events to weaken the group to such a degree as to rob it of its power to determine policy.” (Works, vol. 33, p. 257)

What determined Lenin’s bitter struggle against Stalin was not his personal foibles (“rudeness”) but the role he played in introducing the methods and ideology of alien social classes and strata into the very Party leadership which should have been a bulwark against those things. In the last months of his life, weakened by illness, Lenin turned more and more frequently to Trotsky, for support in his struggle against the bureaucracy and its creature, Stalin. On the question of the monopoly of foreign trade, on the question of Georgia, and finally, in the struggle to oust Stalin from the leadership, Lenin formed a bloc with Trotsky, the only man in the leadership he could trust.

Throughout this entire last period of his life, in numerous articles, speeches, and above all letters, Lenin repeatedly expressed his solidarity with Trotsky. On all the important issues we have mentioned, it was Trotsky whom he singled out to defend his point of view in the leading bodies of the party. Lenin’s appraisal of Trotsky in the Suppressed Testament can only be understood in the light of these facts. Needless to say, all the evidence for the existence of this bloc between Lenin and Trotsky against the Stalin clique was kept under lock and key, for many years. But truth will out. The letters to Trotsky published in Volume 54, of the latest Russian edition of Lenin’s Collected Works, although even now not complete, are irrefutable proof of the bloc that existed between Lenin and Trotsky.

Those very letters, along with other material were long ago published by Trotsky in the West – as early as 1928 in The Real Situation in Russia. Even now the bureaucracy dare not publish all the material in their possession. To stall the growing suspicions of the Communist Party rank-and-file abroad they utilise the services of the Monty Johnstones to sneer at the writings of Lenin published “on Trotsky’s authority”. They will have need of such friends, precisely because their own “authority” is rapidly disappearing in the eyes of honest Communist Party militants everywhere.

Trotsky and the Struggle Against Bureaucracy

“In 1923, as he [Lenin] lay incapacitated on his deathbed … this question was discussed in the Party leadership which, with Trotsky’s participation, drew up a resolution – unanimously adopted on 5th December, 1923 – spotlighting the bureaucratisation of the Party apparatus and the danger arising from it of the detachment of the masses from the Party, and calling for the development of freedom for open party debate and discussion.” (Cogito, p. 22)

Comrade Johnstone poses the question as though the Party leadership unanimously took up Lenin’s position on the question of bureaucracy – in which case it is hard to see what the difference was between Trotsky and Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev, the leading “triumvirate”. Alas! One resolution does not make a struggle against bureaucracy. Stalin, in his day, also frequently denounced the “evils of bureaucracy”. Khruschev, Kosygin and others have sponsored not a few resolutions on this subject. For a Marxist, however, a resolution is a guide to action; but for a cynical bureaucrat, there is nothing better than a “unanimous”, “anti-bureaucratic” proclamation to throw dust in the eyes of the masses.

Monty Johnstone’s appeal to this resolution sounds all the more hollow in the light of what subsequently happened. Exactly how the transition was made from “unanimous, anti-bureaucratic” resolutions to the police-terror, concentration camps and all the other horrors of Stalinist totalitarianism, Johnstone doesn’t explain.

The behaviour of the dominant Kamenev-Zinoviev-Stalin faction on the Central Committee was a strange way of manifesting their loyalty to Lenin. Despite the protests of Krupskaya, Lenin’s “testament” was suppressed. Despite his clear directive, Stalin was not removed. Lenin’s advice about increasing the working class composition of the party and its organisations was cynically used to justify the drafting into the party of large numbers of inexperienced and politically backward elements, who were putty in the hands of the apparatus-men, hand-picked by Stalin’s machine.

Simultaneously, a campaign of calumny and falsification was opened up against Trotsky. It was at this time that all the old smears about Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past (which Lenin had written off in his “testament”), about the “permanent revolution”, Brest-Litovsk, and the rest, were dragged up by the ruling clique to discredit Trotsky and oust him from the leadership. Zinoviev, when he subsequently broke with Stalin and went over to the Opposition, later admitted that the myth of “Trotskyism” was deliberately invented at this time.

Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin were not, at this stage, consciously aware of the processes which were taking place in the Soviet state and which they were unwittingly abetting. They did not realise in what direction their attacks on Trotsky and “Trotskyism” would lead them. But in attempting to drive a wedge between “Trotskyisim” and Leninism, they set in motion all the machinery of historical falsification and bureaucratic harassment which marked the first decisive step away from the ideas and traditions of October towards the monstrous bureaucratic police state of Stalin and Brezhnev.

Referring to Trotsky’s criticism of bureaucracy in The New Course, Monty Johnstone states:

“Although its overall approach is rather negative, there is much that can be seen to have been right in its attacks on the growth and power of the Party apparatus under Stalin’s control especially of what we now know of the gross abuses, violating the very essence of Socialist democracy and legality in which this was to result … The New Course … contains trenchant Marxist criticisms of the methods of Stalinist bureaucracy…” (Cogito, p. 22)

The reader will not fail to note, this new and startling “concession” of Comrade Johnstone’s. With all the wisdom of hindsight, and with a truly schoolmasterly air, Monty Johnstone gives Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinist bureaucracy a neat tick – with marks deducted for a “rather negative” overall approach. In the meantime, concealed behind the nebulous formula “violation of Socialist democracy” lie thirty years of bloody reaction against October; the extermination of the entire Old Bolshevik leadership; the liquidation of entire Soviet peoples; the destruction of millions in slave-labour camps, and the destruction of revolutions abroad. These minor “episodes” find no place in Monty Johnstone’s “balanced” analysis. No, far better to write them of as “mistakes” of the past, which still “await analysis”. Monty Johnstone, who shows himself to be such a diligent researcher into the minutiae of the archives of Bolshevism, modestly declines the task of analysing and explaining the bloody crimes of Stalinism over the past three or four decades.

Marxism is, first and foremost, a method of historical analysis, which provides the advanced guard of the working class with the perspectives which are the essential pre-requisites of a successful struggle for power. Marxists do not stumble about blindly in the wake of the historical process, mumbling about “mistakes” and “accidents” or weeping crocodile tears over “tragedies”. The task of a Marxist is to analyse and understand in advance the general tendencies and processes in society. Of course, such an analysis cannot provide a blueprint, accurately predicting every little detail. That is unnecessary. It is sufficient to have understood the general process, in order not to be taken by surprise by history.

Trotsky explained the development of Stalinism in advance as the expression of a petty-bourgeois reaction against October. He explained, as Lenin had done, the tremendous threat of internal degeneration of the Party in which the bureaucracy – that caste of upstart officials who had done well out of the revolution and saw no need to disturb their comfortable office routine by continuing the revolutionary struggles – would act as the transmission belt diffusing the moods of petty-bourgeois reaction and despair into the party.

The New Course is described by Comrade Johnstone as a work containing “trenchant Marxist criticisms” of bureaucracy. The reader may be excused if he feels somewhat perplexed. We know that beautiful butterflies come from ugly and twisted chrysalises. But how did the Trotsky of the “trenchant Marxist criticisms” suddenly emerge from the congenital ultra-left, revolutionary phrasemonger and petty-bourgeois individualist of the previous twenty-one pages? Was it an accident, Comrade Johnstone, that Trotsky and the Left Opposition alone, after Lenin’s death could produce such “trenchant Marxist criticism” of the Stalinist bureaucracy? Where was the criticism of the Pollitts and Dutts, the Khruschevs and Kosygins at that time? Is it a fundamental tenet of the Marxist-Leninist outlook that “trenchant Marxist criticism” always comes only after the event?

