The Bolsheviks and the Peasantry

The Russian Revolution was in itself a contradiction. Marx had pointed out that the interests of the peasantry, as a class, are contradictory to the interests of the working class. The peasantry need and want only one thing, freedom to own their own land, to be free of the landlord. Once this achieved they become an intensely conservative force. They have no interest in or any desire for socialism. Yet the Revolution was formed out of on alliance of the smaller working class and the massive peasantry. The interests of the two classes coincided on two things – the end of the War and the overthrow of Tsarism and the feudal Russian state – “ Peace, land, bread”.

The Civil War threw up further contradictions, the peasantry formed the bulk of Red Army led by the workers of Petrograd, Moscow etc. Yet they had no military expertise, the political commissars might be ex workers but they had no military experience, that expertise was found by recruiting former Tsarist officers.

The war in the name of the Workers and Peasants could only be won by the Workers declaring war on the peasants – which was the essence of War Communism.

The war, having been won, left the Bolsheviks with another contradiction. The revolutionary workers whom the Bolsheviks represented had themselves been atomised by the war. A starving famine stricken country, idle factories with no workers, the revolutionary soviets, supposedly representing workers’ democracy empty shells and international isolation. Yet the Bolsheviks are still in charge representing the ideals of socialism leading a non existent working class.

For the Bolsheviks there was only one Marxist answer. If the revolution was truly part of an international movement then the overthrow of capitalism would resolve the contradiction.

In a socialist Europe or better still a socialist world, the peasantry of Russia would be a minority, a problem that could be overcome gradually and without violence.

It is underestimated today how important this debate was at the time. One of the most interesting things I have read about this period is “ The Memoirs of a Bolshevik- Leninist “ a piece of samizdat writing that was published in 1974, having been smuggled out of the Soviet Union. The writer was active in the Civil war and served initially as code decipherer in Trotsky’s war room. He accompanied Trotsky on his travels on the train/ mobile HQ. After the war he was one of Trotsky’s staff and witnessed many of meetings of the Opposition. He was arrested in 1934 and was sent into exile to a work camp with other Oppositionists – later joined by right opposionists from Bukharin’s following. He was released in 1941 because of his military experience – the Trotskyists, or Bolshevik- Leninists as they called themselves having declared from imprisonment that they would support the war effort. He was rearrested in 1946 and sent to Vorkuta and not released until the thaw in 1962.

Sorry about the digression but his “rank and file” eyewitness account of the struggle in 1920’s centred around the issue of “ internationalism vs Stalin’s “ national “ socialism. They regarded this question as fundamental.

This contradiction of interest led to the many mistakes made but where any option was possibly wrong.

People often bring up the issue of Kronstadt – a bad mistake – probably, certainly a bloody and inhuman action, but had they not suppressed the rebellion, would it have undermined the war effort? Their problem was military opposition in the middle of a war. The background of this was also the Workers Opposition an influential faction in the party demanding the return of democracy in the soviets, inevitably involving the freedom for other political parties to compete. Lenin and Trotsky were united in defeating and expelling this faction – no bloodshed involved – but Kronstadt was its military expression and bloodshed was involved. A mistake? Or a mistake not to suppress the WO and allow free elections to soviets? The invasion of Poland, a mistaken belief that the Polish workers would join the revolution or a nationalist enterprise? Clearly, in my view a bad mistake by Lenin and Trotsky.

NEP was introduced to feed the country, to give the peasants what they wanted. The freedom to grow food and sell it in the market. Capitalist orthodoxy became the norm, the stock exchange, food exchange and profits made by the “ NEPmen. The Bukharin wing of the party saw this as a long term solution and Stalin deftly sided with them as a national policy. For the opposition it was buying time to build the international revolution. Zinoviev and Kamenev and their followers opted for Old Bolshevik loyalty realising their mistake in 1926 and allying with Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

In my view, Stalin’s solution, the so called “ Socialist Offensive” was the worst possible one only made possible by the creation of an artificial famine and slaughter on a scale the worst Tsars could not have envisaged. What did it create – national state capitalist police state that fell in 1990 without a whimper leaving Russia what it is today, an oligarchy of ex KGB gangsters who have plundered the assets of the state.


How Stalin helped the Nazis into Power.

Leon Trotsky wrote in 1932 his “ Aesop’s Fable” to sum up precisely what the results Stalin’s policies would be in Germany threatened with the rise of Nazism.

“A cattle dealer once drove some bulls to the slaughterhouse. And the butcher came at night with his sharp knife.

“Let us close ranks and jack up this executioner on our horns,” suggested one of the bulls. 

“If you please, in what way is the butcher any worse than the dealer who drove us hither with his cudgel?” replied the bulls, who had received their political education in Manuilsky’s institute [The Comintern].

“But we shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards!”

“Nothing doing,” replied the bulls, firm in their principles, to the counselor. “You are trying, from the left, to shield our enemies—you are a social-butcher yourself.”

And they refused to close ranks.”

Key to this policy was its implementation in Germany by Stalin via the Comintern the Third ( Communist) International.

