The party bureaucracy resorted to vote-rigging to exclude Opposition delegates from the thirteenth conference in January 1924, where the inner-party debate was to be decided.
In Moscow, for example, the Opposition had majority support in most of the cells (branches). In the regional elections, despite ruthless weeding out of Opposition supporters by Stalin’s appointed secretaries, 36% of the vote still went to the Opposition. Yet, at the provincial level, this vote was mysteriously halved.
From the whole of the USSR, only three Opposition delegates managed to get into the conference!
Then came the news of Lenin’s death. The mass of workers and youth were plunged into even deeper gloom, while the bureaucracy immediately felt themselves in a stronger position.
The triumvirate now set out to defeat the Opposition’s power base among the party activists. Supposedly in tribute to Lenin, they threw the party open to workers – had not Trotsky criticised the fact that only 15% of the membership were workers?
Between February and May 1924 some 240,000 workers were admitted. This so-called “Lenin levy” was, in fact, a mockery of the method of party-building that Lenin had developed.
As the party congress had explained in 1919:
The Communist Party is the organisation which unites in its ranks only the vanguard of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry – that part of these classes which consciously strives to realise in practice the communist program.
The Communist Party makes it its task to win decisive influence… in all organisations of workers…
Flooding the party with raw recruits went directly counter to this task – but it served another purpose. The “Lenin levy”, the trio calculated, would in the first place provide them with voting fodder to swamp the Opposition. Inexperienced members, confronted with unfamiliar problems, will tend to follow the lead they are given. Very few would feel able to challenge the Politbureau.
As in Russia, there was strong support for the Opposition in the Communist parties internationally. The central committees of the mass-based French and Polish parties, for example, protested against the attacks on Trotsky.
The triumvirate could not tolerate this. Zinoviev, as Comintern president, ruthlessly abused his position, disbanding the leading bodies of national parties to get rid of Trotsky’s supporters – under the slogan of “Bolshevisation”!
Yet the bureaucracy could not feel secure as long as Trotsky, with his giant authority as theoretician and co-leader of the October revolution, continued to subject their opportunism and blunders to merciless Marxist criticism. It was essential for the Zinovievites and Stalinists to rewrite history and cover Trotsky’s name in mud.
Their tactic was to invent “Trotskyism” (a phrase coined by Zinoviev in December 1923). This consisted of raking-up each and every past difference between Lenin and Trotsky in order to insinuate that Trotsky had “always” been opposed to Bolshevism.
Trotsky was reviled as a Menshevik (after the confusing split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903 he had, for a few months, found himself in the Mensheviks’ camp before the political differences between them became clear) and also as an ultra-left! In particular his theory of permanent revolution was seized on to demonstrate his “petty-bourgeois deviation from Leninism”.
In fact, Trotsky’s fundamental disagreement with the Mensheviks was precisely the basis for his political alliance with Lenin in 1917 and after.
The Mensheviks, Trotsky explained,
…took as their point of departure the idea that to the liberal bourgeoisie … belonged the leading role in the bourgeois [democratic] revolution. According to this pattern, the party of the proletariat was assigned the role of Left Wing of the democratic front.The Permanent Revolution
From this it followed that the revolution should be carried out in two stages: first, a “democratic” stage (on the basis of capitalism); and only at some point in the future would “socialism” be on the agenda.
Trotsky rejected this mechanical formula and developed his own analysis of the character of the revolution in a backward country such as Russia. This analysis, brilliantly confirmed by the October revolution, became known as the theory of “permanent revolution”.
“In the event of a decisive victory of the revolution,” Trotsky wrote in 1906,
…power will pass into the hands of that class which plays a leading role in the struggle – in other words, into the hands of the proletariat… The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy.Results and Prospects
Should the Russian proletariat find itself in power … it will encounter the organised hostility of world reaction, and on the other hand will find a readiness on the part of the world proletariat to give organised support… It will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian Revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe.
Lenin, in April 1917, came to identical conclusions. By 1924, the term “permanent revolution” had not been an issue for years, and the debate about it was purely historical.
For the bureaucracy, however, the party’s commitment to revolutionary internationalism – defended above all by Trotsky – was becoming an intolerable thorn in the flesh.
With the defeat of the German revolution it became clear that the Soviet Union faced a period of prolonged isolation. To the bureaucracy, the perspective of world revolution became more and more wishful thinking. They wrote-off the working class in the west, and settled down to the “practical” task of managing the Soviet Union in the midst of a capitalist world.
Material conditions call forth ideas. In the 1890s, Bernstein had developed the “theory” of reformism to justify the real-life retreat from the program of class struggle by the right-wing of social democracy.
Similarly, in 1924-25, Stalin produced a “theory” which reflected the conservatism of the Soviet bureaucracy, expressing their opposition to the Marxist position that Trotsky represented, and attempting, in “Marxist” terms, to justify their break with it: the “theory” of “socialism in one country”.