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Lev Davidovich Bronshtein (he assumed the name Leon Trotsky in 1902) was born in Yanovka, Russia, on 7th November, 1879. His parents were Jewish and owned a farm in the Ukraine. When Trotsky was eight years old his father sent him to Odessa to be educated. Six years later he was transferred to Nikolayev where he was first introduced to the ideas of Karl Marx.
In 1897 he became involved in organizing the underground South Russian Workers' Union. He was sent to Siberia after being arrested for revolutionary activity. After four years in captivity, he escaped and eventually made his way to London. Trotsky joined the Social Democratic Party and while in England he met and worked with a group of Marxists producing the journal Iskra. This included George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich, Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov.
At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Party held in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists. Martov won the vote 28-23 but Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.
A large number of the Social Democratic Party joined the Bolsheviks. This included Gregory Zinoviev, Joseph Stalin, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Mikhail Frunze, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze, and Alexander Bogdanov.
Trotsky supported Julius Martov. So also did George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Vera Zasulich, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan. Trotsky returned to Russia during the 1905 Revolution. Trotsky became heavily involved in the creation of the St. Petersburg Soviet and was eventually elected chairman. Over the next few weeks over 50 of these soviets were formed all over Russia.
Anatoli Lunacharsky recorded: "Trotsky's popularity among the St. Petersburg proletariat was very great by the time of his arrest, and this was increased still further by his strikingly effective and heroic behaviour at the trial. I must say that Trotsky, of all the Social Democratic leaders of 1905-06, undoubtedly showed himself, in spite of his youth, the best prepared; and he was the least stamped by the narrow emigre outlook which handicapped even Lenin. He realized better than the others what a state struggle is. He came out of the revolution, too, with the greatest gains in popularity; neither Lenin nor Martov gained much. Plekhanov lost a great deal because of the semi-liberal tendencies which he revealed. But from then on Trotsky was in the front rank."
With the failings of the Duma, the Soviets were seen as the legitimate workers' government. Trotsky and the Soviets challenged the power of Nicholas II and attempted to enforce promises made in the October Manifesto such as the freedom of the press, assembly and association. In December, 1905, the St. Petersburg Soviet was crushed and Trotsky was arrested and imprisoned.
In October, 1906 Trotsky was sentenced to internal exile and deprived of all civil rights. While in prison Trotsky developed the theory of permanent revolution. After two years in Siberia Trotsky managed to escape and eventually reached Vienna where he joined forces with Adolf Joffe to publish the journal, Pravda. Trotsky was now seen as one of the most important figures in the Russian revolutionary movement and Vladimir Lenin asked Lev Kamenev to try and persuade him to join the Bolsheviks.
On the outbreak of the First World War Trotsky was forced to leave Vienna. He went to Zurich where he published a pamphlet attacking German socialists for supported the war. In November, 1914, Trotsky moved to Paris where he became one of the editors of Social Democratic Party newspaper, Nashe Slovo.
Trotsky continued to denounce the First World War and joined with the pacifists in urged workers not to participate in the conflict. This led to him being arrested by the French authorities and in September, 1916, he was deported to Spain. Hounded by the Spanish police, Trotsky decided to move to the United States.
After the overthrow of Nicholas II in February, 1917, Trotsky set off for Russia. However, Okhrana had been monitoring Trotsky's activities and managed to persuade the British authorities to arrest him when his ship arrived in the Canadian port of Halifax. The police held Trotsky in detention for a month and he was only released after protests from the Provisional Government.
Trotsky arrived back in Russia in May, 1917. He disapproved of the support that many leading Mensheviks were now giving to the Provisional Government and the war effort and in July joined the Bolsheviks. The new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, now realized that Trotsky was a major threat to his government and had him arrested.
On 7th September, General Lavr Kornilov demanded the resignation of the Cabinet and the surrender of all military and civil authority to the Russian Army. Kerensky responded by dismissing Kornilov from office and ordering him back to Petrograd.
