On this page of TrotskyanaNet we provide a feature about the Biulleten' oppozitsii — B.O. for short —, a serial publication quite unique in the history of journalism, running from July 1929 to August 1941.
Its founder, editor, main inspirer and chief contributor was Leon Trotsky who used it after his expulsion from the USSR as a weapon in his unequal struggle with Stalin.
B.O. was conceived by Trotsky as a mouthpiece and propaganda platform, a theoretical and liaison paper of the left oppositional movement which he inspired and led.
By featuring and analyzing almost all political developments of the last decade before World War II, B.O. was reflecting and expressing the viewpoints of an uncompromising revolutionary Marxist, and thus Anti-Stalinist tendency which at the time was called Left Opposition, or Bolshevism-Leninism, and which later was labeled Trotskyism *.
The Biulleten' Oppozitsii [Bulletin of the Opposition, B.O. for short], was a Russian-language journal (printed in cyrillic characters) launched by Leon Trotsky in July 1929. After he and his fellow-oppositionists had been finally defeated in the factional and power struggles within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1927, Trotsky was first banished to Alma Ata (Soviet Central Asia) in early 1928 and then exiled to Turkey in February 1929.
Trotsky was diprived of Soviet citizenship and from 1929 until his assassination in 1940 he had to spend his life as a 'man without visa' first in Turkey, then in France and Norway and eventually in Mexico. Many of his fellow-oppositionists in the USSR were banished inside the USSR, persecuted, or jailed; during the witchhunt years of the mid-1930s almost all Trotskyists (or, Bolshevik-Leninists as they called themselves) in the USSR fell victim to Stalinist repression and most of them were killed or died of starvation, torture, etc. Even in Western countries, friends, relatives and followers of Trotsky became targets of GPU assassins.
During all those dark years and times of turmoil, B.O. was the mouthpiece of Leon Trotsky, the voice of the Russian opposition to Stalin and a tribune and organ of the movement which later was labeled as Trotskyism.
The very first issue of B.O. was published in July 1929, the last one appeared in August 1941, one year after Trotsky's assassination. Altogether a total of 87 numbers were published although the actual number of separate issues was 65 since there were several double numbers, beginning with the first issue which was numbered 1-2. Up to no. 23 (Aug. 1931) the journal was lacking a volume numbering while beginning with no. 24/25 such a numbering started with the mentioning of 3-i god izd[anii]. The frequency of B.O. was irregular. The total number of pages was ca. 1,800. The issues were ranging in length from 12 to 68 pages, the format was ca. 27x19 cm, two columns per page.
of the B.O. of course was quite limited; with regard to the bulletin's circulation within the USSR in 1929/30 Isaac Deutscher wrote:
"The Bulletin circulated in Moscow - party men returning from assignments abroad, especially members of embassies, smuggled it home and passed it on to friends. Although only a few papers got about in this way the Bulletin seems never to have been printed in more than 1,000 copies - Trotsky's comments and forecasts and the choice morsels of his invective spread quickly by word of mouth. Stalin could not rest on his laurels and contemplate the ferment with equanimity" [Deutscher, Isaac: The prophet outcast, London, 2003, p. 67.]
Many issues were produced size-reduced in order to better smuggling them (by diplomats, sailors, tradesmen and so on) into the USSR where, however, in face of the steadily deepening Stalinist repression, the mere possession of a B.O. copy was reason enough to get trouble or to be arrested and later even worse treatment. Thus circulation inside the USSR became smaller and smaller during the 1930s.
Some interesting details concerning the printrun, receipts, and channels of distribution can be found in the Exile Papers of Lev Trotskii at Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass. (e.g. bMS Russian 13.1, no. T 15878 and T 15879. Document T 15879 [PDF, 540 Kb], undated, but obviously from 1930, untitled, and with various annotations in unidentified hand) which has been reproduced here.
B.O. had some more or less regularly recurrent columns as for example: Iz arkhiva, Iz arkhiva oppozitsii, Pis'ma iz SSSR, Problemy mezhdunarodnoi levoi oppozitsii, Ot izdatel'stva, Ot redaktsii, Bor'ba bolshevikov-lenintsev (oppozitsii) v SSSR, Zametki zhurnalista, Iz SSSR, Iz zhizni mezhdunarodnoi levoi, Reznoe.
