Adolph Joffe

Adolph Joffe

Adolph Joffe was born in Simferopol, Russia, on 10th October, 1883. The son of a wealthy merchant, he became involved in revolutionary activity while a student in the late 1890s.

Joffe joined the Social Democratic Party in 1903 and the following year became involved in smuggling political propaganda to Baku. As he later explained: "In 1904 I was instructed by the Central Committee to convey literature to Baku and to conduct propaganda there. I joined the Baku SD organization, but I had to leave Transcaucasia in the same year to avoid arrest, and I was sent to Moscow for the same sort of work. I was soon exposed there, too, so I took refuge abroad. ",

Joffe moved to Moscow during the 1905 Russian Revolution. The following year he was forced into exile. He lived in Berlin before being expelled from Germany in May, 1906. Joffe now moved to Vienna where he edited Pravda with Leon Trotsky. He often visited Russia and in 1912 he was arrested and after spending ten months in solitary confinement before being exiled to Siberia.

In 1917 Joffe escaped from Siberia and made his way to Petrograd. He was elected to the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolshevik Central Committee. During the October Revolution Joffe was the chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Trotsky claimed that "Joffe was a man of great intellectual ardour, very genial in all his personal relations, and unswervingly loyal to the cause".

In December, 1917, Joffe went with Leon Trotsky as a member of the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. They had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Joffe and Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before they had to sign the treaty.

After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Vladimir Lenin ordered Joffe and Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.

When Leon Trotsky took control of the Red Army during the Civil War, Joffe replaced him as Commissar for Foreign Affairs and carried out negotiations with Turkey and Germany. While in Berlin he was accused of planning a communist revolution and was expelled from the country.

Joffe was a loyal supporter of Leon Trotsky and after Joseph Stalin gained power was sent him abroad as a diplomatic. In 1927 Joffe was one of the few leading Bolsheviks who was willing to defend Trotsky. After the expulsion of Trotsky from the Central Committee, Joffe decided to commit suicide and sent Trotsky a letter: "One does not lie before his death, and now I repeat this again to you. But you have often abandoned your rightness for the sake of an overvalued agreement or compromise. This is a mistake. I repeat: politically you have always been right, and now more right than ever. Some day the party will realize it, and history will not fail to accord recognition. Then don't lose your courage if someone leaves you know, or if not as many come to you, and not as soon, as we all would like. You are right, but the guarantee of the victory of your rightness lies in nothing but the extreme unwillingness to yield, the strictest straightforwardness, the absolute rejection of all compromise; in this very thing lay the secret of Lenin's victories. Many a time I have wanted to tell you this, but only now have I brought myself to do so, as a last farewell."

Adolph Joffe commited suicide on 16th November, 1927.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) The Granat Encyclopaedia of the Russian Revolution was published by the Soviet government in 1924. The encyclopaedia included a collection of autobiographies including one by Adolph Joffe.

In 1904 I was instructed by the Central Committee to convey literature to Baku and to conduct propaganda there. I joined the Baku SD organization, but I had to leave Transcaucasia in the same year to avoid arrest, and I was sent to Moscow for the same sort of work. I was soon exposed there, too, so I took refuge abroad, where I arrived immediately after the events of 9 January 1905. I straightaway returned to Russia and took part in the Revolution in various towns.

(2) Leon Trotsky wrote about Adolph Joffe in his autobiography.

Joffe was a man of great intellectual ardour, very genial in all his personal relations, and unswervingly loyal to the cause. In connection with the activities of Pravda, Joffe went to Russia for revolutionary work. He was arrested in Odessa, spent a long time in prison, and was later exiled to Siberia. He was not set free until February 1917, as a result of the revolution of that month. In the October revolution which followed he played one of the most active parts.

Joffe tried to make his death a service to the same cause to which he had dedicated his life. With the same hand that was to pull the trigger against his own temple half an hour later, he wrote the last evidence of a witness and the last counsel of a friend.

(3) Adolph Joffe, suicide letter sent to Leon Trotsky (16th November, 1927)

I have never doubted the rightness of the road you pointed out, and as you know, I have gone with you for more than twenty years, since the days of 'permanent revolution'. But I have always believed that you lacked Lenin unbending will, his unwillingness to yield, his readiness even to remain alone on the path that he thought right in the anticipation of a future majority, of a future recognition by everyone of the rightness of his path.

Politically, you were always right, beginning with 1905, and I told you repeatedly that with my own ears I had heard Lenin admit that even in 1905, you, and not he, were right. One does not lie before his death, and now I repeat this again to you. But you have often abandoned your rightness for the sake of an overvalued agreement or compromise. This is a mistake. I repeat: politically you have always been right, and now more right than ever. Some day the party will realize it, and history will not fail to accord recognition. Then don't lose your courage if someone leaves you know, or if not as many come to you, and not as soon, as we all would like.

You are right, but the guarantee of the victory of your rightness lies in nothing but the extreme unwillingness to yield, the strictest straightforwardness, the absolute rejection of all compromise; in this very thing lay the secret of Lenin's victories. Many a time I have wanted to tell you this, but only now have I brought myself to do so, as a last farewell.