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The Right Opposition was the name given to the tendency made up of Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Mikhail Tomsky and their supporters within the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. It is also the name given to "right-wing" critics within the Communist movement internationally, particularly those who coalesced in the International Communist Opposition, regardless of whether they identified with Bukharin and Rykov. Note that the designation "Right Opposition" refers to the position of this movement relative to the other Communist movements on the traditional spectrum. Relative to the political mainstream, the Right Opposition is still very firmly on the Left.
The struggle for power in the Soviet Union after the death of Vladimir Lenin saw the development of three major tendencies within the Communist Party. These were described by Leon Trotsky as representing left, right and centre tendencies, each based on a specific class or caste. Trotsky argued that his tendency, the Left Opposition, represented the internationalist traditions of the working class. The tendency led by Joseph Stalin was described as being in the centre, based on the state and party bureaucracy, tending to shift alliances between the left and the right. The right tendency was identified with the supporters of Nikolai Bukharin and Rykov. It was asserted that they represented the influence of the peasantry and the danger of capitalist restoration. Their policy was closely identified with the New Economic Policy developed by Bukharin.
It was further argued that these three tendencies (a working-class "left", a bureaucratic "centre" and a peasant-oriented "right") could be found in many of the major Communist Parties throughout the world. Indeed, a "left wing" which agreed with Trotsky and supported world revolution could be found in almost every section of the Communist International (Comintern), just as representatives of Stalinism and the idea of "Socialism in One Country" could also be found. But a "right wing" only developed in a limited number of countries, and in each country where it did develop it stood between the left and the centre factions. This was because the right tendencies were usually not critical of the Comintern or of Stalin's regime but only of the leaderships of their own Communist parties.
Alexander has questioned whether the various "Right Oppositions" could be described as a single international tendency, since they were usually concerned only with the issues relevant for their own countries and their own Communist Parties. Therefore, the Right Opposition was far more fragmented than the Left Opposition. Nevertheless, the various right opposition groups did come together to form an International Communist Opposition (ICO). Unlike the Left Opposition, they did not tend to form separate parties, as they considered themselves as loyal to the Comintern.
Fate of the Russian Right Opposition
Stalin and his "centre" faction had initially allied with Bukharin and the Right Opposition in order to defeat Trotsky and the Left. However, once Trotsky was out of the way and the Left Opposition had been sidelined, Stalin turned on his former allies. Bukharin and the Right Opposition were, in their turn, sidelined and removed from important positions within the Communist Party and the Soviet government.
Bukharin was isolated from his allies abroad, and, in the face of increasing Stalinist repression, was unable to mount a sustained struggle against Stalin. Unlike Trotsky, who built an anti-Stalinist movement, Bukharin and his followers within the Soviet Union capitulated to Stalin and admitted their "ideological errors". They were temporarily rehabilitated (though they were not returned to their former prominence, but kept in minor posts), only to be ultimately liquidated during the Great Purge trials.
Foundation of the International Communist Opposition
The various right oppositional groups loosely aligned with Bukharin within the Comintern were forced to form their own organisations when they were, in their turn, purged from the national sections of the Comintern. In Europe, the most important and substantial of these new organisations was the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) in Germany, led by Heinrich Brandler. In the United States, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe and their supporters founded the Communist Party (Opposition) and published the newspaper Workers Age. In Canada, the Marxian Educational League was formed as part of Lovestone's CP(O), and it became affiliated with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. However, by the end of 1939, both the Toronto and Montreal groups of this organization had ceased to function.
In a few places, communist groups affiliated with the ICO achieved more success than the Comintern-affiliated organizations. For example, in Sweden, the Socialist Party of Karl Kilbom, affiliated with the ICO, received 5.7% of the vote in the 1932 elections to the Riksdag, outpolling the Comintern section which received 3.9%.
In Spain, the ICO-affiliated Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC), led by Joaquin Maurin, was for a time larger and more important than the official Spanish Communist Party. Later, the BOC merged with Andrés Nin's Izquierda Comunista in 1935 to form the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) which was to be a major party backing the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. Maurin became general secretary of the POUM but was arrested early in the Civil War. As a result, Nin, a former Trotskyist, became the POUM's new leader.
In all, the ICO had member parties in fifteen countries during the 1930s. However, the ICO and its affiliates did not consider themselves a new international, but a "faction" that was involuntarily excluded from the Comintern and that was anxious to return to it if only the Comintern would change its policies and allow ICO members the freedom to advocate their positions.
Despite being identified with Bukharin, the ICO generally supported Stalin's economic policies (which Bukharin opposed), such as the Five Year Plans to achieve rapid industrialization, and the collectivization of agriculture. Furthermore, they even supported the early Moscow Trials. Their main difference with Stalin and the Comintern was over the issue of democracy within the Communist International and the influence of the CPSU in the Comintern and its sections, and over Stalin's international policy, particularly the Third Period and the subsequent Popular Front policies.
In addition, as the Moscow Trials entered their second phase and turned against Bukharin and his supporters, disputes broke out within the ICO regarding whether there was any point in continuing with the concept of being an opposition within the Communist movement rather than openly create a new international rival to the Comintern, like Trotsky did with his Fourth International.
