(CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN – continued)

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Filling Lenin's Shoes

Lenin died in January 1924, and squabbling in the Bolshevik Party's Politburo and Central Committee concerning Party leadership grew worse. Opponents of Trotsky backed Stalin. On the question of Lenin's note criticizing Stalin for rudeness and abuse of power, Stalin described Lenin as having been a sick man and "surrounded by women" when he wrote it. Few women were in the higher echelons of the Party to take offense. Trotsky remained silent about the note. To members of the Central Committee Stalin appeared to have mended his ways with proper humility and manners. Facing the Central Committee, Zinoviev spoke in support of Stalin, and the Central Committee voted that Lenin's note should be forgotten and not published or revealed to that larger body of communists, the Party Congress – despite the Party Congress being in theory the ultimate source of power within the Communist Party.

It was the Politburo rather than the Central Committee or the Soviet government that was running the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Meanwhile the Politburo was justifying with ideology every move it made. And to keep up with Party polemics and to put an end to a reputation among his colleagues that he was weak in theory, Stalin began taking private bi-weekly lessons on Marxism, taught by a Party philosopher, Yan Sten. Stalin has been described as finding some of it hard going, especially the writings of the philosopher Hegel, whose turgid sentences were difficult for the brightest of people.

Meanwhile, Trotsky and his supporters were agitating for the advance of socialism. Many Bolsheviks were growing impatient with the continuation of Lenin's temporary compromise with capitalism – his New Economic Policy. Not one for letting the marketplace decide economic matters, Trotsky advocated advancing socialist manufacturing. He advocated putting more emphasis on stimulating revolution in other countries, and he favored support for the Soviet Union's numerous poor farmers at the expense of its more successful farmers.

It was the surpluses produced on the more successful farms that were providing the Soviet Union with sales abroad, giving the Soviet Union hard currency with which to buy machinery with which to advance industry. And it was taxes from private enterprise that provided the government with some of its needed revenues. Farm production remained below what it had been before the war, and some Bolsheviks were for letting farms prosper for the sake of more food. Stalin listened to the debates without committing himself, and he tended to support the status quo, his position being that of caution in contrast to Trotsky's boldness and independence of thought.

Eventually, Stalin clashed openly with Trotsky, and the conflict between the two became vitriolic, with Stalin boasting about his past as an old Bolshevik while using petty falsehoods to denigrate Trotsky's role in the revolution. To counter Trotsky, Stalin enunciated a position that became known as "Socialism in One Country," a position that appealed to rank and file Bolsheviks and to their greater interest in matters at home rather than revolution abroad. Stalin said that by now, five years after World War I had ended, the capitalist nations had stabilized, revolution abroad was not imminent and the Soviet Union would need to live among the capitalist powers and maintain good relations with them for the sake of the trade and economic growth. Stalin presented his views as orthodox Leninism, employing quotes from Engels and Lenin and appealing to the tendency among people to simplify.

Zinoviev and Kamenev were close to Trotsky in their advocacy of world revolution and their eagerness to do away with the New Economic Policy. And they were eager for the Soviet Union to do away with free enterprise farming. But they remained opposed to Trotsky and his criticism of Party organization. They called for Trotsky's expulsion from the Politburo. Stalin opposed this, posing as the man for Party unity and comity. But Trotsky was removed as head of the Red Army, and he was succeeded by a Stalin supporter: Klementiy Voroshilov.

Stalin moved to address the issue of socialism versus Lenin's New Economic Policy. He and his allies laid plans for the building of socialist industries to exist alongside continuations of some free enterprise. Supporting Stalin in this move was the member of the Politburo who had filled the space on that body vacated by Lenin: Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin, thirty-six years old, was a native of Moscow, and he had been a Bolshevik since at least 1908. Lenin had described him as the Party's "greatest theoretician." Bukharin was concerned about peasant incentives and Party harassment of farmers holding back progress in agricultural production. He was aware, for example, of peasants hiding a newly purchased machine to avoid being considered rich and a class enemy. Bukharin declared that the peasants should feel free to enrich themselves and develop their holdings, and he pushed the Soviet government into lifting restrictions on more wealthy farmers hiring people to help them work their farms.

Zinoviev and Kamenev believed in extending socialism to farming and repeatedly attacked Bukharin. The conflict extended into the 14th Party Congress, which met in December 1925. Zinoviev and Kamenev worried about Stalin's influence and at the congress they spoke against Stalin, attacking what they called "one man rule." Lenin's widow, Krupskaya, sided with Zinoviev and Kamenev, noting that the majority is not always right. To the rank and file, which Krupskaya had just insulted, Zinoviev and Kamenev appeared quarrelsome, factional and disruptive. And amid the acrimony Stalin again appeared as the man of reason, amity and Party unity. When Stalin rose to speak after the verbal attacks upon him, the hall gave him thunderous applause and prolonged cheers.

The note that Lenin had written criticizing Stalin remained unknown to the Party membership at-large or the public until an American journalist, Max Eastman, published an account of it. Eastman was a supporter of Trotsky, and members of the Politburo demanded that Trotsky repudiate Eastman. Trotsky went along, trying to present himself as a good Party man. He signed a statement describing Eastman's claims as a malicious invention. The Party, Trotsky believed, was an instrument of history and had to be supported.

Kamenev and Zinoviev had not been on speaking terms with Trotsky since 1923, but in 1926 they tried to enlist Trotsky on their side against Stalin and Bukharin. They mimicked Stalin's Georgian accent and his body movements. The three formed what was called a "United Opposition" and rallied what little rank and file support they could. They spoke for a more vigorous industrialization, for planned industrial development and for less favor toward free enterprise in farming. Now that Kamenev and Zinoviev held minority opinions within the Party they went along with Trotsky's call for greater democracy.

Trotsky complained that he and others with him had no opportunity to state their case to the public. Stalin and his allies launched an open offensive against the Kamanev-Zinoviev-Trotsky alliance. The Social Democrats having been advocates of democracy and a free press, Stalin described the faction within the Party that had developed around the three old revolutionaries as guilty of a "Social Democratic deviation" – an accusation taken seriously by many Party members. Meetings of the "Opposition" were broken up. Its members were forced to meet in secret in a forest. Fighting back, Trotsky in front of members of the Central Committee decried what he said would be an end to sincere disagreement in the Party and the Party's eventual ruin. He pointed a finger at Stalin and called him a candidate for the "post of gravedigger of the Revolution." The following day Trotsky was removed from the Politburo. And soon Zinoviev and Kamenev were also removed from the Politburo.

The Opposition spoke of Stalin's failed policy in China – his having wanted China's Communists to work with Chiang Kai-shek' s Kuomintang. On the tenth anniversary of the revolution, 7 November 1927, supporters of the Opposition demonstrated in the streets, with banners reading down with NEP men, the kulak and bureaucrats, and "Long live the leaders of the World Revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev."  They were attacked by agents of the police and others. No backing from crowds developed. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky were expelled from the Party and Trotsky was exiled to a remote part of the Soviet Union: Turkestan. Party members who supported the Opposition were expelled from the Party. Former comrades, they were now seen as traitors and threats to the development of proper ideas. Toleration not being one of the characteristics of the Bolshevik regime, dissident Bolsheviks were fired from their regular jobs and their families were hounded.


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