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Vol. 74/No. 41      November 1, 2010

The fight to defend workers
power in 1920s Russia
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) by Leon Trotsky, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October. The Opposition led by Trotsky was formed in 1923 in response to the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Communist Party and state under Joseph Stalin. The Opposition fought to advance the proletarian and revolutionary internationalist course of Lenin in establishing and defending working-class state power and other gains won in the 1917 Russian Revolution. This included strengthening the worker-peasant alliance, combating national oppression, and politicizing state and party bodies.

This excerpt is from the platform titled “The situation of the working class and the trade unions.” The platform was submitted to preconvention discussion prior to the 1927 15th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The Opposition’s political program was defeated at the Congress. Trotsky and other Opposition members were expelled from the party. Copyright © 1980 Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.


The October Revolution, for the first time in history, made the proletariat the ruling class of an immense state. The nationalization of the means of production was a decisive step toward the socialist reorganization of the entire social system based on the exploitation of some by others. The introduction of the eight-hour day was a step toward a total change in all aspects of the material and cultural living conditions of the working class. In spite of the poverty of the country, our labor laws established for the workers—even the most backward, who were deprived in the past of any group defense—legal guarantees of a kind that the richest capitalist state never gave, and never will give. The trade unions, raised to the status of the most important social instrument in the hands of the ruling class, were given the opportunity, on the one hand, to organize masses that under other circumstances would have been completely inaccessible to them and, on the other, to directly influence the whole political course of the workers’ state.

The task of the party is to guarantee the further development of these supreme historical conquests—that is, to fill them with a genuinely socialist content. Our success on this road will be determined by objective conditions, domestic and international, and also by the correctness of our line and the practical skill of our leadership.

The decisive factor in appraising the progress of our country along the road of socialist reconstruction must be the growth of our productive forces and the dominance of the socialist elements over the capitalist—together with improvement in all the living conditions of the working class. This improvement ought to be evident in the material sphere (number of workers employed in industry, level of real wages, the kind of budget appropriations for the workers’ needs, housing conditions, medical services, etc.); in the political sphere (party, trade unions, soviets, the Communist youth organization); and finally in the cultural sphere (schools, books, newspapers, theaters). The attempt to push the vital interests of the worker into the background and, under the contemptuous epithet of “narrow craft professionalism,” to counterpose them to the general historical interests of the working class, is theoretically wrong and politically dangerous.

The appropriation of surplus value by a workers’ state is not, of course, exploitation. But in the first place, we have a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions. The swollen and privileged administrative apparatus devours a very considerable part of the surplus value. In the second place, the growing bourgeoisie, through trade and by taking advantage of the price scissors, appropriates part of the surplus value created by state industry.

In general during this period of economic reconstruction, the number of workers and their standard of living have risen, not only absolutely but also relatively—that is, in comparison with the growth of other classes. However, in the recent period a sharp change has occurred. The numerical growth of the working class and the improvement of its situation has almost stopped, while the growth of its enemies continues, and continues at an accelerated pace. This inevitably leads not only to a worsening of conditions in the factories but also to a lowering of the relative weight of the proletariat in Soviet society.

The Mensheviks, agents of the bourgeoisie among the workers, point with malicious pleasure to the material wretchedness of our workers, seeking to rouse the proletariat against the Soviet state, to induce our workers to accept the bourgeois-Menshevik slogan “Back to capitalism.” The self-satisfied official who sees “Menshevism” in the Opposition’s insistence upon improving the material conditions of the workers is performing the best possible service to Menshevism. He is driving the workers toward its yellow banner.

In order to deal with problems, we must know what they are. We must judge our successes and failures in a just and honest way in relation to the actual condition of the masses of workers… .

The hard situation of the working class on the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution is of course explained in the last analysis by the poverty of the country, the results of intervention and blockade, the unceasing struggle of the encircling capitalist system against the first proletarian state. That situation cannot be changed at a single blow. But it can and must be changed if a correct policy is followed. The task of Bolsheviks is not to paint glowing and self-satisfied pictures of our achievements—which of course are very real—but to raise firmly and clearly the question of what remains to be done, of what must be done, and what can be done, following a correct policy.  
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