The places of publication, the names of the publishers and the masthead of B.O. changed several times:
Nos. 1/2 (July 1929) - 19 (March 1931) were published and printed in Paris, the masthead mentioning [Jean] Meichler (6, rue de Milan, Paris 9e) as publisher. The complete title was Biulleten' Oppozitsii (Bol'shevikov-Lenintsev), from no. 5 (Oct. 1929) with French parallel title Bulletin de l'Opposition (Bolcheviks-Léninistes).
When Lev Sedov, Trotsky's son and managing editor of B.O. — whose name for security reasons did not appear in the paper's masthead — moved from Prinkipo (Turkey) to Berlin, printing and distributing of B.O. was transferred there, too. Thus nos. 20 (Apr. 1931) - 32 (Dec. 1932) were published by A[nton] Grylewicz, Brusendorferstrasse 23, Berlin-Neukölln, the French parallel title was replaced by a German one: Bulletin der Opposition (Bolschewiki-Leninisten).
However, one month after no. 32 had been printed Adolf Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler, all communist and oppositionist press was immediately banned by the Nazi govenment and Lev Sedov had to go underground and flee Germany; he settled in Paris.
Thus publication of the B.O. was resumed in Paris for nos 33 (March1933) - 38/39 (Febr. 1934) where at first Jean Foulon, 2-bis, Rue Etienne-Marey, Paris 20e (no. 33, March 193), then again Jean Meichler (same address as Foulon) and eventually Gabrielle Brausch were mentioned as publishers. The parallel title was again in French: Bulletin de l'Opposition (Bolcheviks-Léninistes).
For only half a year, B.O. went to Zurich where nos. 40 (Oct. 1934) - 43 (Apr. 1935) were published by M. Kater, Postfach 127, Zürich-Selnau. Parallel title remained in French.
From nos. 44 (July 1935) - 77/78 (July 1939) B.O. again returned to Paris. The masthead mentioned as address Librarie du Travail, 17, Rue de Sambre-et-Meuse, Paris 10e. Jean Meichler was again named as publisher before being substituted by Denise Naville from no. 49 (Apr. 1936). After the death of Lev Sedov, i.e. from no. 64 (March 1938) his name appeared boxed on the cover, listing him as the editor from July 1929 to February 1938.
With the outbreak of the Second World War printing and distribution of B.O. was transferred to New York, where nos. 79/80 (Aug./Oct. 1939) - 87 (Aug. 1941) appeared with the English parallel title Bulletin of the Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists). The masthead mentioned the address 116 University Place, New York City, but no responsible person.
Trotsky chiefly intended the B.O. to serve the present needs of the oppositional struggle which became an international struggle since 1929. Under the heading From the publisher Trotsky wrote in the inaugural issue of B.O.:
"It is, however, no less important to serve the present needs of oppositional struggle with the help of correctly arranged information. On the pages of the Bulletin we shall be publishing the current documents of the oppositional struggle, and in general information on the life of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet republic. The Opposition is an international faction and has a right to existence only as such. That is why we shall on these pages give documents which relate to the struggle of the Bolshevik-Leninists not only in the Soviet republic but also in the whole world. The present publication has close connections with corresponding publications of the Bolshevik Opposition in all countries". [B.O. no. 1/2 (July 1929), p.1. Transl. by I. Fraser, cited from Trotsky, Leon: Writings, 1929, New York, 1975, p. 177.]
