How Stalin Betrayed October
(Marxist Monthly, Vol. 1 No. 4, June 1988)
As we write, the pre-congress discussion for the All Union 19th. Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which opens on June 28 is explosively underway. Since the 18th Party Congress was held in 1941, a lapse of 47 years, it could not be otherwise. In its issue No. 12, (19 to 26 March) Ogonyuk and the magazine Working class and the Contemporary World gathered together well-known teachers of social science for a discussion on perestroika and democratisation.As Ogonyuk reported, ‘Intended for a few academic hours, this meeting of sociologists, economists, lawyers, philosophers and historians lasted for only a little less than two working days.
Historian Y.G. Plimak had this to say: I consider that Trotsky is no simple figure. Trotsky bears the guilt – I can talk of that because I have recently read Trotsky’s works very closely – for the incandescence of passion on the Central Committee. In his Lessons of October he accused Zinoviev, Kamenev, Nogin and others – of Menshevism. The pasting of labels in fact came from Trotsky. Later on he got back what he himself had thrown in the faces of his own comrades in the Party.’
Plimak has still to overcome his old Stalinist training in relation to its inherent anti-Trotskyism. Lessons of October was complete on September 15, 1924, eight months after Lenin’s death. Already, well before Lenin died, Zinoviev, Kemenev, and Nogin were members of Stalin’s growing bureaucracy and responsible together with Stalin for initiating the legend of ‘Trotskyism’. Later when Zinoviev and Kemenev broke with Stalin and joined forces with the Left Opposition, they freely admitted this conspiracy with Stalin.
In reply to the following question put by Trotsky to Zinoviev, ‘Could you please tell me whether the so-called literary discussion against “Trotskyism” would have taken place, if I had not published Lessons of October?’, Zinoviev replied, ‘Yes, indeed, the Lessons of October served only as a pretext. Failing that, a different motive would have been found, and the discussion would have assumed somewhat different forms, nothing more.’ (page 90, Stalin School of Falsification, Pioneer edition, 1962)
Plimak still suffers from the historical ‘blank spots’ of Stalinism, but he is apparently anxious to learn. He concludes his contribution with a statement: ‘But we must scientifically evaluate what were the mistakes of Trotsky and to what extent Stalin reproduced Trotsky’s conceptions. And for all that, comrades, there must, first of all, be open access to all Trotsky’s works, to his platform in all its completeness, and second, there should be open access to all Stalin’s materials.’
Whilst we give not the slightest credibility to the political lie that Trotsky was responsible for Stalin, we must give Plimak full support for the publication of Trotsky’s and Stalin’s books inside the USSR. We have complete confidence that the young generation of Soviet historians will be able to judge history as an objective process, and that will undoubtedly include the historical vindication of Trotsky’s writings.
Full Support For Stalin
On March 13, 1988, Sovetskaya Rossiya published as lengthy letter from a Leningrad chemistry teacher, Nina Andreyeva, strongly defending Stalin, under the title I Cannot Waive Principles. It took Pravda, the daily organ of the CPSU, almost three weeks to reply, on April5. Meanwhile, Andreyeva received support from some strange allies. News Line, the organ of a small troupe of ex-Trotskyists immediately jumped to her defence. Under the heading‘Sovetskaya Rossiya Attacked by Pravda’, this disoriented little clique had the following to say in its issue of April 7. ‘The right wing of the bureaucracy are using any support for Stalin who was well to the left of Gorbachev and his ilk, as a means of beating the opposition.’ Hatred for the process of the political revolution now under way in the USSR drives these subjective idealists straight into the historical arms of Stalin, the Stalin who was responsible for the bloodiest crimes against the Trotskyist movement internationally, including the assassination of Trotsky himself. For all these crimes, he is ‘well to the left of Gorbachev and his ilk.’ Is it not clear that from such cheerleaders for Stalin, verbal adherence to the teachings of Leon Trotsky is but a cover for anti-communism?
Who Was Stalin? Some Historical Confusion
Following Pravda’s reply to Sovetskaya Rossiya, a widespread discussion developed in the Soviet radio and television media. Leona Gubanov, a fitter from the shipyard in the town of Andropov, commented with some passion: ‘My father, a major Part official, was repressed in 1937. My mother suffered too. Having fought in the war, in 1949, I myself was repressed. Naturally we have been rehabilitated, my father posthumously, and I whilst still alive.’ Here was life as it was under the ‘well to the left Stalin’.
