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Joseph Carter

A New Lenin Book

(July 1938)

From New International, Vol. IV No. 7, July 1938, pp. 219–220.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Volume IX of the Selected Works

by V.I. Lenin
xi+505 pp. New York, International Publishers, $2.00.

Lenin, the theoretician of the Bolshevik party, was also its political leader. In the selection of his speeches, articles, letters and notes under review – covering the period of 1921–1923 – he was preoccupied with the immediate, practical problems of Soviet power. Available now for the first time in English are his speeches on the trade union question – against Trotsky and Bukharin; his speech at the Tenth Party Congress on the New Economic Policy and his articles against bureaucracy, notably on the reorganization of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection and Better Fewer, But Better.

In the New Masses (May 10, 1938) Joshua Kunitz in a review of the volume, entitled Additional Light on Trotsky and Bukharin, writes that the more one reads Lenin’s polemics against Trotsky and Bukharin on the trade union question “the more uncannily revealing and prophetic they seem, especially in the light of the Moscow Trials”. The political errors of Trotsky and Bukharin “distract” the party from practical work; their “factionalism” is unwarranted by the nature of the differences, etc., wrote Lenin. And Kunitz adds: such behavior was not episodic but characterized their conduct at every decisive stage of the revolution – finally taking the form of treason, spying and murder.

If Kunitz had been consistent in his insipid falsifications, he would have charged that Bukharin’s “factionalism” was dictated by the German Foreign Office! For according to the latest Moscow trial, Bukharin (whom Lenin, two years after the dispute, called “not only the most valuable and biggest theoretician of the party, but also may be considered the favorite of the whole party”) was already a foreign spy during the trade union discussion!

Neither does Kunitz discuss the political and personal relations on the Central Committee following the dispute. For it is well known that in the last two years of Lenin’s life the latter struggled against the growing state and party bureaucracy with Stalin at its head; that the article on the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection contained in the present volume was directed against Stalin – and for that reason was almost suppressed by the Central Committee.

The Stalinist editors of Lenin’s works are also “selective”. They do not publish Lenin’s letter against Stalin on the national question; nor his letter breaking off all personal relations with Stalin; and certainly not the last letter which Lenin sent to the party calling for the removal of Stalin as general secretary of the party, and expressing high esteem for Trotsky, Pyatakov and Bukharin.

During the period of 1922–1923, Lenin sent several letters to Trotsky asking him to take up the cudgels against Stalin on the national question and the struggle against bureaucracy. The letters were put at the disposal of the Commission on the History of the Party, but never published!

In fact events have been moving so fast in the Soviet Union, that the present volume had to be published in English without any notes at all! In the preface the editors state: “Developments during the past years, however, imperatively call for a thorough revision of these notes [of the Russian edition. – J.C.] and the MEL [Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute] is now engaged in revising them for publication in Russian.” Since the task is taking longer than anticipated Volumes IX, X, XI and XII of the Selected Works will be published in English without any notes!

Lenin’s writings are difficult to understand without extensive explanatory notes; the difficulty is multiplied a thousandfold when the annotations are in accordance with the latest Moscow frame-up trial. In this sense we can be grateful for the absence of any notes! One will find Trotsky’s letter to the committee on party history (included in the Stalin School of Falsification) a most valuable commentary on Lenin’s writings during this period.

The trade union dispute (1920–1921) is described by Trotsky as “a search for a way out of an economic blind alley”. At the end of the civil war, industry and agriculture were at a standstill. The peasants, now that the armed civil war was over, opposed forced requisitions of grain. Among the workers, dissatisfaction developed in face of the inability of the Soviet regime to satisfy their material needs. At the same time a tremendous bureaucracy had developed – an officialdom, separated from the masses, and composed in large measure of bureaucrats and specialists of the old regime.

What was to be done? There were no ready-made formula. Inside the Bolshevik party serious differences arose. Different individuals and groupings put forward one or another policy.

In February 1920, Trotsky proposed a modification of War Communism by the establishment of a progressive tax on agricultural produce in place of the forced requisitions, permitting peasants to sell their surplus products in a delimited market. The aim of the proposal was to encourage agricultural production, supply industry with raw material, satisfy the pressing needs of the workers and strengthen the relations between the Soviet state and the peasantry. The proposal was rejected.

In May of the same year, Trotsky, in the name of the People’s Commissariat of Ways and Communications, issued the famous Order 1042 for the reparation of locomotives. This plan, based upon the experiences of the Red Army, brought excellent results. Trotsky, generalizing this plan, proposed in December 1920 that the trade unions become direct instruments of the Soviet economic bodies for the revival and development of industry. As he later put it: when his proposal for the modification of War Communism was rejected he sought a way out of the economic impasse “along the opposite road, i.e., along the road of rigid management and closer inclusion of the trade unions – not as mass organizations but as administrative machinery – into the system of economic management under War Communism” (Stalin School of Falsification, p. 30).

Lenin did not agree with this policy. He contended that “the trade unions are not state organizations, not organizations for coercion, they are educational organizations, organizations that enlist, that train, they are schools, schools of administration, schools of management, schools of communism” (p. 4).

Trotsky held that the old role of trade unions as class struggle instruments of the proletariat was outlived under the proletarian dictatorship. In this he was repeating the argument which up to that time was common to all Bolsheviks in their struggle against the Menshevik conception of the “independence” of trade unions. Lenin now, however, modified this partial truth. Even under the Russian Soviet regime, he contended, the trade unions must defend the class interests of the proletariat. But is there not a workers’ state in Russia?

