By Tatyana Shvetsova
It is hard to say just what kind of policy the Soviet government would have been conducting, if its founder, Vladimir Lenin hadn’t died on January 21st 1924. Although in the last year of his life Lenin didn’t really play an active political role, nonetheless, in the eyes of the communists he remained the leader of the revolution. Lenin’s funeral became a display of trust shown by the communists’ followers in the transformations in society. Hundreds of thousands of these followers at the time joined the ranks of the communist party. A decision Lenin on death bedwas taken to preserve the body of the leader in a special Mausoleum, built for the purpose on Red Square. In Lenin’s honor Petrograd was renamed Leningrad.
After Lenin’s death his deputy – a seasoned Bolshevik Alexei Rykov was appointed head of the government, i.e. Chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissars. While as of 1922 the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was occupied by Joseph Stalin. Historian Pyotr Deinichenko writes:
“Already during Lenin’s lifetime Stalin attempted to oust all other influential party leaders, securing for himself the leading position at the helm. After Lenin’s death, there remained but one serious adversary and rival to contend with – Leon Trotsky. The position of General Secretary of the Party permitted Stalin to infiltrate ‘his own people’ into the uppermost echelons of power, thus strengthening his grasp on overall power in the country.
People pay their last respects to Lenin. January 1924Moreover, since 1920 he headed the apparatus of the influential Workers and Peasants Inspection – a body of state control from 1920 to 1934. Stalin had no clear-cut position regarding the country’s development after Lenin’s death. However, he most convincingly played the role of impartial judge and faithful follower of Lenin’s ideals.
Stalin’s principal rival, Leon Trotsky, championed extreme leftist views, which not always won him the support of party members even in the years of military communism. Nonetheless, Trotsky’s ideas found ready support among the working masses. Disgruntled by the domination of party bureaucracy, they were inspired to organize strikes and set up, as they put it, ‘genuinely workers’ underground groups. Besides, Trotsky demanded a democratization of the party and reducing the role of the party apparatus.
Trotsky acted first, accusing Stalin’s staunch supporters of the time, Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, of betraying the cause of the revolution and displaying ‘right leanings’. However, Trotsky didn’t allow for the entire might of the party propaganda apparatus being turned against him.
Stalin started out by denying Trotsky’s role in the revolution and the Civil war, putting to doubt the theory of world revolution, that Trotsky was an active proponent of, and that up until then nobody had the least doubt about. It was then that Stalin began to speak of the victory of socialism in one separate country. This remark had once been made by Vladimir Lenin, however, the way it was served up by Stalin it acquired patriotic overtones.
Stalin’s remarks hit close to home: the prospects of an endless revolutionary struggle were less than appealing to many. The Red Army servicemen were tired of the many years of war – after all, many had set off for the front in 1914, during the First World War!
Stalin in 1928The ‘revolutionary bureaucrats’, who had pushed themselves forward in the years of Civil war, also wanted to make ample use of the advantages of their situation.
In 1925 Stalin went even further, supporting a number of measures in favor of the peasantry. In the eyes of the true communists this was a concession to the wealthy peasantry, so-called ‘kulaks’. The head of the party organization of Leningrad communists Grigory Zinoviev spoke of the erroneous nature of the theory of building socialism in one separate country. Neither did he like the state policy in favor of the peasantry. However, Stalin came out on top yet again. At the 14th Party Congress he took upon himself the role of arbiter between the ‘rightists’ and the ‘leftists’. Despite the fact that Lenin’s widow and companion-in-arms Nadezhda Krupskaya took the side of the opposition, the Congress threw its weight in with Stalin. Soon after this Grigory Zinoviev was removed from his post, and the Leningrad party organization was now headed by Sergey Kirov, Stalin’s faithful disciple.
The struggle continued. And in 1926 Leon Trotsky, already removed from the post of Army Minister, insisted that the revolution had been betrayed by the bureaucrats and the sole solution lay in a speedy development of heavy industry, improvement of the conditions of life of the workers, democratization of the party and a struggle against the wealthy peasantry. However, it wasn’t easy for Trotsky and his followers to spread these ideas in the masses, since the party apparatus, controlled by Stalin, would not permit this. So the opposition decided to opt for subterfuge and set up clandestine organizations, and spread its ideas in the lower party cells. The Trotskists were under constant observation by the GPU (Secret Police) under the Government of the USSR, which had taken over the functions of the VCHka.