Lavr Kornilov now sent troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Kerensky was now in danger and so he called on the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but insisted on the release of their members from prison. Trotsky was released and on 23rd September, he was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He immediately helped to enlist 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd.
While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops eventually decided to refuse to attack Petrograd. Trotsky also became a member of the Petrograd Revolutionary Committee and played an important role in organizing the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power.
In November, 1917, Vladimir Lenin appointed Trotsky as the people's commissar for foreign affairs. The following month he led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. Trotsky 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 Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he 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 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.
After the October Revolution it was decided by Vladimir Lenin that the old Russian Army would have to be turned into an instrument of the Communist Party. The old army was demobilized and in January 1918 the Soviet government ordered the formation of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants. Trotsky, as Commissar of War, was appointed its leader.
The Red Army had to be established quickly as it was needed to fight the White Army during the Civil War. Trotsky was forced to recruit a large number of officers from the old army. He was criticized for this but he argued that it would be impossible to fight the war without the employment of experienced army officers.
Initially a volunteer army, losses during the Civil War forced the Soviet government to introduce conscription in June, 1918. Vladimir Lenin was impressed by Trotsky's achievements and in 1919 remarked to Maxim Gorky: "Show me another man who could have practically created a model army in a year and won respect of the military specialist as well."
An outstanding military commander, Trotsky led his five million man army to victory and in doing so ensured the survival of the Bolshevik government. Trotsky was also elected a member of Communist Party Central Committee. Much to the dismay of his former supporters, Trotsky advocated the idea of the State control of trade unions and their merging with government bodies. This lost him the support of former Mensheviks such as Alexandra Kollontai.
By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were angry about the lack of democracy and the policy of War Communism. On 28th February, 1921, the crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political freedoms.
Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European supporters. On 6th March, Trotsky announced that he was going to order the Red Army to attack the Kronstadt sailors. However, it was not until the 17th March that government forces were able to take control of Kronstadt. An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt and went to live in Finland. Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. Historians who have studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this. According to Victor Serge over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion.
Nikolai Sukhanov reminded Trotsky that three years previously he had told the people of Petrograd: "We shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the minority." Trotsky lapsed into silence for a while, then said wistfully: "Those were good days."
In 1921 Alexandra Kollontai published her pamphlet The Workers' Opposition, where she called for the trade unionists to be given more political freedom. She also argued that before the government attempts to "rid Soviet institutions of the bureaucracy that lurks within them, the Party must first rid itself of its own bureaucracy." Trotsky's prestige in the government was now very high and those who held these anti-bureaucratic views were either dismissed from office or were sent abroad as members of the diplomatic service.
Vladimir Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. His health had been poor ever since Dora Kaplan had shot him in 1918. Severe headaches limited his sleep and understandably he began to suffer from fatigue. Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party. At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Vladimir Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Joseph Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more than "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Vladimir Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Joseph Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Vladimir Lenin was immobilized, Joseph Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please Stalin they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Vladimir Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's life, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of the phone-call, Vladimir Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership. He wrote: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
However, Vladimir Lenin died before any action was taken. For a while Trotsky was considered to be the person who would replace the ailing Vladimir Lenin. However, Trotsky's inability to compromise had made him many enemies. His anti-Bolshevik past also made him unpopular with those who had been members of the Bolshevik faction since 1903.
After the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin joined forces with two left-wing members of the Politburo, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev to keep Trotsky from power. Both these men had reason to believe that Trotsky would dismiss them from power once he became leader. Stalin encouraged these fears. He also suggested that old party activists like themselves had more right to lead the Bolsheviks than Trotsky, who had only joined the party in 1917.
Trotsky accused Stalin of being dictatorial and called for the introduction of more democracy into the party. Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev united behind Stalin and accused Trotsky of creating divisions in the party.
