Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Guest Post by Charles K. Alexander I: Yakov Sverdlov Named General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History

OTL, Bolshevik Party day-to-day leader Yakov Sverdlov died on March 16, 1919, most likely of influenza, but in this alternative, Sverdlov instead recovers his health and is appointed the General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party three years later, in place of Joseph Stalin.
For the Information of Organizations and Members of the RKP. April 3, 1922
Pravda, 4 April 1922.
The Central Committee elected by the XI congress of the RKP has confirmed a secretariat of the TsK RKP consisting of: Comrade Sverdlov (general secretary), Comrade Sokolnikov and Comrade Kuibyshev.
The secretariat of the TsK has established the following schedule of reception hours at the TsK, daily from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.: Monday-Sokolnikov and Kuibyshev, Tuesday-Sverdlov and Sokolnikov, Wednesday-Kuibyshev and Sokolnikov, Thursday-Kuibyshev, Friday-Sverdlov and Sokolnikov , Saturday-Sverdlov and Kuibyshev.
Address TsK: Vozdvizhenka, 5.
Secretary of the TsK RKP, Sverdlov.
Sverdlov's efforts were crucial in the slow but steady expansion of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Civil War, and especially so in forestalling the deepening divisions of the party at it's Tenth Party Congress in March 1921. The velvet glove to Lenin's iron fist, Sverdlov was able to help Lenin win the debate over the Trade Union question that had dominated internal party discussions for months, and the near universal regard for his fairness in party matters meant that a proposal to ban party factions except during pre-Congress discussion periods was never brought forth at the Congress. In 1922, Sverdlov is appointed general secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party along with two economists, Grigori Sokolnikov and Valerian Kuybyshe, both of whom had also served as political commissars in the Red Armies of the Civil War. The appointment coincided with the general deterioration of Lenin's health and was followed by a series of strokes suffered by the Bolshevik leader. While insuring, sometimes ruthlessly, that Lenin got as much rest as possible, at times even bullying Lenin in tandem with his wife, Krupdskaya, Sverdlov also made sure that all factions within the party maintained some level of contact with their acknowledged master. In his final testament to the party, read at the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923 and published widely thereafter, Lenin drew brutally honest sketches of the strengths and weaknesses of the various leaders of the party, highlighting, for example, the sharpness both of Trotsky's mind and his tongue, and recommended that Sverdlov serve as first among equals within the leadership of the party. He also specifically enjoined the party to resist the bureaucratism of the party and the state, and humorously directed the party to not "make too much" of his name after his death, and instead make sure that he received a "swift and proper" burial.

Over the next several years, Sverdlov is able to defuse factional struggles within the party and slowly open up the political life of the country. Trotsky is shifted out of the army and his theoretical and organizational strengths redirected toward the smart and systematic rebuilding and expansion of Soviet manufacturing, and the largely peaceful and gradual collectivization of agriculture. After the failure of the German Revolution of 1923, Zinoviev is removed as leader of the Comintern but retained his post as Party Leader in Petrograd, as Kamenev was in Moscow. Stalin moves from one administrative role to another, with mixed results, and is eventually dropped from the Politburo when he accepts a position as a professor and administrator at Moscow State University, where he becomes notorious for the petty political infighting apparently endemic to academia the world over, and a steady succession of pretty undergraduate interns and personal secretaries.

In 1927, as soon as Chiang Kai-shek turns on the Chinese working class and peasantry, the CCP withdraws from the Kuomintang and launches an uprising against Chiang with the full support of Moscow and the Comintern. Backed by the small but strategically placed urban working class and a significant portion of Chiang's military - much of the officer corps had been trained by Soviet military specialists, and besides recruiting many of the soldiers, CCP cadre had been in charge of the army's political education - the CCP makes the crucial decision to back peasant uprisings in the countryside instead of trying to tamp them down. The showdown with Chiang, the hollow rump of the KMT. and the landlords and bourgeoisie of South China is short, bloody and followed by a CCP-led Northern Expedition that ultimately unites the nation. European and Japanese military intervention is checked by Soviet troop mobilizations on China's borders on the one hand and American diplomacy, generously acknowledged and compensated, on the other. After ten long years in the international wilderness, the Soviet leadership and party membership is buoyed by the world's second successful proletarian revolution, and the Soviet populace excited by their country's central role in midwifing that revolution and in forcing the imperialist powers to back down. This first crack in the Imperialist System is also welcomed with excitement across the colonial and semi-colonial world.

