Zinoviev and Kamenev, with their supporters, joined forces with Trotsky and the Opposition in 1926 in a struggle to pull the party back from Stalin’s increasingly anti-Marxist course.

Stalin, for his part, joined forces with the extreme-right, pro-kulak wing of the party, headed by Bukharin, for the purpose of defeating the United Left Opposition.

This struggle was cut across by new upheavals internationally.

In Britain, the general strike of May 1926 provoked a profound crisis. The small Communist Party was presented with the opportunity of leading hundreds of thousands of workers in opposition to the reformist Trades Union Congress (TUC) leadership, and prepare the transfer of power to the working class.

But the Stalinist leadership in Russia were tied in an opportunistic alliance with the “lefts” on the TUC General Council, and permitted no struggle against them. The TUC right-wing betrayed the strike at the first opportunity. Stalin’s “left” allies offered no resistance.

After ten days, with the strike still spreading, the General Council unanimously called it off and surrendered to the bosses. This condemned the British working class to a historic defeat. The cause of the proletarian revolution in the West”, wrote Serge,

…seemed lost for many years to come. And now an immense light was rising in the East; the Chinese masses … were advancing from victory to victory.

From Lenin to Stalin

The Chinese working class was moving independently of the nationalist movement, the Kuomintang, led by the reactionary Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese Communist Party was becoming a mass force. Shanghai and Hankow were in the hands of the workers. A struggle for power was inevitable.

Again, Stalinist opportunism stood in the way of victory. Stalin and the Comintern leadership had dangerous illusions in Chiang Kai-shek, and declared the Kuomintang to be “a revolutionary bloc of the workers, peasants, intellectuals, and urban democracy [i.e. the capitalist class] on the basis of a community of class interests… in the struggle against the imperialists and the whole militarist-feudal order”. (Resolution of ECCI, March 1926)

In practice this meant that the Communist Party had to submit to Chiang’s authority. What was this except the old Menshevik idea of common struggle by the working class and the “democratic” capitalists” for democracy on a capitalist basis?

The Left Opposition fought this policy every inch of the way. They explained that Chiang was defending the capitalists and landlords; that a soviet (workers’) government was needed to give land to the peasantry and establish democracy.

“We know that Chiang Kai-shek is preparing the open betrayal of the unions and his communist allies”, wrote Serge,

We are not permitted to speak. And Stalin takes the floor in Moscow before thousands of workers and solemnly assures them that we have nothing to fear from Chiang Kai-shek.

From Lenin to Stalin

Chiang used the opportunity that Stalin gave him to prepare a savage massacre of Communists and workers in April 1927. The Comintern (after flirting with a “left” rival of Chiang, and suffering further defeats) swung over to an opposite, ultra-left course, and tried to engineer an insurrection in Canton. It was drowned in blood.

These events spelled the end of the Chinese Communist Party as a revolutionary workers’ organisation.

The Chinese revolution set enormous shock waves in motion internationally.

“A wave of excitement swept over the [Soviet] party”, Trotsky wrote.

The opposition raised its head… Many younger comrades thought the patent bankruptcy of Stalin’s policy was bound to bring the triumph of the opposition nearer…

I was obliged to pour many a bucket of cold water over the hot heads of my young friends… The fact that our forecast had proved correct might attract one thousand, five thousand or even ten thousand new supporters to us.

But for the millions the significant thing was not our forecast, but the fact of the crushing of the Chinese proletariat. After the defeat of the German revolution in 1923, after the break-down of the English general strike in 1926, the new disaster in China would only intensify the disappointment of the masses in the international revolution.

And it was this same disappointment that served as the chief psychological source for Stalin’s policy of national-reformism [i.e. “socialism in one country”].

My Life

Thus the international defeats, caused by the bureaucracy’s short-sighted opportunism, at the same time strengthened the bureaucracy, and created conditions for the isolation and defeat of the Marxist opposition. Trotsky explains:

The advances workers were indubitably sympathetic to the Opposition, but that sympathy remained passive. The masses lacked faith that the situation could be seriously changed by a new struggle. Meantime the bureaucracy asserted: ‘For the sake of an international revolution, the Opposition proposes to drag us into a revolutionary war. Enough of shake-ups! We have earned the right to rest. We will build the socialist society at home. Rely upon us, your leaders!’ This gospel of repose… indubitably found an echo among the weary workers, and still more the peasant masses.

The Revolution Betrayed

Continue to Chapter Sixteen