Loren: I photocopied a little map of Russia. Unfortunately it’s from a book in French but I think you can figure it out, all the names are pretty much the same. I know some people probably are not so familiar with the geography that we are talking about. So here you have some kind of a reference.
Last week, we were talking about Lenin and Luxemburg, and I was trying to work up some notes for today; I just realize that the topic of Stalin and Trotsky is far more complicated. Why? First of all, because it was in this period that Bolshevism became an international phenomenon. Things were going on back and forth between what was happening in the Soviet Union and what was happening in other countries, where the Soviet Union, through the Third International, the Communist International, had great influence. So, the order will be a little bit skewed but try to bear with me. Just a couple of things I want to mention, from last week, I said one thing that I want to kind of modify, which is on the question of leadership. When I said that there are leaders and that there are people who speak better and who write better and who have more organizing skills and so on.
And that this should be recognized and not fetishized. I also want to emphasize the old Wobbly idea, we are all leaders. That is one of the weaknesses of the Bolshevik form of organization because of its centralization is that if the state picks off and arrests certain people, the organization becomes deeply weakened. I don’t know if I have any obvious solution to this but it’s just something to keep in mind. I just wanted to modify that a bit from last week. Another thing I just wanted to point out is that if you really want to pursue, there is a really good book about Stalin by a Frenchman named Boris Souvarine, which translated into English by C.L.R James in the late 1930s. Boris Souvarine was a very interesting guy who was close to Lenin in the very early years of the revolution and slowly became disillusioned and wound up being a real Cold War reactionary. But nevertheless, he wrote this book before that happened. If you want to read one book about Stalin, that’s it. I’m going to start out talking about–
Speaker 2: What’s the name of the book?
Loren: It’s called Stalin.
Speaker 2: Oh it’s Stalin.
Loren: Yeah. Okay! So, I’m starting out talking about Trotsky. We’ll develop this as we go long. As I said, we’ll be kind of going back to some of the things that came up last week. Trotsky was born in 1879. He was born in the same year as Stalin. Trotsky’s family were Jewish farmers in the Ukraine, which is this big area down here, and which at that time and is still was a huge agricultural centre. It was kind of financing Russian industrialization by exporting wheat to the rest of the world. So much that even during famines in Russia, they were exporting wheat to raise money for buying more factories, things like that. So Trotsky grew up in what you might call a petty bourgeois kind of family and social milieu. He went off to school and he was extremely intelligent, a great speaker and very quickly got involved in an underground study group of the kind that existed all over the place in Russia at this time. This would be in the mid 1890s, but he was then nowhere near being a Marxist or a revolutionary.
He was just part of the general liberal socialist opposition to Tsarism, without any kind of clear focus. Then he fell in with the Marxist milieu. Actually one of the interesting things about Trotsky was that all his life, up until the time of the Russian Revolution, he was kind of a free floater. He did not side with either the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks in the split that occurred in 1903. To go back briefly to last week and for people who weren’t there, at the time of the original split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, nobody realized that it was history in the making. Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, and Martov, the leader of the Mensheviks, were presiding at a conference and the issue was the definition of membership. Lenin wanted a more narrow, tighter disciplined definition, Martov was more open. They kept saying “why don’t you introduce the motion? no no no, you do it.” It was like it didn’t seem like a big deal. It was only over the course of time that it really turned out to be this historical dividing point. But Trotsky didn’t join either faction. I think it was in 1899 that he got arrested as member of this underground group and was sent off to Siberia.
As I was saying last week about Lenin, going to Siberia for revolutionaries, particularly revolutionaries of middle class background, wasn’t exactly a vacation but it was nothing what it became under Stalin; where it was essentially a bullet in the back of the head, or being worked to death in a forced labor camp or being sent to the Arctic Circle. Prisoners then had books, they had newspapers, they were under loose police surveillance but people escaped all the time from Siberia. Bakunin, for example, was sent to Siberia sometime in the 1860s, I believe. He managed to escape to Japan, stopped over in Japan, founded Japanese anarchism for a couple of months while he was there, and then caught a boat to California, and he was back in action in Europe shortly thereafter. Siberia was kind of like a prison, but it was also more like a sort of a revolutionary graduate school where you did a lot of reading, lots of intense discussion, cliquish in-fighting and so on. Compared to imprisonment in western Russia, it was a step up. So Trotsky was out in Siberia for three years, and he escaped. Some of his comrades forged a passport for him. His real name was Bronstein and “it was that nice train conductor in such and such a place whose name was Trotsky, so let’s put that on the passport.” That’s how Trotsky got the name Trotsky.
Then he went to western Europe and without a penny and actually managed to get to London, where he knocked on Lenin’s door at six o’ clock in the morning. But he was already kind of famous, because he was a great journalist who already had been writing some very interesting stuff about the conditions in Siberia. Lenin and Trotsky just immediately warmed to each other. Trotsky overnight had access to the inner circle of the party which, even in 1903, was impressive.(Its official name was the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party). Because there was already a big network in Russia, and here were Lenin and Martov and all the other people had later become known as the leaders of RSDLP, all groups together either in London or (as I was talking about last week) in Switzerland. Probably one of the three most important things I wanted to mention in this whole presentation is about a theory of permanent revolution. I talked about it last week and I want to talk about it more now. The theory of permanent revolution goes back to Marx, but it’s much more generally associated with Trotsky. Marx developed it in 1850 when he was on trial after the revolution of 1848. When Marx wrote it, the only developed countries were England and France. Germany was a developing country, still not even unified.
In such countries, Marx said, because they are competing with already developed countries, the bourgeoisie in these western underdeveloped countries was too weak to fight for political power itself, as had happened in England or in France. In such situations, the working class tended to push behind the limits of the bourgeois revolution and not necessarily make the proletarian revolution but clearly go beyond the kind of bourgeois liberalism that was the ideology and practice of the bourgeoisie. As some of you probably know, there was a real working-class communist uprising in Paris in June 1848. The news of it rippled all around the world. If you can believe it, the White House at the time was lit up to celebrate the 1848 revolution. That was back in the days when America tended to side with people who were fighting against monarchy. The Paris communist uprising of June 1848 really scared the hell out of the bourgeoisie, not just in France but everywhere.
So, in Germany when red flags started appearing in the worker demonstrations, the weak bourgeoisie there was all the more frightened. Engels wrote a very good book called Revolution and Counter Revolution In Germany which I highly recommend, just to sketch the outline of what happened there. So Marx was on trial for getting associated with a communist publication and he first elaborated this theory of permanent revolution – the idea that the working class in developing countries can go beyond the weak bourgeoisie and make the revolution permanent. It kind of was forgotten and the reason it was forgotten was because people later tended to adopt this two-stage view of how the revolution would come about. First there would be the bourgeois revolution; then there would be the socialist-communist working-class revolution. Marx already criticized this point of view but Marx got caught up in writing Capital and in the politics of the First International; the question wasn’t posed practically really in any way in any country for a long time so it was kind of forgotten and buried by this mechanistic linear view that took over the Second International in particular.