Trotsky's main hope of gaining power was for Lenin's last testament to be published. In May, 1924, Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, demanded that the Central Committee announce its contents to the rest of the party. Gregory Zinoviev argued strongly against its publication. He finished his speech with the words: "You have all witnessed our harmonious cooperation in the last few months, and, like myself, you will be happy to say that Lenin's fears have proved baseless. The new members of the Central Committee, who had been sponsored by Stalin, guaranteed that the vote went against Lenin's testament being made public.
In 1925 Stalin was able to arrange for Trotsky to be removed from power. Some of Trotsky's supporters pleaded with him to organize a military coup. As commissar of war Trotsky was in a good position to arrange this. However, Trotsky rejected the idea and instead resigned his post.
Trotsky and Joseph Stalin clashed over the future strategy of the country. Stalin favoured what he called "socialism in one country" whereas Trotsky still supported the idea of world revolution. In 1927 Stalin was able to get Trotsky expelled from the Communist Party. Two years later he was ordered to leave the Soviet Union. As Trotsky was still advocating world revolution, most countries refused to take him in. Eventually he was accepted by Turkey and soon afterwards he heard that his daughter, Zina, had died in mysterious circumstances in Berlin.
In July, 1933, Trotsky moved to France. The French government came under pressure from Fascists and Stalinists to expel Trotsky from the country. In April, 1934, the French government issued a decree ordering Trotsky's deportation. However, no other country would accept him and it was not until June, 1935, that Norway accepted him.
The Norwegian government was now encouraged to expel Trotsky. Under pressure from Joseph Stalin, the government placed him under house arrest before being deported to Mexico in December, 1936. The following year Trotsky's son Sergi was arrested in the Soviet Union. He was later to die in one of Stalin's concentration camps.
In April, 1937, Trotsky appeared before a commission of inquiry in New York headed by John Dewey. Trotsky was found not guilty of the charges of treason being made by Stalin. Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, died in mysterious circumstances in Paris on 16th February, 1938 and it is generally believed that he was murdered by the GPU.
The journalist, Walter Duranty, met Trotsky several times when he worked in Moscow: "A great man Trotsky, of that there is no doubt, a man of superlative mental ability, and a most competent executive withal; a man of proven courage, both physical and moral, a splendid writer and orator with the rare power of equal appeal to an intelligent and to a popular audience. In all history there are few careers so romantic as that of Trotsky: to have risen from so low to such a height, to have shone so bright in the sun, and have done brave deeds in a quaking world - and then to have fallen again to nothing, to spend his declining years in spiteful twilight. What a tragic fate for this man who was gifted with intelligence and force beyond his fellows, yet cursed by the folly of selfishness and pride."
While in exile Trotsky published My Life (1930), History of the Russian Revolution (1932) and The Russian Revolution Betrayed (1937). George Bernard Shaw said of these books: "When Trotsky cuts off his opponent's head, he holds it up to show that there are no brains in it." After the publication of the three volumes on the Russian Revolution the critic, Bertram D. Wolfe, argued: "It is a history which no historian of Russia and no historian of revolution can afford to neglect. But let him be forewarned that Trotsky's is a pen that is frequently as persuasive as it is continuously one-sided... But particularly here must the reader come well equipped with an awareness of the truths of the defeated - the more so because somewhere concealed in this blinding flood of words which record the victory of Trotsky and his party, are also some of the secrets which explain why Trotsky, too, must in the end be reckoned as one of the defeated."
Cass Canfield, the head of Harper & Brothers, persuaded Trotsky to write a book about Joseph Stalin. He meet Trotsky for the first time in 1940: "The first impression Trotsky made was one of unusual vitality and health; he was rosy-cheeked and bouncy. I was struck with his fine brow and shock of white hair, his strong face and expressive mouth. He was neatly dressed in gray trousers and a white Russian smock.... Trotsky possessed a naturally inquisitive mind and, perhaps because of his confinement to one place, was eager to learn all he could about what was going on in the world. He asked countless questions and listened carefully to everything we said. This was a response I had never encountered before from a world figure, most of whom like to do all the talking."
