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Leon Trotsky 19301031 Tasks in the USSR

Leon Trotsky: Tasks in the USSR

October 31, 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 3, 1930-1931, New York 1973, p. 51-55]

Dear Comrades,

The centrists are waist-deep in trouble with the five-year plan. At one time they used to accuse us, with no basis whatsoever, of favoring a rigid administrative plan. In actuality they themselves have turned the plan into a fetish. Things cannot be otherwise under a regime in which everything is worked out at the top, behind closed doors, and then handed down to the masses like the tablets from Sinai. The unalterable bureaucratic plan, which has already brought such calamities down on the workers' heads, has at the same time become a trap for the centrist bureaucracy. It cannot get free of that trap without losing at least one of its paws. But this time, sacrificial victims of the Bauman type will prove no longer sufficient. The party and the country know very well who is responsible for the five-year plan in four years. The Kalinins and Voroshilovs may try, this time, to get free of the trap by chewing off the paw that goes by the name of "general secretary." Whether their teeth are up to the job will depend not so much on them as on the whole situation. One way or another, a new party crisis is bearing down on us with seven-league boots.

It will differ qualitatively from all the preceding crises in the one respect that the unknown quantities in the party itself have grown to a grotesque degree. The Bessedovskys, Agabekovs, Dmitrievskys, and others now constitute a hard-to-measure but very important element in the whole situation. These types take up the name Thermidoreans of their own accord: after all, you have to call yourself something. Essentially this is the faction of bureaucratic toadies, who have sniffed out the coming danger and are seeking a new master. Stalin based himself on this crowd of cronies in his struggle against us. In that struggle Bessedovskyism "matured," that is, became rotten to the core. The Bessedovskys also helped Stalin deal with the Right elements such as Rykov, Bukharin, and Tomsky, although the toadies were unquestionably a hundred times more right-wing themselves. The imminent party crisis will inevitably prompt the bureaucratic toadies to intervene. They represent the most immediately dangerous unknown quantity within the party, or more precisely, within its apparatus at this time. Their abundance and their readiness for anything in the face of danger (Bessedovsky's leap over the class fence was a symbolic gesture) give the coming crisis, to one degree or another, the features of a palace coup. Elements of a coup have been present for some time: the elimination of the elective principle within the party, the intervention of the GPU in the factional struggle, the nakedly plebiscitary regime, and so on. But now a leap in the ongoing process confronts us, a transformation of quantity into quality.

Let us imagine for a moment that in the coming crisis the Bessedovskys bring Stalin down. Is this ruled out? Generally speaking, it is not But it is necessary to understand what it means. The Bessedovskys can bring down Stalin only in the way that crumbling pillars cause a cupola to fall. The faction of toadies who have jumped over the wall is certainly not capable of playing an independent role. What would develop in such a case on the day after a coup by that faction?

The democratic fools (and sharpies) outside our country have again begun to play with the idea of soviets without communists. Speaking in general, such a historical episode is certainly not excluded. But if the Soviets, with the Mensheviks and SRs at their head, lasted only eight months before giving way to the Bolsheviks, then soviets without communists — as the reel ran backward — would barely last longer than eight weeks before giving way to some transparent combination of Thermidor and Bonapartism, which in turn would only serve as a short bridge to a "grand R-R-Rooshian"1 Bonapartism sweeping all before it and mincing no words.

The fact is that in the event of a collapse of the party apparatus, with the toadies coming out into the open, with the party masses completely disoriented, with the two basic classes of the society in a state of profound discontent, "soviets without communists" would only be a fleeting expression of the progressive paralysis of the revolution itself.

The Soviets, without rudder or sails, would themselves begin to look for a savior. The Bessedovskys and the candidates for the same role who exist in the army and GPU — all these Blüchers, Tukhachevskys, Yagodas, Deribases, and so on — would push in that very same direction. And if Klim [Voroshilov] were to lop off the general secretary — basing himself in such an action on the general staff, no doubt, rather than the party, or even the Orgburo — he would give as his justification the argument that "something at least had to be saved." The same kind of formula would be used by other has-beens, too, people at various stages of degeneration, including of course the Pyatakovs, Radeks, and so on. Klim's military dictatorship, coupled with certain surviving elements of the Soviet system, would indeed be our own, native-born form of Bonapartism, in its first stage.

