Guy A. Aldred Archive

Communism : Story of the Communist Party
Chapter 2
Party Democracy

Written: 1935.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

The Left Opposition rose in the Soviet Union, and took shape as a distinct grouping in 1923, headed by Trotsky. At that time, the Soviet Union was passing through what Trotsky termed, “ the scissors crisis.” This was the crisis of the relative prices and therefore exchange values of manufactured articles and agricultural products. The problem was to bring prices in both sectors into harmony. Inability to solve this problem developed a crisis of unemployment, need, and resulting proletarian discontent which reflected itself in the Communist Party in the expression of dissatisfaction on the part of the members. The NEP had been put into effect in 1921. This had eliminated the atmosphere of War Communism from Russian economy, but it had not destroyed the spirit of dictatorship and military tyranny politically. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat really meant the Dictatorship of the Communist Party and this meant the Dictatorship of an inner circle within the party. The military regime imposed upon the party by the civil war and the Capitalist intervention was now allied to a policy that made concessions to the NEP men and to the peasants. The more divorced this party dictatorship was from a proletarian revolutionary struggle, the more dangerous it became to proletarian development. In this fact is summarised the entire subsequent history of the progress from Leninism to Stalinism.

During the war period the freely elected party apparatus that had arisen during the revolution gave place automatically to a vast hierarchy of officials. The initiative and independence of the rank and file party member were stifled. The entrenchment of the growing bureaucratic caste produced clandestine factional groupings in the party. These groupings reflected the deep dissatisfaction of the party membership but their cabals did not succeed in expressing party democracy. Before illness compelled Lenin to withdraw from active party life, he openly denounced the danger of bureaucratism and indicated the need of workers’ democracy inside the party. He urged Trotsky to purge the party of this destructive cancer. The Tenth Party Congress under Lenin’s direction adopted a vigorous resolution on the need of party democracy which the Twelfth Party Congress re-affirmed. The resolution remained a dead letter and the bureaucracy entrenched itself. Bucharin supported the bureaucracy at this time. Nevertheless, in one of his speeches, he gave a vivid picture of the bureaucratic conditions prevailing. He declared that every investigation was decided by a question from the chair, “Who is for?” or “Who is against? “ The result was all “ elections to the party organisation have become elections in quotation marks,” since the voting took place without discussion and according to this formula of for and against, it being a bad business to speak against the authorities.

With this confession before us, we can understand why Trotsky found it futile and impossible to send suggestions, that were never considered, to the sub-committee of the C.C. that were born out of the strike-wave crisis of the summer of 1923. The bureaucracy drove him into non-attendance and then made the fact of his non-attendance a basic argument against his activity of protest.

On October 8, 1923, Trotsky addressed a letter to the Central Committee of the party on this question of democracy and also on the condition of national economy. Forty six of the Communist Party leaders followed this up by signing another letter of protest dealing with the same issue. This group attacked the C.C. for having “ instituted a regime of factional discipline,” which meant the assassination of party democracy. The group developed also its economic proposals of proletarian “ Dictatorship of Industry.” Preobrajensky, who supported Trotsky, worked out the theory of struggle against the peasant counter-revolution and stranglehold on the proletarian revolution, in The New Economics.

On December 5, 1923, the party leadership, which included Trotsky, unanimously adopted a resolution on the questions at issue. Three days later Trotsky collected the articles he had written on the matters in dispute and published them as a pamphlet, addressed to the consideration of local party conferences, under the title of The New Course. Supporting the resolution, Trotsky denounced the party leadership, and declared the task of the party was to “ subordinate the apparatus to itself.” He paralleled the degeneration of the Bolshevik “ old guard “ with the degeneration of the leaders of the Second International. He added that the “ bankrupt representatives of the apparatus “ were prepared, at that moment, “ bureaucratically to make the revolution null and void.” He impeached the “ factionalism “ of the bureaucracy.

Against this pamphlet, it was complained that to oppose the party to its apparatus was not Bolshevism ; to blame the apparatus for factionalism was anti-Bolshevism; and to compare the Bolshevik leadership with that of the Second International was to accuse the Bolshevik leaders of “ growing grey in the fight for and not the fight against “ Opportunism.” It must not be forgotten that, in the succeeding years, as the Bolshevik leaders were discarded one by one, in every case, Stalinism accused them of life-long opportamism !

Trotsky’s warnings were denounced as slanders by the section of the Bolshevik “ Old Guard “ and “ Leninist Central Committee” which broke into dozens of fragments in the years that followed. As the individual members succumbed to the persecution of the bureaucratic machine, they must have mused on Trotsky’s application of Lenin’s phase, that “ history knows degenerations of all sorts.”

The Trotsky programme for restoring workers’ democracy was coupled with a definite policy of planned economy for speeding up the industrialisation of agriculture. The plan idea met with astounding antagonism from the bureaucracy but ten years after was accepted and applied efficiently by the Stalinist apparatus and popularised under the title of the Five Year Plan. The fact that it had been advanced by the Trotskyist Opposition and ridiculed by the Stalin majority is forgotten most conveniently. The Stalinist view, and the essence of the dispute, was stated well by Zinoviev, at that time a violent opponent of Trotsky, and the spokesman of the Stalin majority faction, in his speech of January 6, 1924.

Zinoviev spoke of Trotsky’s “ obstinate persistence in clinging to a beautiful plan” and declared it to be “ intrinsically nothing else than a considerable concession to the old-fashioned view that a good plan is a universal remedy, the last word in wisdom.”

” Trotsky’s standpoint has greatly impressed many students. We want to have transport affairs managed by Dzherzhinsky; economics by Rykov; finance by Sokolnikov; TROTSKY, ON THE OTHER HAND, WANTS TO CARRY OUT EVERYTHING WITH THE AID OF A ‘STATE PLAN’.”

Trotsky’s theory of a State plan later became the policy of the Stalin group and the sole justification for its continuation in power. The Stalin majority borrowed wholesale the very programme against which they had mobilised the whole Communist movement years before, and for urging which Trotsky was exiled. With the apparatus at their command, the party leaders were able to obtain a majority for their demagogy. The control of the machinery of the Communist International facilitated the “ voting down “ of the opposition in the so-called parties abroad. Trotsky was voted down by a membership of which not one tenth had seen or read what he actually wrote and stood for. The majority was rigged against Trotskyism with comparative ease largely because of the October 1923 retreat of the Communist Party in Germany. This event developed hysteria in the ranks of the Comintern, intensified the reaction in the Soviet union, and decided the passing of the Communist International.