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The struggle against opportunism in the Party

During the twenties and thirties, Stalin and other Bolshevik leaders led many struggles against opportunist tendencies within the Party. The refutation of anti-Leninist  ideas coming from Trotsky,  then Zinoviev  and Kamenev,  finally Bukharin,  played a central rôle. These ideological and political struggles were led correctly, according to Leninist  principles, firmly and patiently.

The Bolshevik Party led a decisive ideological and political struggle against Trotsky  during the period 1922--1937, over the question of the possibility of building socialism in one country, the Soviet Union. Using `leftist' ideology, Trotsky  pretended that socialist construction was impossible in the Soviet Union, given the absence of a victorious revolution in a large industrialized country. This defeatist and capitulationist thesis was the one held since 1918 by the Mensheviks, who had concluded that it was impossible to build socialism in a backward peasant country. Many texts by Bolshevik leaders, essentially by Stalin and Bukharin,  show that this struggle was correctly led.

In 1926--1927, Zinoviev  and Kamenev  joined Trotsky  in his struggle against the Party. Together, they formed the United Opposition. The latter denounced the rise of the kulak class, criticized `bureaucratism' and organized clandestine factions within the Party. When Ossovsky  defended the right to form `opposition parties', Trotsky  and Kamenev  voted in the Politburo against his exclusion. Zinoviev  took up Trotsky's  `impossibility of building socialism in one country', a theory that he had violently fought against only two years previous, and spoke of the danger of the degeneration of the Party.


Edward Hallett Carr.  Foundations of a Planned Economy, 1926--1929, Volume 2 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971), pp. 7, 10--12, 20.

Trotsky  invented in 1927 the `Soviet thermidor', analogous with the French counter-revolution where the right-wing Jacobins executed the left-wing Jacobins.

Then Trotsky  explained that at the beginning of World War I, when the German army was 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Paris, Clémenceau  overthrew the weak government of Painlevé  to organize an effective defence without concessions. Trotsky  was insinuating that in the case of imperialist attack, he would implement a Clémenceau-like  coup d'état.


Ibid. , pp. 28--29.

Through these acts and his writings, the opposition was thoroughly discredited and, during a vote, received only 6000 votes as against 725,000.


Ibid. , p. 42.

On December 27, 1927, the Central Committee declared that the opposition had allied itself with anti-Soviet forces and that those who held its positions would be expelled from the Party. All the Trotskyist  and Zinovievite  leaders were expelled.


Ibid. , p. 49.

However, in June 1928, several Zinovievites  recanted and were re-integrated, as were their leaders Zinoviev,  Kamenev  and Evdokimov. 


Ibid. , p. 60.

A large number of Trotskyists  were also re-integrated, including Preobrazhensky  and Radek. 


Ibid. , p. 67.

Trotsky,  however, maintained his irreconcilable opposition to the Party and was expelled from the Soviet Union.

The next great ideological struggle was led against Bukharin's  rightist deviation during the collectivization. Bukharin  put forward a social-democratic line, based on the idea of class re-conciliation. In fact, he was protecting the development of the kulaks in the countryside and represented their interests. He insisted on a slowing down of the industrialization of the country. Bukharin  was torn asunder by the bitterness of the class struggle in the countryside, whose `horrors' he described and denounced.

During this struggle, former `Left Opposition' members made unprincipled alliances with Bukharin  in order to overthrow Stalin and the Marxist-Leninist   leadership. On July 11, 1928, during the violent debates that took place before the collectivization, Bukharin  held a clandestine meeting with Kamenev.  He stated that he was ready to `give up Stalin for Kamenev  and Zinoviev',  and hoped for `a bloc to remove Stalin'.


Ibid. , p. 65.

In September 1928, Kamenev  contacted some Trotskyists,  asking them to rejoin the Party and to wait `till the crisis matures'.


Ibid. , p. 73, n. 3.

After the success of the collectivization of 1932--1933, Bukharin's  defeatist theories were completely discredited.

By that time, Zinoviev  and Kamenev  had started up once again their struggle against the Party line, in particular by supporting the counter-revolutionary program put forward by Riutin  in 1931--1932 (see page gif). They were expelled a second time from the Party and exiled in Siberia.

From 1933 on, the leadership thought that the hardest battles for industrialization and collectivization were behind them. In May 1933, Stalin and Molotov  signed a decision to liberate 50 per cent of the people sent to work camps during the collectivization. In November 1934, the kolkhoz management system took its definite form, the kolkhozians having the right to cultivate for themselves a private plot and to raise livestock.


Getty,  op. cit. , p. 94.

The social and economic atmosphere relaxed throughout the country.

The general direction of the Party had proven correct. Kamenev,  Zinoviev,  Bukharin  and a number of Trotskyists  recognized that they had erred. The Party leadership thought that the striking victories in building socialism would encourage these former opposition leaders to criticize their wrong ideas and to accept Leninist  ones. It hoped that all the leading cadres would apply Leninist  principles of criticism and self-criticism, the materialist and dialectical method that allows each Communist to improve their political education and to assess their understanding, in order to reinforce the political unity of the Party. For that reason, almost all the leaders of the three opportunist movements, the Trotskyists  Pyatakov,  Radek,  Smirnov  and Preobrazhensky,  as well as Zinoviev  and Kamenev  and Bukharin,  who in fact had remained in an important position, were invited to the 17th Congress, where they made speeches.

That Congress was the congress of victory and unity.

In his report to the Seventeenth Congress, presented on January 26, 1934, Stalin enumerated the impressive achievements in industrialization, collectivization and cultural development. After having noted the political victory over the Trotskyist  group and over the bourgeois nationalists, he stated:

`The anti-Leninist  group of the Right deviators has been smashed and scattered. Its organizers have long ago renounced their views and are now trying in every way to expiate the sins they committed against the Party.'


Stalin, Report to the Seventeenth Party Congress on the Work of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.(B.). Selected Works, p. 404.

During the congress, all the old opponents acknowledged the tremendous successes achieved since 1930. In his concluding speech, Stalin stated:

`(I)t has been revealed that there is extraordinary ideological, political and organizational solidarity in the ranks of the Party.'


Stalin, Instead of a Reply to the Discussion, Works, vol. 13, p. 404.

Stalin was convinced that the former deviationists would in the future work loyally to build socialism.

`We have smashed the enemies of the Party .... But remnants of their ideology still live in the minds of individual members of the Party, and not infrequently they find expression.'

And he underscored the persistence of `the survivals of capitalism in economic life' and `Still less ... in the minds of people'. `That is why we cannot say that the fight is ended and that there is no longer any need for the policy of the socialist offensive.'


Stalin, Report, op. cit. , pp. 405--406.

A detailed study of the ideological and political struggle that took place in the Bolshevik leadership from 1922 to 1934 refutes many well-ingrained lies and prejudices. It is patently false that Stalin did not allow other leaders to express themselves freely and that he ruled like a `tyrant' over the Party. Debates and struggles took place openly and over an extended period of time. Fundamentally different ideas confronted each other violently, and socialism's very future was at stake. Both in theory and in practice, the leadership around Stalin showed that it followed a Leninist  line and the different opportunist factions expressed the interests of the old and new bourgeoisies. Stalin was not only careful and patient in the struggle, he even allowed opponents who claimed that they had understood their errors to return to the leadership. Stalin really believed in the honesty of the self-criticisms presented by his former opponents.

next up previous contents index
Next: The trials and Up: The Great Purge Previous: Alexander Zinoviev

Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995