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Bukharin vs. Trotsky

"Gorbachev Factor"

Both factions within the party were committed to industrialization, but both disagreed on the methods, rates, and means of financing industrial development. Put briefly, the main distinction was that the Right advocated a more evolutionary and cautious development, whereas the Left insisted on a more rapid and ambitious investment program in heavy industry.  

N. Bukharin

L. Trotsky

Bukharin, as the main spokesman of the Right, counseled the continuation of the two parallel sectors: the state sector holding the “commanding heights” of the economy, and the private one represented by small-scale industry, handicraft, and individual peasant farming. Bukharin believed that the continuation of the more peasant-friendly policies would help to strengthen the worker-peasant alliance and would make Soviet power more stable by making it acceptable to the bulk of the population—the peasant masses. In short, his stand envisaged a more balanced development of the industrial and agrarian sectors and implied an almost indefinite continuation of a mixed economy, which was the essence of the NEP.

This economic program was branded as a “kulak deviation” by the propaganda of the Left. According to Trotsky and his adherents, all of this meant the appeasement of the petit bourgeois forces represented by the mass of the peasantry. Bukharin’s program meant the strengthening of the capitalist elements and would lead to the restoration of capitalism. The Left was against making any concessions to the peasants and insisted upon speedy industrialization by increasing the tax burden on the peasantry and channeling the bulk of resources into state-owned industries.

Stalin used the controversy between the Left and the Right to his personal advantage. He swung easily from one political flank to the other and back again when this promised gains in the power game. In 1925–26 he had posed as an enthusiastic supporter of the NEP and an ally of Bukharin in order to undermine his previous political allies Zinoviev and Kamenev. In 1928–29 he went all the way to the extreme Left, this time to defeat the Right and Bukharin. Stalin realized that the adoption of radical economic policies designed to curtail the NEP would almost inevitably turn Bukharin and his supporters into oppositionists. By defeating Bukharin’s group in 1929, he achieved absolute personal power.

More importantly, Stalin’s strategy appealed to the predominant attitudes in the party as a whole. Most Communists lacked the education to appreciate the finer theoretical differences that split the political leadership. With the civil war experience behind them, they were better equipped to deal with economic problems by coercive and administrative measures, rather than learn the intricacies of market mechanisms. Many Communists favored accelerated rates of industrialization and a radical overhaul of the economy. They accepted Stalin’s argument that Soviet Russia could not afford spreading industrialization over a period of several decades, as was implied in the program advocated by Bukharin.

There is no doubt that the implementation of Bukharin’s alternative based on the rejection of the idea of forced and rapid expansion of heavy industry would have postponed the USSR’s rise to the position of one of the world’s most powerful industrial nations for an indefinite period of time. Stalin’s rapid industrialization provided the Soviet Union with the industrial capacity and military might that enabled it to defeat Nazi Germany in the Second World War. From that point of view, of the two alternative models of industrialization, Stalin’s approach appears to be more historically justified. However, Stalin’s triumph also meant the entrenchment of a regime of personal dictatorship associated with high Stalinism. It dealt a shattering blow to the freedom of discussion within the party and resulted in the abandonment of the NEP and the reanimation of the practices of war communism.

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