Trotsky's Analysis of Stalinism

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    Trotsky's Analysis of StalinismThomas M. TwissPublished online: 19 Nov 2010.

    To cite this article: Thomas M. Twiss (2010) Trotsky's Analysis of Stalinism, Critique: Journal ofSocialist Theory, 38:4, 545-563, DOI: 10.1080/03017605.2010.522119

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  • Trotskys Analysis of StalinismThomas M. Twiss

    From 1927 until 1940 Leon Trotsky consistently characterized Stalinism as a radical

    departure from Leninism. However, during these years his analysis of Stalinism

    underwent a substantial evolution. Initially, Trotsky defined Stalinism in terms of

    a variety of undemocratic practices the leadership had substituted for Leninist norms, but

    also in terms of a pattern of economic and international policies that deviated to the

    right of Leninism. Trotsky associated both aspects of Stalinism with the phenomenon of

    bureaucratism, understood as the growth of bourgeois influence within Soviet political

    institutions. When this understanding was challenged by the radical shifts in Soviet

    economic and Comintern policy of 19281933, Trotsky adjusted his analysis of Stalinismto emphasize the autonomy of the Soviet bureaucracy. However, at the same time he

    continued to insist upon the essential correctness of his earlier views. The result was

    a growing distortion in Trotskys interpretation of reality, and an increasing incoherence

    in his analysis of Stalinism. Ultimately, two major events led Trotsky to revise his

    analysis of Stalinism fundamentally: the disastrous failure of Comintern policy in

    Germany in 1933 and the wave of repression following the Kirov assassination in 1934.

    Together, these events impelled Trotsky to redefine Stalinism in terms of a political system

    characterized by the bureaucracys high degree of autonomy from social classes. This view

    received its fullest expression in Trotskys classic work The Revolution Betrayed. In this

    and other later works Trotsky provided a complex and nuanced account of the origins of

    Stalinism and of its relationship to Bolshevism.

    Keywords: Trotsky; Trotskii; Stalinism; bureaucracy; Soviet

    An appropriate starting place for considering the relationship between Stalinism

    and Leninism is a reexamination of the views of Leon Trotsky on the subject.1 Of

    1 This article is based on a paper presented on 14 November 2009 at a panel discussion of the topic Did

    Leninism Lead to Stalinism? at the national conference of the American Association for the Advancement of

    Slavic Studies, and on Thomas Marshall Twiss, Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy (PhD

    dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2009),

    Many other works have been devoted to Trotskys views on Stalinism and/or Soviet bureaucracy, including Perry

    Anderson, Trotskys Interpretation of Stalinism in Tariq Ali (ed) The Stalinist Legacy: Its Impact on 20th Century

    World Politics (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp. 118128; Siegfried Bahne, Trotsky on Stalins

    ISSN 0301-7605 (print)/ISSN 1748-8605 (online) # 2010 CritiqueDOI: 10.1080/03017605.2010.522119


    Vol. 38, No. 4, December 2010, pp. 545563




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  • course, Trotsky was one of the first to discuss the phenomenon of Stalinism; and he

    addressed that subject more extensively and systematically than anyone else has ever

    done. Furthermore, the influence of his thinking on that question has been

    profound. This was noted in 1958 by the political philosopher John Plamenatz who

    asserted, As an indictment of Stalinism, Trotskys account of Soviet Russia is

    formidable. So much so, indeed, that some version or other of it has been adopted

    by nearly all of Stalins more plausible critics.2 Similarly, in 1988 historian Henry

    Reichman observed that it is Leon Trotskys critique that continues to shape key

    elements of what many scholars*including some otherwise hostile to Marxism*regard as Stalinism.3 Even since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Trotskys most

    important work on Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed, continues to be cited

    frequently in academic literature.4

    From 1927 until his death in 1940, Trotsky consistently argued that Stalinism

    represented a radical departure from Leninism. However, over the course of these

    years his analysis of Stalinism and of the related phenomenon of Soviet

    bureaucracy underwent a substantial evolution. This article will sketch the

    development of Trotskys thinking on these questions, and will conclude with

    some general remarks on his understanding of Stalinism and of its relationship to


    Russia, Survey, 41 (1962), pp. 2742; Peter Beilharz, Trotsky, Trotskyism and the Transition to Socialism (Totawa,NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1987); Martin Krygier, Bureaucracy in Trotskys Analysis of Stalinism, in Marian

    Sawer (ed) Socialism and the New Class: Towards the Analysis of Structural Inequality within Socialist Societies,

    APSA Monograph No. 19 (Sydney: Australasian Political Studies Association, 1978), pp. 4667; Martin Krygier,The revolution betrayed? From Trotsky to the new class, in Eugene Kamenka and Martin Krygier (eds)

    Bureaucracy: The Career of a Concept (New York: St. Martins Press, 1979), pp. 88111; David Law, Trotsky inOpposition: 1923-1940 (PhD dissertation, University of Keele, 1987); David W. Lovell, Trotskys Analysis of

    Soviet Bureaucratization: A Critical Essay (London: Croom Helm, 1987); Michael M. Lustig, Trotsky and Djilas:

    Critics of Communist Bureaucracy (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989); Robert H. McNeal, Trotskyist

    Interpretations of Stalinism, in Robert C. Tucker (ed) Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation (New York:

    W. W. Norton and Co., 1977), pp. 3052; and Emanuele Saccarelli, Gramsci and Trotsky in the Shadow ofStalinism: The Political Theory and Practice of Opposition (New York: Routledge, 2008).

