JV Stalin: On Why the Communist Party is Not Like an Army (1923)


JV Stalin – UK

In my article in Pravda (No. 285) “The Discussion, Rafail, etc.” I said that according to a statement Ra-fail made at a meeting in the Presnya District “our Party has practically been turned into an army organisation, its discipline is army discipline and, in view of this, it is necessary to shake up the entire Party apparatus from top to bottom, because it is unfit.” Concerning this, Rafail says in his article in Pravda that I did not correctly convey his views, that I “simplified” them “in the heat of debate,” and so forth. Ra-fail says that he merely drew an analogy (comparison) between the Party and an army, that analogy is not identity. “The system of administration in the Party is analogous to the system of administration in an army—this does not mean,” he says, “that it is an exact copy; it only draws a parallel.”

Is Rafail right?

No. And for the following reasons.

First. In his speech at the meeting in the Presnya District, Rafail did not simply compare the Party with an army, as he now asserts, but actually identified it with an army, being of the opinion that the Party is built on the lines of an army. I have before me the verbatim report of Rafail’s speech, revised by the speaker. There it is stated: “Our entire Party is built on the lines of an army from top to bottom.” It can scarcely be denied that we have here not simply an analogy, but an identification of the Party’s structure with that of an army; the two are placed on a par.

Can it be asserted that our Party is built on the lines of an army? Obviously not, for the Party is built from below, on the voluntary principle; it is not materially dependent on its General Staff, which the Party elects. An army, however, is, of course, built from above, on the basis of compulsion; it is completely dependent materially upon its General Staff, which is not elected, but appointed from above. Etc., etc.

Secondly. Rafail does not simply compare the system of administration in the Party with that in an army, but puts one on a par with the other, identifies them, without any “verbal frills.” This is what he writes in his article: “We assert that the system of administration in the Party is identical with the system of administration in an army not on any extraneous grounds, but on the basis of an objective analysis of the state of the Party.” It is impossible to deny that here Rafail does not confine himself to drawing an analogy between the administration of the Party and that of an army, for he “simply” identifies them, “without verbal frills.”

Can these two systems of administration be identified? No, they cannot; for the system of administration in an army, as a system, is incompatible with the very nature of the Party and with its methods of influencing both its own members and the non-Party masses.

Thirdly. Rafail asserts in his article that, in the last analysis, the fate of the Party as a whole, and of its individual members, depends upon the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee, that “the members of the Party are regarded as mobilised, the Registration and Distribution Department puts everybody in his job, nobody has the slightest right to choose his work, and it is the Registration and Distribution Department, or ‘General Staff,’ that determines the amount of supplies, i.e., pay, form of work, etc.” Is all this true? Of course not! In peace time, the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee usually deals in the course of a year with barely eight to ten thousand people. We know from the Central Committee’s report to the Twelfth Congress of the R.C.P. that, in 1922, the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee dealt with 10,700 people (i.e., half the number it dealt with in 1921). If from this number we subtract 1,500 people sent by their local organisations to various educational institutions, and the people who went on sick leave (over 400), there remain something over 8,000. Of these, the Central Committee, in the course of the year, distributed 5,167 responsible workers (i.e., less than half of the total number dealt with by the Registration and Distribution Department). But at that time the Party as a whole had not 5,000, and not 10,000, but about 500,000 members, the bulk of whom were not, and could not, be affected by the distribution work of the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee. Evidently, Rafail has forgotten that in peace time the Central Committee usually distributes only responsible workers, that the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee does not, cannot, and should not, determine the “pay” of all the members of the Party, who now number over 400,000. Why did Rafail have to exaggerate in this ridiculous way? Evidently, in order to prove “with facts” the “identity” between the system of administration in the Party and that in an army. Such are the facts.

That is why I thought, and still think, that Ra-fail “is not clear in his mind about what the Party and what an army is.”

As regards the passages Rafail quotes from the decisions of the Tenth Congress, they have nothing to do with the present case, for they apply only to the survivals of the war period in our Party and not to the alleged “identity between the system of administration in the Party and that in an army.”

Rafail is right when he says that mistakes must be corrected, that one must not persist in one’s mistakes. And that is precisely why I do not lose hope that Rafail will, in the end, correct the mistakes he has made.

Pravda, No. 294, December 28, 1923

JV Stalin: Collected Works Volume V – A Necessary Comment –
(Concerning Rafail) – December 28, 1923 – Pages 398-401

Pravda: Stalin Deconstructs Trotsky’s Duplicitous Letter (15.12.1923)


Full Article – JV Stalin – UK

Trotsky’s Letter

The resolution of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission on internal Party democracy, published on December 7, was adopted unanimously. Trotsky voted for this resolution. It might have been expected, therefore, that the members of the Central Committee, including Trotsky, would come forward in a united front with a call to Party members for unanimous support of the Central Committee and its resolution. This expectation, however, has not been realised. The other day Trotsky issued a letter to the Party conferences which cannot be interpreted otherwise than as an attempt to weaken the will of the Party membership for unity in supporting the Central Committee and its position.

Judge for yourselves.