In a television discussion of the Pravda article, on April 17, Burlatsky and others spoke up about the problems of ‘restructuring Stalinism’. Opening the discussion Burlatsky explained that he belonged to a ‘generation which has experienced all the processes for itself, from fanatical raptures concerning the personality cult of Stalin to the extreme stage or degree, so to speak, of disappointment … Indeed there remain certain illusions amongst the broad masses concerning Stalin; many do not thus far understand everything that is happening at the moment. One of the reasons, in my view, is the fact that for 20 years people have not received any information about this. Very few of us have actually read Krushchev’s report to the 20th. Party Congress … there exists mistrust, there exists a failure to understand, and this mistrust, this failure to understand, are in fact exploited in Andreyeva’s article’.
To which another member of the television panel, Temushkin, commented: ‘The appearance of this article has, as it were, really opened the true picture and has shown that there are still very, very many people in our society who are principled opponents of restructuring, and it is now in advance of the 19th Party Congress that these people have to own who they are … Stalin died in 1953, and people have started to be rehabilitated since 1954. And there is still no sign of an end to this rehabilitation. This points to just how many thousands upon thousands of innocent victims fell during those years … He (Stalin) crushed into this iron mangle everyone who got in his way. Here is a specific example – Ivan Demur, a peasant from the far east, was shot for agreeing to participate in a counter-revolutionary organisation. His trial lasted 15 minutes …’
… ‘So the attitude to Stalin in this respect was quite a simple one, when people say that in his time there was law and order – you will forgive me for what is a very bold thing to say – yes there was law and order – in the cemeteries. We can do without that sort of order.
Further on in the television discussion Temushkin returns to the crimes of Stalin during the outbreak of World War II: ‘It simply pains my ears’, he said, ‘when what happened under Stalin is called mistakes. For example, can you call a mistake by Stalin – I am moving forwards – his conviction that Hitler would not attack us in June1941? But he was convinced of this, he had evidently come to believe in himself so much by that time, believe in his, so to speak, irrefutable foresight, that he committed a very crude blunder. That was his mistake, but that was his crime, because it cost our people inhuman sacrifices, and again understanding very well that he was to blame for what he had done in the first instance, he destroyed the command of the western front, headed by General Pavlov, making the charge that the latter, through inefficiency (and to begin with the charge was formulated differently, that he was almost an agent of the Germans), that the front was opened up and in that way the Germans got into Smolensk in a few days. So let us call a spade a spade.’
A Chronicle of Bureaucratic Brutality
Ogonyok, in its weekly Edition of April 23, completes this picture in an interview with Anna Mirkina called The Marshal Writes a Book. She describes what Marshal G.K.Zhukhov had told her in 1965.
‘In 1947 I waited every day for my arrest. I had prepared my suitcase with clean linen. You see how it was then? People’s future was decided at lunch, or in the evening at supper. They talked about something or other, and someone’s name came up.
‘Suddenly Stalin says, “Lavrentiy, make arrangements”. Beria gets up and goes into the next room. He dials the telephone number: “Ivanov’s, Semenov’s, Stepanov’s.” And that very evening those people would be arrested.
‘When Moscow was under attack 200-300 of the highest commanders remained since 1937 in the cellars of the Lubianka. None of them were released for that reason – they were all shot. Such people were murdered and the front at that time was commanded by lieutenants!
‘It was a particular shame about Tukhachevsky. He was a person of enormous military talent. A very clever man, broad education, strong, went for strenuous athletics, and very handsome … I [Zhukhov] worked with him for two months on drawing up the Field manual for cavalry at the Inspection of the RKKA – he was a military leader capable of very broad thought, of looking far into the future. Already in the 1930’s he predicted that the future would lie with tanks and aeroplanes, and not with the cavalry, as the majority thought then. And it was precisely he who was the source of the creation of our rocket technology.
‘Voroshilov was not over-fond of him – he was jealous of his talent and broad education. Voroshilov himself was a poor strategist. In the civil war, what sort of a war was it? There were no aeroplanes, there were no tanks. He was very much guilty of the murder of the highest officers. He, Molotov and Kaganovich, they were all guilty, and not just Beria and Stalin.’