We recall that the First International collapsed in the early 1870s because of the battle between the Marxists and the anarchists after the defeat of the Paris Commune, with different interpretations of why that happened, but it happened. The Second International was founded in 1889 on the strength of a strike wave throughout Europe and particularly in England, where a so-called “New Union” strike wave headed by longshoremen sort of got class struggle going again. As we discussed last week, this was the International at that time, with Germany and the German Social Democratic Party as the model for all other parties. Like in the United States for example, there were lots of German Marxists of different sorts who had come already after the defeat of 1848 and even more so in the later emigration and Bismarck’s crackdown on the Social Democrats in 1878; more refugees came to the United States. They also were presenting the model of the German Social Democratic Party as the socialist party.
So, Trotsky comes along and he hooks up with a rather colorful guy named Parvus (that’s his pseudonym). Parvus was a brilliant theoretician and he was also a very skillful businessman who actually made a lot of money through this whole period in places like Turkey during World War I. He was an arms dealer but at the same time was generally in agreement with the radical wing of the Russian revolutionary movement. He tried to see Rosa Luxemburg in 1915 and she just slammed the door in his face. Most revolutionaries had broken with him by that point but in 1904/1905, Parvus and Trotsky looked at what happened in Russia, the 1905 revolution that we discussed last week with Soviets, these regional councils and worker’s councils in the factory, and said, “here it is, here is the working class way ahead of the bourgeois revolution and the coming revolution in Russia will not be bourgeois, it will be proletarian”. Ten years later Lenin was still speaking in Switzerland to the Swiss Socialist Youth, as I mentioned last time and he said, “I expect the bourgeois revolution in Russia for 1950 or so.” Ten months later he was in power at the head of a working-class revolution. Just to show how out of touch ideology could be with reality. Lenin’s famous slogan was “be as radical as reality”. It was never more confirmed by that misunderstanding of the timing the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions.
Any Trotskyist you will meet to this day will give you some version of permanent revolution, in one form or another. Some Trotskyists for example say that India is not a bourgeois democracy because it’s impossible for the bourgeoisie to establish a firm bourgeois democracy because the proletarian democracy is on the agenda. Well, the proletarian revolution has been on the agenda a very longtime but yet in some parts of the world the bourgeoisie seems to have established parliamentary forms and the formality of bourgeois democracy and so on. It’s a complicated question; we certainly don’t have to get into it here. But this was what I would say, more than anything else, was Trotsky’s true great contribution to Marxism. I don’t think of myself as a Trotskyist, I disagree with Trotsky on a whole bunch of other questions but I do accept the theory of permanent revolution. Look at Iran, for example, in 1979 where they overthrew the shah and immediately workers’ councils appeared in the oil fields and different factories. The liberal bourgeoisie represented by people like Bani Sadr and so on, if you remember them, were just swept aside and unfortunately they were swept aside by the Islamists more than by the workers. But nonetheless , it just shows that fragility of liberal democracy in so- called developing countries.
So 1905/1906 is defeated and Trotsky spent the years up to World War I in western Europe, or in Europe generally. Another important part of his life was he was a journalist during the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913. (Unfortunately the Balkans really barely appear on this map.) But these are the different ethnic areas that became part of what was called Yugoslavia up until the early 1990s. The conflict also involved Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Greece. There were two Balkan Wars and what it really was about was the decline and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Empire, that was going to fall apart in 1917 at the end of the war. So you have a question?
Speaker 2: Oh no. You answered my question.
Loren: Okay. And you have a question?
Speaker 3: You said the Balkan War was when
Loren: 1912 to 1913.
Speaker 3: Awesome!
Loren: They were kind of a dress rehearsal for World War I. Everybody has forgotten about them but Trotsky covered them in great depth as a journalist and that’s really where he learned military strategy. Trotsky never had formal military training and yet starting in 1917 he built the Red Army from scratch and was essentially a genius at strategy. The Red Army accepted a number of Tsar’s officers who decided they didn’t want to fight for the Whites; that’s the kind of revolution it was like. So, they would be in charge of different regiments and divisions with a political commissar with a pistol next to their heads in case they tried to sabotage. Then, after the war they said, Trotsky just made these unbelievable decisions on the spur of the moment and they were always right. It’s really kind of remarkable. So studying strategy later, that’s where Trotsky got that kind of ability. When World War I broke out, I’m not sure where Trotsky was, but he wound up in the Bronx, of all places. I think he lived in the Bronx for about six months. He was making a living as a bit actor in grade C films.
There are still apparently some ads for those films with him embracing some women or something like that. He established relations with American Socialist Party which he later called the “socialism of dentists” because it was such a middle-class, reformist, and basically conservative party. This was at a point where that the IWW was still going strong. He once asked some of the specialists of the Socialist Party, at the SP headquarters here in New York, “do the Negroes in America speak English?” And they said, “yes, at least we think so, we’ll send some of our people to find out.” That’s how disconnected they were from American realities. So Trotsky wasn’t terribly impressed with the American SP. After the fall of the Tsar in the February revolution, tens of thousands of revolutionaries from all over the world, including from United States, were going back to Russia to participate in the real revolution.
By the way, if you haven’t seen the Warren Beatty’s movie “Reds”, I really recommend it. Trotsky does not figure in it but it’s a pretty good portrayal. For a Hollywood movie released at the beginning of the Reagan years it’s kind of unbelievable as a portrayal of what actually happened.
So Trotsky gets on a ship to go back to Russia and the ship is diverted by the British navy off the coast of Canada because they know very well who is on it. Not just Trotsky but hundreds of other people and they’re put into a prison or work camp near Halifax, in Nova Scotia, with mainly German POWs. Trotsky, who spoke fluent German, spent the whole time haranguing the German soldiers who were there, and when he was finally released to continue his trip, he was carried to the gates of the camp on the shoulders of all these German soldiers. It was real internationalism and that by the way is a very important part of how the revolution happened in the very same year on the eastern front, with the German army and the Russian army and the Austrian army. There was tremendous fraternization going on which, of course, greatly frightened the heads of state and all of these countries.
So Trotsky, he was among the first to go back. Last week we also talked about the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915. That was when a very small number of revolutionaries from all European countries came together in this little town in Switzerland, Zimmerwald, to discuss strategy after all the the big working class socialist parties had collapsed in 1914, supporting their own bourgeoisie in the war, with the exception of the Serbians, for some damn reason, and also the Italian party which basically opposed the war, and the American Socialist Party of all things, with the left wing gaining dominance and opposing American entry. But the French, British, German, Austrian, Dutch, Belgian etc. All these big parties, just one week before the war, were holding massive antiwar rallies but when the crunch came they all voted for war credits for their own countries. So Zimmerwald happened and people were debating what to do. We are talking about 20 or 30 people. That’s where Lenin really stands out for raising the slogan “turn the inter-imperialist war into a civil war.”
