How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine
The Case Against Incrementalism
WE LIVE in a time of planning -- even of planned history. History planned means history annulled. Moscow now dictates that the revolution of October 1917 had quite different authors and heroes from those whose pictures hung on the wall of every Soviet office as lately as 1924 and 1925. In those days the counterpart of Lenin's picture was always Trotsky's. The satellites then in the revolutionary planetarium were Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin and perhaps Kalinin. Stalin was practically unknown till 1923-24. Today the same nails which used to support Trotsky's portrait now support Stalin's. Very often now you see him pictured together with Lenin -- Stalin smiling, kindly and faithful. This picture is possible only because it is a reproduction of an oil painting ad usum delphini, not an actual photograph.
It would not be so disturbing if history merely had been rewritten for those twenty years since October 1917 (and of course especially for the period since Lenin died, deeply embittered against Stalin, on January 21, 1924). But much more has been done than historical rewriting. History has been corrected not simply by trampling on the reputation of those who once basked in the full if sinister glory of the Bolshevik revolution, but by exiling them as the Tsar exiled them before, and ultimately by killing them. The third of the great trials of the men who ten years ago formed the beginning of a "Rightist" or a "Leftist" opposition was being held as this was written. Whether it will be the last nobody knows. But certainly it will be the last mass trial of those who stood proudly in the first rank during the "heroic days," the days of the Revolution and of Lenin -- the last for a simple and sufficient reason: no more of those men will be left.
The following tables give an idea of the transformation that has overtaken the ruling clique of the Soviet state since Lenin's death. While he was still in power, the "Sovnarkom" -- i.e. the Council of People's Commissars -- was the highest executive authority of the Government. When Stalin, self-appointed Secretary-General of the Party, took over the leadership from Lenin during the latter's illness, the center of power shifted to the "Politburo," the highest continuing organ of the Party. The first table gives the names and offices of members of the Politburo as of June 6, 1924, just after Lenin's death. The second enumerates members of the Sovnarkom as it was when Lenin died. The third lists other individuals who were close to him. Important offices held subsequently are given in parentheses. Further notations indicate the fate of each person to date (i.e. to the end of the "third trial," March 1938).
|as of June 6, 1924|
|Commissar of Army and Navy|
|Alternate Member of Executive Committee of Comintern|
|Expelled from Politburo 1926||Deported to Turkistan January 1928; exiled January 1929|
|Deputy Chairman of Sovnarkom|
|Member of Executive Committee of Comintern|
|Expelled from Politburo 1926||Executed August 1936|
|Chairman of Executive Committee of Comintern|
|Chairman of Petrograd Soviet|
|Expelled from Politburo 1926||Executed August 1936|
|Editor of Pravda|
|Member of Executive Committee of Comintern|
|Expelled from Politburo 1929||Executed March 1938|
|Chairman of Sovnarkom|
|Chairman of Supreme Economic Council|
|Expelled from Politburo 1930||Executed March 1938|
|Chairman of Union Council of Trades Unions|
|Expelled from Politburo 1930||Suicide when ordered arrested, August 1936|
|Secretary-General of Party|
|Member of Executive Committee of Comintern|
|at the time of Lenin's death, January 21, 1924|
|Commissar of Food (to 1924)|
|(Commissar of Finance, 1926-1931)|
|Commissar of Foreign Affairs (to 1930)|
|Disgraced July 1930||Died July 1936|
|Commissar of Railways|
|Head of the GPU|
|Alternate Member of Politburo|
|Died July 1926|
|Commissar of Foreign Trade (to 1924)|
|(Ambassador in Paris and London, 1924-1926)|
|Died November 1926|
|Commissar of Works (to 1926)|
|(Chairman of Supreme Economic Council, 1926-1933; member of Politburo, 1927-1935;|
|Chairman of State Planning Commission, 1931-1935)|
|Died (cause uncertain) January 1935|
|People's Commissar of Education (to 1929)|
|Died December 1933|
|Commissar of Labor (to 1927)|
|Deputy Chairman of Sovnarkom (to 1930)|
|Commissar of Posts and Telegraphs (to 1927)|