The issues of the B.O. are containing a rich collection of analysis and polemic from Trotsky's pen on virtually every important event occurring between 1929 and 1940, thus reflecting his views and of course reveiling certain developments in his political analysis and thought as well as certain shortcomings, errors and contradictions. This is not the place coping in detail with Trotsky and his political analyses and comments; instead of this we only want to give some short impression of B.O.'s contents and to highlight some of the themes dealt with on its pages (see also our Selective list of Trotsky's writings published in the Biulleten' Oppozitsii):
One of the first subjects to be discussed by Trotsky was the reason for his exile; thus for example in an Open letter to the workers of the USSR he indignantly denied the rumor that he had left the Soviet Union of his own volition. With regard to the Soviet Union, the major themes dealt with by Trotsky during the first years of the B.O. were of course the so-called left turn of the Stalin faction — which Trotsky used to label centrists — , the forcible collectivization of agriculture, the economic adventurism and the swing from over-caution to extremism with regard to the industrialization of the Soviet Union. The defeat of the so-called rightists (Bukharinists) — towards whom Trotsky remained quite hostile — , the strangulation of inner-party life and the rise of Stalin as a dictator and grave-digger of what Trotsky named the gains of October, were never ending themes dealt with on the pages of the B.O.
Browsing through the issues from year to year, you can learn much about Trotsky's continuing effort toward a development of a theoretical explanation of the degeneration of the workers' state and to come to terms with a social characterization of the contemporary Soviet society and state; sometimes he did so in the form of vitriolic polemics against other left theorists' approaches to the phenomenon of Stalinism, and often he exploited historical analogies such as Thermidor and Bonapartism. Trotsky continually emphasized that the Soviet Union still remained a workers' state (although a degenerated one) because of the means of production not being in private hand and because of the state's foreign trade monopoly. He saw the Soviet Union as a highly volatile transitional society which likewise would return to capitalism (by counterrevolution) or go forward to socialism (by another — political — revolution)
Many other articles discussed the follies and errors of Comintern policy which was nothing but a mirror of Stalin's twists, zig-zags and extremism with regard to domestic and economic policy issues, and which eventually led to a series of historic defeats of the international communist and workers movement, the most serious occurring in Germany in early 1933. The defeat of the Stalinized German Communist Party and of the entire German proletariat led Trotsky to the conviction that it was no longer possible to believe that the Comintern could be reformed. Thus from 1933 Trotsky intensively discussed and propagated on the pages of the B.O. the necessity of launching a new — Fourth — International, and the International Left Opposition was soon renamed Movement for the Fourth International. With regard to the CPSU and the Soviet state Trotsky gave up advocating reform and instead tirelessly emphasized the necessity of a political revolution aiming at the abolition of the bureaucratic Stalinist regime and replacing it by workers' democracy.
From 1929 to 1933 Trotsky was repeatedly concerned with the rise of fascism, especially in Germany; thus in the B.O. you find many articles from his pen dealing with the character of the Nazi party, with the class situation in Germany and with the policy of the workers' parties in face of the fascist danger. Trotsky's analyses of fascism of course belong to the very best he contributed to Marxist theory. By the way, when in 1933 Hitler gained power in Germany, it was Trotsky who wrote in B.O. that this would inevitably mean war against the USSR!
Trotsky also wrote extensively about other international political issues, such for example about the terrible fate of the Chinese revolution as a result from a disastrous policy dictated by the Stalinized Comintern, about the tragedy of the Spanish revolution and civil war, about the errors and dangers of people's frontism and last not least about the unfolding threat of a second world war.
It goes without saying that many pages of B.O. were filled by Trotsky's (and of course other authors') comments and analyses of the murderous purges taking place in the USSR in the mid-1930s, culminating in the grotesque insanity of the so-called Moscow show trials [where Trotsky and his son Lev Sedov were main defendents in absentia], in the physical liquidation of almost the entire old guard of Bolshevik party leaders and in the decapitation of the Red Army.
Stalinist repression and GPU wire-pullings of course affected the B.O. in many ways: thus for instance some of the people who had contributed to B.O. at the very beginning were later exposed as GPU agents while others were killed by Stalinist henchmen; among the victims of Stalinist liquidation were Trotsky's son and longtime managing editor of B.O., Lev Sedov, and two defectors from the Stalinist camp, Kriwizki [Krivitskii] and Poretsky (Reiss) [Raiss].