(One thing I wanted to point out from last week also is the 1905 revolution was actually started by the defeat of Russia in the war with Japan, 1904/1905. Lenin raised the slogan “we favor the defeat of our own side, down with the Tsar.” The Japanese Socialist Party was very concerned by this formulation and so they wrote to Lenin saying “the defeat of your side means the victory of the Japanese empire, which we’re fighting against.” So by the time of Zimmerwald, Lenin had modified this “to turn the inter-imperialist war into civil war”. Even Rosa Luxemburg, I think her formulation was ‘peace with no annexations’ and Trotsky was also somewhere in the middle there as well. So again, Lenin kind of stood out for the radical perspective that he had. We went through the dynamic of the revolution last week but let us just touch on it again briefly. Lenin returns with most of the exiled revolutionaries in the spring of 1917 and launches the April Theses. Which are theses where more or less, a typical Trotskyist today will tell you, in the spring of 1917, Lenin and Trotsky finally came together. Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party and Lenin accepted the thesis of permanent revolution that, yes, the coming revolution is going to be proletarian.
The bourgeois revolution had just happened so what else was there ? and the workers were getting more and more militant. In the summer of 1917 there were these events called the July Days, in which the working class seemed to be mobilizing for an insurrection in some cities but the Bolsheviks felt that it was going to be premature and that they would be crushed. One really remarkable thing, that’s coming up in a minute. The Bolsheviks went out into the streets and said, “not now, we’re not strong enough, we don’t have the momentum. The Mensheviks control too many of the Soviets so let’s just prepare and we’ll take power later.” But nevertheless there was a hard crackdown. Lenin had to disguise himself as a worker. He and many revolutionaries fled to Finland which was part of the Russian empire but kind of autonomous. As you see on this map, from Petrograd to Helsinki is a one hour or two hour trip. So it was not such a big deal; the party resumed its underground existence and finally in the fall of 1917 started to prepare the insurrection. Now here again is where Trotsky’s military genius came to the fore. There’s this huge controversy about the meaning of the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917; it’s referred to as the October Revolution because Russia at the time was still on the Eastern Orthodox calendar, so by the western calendar it was on November 7.
So, you’ll see it referred to both ways. But finally they decided it was time and, very interestingly, two leading Bolsheviks, Zinoviev and Kamenev, not only opposed the insurrection, but they went to the press and said the Bolsheviks were preparing an insurrection. Just to show the difference between Bolshevism under Lenin and the Communist Party under Stalin, they were forgiven, “there was a real breach of discipline but you people have proved yourself to be revolutionaries so we’ll take you back into the party.” 20 years later, during the Moscow trials of course, Stalin would make a big thing out of this betrayal. Trotsky is kind of the architect of the actual seizure of the government buildings. And one thing that all histories will point out is that very few people were involved. The armed resistance to the Bolshevik seizure of power was minimal. It was a handful of troops who had remained loyal to the Kerensky government. So, it was at first almost a bloodless revolution. It was immediately followed by a huge carnival in all the major cities and in Petrograd, St. Petersburg, later in Leningrad. The first thing that happened was that thousands of soldiers poured into the wine cellars of the Tsar’s Winter Palace and had this wild festival. The Bolsheviks were sending one regiment after another to calm people down. That regiment would join the party; it only ended when they drank all the wine and finally woke up. In other words, it definitely was a popular revolution.
One of the most interesting radical things that the Bolsheviks did immediately, aside from recognizing all the land seizures of the peasantry and all power to the soviets and the workers’ councils, they published all the secret treaties that had been signed among the great powers in 1914 while the war raged in Europe. It was wiki leaks, ten times intensified. Because here were all these governments who were saying, “The American government and the British government, we’re fighting for democracy.” The treaties involving Britain and the United States showed that they were going to get this or that territory after the victory and Germany had been saying “we’re fighting to stop barbaric, Tsarist, Cossack Russia.” Germany was supposed to get this land and so on. It was a devastating blow to all the powers, the traditional powers fighting the war. It was a true popular proletarian gesture. A major debate erupted in the Bolshevik Party immediately. We can’t obviously go over the whole history every month of the revolution; we’d have to expand this group by several weeks at least. But I did want to throw it out, now that everyone is here. I was thinking I would kick this around with a bit, we really kind of didn’t do justice in the Lenin/Luxemburg session to the German revolution as such. So I was going to propose a fifth meeting in which we would go from the German Revolution to the triumph of Hitler, 1918 to 1933. Is that agreeable for everyone? So that would make five sessions instead of four. [Audience agrees]
Loren: Okay! We can talk about that later. The first thing that had to happen was to spread the revolution and end the war. Because what had brought the Bolsheviks to power was their recognition of the peasants land seizures, and also because they knew that the vast majority of the troops at the front were sick of the war. They were already mutinying, shooting their officers, returning home on foot to seize land on the estates they’d been working on. So ending the war was a real imperative. So, that meant peace negotiations with Germany and Austria, Austro-Hungary to be exact, that still had massive armies on the Russian border or and inside Russian territory. This huge debate again showed the tremendous difference between the Bolshevik Party with Lenin and Trotsky as opposed to later. Lenin wanted to make peace with Germany on any terms, just to stop the war, and the terms turned out to be very draconian. There was another faction led by Bukharin and some others who were saying “no, we send the Red Army; we build up the Red Army and send it into Europe to greet the coming proletarian revolution there.” Which sounded like a great idea except where was the Red Army? People had been at war already for four years; they did not know they were about to go off for three more years of civil war. It was a great idea, sounds great in theory but what about in practice?
Actually I believe that the Bukharin position had the majority. But Trotsky in very early 1918 went off to a little town called Brest-Litovsk, on the border of Russia and Poland, where he met with the German High Command and the Austro-Hungarian High Command and I think after two weeks of negotiations he just walked out. He said he couldn’t accept these terms; his position was “no war no peace.” He returned to Petrograd and immediately after the collapse of the negotiations, the Austrian and German armies started to advance. They wound up seizing this whole area, essentially the Ukraine, which was not only the bread basket of Russia but it was also where the Makhno movement and other radical peasant movements were active. And they carried out guerrilla activity against the German and Austrian occupation until it collapsed in November 1918. At the same time, the Civil War was starting, the White armies were massing and so the Makhnovites and others were fighting the Germans, the Austrians and the White armies. But the Red Army, under the terms of the ceasefire, just had to sit on the borders. They finally did sign a treaty, that conceded all of this land to Germany and Austria. They were withholding any kind of military support to the insurrectionary movements going on in the Ukraine. Some people say that that’s where the Russian revolution first went off the rails. Some people say the Russian Revolution signed its own death warrant with the post Brest-Litovsk agreement with Germany and Austria. Let’s not forget that put an end to all this fraternization that had been going on between all the armies on the eastern front. So I’ll just take a pass on that; it would have been great but I really don’t think they had the forces to do much of anything at that point.
