USSR – The Historical Contradiction Between the
Old and New Forms
Marxist Monthly October 1989
In the August 1989 issue of Marxist Monthly, Professor V.A. Ignatiev, in dealing with the method of materialist dialectics, writes on the category of negation:
“How is the new possible if it grows from the old, and at the same time is not contained within it in a finished form?” He offers the following reply:
“The Characteristics of the contradictory interrelation of the old and the new in the transformation of the object [political revolution in the USSR - our insertion] into a new quality were contained in the philosophical category ‘negation’.” This quality contains within it, the simple or first negation, which, as Ignatiev says, contains negation. The “search for answers” underlies the necessity to negate the simple or first negation. The driving force of the search for answers is inseparable from the development of theory to guide our practice. Ignatiev defines this process as the “transformation … of natural objects reproduced in concepts of logic”, which are further defined by Ignatiev in relation to the law of the negation of the negation as “continuity, sublation ... progress and regress, which permit us, [for the purpose of historical analysis in motion and change - our insertion], to isolate the essential features the process of development”.
The International Committee of the Fourth International, through its British Section, The Marxist Party, has established a united front with the Memorial Society in the USSR. Its purpose is for the historical rehabilitation of all the victims of Stalin, foremost among who is Trotsky, his son Sedov, editor until1938 of the “Left Opposition” bulletin, for which he was murdered by Stalin in Paris, Trotsky's family, and his secretaries who suffered a similar fate. In April 1990 the Marxist Party, on behalf of the ICFI, will organise an international Symposium which will examine the historical implications of Stalinism covering two decades between 1920 to 1940. It will be attended by philosophers and historians from the USSR, Britain, the USA and Western Europe. Here we are engaging in a practice which orientates the ICFI ever closer to the process of political revolution underway within the Soviet Union. Through such practices as Professor Ignatiev emphasises, we will be constantly analysing the contradictory relationships between the “old” and “new” in the transformation of the political revolution as a process into a new and higher historical quality. This is accomplished through the philosophical category of “negation”.
The Identity of the source of negation is in the objective world. When the objective impulse to negate emerges, the contradiction between the object and the subject is established through the continuity of the simple negation to negate itself back into the objective external world. This process is inevitable, otherwise the simple negation perishes in dialectical thought. The forms of the material properties of the source of negation are sublated into logical concepts which in the process of a synthesis with historical materialism establish the union of analysis and synthesis. This, in turn, constitutes the dialectical relation between the historical (old) and the logical (new), which as Ignatiev says, is “genetically connected with its initial condition. On the plane which is richer in content, negation is the form of movement and the resolution of contradictions, which give the impulse to development, and determine negation as objective and not simply the mental process of the destruction of the old and the simultaneous preservation of its features, transforming them into a new quality associated with the possible inclusion of other components from external sources.”
In analysing the process of political revolution, now underway in the Soviet Union, we must start from the changes since the 27th Congress of the CPSU in April 1985 and proceed to analyse the conflict between the old Stalinist bureaucracy and what is new within the changes.
Nina Andreyeva in Sovietskaya Rossiya
It is now Politically very clear to all those, apart from the revisionist renegades from the teachings of Leon Trotsky, that the 27th Congress of February 1986 was followed by a sharp and continuous confrontation between Gorbachev and his arch political rival, Ligachev. It took several months of discussion before the CC of the CPSU could hold its meeting in January 1987. Since the political revolution is not the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, which had of necessity to be a violent revolution, Gorbachev and his supporters decided that perestroika and glasnost should be decided in a more peaceful way. However, since the bureaucracy is fighting with its back to the wall, it is energetically involved in creating friction on a violent scale especially on the nationalities question. In this conspiracy, the Soviet Mafia and the bureaucracy have the same programme.
In the spring of 1988 Nina Andreyeva moved out of the shadows of being an “obscure provincial teacher of chemistry” to the role of a writer of a letter entitled “I Cannot Foresake my Principles”. It was featured prominently in the large circulation daily, “Sovietskaya Rossiya”. Recently, Andreyeva was interviewed by a correspondent from the “International Herald Tribune”. For a year and a half she had refused to be interviewed by any Soviet newspaper, claiming that they would deny her a fair hearing, so she now turned to the most reactionary world press of imperialism.
