One often hears Trotskyists, Anarchists and bourgeois propagandists accuse Joseph Stalin of killing all or at least most of the so-called ”Old Bolsheviks” and thus being able to allegedly distort the true meaning behind Bolshevism/Leninism. Here I won’t be getting into a thorough debate about what is or is not the real core ideology of Bolshevism but I would like to examine the accusation that Stalin ”killed the Old Bolsheviks”.
1. Who were the so-called ”Old Bolsheviks”?
According to the groups mentioned above, i.e. left-communists, Trotskyists, Anarchists and Right-Wingers the term ”Old Bolshevik” typically refers to people such as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov etc.
They allege that these people represented ”real Bolshevism” and that Stalin killed them to implement his ”Stalinist distortion of Bolshevism”.
But what makes these people ”Old Bolsheviks”? Sure enough some of them such as Zinoviev were long standing members of the Bolshevik party, but is that all that we’re talking about? Zinoviev, Kamenev & co. had numerous disagreements with Lenin, the founder and leader of Bolshevism so can they truly be called Bolsheviks at all? Second of all, there are many people who were also longtime members of the Bolshevik Party yet they don’t get the same status of being called ”Old Bolsheviks”.
We can only conclude that the Right-Winger, Trotskyist and their ilk define ”Old Bolsheviks” merely as people who were killed by Stalin. That is their only qualification.
2. The Real Old Bolsheviks
Interestingly Right and ”Left” critics of Stalin don’t seem to consider the following group of people Old Bolsheviks despite the fact that they obviously were – or at least ignore them when arguing that ”Stalin killed the Old Bolsheviks”.
Note: The Bolshevik faction ”RSDLP(B)” emerged in 1903-1907. The RSDLP itself was founded in 1898.
Stalin (joined the RSDLP in 1899. Bolshevik as early as 1903)
Kalinin (joined the party in 1898. Bolshevik at least as early as 1905)
Voroshilov (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1903)
Orjonikidze (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1903)
Sverdlov (joined the RSDLP in 1902. Bolshevik as early as 1903)
Kuybyshev (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1904)
Kirov (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1905)
Molotov (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1906)
Kaganovich (joined the RSDLP(B) in 1911)
These people were not killed by Stalin, in fact they were his allies and I would argue much better Bolsheviks then Zinoviev & co. However for some reason they do not seem to count.
Lenin, Voroshilov, Sverdlov, Stalin, Kalinin
3. Were Zinoviev, Kamenev & Bukharin really such good Bolsheviks?
I think it can be demonstrated rather easily that Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Trotsky & co. were not particularly good Bolsheviks and for that reason calling them ”Old Bolsheviks” (that Stalin ’murdered’ to distort bolshevism) seems dubious.
Zinoviev & Kamenev:
Lenin himself wanted Z. & K. expelled from the Bolshevik party altogether due to their treachery on the eve of the October Revolution. Z. & K. opposed the revolution and criticized it in a bourgeois newspaper, thus revealing the Bolsheviks plan to overthrow the government to the class-enemy.
”When the full text of Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s statement in the non-Party paper Novaya Zhizn was transmitted to me by telephone, I refused to believe it… I no longer consider either of them comrades and that I will fight with all my might, both in the Central Committee and at the Congress, to secure the expulsion of both of them from the Party… Let Mr. Zinoviev and Mr. Kamenev found their own party”
–LENIN, ”Letter to Bolshevik Party Members” (18th Oct. 1917)
Despite being known as a Right-Winger for his views on economic policy, Bukharinists used to be thought of as a Left-Communist faction in the party. This is in the main due to their adventurism and opposition to the Brest-Litovsk peace-treaty.
Lenin slammed the actions of Bukharin & the ”Left”-communists in ”Peace or War?”
”…he who is against an immediate, even though extremely onerous peace, is endangering Soviet power.”
He also attacked Bukharin on the economic front in 1921 in his work ”Once Again On the Trade Unions: On the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin”.
Mentioning Trotsky in this context is perhaps superfluous but I will do it for the sake of thoroughness. He joined the party only in 1917 and cannot be called an Old Bolshevik in any case. Initially he was a Menshevik (1903-1905), then a member of the ultra-opportunist August Bloc (1907-1913) which Lenin ridiculed, opponent of the Zimmerwald Left that Lenin supported (1914-1916) and finally the semi-Menshevik Mezhraiontsy which ceased to exist in 1917. His disagreements with Lenin are too numerous to mention.
He was a longtime enemy of Lenin prompting Lenin to refer to him as a ”Judas”, ”Swine”, ”Scoundrel”, “bureaucratic” helper of the liberal bourgeois and calling his theory of Permanent Revolution both ”absurd” and half-menshevik. Instead of providing quotations sources for the claims will be at the end or otherwise this section would be too lengthy.
Lenin also attacked Trotsky for his flip flopping on the Brest peace deal and his ridiculous economic policy & poor handling of the trade unions together with Bukharin.
4. The Bloc of Rights & Trotskyites
In 1921 at the 10th congress of the RCP Lenin argued for the banning of factional cliques in the Bolshevik party. This was accepted and factions were either expelled or they capitulated. However after his death various factional groups sprung up. In 1927 Trotsky, Zinoviev & Kamenev were expelled from the party for factionalism after organizing an anti-party demonstration, though Z & K. later capitulated to Stalin.
Trotsky was exiled from the USSR, while Zinoviev & Kamenev were marginalized. The Bukharinists also lost the debate against Stalin & the majority. By 1932 Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev & Bukharin had all lost their legitimate political power. Trotsky created a secret conspiratorial anti-soviet group which was joined by Z. & K. and later various Bukharinites. This group became known in the Soviet media as ”The Bloc of Rights & Trotskyites”.