Even here, Monty Johnstone distorts Trotsky’s position by describing it as a criticism of the methods of Stalinist bureaucracy. That was not at all the position of Trotsky. That is precisely the type of “anti-bureaucratism” of Stalin, Kosygin, Brezhnev, Gollan. In The New Course, Trotsky does not deal with mannerisms, but social classes and strata. The leaders of the bureaucracy have always been prepared to rail against “bureaucratic methods”, “red tape”, etc. But such an approach as Trotsky explains, has nothing in common with Marxism:

“It is unworthy of a Marxist to consider that bureaucratism is only the aggregate of the bad habits of office holders. Bureaucratism is a social phenomenon in that it is a definite system of administration of men and things. Its profound causes lie in the heterogeneity of society, the difference between the daily and the fundamental interests of various groups of the population.” (The New Course, p. 41)

Far from the idea of bureaucracy as a “state of mind” or merely a remnant of capitalism which automatically “withers away” with the approach of the higher order of socialism, Trotsky warned that the emergence of a privileged stratum of officials was inevitable under the prevailing conditions of economic and cultural backwardness in Russia, would create enormous dangers for the revolution itself. Under certain conditions (a split in the party, the combination of the peasantry, petty capitalists and a section of the bureaucracy on a restorationist platform) an actual counter-revolution was possible, as Lenin had repeatedly warned.

Trotsky pointed to the example of the degeneration of the German Social Democracy, which prior to 1914 was regarded as the leading body of the world Marxist movement. This degeneration was explained by Lenin end Trotsky, not by the personal failings or betrayal of individual leaders (although these, too, played a fatal role), but first and foremost by the objective conditions in which the German party had functioned before the War; the absence of great social upheavals and revolutionary struggles, the stagnant parliamentary milieu which created “a generation of bureaucrats, of philistines, of dullards whose political physiognomy was completely revealed in the first hours of the imperialist war.”

In the years following the Civil War, there crystallised a new social stratum of Soviet officials, in part drawn from the old Tsarist bureaucracy, in part from the bourgeois specialists and also from former workers and Communists who had been absorbed into the machinery of state and party and had lost touch with the masses. It was this stratum of conservative bureaucrats, self-satisfied and narrow-minded jacks-in-office, from which Stalin’s faction in the Party derived its support. These were the elements who, after 1921 shouted loudest against the “Permanent Revolution” and “Trotskyism”. By that they understood not Trotsky’s writings of 1905, not the obscure polemics of the past, but the storm and stress of October and the Civil War. The bureaucrat wishes nothing better than peace and quiet to get on with his orderly job of organising those “beneath” him. The slogans advanced by Stalin-Bukharin clique “socialism at a snail’s pace” and “socialism in one country” were precisely what the bureaucracy wanted to hear.

The years of revolution and Civil War had exhausted the masses and partly undermined their morale. The defeat of a series of revolutions internationally weakened the appeal of the Bolshevik ideas among the more backward and petty-bourgeois strata. From the outset, the Bolshevik-Leninist minority, led by Trotsky, was fighting against the stream. On the other hand, the upstart bureaucracy became more arrogant with every step backwards which was forced upon the revolution in Russia and internationally. Leaning upon the most backward classes and strata of society, the Kulaks, the NEP speculators and small capitalists, the Stalin-Bukharin clique struck blows against the very basis of the October Revolution. Apart from the fostering of capitalist elements inside Russia, the right-wing policies of the leadership led to a series of fresh reversals on an international scale, culminating in the horrific slaughter of the Chinese Revolution in 1927.

It is not possible here to go into the international events of this period. Suffice it to remark that in China, in the period of 1925-7, the Stalin-Bukharin clique carried out the dissolution of the Chinese Communist Party into the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-Shek, the butcher of the Chinese workers, was hailed as the great leader of the Chinese Revolution. The Kuomintang was enrolled as sympathetic section of the Communist International – with only one vote of the leadership cast against – that of Leon Trotsky. Throughout this period, Trotsky and the Left Opposition struggled against the disastrous policies of the Stalinists: for workers’ democracy, five-year plans and collectivisation by example; against unprincipled deals with foreign “democrats” of the Chiang Kai-Shek camp; for continued support for the revolutionary movements of the working class internationally as the only real guarantee for the future of the Soviet state. Of all this, Monty Johnstone has nothing to say, beyond the assertion that Stalin’s slanderous attacks on Trotsky “rang a bell” with the workers, and that the Left Opposition was defeated by 724,000 votes to 4,000 “after a nation-wide Party discussion”.

