According to Party statute, the supreme ruling body of the Communist Party was the Party Congress, which in the early twenties was meeting once per year. The Party Congress elected members of Central Committee and the Central Committee had its offices, including the office General Secretary held by Stalin. There was also the Politburo, said to be the highest policy-making government authority under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a body also founded by the Party Congress. It was the Politburo that was running the Soviet Union, and among its seven members were Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. Meanwhile, only Stalin and Trotsky were allowed access to Lenin without an appointment.
With Lenin's death in January 1924, differences of opinion in the Politburo intensified, and every move was being supported ideologically. To keep up with Party polemics and to put an end to a reputation among his colleagues that he was weak in theory, Stalin began taking private bi-weekly lessons on Marxism, taught by a Party philosopher, Yan Sten. Stalin has been described as finding some of it hard going, especially the writings of the philosopher Hegel, whose turgid sentences were difficult for the brightest of people.
An at the top of the Communist Party was the note that Lenin criticizing Stalin for rudeness and abuse of power. To members of the Central Committee, Stalin appeared to have mended his ways with proper humility and manners, and the Central Committee voted that Lenin's note should be revealed to Communist Party members in general.
Members of the Politburo were growing impatient with Lenin's compromise with capitalism: his New Economic Policy of 1921. Trotsky was advocating more socialist manufacturing, while taxes on private enterprise were providing the government with some of its needed revenues. It was the surpluses produced on the more successful farms that were providing the Soviet Union with sales abroad, giving the Soviet Union hard currency with which to buy machinery with which to advance industry, and there were those in the Party who favored letting farms prosper for the sake of more food. Stalin listened to the debates without committing himself.
Stalin didn't like Trotsky considered as Lenin's successor, and he didn't like what he and some other Bolsheviks took as Trotksy's intellectual posturing and arrogant elitism. Eventually, Stalin clashed openly with Trotsky. Stalin enunciated a position that became known as "Socialism in One Country," a position that appealed to rank and file Bolsheviks and their greater interest in matters at home (make the Soviet Union great) rather than revolution abroad. Stalin said that by now, five years after World War I had ended, the capitalist nations had stabilized, revolution abroad was not imminent and the Soviet Union would need to live among the capitalist powers and maintain good relations with them for the sake of the trade and economic growth. Stalin presented his views as orthodox Leninism, employing quotes from Engels and Lenin.
Trotsky was for emphasizing revolution in other countries, and he favored support for the Soviet Union's numerous poor farmers at the expense of its more successful farmers. The conflict between the two became vitriolic, with Stalin boasting about his past as an old Bolshevik while using petty falsehoods to denigrate Trotsky's role in the revolution.
Two members of the Politburo, Zinoviev and Kamenev were close to Trotsky in their advocacy of world revolution and their eagerness to do away with the New Economic Policy. And they were eager for the Soviet Union to do away with free enterprise farming. But they remained opposed to Trotsky and his criticism of Party organization as insufficiently democratic. Trotsky disliked Zinoviev and Kamenev, and these two sided with Stalin. They called for Trotsky's expulsion from the Politburo. Stalin opposed this, posing as the man for Party unity and comity. But Trotsky was removed as head of the Red Army, and he was succeeded by a Stalin supporter: Kliment Voroshilov.
Stalin his allies laid plans for the building of socialist industries alongside some free enterprise. Supporting Stalin in this move was the member of the Politburo who had filled the space on that body vacated by Lenin: Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin, thirty-six years old, was a native of Moscow and he had been a Bolshevik since at least 1908. He was concerned about peasant incentives and Party harassment of farmers holding back progress in agricultural production. He was aware, for example, of peasants hiding a newly purchased machine to avoid being considered rich and a class enemy. Bukharin declared that the peasants should feel free to enrich themselves and develop their holdings, and he pushed the Soviet government into lifting restrictions on more wealthy farmers hiring people to help them work their farms.
