The defeats in Britain and China diminished the revolutionary confidence of the Soviet working class. This, in turn, strengthened the bureaucracy and deepened its alienation from the working class. Power in the Soviet Union was consolidated in the hands of a bureaucratic clique headed by Stalin. In 1926, the Left Opposition briefly united with Kamenev and Zinoviev to form the United Opposition. In July-October 1926, Kamenev and Trotsky were expelled from the Politburo, and in November 1927 Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Russian Communist Party. In December, all supporters of the Left Opposition were expelled from the party. While Zinoviev and Kamenev subsequently capitulated to Stalin and rejoined the Communist Party, Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata in January 1928, and was expelled from the Soviet Union in February 1929.
From the beginning of his final exile, Trotsky insisted that all the differences between the Stalinist faction and the Left Opposition stemmed from their adherence to two irreconcilably opposed conceptions of socialism. The Stalinists proceeded from the possibility of constructing an isolated national socialist society, based on the resources of Russia; the Left Opposition insisted that the fate of the workers’ state and its progress toward socialism was inextricably linked to the development of world socialist revolution. In his 1930 preface to a German edition of a pamphlet that he had written two years earlier, entitled The Permanent Revolution, Trotsky summed up the essential issue:
Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labor and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago outgrown the national boundaries. The imperialist war (of 1914-1918) was one of the expressions of this fact. In respect of the technique of production, socialist society must represent a stage higher than capitalism. To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward, even as compared with capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographical, cultural and historical conditions of the country’s development, which constitutes a part of the world unity, to realize a shut-off proportionality of all the branches of economy within a national framework, means to pursue a reactionary utopia.
The political implications of Trotsky’s critique of Stalin’s national socialist perspective extended beyond the problems of Soviet policy. At stake were fundamental questions of the global perspective and strategic tasks of the international working class in the imperialist epoch. Trotsky wrote:
The completion of the socialist revolution within national limits is unthinkable. One of the basic reasons for the crisis in bourgeois society is the fact that the productive forces created by it can no longer be reconciled with the framework of the national state. From this follow, on the one hand, imperialist wars, on the other, the utopia of a bourgeois United States of Europe. The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena. Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.
The conflict that emerged between Stalin and Trotsky was not a subjective fight between two individuals over personal power, but a fundamental battle waged between irreconcilable political programs.