Left Opposition

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Headed by Leon Trotsky, the Left Opposition (19231927) rallied against Bolshevik Party discipline on a wide array of issues. It became one of the last serious manifestations of intra-Party debate before Josef Stalin consolidated power and silenced all opposition.

Following the illness and death of Vladimir Lenin, the formation of the Left Opposition centered on Trotsky and the role he played in the struggle for Party leadership and the debates over the future course of the Soviet economy. Throughout 1923, after three strokes left Lenin incapacitated, Stalin actively strengthened his position within the Party leadership and moved against several oppositionist tendencies. In October that same year, Trotsky struck back with a searing condemnation of the ruling triumvirate (Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Stalin), publicly charging them with "secretarial bureaucratism" and demanding a restoration of Party democracy.

At the same time, proponents of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, including such luminaries as Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, Grigory Pyatakov, Timofey Sapronov, and V. V. Osinsky, coalesced around the Platform of the Forty-Six. Representing the position of the left, they attributed the Party's ills to a progressive division of the Party into functionaries, chosen from above, and the rank-and-file Party members, who did not participate in Party affairs. Further, they accused the leadership of making economic mistakes and demanded that the dictatorship of the Party be replaced by a worker's democracy.

Formulating a more comprehensive platform, Trotsky published a pamphlet entitled The New Course in January 1924. By this time, the Left Opposition had gained enough public support that the leadership made some concessions in the form of the Politburo's adoption of the New Course Resolution in December. Nonetheless, at the Thirteenth Party Congress in May 1924, the Left Opposition was condemned for violating the Party's ban on factions and for disrupting Party unity.

The Left Opposition's economic platform focused on the goals of rapid industrialization and the struggle against the New Economic Policy (NEP). Left Oppositionists, also known as Trot-skyites because of Trotsky's central role, argued that encouraging the growth of private and peasant sectors of the economy under the NEP was dangerous because it would create an investment crisis in the state's industrial sector. Moreover, by favoring trade and private agriculture, the state would make itself vulnerable to the economic power of hostile social classes, such as peasants and private traders. In 1925, Preobrazhensky, the left's leading theoretician, proposed an alternative course of action with his theory of primitive socialist accumulation. Arguing that the state should shift resources through price manipulations and other market mechanisms, he believed that peasant producers and consumers should bear the burden of capital accumulation for the state's industrialization drive. According to his plan, the government could achieve this end by regulating prices and taxes.

In a polity where loyalty and opposition were deemed incompatible, the Left Opposition was doomed from the start. Following the Thirteenth Party Congress denunciation, Trotsky renewed his advocacy of permanent revolution as Stalin promoted his theory of socialism in one country. The result was Trotsky's removal from the War Commissariat in January 1925 and his expulsion from the Politburo the following year. At the same time, Kamenev and Zinoviev broke with Stalin over the issue of socialism in one country and continuation of the NEP. In mid-1926, in an attempt to subvert Stalin's growing influence, Trotsky joined with Kamenev and Zinoviev in the Platform of the Thirteen, forming the United Opposition.

By 1926, however, it was already too late to mount a strong challenge to Stalin's growing power. Through skillful maneuvering, Stalin had been able increasingly to secure control over the party apparatus, eroding what little power base the oppositionists had. In 1927 Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev were removed from the Central Committee. By the end of that year the trio and all of their prominent followers, including Preobrazhensky and Pyatakov, were purged from the Party. The next year, Trotsky and members of the Left Opposition were exiled to Siberia and Central Asia. In February 1929 Trotsky was deported from the country, thus beginning the odyssey that ended with his murder by an alleged Soviet agent in Mexico City in 1940. Despite recantations and pledges of loyalty to Stalin, the remaining so-called Trot-skyites could never free themselves of the stigma of their past association with the Left Opposition. Nearly all of them perished in the purges of the 1930s.

See also: right opposition; trotsky, leon david-ovich; united opposition


Carr, Edward Hallett, and Davies, R. W. (1971). Foundations of a Planned Economy, 19261929, 2 vols., New York: Macmillan.

Deutscher, Isaac. (1963). The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 19211929. New York: Oxford University Press.

Erlich, Alexander. (1960). The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 19241928. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Graziosi, Andrea. (1991). "'Building the First System of State Industry in History': Piatakov's VSNKh and the Crisis of NEP, 19231926." Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique 32:539581.

Trotsky, Leon. (1975). The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 19231925. New York: Pathfinder Press.

Kate Transchel