Andreyeva told the reporter who was at her home as her guest for lunch, “that the labels of public life long ago became meaningless. If Mikhail Gorbachev had been a politician in the late 1920’s, and had tried to peddle privatisation of farms, democratisation of the government and the Communist Party, free markets and perestroika, he would have been branded a ‘rightwing deviationist,. And they [meaning the Stalinists - our insertion] would have lined him up against a wall.” (International Herald Tribune, August 2, 1989). Cheers all round from our renegade ex-Trotskyites, who claim that Stalin was to the left of Gorbachev. But wait for it - there is more to come. Andreyeva is not just a “provincial celebrity” but a devout supporter of all that Stalin stood for.
Her interviewer continued: “Guarded from real accounts of history she seemed to make sense to herself, and what was happening now was an avalanche of contradiction that she could not and would not accept.” As a Stalinist subjective idealist she was caught in the same trap as our ex-Trotskyist renegades when they face the multitude of contradictions manifesting the lower and higher forms of the political revolution unfolded by Gorbachev.
The Subject of the Jews
At this point according to the interviewer, she "moved into the subject of Jews. She had not been asked, and the turn was ugly and swift: ‘Switch on Leningrad TV,’ she said. ‘If you watch it, you see that they are mainly praising Jews, whether you like it or not. They may call the person Russian, but that is only for naive people ... In our society’, Andreyeva continues, ‘there are less than one percent Jews. Just a few, fine, so then why is the Academy of Sciences, in all its branches, and its prestigious professions and posts, in culture, music, law, why are they almost all Jews? Look at the essayists and the journalists - Jews mostly.’ She concluded her interview with a note of defiance, ‘Well, so I said it. So what.’”
Stalin was perhaps one of the most reactionary subjective idealists the world has ever seen. To be sure, our renegade ex-Trotskyists fight day in and day out against anti-Semitism, but because they share the same subjective idealist method of Stalin, they wall themselves off by their own self-created images against the contradictory process of the political revolution. Just because it is not working out the way their own self-created images thought it should, they wall themselves off from reality.
For three weeks after the Andreyeva outburst, there was silence in the Soviet press. Everyone knew that Ligachev was behind Andreyeva. Then, after this long silence, Pravda was obliged to launch an all-out attack on Andreyeva. A few weeks later, the 19th Party Congress was held. [All-Union Congress, June 28, 1988]. Less than two months after that the Politburo removed Ligachev from being Gorbachev's No.2, and the tension which the Andreyeva letter created had at least passed for the time being. For the “new” is negated from the “old” in an incomplete form. subjective idealists replace the objectivity of negation with their own self-created images. As Professor Ignatiev emphasises, “Concreteness exists in multiformed negation”.
Komsomol Publishes Trotsky’s New Course -1923
The Italian daily Repubblica reported on August 18, 1989, the publication of Trotsky's New Course for the first time after a lapse of 60 years in the Soviet Union. It was printed in the monthly journal of the YCL Molodoj Kommunist which appeared on August 17. According to Repubblica this caused a great sensation in Moscow. A few weeks earlier, it had been declassified by a decision of the Supreme Court of the USSR, which made it legal to publish. One week earlier, the weekly supplement of the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sobiesiednik (the “speaker”, or “questioner”) declared that the moment had come to “rehabilitate” Leon Trotsky, whom Lenin had called “one of the most illustrious Bolsheviks”.
The author of the article on The New Course published in Molodoj Kommunist is Alex Podshekoldin, who is a graduate of Patrice Lumumba University, a candidate in Historical Science and a senior lecturer. On the cover of the August issue, the title of his article is “What do we know about Trotsky's New Course ?” The inside heading of the article is “New Course – Prologue to a Tragedy”. It includes the sections under the subheadings: Planned Economy, Groups and Factional Formations, The Question of the Party Generations, The Social Composition of the Party, Tradition and Revolutionary Policy.” They are reprinted direct from Pravda (1923) with relevant dates.
