The first open declaration of opposition by old Bolshevik leaders to Stalinism in 1923
Monday 27 December 2021
The Platform of the 46
A week after Leon Trotsky had sent his letter to the Central Committee 46 prominent Bolsheviks, some of whom occupied leading posts in economic management, presented their own criticism of the economic and inner-Party policy of the Party leadership of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Stalin, Rykov and Tomsky. This statement of opposition which became known as ‘The Platform of the 46’ was submitted to the Politburo on October 15, 1923, after being circulated among a number of Party members. Its immediate demand was for a special conference of the Central Committee and leaders of the Opposition to settle the differences that the ‘platform’ had set out.
The 46 who signed the statement had apparently no direct contact with Trotsky at this time, but their views largely coincided with his. Apart from the 46, several other leading Bolsheviks, like Rakovsky and Krestinsky, who were abroad in diplomatic posts, were known to share Trotsky’s position. Radek, for this part, was said to have urged the Central Committee to come to an agreement with Trotsky. Below we reprint this historic statement of the 1923 Opposition which we reproduce from The Interregnum 1923-1924 by E. H. Carr, with the kind permission of Macmillan, London and Basingstoke.
To the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party
The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations.
The casual, unconsidered and unsystematic character of the decisions of the central committee, which has failed to make ends meet in the economic domain, has led to a position where, for all the undoubted great successes in the domain of industry, agriculture, finance and transport—successes achieved by the economy of the country spontaneously and not thanks to, but in spite of the inadequacy of, the leadership or, rather, the absence of all leadership—we not only face the prospect of a cessation of these successes, but also a grave economic crisis.
We face the approaching breakdown of the chervonets currency, which has spontaneously been transformed into a basic currency before the liquidation of the budget deficit; a credit crisis in which the State Bank can no longer without risk of a serious collapse finance either industry or trade in industrial goods or even the purchase of grain for export; a cessation of the sale of industrial goods as a result of high prices, which are explained on the one hand by the absence of planned organizational leadership in industry, and on the other hand by an incorrect credit policy; the impossibility of carrying out the programme of grain exports as a result of inability to purchase grain; extremely low prices for food products, which are damaging to the peasantry and threaten a mass contraction of agricultural production; inequalities in wage payments which provoke natural dissatisfaction among the workers with the budgetary chaos, which indirectly produces chaos in the state apparatus. ‘Revolutionary’ methods of making reductions in drawing up the budget and new and obvious reductions in carrying it out, have ceased to be transitional measures and become a regular phenomenon which constantly disturbs the state apparatus and, as a result of the absence of plan in the reductions effected, disturbs it in a casual and spontaneous manner.
These are some of the elements of the economic, credit and financial crisis which has already begun. If extensive, well-considered, planned and energetic measures are not taken forthwith, if the present absence of leadership continues, we face the possibility of an extremely acute economic breakdown, which will inevitably involve internal political complications and a complete paralysis of our external effectiveness and capacity for action. And this last, as everyone will understand, is more necessary to us now than ever; on it depends the fate of the world revolution and of the working class of all countries.
Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralysing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing.
We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads. Instead of this we observe the ever increasing, and now scarcely concealed, division of the party between a secretarial hierarchy and ‘quiet folk’, between professional party officials recruited from above and the general mass of the party which does not participate in the common life.
This is a fact which is known to every member of the Party. Members of the Party who are dissatisfied with this or that decision of the central committee or even of a provincial committee, who have this or that doubt on their minds, who privately note this or that error, irregularity or disorder, are afraid to speak about it at Party meetings, and are even afraid to talk about it in conversation, unless the partner in the conversation is thoroughly reliable from the point of view of ‘discretion’; free discussion within the party has practically vanished, the public opinion of the party is stifled. Nowadays it is not the Party, not its broad masses, who promote and choose members of the provincial committees and of the Central Committee of the RCP. On the contrary the secretarial hierarchy of the Party to an ever greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses, which are becoming to an ever greater extent the executive assemblies of this hierarchy.
The régime established within the Party is completely intolerable; it destroys the independence of the Party, replacing the party by a recruited bureaucratic apparatus which acts without objection in normal times, but which inevitably fails in moments of crisis, and which threatens to become completely ineffective in the face of the serious events now impending.
The position which has been created is explained by the fact that the régime of the dictatorship of a faction within the party, which was in fact created after the Tenth Congress, has outlived itself. Many of us consciously accepted submission to such a régime. The turn of policy in the year 1921, and after that the illness of comrade Lenin, demanded in the opinion of some of us a dictatorship within the Party as a temporary measure. Other comrades from the very beginning adopted a sceptical or negative attitude towards it. However that may have been, by the time of the Twelfth Congress of the party this régime had outlived itself. It had begun to display its reverse side. Links within the party began to weaken. The Party began to die away. Extreme and obviously morbid movements of opposition within the Party began to acquire an anti-Party character, since there was no comradely discussion of inflamed questions. Such discussion would without difficulty have revealed the morbid character of these movements both to the mass of the Party and to the majority of those participating in them. The results have been illegal movements which draw members of the party outside the limits of the Party, and a divorce of the Party from the working masses.