Speaker 2: Could you just emphasize a little bit more on what’s the significance of that Brest-Litovsk treaty, signed in 1918, correct?
Loren 1: Yes.
Speaker 2: So, what’s the significance for a political tendency if it dated the degeneration of the Russian revolution from that point, regardless of whether that’s right or wrong: what’s the political significance of seeing it there instead of a later date?
Loren: The abandonment of internationalism.
Speaker 2: Okay.
Loren: There was just the first step towards “socialism in one country”, which would not even emerge as a slogan for another seven years. What the Bolsheviks and Lenin were doing with the Brest-Litovsk negotiation was basically a huge gamble which, in fact, paid off. Because their calculation was that the Allies were going to defeat Germany, Germany would collapse and they would just take the Ukraine back without having to fight for it, and that’s what happened. But before that happened, the Civil War got going. This was the period in which Trotsky actually did put together the Red Army. It used to be common coin among Stalinists and Maoists that Trotsky never built the Red Army. I don’t think Maoists today still assert that. But for a very long time they were even denying that. Trotsky was not only a genius in military strategy but he really had this organizational flair. In this country that had already been at war for four years, where the regular army had collapsed, Trotsky put together an army that defeated all the Whites. Just to put that into perspective, at one point in the civil war, the area controlled by the Bolsheviks was a relatively small area around Moscow and Petrograd. All the rest of the country was up for grabs or in the hand of different White armies.
There were three major White armies led by different factions, financed by western powers and for example, there were 70,000 Czech soldiers who had been prisoners of war in Siberia and they were just incorporated into the White armies; they ultimately deserted. Then, as I mentioned last week, seventeen capitalist countries invaded Russia, including the United States. This was at the end of World War I, and for one or two years after World War I, most of these countries were exhausted militarily as well. There was huge agitation going on in virtually every one of them. So the Russian Revolution definitely happened because of World War I, which was not to say that it was an accident because capitalism brings war like clouds bring rain. The war was what made it possible for the revolution to happen and it was the war and the aftermath of the war that made it possible for the Bolsheviks to stay in power. It’s not that they didn’t defend themselves brilliantly, as well with the forces that they had, and so over the course of the next two and half years they defeated the White armies one by one. Any questions at this point?
Speaker 3: Until you start to go off into the dynamics of the Civil War I was wondering, can you describe some of the criticisms you have about the Bolsheviks after they took power? I forget the exact date when the Civil War begins, is it 1918?
Loren: Very early 1918.
Speaker 3: Right! So the spring of 1918 because; that’s another defining point of where the continued degeneration of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution occurred. Could you spend a few minutes on that?
Loren: Sure! For those of you; who read the Simon Pirani chapter in the attachment that I sent around, Pirani started in 1920 but he does talk about things that happened up to that point. That’s an amazing book that was done with archival material that became available after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and actually this same archive has closed again under Putin because it’s just too explosive. But what Pirani found, what he shows in that chapter that we read for today is that this disconnect between the Bolshevik Party and the working class, certainly by 1920, and possibly earlier was already a reality. So as I mentioned last week, the Cheka, that’s the special secret police organized to repress the counter- revolution, they were shooting strikers as early as March 1918. They were executing masses of people who were declared to be bourgeois. A bourgeois could be a peddler who had a couple of pounds of coffee under his coat and was trying to sell them on the black market. I don’t know if it was specifically mentioned in anything we read for today, but even Dzerzhinsky who was the head of the Cheka (who was Polish by the way), admitted that a lot of innocent people had been executed by the Cheka by 1920.
There was just one funny point I forgot to mention, in the debate over the Polish-Russian War which happened in 1920, where the Red Army invaded Poland trying to come to the aid of the revolution in Poland and Germany. Lenin was against it and Dzerzhinsky was for it. So Dzerzhinsky attacked Lenin as a Polish nationalist and Lenin attached Dzerzhinsky as a Great Russian chauvinist. Not entirely seriously, but just kind of a role reversal. A police state was in place very early; what this actually meant in the Soviets and Workers’ Councils in this early months, I’m not sure. Alexander Berkman, an anarchist who I think wrote one of the best books, he and Emma Goldman were in Russia for those years and actually I think they got there in 1919 or 1920. But they wrote very observant reports of what they saw just in those years. There was this state apparatus that became later the overall new ruling class, you could hardly call it a new ruling class in 1918 or 1919, but part of it was in place. Let’s face it, civil wars are not pretty. The American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Russian Civil War, everyone who has ever really studied them always says they that they were bloody and more cruel and violent than the average war. One has to be extremely careful when looking at the events from 1917 to 1921. In terms of, the Bolsheviks and the few other people who supported them, like the Left Social Revolutionaries, they were in a very difficult situation: reduced to a very small area, all these countries invading, huge numbers of people supporting the Whites: with this unprecedented seizure of power by a self-designated Marxist party, one has to be very careful.
Speaker 3: One more question! The reason I was asking is because in the Trotskyist tradition, the fact that the imperialists attacked us is the reason for the problems in the revolution; it’s kind of become a recurring argument to justify state communism, basically all over the globe.
Speaker 3: And then the claim, that before the summer of 1918 Bolshevism is like the starry-eyed organization whose political dynamic can be replicated. So that’s why I’m kind of asking because of if it’s a perfect organization before 1918 then it gets much harder to say, well there are some embryonic problems within the Bolshevik politics and organization, and it can’t be just blamed on “well we were in invaded by 17 armies and that’s why that you don’t understand.” That is one of Trotskyism’s de facto argument.
Loren: Well Victor Serge, if you haven’t ever read Victor Serge, look at his Memoirs of a Revolutionary; it’s one of the most beautiful incisive books ever written about the Russian Revolution, among other things. He started out as an anarchist in Spain and France, came to Russia in 1919, joined the Bolshevik Party and he became the bridge between Bolsheviks and the Anarchists for a couple of years. To people who said, “the virus of Stalinism was present in Leninism”, Serge said, “yes, that’s true, but in Leninism there were many other viruses that could have developed in other ways.” Let’s not forget that from Day One up until the early 20s, the top level of the Bolshevik Party had no illusions that they could do anything without revolution in western Europe and above all, in Germany. They were looking at Germany, Italy, France, England, where there was tremendous upheaval after the war and in some sense a near-revolution in Germany, which was a much more important country. It was much more industrialized , much more like the kind of country in which you would expect a socialist revolution to take place.
That’s where all the focus was so there was that Internationalist perspective. At the same time, it’s certainly true that for the reasons I was talking about last week about the special character of the Russian intelligentsia, its relationship to the working class not to mention the peasantry, being pretty tenuous already in the early going, definitely set the stage for the creation of this sort of independent bureaucracy that ultimately would destroy the revolution. That’s what I would answer to the typical Maoist and, in a different way, to a Trotskyist, who is a little more subtle.