The reasons behind the growing interest in Trotsky and his writings within the ranks of the Komsomol is not difficult to understand. According to Pravda, August 15, 1989, the Komsomol, like the CPSU, is undergoing a severe political crisis. Pravda wrote that “it remains a fact that the prolonged dominance of the authoritarian administrative command system in our country left its mark on the youth league too ... The winds of renewal have blown away the accustomed masks of well-being here too. A serious crisis has emerged in our biggest mass youth organisation. Young people have become drawn towards active political life. They feel constrained by the narrow confines of formal membership, informal associations have sprung up and are springing up everywhere, including some that are in direct competition with official Komsomol structures ... Bureaucracy is an unnatural phenomenon among young people - has shown itself to be irrelevant and futile ... An organisation that places the main emphasis not on the quality, but on the quantity (our emphasis) of its ranks ... working class, rural, school, student and army young people.
Pravda continues: “Recurrences of gross administrative pressure on the Komsomol committees and inappropriate interference in cadre affairs and in the daily operation of youth organisations are still occurring in the localities. The telephone command method of leadership of the Komsomol press is still the practice of certain party committees along with the practice of summonsing ‘disobedient’ editors for a dressing down. Clearly the concept of the Komsomol as a kind of obedient auxiliary force to order or as a foolish child is too firmly rooted in such party bodies."
It is obvious why the Komsomol in turn demands the historical rehabilitation of Trotsky, and the publication the New Course. Powerful groups within the leadership are no longer frightened by “a telephone command” or a dressing down. So they proceed to challenge the Komsomol bureaucratic hierarchy. In the first chapter of The New Course, dealing with the “Party generations”, Trotsky wrote in 1923:
“Bureaucratism is not a fortuitous feature of certain provincial organisations but a general phenomenon. It does not travel from the district to the central organisation through the medium of the regional organisation, but much rather from the central organisation to the district through the medium of the regional organisation. It is not at all a survival of the war period; it is the result of the transference to the party of the methods and administrative manners accumulated during these last years. However exaggerated were the forms it sometimes assumed, the bureaucratism of the war period was only child’s play in comparison with present-day bureaucratisation, which grew up in peacetime, while the apparatus, in spite of the ideological growth of the party, continued obstinately to think and decide for the party.”
In the next chapter, The Social Composition of the Party, there is a warning against the sources of the bureaucratisation of the youth.
“The education of the youth”, he wrote, “necessarily occupies an exceptional place in the party, as it will continue to do. By building up in our workers’ schools, universities, institutions of higher learning, the new contingent of intellectuals, which includes a high proportion of communists, we are detaching the young proletarian elements from the factory, not only for the duration of their studies but in general for their whole life: the working youth that have gone through all the higher schools will in all probability be assigned, all of them, to the industrial, the state, or the party apparatus ... It is quite clear, that the development of the party apparatus and the bureaucratisation accompanying this development are engendered not by the factory cells, linked together through the medium of the apparatus, but by all other functions that the party exercises through the medium of the state apparatuses of administration, of economic management, or military command, or education.”
If the Komsomol youth are now in revolt against the bureaucracy and its methods of “command”, then Trotsky had already analysed this process and the conditions which gave rise to it in his New Course of 1923. He had fought to convince the Party, but already the tide of the bureaucratic apparatus was against both him and the Left Opposition. Gorbachev’s “Perestroika and glasnost”, which have as their content the process of political revolution, have historically opened the door for the youth of today, to relate themselves to real history, immediately following October 1917. This vital historical connection is an enormous triumph for a political rejuvenation of the Soviet Union, with the youth and older generations taking their rightful place as its vanguard. Trotsky concludes his chapter with the sentence: “This is what completely escapes the notice and the understanding of those who yell the loudest about the leading role of the party in its relationship to the Soviet State.” Those who “yell” are using empty words since the bureaucracy of the state has its highest expression within the party. If the political revolution is to continue, the Party will have to be separated from the state in order to develop the theory to guide the
Practice to control and overcome the dangers of bureaucracy constantly emanating from the state apparatus. Because, as Trotsky emphasises in the chapter Bureaucratism and Revolution, “The state apparatus is the most important source of bureaucratism. On the one hand, it absorbs an enormous quantity of the most active party elements and it teaches the most capable of them the methods of administration of men and things, instead of political leadership of the masses.” [The chapter Bureaucratism and Revolution was not published in Molodoj Communist.]