This was founded in 1919 by the Bolsheviks to replace the defunct Socialist International that died when the constituent socialist parties agreed in 1914 that they would support support their own governments in slaughtering workers from “ enemy” countries.

The Comintern as became to be known, consisted of delegates from newly formed communist parties across the world.

One can clearly see the mind of Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership of 1919 in the following resolution of that year.

The Comintern resolved at its Second Congress to “struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state”.

The political struggle between the Bolshevik – Leninists represented by the Left Opposition led by Trotsky and joined in 1926 by Zinoviev and Kamenev with their substantial following and Stalin’s Centrist ( socialism in one country ie nationalist) group was not only crucial for the future of the Soviet Union but even more crucial to the future of the Comintern and the spread of revolution into Europe.

Lenin’s resolution was not just pious sentiment, it was a policy fundamental to the Soviet Union and to the world. The Bolsheviks had won a revolution but it was a precarious victory. Feudalism had been overthrown but not capitalism. Capitalism could only be overthrown when an International Soviet republic had been established. Even that was only a stage to the actual revolution, the abolition of the state itself and an international society of free and equal people.

Lenin’s position became that of the Opposition in 1926, while the centrist group built on the old tsarist state bureaucracy defeated them. Not democratically of course, but bureaucratically by preventing them from printing their programme, harassing them and actually preventing them from taking their seats in the Congress.

The Centrist great Russian Empire nationalists led by Stalin won out and all Bolsheviks who had any part in the revolution would eventually fall to his butcher’s knife.

As if to rub it in the Stalin group made

a “ left turn” in 1928 calling the violent, brutal and lethal collectivisation and industrialisation programme the “ socialist offensive”.

Socialist it was not but a declaration of war on the peasantry as a class and to establish capitalist relations through a brutal “ industrial revolution”. Not the normal capitalism of Western Europe but state capitalism.

This meant that the Comintern was no longer the means by which international Revolution would be fomented but nothing more than an arm of foreign policy to protect the interests of Soviet Union.

So the left turn became the absurd doctrine of “ social fascism” where other socialist parties in Germany, France and Spain were treated as greater enemies than the Fascists and Nazis themselves. Creating this massive division in the working class in Europe when all should be uniting to defeat fascism was a fatal policy.

So in Germany where the Communist Party was 8 million strong the party was told to ignore the Nazis and turn all their attacks on the Social Democrats.

In Spain in 1936, the Communists played but a minor role in preventing Franco’s nationalist coup, the major role was played by the Anarchists and the Trotskyists of the POUM.

The price of Stalin’s support for the Republic was a pro Soviet government and the destruction of the Anarchists and Trotskyists. This the defeat of the Republic was assured.

It is important to note that before Nazis came into power in Germany that they controlled a private army of 400,000 SA, in uniform, in barracks and being paid. So it’s a simple question, who paid the colossal sums necessary to do this? The capitalists of Germany paid because of the grow thing strength of the German Communist Party – 8 million strong in 1932 while the Nazis had passed their peak. In the last freely held general election of the Weimar Republic the Nazis lost 50 seats in the Reichstag from the July 1932 election. The Communists continued to gain. Had it not been for the absurdity and criminal idiocy of Stalin’s instructions to the the working masses of Germany could have easily prevented the Nazis from coming into power. But Stalin decided that the Communists should ignore the Nazis and turn their fire on the Social Democrats idiotically terming them “ social fascists”, even in Berlin the CP and the Nazis jointly organised a strike against the Social Democrat Council.

Stalin had a great responsibility for helping the Nazis get into power and Communists were the Nazis first victims. Trotsky from exile was urging the Communists to form a United Front with the Social Democrats – dominant in the trade unions, to prevent the Nazis from getting into power.

However, neither the big capitalist companies funding the Nazis or the Nazis themselves really believed they would get into power through parliamentary means or that the state apparatus would turn to them. It was easy, because two parties representing workers at war or at least the Communists were at war with the Social Democrats.

The Nazis had swallowed the myth of Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, where the state had apparently given in to the might of the Blackshirts. Indeed in 1923, the Nazis attempted a similar putsch in Munich and failed. So they envisaged that it would be the SA who would be the instrument of seizing power in Germany. They played their part in 1933 by ensuring that together with Prussian police in particular that parties opposed to Nazis would not be able stand against them.

Having achieved power, with the support of capitalist class, the Nazi Government was not going to be able to tolerate another centre of power represented by this private army of thugs and malcontents. Also the rich backers who funded the SA would see no reason to continue funding it now that the threat of a workers’ revolution had been averted. The regular army leaders did not want the SA integrated into the German army nor did the officers want it either. So the logical thing was to wind the SA up. But the SA and it’s leaders did not wanting to be set up. Hitler and his fellow Nazis no longer wanted this now they were in control of the armed forces of the state. Hence the forcible liquidation the SA and it’s leaders.”

However, Nationalist and fascist governments can only survive by keeping the population occupied with war. So Stalin in making a deal with Hitler in 1938 thought he was protecting the Russian Empire. But in fact he was giving time for the Nazis to prepare themselves for their assault on Russia itself.