The Fourth International assumed that Tukachevsky and those generals arrested by Stalin with him were shot in 1937. Now Zhukov reveals they lingered on in the cellars of the Lubianka until the Nazis were at the gates of Moscow in 9141. Then Stalin and Beria, when the Soviet Union most needed its generals, had them all shot, including Tukachevsky, with the support of Stalin’s so-called Politburo.
Neither Plimak, Burlatsky, Temushkin, and certainly not General Zhukhov, were acquainted with Trotsky’s writings on the monstrous historical growth of the Stalinist bureaucracy. And if they were, they might have or may react to them in a politically antagonistic way. Essentially, they occupy a left-centrist position between the politics of the ‘Stalin school of Falsification’ and those advocated by the International Committee of the Fourth International. As the 19th Congress draws nearer, such confusion will become more intense under conditions where there is only one way it can be clarified; that is through the mass publication of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. Presently, the Lessons of October, (1924), is the only book available in the Institute of Historical Archives for those academics who are privileged to study it. The publication of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed as a beginning would be a powerful contribution for the historical clarification of the delegates to the forthcoming 19th Party Congress.
Stalin and the ‘Cult of the Individual’
Khrushchev’s definition of Stalin being guilty of the ‘cult of the individual’ has created an enormous amount of idealist confusion for a number of leading participants in the pre-19th Party congress discussion. In itself it is an entirely unscientific characterisation of Stalin as one of the most sinister, bureaucratic, murderous historical figures in the history of the October Revolution. Stalin and his bureaucracy had a history whose background Trotsky painstakingly analysed in Revolution Betrayed which appeared in 1936.
‘A revolution’, he writes ‘is a mighty devourer of human energy, both individual and collective. The nerves give way. Consciousness is shaken and characters are worn out. Events unfold too swiftly for the flow of fresh forces to replace the loss. Hunger, unemployment, the death of revolutionary cadres, the removal of the masses from administration, all this led to such a physical and moral impoverishment of the Parisian suburbs that they required three decades before they were ready for a new insurrection.’ Trotsky was here referring to the law-governed process of the bourgeois revolution.
He then proceeds to criticise Soviet literature on the content of the 1917 socialist revolution. ‘The axiom-like assertions of the Soviet literature, to the effect that the laws of bourgeois revolutions are “inapplicable” to a proletarian revolution, have no scientific content whatever.
The material class forces of the past did not disappear when the dictatorship of the proletariat was established by the October Socialist Revolution. The law-governed process of the bourgeois revolution completed in February 1917 still prevailed throughout the period following the October transfer of power.
Trotsky continues to analyse this process as follows: ‘The proletarian character of the October Revolution was determined by the world situation and by a special correlation of internal forces.’(Page 88-89 Revolution Betrayed, New Park edition)
Because of the speed of the interaction between a favourable world situation within the aftermath of the completion of the February 1917 bourgeois revolution, Trotsky explains, classes did not automatically disappear. He continues: ‘But the classes themselves were formed in the barbarous circumstances of tzarism and backward capitalism, and were anything but made to order for the demands of a socialist revolution. The exact opposite is true. It is for the very reason that a proletariat, still backward in many respects, achieved in the space of a few months the unprecedented leap from a semi-feudal monarchy to a socialist dictatorship that the reaction in its ranks was inevitable.’
Then a process of external retardations set in. These were as follows,
a) The revolution got no direct help from the west. An extension of the October Revolution in the metropolitan countries of western Europe did not take place.
b) The war-weariness of the Soviet working class who had not only endured considerable losses during the first imperialist war, made the October Socialist Revolution and then had to repel the massed imperialist armies of intervention
c) This was followed not only by a serious loss of cadres, many of whom died on the battlefield, or perished through illness of various kinds. The military intervention of imperialism,after being definitely defeated by the Red Army, brought in its wake starvation and famine. The war-weary masses were pushed gradually aside from actual participation in the leadership of the country. (Page 89, Revolution Betrayed)
Trotsky explains further:-
The young bureaucracy, which had arisen at first as an agent of the proletariat, began now to feel itself a court of arbitration between the classes. Its independence increased from month to month. The international situation was pushing, with mighty forces, in the same direction. The Soviet bureaucracy became more self-confident, the heavier the blows dealt to the world working class. Between these two facts there was not only a chronological, but a causal connection, and one which worked in two directions. The leaders of the bureaucracy promoted the proletarian defeats; the defeats promoted the rise of the bureaucracy. The crushing of the Bulgarian insurrection and the inglorious retreat of the German workers parties in 1923, the collapse of the Estonian attempt at insurrection in 1924 …’ (Op.Cit. page 90)
These were followed by the effect of the Stalinist policy of ‘all power to the TUC’ which led to the liquidation of the General Strike in Britain in 1926, to be followed by the defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1927.
