Communism and its Factions

As I’ve studied Communism, the numerous splits and factions that occurred within it grew ever more confusing to me. There are so many variants, that I decided to identify as many as I could and summarize them in a clear way. I narrowed my scope only to any faction relevant to Russia and the Soviet Union. It was tempting to delve into groups that formed in Europe or Asia, but the list simply became too unwieldy. Some factions, frankly, barely existed and were mere figments of Stalin’s imagination. Still, there are enough points of view that live in the spectrum of Communism to make them worthy of review. As always, one man’s ideology was another man’s deviation. People lived and died in defense of these ideals. To understand them helps students like me keep track of how the perpetual political machinations in Communist history took place. It also makes one see the full span of thought in man’s mind and soul.

This list is a work in progress, so please bear with me as I educate myself and turn those lessons into print. I will include key dates and figures, as necessary, along with any context that I view as worthy of further explanation. Also, many of these factions existed outside of Russia. However, I will usually omit them for the sake of brevity. In cases where non-Russians play a key role in the formulation of these ideas, I will include them and connect them to how they ultimately impacted Russia specifically. I will also provide footnotes and links to additional reading, as needed. Enjoy.


Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin.

Marxism-Leninism develops Marxism from a social and economic theory into a fully fledged political ideology incorporating a key methodology to take power. The most important factor of Leninism is the theory of the vanguard party, which is a communist party of professional revolutionaries to spearhead the workers revolution. Leninism also states that the bourgeois consciousness has so infected the working class under capitalism that workers by themselves are only capable of achieving “trade union consciousness” instead of full class consciousness. The revolutionary party’s job is to raise their awareness of class struggle and promote uprising. According to Marxism-Leninism, the revolution cannot happen spontaneously or gradually, and must take the form of a violent revolution against the state to overthrow capitalism.

Marxism-Leninism is often called by Trotskyists “Stalinism,” but is actually an extension of Leninist thought. Stalin’s theories are virtually the same as Lenin’s. Stalin added the concept of “Socialism in One Country” which corrected Marx’s theory of a world-wide revolution as the only way to true socialism. Stalin maintained that true socialism could be built in a single country. Everyone but Trotskyists maintain this as the correct scientific line. Stalin also added the theory of active antagonism between classes under socialism, which he called the “Aggravation of Class Struggle under Socialism.” Marxism-Leninism takes its chief ideas from Stalin and Lenin’s additions to the theory of Marxism and also stresses the importance of heavy industry and collectivization of agriculture.


Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky

Trotskyism bases itself on some of the theories of Leninism: the vanguard party, the revolution, et al. However, Trotskyism differs from Lenin and Stalin’s line in several ways. Most importantly, Trotskyists despise Stalin and Marxist-Leninist movements that they deem “Stalinist.” They are highly critical of the leadership of the Soviet Union after Lenin, and generally believe any and all bourgeois propaganda about communist leaders other than Lenin. (i.e. “Stalin killed more people than Hitler.”)

Instead of countering the inflated death tolls for communist leaders that actually DID something, Trotskyists tend to act like liberals in that they compare actual revolution to idealist, abstract ideas. They believe that socialism has never been achieved in any country. All those socialist countries that do exist they term “deformed workers’ states,” and all existing leaders they term “Stalinist.” Trotskyism has never been in power in all of history, the closest to a Trotskyist government being Tito’s Yugoslavia, even though modern Trots condemn even him as “Stalinist.” Trotskyites and other idealistic lefties who label all of these governments anti-socialist are comparing imperfect realities with perfect ideals. Such a comparison can never be made.

Trotsky’s theories stress the importance of spreading the revolution by way of arms internationally, as well as claiming that socialism cannot be built without a world revolution (that is, you cannot create socialism in a single country). Trotskyists also tend to be very anti-peasant and anti-intellectual, stating that the workers themselves are the only ones with revolutionary potential.

Trotskyists are known to be the most sectarian of all communist movements. Trotskyite parties tend to be fairly small, but there are many of them. Unfortunately they make up the bulk of the communist movement in highly developed capitalist nations with anti-Stalin sentiment. They are constantly splitting into new groups, all of which bitterly hate each other. Calling someone a “Trotskyite” or a “Trot” is a pejorative term within the movement, and rightly so.

Left Deviationists

Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev

In 1925 there was considerable debate over whether or not to continue with the NEP. Did it favor the peasants over the workers? Kamenev and Zinoviev (known as the ‘Left Opposition’)argued that it did and so should be discontinued. Perhaps it is not surprising that the two leaders whose support lay in the two major cities of Moscow and Leningrad should have sympathized with the workers rather than the peasants. They faced the opposition of Bukharin who, on the contrary, argued that the NEP worked effectively to develop the economy of the USSR and so should be continued. It was at the 14th Party Congress in1925 that Kamenev attacked not only the NEP, but also Stalin’s policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’. The Central Committee was already filling with supporters of Stalin, however, and a vote was taken to remove Kamenev from the Politburo. This occurred when the membership of the Politburo increased to nine and Molotov, Kalinin and Voroshilov (all supporters of Stalin) were voted on. The troika was disbanded.

The Left Opposition became the United Opposition in 1926 when Kamenev and Zinoviev were joined by Trotsky. They were branded by Stalin as ‘factionalists’ (see the 10th Party Congress resolution in 1921) and expelled from the Central Committee and the Party. Trotsky was exiled to Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan. Kamenev and Zinoviev, knowing when they were beaten, repented and were allowed back into the Party.

The Right Opposition or the Right Deviationists

Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky

Stalin demonstrated a change of heart in 1927 when he began to criticize the NEP and to advocate a harsher policy towards the peasants. The War Scare had led to another spell of hoarding by the peasants and a subsequent rise in food prices. Stalin was not prepared to tolerate this and spoke of the need to industrialize and to bring agriculture under the control of the state. This belief was directly contrary to Bukharin’s idea that the NEP worked effectively by giving peasants the incentive to produce more. By 1928, Stalin had started a policy of grain requisitioning. The days of the NEP were numbered. Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were voted off the Politburo in 1929.

By 1929, Stalin had established his position as the most powerful member of the Politburo. He had undermined the authority of the Bolsheviks who had risen to power alongside him after the October Revolution. New members of the Politburo and close comrades of Stalin included Voroshilov, Mikoyan and Molotov. These three personalities were to remain alive(quite an achievement) and close to Stalin for the rest of his life.

More to come…


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