Letter to decists - Vladimir Smirnov

Letter to decists - Vladimir Smirnov

Smirnov, writing from a political-isolator, on the tasks for the 'group of 15'.
The original source for this translation is the upload on scribd by Stephen Shenfield: Collection of documents on the Decists More lengthy translated texts from the decists are here and here.

14/8/1928
Tobolsk district V. Smirnov
Beryozov village

Dear friends!
Tomorrow I am sent somewhere else. I think that from the point of living conditions it will be better, but in terms of relations with comrades worse. What will happen in the end, the devil knows, yes and guessing is inutile. It seems to me, that to speak at a farewell of vivacity, persistence, and so on, is useless and superfluous - as if we have a shortage in both, yes and in general by such words usually nothing is added or lost. So I want only to sum up the result of my impressions about our group here – maybe, that will be useful.
In general, about the main issue - that the reformist path of the proletariat to power already is impossible and that to sow illusions on this score means to deceive the proletariat – on this score there are no differences in the group. This is important. But partial disagreements – a few of which are principal, I already wrote - there are, and nothing conceals this from oneself. It is necessary only to consider these questions orderly together. Precisely to acknowledge, and not to contest, i.e. not discuss them, for the sake of formulating different points of view, but in order to find a common general one. I am confident that this can be achieved, if only this deliberation is not turned into a dispute. To hurry in order to settle this point of view, no use. We are sitting in prison and have opportunity and time to examine all issues orderly. It is necessary that the comrades care not only about finding more arguments in favor of their opinion, but that they carefully try to understand the arguments of other comrades and in connection with the considered questions study the classical literature of marxism and bolshevism. We do not call ourselves "bolshevik-leninists," but we all, in my opinion, should consider ourselves the direct heirs of the revolutionary bolshevism and study seriously its tactics, its method, its approach to decide all issues. The question of the state is now one of the most important issues. It's necessary to re-read Lenin's book "State and revolution" and all that is written on the subject by Marx and Engels. It's necessary to read the final chapters of "The Origin of the family, private property and the state" by Engels, the historical works of Marx and Engels, especially the "18th Brumaire" of Engels. It is necessary, further, to read the controversy on the trade unions and especially the first article of Lenin in the XVIIIth volume, between proletariat and state in the era of proletarian dictatorship, on the role of the party and trade unions. The fetishism of the state in its most grotesque forms Stalin now restored, and our task - to prove, that he has nothing in common with the positing of the question of the state as inevitable only for a time, a legacy left to us by the bourgeois system, in relation to which the task of communists is primarily to fight with it in the period of the conquest of power and get rid of it along with overcoming class society after victory.
Next, we must properly consider the experience of building socialism with us after the victory of the October revolution, since there is no doubt, that despite everything, it gave a great positive experience. Here again Lenin's works must appear as the basis on which this experience should be studied. It is necessary, in particular, step by step to see how we moved on to "NEP", through which intermediate stages, what Lenin's assessment is of each of these periods, how the question was raised about the relationship with the peasantry, and how Lenin's statement differed from the realism of the opportunists "line with the middle peasants", to "worker-peasant bloc", and from the insanely tired out peasant with the baton to the "paradise" of socialism in one country. I think that in this area, we have no reason to abandon the orthodox bolshevik point of view, it is only necessary to develop and establish it in principle for the new stage of revolution.
Next on tactics. Again, the best place to start learning the tactics of the bolsheviks during the revolution - the summer of 1917 (i.e., Lenin volume XIV). It's necessary to carefully observe what the slogan of the Soviets meant and what it represented on itself at different periods until October, how and in what ways in them an alliance of the proletariat and peasantry was carried out and how these organs of the people's revolution, a revolution at bottom a fight against the interim government, which wanted somehow to eliminate the remnants of feudalism from above - behind the masses' back - how these organs were converted into organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In connection with this it's necessary to raise the question of "permanent revolution", which represents for periods of decline of the revolutionnary movement a clearly opportunist theory (the slogan of "fighting for bourgeois democracy", now exhibited by Trotsky for China) and adventurous – in the era of rise.