In October 1926 a Plenary meeting of the party Central Committee expelled Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev from the Politburo. Thus Stalin’s theory of building socialism in one separate country prevailed. The opposition was still trying to put up a resistance. In autumn of 1927 they clandestinely printed a program of party reforms. The key demand of this program was the independence of the Central Committee from the Party Apparatus.
State Security bodies used this as a pretext, and practically all noteworthy followers of Leon Trotsky were expelled from the party. In the Sergey Kirovbeginning of 1928 Trotsky and some 30 other oppositionists were exiled to Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan.
The 15th party congress, which was held in December 1927, proclaimed an end to ‘Trotskyism’, and, accordingly, a rejection of the notion of ‘a world revolution’.
The country had to learn to survive surrounded by a hostile environment, and this required a strong economy.
In the briefest possible time a revolution had to be effected in industry and agriculture. Few doubted the imperative need for this. Everyone was convinced of the proximity of a war with ‘the world of capital’. Run-of-the-mill workers and communists perceived industrialization as a constituent part of a struggle for the survival of the revolution. An adversary in this struggle was the Russian peasantry, which comprised a major part of the population of the country. The entire lifestyle and hopes and aspirations of the peasants cut across the communists’ plans for a strong industrial power. The conflict between the town and the village, which emerged back in the years of the First World War, now reached its climax.
At the end of 1927 bread shortages became a reality: the peasants had supplied a quarter less grain than the previous year. The country had lost its main export commodity and was now without currency, so needed for realizing industrialization plans. Once again, food supplies to the city were threatened. Stalin made an immediate decision: instead of protracted and gradual collectivization it was necessary to set up gigantic agricultural enterprises, which could compete with the small farmer and backyarder. At the same time workers units were sent to the villages to impound grain surpluses.
This policy of returning to surplus appropriation system sparked the indignation of many party members, something that became evident at the April Plenary meeting of the Central Committee in 1928. To strengthen his position, Stalin made effective use of the court proceedings against 53 people in the Ukrainian town Shakhty. These people, chiefly engineers and technicians, were accused of industrial sabotage at the orders of the former owners of the mines. The party propaganda used the Shakhty case to maximum advantage. The entire affair was presented as a conspiracy of international capital against the revolution. Once again, the issue of the ‘rightist threat’ was raised, and in this connection – the danger that the wealthy ‘kulak’ farmers presented.
Nonetheless, polemics inside the party continued. Now Stalin’s chief opponent was Party Central Committee member Nikolai Bukharin. Nikolai BukharinHe believed that plans of forcing the peasantry to go to extra expense for the sake of industrialization needs could only lead the country to terror and starvation. Stalin, in turn, vaguely expatiated about ‘right leanings’ within the party, without actually revealing any names.
In November 1928 the Plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee unanimously condemned the ‘right deviations’. In the name of the party’s unity Nikolai Bukharin and his associates voted in favor of Stalin’s resolutions on industrialization and development of the socialist sector in agriculture. After this they could no longer openly voice their ideas.
The opposition no longer presented a major threat.
As soon as the party line shifted to the left, rank-and-file communists all turned against Leon Trotsky. Soon he was accused of setting up an “anti-Soviet party” and on January 21st 1929 he was expelled from the country. Nikolai Bukharin paid an even bigger price, since they black-marked him for contacts with the Trotskists and all other mistakes, right back to when he dared oppose Lenin in 1915, so he was removed from all posts.
The Central Control Commission conducted a thorough purge within the party ranks. Over 170 thousand Bolsheviks were expelled – moreover, a third – for political opposition to the party line.”
This is how Stalin achieved his long-cherished plans of rising to the summits of political diktat.
Illustrations: “Russia. A Complete Encyclopaedic Guide.” Moscow, OLMA-PRESS, 2002
“USSR”, Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, 1990
Source:The Voice of Russia