Right Opposition

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The Right Opposition, sometimes called Right Deviation, represents a moderate strand of Bolshevism that evolved from the New Economic Policy (NEP). Headed by Nikolai Bukharin, the party's leading theoretician after Vladimir Ilich Lenin's death, the Right Opposition also included Alexei Rykov, Mikhail Tomsky, Felix Dzerzhinsky, and A. P. Smirnov. In part reacting against the harsh policies of War Communism, the right urged moderation and cooperation with the peasantry to achieve socialism gradually. It favored industrialization, but at a pace determined by the peasantry, and prioritized the development of light industry over heavy industry.

Until early 1928 the platform of the right coincided with the policies of the Soviet government and the Politburo. This is not surprising given that Rykov was chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) from 1924 to 1930, and Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky, and their then ally Josef Stalin held a majority in the Politburo until 1926. Participating in the struggles for power following Lenin's death, the right opposed Leon Trotsky and his policies, as well as Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and eventually the United Opposition. Toward the end of the 1920s, as Stalin increasingly secured control over the party apparatus, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev were expelled from the Politburo and replaced by Stalin's handpicked successors, thereby enhancing the position of the right.

Their good fortune changed, however, following the decisive defeat of the Left Opposition at the Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927. Having supported Bukharin and the right's position on the cautious implementation of the NEP, Stalin, in 1928, abruptly reversed his position and adopted the rapid industrialization program of the left. He and his new majority in the Politburo then attacked the Right Opposition over various issues including forced grain requisitions, the antispecialist campaign, and industrial production targets for the First FiveYear Plan. Outnumbered and unable to launch a strong challenge against Stalin, the Right Opposition sought an alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev, for which the Right Opposition was subsequently denounced at the Central Committee plenum in January 1929.

Under attack politically, Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky signed a statement acknowledging their "errors" that was published in Pravda in November 1929. Nonetheless, Bukharin was removed from the Politburo that same month. The following year Rykov and Tomsky were also expelled from the Politburo. By the end of 1930 the trio was removed from all positions of leadership, and moderates throughout the party were purged; this officially marked the defeat of the Right Opposition. Having already destroyed the Left Opposition, Stalin was now the uncontested leader of the Soviet Union.

The Great Purges of the late 1930s brought further tragedy to the leaders of the defunct Right Opposition. With his arrest imminent, Tomsky committed suicide in 1936. Two years later Bukharin and Rykov were arrested and tried in the infamous show trials of 1938. Despite the fact that they could not possibly have committed the crimes that they were accused of, and that their confessions were clearly secured under torture, both were found guilty and executed.

See also: bukharin, nikolai ivanovich; left opposition; rykov, alexei ivanovich; tomsky, mikhail pavlovich; united opposition


Cohen, Stephen, F. (1973). Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 18881938. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

Merridale, Catherine. (1990). Moscow Politics and the Rise of Stalin: The Communist Party in The Capital, 192532. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Kate Transchel