Tradition and Revolutionary Policy – New Course 1923
In this most important chapter of The New Course, Trotsky firmly defends the “ideological lineage” of the Bolshevik Party. He analyses tradition as an historical category which cannot and must not be transformed into the stereotype of dogma. He begins by analysing the classic party of the Second International, the German Social Democratic Party. It’s half a century of “traditional” policy, Trotsky writes, was "based upon an adaptation to parliamentarism, and to the unbroken growth of the organisation, the press and the treasury. This tradition produced a generation of bureaucrats, of philistines, of dullards, whose political physiognomy was completely revealed in the first hours of the Imperialist war when the German social democrats unreservedly supported the Kaiser”. Already in 1923, Trotsky anticipated Stalin's social democratic perspective based upon the reformist theory of “socialism in a single country” which he presented after Lenin's death in 1924. It was already implicit in the dogma and stereotype of tradition with which Stalin and his supporters attacked the Left Opposition. The policy of the Comintern advocated by Zinoviev and Stalin led to the defeat of the German Communist Party in the 1923 Revolution.
Referring to the period of October 1917, and the events which followed, Trotsky writes:
“Lenin’s genius gave it [the Party] a superior form. This is not to say, naturally, that our party is completely free of a certain conservative traditionalism: a mass party cannot have such an ideal liberty. But its strength and potency have manifested themselves in the fact that inertia, traditionalism, and routinism were reduced to a minimum by a farsighted and profoundly revolutionary tactical initiative, at once audacious and realistic.” (Page 38, The New Course 1923, L. Trotsky, New Park edition. Emphasis original)
Trotsky develops the Marxist method of materialist dialectics here, just as he did 17 years later in the historic struggle for the defence of the USSR, despite Stalin, against Burnham and Shachtman, a few months before he was assassinated by an agent of Stalin. (See In Defence of Marxism). Trotsky continues in the New Course 1923:
“Marxism is a method of historical analysis, of political orientation and not a mass of decisions prepared in advance. Leninism is the application of this method in the conditions of an exceptional historical epoch. It is precisely this union of the peculiarities of the epoch and the method that determines that courageous, self-assured policy of brusque turns of which Lenin gave us the finest models, and which he illumined theoretically and generalised on more than one occasion. (Page 39, The New Course 1923, L. Trotsky, New Park edition. Emphasis original)
Further down the page Trotsky continues:
“Neither October, n or Brest-Litovsk, nor the creation of a regular army, nor the system of requisitioning food products, nor the NEP, nor the State Planning Commission, were or could have been foreseen or pre-determined by pre-October Marxism or Bolshevism. All these facts and turns were the results of the independent, critical application, marked by the spirit of initiative, of the methods of Bolshevism in situations that differed in each case.
“Every one of these decisions, before being adopted, provoked struggles. The simple appeal to tradition never decided anything.” (p. 39 New Course 1923, New Park Edition).
“The more ingrown the party apparatus, the more imbued it is with the, feeling of its own intrinsic importance, the slower it reacts to needs emanating from the ranks and the more inclined it is to set formal tradition against new needs and tasks. And if there is one thing likely to strike a mortal blow to the spiritual life of the party and to the doctrinal training of the youth, it is certainly the transformation of Leninism from a method of demanding for its application, initiative, critical thinking and ideological courage into a canon which demands nothing more than interpreters appointed for good and aye.” (Op. Cit p.41)
“Leninism cannot be conceived of without theoretical breadth, without a critical analysis of the material bases of the political process. The weapon of Marxist investigation must be constantly sharpened and applied. It is precisely in this that tradition consists, and not in the substitution of a formal reference or of an accidental quotation ...”. (Ibid.)
... “Leninism cannot be chopped up into quotations suited for every possible case, because for Lenin the formula never stands higher than the reality[our emphasis]; it is always the tool that makes it possible to grasp the reality and dominate it … The Leninist truth is always concrete!” (Ibid.)