I’ve probably gone talking too much about Lenin and Trotsky. Notice by the way, that I haven’t even mentioned Stalin yet. One reason for that is that Stalin was nowhere in the picture while these early events were going on. John Reed’s classic book, The Ten Days That Shook The World, written as an eye witness account in 1920, doesn’t mention Stalin. Same goes for (French revolutionary) Alfred Rosmer’s eye witness account. In these eye witness accounts by western revolutionaries who were on the scene, Stalin is just nowhere.
(The World Socialist website has just put out a DVD of film footage of the revolution. It actually goes back to the pre-revolutionary period; that film, which is called “From The Tsar To Lenin” came out in the United States in 1937. It was picketed all over the country by the Communist Party. Why? Because; Stalin does not appear in the film, Stalin was a faceless bureaucrat. It was not that he was a nobody, but from a political point of view, in terms of these major events, he was not at the centre of the action.)
So that’s what I would answer to the typical Trotskyist. The Civil War was going on, the Reds were winning and by the summer of 1920, it was basically over. During this time the Bolsheviks implemented what is called War Communism. War Communism was a kind of a state of emergency in which wages were frozen, prices were frozen and it was a command economy of the typical very beleaguered wartime state. During this period, of course, needless to say, strikes were outlawed and generally this was a period also during which the power of the Cheka and other repressive apparatuses really tightened up. Again without making a virtue of necessity, it’s hard to imagine how else the Bolsheviks could have responded given their extremely defensive position at the beginning of the Civil War.
But when the Civil War was over the question emerged… let’s talk a little bit about Kronstadt. We could have a whole session on Kronstadt. Kronstadt became the symbol of the moment in which the revolution began to really devour itself. In the 30s and 40s, in the anti-Stalinist left opposition, it replaced Waterloo. In the 19th century people always said “well so and so experienced his/her Waterloo at X time”. So Kronstadt replaced that and one ex Trotskyist once commented, I think in the 1940s, “my Kronstadt was Kronstadt.” It’s a question of when you think…I’m sure you have already gotten the impression that these Trotskyist groups in particular but other left groups as well are constantly arguing about “when was the revolution dead in the water?” My general feeling is it’s 1921, which we’re getting to, and Kronstadt was the symbol of that. Kronstadt had been the centre of the revolution of 1917. It was a big naval base in the harbor of Petrograd (later Leningrad), filled with revolutionary sailors who were called the “anvil of the revolution.” In 1921 when the war was over, the Kronstadt naval base rose up again, calling for a return of all power to the soviets, which was just essentially the basic goal of the October Revolution of 1917.
In order to understand what happened at Kronstadt you’ll have to peel away layers and layers of lies and ideology because the Bolsheviks by that time, again in their siege mentality, immediately denounced the Kronstadt uprising as a White insurrection against the revolution. In fact, an insurrection at Kronstadt had been announced in a French daily newspaper a week before it actually happened. There is no question, the French and British intelligence services were very active in Finland which was in the middle of the Civil War at that time, between the Reds and Whites, which the Whites won. The French and British intelligence services were 50 miles away. There is no question that they were trying to influence what was going on there. So that’s the number one claim by the Bolsheviks. Number two claim is that people in Kronstadt were not the same people who had been there in 1917. The best workers had been killed in the Civil War. By the way, that was absolutely true in general; Winston Churchill for example, who was in charge of the British counter-revolution said, “if we can’t beat them, at least we’ll kill as many workers as possible to weaken them.”
Nevertheless, Pirani and others have established that there was a lot more continuity of personnel at Kronstadt than the Bolsheviks claimed. The Bolsheviks were very hysterical about it because it had such symbolic power. Trotsky was in Moscow at the time but he was sending telegrams saying, “we’ve got to pin this on the Whites, we got to show this is a White counter revolution.”
Zinoviev, who was another leading Bolshevik, was in charge of the Petrograd Soviet. He was hysterical, he had a tendency to become hysterical, that’s a whole other story. Just before the Kronstadt uprising, there had been six weeks of strikes in Petrograd by workers, again the cream of the revolutionary working class. Demanding what? Demanding food. In some cases, now that the war was over, demanding a return to some kind of soviet power. The Bolsheviks had come in there, satisfying the basic demands, but at the same time keeping everybody on a very short leash. The real timing of the Kronstadt uprising was the attempt by the sailors of Kronstadt to hook up with these struggles. One of the things that really undermine the idea that it was a conspiracy of western intelligence was that the whole port was still frozen. You could walk from the city to the naval base on the island. But it was going to melt in seven to ten days, so if it was really a conspiracy, why not wait a week and take over when it would be much harder to attack the island? So the real impetus, I think, was to join up with what was going on in the strikes in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks sent a delegation to Kronstadt; they were welcomed. The Kronstadt Soviet met and bands were playing and banners welcomed comrades and it was a third tier Bolshevik leader, I can’t remember his name, who just got up and read the riot act to the Kronstadt Soviet: “resolve this nonsense right now or we’re going to attack.” That was what really pushed the uprising into a full blown insurrection.
One interesting detail in addition, is that the Kronstadt Soviet immediately arrested all Communist commissars and put them in jail. They were in jail through the whole thing and they were still there when the Bolsheviks recaptured the island. When the Bolsheviks finally did capture the island, they executed thousands of people.
A small rump escaped across the ice into Finland. But that’s another thing that indicates that the Kronstadt sailors were prepared to negotiate in good will and they just got slapped down by the Bolsheviks. The Kronstadt uprising occurred simultaneously with the Tenth Party Congress of the Bolshevik Party and of course it was one of the topics of discussion. It was at this time that a group called the First Workers Opposition arose. It included some Bolsheviks as well, in particular a woman named Alexandra Kollontai who was a very important feminist agitator. I don’t know how long she’d actually been in the party. She’d written some very interesting stuff on sexual emancipation during and after the revolution , and there were some other second-tier, third-tier Bolshevik figures in the First Workers Opposition; and again, their basic demand was: return to Soviet power, return to the all the power of the Soviets perspective in the first months of the revolution. Lenin got up and made a speech in which he said, “the Russian working class no longer exists,” because of the destruction of the Civil War. Once again, let’s keep in mind that after seven years of warfare there was famine breaking out down in the Ukraine for a number of reasons. It was a very grim situation and the people, even party members were surviving on very, very lean rations.
So Lenin says, the “Russian proletariat no longer exists” because, aside from all the people killed in the Civil War, many workers had gone back to the farm just to survive. Let’s keep in mind that at that time the Russian working class was largely half the year in the factory, half the year on the family farm or on the estate or whatever it was. So it really was a working class in formation. Shliapnikov, who was a leader of the working-Workers Opposition, jumped to his feet and said, “So! you are exercising a dictatorship in the name of a class which no longer exists” and the debate went on like that. The First Workers Opposition was defeated; Alexander Kollontai went on to become a diplomat for Stalin. I don’t know that there’s any real continuity between her position of 1921 and fifteen years later, but that’s one small anecdote.