|Member of Executive Committee of Comintern (to 1927)|
|Deported to Siberia 1928||Executed August 1936|
|Commissar of Finance (to 1926)|
|Alternate Member of Politburo (to 1926)|
|(Ambassador in London, 1929-1933; Assistant Commissar of Lumber Industry, 1935-1936)|
|Arrested 1936||Condemned to prison, January 1937|
|(also KAMENEV, RYKOV and TROTSKY, listed in Table I as members of the Politburo)|
|III. OTHERS AROUND LENIN|
|Secretary of Central Executive Committee of U.S.S.R. (to 1935)|
|First disgraced 1935||Executed December 1937|
|Assistant Commissar of Army and Navy (to 1925)|
|Member of Executive Committee of Comintern; Alternate Member of Politburo|
|(Commissar of Army and Navy, 1925)|
|Chairman of Far Eastern Revolutionary Committee (to 1929)|
|(Assistant Commissar of Defense, 1930; promoted to civil rank equal to Marshal, 1935)|
|Committed suicide, May 31, 1937, on eve of arrest|
|President of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R.|
|(Member of the Politburo, 1926 to date)|
|Ambassador to China (to 1927)|
|(Assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs, 1927-1934; Ambassador to Turkey, 1934-1937)|
|Executed December 1937|
|Assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs (to 1930)|
|(Commissar of Foreign Affairs, 1930 to date)|
|Deputy Chief of GPU (to 1926)|
|(Chief of GPU, 1926-1934)|
|Died May 1934|
|Assistant Commissar of Agriculture (to 1924)|
|(Director Central Statistical Administration 1926-1928 and 1931-1935)|
|In prison March 1938|
|Deputy Chairman of Supreme Economic Council|
|(Vice-President of State Bank, 1928-1929; President of State Bank, 1929-1930;|
|Assistant Commissar of Heavy Industry, 1933-1936)|
|Executed February 1937|
|Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Comintern|
|An editor of Izvestia|
|Deported to Siberia 1928||Sentenced to prison, February 1937|
|Former Chairman of the Ukrainian Sovnarkom|
|Assistant Commissar for Foreign Affairs (1923-1927)|
|Ambassador in London (1923-1925)|
|(Ambassador in Paris, 1925-1927)|
|Deported to Siberia 1929||Sentenced to prison, March 1938|
|Assistant Commissar of Railways|
|First disgraced 1927||Executed February 1937|
|Commander of Red Academy of General Staff|
|(Promoted to Marshal, 1935)|
|Executed June 1937|
|Commander-in-Chief of Far Eastern troops|
|(Commander of Moscow Military District, 1928-1930; Assistant Commissar of Defense, 1930;|
|Member of Revolutionary Military Council, 1932-1937)|
|Executed June 1937|
|Commander of Caucasus Military District|
|(Commissar of Defense and Chairman of Revolutionary Military Council, 1925 to date;|
|member of Politburo, 1926 to date)|
|Member of Presidium of GPU|
|(Commissar of Interior [the reorganized GPU], 1934-1936)|
|First disgraced 1936||Executed March 1938|
To expand these rather bald summaries [i] would be to expound the history of the first twenty years of Soviet rule. Yet some words of description must be added.
At the same time that Rykov, Kamenev, Trotsky and Sokolnikov were members of the Politburo in 1924 they also held office in the Sovnarkom. In other words, they were trusted by Lenin to act in the latter body while it was still supreme and had not yet been degraded to a purely bureaucratic function. Of the members of the Sovnarkom, only five -- Lenin himself, Dzerzhinsky, Kuibyshev, Lunacharsky and Krassin -- can be said to have ended their lives naturally and without disgrace. The fate of Briukhanov and Schmidt is not known. Chicherin was dismissed not only on account of ill health, but because he disapproved of Stalin's grant of ascendancy to the Third International in regard to German affairs in 1928-29 and the consequent damage to Lenin's "Rapallo policy." It is further significant that Yagoda (just executed) was the real power behind the throne after 1920. Dzerzhinsky had many other occupations besides his direction of the GPU, and died through overwork. Menzhinsky was a cripple, living on a couch. Yagoda, then, was the backbone of the GPU for fifteen years; and the GPU was, and is, the backbone of the Party system in the U.S.S.R. Again, of the six members of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in 1923, two were executed in 1936, Kamenev and Zinoviev; one, Bukharin, has just been executed. Frunze died after an operation. Radek is in prison. Only Stalin has survived. Of the highest military commanders in 1923, two were shot -- Tukhachevsky and Uborevich; Gamarnik killed himself.