Trotsky had already, in full agreement with Lenin, entered into the decisive battle against the transformation of Lenin's writings into lifeless dogma. When Trotsky insists that “the Leninist truth is always concrete”, he emphasises Lenin's firm adherence to the scientific method of materialist dialectics. Quotations from Lenin, torn from their historical context are dogma. The same applies to Trotsky. In such an isolated context, the word “concrete” itself could become meaningless. History can only be understood dialeclically in a state of becoming. We must start from the class struggle of today and our practical revolutionary needs in building and training the Marxist Party. This is the synthesis which enables us to analyse the relationship concretely between the present and the past. The synthesis with the present contains the analysis which enables us to establish the dialectical relationship between the present and the past. Only in this living concrete way is the past contained and manifested in the present.
The Present Historical Process in the Political Revolution
In its weekend issue of August 27-28, 1989, the Italian newspaper Repubblica described how, “For the Soviet school year beginning in September 1989, new history books will be in the hands of millions of Soviet pupils”. According to this report, “The names of Trotsky, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, the old Bolsheviks, crushed by the Stalinist terror and labelled enemies in disguise and agents of the counter-revolution, reappear in the new history books. Long unseen and unpublished documents, such as Lenin's letter to the Central Committee, which accompanied his testament are appearing out of oblivion ... Relying on the unpublished accounts of partly reworked texts, history according to the Gorbachev era is arriving in the classrooms to lay bare the old false, adulterated official history”, complied under Stalin. Gorbachev had ordered “that the blank pages of Soviet history should be written. It began with the school textbooks.”
According to Repubblica, Alexander Sudakov, the editor-in-chief of the state school textbook publishing house, said in an interview that the writing of the new schoolbooks “was not easy”, and cannot be said to be completed. Above all, the chief editor explained, “We do not have a clear and analytical framework of the events. We need a deep analysis of the various periods, from Stalin to Krushchev, to Brezhnev, to Chernienko, ending up with perestroika, as a historical outline”. In the second place, according to Sudakov, “there has been, yes, an appreciation of the victims of Stalinism, but not yet a real recognition. The Supreme Soviet has not yet decided to give pensions to the victims of Stalinist repression. The words of condemnation have been spoken, but it is not enough simply to say this to people who were right. Finally”, said Sudakov, “some authors have refused to work for us, not being able to change, because they are too attached to the past. Others did not want to become involved in the present because they are frightened of the unknown in the future.”
Repubblica continues to provide many examples of the changes which Sudakov and his colleagues have introduces into the new history books. “The new textbook replaces ‘Lenin's Commandments’ with ‘Lenin's Testament’, what he thought of Stalin (‘too rude, unable to use his enormous power prudently’), of Trotsky (‘too self-confident, too attached to the purely administrative side of work’) and of Bukharin. It is unnecessary to say that the old text contained no trace of this."
These are really relatively short extracts from the article in Repubblica. However, if we start from the present, which is the publication of the new history, we can easily understand that the reason for the publication by the Komsomol of Trotsky's New Course - 1923 is to make the dialectical connection between the forms of the changing history books in the present, and the historical content of Trotsky's writings in 1923 - The “new” forms with the “old”, and emerging from the “old”.
The Left Opposition comes to Life in the Present
As the month of August drew to a close, further news emerged in relationton the publication of the political policies fought for by Trotsky in the early 1920s. Soviet Weekly, founded by Stalin in 1942, published an interview with Ivan Vrachev, who is now 91 years old, a signatory and one of the founders of the Left Opposition in 1923. In the interview he recalls that:
“A sharp discussion preceded the Tenth Party Congress. Several platforms appeared, Trotsky’s, Bukharin’s the Democratic Centralist factions the Workers Opposition, and finally the thesis of Rudzutak, approved by Lenin and later by the majority of the congress delegates ... The supporters of Trotsky's faction voted· in favour of both.