The “nation-wide Party discussion” to which Comrade Johnstone refers consisted of such friendly means of persuasion as the sacking of Opposition workers from their jobs, the breaking-up of meetings by Stalinist hooligans, a vicious campaign of lies and slander in the official press, the persecution of Trotsky’s friends and supporters which led to the deaths of numbers of prominent Bolsheviks such as Glazman (driven to suicide by blackmail) and Joffe, the famous Soviet diplomat (denied access to necessary medical treatment, committed suicide).

At Party meetings, Oppositionist speakers were subject to the systematic hooliganism of gangs of quasi-fascist thugs organised by the Stalinist apparatus to intimidate the opposition. The French Communist paper, Contre le Courant in the twenties reported the methods whereby the Stalinists conducted their “nation-wide Party discussion”:

“The bureaucrats of the Russian party have formed all over the country gangs of whistlers. Every time a party worker belonging to the Opposition is to take the floor, they post around the hall a veritable framework of men armed with police-whistles. With the first words of the Opposition speaker, the whistles begin. The charivari last until the Opposition speaker yields the floor to another.” (The Real Situation in Russia, p. 14 footnote)

Johnstone does not find it necessary to look too closely into the conditions under which the final “debate” took place at the 1927 Party Congress, when Stalin’s henchmen, who packed the audience, made it impossible for the Opposition to make themselves heard. Contrast this crude gangsterism with the methods adopted by Lenin in relation to political opponents and you see to what an extent, by 1921, Stalinist reaction had stamped out the last vestiges of the traditions of Bolshevism.

Monty Johnstone trots through the history of the Left Opposition with the assured air of a tired old history master rattling off dates and “facts”. His composure is not even ruffled by the last “detail” which he just mentions “in passing”:

“From his successive places of exile – Turkey, Norway, France, and finally Mexico where he was murdered in 1940 – Trotsky wrote many books, pamphlets and articles and continued to try to build up a left opposition to Stalin.”

But hold on, Mr. Schoolmaster, how does the calm, comradely “nation-wide discussion” lead to the exile and murder of the leader of the minority? Trotsky’s murder, and that of hundreds of thousands of Oppositionists in Russia – does that seem like a product of the rational “debate” and political argument you portray? Around this question, the schoolmaster shuffles warily. In a typically “balanced” footnote, Johnstone writes:

“The evidence points strongly to the assassin, Mercader or “Jacson”, who posed as a disillusioned follower of Trotsky, having in fact acted on behalf of Stalin and the GPU. After completing his 20-year jail sentence he left Mexico on a Czechoslovak plane [!] for an undisclosed [!] destination.” (Cogito, p. 94)

Yet another gratuitous “concession” from Comrade Johnstone! Everyone these days is well aware of the bloody record of Stalin’s GPU. Every Communist Party member knows full well that these hired killers were responsible for the murder of Trotsky and countless other revolutionaries in Russia, Spain and elsewhere. Comrade Johnstone magnanimously admits what he cannot deny: and only what he cannot deny! But merely to “admit” a crime is not enough. From a Marxist one expects an explanation.

Monty Johnstone tries to paint a picture of the differences between Stalinism and Trotskyism as “political ones”, “debates”, “arguments”, etc. But the Russian bureaucracy prefers to argue in the eloquent language of bullets, concentration camps, or, in the case of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, tanks, planes and rockets. Lenin “murdered” his opponents in polemics, but not in cold blood. Yet Monty Johnstone, with all the innocence of a new-born babe, pretends that this is all a “mistake”. Trotsky’s murderer is flown away in a Czech plane “to an unknown destination”. The bureaucracy do not forget their old friends, it seems, even after the Twentieth Congress.[1]


[1] While Ramon Mercader was in jail, his mother, who was a GPU agent in Spain, was awarded the Order of Lenin by Stalin himself for her role in the assassination. She was also presented with the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union for her son. Mercader was released from a Mexican jail in 1960. The “undisclosed destination” was Moscow, via Havana and Prague. It is understood he died of bone cancer in Cuba in 1978.

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