So far we are experiencing the counterrevolution. We must therefore continue to examine the tactics of the bolsheviks in that period, in particular, spanning the whole controversy with the mensheviks concerning limited and unlimited slogans. It seems to me that if we in this way will hold discussion of questions, studying and deepening them, then we can most quickly and painlessly develop a common position on all major issues, what to be done, I repeat, again, is possible and necessary. From this perspective it seems to me so far to be premature for the publication of a magazine. We have no reason to hurry for external effects. The magazine will have now either the nature of a discussion assortment, which is highly undesirable, when we are in prison in the minority, or the editor has to reject very many articles, although the majority view on a series of questions has not yet discovered. This will inevitably lead to unnecessary squabble and will hinder factual discussion of questions. But an editordial staff must now be created - precisely in order that she will lead the discussion of questions. All principal articles the comrades should address to the editorial staff, who acquaints with them first. Is for more full illumination of the question it still necessary, she concerts with these or other comrades on the written, or writes herself [editorial staff] an article apropos the admission. But the right to indulge in treatment of articles, designed for communication within our group, cannot be granted to her. She only is the first to acquaint with them in order to organize the discussion of the issue - and nothing more. It is clear, of course, that on some issues will release articles also to the entire isolator. The question of which articles must be released here, perhaps, provides the editorial staff, but the editorial staff here as well must exercise the greatest tact and not release for external appeal these articles, regardless of how she relates to them on the matter.
Two words on the trotskyists. Among them there are some good guys, but overall its a direction alien to us. Interesting that, on the one hand, they make all sorts of advances to the existing government, saying, that it may under certain conditions allow peaceful change of "leadership" to proletarian way, but on the other – refer in the most derogatory way to the traditions of bolshevism. Sayings like the fact that the stalinist regime was generated by Lenin's regime, the party that allegedly went bankrupt in 1917 and saved only by the fact, that "rearmed", that the history of the bolshevik party starts only with the year 1917, and similar stupidities may be heared at every step. The point is not only a different assessment of this or the other burning questions by us and them, but about the completely foreign to us approach to address these issues. Extremely characteristic, for example, is the careful picking at the surface of political life, petty rummaging in questions of the struggle between "right" and "left" stalinists, in personal observations on the top and an equally painstaking avoidance of the study of the balance of class forces in the country, which is very often reduced only to the issue of the "mood" of the working class. The latter are then ascribed with their own illusions with respect to the "soviet power", then fearfully look around for "thermidorian moods" in the proletariat, warning of "malignant reactions in the working masses themselves" etc. They are ready to make the mass a weapon for their notorious reform, but afraid to death of the veritable class struggle, rightly fearing, that she will step over their equivocating "guidelines".
That's why I thought that in the emerging revolutionary movement of the proletariat, they would amount to an opportunistic group, something like former mensheviks. And that's why in a letter about the position of Trotsky, I called him a half-menshevik. I think that I'm not mistaken.
Therefore, assigning oneself the task of association with this tendency is useless and harmful. By the way, as usually happens with opportunistic tendencies, it divides into an infinite number of groups and sub-coteries who, without seeing the possibility neither of coming to an agreement, nor to breaking up, cast their glances to the "Leader", who could give them the overall "guidelines", no matter how unstable the latter are. And when this "orientation" is obtained, then, not daring to openly criticize it each direction begins to reinterpret it differently. Their name "bolshevik-leninists" - sheer hypocrisy: with it they want at least somewhat hide the fact that they are not bolsheviks and not leninists.
Good guys, which sometimes are caught among them, must be pulled out of this swamp, but not by making the slightest concession to the moods and views of this swamp, but by strongly denouncing these views. Similarly, in everyday issues and in relation to administration it's necessary to maintain with them a single front, but without for a moment mixing everyday issues with political ones.
It looks like this is all that can be expressed in the short time that I have left.
So, goodbye – until better times.
Friendly greetings to all.
V. Smirnov
10/III-1930
Upper-Ural
P/IZO.