Should the position thus created not be radically changed in the immediate future, the economic crisis in Soviet Russia and the crisis of the factional dictatorship in the Party will deal heavy blows at the workers’ dictatorship in Russia and the Russian Communist Party. With such a load on its shoulders, the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia and its leader the RCP, cannot enter the phase of impending new world-wide disturbances except with the prospect of defeats on the whole front of the proletarian struggle. Of course it would be at first sight most simple to settle the question by deciding that at this moment, in view of all the circumstances, there is not and cannot be any room to raise the question of a change in the Party course, to put on the agenda new and complicated tasks etc. etc. But it is perfectly apparent that such a point of view would amount to an attitude of officially shutting one’s eyes to the real position, since the whole danger resides in the fact that there is no real unity in thought or in action in face of an extremely complicated internal and foreign situation. The struggle that is being waged in the
Party is all the more bitter the more silently and secretly it proceeds. If we put this question to the Central Committee, it is precisely in order to bring about the most rapid and least painful issue from the contradictions which are tearing the Party asunder and to set the Party without delay on a healthy foundation. Real unity in opinions and in actions is indispensable. The impending difficulties demand united fraternal, fully conscious, extremely vigorous, extremely concentrated action by all members of our party. The factional régime must be abolished, and this must be done in the first instance by those who have created it; it must be replaced by a régime of comradely unity and inner party democracy.
In order to realize what has been set forth above and to take the measures indispensable for an issue from the economic, political and Party crisis, we propose to the Central Committee as a first and urgent step to call a conference of members of the Central Committee with the most prominent and active party workers, providing that the list of those invited should include a number of comrades holding views on the situation different from the views of the majority of the Central Committee
Signatures to the Declaration to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP on the Inner Party Situation of October 15, 1923 [The signatures are so arranged in the copy from which this translation has been made that it is impossible to be certain that the original order has been preserved.—E.H.C.]
Not being in agreement with some of the points of this letter explaining the causes of the situation which has been created, but considering that the Party is immediately confronted with questions which cannot be wholly resolved by the methods hitherto practised, I fully associate myself with the final conclusion of the present letter.
With the proposals I am in full agreement, though I differ from certain points in the motivation.
In essentials I share the views of this appeal. The demand for a direct and sincere approach to all our ills has become so urgent that I entirely support the proposal to cal] the conference suggested in order to lay down practical ways of escape from the accumulation of difficulties.
I. N. Smirnov
V. Obolensky (Osinsky)
The position in the Party and the international position is such that it demands, more than ever before, an unusual exertion and concentration of Party forces. I associate myself with the declaration and regard it exclusively as an attempt to restore unity in the Party and to prepare it for impending events. It is natural that at the present moment there can be no question of a struggle within the Party in any form whatever. It is essential that the Central Committee should assess the position soberly and take urgent measures to remove the dissatisfaction within the Party and also in the non-Party masses.
A. M. Puzakov
Since I have recently been somewhat aloof from the work of the Party centres I abstain from my judgement on the first two paragraphs in the introductory section; for the rest I am in agreement.
I am in agreement with the exposition in the first part of the economic and political situation of the country. I consider that in the part describing the inner Party situation a certain exaggeration has crept in. It is completely indispensable to take measures immediately to preserve the unity of the Party.
I am not in agreement with a number of opinions in the first part of the declaration; I am not in agreement with a number of the characterizations of the internal Party situation. At the same time I am profoundly convinced that the condition of the party demands the taking of radical measures since the condition in the party at the present time is not healthy. I entirely share the practical proposal.
With the assessment of the economic position I am in complete agreement. I consider a weakening of the political dictatorship at the .present moment dangerous, but an elucidation is indispensable. I find a conference completely indispensable.
A. E. Minkin
With the practical proposal ‘I am in full agreement.
I sign with the same reservations as comrade Bubnov.
I sign with the same reserves as Bubnov, though I do not endorse either the form or the tone, the character of which persuades me all the more to agree with the practical part of the declaration.
I am not in full agreement with the first part which speaks of the economic condition of the country; this is really very serious and demands extremely attentive consideration, but the Party has not hitherto produced men who would lead it better than those who are hitherto leading it. On the question of the internal party situation I consider that there is a substantial element of truth in all that is said, and consider it essential to take urgent measures.