In the Politburo, Zinoviev and Kamenev favored extending socialism to farming and repeatedly attacked Bukharin. The conflict extended into the 14th Party Congress in December 1925. Zinoviev and Kamenev worried about Stalin's influence and at the Congress they spoke against Stalin, attacking what they called "one man rule." Lenin's widow, Krupskaya, sided with Zinoviev and Kamenev, noting that the majority is not always right. To the rank and file, which Krupskaya had just insulted, Zinoviev and Kamenev appeared quarrelsome, factional and disruptive. Amid the acrimony, Stalin again appeared as the man of reason and Party unity. When Stalin rose to speak after the verbal attacks upon him, the hall gave him thunderous applause and prolonged cheers.
Kamenev and Zinoviev had not been on speaking terms with Trotsky since opposing him in 1923, but in 1926 they tried to enlist Trotsky on their side against Stalin and Bukharin. They mimicked Stalin's Georgian accent and his body movements. The three formed what was called a "United Opposition" and rallied what little rank and file support they could. They spoke for a more vigorous industrialization, for planned industrial development, and less free enterprise in farming. And now that Kamenev and Zinoviev held minority opinions within the Party they went along with Trotsky's call for greater democracy.
Trotsky complained that he and others with him had no opportunity to state their case to the public. Stalin and his allies launched an open offensive against the Kamanev, Zinoviev and Trotsky, describing the three as guilty of a "Social Democratic deviation" — an accusation taken seriously by many Party members. Meetings of the "Opposition" were broken up. Its members were forced to meet in secret in a forest. Fighting back, Trotsky in front of members of the Central Committee decried what he said would be an end to sincere disagreement in the Party and the Party's eventual ruin. He pointed a finger at Stalin and called him a candidate for the "post of gravedigger of the Revolution." The following day Trotsky was removed from the Politburo, soon Zinoviev and Kamenev were also removed.
On the tenth anniversary of the revolution (7 November 1927) supporters of the Opposition demonstrated in the streets, with banners reading down with NEP men, the kulak and bureaucrats, and "Long live the leaders of the World Revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev." They were attacked by agents of the police and others. No backing for the "Opposition" developed. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky were expelled from the Party and Trotsky was exiled to a remote part of the Soviet Union: Turkestan. Party members who supported the Opposition were expelled from the Party. Former comrades, they were now seen as traitors and threats to the development of proper ideas. Toleration not being one of the characteristics of the Bolshevik regime, dissident Bolsheviks were fired from their regular jobs and their families were hounded.
There were those who were impressed by the "worker's revolution" in Russia, and Italy's labor movement was active. Every month in 1919, workers in Italy's industrial north went on strike. There were tenants who refused to pay rent, and the homes of a few landlords were destroyed. Many villages had someone who was putting himself forward as a revolutionary. And every month the Executive of the General Confederation of Labor announced in favor of the creation of a socialist republic.
Socialists verbally attacked those who had participated in the war, which drove some veterans into the ranks of those posturing as patriots. Not all veterans believed as ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway did that "the things [on the Italian front] that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it." More than a few veterans were marching in the streets, parading their status as combat veterans. The war had been an opportunity for some of them to rise above their low social ranking. And parading with the veterans were those to young to have fought in the war but who saw glory with those who had.
A veteran, Benito Mussolini, founded a movement called Fasci di Combattimento (Fascist Combat Group). "Fasci" referring to an ancient Imperial Roman symbol of power and strength through unity). His little group allied itself with veterans who called themselves the Arditi (the brave). The Arditi were small gatherings of veterans in many towns and organized for violence against those they called traitors. Their respect for combat found expression in street brawling. The Arditi uniform was a black shirt with insignia. Mussolini addressed the Arditi as if he were their leader, boasting how he had defended them "against the slanders of cowardly philistines."
Mussolini had been a member of Italy's Socialist Party, but more envious of the rich than anchored in Marxian dialectics, internationalism or hatred of imperialism. The war in 1914 had turned Mussolini around. He expressed his belief in brute force in international affairs over what he described as sickly, effete, pacifistic idealism. After the war, he proclaimed that Italy had a right to its place in the world and that it needed colonies like Britain's.