“Actually we have a workers’ state; with this peculiarity, firstly, it is not the working class that predominates in the country, but the peasant population; and secondly, it is a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions”. (p. 33)

The trade unions should defend the class interests of the proletariat against the bureaucracy, the bourgeois specialists and the pressure of the peasantry upon the Soviet apparatus, according to Lenin. At the same time they should participate in the Soviet economic bodies responsible for management of industry, learn how industry is operated, prepare themselves for the taking over of direct management of economy (the goal set for the unions in the Bolshevik program).

Within the Central Committee of the party Lenin proposed to solve the differences on the trade union question in a “practical, businesslike” way. A commission was elected for this purpose but Trotsky refused to serve on it. He stated that

“... until I am permitted, equally with all other comrades to discuss these questions in the full scope of the party press, I expect nothing from this cloister discussion of these questions, and hence from the work of the commission” (cf., Lenin, p. 58).

Lenin thought that in view of the nature of the differences and the condition of the country a public discussion on the question was not warranted. However Trotsky insisted upon the discussion, and the Central Committee concurred – Lenin found himself a minority in the CC. This origin of the public discussion accounts for the sharpness of Lenin’s polemic. For he made it clear at the outset:

“We shall not find anything serious in the sphere of differences in principle no matter how diligently we search for them.” (p.6)

Nor did this dispute interfere with the common struggle of Lenin, Trotsky and Bukharin against the Workers Opposition (led by Shlyapnikov and Kollontay) which proposed a complete reorganization of Soviet economic management; the immediate transfer to the trade unions of direct management and control of industry.

The party membership was asked to solve these differences. All groupings were permitted to present their views to the members and seek to win delegates to the Tenth Party Congress, March 1921. Lenin’s trade union theses were adopted. However, at the same Congress Lenin, with the warning of Kronstadt before him, proposed the New Economic Policy – an agricultural tax instead of forced requisitions, limited “free” market, private trade and a system of economic concessions to foreign capitalists under state supervision. The Congress adopted this policy as a way out of the existing economic impasse. The new relations resulting from the NEP soon required a new trade union resolution. The old dispute between Lenin, Trotsky and Bukharin disappeared. The 11th Congress (1922) adopted the new resolution.

The Tenth Congress condemned the Workers Opposition platform as expressing “a syndicalist and anarchist deviation” and decided that the “propaganda of these ideas” is incompatible with party membership. At the same time the CC was instructed to issue symposiums and other publications where the problems raised by the Opposition could be discussed from all sides. But how could the Congress condemn the propagation of particular views and at the same time provide a medium for their expression? Lenin replied:

“Do you not see – you agitators and propagandists in one form or another – do you not see the differences between the propaganda of ideas in fighting political parties and the interchange of opinion in special publications and symposiums?” (p. 129)

Faction formations on the basis of differences resolved by the party Congress – for the time being at least – were prohibited. However, the existing differences could be discussed, should be discussed, according to Lenin, without interfering with the practical work of the party as guided by the adopted decisions. The theoretical discussions could then merge with the “political” discussions in the next pre-congress period.

Party congresses were held annually in the first period of the Russian Revolution: from 1917–1922, six years, six congresses! In 1923, Lenin was too ill to participate actively in party work; Stalin had already gotten the upper hand. There was no congress that year. From 1924–1938, fourteen years of Stalin rule, five congresses!

These figures are however only symbolic.

One has only to compare the character of pre-congress discussions and the proceedings at the congresses to see the deep chasm which separates the two periods. Discussion of differences was the very life-blood of Bolshevism under Lenin. Sham unanimity, violent suppression of all oppositions, totalitarian rule are the “party” methods of Stalin.

Lenin in his last period of political activity saw a growing bureaucracy which threatened further to separate the vanguard from the masses and bring about the destruction of the Soviet regime. His proposals for checking the bureaucracy were all within the limits of the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party whose “old guard” was but a “thin stratum” of the party. They can be found in the articles, How to Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, and Better Less, But Better. It is debatable whether these measures would have achieved the desired results. In any case, they called to the attention of the entire party the need for struggling against, checking, limiting the bureaucracy. Others, notably the 1923 Opposition led by Trotsky, were the continuators of Lenin’s struggle; their victory might have resulted in the revival of Soviet democracy.

The objective conditions – the cultural backwardness of the country and the defeats of the workers’ revolutions in Western Europe – militated against their victory. Lenin, at the Tenth Party Congress, reiterated the old view of the Bolsheviks that in Russia “... the socialist revolution can be completely successful only on two conditions: first, on the condition that it receives timely support from the Socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries ...” (p. 108). The absence of such “timely support” strengthened the reaction in Russia. Stalinism, the child of this reaction, became the father of greater defeats, catastrophes and counter-revolutions.

In the struggle for world socialism an understanding of Lenin’s writings and the early policies of Bolshevism are indispensable. The approach to such an understanding is supplied by Lenin’s advice to the communists of Transcaucasia (April 14, 1921):

“Do not copy our tactics, but think out for yourself the reasons why they assumed these peculiar features, the conditions that gave rise to them, and their results; apply in your republics not the letter, but the spirit, the sense, the lessons of the experiences of 1917–1921.”

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