Who, in sum, survived of Lenin's guard? It is easier to put the question this way than to list those who were doomed. Old Kalinin, President of the U.S.S.R. almost from the beginning, is still in office, though curbed to the rôle of figurehead. There is Litvinov, who may have had his weak moments in the past but who was clever enough to remain essentially a "technical adviser." Despite the military executions of June 1937, the army seems to have offered some of the safest berths in the whole Soviet structure. Budennyi still carries on, a picturesque but unimportant figure, useful with his military mustache to enliven the picture at official ceremonies. One strong man is left, far in the maritime provinces, of no known party activities whatsoever, a soldier and nothing else -- Marshal Bluecher. And there is Egorov, appointed a Marshal in 1935 at the same time with Tukhachevsky -- but more cautious or more lucky.
Of the "old timers" really near to Lenin nobody has survived either in spirit or in power -- neither Rakovsky, Bulgarian by birth, an extraordinary personality; nor Radek, world celebrated intellectual; nor the truly faithful and rather primitive Rykov, Lenin's immediate successor in the presidency of the Sovnarkom; nor Sokolnikov, perhaps the most brilliant of Lenin's closest friends. All have at last been eliminated, if not liquidated. It is interesting to note how many of them were "played along" over the years by Stalin before being made to face their final ordeal. Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, Piatakov and Sokolnikov, all really were finished years ago. And in the end Enukidze, the blond and rosy Georgian giant, Lenin's shadow, then Stalin's inseparable companion, went the same way.
As we look back, it seems that Stalin during these thirteen years has been evolving a premeditated scheme to seal the doom of all these men -- slowly and cautiously, yet inexorably. For the "Trotsky opposition" the year 1926 was crucial. In that year Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, all the "Leftists," were pushed out of the Politburo with the help of Rykov, Bukharin, Tomsky. Stalin pulled the strings of the marionettes. But then these same marionettes, so eager to help, were pushed out in 1929-1930 on account of their alleged "Rightism." In neither case did expulsion from office lead at once to drastic punishment. They were allowed to linger on, anticipating the inevitable during the night, hoping against hope in the day. Stalin thought that before striking the final blow it would be expedient to remove them from the limelight, meanwhile poisoning opinion against them by forcing them to acts of public repentance.
The world has entertained many theories and has conducted endless discussions about the trials which finally have taken place, with all their accompanying confessions, self-accusations, horrid denunciations of lifelong friends and patent self-contradictions. Theoretically, of course, the possibility has to be taken into account that Lenin's men were in fact, as they have confessed, guilty of sabotage or of conspiracy with Lenin's worst enemies. This theory is not accepted to any significant extent by anybody not dependent on the Stalin régime. My personal experience -- some of it very recent -- leaves me in no doubt that the accusations against these men brazenly overreach the truth. But if the accused are not guilty, what is the explanation of the trials?
In the twenties everybody in Soviet Russia knew that opposition groups existed. Little was known about their struggles and defeats, but they were constantly denounced in speeches and articles. I believe, however, on the basis of firsthand experience during several critical years, that if there were machinations these resembled parliamentarian intrigues far more than terrorist conspiracies. Trotsky in particular had his set of followers, and in 1927, 1928 and January 1929 they hoped that there would be strikes and demonstrations against Stalin in industrial plants around Moscow. Strikes in fact occurred in some cases but were suppressed without difficulty. The "Rightist" opposition never gained as wide influence as the so-called "Leftist" (Trotskyist) opposition. Both groups were carefully watched by the GPU and they impressed the observer as being helpless men struggling desperately to defend theoretical "programs." These people have now been made out to be the most extraordinary and most powerful conspirators known to history, whose innumerable crimes were only detected years later. The turn thus given the old denunciations is explicable only by concentrating on Stalin.
Stalin's personal grievances must be set down as one cause of his actions. Stalin was the Cinderella of the great years of the Revolution. He was ridiculed by those around Lenin, all of whom were permeated by Western civilization and culture, on the score of his primitiveness, his lack of erudition, his coarse rhetoric, his uncouth manner. Still, at that time he was Lenin's faithful dog and they were his friends. But then the dog threatened to become the master. And Stalin has never got over the scathing warning uttered against him in Lenin's testament. The toughest passages were omitted when it was read after his death, but they became generally known. Only Dzerzhinsky could have resisted Stalin's ascendancy. But he died in 1926.
