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Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Soviet Thermidor and the French Revolution

[Links are my own. JR]

Excerpts from The Stalin School of Falsification (1937) section Two Speeches at the Session of
the Central Control Commission. (1926).

The book can be purchased here.

Excerpt from first session:

….Without an international revolution, socialism cannot be built. Without correct policies, calculated on the international revolution and not on supporting Purcell, you will not only fail to build socialism, but you will doom the Soviet power itself. It is urgent that the proletariat understand this. The fault of the Opposition, our crime, lies in the fact that we refuse to lull ourselves, and "optimistically" to shut our eyes to the dangers confronting our revolution.

The real danger is from the Right, not from the Right wing of our party – the Right wing of our party serves only as a transmitting mechanism – the real, basic danger comes from the side of the bourgeois classes who are raising their heads, whose ideologist is Ustrialov, that wise and far-seeing bourgeois to whom Lenin used to listen and against whom he warned. You all know that Ustrialov is not supporting us; he supports Stalin. In the autumn of 1926, Ustrialov wrote: "What we need now is a new maneuver, a new impulse, to put it figuratively, a Neo-Nep. From this standpoint, it must be recognized that a number of actual concessions recently made by the party to the Opposition cannot fail to inspire serious apprehension." Further: "All hail to the Political Bureau if the declaration of repentance on the part of the leaders of the Opposition is the result of their one-sided and unconditional capitulation. But woe to it, if it is the fruit of a compromise with them. If the latter is the case, the struggle must inevitably flare up again ... The victorious Central Executive Committee must acquire an inner immunity against the decomposing poison of the Opposition. It must draw all the necessary conclusions from the defeat of the Opposition ... Otherwise, it will be a calamity for our country ... It is thus [continues Ustrialov] that the cause must be approached by the Russian intelligentsia within the country, by the business elements and the specialist circles, the ideologists of evolution and not of revolution."Ustrialov draws the conclusion: "That is why we are now ... definitely in favor of Stalin." And what is your reply to that? You seek to remove the Opposition from the Central Committee for the time being only from the CC Ustrialov is a bourgeois who is acquainted with the history of the great French bourgeoisie, indeed, very well acquainted with it. And this spokesman for the moods of the new bourgeoisie understands that only the backsliding of the Bolsheviks themselves can prepare the power for the new bourgeoisie least painfully. Supporting the Stalinist CC, Ustrialov writes that it is necessary to safeguard (what?) against the decomposing poison of the Opposition. In consequence he also is in agreement with you that the Opposition is – a decomposing poison; that it is necessary to destroy this poison, otherwise "it will be a calamity for our country." That is what Ustrialov says. That is why he is not only against me, but also why he supports Stalin. Reflect on this. You are dealing here not with ignorant people, the unconscious or the duped who think that the Opposition carries on its activity with English money – no, Ustrialov is a very class-conscious man, he knows what he is saying and whither he is going. Why then does he support you? What is he defending together with you?

I was recently informed that comrade Soltz, in the course of a conversation with one of the comrades who had signed the declaration of the Opposition, drew an analogy with the French Revolution. Now I am of the opinion that this method is a correct one – I believe that a factual exposition and a Marxian interpretation of the Great French Revolution, especially of its last period, should be now reprinted for the benefit of the party. Comrade Soltz is present here, he knows better than I do what he said, and if I quote him erroneously, he will correct me. "What does the Declaration of 83 mean?" said Soltz. "What does it lead to? You know the history of the French Revolution, and to what this led: to arrests and to the guillotine." Comrade Vorobiev, with whom comrade Soltz was talking, asked him, "So then, is it your intention to guillotine us?" To which Soltz replied by going into a lengthy explanation,

"In your opinion, wasn't Robespierre sorry for Danton when sending him to the guillotine? And then Robespierre had to go himself.

"Do you think he was not sorry? Sure he was, but he had to do it ..."

That was the substance of the conversation. I repeat that we must at this time at all costs refresh our knowledge of the Great French Revolution – it is absolutely indispensable. We might begin even with Kropotkin, who was not a Marxist but who understood better than Jaures the national and class subsoil of the Revolution.

