Leon Trotsky

The New Course

The Social Composition
of the Party

The internal crisis of the party is obviously not confined to the relationships of the generations. Historically, in a broader sense, its solution is determined by the social composition of the party and, above all, by the specific weight of the factory cells, of the industrial proletarians, that it includes.

The first concern of the working class after the seizure of power was the creation of a state apparatus (including the army, the organs for the management of economy, etc.). But the participation of workers in the state, cooperative and other apparatuses implied a weakening of the factory cells and an excessive increase of functionaries in the party, proletarian in their origin or not. There is the contradiction of the situation. We can get out of it only by means of substantial economic progress, a strong impulsion to industrial life and a constant flow of manual workers into the party.

At what speed will this fundamental process take place, through what ebbs and flows will it pass? It is hard to predict that now. At the present stage of our economic development, everything must of course be done to draw into the party the greatest possible number of workers at the bench. But the membership of the party can be altered seriously (so that, for example, the factory cells make two thirds of its ranks) only very slowly and only under conditions of noteworthy economic advances. In any case, we must still look forward to a very long period during which the most experienced and most active members of the party (including, naturally, those of proletarian origin) will be occupied at different posts of the state, the trade union, the cooperative, and the party apparatuses. And this fact itself implies a danger, for it is one of the sources of bureaucratism.

The education of the youth necessarily occupies an exceptional place in the party, as it will continue to do. By building up in our workers’ schools, universities, institutions of higher learning, the new contingent of intellectuals, which includes a high proportion of communists, we are detaching the young proletarian elements from the factory, not only for the duration of their studies but in general for their whole life: the working youth that has gone through the higher schools will in all probability be assigned, all of them, to the industrial, the state or the party apparatus. This is the second factor in the destruction of the internal equilibrium of the party to the detriment of its fundamental cells, the factory nuclei.

The question of whether the communist is of proletarian, intellectual or other origin obviously has its importance. In the period immediately following the revolution, the question of the profession followed before October even seemed decisive, because the assignment of the workers to this or that Soviet function seemed to be a temporary measure. At the present time, a profound change has taken place in this respect. There is no doubt that the chairmen of the regional committees or the divisional commissars, whatever their social origin, represent a definite social type, regardless of their individual origin. During these six years, fairly stable social groupings have been formed in the Soviet régime.

So it is that at present and for a relatively fairly long period to come, a considerable part of the party, represented by the best trained communists, is absorbed by the different apparatuses of civil, military, economic, etc., management and administration; another part, equally important, is doing its studying; a third part is scattered through the countryside where it deals with agriculture; the fourth category alone (which now represents less than a sixth of the membership) is composed of proletarians working at the bench. It is quite clear that the development of the party apparatus and the bureaucratization accompanying this development, are engendered not by the factory cells, linked together through the medium of the apparatus, but by all the other functions that the party exercises through the medium of the state apparatuses of administration, of economic management, of military command, of education. In other words, the source of bureaucratism resides in the growing concentration of the attention and the forces of the party upon the governmental institutions and apparatuses, and in the slowness of the development of industry. Because of these basic facts and tendencies, we should be fully aware of the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration of the old cadres. It would be vulgar fetishism to consider that just because they have followed the best revolutionary school in the world, they contain within themselves a sure guarantee against any and all dangers of ideological narrowing down and opportunistic degeneration. No! History is made by men, but men do not always make history consciously, not even their own. In the last analysis, the Question will be resolved by two great factors of international importance: the course of the revolution in Europe and the rapidity of our economic development. But to reject fatalistically all responsibility for these objective factors would be a mistake of the same stripe as to seek guarantees solely in a subjective radicalism inherited from the past. In the same revolutionary situation, and in the same international conditions, the party will resist the tendencies of disorganization more or resist them less to the extent that it is more or less conscious of the dangers and that it combats these dangers with more or less vigor.

It is plain that the heterogeneity of the party’s social composition, far from weakening the negative sides of the old course, aggravates them in the extreme. There is not and cannot be any other means of triumphing over the corporatism, the caste spirit of the functionaries, than by the realization of democracy. By maintaining “calm,” party bureaucratism disunites all and everything and deals blows equally, even if differently, to the factory cells, the industrial workers, the army people and the student youth.