To summarize, B.O. is an outstanding historical source, allowing to study and appreciate Trotsky's ideas 1929-1940 in their original context and demonstrating dramatically the political fate of the Left Opposition as well as the personal fate of its leaders and their co-thinkers. In view of the great theoretical interest as well as of their historical relevance a good deal of Leon Trotsky's articles published in the B.O. have been translated, published and re-published in various journals, bulletins, pamphlets, books etc. from the 1930s to today; thus most of his B.O. articles have been made available in English and French at least since the completion of the Writings and Oeuvres series in the USA and France, respectively, which both are focussing on his writings from his last exile. But nevertheless a considerable number of B.O. articles by other authors are still available in Russian only. The B.O. remains an indispensible source with regard to Trotsky research and, furthermore, to the study of the interior development of the USSR during the 1930s.
The following judgement was made by Samuel Kassow in his review article Trotsky and the Bulletin of the Opposition (in: Studies in Comparative Communism, 10.1977 (1/2), pp. 194, 196, 197):
"To the very end, Trotsky fought the disillusioning brutality of the modern age with the dogged optimism of the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary, for that was what he remained. Such was the essence of Trotskyism -- an unyielding faith in the political capabilities of the proletariat, a dialectical analysis of modern society which foresaw more violent revolution until the proletariat gained final victory. [...] It is too early to pass final judgement on Trotsky. His Bulletin is more today than just another echo of the 1930s, if only because it can serve to amplify the understanding of one of the most extraordinary and complex Marxist thinkers. It is not overly difficult today to find inconsistencies in Trotsky's thought, but it does seem that many of his insights can provide at least a conceptual framework for an analyis of contemporary Soviet politics. [...] The Bulletin did not rise above 'unorthodox orthodoxy'"
From its launching in July 1929 until August 1940, when he was assassinated by GPU agent Ramón Mercader, Leon Trotsky was editor of the B.O. while the managing editor from 1929 until his death in February 1938 was Lev Sedov, who had to suffer from the burden of this task as well as from his father's rigidity and impatience. With regard to the articles and other contributions published in the B.O. it must be said that most of them - some 500 - came from Trotsky's pen; besides those articles signed by his full name or by the acronym L.T. respectively, there were a lot of others published either unsigned or under one of his pen names (see also the paragraph Availability below and our page Trotsky's pseudonyms). Factually some complete issues of B.O. were written almost entirely by Trotsky alone.
Especially during the first years of B.O. there was a considerable number of articles, letters and statements by several members of the Russian opposition (many of them being banished inside the USSR) and by other correspondents from the USSR. These articles were mostly published anonymously or signed by initials only, for reasons easyly to understand. Trotsky's underground contacts with the Russian opposition became only sporadic after 1931/32 when Stalinist persecution of all shades of opposition grew more and more brutal and extreme. Mention must be of some articles from the pen of the Bolshevik veteran Kh. G. Rakovskii who was a close friend and supporter of Trotsky in the USSR and who didn't capitulate to Stalin when most of the other hitherto oppositionists like Radek, Zinoviev, Preobrazhenskii did so in 1928 and 1929. The stimulating contributions of Rakovskii about the degeneration of the revolution and about what he called the professional dangers of powers stood out for high-level theoretical thinking and laid ground for what later should become the Trotskyist theory of bureaucracy.
One should also mention some articles authored by Ante Ciliga, a member of the Yougoslav Communist Party's central committee who had been arrested in 1930 and had to stay for 5 years in Soviet prison camps, among them in the infamous Verkhne-Uralsk isolator; Ciliga's articles, published in nos. 47 and 48 (1936), were painstaking with regard to what was going on in those camps and what the fate of the Trotskyists and other oppositionists there was.
Remarkable, too, is the fact that under the authors of B.O. there were some defectors from Stalinism, among them Walter Kriwizki [S. Krivitskii, or Val'ter] and Ignacy Poretsky [Ignatsii Rajss] (also known as Ignaz Reiss) whose articles gave some insights into the mechanisms of the Stalinist repression apparatus.
Among the other authors who contributed one or only a few articles were Lev S. Sosnovskii, Aleksandr Barmin, Viktor Serge, Vladislav V. Kossior, Nikolai I. Muralov, F. Dingelshtedt, Lev Sedov [partially using the pseudonym N. Markin], and the famous Chinese oppositionist Chen Duxiu. During the last of B.O., reminiscences of Trotsky and articles about his assassination prevailed and were contributed among others by James P. Cannon, Natal'ia Sedova and Jean Van Heijenoort [using the pseudonym K.M.].