So the Bolsheviks were confronting this very grim situation and by 1921 it was also clear that the revolution in Western Europe was not going to happen. It was still going on in Germany but in Italy early 1920, the workers had seized the factories in northern Italy and run up the red flags. The bourgeoisie just sat back and waited for two, three, four weeks. Workers did nothing with the factories and that was the turning point after which Fascist squads began to form, attacking union meetings, destroying socialists’ and communists’ offices, newspapers and so on. So that was the beginning of the rise of Mussolini.
In Britain, in January 1919, there was a massive strike wave with factory occupations. The heads of the Trade Unions Congress went to see Lloyd George who was the Prime Minister at that time and Lloyd George said to them, “listen guys, it’s all up, if you people want to take over you can” and they of course being just cowardly reformers just kind of shrugged and said, “who us?” and so things kind of petered out. In England there were these mass strikes taking place, major steel strikes in the United States and then also the seven-day general strike in Seattle. So things were happening but they weren’t happening fast enough and the Bolsheviks began to realize that there were going to have to deal with a long period of isolation.
Speaker 3: Is it correct from my understanding that large layers of the First Opposition also became crucial in attacking Kronstadt and were involved in the military [inaudible]?
Speaker 1: Yes, I believe so.
Speaker 3: It becomes important because that’s like the left wing of the Bolsheviks and they’re also participating and crushing the left-wing rebellion against Bolshevik power.
Speaker 1: Lenin made a speech to this congress in which he said, “you can be with us or you can be over there with a gun,” that is at Kronstadt, “but not in the opposition; the party, we’ve had it with opposition.” At that Tenth Congress some very important decisions were made and probably the most important was the banning of factions. Up to that time, as in the case of debate over Brest-Litovsk, there were factions all over the place. The Bolshevik Party had always had factions. The party congress decided on temporarily banning factions without banning discussion, with the idea that when the situation permitted, the right to faction would be restored, but of course it never was.
This is why I draw the line at 1921. The third congress of the Communist International happened a few months later and in the course of those months the following policies were developed. The crushing of Kronstadt, then the party congress also adopted the New Economic Policy, the NEP. The NEP as you saw in John Marat’s article was the decision to drop world communism, and let the peasants produce for the market and to basically enrich themselves. They could, in order to increase food production. Again, many people have said well, “NEP, that’s the restoration of capitalism” and most of the Bolsheviks were appalled. They said, “we just fought three years of Civil War in order to restore the market?” but that was adopted. In the spring, the Soviet government signed a trade agreement in England, the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement. The first official agreement with the western power and this was defended as a necessary move to break the blockade and isolation of the Soviet Union and to restore access to certain kinds of machinery and other goods that were desperately needed, but it was a step. The real question is, at what point, can one speak definitely of a counter-revolution? In some ways, and I want to keep insisting on this, there is a constant relationship between the international situation and foreign policy questions and policy questions of the Communist International on one hand and the domestic situation in Russia.
So, the decision to restore the market for the peasantry and the population at large, to restore trade relations with Britain, these are two parts of a general kind of ebb in which the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union begin to be a conservatizing force in international relationships, in my view. If there was an orthodox Trotskyist here, they would be howling because they see this is happening at least a few years later. Another less noticed aspect of this, and you can read about this; there is an article on my website called, Socialism in One Country Before Stalin – The Case of Turkey 1917/1925. In Turkey, there was an insurrection, there was a complicated situation, we don’t have time to go into it. But the key point is that while the Soviet Union was arming the bourgeois nationalists around Ataturk. Ataturk’s regime was massacring communist militants in Turkey. This is the first case of so-called national liberation where it was a Soviet foreign policy interest because people fighting against Ataturk were being armed and financed by Great Britain. So struggle against imperialism, but the reality was it was at the expense of the Turkish Communist Party.
You were going to ask a question?
Speaker 2: Repeat that again about Ataturk.
Loren: Ataturk was the leader of the Turkish nationalist movement and he was fighting a successful war against an invasion by Greek troops, but the Greeks troops were backed and financed by Great Britain and probably by France. They saw Ataturk as this dangerous figure; who had ties to the Soviet Union and stuff like that. The Soviet Union was arming Ataturk and financing Ataturk but this was going on, as I indicated, while Ataturk was massacring the Communist Party. The entire central committee of the Turkish Communist Party was murdered in a boat in the Black Sea, just a couple months before the formal agreement between Turkey and the Soviet Union. I once actually wrote about this. I wrote a letter’s to the editor of Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the most orthodox Trotskyist group Sparticist League. I said, “what about this?”
And they actually replied with a two page article in which they’d done a lot of homework in which they said, “Well you see, the Soviets were still trying to subvert Ataturk’s state.” Here’s the Soviet Ambassador to Turkey, and many of the dissidents in the party were fleeing to the Soviet embassy in Ankara for refuge, and the Soviet embassy was handing them over to Ataturk’s police where they would be executed.
How exactly does this fit with a policy of undermining Ataturk? I don’t know. It’s a very interesting thing, if you want to read about it look up the article on my website. So with the question of Kronstadt, the NEP, the Anglo Russian Trade Agreement, the betrayal trail of the Turkish revolution and Turkish revolutionaries, and finally in Germany at the very same time (March 1921) was something called the March Action. We’ll talk about that next week, I think we should do Germany and… the March Action was carried out by people that one would generally characterize as Ultra Leftist. It was really kind of the last kick of the German Revolution. It took place in one or two important industrial provinces, with workers seizing the factories and so on. But many people both in Germany and the Soviet Union criticized it as a kind of putsch.
Speaker 2: Define putsch!
Loren: A putsch is like if we got together and decided to attack City Hall and declare a Soviet Republic in Manhattan; that would be a putsch. It’s just an action by a small group of people aiming to take over a government. We’ll go into the March Action next week. It’s yet another question like Kronstadt, not as volatile as Kronstadt, but still resonates today as something that people really disagreed bitterly about. So all these things are happening at once but what they all have in common is this flashing yellow light, the revolution is slowing down and being isolated and the whole international strategy of the Bolsheviks with the idea that they were just a rearguard side show and the real action was in Germany and the West was going down the drain. So this is the beginning of the rise of Stalin. How many of you had a chance to read the article that I wrote about Max Eastman? Eastman wrote some incredible portraits of what happened when all of the shooting stopped. He was this brilliant guy, he was a Greenwich Village radical. He was indicted for sedition twice during World War I.
Speaker 4: What does that mean?
Loren: Sedition? It means trying to undermine the power of the state. What he had done particularly, he called on people to refuse the draft for World War I and he was acquitted twice because they just couldn’t find a jury that would convict him.
Speaker 2: Wasn’t Chaplin charged with sedition around that time? Was he extradited or did he leave on his own?
Loren: I don’t know.
Speaker 2: Charlie Chaplin.
Loren: I thought that was later. After World War II?
Speaker 2: That was World War II? I feel like he was kicked out of the country or he left on his own.