The end of the Right Opposition
The ICO began to disintegrate in 1933. With the coming to power of the Nazis, the German party had to go underground and establish an exile branch in Paris. Paris was also the new home of the international ICO headquarters, which became dominated by the Germans. The Norwegian and Swedish groups left later that year to join the new "centrist" International Buro for Revolutionary Socialist Unity (or London Bureau) established in Paris that August. The Czechoslovak affiliate was weakened by the defection of its Czech members in December, making the party a largely Sudeten German group while that community was becoming increasingly attracted to the Nazis. The Austrian group had to go underground after the Dollfus putsch of March 1934, and the majority of the Alsatian section was expelled that summer for its pro-Nazi sympathies. The Swiss affiliate went over to the Social Democrats in 1936, and M.N. Roy took his Indian group out in 1937. Furthermore, the suppression of POUM in May 1937 and the execution of Bukharin and other "rights" in the Soviet Union had convinced many that the Communist International could not be reformed and the idea of being an "opposition" within it was untenable.
At a conference in February 1938 the International Communist Opposition affiliated with the London Bureau. This led to some confusion as to whether affiliates of the ICO were also affiliates of the London Bureau as organizations themselves. To straightened out this overlapping another conference was held in Paris in April 1939 which dissolved both entities into a new organization, the International Revolutionary Marxist Center, to be headquartered in Paris. Membership in the new group was quickly ratified by the ILLA, the KPO, POUM, PSOP, the ILP and the Archaio-Marxists. It ceased to exist after the fall of France. Few groups continue the tradition of this current today. The Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik in Germany is one such group.
- The first gathering of the opposition Communists was held in Berlin March 17–19, 1930. It was attended by the oppositions of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and by M. N. Roy. The meeting decided to set up an information center in Berlin to co-ordinate international activities and publish a bulletin, International Information of the Communist Opposition, which had previously been published by the KPO.
- The first official conference of the ICO was held in Berlin in December 1930. It was attended by representatives from Germany, Alsace, Sweden, the United States, Switzerland, and Norway, with letters from sympathizers in Austria, Finland, Italy and Canada. Adopts the "Platform of the International Communist Opposition"
- the second official congress was held in Berlin, July 2–5, 1932, attended by representatives from Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Spain and the US.
- An "enlarged session of the Bureau" was held in July 1933 to discuss the Nazi triumph in Germany and the Paris conference of "centrist" groups. Attended by representatives from Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the US. The Norwegians and Swedes did not attend, as they favored participation in the Paris conference. The ICO itself declined invitation to the conference. ICO headquarters moved to Paris.
Groups associated with ICO
See Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands - Opposition. The Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik, founded by Heinrich Brandler, is effectively a successor organisation.
The Communist Opposition of Austria was established in late 1929 when the politburo of the official Communist Party of Austria expelled Willi Schlamm, A Reisinger, Joseph Klein and Richard Vovesny. They had their own periodical, Der Neue Mahrruf until the Dolfuss dictatorship came to power in 1934. Jay Lovestone happened to be in Austria at the time of the anchluss in early March 1938 at the invitation of a group called De Funke and was able to arrange eight fake passports for eight leaders of the Austrian opposition. They left Vienna on March 14, the day before Hitler arrived in the city. Schlamm later edited a paper for Austrian exiles in Prague, Weltbuehne, then emigrated to the US.
A Czechoslovak Opposition was formed in 1928. At first it was quite large with about 6,000 members and control of the communist trade union, Mezinárodní všeodborový svaz. However the group was faction prone along ethnic lines. The Czech element seceded in December 1933 to join the Social Democrats, and from then on the membership was largely confined to the ethnic German Sudetenland. There they face tense competition with Konrad Henleins pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party. In the June 1938 elections the Oppositionists joined a coalition with the Social Democrats and Communists to oppose the SdP, but the Nazis won by wide margins. After the Sudetenland was annexed to Nazi Germany, the Oppositionists went into exile.
The party's trade union centre, meanwhile, was hurt by the defection of CP loyalists who set up another trade union federation. In the mid-1930s the Mezinárodní všeodborový svazvoluntarily merged with the Social Democratic Odborové sdružení československé in order to advance labor unity.
An Opposition group was established in Hungary in 1932. At that time the Hungarian Communist Party was already an underground movement, and the opposition claimed about 10% of its membership.
While never a formal organization, there was a tendency within the Polish Communist Party usually known as the "three Ws" after the leaders -- Adolf Warski, Henryk Walecki, Maria Koszutska (pseud. Wera Kostrzewa). As the Party was already underground in Poland, and the communists already weak the group decided not to create a formal organization, though they were often depicted as followers of Brandler and Thalheimer by the leadership. All three died in Stalinist gulags.