Finally it should also be mentioned that the B.O. was infiltrated by Stalinist agents, recruited and trained by the GPU in order to further factional quarrels, provoking splits among the opposition's leaders, or performing other acts of diversion: Abraham Sobolevicius [A. Senin] and his brother Roman (or, Ruvin) Sobolevicius [Roman Vel'] who even was co-editor of the B.O. Jacob Frank [Graef, Ja. Gref'], who contributed several articles in 1929, shortly thereafter went over to the Stalinists. In later years another Stalinist agent, Mark Zborowski, also known as Etienne, in Paris one of Lev Sedov's closest associates, did also editorial work with the B.O.
[It goes without saying that you can find innumerable references to B.O. in almost all scholarly works dealing with Trotsky/Trotskyism in the period 1929/1941. Literature about Trotsky and B.O. is also listed within chapter 3.3.14 of our Lubitz' Leon Trotsky Bibliography (LLTB)]
No need to say that original specimen of the Biulleten' Oppozitsii are very rare. Thus, for example, in Germany less than half a dozen libraries are in possession of originals and even in the USA there are only some 15 libraries holding the B.O. Sporadically single issues of B.O. are offered by antiquarian booksellers (e.g. Alex Chis).
But owing to Monad Press (New York) a four volume, clearly-printed, complete and sturdily bound reprint edition was published in 1973. As at 2004, it is still available from the distributor, Pathfinder Press (410 West Street, 10014 New York), the price for the 4-volume set (clothbound) is now $ 325.00.
Here are the detailed bibliographical data of this reprint edition:
Biulleten' Oppozitsii / pod redaktsiei L. Trotskogo. - Tom I - IV. - New York, NY : Monad Pr., distributed by Pathfinder Pr., 1973.- ISBN 0-913460-01-X
Tom I (1929-1930) [= nos. 1/2 (July 1929) - 17/18 (Nov./Dec. 1930)]. [564 pp.]
Tom II (1931-1933) [= nos. 19 (1/2 (March 1931) - 36/37 (Oct. 1933)]. [496 pp.]
Tom III (1934-1937) [= nos. 38/39 (Febr. 1934) - 60/61 (Dec. 1937)]. [410 pp.]
Tom IV (1938-1941) [= nos. 62/63 (Febr. 1938) - 87 (Aug. 1941)]. [434 pp.]
Every volume (tom) is provided with a table of contents. Volume I has a publisher's preface, both in English and Russian. The total number of pages is 1.904.
It goes without saying that this excellent reprint edition was very welcomed by scholars and librarians. It has the special advantage that all contributions by Leon Trotsky published under one of his pseudonyms or anonymously are marked by asterisks in the tables of contents. This valuable service was possible due to the bibliographical work of Louis Sinclair.
The reprint edition is available in a considerable number of libraries worldwide, such for example it is being held by some 60 American and by some 20 German libraries.
Cleveland Public Library Preservation Office (Cleveland, Ohio) is in possession of microfilm masters of B.O. (2 reels, 35 mm)
Last not least, some years ago a complete digitized version of the Biulleten' Oppozitsii has been made available in the World Wide Web (thanks to Felix J. Kreisel) within the framework of the Iskra Research website.
Here you can find digitized versions of the front pages of the B.O. first and last issue (July 1929 / August 1941) [PDF, 190 Kb]
Here you can find the tables of contents of all B.O. issues, reproduced from the reprint edition (New York: Monad Pr., 1973). Please note, that an * (asterisk) on the left means that an article was factually written by Trotsky although published in B.O. anonymously or under pseudonym:
Here you can find a selective list of major articles from Trotsky's pen published in B.O., arranged chronologically:
*) The adherents of Leon Trotsky at the beginning called themselves Left Opposition or Bolshevik-Leninists; from 1930 the movement became known as the International Left Opposition (ILO), from 1933 as the International Communist League (Bolshevik-Leninists) (ICL), and from 1936 as the Movement for the Fourth International, before in Sept. 1938 the Fourth International (World Party of Socialist Revolution) was formally launched.
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