A proletarian but opportunist reaction to the degeneration of the Comintern

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On 15 October 1923, 46 members of the Bolshevik party sent a secret letter to the Political Bureau of the party's Central Committee denouncing, among other things, the bureaucratic stifling of the internal life within the party. The "Platform of the 46"[1] thus marked the birth of the Left Opposition, with Trotsky as its figurehead.

Trotskyist groups trace their roots back to the Left Opposition, which in 1938 gave birth to the Fourth International, to which they lay claim.

However, they have generally not seen fit to celebrate this anniversary and have remained very discreet about their alleged affiliation. For all that, the link they draw (and have always drawn) between themselves and the revolutionaries of the 1920s amounts to setting up as immutable the political principles that constituted the "errors" of the workers' movement of the time, rather than the revolutionary positions which the revolutionary wave of 17-23 had made it possible to draw. Moreover, it was these same erroneous positions which served as the breeding ground for the fundamental positions of "Trotskyism" which, since the Second World War, has served as a "left" endorsement of the policies of the bourgeois state against the working class.

The disastrous consequences of the retreat of the revolution for the CI

The bloody failure of the proletariat first in Germany and then in Hungary in 1919 was the twilight of the revolutionary wave that had emerged in Russia in October 1917. This was followed by a decline in struggles around the world and the growing isolation of the revolution in Russia. This situation weighed heavily on the Communist International (CI) and the Bolshevik Party, which began to adopt measures opposed to the interests of the working class with the subjugation of the soviets to the Party, the enrolment of workers in the unions, the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo [2] and the bloody repression of workers' struggles (Kronstadt, Petrograd 1921). The adoption of these policies only accelerated the defeat of the revolution of which they were themselves the expression, provoking reactions from the left in both the CI and the Bolshevik party. At the Third Congress of the CI (1921), the German-Dutch Left, grouped together in the KAPD, denounced the return of parliamentarianism and trade unionism as a departure from the positions adopted at the First Congress in March 1919. It was also at this congress that the "Italian Left" reacted strongly against the unprincipled policy of alliance with the "centrists" and the denaturing of the CPs by the mass entry of fractions from Social Democracy.

A proletarian reaction to the degeneration of the Communist International

But it was in Russia itself that the first opposition appeared. As early as 1918, the review Kommunist, founded by Bukharin, Ossinsky and Radek, warned the party against the danger of adopting a policy of state capitalism. Between 1919 and 1921, several groups ("Democratic Centralism", "Workers' Opposition") also reacted to the rise of the bureaucracy within the party and the growing concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a minority. But the most consistent reaction to the opportunist drift of the Bolshevik party was Miasnikov's "Workers' Group", which denounced the fact that the party was gradually sacrificing the interests of the world revolution to the interests of the Russian state. All these resolutely proletarian tendencies did not wait for Trotsky and the Left Opposition to fight for the defence of the revolution and the Communist International.

In fact, it was only after the political collapse of the CI in Germany in 1923 and in Bulgaria in 1924 that the current known as the "Left Opposition" began to take shape within the Bolshevik party, and more precisely in its leading ranks. The meaning of its struggle can be summed up in its own slogan: "Death to the kulak, the Nepmen, the bureaucrat". In other words, it was a question of attacking both the interclassist policy of "enrich yourself in the countryside" advocated by Bukharin, and the party's rampant bureaucracy and its methods. Internationally, the Opposition's criticisms focused on the formation of the Anglo-Russian Committee and the CI's policy in the Chinese Revolution. But in fact, all these questions could be summed up in a single struggle, that of defending the proletarian revolution against the theory of "socialism in one country". In other words, the struggle to defend the interests of the world proletariat against the nationalist policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

The Left Opposition in Russia was therefore born as a proletarian reaction to the disastrous effects of the counter-revolution.

But its late appearance weighed heavily on its thinking and its struggle. It proved incapable of understanding the real nature of the Stalinist and bureaucratic phenomenon, trapped as it was in illusions about the working-class nature of the Russian state. As a result, while criticising Stalin's policies, it actively supported the subjugation of the working class through the militarisation of labour under the patronage of the trade unions, and even championed state capitalism through accelerated industrialisation.

Unable to break with the ambiguities of the Bolshevik party on the defence of the "Soviet Fatherland", it was therefore unable to wage a resolute and coherent struggle against the degeneration of the revolution and always remained at an inferior level to the proletarian opposition that had emerged after 1918. From 1928 onwards, more and more members of the opposition were subjected to Stalinist repression. They were hunted down and murdered by the Stalinists. Trotsky was himself expelled from the USSR.