During the Great French Revolution, many were guillotined. We, too, had many people brought before the firing squad. But in the Great French Revolution there were two great chapters, of which one went like this [points upward] and the other like that [points downward]. We must understand this. When the chapter headed like this – upwards – the French Jacobins, the Bolsheviks of that time, guillotined the Royalists and the Girondists. We, too, have had a similar great chapter when we, the Oppositionists, together with you, shot the White Guards and exiled the Girondists. And then there began another chapter in France, when the French Ustrialovs and semi-Ustrialovs – the Thermidorians and the Bonapartists from among the Right wing Jacobins – began exiling and shooting the Left Jacobins – the Bolsheviks of that time. I should like comrade Soltz to think his analogy through to the end and, first of all, to give himself an answer to the following question: In accordance with which chapter is Soltz preparing to have us shot? [Commotion in the hall.] This is no jesting matter; revolution is a serious business. None of us is scared by firing squads. We are all old revolutionists. But the thing is to know whom to shoot, and in accordance with which chapter. When we did the shooting we were firm in our knowledge as to the chapter. But, comrade Soltz, do you clearly understand in accordance with which chapter you are now preparing to shoot? I fear, comrade Soltz, that you are about to shoot us in accordance with the Ustrialov, i.e., Thermidorian chapter. [54]

When the term "Thermidorian" is used among us, it is taken for a term of abuse. It is thought that the Thermidorians were arrant counter-revolutionists, conscious supporters of the monarchic rule, and so on. Nothing of the kind! The Thermidorians were Jacobins, with this difference, that they had moved to the Right. The Jacobin organization – the then Bolsheviks – under the pressure of class contradictions, shortly arrived at the conviction that it was necessary to destroy the Robespierre group. Do you think that on the very next day after the 9th of Thermidor they said to themselves: We have now transferred power into the hands of the bourgeoisie? Nothing of the kind! Refer to all the newspapers of that time. They said: We have destroyed a handful of people who disrupted peace in the party, but now, after their destruction, the revolution will triumph completely. If comrade Soltz has any doubts about it.

SOLTZ: You are practically repeating my own words.

TROTSKY: So much the better. If we are agreed on this, comrade Soltz, then it will help us considerably to decide the question as to what chapter you are preparing to open by the physical annihilation of the Opposition. One thing must be firmly understood: Unless we undertake to rectify the class line of the party, as it should be done, the line indicated by Ustrialov will have to be pursued inevitably in side the party, i.e., the line of a ruthless struggle against the Opposition.

I shall read you what was said by Brival, who was a Right Jacobin, one of the Thermidorians, when he reported about the session of the Convention during which Robespierre and the other Jacobins were handed over to the Revolutionary Tribunal: "Intriguers and counter-revolutionists covering themselves with the toga of patriotism sought the destruction of liberty; the Convention decreed to place them under arrest. These representatives were: Robespierre, Couthon, Saint-Just, Lebas and Robespierre the Younger. The chairman asked what my opinion was. I replied: Those who had always voted in accordance with the spirit of the principles of the Mountain both in the Legislative Assembly as well as in the Convention, those voted for the arrest. I did even more than that, for I am one of those who proposed this measure. Moreover, as secretary, I made haste to sign and to transmit this decree of the Convention." That is how the report was made by a Soltz or a Janson of that time. Robespierre and his associates – those were the counter-revolutionists. "Those who had always voted in accordance with the spirit of the principles of the Mountain" signified in the language of that time, "those who had always been Bolsheviks." Brival considered himself an old Bolshevik. "As secretary, I made haste to sign and to transmit this decree of the Convention." Today, too, there are secretaries who make haste "to sign and to transmit." Today, too, there are such secretaries.

Listen further to the Manifesto of the Convention to France, to the country and to the people, after the annihilation of Robespierre, Saint-Just and the others:

"Citizens, amid the brilliant victories over the foreign enemies, the Republic is threatened by a new danger ... The work of the Convention will prove barren, and the courage of our armies will lose all meaning, if the French citizens vacillate in their choice between the Fatherland and a few isolated individuals ... Obey the call of the Fatherland, do not join the ranks of the evil-minded aristocrats and the enemies of the people and you will once again save the Fatherland."

They reckoned that in the path of the triumph of the revolution stood the interests of "a few isolated individuals." They did not understand that these "isolated individuals" reflected the nethermost revolutionary elemental forces of that time. These "few individuals" reflected the elemental forces that were against the "Neo-Nep" and against Bonapartism. The Thermidorians thought that the issue involved a change of individuals and not a class shift. "Obey the call of the Fatherland, do not join the ranks of the evil-minded aristocrats." The friends of Robespierre – these were the aristocrats. – And did we not hear today the very same cry "Aristocrat!" from the lips of Janson addressed to me.