It is obvious to what extent all these possibilities and probabilities reduce the likelihood of success for the road of reform. But the odds cannot be measured in advance. The essence of Stalin's plebiscitary regime, after all, is to preclude the possibility of a preliminary political orientation being provided that would be at all concrete. Insofar as the coming party-political crisis will, by all indications, involve elements of a coup, it is hardly likely to occur without civil war. But on what scale? Along what lines? Under what "legal" forms? This cannot possibly be predicted exactly, all the less so from afar and without any knowledge of the ins and outs of the party apparatus or of the ties that various groups or factions may have with nonparty groupings, above all, in the state apparatus, or that the latter may have with the social classes.

There is absolutely no question, at any rate, that in the light of the approaching upheavals the Bolshevik-Leninists stand for preserving and maintaining the gains of the October Revolution, i.e., above all, the elements of the proletarian dictatorship and the leading role of the party. In this fundamental sense we remain on the road of reform. This means, in particular, that we have to do everything possible to see to it that, in the event of civil war, the revolutionary proletarian nucleus of the communist movement starts out from legal positions, that is, fights under the official flag to defend the surviving elements of the October Revolution within the existing system, as against those who wish to make a frontal assault on the system as a whole, or who wish, at first, to attack "only" the elements of October in the Soviet system. That is what the line of reform comes down to, in this present period of preparation for crisis.

It is useful to illustrate this idea by taking up a particular question. Several months ago comrades wrote us that C. G. Rakovsky had come out in favor of a coalition central committee, i.e., one composed of the right, center, and left. Since the right wing is still in the Central Committee, what this would actually mean is the inclusion of the left. Of course there can be no question of the Stalinists agreeing to such a combination any earlier than the last twenty-four hours before the onset of the crisis. Even today they are continuing their crude and fanatical campaign against the left on an international scale. The proletarian nucleus of the party senses the approaching danger and is looking for a way out. It will seek that way — it cannot help but do so — along the road of reform. This nucleus cannot set itself the task of handing leadership and power over to the Left Opposition: it does not have that kind of confidence in the Opposition and, even if it did, such a radical change in leadership would look more like a palace coup than a reform of the party to the party masses. The slogan of a coalition central committee is much more suitable as a slogan that, on the eve of crisis or in its midst, could become the slogan of broad layers of the party.

Can there be any objections in principle, on our part, to such a slogan? We do not see any. We have always said, and it was not just an empty phrase, that we remained at the disposal of the party. We did not leave the Central Committee of our own free will. We were expelled because we refused to renounce either our ideas or our right to defend them. The slogan of a coalition central committee presupposes of course that we remain true to the Opposition platform and ready to fight for it on party grounds and with party methods. We cannot approach the problem in any other way.

It may be that a wide layer of opinion in the party would pick up the idea of a three-way coalition at a certain stage, viewing it as the only means of saving the party from a complete collapse, with the danger of its being buried for good. It is quite obvious, too, that Bukharin types in the right wing have as much reason as we to fear the faction of emboldened toadies, even though it was the Bukharinists and Stalinists themselves who originally nursed this crowd along with their intellectual pablum. The party today has become so stagnant, atomized, repressed, and above all, disoriented that the first stages of its reawakening will take place under the most elementary slogans. "Let Stalin, Molotov, Bukharin, Rykov, Rakovsky, and Trotsky unite, if only to clean the riffraff out of the party and state apparatus." No matter how primitive this idea is, it could play a serious role if it spread among wide-enough layers of the party in time, and first of all, of course, among the proletarian core of the party. We would enter such a coalition — if such a thing proved realizable in the first place — only in the name of much broader aims. We are not renouncing anything. On the contrary, it would be up to others to renounce something (many things, in fact). But the question now is not how this slogan is to be realized in practice (or not realized, which is more likely). What is important now is that, by being put forward in a timely way, this slogan could bring the masses of the party out of their stupor and bring the Left Opposition out of its present isolation, which constitutes the main danger in the entire situation.

In conclusion it remains to be said that the raising of this or that demand, including such a partial and auxiliary demand as the one for a coalition central committee, presupposes a capacity for regular work on the part of the Opposition, and under present conditions that requires organization. That is a question that must be posed in all urgency. No matter how great the difficulties, they have to be overcome. The inertia of defeat is still making itself felt today. But the opportunities are unquestionably bigger and broader than they seem to many. It is necessary to set to work with a will.

1 There is a pun in the original. Instead of the word rossiiskii, meaning "of the Russian empire," Trotsky uses rasseiskii, mocking the way a half-educated but zealous chauvinist might pronounce the glorious imperial adjective. At the same time, it is a pun on the root rassei-, meaning "to disperse, scatter, or sweep (someone or something) away," as a Bonapartist regime would do to opponents, troublesome crowds, etc. — Translator