The International Left Opposition repeats the mistakes of the CI

In other sections of the Communist International, tendencies opposed to the increasingly counter-revolutionary policy of the CI emerged. From 1929 onwards, a grouping was formed around and at the instigation of Trotsky, which took the name of the "International Left Opposition" (ILO). This constituted an extension of the Left Opposition in Russia, adopting its main conceptions. But in many respects, this opposition was an unprincipled grouping of all those who claimed to want to make a left-wing critique of Stalinism. Denying itself any real political clarification and leaving Trotsky as its main spokesman and theoretician, it proved incapable of waging a determined and coherent struggle to defend the continuity of the communist programme and principles. Worse still, its erroneous conception of the "degenerated workers' state" ultimately led it to defend Russian state capitalism. In 1929. For example, the Opposition defended the Russian army's intervention in China following the expulsion of Soviet officials by Chiang Kai Chek's government. On this occasion, Trotsky launched the infamous slogan: "Undying support for the socialist fatherland, never for Stalinism!". By dissociating Stalinist (and therefore capitalist) interests from Russia's national interests, this slogan could only lead the working class into defending the fatherland, paving the way for support for Soviet imperialism. This opportunist policy was also embodied in the defence of the United Front policy with Social Democracy and the Popular Front alliances in favour of anti-fascism, in the defence of democratic slogans and in the defence of "the rights of peoples to self-determination".

In the final analysis, each new tactic by Trotsky and the ILO was just another step towards capitulation and submission to the counter-revolution.

The struggle of the Italian Left working as a fraction within the ILO

This catastrophic drift also took concrete form at the organisational level. Unlike the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy, the ILO was incapable of understanding and assimilating the role to be played by organisations that remained faithful to the communist programme and principles when the revolution had been defeated and the communist parties had gone over to the camp of the counter-revolution. By conceiving itself as a simple "loyal opposition" to the CI with the aim of rectifying it from within, the ILO was unable to learn the lessons of the failure of the revolutionary wave and get to the root of the mistakes of the Communist International.

Until 1933, when the Fraction was definitively expelled from the ILO, the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy led the fight within the International Opposition, so that the latter could get on track with the work of a fraction that would enable it to assume the continuity of the communist programme and principles with a view to opening up a new revolutionary period and forming a new class party: "In the past, we have defended the fundamental notion of the 'fraction' against the so-called 'opposition' position. By the fraction we meant the organism which builds the cadres that will ensure the continuity of the revolutionary struggle and which are destined to become the spearhead of proletarian victory. Against us, the position of ‘opposition’ triumphed within the International Left Opposition. The latter stated that it was not necessary to announce the need to form cadres: the key to events lay in the hands of centrism and not in the hands of the fraction. This divergence is assuming a new character, but it is still the same difference, although at first sight it seems that the problem today consists of being for or against the new parties. Comrade Trotsky totally neglects, for the second time, the work of forming cadres, believing that he can pass immediately to the construction of new parties and the new International"[3]. The inability of Trotsky and the opposition to engage in fraction work led him to conceive of party building as a simple matter of tactics in which the will of the select few could substitute for historical conditions. This approach, which had more to do with magic than materialism, clearly obscured "the conditions of the class struggle as they are contingent on the historical development and the relationship of forces between the existing classes"[4].

Without a real political compass, the Opposition could only be tossed about at the whim of historical events. Hence the call to form the Fourth International (1938) at a time when the working class was mobilised to defend the interests of the various imperialist powers and the world was on the brink of a second world butchery.

Thus, far from making a credible contribution to preparing the conditions for the future party, the trajectory of the Left Opposition considerably weakened the revolutionary milieu and was a source of confusion and disorientation within the working masses in the night of counter-revolution. As for the Trotskyist movement, it met the fate of every opportunist enterprise. By taking up the defence of the USSR and the anti-fascist camp during the Second World War, it betrayed proletarian internationalism and passed with all its baggage into the camp of the bourgeoisie. Its offspring, today's Trotskyist organisations, are now on the side of the bourgeois state[5].

On the other hand, by understanding its historical role, the Italian Fraction was able to defend and preserve the communist programme and organisational principles. It was able to prepare for the future by enabling first the Gauche Communiste de France (1944-1952) and then the ICC to take up this political heritage and assume the historical continuity of the organisation of revolutionaries with a view to contributing to the formation of the future party, indispensable for the triumph of the proletarian revolution.

Vincent, 16 December 2023

The photo shows leading members of the Left Opposition in 1927. Sitting (left to right): Serebryakov, Radek, Trotsky, Boguslavsky and Preobrazhensky. Standing (left to right): Rakovsky, Drobnis, Beloborodov and Sosnovsky

 


[2] Secret state-to-state diplomacy: the permission for German troops to train on Russian soil.

[3] Bilan, no.1 (November 1933).

[4] "Les méthodes de la Gauche communiste et celle du trotskisme", Internationalisme no.23 (June 1947)

[5] It should nevertheless be noted that during the early stages of the Second World War, Trotsky still had the strength to completely revise all his political positions, particularly on the nature of the USSR. "In his last pamphlet, The USSR at War,he said that if Stalinism emerged victorious and strengthened from the war, then his judgement of the USSR would have to be revised. This is what Natalia Trotsky did, using her companion's logic of thought and by breaking with the Fourth International on the nature of the USSR on 9 May 1951, like other Trotskyists, notably Munis.” (“Trotsky belongs to the working class, the Trotskyists have kidnapped him", RévoIution Internationale no.179, May 1989)

Rubric: 

Formation of the Left Opposition in Russia