Loren: He was driven out because he was believed to be a–
Speaker 2: Was he indicted for the same type of reasons?
Speaker 1: I don’t recall. But it was World War II; let’s not jump ahead.
So Eastman goes to Russia in 1922. So after all these events we’ve been talking about, and he learned Russian fluently in a matter of months. He learned it so well that he actually wrote poetry in Russian that was appreciated by Russians. He was a brilliant guy, he stayed in Russia for two years with a plan of writing a book about the Bolshevik leadership. So he got to know all these people extremely well. The only one he didn’t get to know was Lenin, who by that time had been shot and had had a stroke and was ordered by his doctors to work only one hour a day. So by early 1923 Lenin was out of picture, even though he lived for another year. So Eastman is going around interviewing all these people and he got, for those of you who read the article, he got this incredible portrait of all these different individuals but this is at a time when almost no western radicals had any idea what was really going on in Russia.
As I mentioned last week, anarchists were joining the Third International and flocking to the Soviet Union because they read Lenin’s most libertarian statement State and Revolution, and were saying, “the revolution is on.” Anarchists had taken power in Russia and Anarcho-syndicalists. Bill Haywood went to Russia to get away from an indictment in the United States and some other Wobblies; from all over the world, that was this kind of a disconnect, in terms of an understanding of what was actually going on. So, Eastman was there kind of seeing this whole thing but as he says, in the different quotes that I include, he still was just looking at the surface because, behind the scenes, this battle for power had already really taken off. And what was going on was this guy Stalin, who had been appointed General Secretary of the party, which was considered like the postmaster. He seemed to be a cipher and he was given this position that no one took seriously at the time and this brings up a very important point. In this whole period, all these people imagined counter-revolution as being the return of Tsar and the return of the capitalists whose factories have been taken away. It’s very normal; just as we’re conditioned by the periods of struggle we’ve lived through and we understand progress and reactions in contemporary terms, and so off in left field that there was emerging this other danger that nobody saw.
This again, to get back to the Trotskyists. All through the battle, the factional struggles in the 1920s which I am just about to get to, Stalin was always referred to as the center. The left was Trotsky and his allies, the right was Bukharin and his allies and Stalin was the center because Stalin was trying to jockey between those two factions. As Amadeo Bordiga put it, “nobody was more reactionary than that center”, as would be proved by subsequent developments. But this was a ways in the future. The overall sense was holding out against counter revolution. Counter revolution meant a return of the Tsar and of the expropriated capitalists. Nobody ever imagined the counter-revolution in the form of a totally revamped and bureaucratized Bolshevik Party itself and the creation of a new form of class exploitation.
In 1924, Eastman has this description of Stalin, I’ll just say a few words about Stalin. I mentioned him a little bit last week, I mentioned is best friend Kamo (his real name was Ter-Petrosian) The two of them were carrying out these very daring bank robberies in Georgia, down in this area called the Caucusus that includes several other countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and so on. Kamo was Armenian, Stalin was Georgian. They were both brilliant underground operators and were very successful bank robbers who were really financing the Bolsheviks Party in western Europe. I mentioned some of the more dramatic bank robberies last week. So it was out this milieu that Stalin was recruiting his followers and as Eastman describes, those intellectuals who were the leaders of the party, who had spent years and years in exile and in Switzerland and France and England, they just didn’t know what to do with these people who were were basically thugs. And similar people had been them taken into the Cheka during the repression that I mentioned earlier. Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, he really didn’t know what to do with these people either but they needed cold-blooded killers for the repression during the Civil War and after the Civil War; what are they going to do with them? So this is the beginning of a really important change from the whole sociology of the Bolshevik Party.
So, the debate erupts and the key question… let me just pull back here for a minute as John Marot points out in his article, none of the Bolsheviks factions, not the left, center or the right understood the situation in the countryside. They had these schemes in their heads about the kulaks who were the rich peasants, and different strata, little peasants and poor peasants and the landlords workers’ that might be interesting as sociology, but they didn’t correspond with real forces on the ground when Bolshevik detachments of soldiers from the cities would arrive to confiscate grain from the countryside, which they were doing right from the beginning of the Civil War. The only reason the Bolsheviks won the civil war is because the peasants hated the Whites more than they hated the Reds. They knew that the Reds at least would let them keep their land, while the Whites wanted to restore the old aristocrats, but meanwhile the Bolsheviks were making themselves very unpopular by confiscating grain, pigs and cows and so on all over the place to feed the city. So, the agrarian question became the question, in some in these debates in the party.
Again, I think Marot is right. If you didn’t read it before today, please read it subsequently because what he shows is that for all these years’ people had been looking at what happened in the 20s through the prism of these three fractions. When in fact, if Marot is right , and I think he is, they were all wrong. All of them misunderstood the question of the countryside and how to deal with it. The most important thing they didn’t understand was the Russian peasant commune. Last week I mentioned Lenin’s first important book, called The Development of Capitalism in Russia, which is a polemic against the idea that there is any non-capital sector left in the Russian country side. The most important institution there was called the mir, which just means commune in Russia. The Populists, the people who historically preceded Marxism in Russia, the people who were still into assassinations, terrorism and so on: they wanted to stop the invasion of Russia by capital. They saw the Russian mir, or commune, as the basis of a future communist society and, very interestingly, Karl Marx in 1882, one year before he died, in the preface to the last edition of the Communist Manifesto published before he died wrote, “the Russian mir could be the basis of an immediate transition to communism in Russia” when combined with revolution in the west. So it wasn’t that Marx and the best Marxists were unaware of this, but Lenin by 1900 had destroyed the idea that there was anything thing left of the mir. In fact, according to Marot, the mir still existed until the end of the 20th century in some form or another.
So, this debate takes off and what do the positions boil down to? Lenin and then Trotsky and the left were basically saying we have to have voluntary collectivization in the countryside. What we’re going to do is take our government subsidies and create model collective farms, and they’ll work so well that peasants were seeing that they are better than their private plots and that’s how we’ll have voluntary collectivization. Bukharin on the right, to the extent that he was on the right, was saying “no, what we’ve got to do is encourage the peasants, just like in the French Revolution, which was to get rich and we’ll just have totally free market in the countryside. Encourage the kulak class and we’ll have rapid development of agriculture and we can use the surplus from that for a slow industrialization.” The left position, particularly after Lenin died, was more and more “what we need is rapid industrialization.” We have to have rapid industrial development to be able to defend ourselves against the next invasion of western powers.
Speaker 4: That was the far left position?
