Evidence from the Archives

Against the Current, No. 64, September/October 1996

John Marot

SINCE THIS REVIEW was written, new evidence from the archives directly confirms that the Trotskyist leadership unalterably opposed all working class political struggles against Stalinism that might result in or require the formation of a second party.

In “The Left Communist Opposition in the USSR in the Late ’20s” (Otechestvennaia Istoriia, January-February 1996, 85-103), A.V. Gusev, a Ph.D candidate at Moscow’s Lomonosov State University, cites Radek’s September 1928 circular to fellow Trotskyists complaining that a “considerable segment of workers and youth” in the Trotskyist rank and file simply could not bring themselves to understand why the Trotskyist leadership refused to work toward the foundation of a new, competing party to represent the interests of the working class.

Indeed, some among them were now demanding outright organizational and political independence from the Communist Party thereby demonstrating, in Radek’s view, the danger of a “sharp leftist deviation” among Trotskyist rank and filers toward another oppositional grouping, the “democratic centralists” or “Decemists.” (97)

Led by V. Smirnov and T. Sapronov, the Decemists had already concluded that the Communist Party was not reformable as it represented the interests of a new ruling class, and called on workers to engage in independent political action against it. (98) These ideas found favor among quite a few Trotskyists. Indeed, one Trotskyist rued the outbreak of a “Decemist epidemic” in their midst. (99)

The Trotskyist leadership denounced the Decemists as ultra-left, sectarian and adventurist (98-99) and urged the Left Opposition to explicitly reject working class political strikes against the putatively workers’ government: “The duty of the opposition is to channel the demands of the working class into trade union and party legality, Rakovsky wrote, to oppose methods of struggle, such as strikes, that are harmful to industry and the state and to the workers themselves.” (95)

Gusev unequivocally concludes that the Trotskyists’ reformist course, their legalism, their “conscious refusal to seek support in the growing workers’ movement” significantly “weakened the effectiveness of the ‘bolshevik-leninists’ and disoriented potential adherents.” (95) In Yeltsin’s Russia, academic freedom still tenuously exists so that everyone is free to write whatever they want, to lie freely, to slander freely, to distort freely a la Volkogonov–or to tell the truth freely, a la Gusev.

ATC 64, September-October 1996