With the confidence it imbibed from the successful Chinese Revolution, the Soviet Communist Party in 1928 takes the important step of lifting the Civil War ban on non-Communist parties loyal to the Soviet state, allowing Left Menshevikks, Left Socialist Revolutionaries and assorted anarchists and even left nationalists to openly organize and contest elections to the Soviets or any other organs of state power, local, regional or national. On maintaining the ban on anti-Soviet parties, James P. Cannon, a representative of the American Communist Party attending the 6th World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow in the Summer of 1928, is quoted in the press to the effect that "just as parties committed to the restoration of the American colonies to the British Crown would not have been permitted in the first decades of the United States of America, so parties advocating the restoration of either czarism or capitalism could not be allowed in the still young Soviet Union."

When Hitler is offered the post of Chancellor of Germany in 1933 the German working class, Social Democratic and Communist, rises up and prevents the Nazis from taking state power. The Nazis and other far right elements, along with a significant portion of the German bourgeoisie, are driven out of Germany after a short but sharp civil war that turns into the world's third successful proletarian revolution, the first in a heavily industrialized country. The Communist Party, maintaining its political independence but supporting working class unity in the civil war, comes to the fore as the reformist left splinters, but the deep social democratic roots in the working class result in the quick development of a multi-party, revolutionary and proletarian democratic state. While German industrialists decide to spend their hopefully brief exiles in Paris, London or Z├╝rich, the hardcore reactionaries, fascists and Nazis are concentrated in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, Poland and, especially, Austria. The Czechs largely succeed in disarming them, the Poles let them conduct terrorist attacks across the border and are tempted to allow them to launch a campaign into East Prussia, but their awful strategic position, caught between Red Russia to the east and the new Red Germany to the west, forces them to keep the leash on the German rightist exiles.

Austria is the most destabilized neighbor of revolutionary Germany, as the exiled Nazis want to take state power to secure a solid base for their campaign to win back Germany. The Conservative Party and Austro-Fascists can find only one solution that will prevent the Nazis from dragging a much-reduced Austria into another war in Germany, while still keeping a lid on "Red Vienna" and the Austrian Social Democracy's military arm, and give the bourgeoisie, petite bourgeoisie and countryside a unifying and legitimately Austrian pole around which to rally. Otto von Habsburg is invited to return to Austria as a constitutional monarch, and while the dickering over whether he would return as an Archduke or an Emperor nearly derailed the deal, he is able to unite enough of the country - social democratic left to nationalist right, farmers, workers and aristocrats - to militarily suppress the Nazis, all without provoking either a revolutionary uprising in their rear or Red German intervention. Otto thereby proves that even in a new age of revolution, the Habsburgs still have the knack for coming out on top.

Using lessons learned from the Chinese Revolution and its aftermath, and with its Communist Party playing the goad, proletarian revolution also succeeds in Spain in the mid- to late-1930's. The Spanish Left, while still deeply divided between revolutionary Communists, reformist Socialists and both revolutionary and reformist Anarcho-Syndicalists, unites in declaring proletarian political independence from the liberal and establishment backers of the bourgeois Republic and defeat the center-right lash-up of Spanish Republicans and their Catholic, nationalist, fascist and monarchist critics. The military is undercut by the left's support for independence for Spain's African colonies, the countryside is lost to the right with the left's backing of the expropriation of the land by Spain's desperate peasants, and where France's Popular Front dithers, the Soviet Union, Germany and China provide the revolutionaries with more aid than Mussolini's fascist Italy and Britain's Tories can muster for the Republic and its counter-revolutionary attack dogs. As international volunteers from the left and right join their respective Spanish allies on the frontlines, the final act of Germany's civil war is played out on the Spanish plain, with hundreds of Nazis and more than a thousand other German rightists losing their lives in support of Spanish reaction.

Twenty years after the October Revolution, with a capitalist world still deep in the throes of the Great Depression, there exists a Soviet Union with a rapidly expanding economy and a steadily broadening political sphere, a stabilizing revolutionary Germany with a somewhat chaotic but vibrant proletarian "Council Communist" republic, a Spain flying the Red and Black flag at the end of its Civil War, and a reunified China industrializing with the help of Soviet and German experts, re-writing the rules of its relationships with the imperialist powers that had carved it up, inspiring colonial and semi-colonial peoples everywhere, and arming itself in case the European powers and America decide to back Imperial Japan in a play to roll back the revolutionary tide and grab China's resources, thereby - just as an afterthought, of course - distracting resource-poor Japan from their own Asian and Pacific colonies and territories.

All this because the nearly forgotten Yakov Sverdlov survived the flu (or was it typhus, TB or an anti-Bolshevik attack?) in March 1919 and remained in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Bolshevik Party long enough for the Civil War to end, the revolution to get some breathing room, and the bureaucracy and its creature, Stalin, to be strangled in its crib and kept from seizing and corrupting the Party, the Revolution, the Soviet Union, the international Communist movement and ultimately, the very idea of revolutionary change.

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