This is the real reason for which these people were later arrested & executed. They wished to carry out destabilization against the Soviet government which was already worried about foreign Fascist invasions. All of this was denied by anti-soviet elements for decades but the discovery of various letters from Trotsky and his associates has proven it without a shadow of a doubt.
”…The proposal for a bloc seems to me to be completely acceptable.”
–Trotsky to Sedov
”The bloc is organised, it includes the Zinovievists, the Sten–Lominadze Group and the Trotskyists…”
–Sedov to Trotsky
” One fights repression by means of anonymity and conspiracy…”
–Trotsky to Sedov
”As far as the illegal organisation of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the USSR is concerned, only the first steps have been taken towards its re-organisation.”
–Trotsky (Dec. 16 1932)
Source: Library of Harvard College 13905c, 1010, 4782 quoted in Pierre Broué’s The “Bloc” of the Oppositions against Stalin
Whether or not you believe the actions of Trotsky & co. to be justified it is dishonest to claim they were framed or unjustly murdered for their so-called Bolshevism. They fought against the Soviet government and lost.
5. Conclusions: Will the Real Old Bolsheviks please Stand up?
Stalin did not in fact kill the Old Bolsheviks, he killed anti-Soviet renegades whose Bolshevik credentials were questionable at best. The real Old Bolsheviks were people like Kalinin and Voroshilov who supported Lenin since the beginning through thick and thin, not flip-flopping opportunists like Zinoviev who stabbed Lenin in the back when ever it was advantageous.
LENIN QUOTES ON TROTSKY:
”…Trotsky’s (the scoundrel… this swindler … pays lip-service to the Party and behaves worse than any other of the factionalists.”
–LENIN CW 34 p. 400 (1909)
”At the Plenary Meeting Judas Trotsky made a big show of fighting liquidationism…”
–LENIN ”Judas Trotsky’s Blush of Shame” (1911)
Trotsky… proclaiming his absurdly Left ‘permanent revolution’ theory.”
–LENIN ”Disruption of Unity Under Cover of Outcries for Unity” (1914)
“Trotsky’s… theory has borrowed… from the Mensheviks…”
–LENIN ”On the Two Lines in the Revolution” (1915)
”The Bolsheviks helped the proletariat consciously to follow the first line… liberal bourgeoisie was the second… Trotsky is in fact helping the liberal-labour politicians in Russia…”
– LENIN, Ibid.
”What a swine this Trotsky is—Left phrases, and a bloc with the Right…”
–LENIN ”Letter to Alexandra Kollontai” (1917)
”It is Trotsky who is in “ideological confusion”… There you have an example of the real bureaucratic approach: Trotsky… Trotsky’s “theses” are politically harmful…”
–LENIN ”The Trade Unions, The Present Situation And Trotsky’s Mistakes” (1920)
”Comrade Trotsky is essentially wrong on all his new points… Trotsky and Bukharin have produced a hodgepodge of political mistakes”
–LENIN ”Once Again On The Trade Unions: The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin” (1921)
7 thoughts on “Stalin & the myth of the ”Old Bolsheviks””
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Hi FinnishBolshevik! Please email me. I am very interested in discussing with you. I am a Leninist in London. My politics are those of EPSR.org.uk. For world revolution, for Leninism, for the dictatorship of the proletariat. For a revived Soviet Union.
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As edifying as this blog post was it just disheartens me even more. I know you wrote this article to reframe Stalin’s execution of ‘the old Bolsheviks’, that is was warranted but it just shows how strong the western liberal historiography has dominated Soviet history.
Whether people think the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites were justified or not, they are still ultimately operating under the assumption that Stalin was an evil power hungry dictator, and so people conclude that Stalin would have killed them regardless of whether they posed a real threat, and even that the conspiracy group was justified because Stalin’s regime was just inherently and irreconcilably evil, and it feels like no other argument can quite topple this dogmatic assumption.
Don’t forget the Opposition conspirators used terrorism in the 1930s, although in the 1920s their illegal actions were mainly taking over printing presses, etc. And they worked with the fascist Axis Powers.
The Ryutin Platform called for the physical elimination of Stalin and other leaders; Bukharin and everyone else admitted as much, and were exposed for working with the Ryutin Group.
Grigori Tokaev, Genrikh Liushkov, and Jules Humbert-Droz were Oppositionists who fled the USSR and then described their illegal acts. Although Liushkov publicly depicted himself as a victim of Soviet terror, he told the Japanese government that he had been working with other Oppositionists in the NKVD to terrorize innocent people in the USSR.
Jules-Humbert Droz was an Oppositionist who fled to Sweden. There, he wrote that Bukharin had ordered him to kill Stalin and other leaders. Bukharin denied this in his confession, which the West says Stalin forced out of Bukharin. If Bukharin was denying accusations that were actually true, the confession was probably genuine. This confirms the interrogation transcript of Frinovsky, an NKVD agent arrested by the USSR, who says Bukharin was not tortured; and the observations of foreigners at the trials.
Kirov was one man clearly assassinated, and it was clearly allowed by Yenukidze, chief of Moscow security, who was an Oppositionist according to Tokaev. Scherbakov, Zhdanov, even Stalin himself may have been assassinated as well.
Their co-operation with the Axis Powers is also well attested. The Nazis and Japanese heard of a military coup plan in the USSR shortly before Tukhachevsky was accused of such. Tukhachevsky and Radek praised the Nazis repeatedly, especially Radek. US engineer John Littlepage suspected Pyatakov of industrial sabotage and embezzlement to pay the Nazis, before he was accused of such by the USSR.