Loren: I would say the left position. Rapid industrialization combined with voluntary… you are right, it was pretty dodgy. Stalin comes along and says, “The left is completely out of touch.Trotsky overestimates the peasants, overestimates the willingness of the peasants to involve themselves in this voluntary collectivization.” Amadeo Bordiga (in Italy) later came along and said, “Yes, Trotsky did overestimate the peasants because he assumed that they could have anything to do with the proletarian revolution.” The peasants clearly wanted land and, in this view, they wanted private land. (In fact they wanted to restore the mir, which they did (see my article on the Russian peasant commune
http://breaktheirhaughtypower.org/the-agrarian-question-in-the-russian-revolution-from-material-community-to-productivism-and-back/ )That was one dominant trait. The whole debate was intensified by what was called the “scissors crisis.” The Scissors Crisis meant that the prices of industrial goods being produced in the factories, first under a war communism and then under the NEP, freeing up the market, were rising very rapidly and the peasants needed some industrial goods. They needed ploughs and tools and other things like that. In the meanwhile, they were producing so much grain that the price of grain was falling so they could buy less and less: this is the Scissors Crisis. It made everybody very nervous that all of the plans for any cooperation between the city and the countryside were going down the drain because of this reality.
I should also add that in 1923 a working-class strike wave erupted. Where was Trotsky,
leader of the Left Opposition? He was totally focused on the internal struggle in the party and refused to support the strikes.
What really intervened in the situation, what kind of broke the back of this city-country dynamic, was a famine in 1927/1928. Russia had already had years of famine during World War I and during the Civil War. Even Herbert Hoover had to involve himself in massive export of grain to Russia in 1922 to stop famine there. Of course, the idea was to use it to pry open the Soviet Union and destroy the Bolshevik regime, but they did send millions of tons of grain to Russia but lots of people had already died in that famine. So a new famine starts in 1927/1928 and Stalin uses that, because by that time he had totally taken over the party apparatus. He decrees the first five-year plan and what happened essentially is that Stalin took over the left-wing program and above all the idea of rapid industrialization; he dropped the part about voluntary collectivization. By the way, and it’s very interesting, Bukharin during all these debates had said if the left program is ever implemented, it can only be implemented by the creation of the biggest bureaucracy that ever existed in history and that’s exactly what happened. He was imagining it happening under the left but it actually happened under the so-called center, led by Stalin. Stalin took over this idea of rapid industrial development, developed his five-year plan which was launched in 1928 with massive forced collectivization that lasted for 6-7 years. Later, Churchill, during World War II, was having cocktails with Stalin at one of the international meetings, and said, “Come on, tell me Joe, how many peasants died in the collectivization, five million?” This was going through an interpreter and Stalin just said, “10”. By Stalin’s own account, 10 million peasants died during these collectivizations.
They died not merely from starvation but also they were being deported all over the country to supposedly richer agricultural areas and the peasants responded to the forced collectivization by destroying livestock. They killed the sheep, goats, pigs, cows etc. by the millions. So then when the Red Army detachments actually seized the land, there wasn’t much left. That just made the famine situation worse. This is really how Stalin consolidated his power in Russia itself, taking advantage of the isolation, advantage of the failure of the revolution in the west, using the slogan of “socialism in one country”, something that no one in the Marxist tradition had ever heard of before that. Finally when the situation created by this famine really created the opportunity, he smashed the left, he smashed the right and Stalin had really taken power.
I’ve said before that what’s going on through this whole period and contining is this dialectic between domestic Russia and foreign policy. Foreign policy meant above all the policy of the Third International; the Communist International which I would say by the early 20s was already essentially a tool of Soviet state foreign policy. It was not truly an internationalist organization. So let me just cover the foreign situations in which for one reason or another, the Bolsheviks just deepened their isolation. There was the German Revolution, which we’ll deal with next week. While I would never say it was the Bolsheviks’ fault that the German Revolution failed. There was talk of Trotsky going to Germany to organize the Red Army there and lead the revolution the way he had in Russia, but it just never happened for whatever reason. There were just terrible screw ups; in one case, in 1923; an insurrection was planned, then cancelled. Except in Hamburg, one of the major ports in northern Germany. At the last minute they decided to call it off because they knew that Hamburg was completely isolated. The Comintern, the messenger with the telegram, missed the train by a few minutes.
This guy was going with the orders to cancel, so the insurrection took place in isolation, the workers were crushed and that was really kind of the end of the real armed phase of the German Revolution. But as I said, we’ll deal with that next week. The German Revolution was botched. I’m not saying that necessarily it would have happened without the involvement of the Bolsheviks and the Third International, but it failed. In 1926 there was a general strike in England that in part, I’ll have to review the events but it really took off and I believe in the middle of it, some New York Post type newspaper published what was supposedly a telegram from Moscow, in which “the heads of the Trade Union Congress were to stage this general strike and go on to revolution,” and that definitely was an wrench in the whole process. From 1924 to 1928, this is the so-called “second period”. Bukharin was running the International or his people were running the International. That meant all over the world that pro-Bukharin people were being elevated to leadership of the different communist parties.
So, during Bukharin’s period there was the failure of the British general strike; then, far and away probably the most important event during this period was the defeat of the Chinese Revolution in 1927. We’ll deal with this in detail when we get to Maoism (see my article http://breaktheirhaughtypower.org/notes-towards-a-critique-of-maoism/) But, just briefly, from 1919 to 1927 there was this constant ferment, this very small but very militant Chinese working class in key port cities, staging strike after strike up to this culmination in 1927 and what happened was a clear case of the results of Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country”. It goes right back to the two-stage theory. A Bolshevik-type revolution was on the agenda in China. Stalin ordered the Chinese Communist to make an alliance with the nationalist party of Chiang Kai-shek, and Chiang Kai-shek just turned on the Communists at a key moment in April 1927 and massacred tens of thousands of communist workers in both Shanghai and in (then) Canton, or Guangzhou as it’s known in Chinese. So the defeat of the Chinese Revolution was kind of the end. Every turn in policy both in Russia and in the Communist International ends is some bloody defeat. Germany in 1923, China in 1927 and now begins what was known as the Third Period. And the Third Period is the period in which the Communist parties all over the world were calling the Socialist parties “Fascists”.
I should say Social Fascists. That is they seem to be Socialist but in fact, they are really pushing Fascism or they are giving way to Fascism. In some places there was a grain of truth to it, particularly the latter formulation. But the key battle was being fought in Germany. In 1929 Germany was pulled into the world economic depression more deeply than any other country except United States. Unemployment was at 30% or more. There were street battles between Nazis and Communists going on constantly and the country was rapidly becoming ungovernable. So, one would think that the obvious thing to do was to have unity between the Socialist workers and the Communist workers. But since the Comintern line at that time was that the Socialist workers were Fascists, that kind of unity was impossible. It’s much more complicated than that in reality, for all kinds of reasons we can talk about that next week. It was highly unlikely. Trotsky was exile in in Turkey writing these brilliant pamphlets about what was going on. They were read by 200 people , and yet there were spontaneous attempts by Socialist and Communist workers to work together, but it was too late. So in January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and just to show how abject German Socialists were, they petitioned to be recognized as a legal party in the Hitler regime. On May Day 1933, four months after Hitler came to power, the Social Democrats went out to march as they always did on May Day, and their offices all over Germany were shut down and tens of thousands of socialists were rounded up and sent to concentration camps or prison.