I could quote you any number of articles wherein the revolutionary Jacobins are referred to as the agents of the Chamberlain of that time, who was Pitt. The analogy is truly startling! In Chamberlain you have the modern pocket edition of Pitt. Take Aulard's history [of the French Revolution]. "The enemies were not content with killing Robespierre and his friends; they calumniated them, picturing them in the eyes of France as Royalists and as men who had sold themselves to foreigners." That is the literal wording of the passage. And today, does not Pravda's article entitled The Path of the Opposition swerve into a similar path? Whoever is familiar with the last leading article of Pravda cannot possibly miss the odor. The odor of the "second chapter" assails one's nostrils. The odor of this second chapter is Ustrialovism, which is already penetrating through the official institutions of our party, and which is disarming the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat at a time when the party regime stifles everyone who struggles against Thermidor. In the party the mass worker has been stifled. The rank and file worker is silent.

You desire a new "purge" in the name of silence. Such is the party regime. Recall the history of the Jacobin clubs. They had two chapters of purges there. When the wave went like this [upwards], the moderates were ejected. When the line began to curve downwards, the revolutionary Jacobins began to be ejected. What did this do to the Jacobin clubs? An anonymous regime of terror was instituted, for silence was made compulsory, 100% votes and abstention from all criticism were demanded, thinking in accordance with orders from above was made obligatory, and men were compelled to unlearn to think that the party is a living, independent organism and not a self-sufficing machine of power. The then Central Control Commission – there were likewise institutions at that time which fulfilled your functions – together with the revolution as a whole, went through two chapters. In the second chapter it disaccustomed the members of the party from thinking, and compelled them to accept blindly everything from above. The Jacobin clubs, the crucibles of revolution, became the nurseries of future functionaries of Napoleon. We should learn from the French Revolution. But is it really necessary to repeat it? [Shouts.]

Excerpt from second session:

….Wherein does our revolution differ from the French?

In the first place, with respect to the economic and class foundation of the respective epochs. In France, the leading role was played by the lower sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie. In our country – by the proletariat. It was owing to this alone that the bourgeois revolution could grow over into a socialist revolution in our country, and develop as such – with great obstacles and dangers remaining as yet. This is the first point of difference.

The second point of difference: France was surrounded by feudal countries – more backward in the economic and cultural sense than France herself. We, on the other hand, are surrounded by capitalist countries more advanced than we are with respect to technology and industry, and with a more powerful and cultured proletariat. We may expect revolutions in these countries in a comparatively near future. In consequence, the international position of our revolution, despite the fact that imperialism is mortally hostile to us, is in a wide historical sense far more favorable to us than was the case in France toward the end of the 18th century.

Finally, the third point of difference. We live in the epoch of imperialism, in the epoch of the greatest international and internal upheavals – and this creates the great rising revolutionary curve upon which our policies are based. But it is impermissible to think that this "curve" will carry us through under any and all conditions. This is false! He understands nothing who believes that we can build socialism even in the event capitalism is able to crush the proletariat for several decades to come. This is not optimism but the stupidity of national-reformism. We can be victorious only as an integral section of the world revolution. We must hold on until the world revolution, even if the latter is deferred for a number of years. In this respect, the trend of our policy is of decisive importance. By means of a correct revolutionary course, we shall intrench ourselves for a number of years, we shall intrench the Communist International, move ahead along the socialist path and achieve our being taken in tow by the great historical tugboat of the international revolution.

Our present party course is the main danger. It stifles the revolutionary power of resistance. What does your course consist of? You put your stake on the strong peasant and not on the agricultural laborer and the poor peasant. You steer toward the bureaucrat and the functionary and not the masses. You place far too much faith in the apparatus. In the apparatus you have tremendous internal support for each other, and mutual insurance for yourselves – that is why Ordjonikidze is unable to succeed even in reducing the staffs. Independence from the masses creates the system of mutual concealment and shielding. And all this is considered as the main prop of power. In the party, reliance is now placed on the secretary and not on the rank and file member. You rely now on Purcell and not on the rank and file proletarian. You rely not on the revolutionary miner but on Purcell who has betrayed the miners. In China, you steer a course toward Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Ching-wei and not toward the Shanghai proletarian, not the coolie who drags cannon on his shoulder, and not the insurgent peasant.

You have placed on the order of the day the question of expelling us from the Central Committee. Assuredly, each one of us will carry out his work regardless of his position, as a rank and file party member. But this will not solve the question; you will have to draw further conclusions. Life itself will compel you to make these conclusions. You had better pause instead and change your course.

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