‘Before he felt out his own course’, Trotsky explains with reference to Stalin, ‘the bureaucracy felt out Stalin himself. He brought it all the necessary guarantees: the prestige of an old Bolshevik, a strong character, narrow vision, and close bonds with the political machine as the sole source of his influence. The success which fell upon him was a surprise at first to Stalin himself. It was the friendly welcome of the new ruling group, trying to free itself from the old principles and from the control of the masses, and having need of a reliable arbiter in its inner affairs’. (Op. Cit., Page 93)
Lenin’s death in 1924 was a turning point in the already enormous growth of Stalin’s bureaucracy. Trotsky explains that ‘had Lenin lived longer, the pressure of bureaucratic power would have developed at least during the first years more slowly. But as early as 1926 Krupskaya said, in a circle of Left Oppositionists, “if Ilych were alive, he would probably already be in prison.” The bureaucracy conquered something more than the Left Opposition. It conquered the Bolshevik Party. It defeated the programme of Lenin, who had seen the chief danger in the conversion of the organs of the state “from servants of society to lords over society.” It defeated all these enemies, the Opposition, the Party, and Lenin, not with ideas and arguments, but with its own social weight. The leaden rump of the bureaucracy outweighed the head of the revolution. That is the secret of the Soviet’s Thermidor.’ (Page 94)
‘Orphans of October’ – Vanguard of the Political
It was not Stalin with his ‘cult of personality’ which started the bureaucracy – but the bureaucracy as a counter-revolutionary social force which selected Stalin for its leader. That is why it is the ‘Orphans of October’, the sons and daughters of Stalin’s victims, who are in the vanguard of the political revolution in the USSR today. They are already in the vanguard of the restoration of all the leaders of October to their rightful place in its history. Mikhail Shatrov, one of the most outstanding historical playwrights, recently said in answer to the question ‘Could you please say a few words about yourself?’: I’ll make it short; born in 1932. My father was an engineer, my mother a teacher. I was born in Moscow and evacuated to Samarkand during World War II. I studied at the Moscow Mining Institute from 1951 to 1956 when I made my first attempts to put my concerns down on paper … The 20th congress of the Communist Party took place in 1956 and was a monstrous event for all of us; it returned my mother to me and restored my father’s reputation. In 1961 I became a Party member. Arbuzov, Rozov, and Alexander Shterin were my teachers. Over 30 years I wrote 20 plays and screenplays.’
One of these was the ‘Brest Peace Treaty’, which was suppressed for 25 years because Shatrov refused to remove Trotsky’s name from the play. Shatrov is a playwright and certainly no forthright supported of Trotsky. But as a playwright historian, he insists on presenting his characters in what he considers to be their real role, which differs in many respects from that of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Shatrov’s work is an enormous step forward towards posing point-blank the historical problems facing the Soviet masses.
‘Leninist Levy’ Strengthens the Bureaucracy
Trotsky explains the growth of the bureaucratic special forces within the Party in this way: ‘The “theory” of socialism in one country – a “theory” never expounded, by the way, or given any foundation by Stalin himself – comes down to the sufficiently sterile and un-historic notion that, thanks to the natural riches of the country, a socialist society can be built within the geographic confines of the Soviet Union.’ (Op. Cit page 295). This was nothing but the crudest rejection of socialist internationalism based upon a world conception of socialist planning. It was simply a continuation of the old social democratic theory of the Second International. Trotsky describes the process that took place:-
‘Together with the theory so socialism in one country, there was put into circulation by the bureaucracy a theory that in Bolshevism, the Central Committee is everything and the Party nothing.’ (Op. Cit. page 97).