Mussolini and his movement needed enemies, and had it in Italy's Socialist Party. In May 1919, Mussolini's group attacked the headquarters of the Socialist newspaper. Despite his speeches, his fascists did poorly in electoral politics. In elections in Milan in late 1919, Mussolini and others in his movement won nothing. Like some other losers in politics, Mussolini resorted to terrorism: he sent bombs through the mail, and he incited a gang of his Arditi supporters to throw a bomb at a procession of socialists celebrating their election victory. Nine people were wounded. Mussolini was tried for his role in the assault. But like those veterans in Germany who committed crimes from "patriotic" motives, Mussolini received a light sentence and spent only a couple of days in prison.
By the end of 1919, Mussolini had fewer than a thousand followers. Discouraged, Mussolini considered giving up politics and traveling the world playing his violin. But he decided to stick it out, and social unrest in 1920 would make it a big year for him. In August 1920 a sit down strike in Milan spread to the city of Turin (100 kilometers to the west) and to factories in other cities. In rural areas, especially in the Po Valley and in Tuscany, land seizures were on the rise. Mobs of demobilized peasant soldiers were overrunning estates. In these areas, socialist and populist leagues, cooperatives and trade unions were active, and in local elections in November they won control in some town councils. Landowners felt threatened by dispossession. They and other farmers and shopkeepers resented demands that they pay more in wages. They resented what they saw as Leftist authoritarianism. Property owners joined together to defend themselves. With the sympathy of the liberal government of Giovanni Giolitti, landlords hired tough gangs of men to protect their lands against land-grabbers. With the violence, Leftist town councils were forcibly dissolved, and buildings owned by socialists were wrecked or burned to the ground.
There was reaction too among factory owners, who resented worker demands including the creation of worker councils within their factories. Prime Minister Giolitti was for compromise between management and labor, and his government pressured employers to make concessions to the workers. Communists in the labor movement saw the compromise as a sell-out. And there were factory owners who remained resentful. Mussolini had been receiving financial support from wealthy admirers, and in the 1920s that support increased substantially, mainly from industrialists and landowners.
Mussolini abandoned his anti-clericalism, realizing that it not helped his movement. Anti-capitalists within his fascist movement accused him of being a tool of the capitalists, but he could afford to ignore or turn against his movement's Left (as Hitler would in Germany). Coming into his movement their place were young men from the lower middle class, from civil service, from respectable bourgeois families, and students from the universities — some who had been junior officers during the war.
After the wave of strikes had ended and a threat of revolution appeared to have subsided, Mussolini continued to speak against Bolshevism and the Socialists. In the streets the Socialists were intimidated and were losing. The fascist squads were better armed than the Socialist Party squads and more willing to attack with violence. The homes of socialists, their printing presses and party headquarters were pillaged at will. Trade union organization was being crushed piecemeal while conservatives in government stood aside as if pleased to see the fall of their political opponents. But in the parliamentary elections of 1921 the Fascist Party won only 35 seats. The Catholic Popular Party increased their representation to 108 seats. The Socialists held on to 135 seats. And as usual the Communists were a small minority: they won only 15 seats. But in addition to controlling the streets, the Fascists became a part of the coalition governed the country.
For several weeks in early 1922 Italy had no government. In contrast to the show of weakness by the parliamentary government, Mussolini was a picture of strength. He spoke of making Italy great again, of reviving the economy, increasing productivity, ending harmful government controls and furthering law and order. Also, he declared his support for the monarchy, and he had the admiration and support of Italy's Queen Mother, Margarita.
Fascist violence increased through the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing in rumors of a possible Fascist coup. General Pietro Badoglio told the King, Emmanuel III, that the military would be able without difficulty to rout the Fascists. His troops were loyal to the king. The Fascists created a sensational drama they described as a march on Rome, which took place during the week of October 22-29. On October 25, Mussolini declared at a rally of some 60,000 in Naples: We want to rule Italy."
King Victor Emmanuel III refused to sign the military order to quell fascist intimidation. Instead, the King handed power to Mussolini. Mussolini was to become Italy's 27th prime minister on 31 October. Fascists marchers were arriving, and Mussolini turned what had been a threat to seize power into a victory parade. Some among the Fascists believed that a new order, or revolution, was in the making, while some others believed that what was taking place was the restoration of what was good about the past.
CONTINUE READING: Stalin become the Great Builder
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.