(1) Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1971)
My father and mother lived out their hard-working lives with some friction, but very happily on the whole. Of the eight children born of this marriage, four survived. I was the fifth in order of birth. Four died in infancy, of diphtheria and of scarlet fever, deaths almost as unnoticed as was the life of those who survived. The land, the cattle, the poultry, the mill, took all my parents' time; there was none left for us.
We lived in a little mud house. The straw roof harboured countless sparrows' nests under the eaves. The walls on the outside were seamed with deep cracks which were a breeding place for adders. The low ceilings leaked during a heavy rain, especially in the hall, and pots and basins would be placed on the dirt floor to catch the water. The rooms were small, the windows dim; the floors in the two rooms and the nursery were of clay and bred fleas.
On the hill above the pond stood the mill - a wooden shed which sheltered a ten-horse-power steam-engine and two millstones. Here, during the first years of my childhood, my mother spent the greater part of her working hours. The mill worked not only for our own estate but for the whole neighbourhood as well. The peasants brought their grain in from ten and fifteen miles around and paid a tenth measure for the grinding.
(2) Julius Martov, letter to Pavel Axelrod on Leon Trotsky (2nd March, 1903)
Lenin has proposed to us that we admit Trotsky, whom you know, to the board of editors, with full rights. His literary work shows undeniable talent, he is quite "ours" in thought, he has wholly identified himself with the interests of Iskra, and here, abroad, he wields considerable influence, thanks to his exceptional eloquence. He speaks magnificently; he could not do better.
(3) After the 2nd Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party Leon Trotsky wrote about why the split took place.
One can say of Lenin and Martov that, even before the split, even before the Congress, Lenin was 'hard' and Martov 'soft'. And they both knew it. Lenin would glance at Martov, whom he estimated highly, with a critical and somewhat suspicious look, and Martov, feeling his glance, would look down and move his thin shoulders nervously.
How did I come to be with the 'softs' at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulich and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable. The split came unexpectedly for all the members of the congress. Lenin, the most active figure in the struggle, did not foresee it, nor had he ever desired it. Both sides were greatly upset by the course of events. After the Congress Lenin was sick for several weeks with a nervous illness.
(4) Anatole Lunarcharsky wrote about the role of Trotsky in the failed 1905 Russian Revolution his book Silhouettes.
Trotsky's popularity among the St. Petersburg proletariat was very great by the time of his arrest, and this was increased still further by his strikingly effective and heroic behaviour at the trial. I must say that Trotsky, of all the Social Democratic leaders of 1905-06, undoubtedly showed himself, in spite of his youth, the best prepared; and he was the least stamped by the narrow émigré outlook which handicapped even Lenin. He realized better than the others what a state struggle is. He came out of the revolution, too, with the greatest gains in popularity; neither Lenin nor Martov gained much. Plekhanov lost a great deal because of the semi-liberal tendencies which he revealed. But from then on Trotsky was in the front rank.
(5) Leon Trotsky, statement made to the Petrograd Soviet (6th November, 1917)
On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the provisional government is no longer existent. Some ministers have been arrested. Others will be arrested in the course of a few days or hours. The revolutionary garrison, at the disposal of the Military-Revolutionary Committee, has dissolved the session of the Pre-Parliament. We have been on the watch here throughout the night and have followed the detachments of revolutionary soldiers and the workers' guards by telephone as they silently carried out their tasks. The citizen slept in peace, ignorant of the change from one power to another. Railway stations, the post-office, the telegraph, the Petrograd Telegraph Agency, the State Bank, have been occupied. The Winter Palace has not yet been taken, but its fate will be decided during the next few minutes.
(6) During October, 1917, Leon Trotsky's wife, Natalya Sedova, wrote about the events of the Russian Revolution.