It was under these conditions that the Stalinist Bureaucracy announced a ‘Leninist Levy’, designed deliberately to further liquidate the Party into a political swamp, thereby increasing the power of the all-powerful Central Committee. Trotsky describes what followed:-
‘The gates of the Party, always carefully guarded, were now thrown wide open. Workers, clerks,petty officials, flocked through in crowds. The political aim of this manoeuvre was to dissolve the revolutionary vanguard in raw human material, without experience, without independence, and yet with the old habit of submitting to the authorities. The scheme was successful. By freeing the bureaucracy from the control of the proletarian vanguard, the “Leninist Levy” dealt a death blow to the party of Lenin. The machine had won the necessary independence. Democratic centralism gave place to bureaucratic centralism. In the party apparatus itself there now took place a radical reshuffling of personnel from top to bottom. The chief merit of a Bolshevik was declared to be obedience.’ (Ibid)
This process developed in the following way, as Trotsky describes:
‘The political meaning of the developing struggle was darkened for many by the circumstance that the leaders of all three groupings, Left, Centre, and Right, belonged to one and the same staff in the Kremlin, the Politburo. To superficial minds it seemed to be a mere matter of personal rivalry, a struggle for the “heritage” of Lenin. But in the conditions of iron dictatorship, social antagonisms could not show themselves at first, except through the institutions of the ruling party. (Page 98)
In the discussion now taking place on the history of these early years, there are still many attempts to idealistically reduce the essence of this period to a ‘power struggle.’ They falsely depict Trotsky in conflict with Zinoviev and Kamenev, both of whom had eyes fixed on the post of the General Secretary held by Stalin.
Such superficial rationalisation of historical questions in the widespread discussion of perestroika and glasnost can be responsible for the greatest confusion. As he concluded in his work on Revolution Betrayed in 1936, Trotsky described the historical implication of this period for the growth of the Stalinist Bureaucracy.
‘Of the Politburo of Lenin’s epoch there now remains only Stalin. Two of its members, Zinoviev and Kamenev, collaborators of Lenin throughout many years as émigrés, are enduring ten year prison terms for a crime which they did not commit. Three other members, Rykov, Bukharin and Tomsky, are completely removed from the leadership, but as a reward for submission occupy secondary posts. The widow of Lenin, Krupskaya, is also under the ban, having proved unable with all her efforts to adjust herself completely to the Thermidor.’ (Op Cit. pages 98-99). This was not only demonstrated in her middle of the road attitude to the Left Opposition but also in the way she opposed Stalin’s frame up trials.
In the Bukharin trial, Osip Pyatnitsky, a representative of the USSR on the Third International who was elected at its 7th and last Congress in 1935, was by Stalin to agree to the physical destruction of Bukharin. He firmly refused to agree to this and was in turn jailed in the Lubianka. This trial was conducted by Yezhov for the KGB, who in turn produced an informer who had made a false confession that Bukharin was the agent of a foreign power and an enemy of the people. When Yezhov reported this to the Politburo in 1937, Stalin, Kaganovich, Molotov and Voroshilov accepted this lying accusation without question, but not Krupskaya’s evidence. She not only gave her full support to Pyatnitsky, but denounced Yezhov’s informer as a ‘liar and a fascist’.
In 1927 the Left Opposition, then under the direct leadership of Christian Rakovsky inside the Soviet Union, demanded ‘that a special law be written into the Criminal Code, punishing as a serious state crime, every direct or indirect persecution of a worker for criticism’. At that time, Trotsky’s remarks, ‘Instead of this there was introduced into the Criminal Code an article against the Left Opposition itself’. Half a century later, under the regime of perestroika and glasnost, a law has been entered into the Penal Code on the right of workers to ‘criticise their leaders’, word for word what the Left Opposition demanded in 1927.
it is this, and much more, that makes it imperative for every delegate to the 19th All union Party Congress to have Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed made available to them in the Russian language. Not only for dealing with the current stiff resistance to perestroika and glasnost, but for the purpose of explaining the historical ‘in-itself’ of such a process. Stalin’s so-called ‘cult of personality’ was a massive demonstration of the self-created images of the leader of a power-drunk bureaucracy. Its method was derived from bourgeois ideology, subjective idealism in its most brutal and murderous forms. In an historical context, this was the ‘content which stirred’ within the Stalinist bureaucracy.