In Switzerland the official Communist Party's leader, Jules Humbert-Droz, was sympathetic to the right Opposition, but he remained loyal to the Comintern leadership until he was expelled in the 1940s. One cantonal section of the Swiss Communist Party, in Schaffhausen, did secede and form a Communist opposition group. For awhile it was quite successful, dominating the local labor movement, especially among tool and watchmakers. In the Oct 20, 1933 election the CPO elected 10 of the 30 local councilors and the CPOs leader, Walter Bringolf, was chosen as mayor. The CPO joined the Swiss Socialist Party by 1936.
There was some resistance in the Italian Party to the new Third Period line. At first the two Italian ECCI members, Palmiro Togliati and Angelo Tasca opposed the Cominterns actions with regard to the German party. However, at the Tenth Plenum in June 1929 Togliatti capitulated to Stalins wishes while Tasca was expelled. Later, at a May 1930 plenum of the Party, politburo members Pasquini and Santini were removed for opposing the Third Period and "organizational measures" were taken against lower cadres.
See Socialist Party
See Mot Dag
A Danish Opposition group was founded in 1933. It lasted at least until February 1938 when it representative attended the ICO unity conference with the London Bureau.
In France the initial purge of the Communist Party in 1929 took mayors or city councilors from Clichy, Auffay, Saint-Denis, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Villetaneuse and Paris. The party's general secretary and the editor of L'Humanité were also demoted. However not all of the expelled necessarily adhered to the ICOs positions; the Parisian councilors, for instance, formed their own party, Workers and Peasants Party, which in turn joined the Party of Proletarian Unity in December 1930. The small national Opposition group joined the expelled Seine Federation of the SFIO in 1938 to from the Workers and Peasants' Socialist Party.
A separate ICO party, the Opposition Communist Party of Alsace-Lorraine (KPO), was created in Alsace. The Alsatian KPO campaigned for autonomy for Alsace, and formed an alliance with clerical autonomist. The Alsatian KPO was led by Charles Hueber (mayor of Strasbourg 1929–1935) and Jean-Pierre Mourer (member of the French National Assembly). It ran a daily newspaper of its own, Die Neue Welt. The Alsatian KPO gradually moved towards pro-Nazi positions, and was expelled from ICO in 1934. A small group remained loyal to the ICO and published a weekly, Arbeiter Politik, but had little influence.
During most of its history the right Opposition in the United Kingdom was represented principally within the Independent Labour Party. Oppositionists joined the Revolutionary Policy Committee which represented their line within the ILP. An independent Opposition group was formed in 1935, but had little influence. By 1938 the line of the ICO had turned toward the "centrist" position of the ILP leadership under Fenner Brockway and the need for independent factions within the party became less tenable.
United States & Canada
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The leading Indian Communist Manabendra Nath Roy was an early and outspoken supporter of the Right Opposition. While he never had more than a marginal following, he wielded extraordinary influence on the left wing of the Indian National Congress and played an instrumental role in the election of Subhas Chandra Bose to the leadership of Congress. However, after Bose split with Congress and formed the All India Forward Bloc, Roy sharply diverged to the point where he even came to oppose the Congress-led Quit India campaign. The split between Bose and Roy was in many ways analogous to the American split between Bertram Wolfe and Jay Lovestone.
While never an official member of the ICO, a Right Oppositionist group split from the Communist Party of Argentina in 1928 led by Jose Penelon. Penelon formed the Partido Comunista de Region Argentina, which was later renamed the Partido Concentracion Obera. It merged with the Social Democrats in 1971.
The Marxist Workers Bloc of Mexico was founded in early 1937. It issued a paper called La Batalla, after POUMs journal and announced its adherence to the ICO. It was never heard from again.
There is little information available on the International Communist Opposition in English. The only book length study is Robert J Alexander's The Right Opposition; The Lovestoneites and the International Communist Opposition of the 1930s (ISBN 0-313-22070-0). Issues of Revolutionary History journal have reprinted a number of texts from members of Right Oppositional groups of the 1930s.
- Ramnath Narayanswamy, review of Peasants, Class, and Capitalism: The Rural Research of L. N. Kristman and his School. Terry Cox, Slavic Review Vol. 47, No. 3 (Autumn 1988), pp. 543–4.
- Robert J. Alexander, The Right Opposition: The Lovestoneites and the International Communist Opposition of the 1930s
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p. 287.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 290-293.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 278-277.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p. 277.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 282-284.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 284-287.
- Morgan, A Covert Life p.127
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 268-269.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp. 270-271.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p. 270.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p.269.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p.277.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp.163-165.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp.163-165.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p.183.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp.262-263.
- Goodfellow, Samuel. From Communism to Nazism: The Transformation of Alsatian Communists, in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 1992), pp. 231-258
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp.264-268.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, pp.259-262.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p.274.
- Alexander, The Right Opposition, p.275.
- For unity of the world Communist movement : a letter to the Independent Labor Party of Great Britain from the Communist Party USA (Opposition)
- A webpage devoted to the American branch of the Right Opposition
- What is the Communist Opposition? by Bertram Wolfe
- International Class Struggle Vol 1 #1 Summer 1936
- International Class Struggle Vol 1 #2 Winter 1936
- International Class Struggle Vol 1 #3 Spring 1937