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Right Opposition

Right Opposition

The Right Opposition was the name given to the tendency made up of Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov 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.

Emergence

The struggle for power in the Soviet Union after the death of 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 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 Stalinist 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 Andres Nin's Izquierda Comunista in 1935 to form the 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

In February 1938, at the Revolutionary Socialist Congress in Paris, the International Communist Opposition and the London Bureau (led by the Independent Labour Party of Britain) organized the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity. The IBRSU was an eclectic "revolutionary centrist" organisation. "Centrism" refers to the fact that its members moved between social democracy and revolutionary Communism. This underscored much of the ideological problems facing Bukharin's supporters, in that they lacked a political space of their own. Their ideas had little to differentiate themselves from social democracy and provided little reason for them to have an independent existence.

In the United States, Lovestone's CP(O) changed its name to the Independent Communist Labor League, and then the Independent Labor League of America, marking its move away from Communism. It also suffered several splits: First, in the early years, it split over the refusal of the majority to criticize Stalin's domestic policies, resulting in Ben Gitlow's departure in 1933. Later, a factional dispute developed between Lovestone and Bertram Wolfe over the issue of the war. In 1939 the group saw the war as an imperialist conflict and opposed American participation. However, after the fall of France in 1940, Lovestone began to change his position and, while still opposing America's joining in the war, came out in favour of American military aid to Britain (known as Lend-Lease), while Wolfe continued to support the ILLA's older anti-war policy. By that time, however, there was very little reason for the ILLA's continued existence, since its policies were practically identical to those of mainstream social democrats. At the end of 1940, the leadership of the ILLA decided to dissolve the organization and passed a resolution to that effect at its final convention held on December 28 and 29, 1940.

During World War II, the International Communist Opposition in Europe also disappeared. Its once significant movement in Germany had been forced underground by the Third Reich and ultimately destroyed. The Spanish movement was suppressed by the Stalinist Communist Party and ultimately destroyed by Francisco Franco's fascist victory. The groups in other countries did not survive the Nazi occupation. And in an odd development, a split group of the Swedish party, led by Nils Flyg, oriented itself towards a pro-Nazi position during the war, and disintegrated after the defeat of Germany.

The former supporters of the Right Opposition in the United States drifted to the right-wing of the labour movement and into anti-Communist activities, with Lovestone working for many years both for the AFL-CIO and the CIA. In other countries, its supporters either drifted into mainstream social democratic movements, towards more viable anti-Stalinist trends within Communism (such as Trotskyism) or towards Stalinism itself.

List of groups associated with ICO

Further reading

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.

Notes

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