The latter, as we have seen, reacts in a particularly vigorous way against bureaucratism. Not for nothing did Lenin propose to draw largely upon the students in order to combat bureaucratism. By its social composition and its contacts, the student youth reflects all the social groups of our party as well as their state of mind. Its youthfulness and its sensitivity prompt it to give an active form immediately to this state of mind. As a studying youth, it endeavors to explain and to generalize. This is not to say that all its acts and moods reflect healthful tendencies. If this were the case, it would signify one of two things: either that all goes well in the party, or that the youth is no longer the mirror of the party. But neither is true. In principle, it is right to say that the factory cells, and not the institutions of learning, are our base. But by saying that the youth is our barometer, we give its political manifestations not an essential but a symptomatic value. A barometer does not create the weather; it is confined to recording it. In politics, the weather takes shape in the depth of the classes and in those spheres where they enter into contact with each other. The factory cells create a direct and immediate contact between the party and the class of the industrial proletariat, which is essential to us. The rural cells create a much feebler contact with the peasantry. It is mainly through the military cells, situated in special conditions, that we are linked with the peasants. As to the student youth, recruited from all the sections and strata of Soviet society, it reflects in its checkered composition all our merits and demerits, and it would be stupid not to accord the greatest attention to its moods. Besides, a considerable part of our new students are communists with, what is for youth, a fairly substantial revolutionary experience. And the more pugnacious of the “apparatus men” are making a great mistake in turning up their noses at the youth. The youth are our means of checking up on ourselves, our substitutes; the future belongs to them.

But let us return to the question of the heterogeneity of the groups in the party that are separated from each other by their functions in the state. The bureaucratism of the party, we have said and we now repeat, is not a survival of some preceding régime a survival in the process of disappearing; on the contrary, it is an essentially new phenomenon, flowing from the new tasks, the new functions, the new difficulties and the new mistakes of the party.

The proletariat realizes its dictatorship through the Soviet state. The communist party is the leading party of the proletariat and, consequently, of its state. The whole question is to realize this leadership without merging into the bureaucratic apparatus of the state, in order not to expose itself to a bureaucratic degeneration. The communists find themselves variously grouped in the party and the state apparatus. In the latter, they are hierarchically dependent upon each other and stand in complex personal reciprocal relations to the non party mass. In the party, they are all equal in all that concerns the determination of the tasks and the fundamental working methods of the party. The communists working at the bench are part of the factory committees, administrate the enterprises, the trusts and the syndicates, are at the head of the Council of People’s Economy, etc. In the direction that it exercises over economy, the party takes and should take into account the experience, the observations, the opinions of all its members placed at the various rungs of the ladder of economic administration. The essential, incomparable advantage of our party consists in its being able, at every moment, to look at industry with the eyes of the communist machinist, the communist specialist, the communist director, and the communist merchant, collect the experiences of these mutually complementary workers, draw conclusions from them, and thus determine its line for directing economy in general and each enterprise in particular.

It is clear that such leadership is realizable only on the basis of a vibrant and active democracy inside the party. When, contrariwise, the methods of the “apparatus” prevail, the leadership of the party gives way to administration by its executive organs (committee, bureau, secretary, etc.). As this régime becomes consolidated, all affairs are concentrated in the hands of a small group, sometimes only of a secretary, who appoints, removes, gives the instructions, inflicts the penalties, etc.

With such a degeneration of the leadership, the principal superiority of the party, its multiple collective experience, retires to the background. Leadership takes on a purely organizational character and frequently degenerates into order giving and meddling. The party apparatus goes more and more into the details of the tasks of the Soviet apparatus, lives the life of its day to day cares, lets itself be influenced increasingly by it and fails to see the forest for the trees. If the party organization as a collectivity is always richer in experience than no matter what organ of the state apparatus, the same cannot be said of the functionaries taken as individuals. Indeed, it would be naive to believe that as a result of his title, a secretary unites within himself all the knowledge and all the competence necessary to the leadership of his organization. In reality, he creates for himself an auxiliary apparatus with bureaucratic sections, a bureaucratic machinery of information, and with this apparatus, which brings him close to the Soviet apparatus, he tears himself loose from the life of the party. And as a famous German expression puts it: “You think you are moving others, but in reality it is you who are moved.”

The whole daily bureaucratic practice of the Soviet state thus infiltrates the party apparatus and introduces bureaucratism into it. The party, as a collectivity, does not feel its leadership, because it does not realize it. Thence the discontentment or the lack of understanding, even in those cases where leadership is correctly exercised. But this leadership cannot maintain itself on the right line unless it avoids crumbling up in paltry details, and assumes a systematic, rational and collective character. So it is that bureaucratism not only destroys the internal cohesion of the party, but weakens the necessary exertion of influence by the latter over the state apparatus. This is what completely escapes the notice and the understanding of those who yell the loudest about the leading role of the party in its relationships to the Soviet state.

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Last updated on: 4.1.2007