After referring to bureaucracy in the Party apparatus and the danger of degeneration of the old guard, i.e., the Leninists, the main core of our Party, Trotsky writes:

“The degeneration of the ‘old guard’ has been observed in history more than once. Let us take the latest and most glaring historical example: the leaders and the parties of the Second International. We know that Wilhelm Liebknecht, Bebel, Singer, Victor Adler, Kautsky, Bernstein, Lafargue, Guesde, and others, were the immediate and direct pupils of Marx and Engels. We know, however, that all those leaders—some partly, and others wholly—degenerated into opportunism.”. . . “We, that is, we ‘old ones,’ must say that our generation, which naturally plays a leading role in the Party, has no self-sufficient guarantee against the gradual and imperceptible weakening of the proletarian and revolutionary spirit, assuming that the Party tolerates a further growth and consolidation of the bureaucratic-apparatus methods of policy which are transforming the younger generation into passive educational material and are inevitably creating estrangement between the apparatus and the membership, between the old and the young.”. . . “The youth—the Party’s truest barometer—react most sharply of all against Party bureaucracy.”. . . “The youth must capture the revolutionary formulas by storm. . .

First, I must dispel a possible misunderstanding. As is evident from his letter, Trotsky includes himself among the Bolshevik old guard, thereby showing readiness to take upon himself the charges that may be hurled at the old guard if it does indeed take the path of degeneration. It must be admitted that this readiness for self-sacrifice is undoubtedly a noble trait. But I must protect Trotsky from Trotsky, because, for obvious reasons, he cannot, and should not, bear responsibility for the possible degeneration of the principal cadres of the Bolshevik old guard. Sacrifice is a good thing, of course, but do the old Bolsheviks need it? I think that they do not.

Secondly, it is impossible to understand how opportunists and Mensheviks like Bernstein, Adler, Kautsky, Guesde, and the others, can be put on a par with the Bolshevik old guard, which has always fought, and I hope will continue to fight with honour, against opportunism, the Mensheviks and the Second International. What is the cause of this muddle and confusion? Who needs it, bearing in mind the interests of the Party and not ulterior motives that by no means aim at defence of the old guard? How is one to interpret these insinuations about opportunism in relation to the old Bolsheviks, who matured in the struggle against opportunism?

Thirdly, I do not by any means think that the old Bolsheviks are absolutely guaranteed against the danger of degeneration any more than I have grounds for asserting that we are absolutely guaranteed against, say, an earthquake. As a possibility, such a danger can and should be assumed. But does this mean that such a danger is real, that it exists? I think that it does not. Trotsky himself has adduced no evidence to show that the danger of degeneration is a real danger. Nevertheless, there are a number of elements within our Party who are capable of giving rise to a real danger of degeneration of certain ranks of our Party. I have in mind that section of the Mensheviks who joined our Party unwillingly, and who have not yet got rid of their old opportunist habits. The following is what Comrade Lenin wrote about these Mensheviks, and about this danger, at the time of the Party purge:

“Every opportunist is distinguished for his adaptability . . . and the Mensheviks, as opportunists, adapt themselves ‘on principle,’ so to speak, to the prevailing trend among the workers and assume a protective colouring, just as a hare’s coat turns white in the winter. It is necessary to know this specific feature of the Mensheviks and take it into account. And taking it into account means purging the Party of approximately ninety-nine out of every hundred of the Mensheviks who joined the Russian Communist Party after 1918, i.e., when the victory of the Bolsheviks first became probable and then certain.” (see Vol. XXVII, p. 13.)

How could it happen that Trotsky, who lost sight of this and similar, really existing dangers, pushed into the foreground a possible danger, the danger of the degeneration of the Bolshevik old guard? How can one shut one’s eyes to a real danger and push into the foreground an unreal, possible danger, if one has the interests of the Party in view and not the object of undermining the prestige of the majority in the Central Committee, the leading core of the Bolshevik old guard? Is it not obvious that “approaches” of this kind can only bring grist to the mill of the opposition?

Fourthly, what reasons did Trotsky have for contrasting the “old ones,” who may degenerate, to the “youth,” the Party’s “truest barometer”; for contrasting the “old guard,” who may become bureaucratic, to the “young guard,” which must “capture the revolutionary formulas by storm”? What grounds had he for drawing this contrast, and what did he need it for? Have not the youth and the old guard always marched in a united front against internal and external enemies? Is not the unity between the “old ones” and the “young ones” the basic strength of our revolution? What was the object of this attempt to discredit the old guard and demagogically to flatter the youth if not to cause and widen a fissure between these principal detachments of our Party? Who needs all this, if one has the interests of the Party

in view, its unity and solidarity, and not an attempt to shake this unity for the benefit of the opposition?

Is that the way to defend the Central Committee and its resolution on internal Party democracy, which, moreover, was adopted unanimously?

But evidently, that was not Trotsky’s object in issuing his letter to the Party conferences. Evidently there was a different intention here, namely: diplomatically to support the opposition in its struggle against the Central Committee of the Party while pretending to support the Central Committee’s resolution.

That, in fact, explains the stamp of duplicity that Trotsky’s letter bears.

Trotsky is in a bloc with the Democratic Centralists and with a section of the “Left” Communists—therein lies the political significance of Trotsky’s action.

Pravda, No. 285, December 15, 1923

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