    2 John Plamenatz, German Communism and Russian Marxism (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1954),

    p. 303.3 Henry Reichman, Reconsidering Stalinism , Theory and Society, 17:1 (1988), p. 67.4 A search of the ISI Web of Science databases (Social Sciences Citation Index, Arts and Humanities Citation

    Index, and Science Citation Index) on 20 June 2006, revealed 51 citations in scholarly literature for all English

    language editions of The Revolution Betrayed during the years 19922006. By way of comparison, there were52 citations for Trotskys The History of the Russian Revolution; 22 citations for all English language editions of

    Roy Medvedevs Let History Judge, and ten citations for all English language editions of Stephen Cohens

    Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution. A search of the OCLC WorldCat database on 6 June 2006 turned up 1,151

    library holdings of all English language editions of The Revolution Betrayed, indicating this is a popular title for

    libraries according to the brief test methodology devised by Howard White. See Howard White, Brief Tests of

    Collection Strength: A Methodology for All Types of Libraries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995), pp. 123129.

    546 T. M. Twiss




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  • Stalinism and Bureaucratism, 19261927It seems that Trotskys first written use of the term Stalinism was in an oppositional

    declaration written on 28 June 1927.5 At that point the Joint Opposition, consisting

    of the supporters of Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, had been locked in

    a party struggle for more than a year with backers of Stalin and of the moderate wing

    of the party leadership. In his statement of 28 June, Trotsky responded to an

    escalation of rhetoric against the opposition by Stalin who, challenging the loyalty of

    the opposition, had spoken of an alleged united front from [British foreign secretary]

    Chamberlain to Trotsky. Here, Trotsky described this and the earlier accusations that

    the opposition wanted to rob the peasants and to cause a war, as slogans of

    Stalinism [stalinizm] in its fight with Bolshevism, in the person of the Opposition.6

    In other statements over the next few months he and the opposition clarified more

    precisely what they meant by Stalinism, defining it in terms of two distinct types of

    policies and doctrines that they saw as differing dramatically from the policies and

    doctrines of Lenin.

    In part, when Trotsky and the opposition spoke of Stalinism in 1927 they were

    referring to various undemocratic practices the leadership had substituted for

    Leninist norms, especially within the party regime. Thus on 4 August 1927, Trotsky,

    with a dozen other opposition leaders, signed a statement to the Central Committee

    and Central Control Commission which noted the radical difference between the

    profound party spirit and methods of Leninism and those of Stalinism.7 In this

    period Trotsky and the opposition identified a number of specific policies related to

    the regime that they explicitly contrasted with the policies of Lenin. These included

    the increasing selection of party officials by appointment rather than election; the

    selection of economic workers on the basis of their support for the leadership

    majority rather than for their skill or initiative; the increasing independence of the

    Secretariat from the control of the Politburo; restrictions of the right of all party

    5 The basis for this conclusion is a computer search for the term stalinizm in two collections of opposition

    documents, Kommunisticheskaia oppozitsiia v SSSR. 19231927, and Arkhiv L. D. Trotskogo on the website ofYury Felshtinsky, In the first of these collections, Felshtinsky included

    practically all the documents of (Trotskys) archives from 192327 which relate to questions of internal policyand the struggle for power in the Soviet leadership. In the second, he included additional documents from the

    archives for the years 19271940*the volume for 1927 dealing primarily with the Chinese revolution. RobertMcNeal has suggested that The Declaration of the 83 and Our Tasks dated 27 April 1927 was perhaps the first

    occasion on which Trotsky spoke of Stalinism. McNeal explains that Trotsky wrote there of the errors of the

    Stalinist group and of an approaching crisis in its Stalinist sense . Robert McNeal, Trotckij and Stalinism, in

    Francesca Gori (ed) Pensiero e azione politica di Lev Trockij: atti del convegno internazionale per il quarantesimo

    anniversario della morte, vol. 2 (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1982), p. 378. In fact, according to a note by Trotsky, this

    statement was probably written by Zinoviev. The term stalinizm does not appear there; rather, the term used was

    stalinskii*sometimes translated as the adjective Stalin and sometimes as Stalinist. See Iu Felshtinskii (ed)Kommunisticheskaia oppositisiia v SSSR, 1923-1927, vol. 3 (Moscow: TERRA, 1990), p. 82. Furthermore, the term

    stalinskii had been used by Trotsky at least as early as June 1926. See Felshtinskii, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 237.6 Felshtinskii, op. cit, vol. 3, p. 214.7 Felshtinskii, op. cit., vol. 4, p. 49; Leon Trotsky, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (192627), ed. Naomi

    Allen and George Saunders (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), p. 266.

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  • members to appeal their differences to the party through the party press and at party

    meetings; limitation upon the right of party members to familiarize themselves with

    all conflicting viewpoints within the party; the use of distortion and slander against

    political opponents instead of a comradely discussion of differences; the forcing of

    party members to vote under threat of repression for the positions of the Central

    Committee; and the actual repression of party dissidents by political reassignment,

    exile and termination of employment.8

    Also in this period Trotsky asserted that Stalinism was largely defined by a pattern

    of economic and international policies and doctrines that deviated to the right of

    Leninism. In a speech to the Central Committee on 23 October 1927 he observed that

    the political line of the leadership had shifted in recent years from left to right: from

    the proletariat to the petty bourgeois, from the worker to the specialist, from the

    rank-and-file party member to the functionary, from the farmhand and the poor

    peasant to the kulak, from the Shanghai worker to Chiang Kai-shek, [etc.] In that,

    he asserted, lies the very essence [sut] of Stalinism.9

    As far as economic policy was concerned, Trotsky and the opposition contrasted

    both the industrial and agricultural policies of the current leadership with Lenins.

    Thus, in its 1927 Platform the opposition observed that Lenin had supported the

    proletarian course of developing industry in order to enable the cities to boost

    agricultural productivity and encourage small farmers to adopt large-scale collective

    farming. In agriculture Lenin had advocated that the Soviet state rely upon...


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