In a major document entitled The Platform of the Joint Opposition (1927), Trotsky drew a balance sheet of ten years of Communist government, and reasserted the policies of Marxism in contrast to the blind opportunism of the bureaucracy.

The Platform called for the revival of the soviets, the restoration of workers’ democracy, and a bold program of industrialisation. Under pressure of the Opposition, the bureaucracy had put forward proposals for a limited five-year plan. But it was based on the kulaks’ interests, and neglected the need for industrial development. The Platform explained the alternative:

We must carry out in deeds a redistribution of the tax-burden among the classes – loading more heavily the kulak and Nepman, relieving the workers and the poor…

…we must steer a firm course towards industrialisation, electrification and rationalisation, based upon increasing the technical power of the economy and improving the material conditions of the masses.

The Opposition criticised Stalin’s disastrous foreign policy of seeking “instant” support from left-reformist and nationalist leaders, rather than building the Comintern as a mass revolutionary force. The danger of imperialist attack, it explained, could only be defeated through an all-out struggle to mobilise the support of the mass of the working class internationally.

The bureaucrats had no answer to these ideas. Their “reply” was to unleash a campaign of vicious intimidation against the Opposition.

On the central committee, now packed with Stalin’s hand-picked yes-men, Trotsky, Zinoviev and others were sworn at and howled down when they tried to speak. It was no better in the rest of the party. Victor Serge describes the scene in meeting after meeting:

I had occasion to speak, or rather to try to speak, before gatherings shaken with a sort of frenzy. We were given the floor for five minutes after three-hour harangues. And against each of us they unleashed five, six, sometimes ten ‘activists’ eager to procure the favour of the secretaries. The crowd looked on passively, with a certain anxiety; they were often on our side, but they were afraid.

From Lenin to Stalin

On the tenth anniversary of the October revolution, in the face of this merciless witch-hunt, the Opposition heroically took their slogans to mass demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad: “Let us turn our fire to the right – against the kulak, the Nepman and the bureaucrat”; “Let us carry our Lenin’s Will”; “Against opportunism, against a split, and for the unity of Lenin’s party”!

The bureaucracy reacted with panic-stricken fury. They had seen, at a demonstration in Leningrad the previous month, how thousands of workers had flocked to listen to Trotsky and Zinoviev when, by mistake, the police had escorted them to a platform. Now the Opposition demonstrations were violently broken up. A shot was fired at Trotsky’s car.

At the fifteenth congress, in December 1927, not one Oppositionist was permitted to attend as a delegate. 940 leading supporters of Trotsky were expelled. Yet the Opposition continued to fight for its ideas. The London Times, under the headline “Trotsky versus Stalin”, reported: “The views of the Opposition, in spite of all prohibitions and the efforts of the Ogpu [secret police] … continue to be widely propagated by means of illegal pamphlets, which, according to Pravda, are each being printed in editions of tens of thousands…” (2 December 1927)

Marxist opposition to the rule of the bureaucracy was from this point driven underground.

Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s courage deserted them and, together with 2,500 supporters, they surrendered to Stalin. More expulsion of Trotskyists followed. Trotsky himself was expelled, exiled to Siberia, and then – because he remained a focal point for the Opposition – deported from the Soviet Union early in 1929.

In spite of these terrible blows, Trotsky and thousands of his supporters remained committed to the ideas of Bolshevism and the program of the October revolution. In their propaganda they identified themselves as the Bolshevik-Leninists, to distinguish themselves from the upstart bureaucrats who had installed themselves at the head of the Communist movement.

From exile, Trotsky continued his theoretical work – his exposure of opportunism, pretences and treachery of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and his clarification of the Marxist alternative under rapidly changing conditions – that had formed perhaps his greatest contribution to Marxism. These ideas would serve as the guideline for a new revolutionary generation.

Continue to Chapter Seventeen