Stalin is a man of deep passion behind a stern façade. He has strong instincts. Even his physiognomy reveals his capacity for thoroughgoing revenge. He retaliated against Lenin's group for what Lenin had said about him, and he retaliated against them too for the supercilious behavior which he had to endure from the Zinovievs and Radeks while Lenin still ruled. This Oriental is a master in the art of timing. For a long time he was too cunning to let it even be known what game it was he was playing. Again and again he caught his foes by surprise, as when in the spring of 1924 he suppressed a book about the October revolution which Trotsky, still Commissar of Army and Navy, still member of the Politburo, had naively written against Stalin. The more one examines the details of Stalin's stratagems during the past thirteen years, the more one is convinced that everything he has done has been in accordance with a premeditated plan. Extraordinarily consistent pursuit of a single aim over a long period can be the result either of very strong will or an indication of paranoia.
But revenge was not the sole motive. There was ambition, too. What was the basis of Stalin's power even in the face of Lenin, who had been so idolized during his lifetime and who yet could be removed from his pedestal by Stalin in the course of only a few years? While the others were enjoying tremendous popularity, Stalin was quietly building up the Party apparatus in the country. They gladly left him this cumbersome task. And he seemed pleased with relatively unspectacular positions. He appointed forty thousand local commissars, at the same time removing thousands from their posts. Already in 1923 he had come to wield enormous power; and already he knew very well what this performance meant to him and to "the others." He had the instinct of power which they lacked; they knew only its demagogic substitutes. In courting solid power, and trusting that glory would follow, he acted in just the opposite way from his opponents, who became victims of their own mental agility.
So far we have seemed to be giving consideration to only subjective motivations in explanation of Stalin's conduct. Were not his twin passions of jealousy and ambition supported by more objective reasons? Beyond all doubt Stalin is a good revolutionary. His whole life, spent since 1900 in the dangerous anonymity of underground work, proves it. Doubtless he considered the part played in revolutionary Russia by the Trotsky group, the whole crowd around Lenin, to be dangerous if not fatal for the stabilization of the "conquests of the revolution." If "the others" had ridiculed him, he always had despised them in return. He considered them as dilettantes in the art of manipulating power. He did not believe that you can rule a country in the long run by popularity alone. He sought other safeguards to keep up the dictatorship of the proletariat. He organized the Party, he strengthened the GPU. His fist closed around Russia with an iron grip. His watchword was duty, not effusive and unstable devotion. He endeavored to regulate the great and general disenchantment -- bound to come after the paroxysms of the first upheaval -- without allowing the whole structure to collapse. This much has to be said for Stalin, and it must carry great weight.
The fact is, of course, that the two sets of explanations of Stalin's conduct are inextricably interwoven. Stalin has not refrained from shedding the blood of many Leninists on such flimsy pretexts as their alleged conspiracy with Fascist Powers. Revenge, jealousy and the ambition to be considered the only remarkable person in Soviet Russia must all have worked on him to produce that result. At the same time we must not leave out of account that he felt that complete unity of the Party could not be reached so long as there were centers of crystallization of political thought other than his own person. Cross-currents of opinion have moved ceaselessly in Soviet Russia since 1917. Stalin's golden rule is meticulous precaution. So long as there still existed monuments of a past which did not bear his mark there was a danger of sudden splits. He may have recognized only gradually that matters had to be pushed to the bitter end. After Trotsky had left the Soviet Union, Stalin must soon have realized what a tremendous mistake it had been to let him go.
From that time on, from the suppression of the "Rightist" opposition in 1929-30, he did not allow any resistance to get far. Till then he had utilized such movements to acquire ideas which otherwise he himself would have sadly lacked. He is not an administrative statesman, though he pretends to be. Kaganovich is his éminence grise. Stalin himself is a master only in the business of acquiring and retaining authority. It can be shown easily that up to 1930 he adopted the programs of groups that he had persecuted and eliminated on account of holding those very programs. But after his experience with Trotsky he gave up that method. His great idea became that of the "monolithic party." And the more he pushed ahead to realize it, the more sacrifices he had to make to it. It led him finally and unavoidably to his battle against practically all the men whom Lenin had trusted, to "trials" which are based on barefaced lies and lead relentlessly to slaughter. It is all very dreadful and very logical.
[i]Editor's Note. Five of those listed have contributed to FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Christian Rakovsky, "The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia," v. 5, n. 4; Karl Radek, "The War in the Far East: A Soviet View," v. 10, n. 4, and "The Bases of Soviet Foreign Policy," v. 12, n. 2; Leon Trotsky, "Nationalism and Economic Life," v. 12, n. 3; V. V. Ossinsky, "Planning in the Soviet Union," v. 13, n. 3; and N. Bukharin, "Imperialism and Communism," v. 14, n. 4.