“Looking back on history, I must emphasise that adopting these resolutions was a step back from the democratic way of life in the party. During the discussion on these resolutions, Rezanov proposed banning, in future, voting according to platforms. Lenin spoke sharply against this proposal. Declaring that it was impossible to deprive party members of the right to have their own ideas on different issues, and to limit them to such an extent that they could not prove and defend, in an organised way, their correctness: if important disagreements appeared in the Party one should not be forbidden from voting by platforms - this sounds highly appropriate for our time as well.”
The Tenth Party Congress adopted a resolution to forbid factions.
“In October 1923”, Vrachev continues, “a statement was sent to the party Central Committee, (CC), by 46 old-guard Bolsheviks criticising the general state of affairs in the country and, most importantly, the state of the party, violations of the principles of collective leadership, and so on.
“Similar ideas were expressed by Trotsky in his letter addressed to the CC about the same time. That is why Stalin, in his speech about the opposition at the 13th Conference, called it Trotskyist... At the conference, Stalin blamed the opposition for establishing a faction. I, [Vrachev], suggested organising a special commission to check whether such a faction did exist, and if so, to punish the perpetrators for violating the resolution of the 10th Congress. Of course no one supported me.
“After the conference, Kamenev told Boguslavski: ‘Splendid! We have broken you up! You failed. The Party is following us.’ Boguslavski's answer was: ‘History will decide.’ Kamenev’s reaction to that was: ‘Mikhail Semyonovich, remember once and for all, it depends on who is going to write the history.’ This reveals his cynicism and wisdom. That’s the way he was”
At the 13th Party Conference, Ivan Vrachev took the floor, calling out: “Comrades, let me speak, we maybe have only two hours of democracy left.”
“Yes, I said that these were going to be the last hours of inner-party democracy. Sapronov, who spoke after me, said: ‘Vrachev said that these are going to be the last hours of democracy. I am going to give the last democratic speech.’ And so it was. Such speeches were not allowed any more, nowhere. From this moment, Stalin's power began to get firmer.” Soviet Weekly continues: “When Vrachev met Trotsky in Sukhumi in 1924, he asked him why he had not attended Lenin's funeral. ‘Stalin would not allow me,’ he answered. He had found out about Lenin's death in Tbilisi and immediately sent a telegram to the CC – ‘I want to come to the funeral’. Stalin's answer: ‘You won't make it. The funeral is on Saturday’. But the funeral, as is known, took place on Sunday. According to the train timetable, Trotsky would have made it. This conversation was on the direct-line. He showed me the tape and then the telegram: ‘The politburo recommends that you continue your treatment. GenSec Stalin’.”
Here we have an historical verification of what Trotsky himself wrote in My life, published in exile. According to Soviet Weekly Vrachev is today refused party membership. “On the basis that he was a former active participant in the Trotskyist opposition”. To which he adds: “Many blank spots in the history of our party have not yet been eliminated: I am refused membership because at the height of the Stalin repressions, after the trials of 1937-38, a resolution was adopted to expel from the party all opposition supporters - a decision followed to this day. Posthumous restoration of membership is
meaningless for the dead.” [our emphasis].
Soviet Weekly reports that Vrachev was “invited by the regional soviet’s executive committee to apply for the personal pension to which former senior party or state figures are entitled ... Although he had the support of the executive committee, the Commission refused a personal pension because party membership had not been restored. Small wonder he feels uneasy about discussing the matter, since he receives a pension of little more than 100 roubles a month - after an increase of 22 roubles”.
This founding member of the Left Opposition is the same now as when he joined the Bolshevik Party - full of revolutionary principles and fearless. The last two paragraphs of the interview published in Soviet Weekly are worth quoting, especially for those who have turned the teachings of Trotsky into dogma:
“Vrachev associates the recent First Congress of People's Deputies with the First Congress of Soviets all those years ago.” He explains:
“The Western press writes that this was the first time in 70 years that our parliament has been held in democratic conditions. This is not correct: in the first years of Soviet power there existed full democracy in the All Russian Congress of Soviets and in the government, to which I was elected.
“I am now 91 years old, and I am endlessly happy that I've lived to see the restoration of democratic principles, and to see the First Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR.”
Here again we have the historical forms of the new directly connected with the historical content of the old. This is an historical verification of the scientific method outlined by Professor Ignatiev.