I remember that on the morning of the second or third day after the uprising, I dropped into a room at the Smolny and found Lenin and Trotsky. With them were Dzerzhinsky, Joffe, and a crowd of others. Their faces were a greyish-green from lack of sleep; their eyes were inflamed, their collars soiled, and the room was full of smoke. It seemed to me that orders were being given as if by people who were asleep. For a moment I felt as if I were seeing it all in a dream, and that the revolution was in danger of being lost if "they" didn't get a good sleep and put on clean collars. I remember that next day I met Lenin's sister, Marya Ilinishna, and reminded her hurriedly that Lenin needed a clean collar.
(7) Maxim Gorky, New Life (7th November, 1917)
Lenin and Trotsky and their followers already have been poisoned by the rotten venom of power. The proof of this is their attitude toward freedom of speech and... toward all the ideals for which democracy was fighting. Blind fanatics and conscienceless adventurers are rushing at full speed on the road on the road to a social revolution - in actuality, it is a road toward anarchy.
(8) Maxim Gorky, New Life (10th November, 1917)
Lenin and Trotsky and all who follow them are dishonoring the Revolution, and the working-class. Imagining themselves Napoleons of socialism. The proletariat is for Lenin the same as iron ore is for a metallurgist. It is possible, taking into consideration the present conditions, to cast out of this ore a socialist state? Obviously this is impossible. Conscious workers who follow Lenin must understand that a pitiless experiment is being carried out with the Russian people which is going to destroy the best forces of the workers, and which will stop the normal growth of the Russian Revolution for a long time.
(9) In November, 1917, Vladimir Lenin sent Leon Trotsky to negotiate with the Central Powers at Brest-Livosk. He wrote about these negotiations in his autobiography, My Life.
It was obvious that going on with the war was impossible. On this point there was not even a shadow of disagreement between Lenin and me. But there was another question. How had the February revolution, and, later on, the October revolution, affected the German army? How soon would any effect show itself? To these questions no answer could as yet be given. We had to try and find it in the course of the negotiations as long as we could. It was necessary to give the European workers time to absorb properly the very fact of the Soviet revolution.
(10) Vladimir Lenin to Leon Trotsky after hearing that the German Army had invaded Finland in February, 1918.
We must change our policy. Military action on our part would not be able to save the revolution in Finland, but it would most certainly ruin us. We will help the Finnish workers in every way we can, but we must do it without abandoning peace. I am not sure that this will save us now. But at any rate it is the only way in which salvation is still possible.
(11) In his autobiography Leon Trotsky explained why the Soviet government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.
On 21st February, we received new terms from Germany, framed, apparently, with the direct object of making the signing of peace impossible. By the time our delegation returned to Brest-Litovsk, these terms, as is well known, had been made even harsher. All of us, including Lenin, were of the impression that the Germans had come to an agreement with the Allies about crushing the Soviets, and that a peace on the western front was to be built on the bones of the Russian revolution.
On 3rd March our delegation signed the peace treaty without even reading it. Forestalling many of the ideas of Clemenceau, the Brest-Litovsk peace was like the hangman's noose. On 22nd March the treaty was ratified by the German Reichstag. The German Social Democrats gave their approval in advance to the future principles of Versailles.
I give warning that if any unit retreats without orders, the first to be shot down will be the commissary of the unit, and next the commander. Brave and gallant soldiers will be appointed in their places. Cowards, dastards and traitors will not escape the bullet. This I solemnly promise in the presence of the entire Red Army.
(13) Leon Trotsky, Perspectives of World Development (1924)
For what does America need? She needs to secure her profits at the expense of the European toiling masses and thus render stable the privileged position of the upper crust of the American working class.
The further this development unfolds along this road, all the more difficult will it be for the European Social Democracy to uphold the evangel of Americanism in the eyes of the European working masses. All the more centralised will become the resistance of European labour against the master of masters, against American capitalism. All the more urgent, all the more practical and warlike will the slogan of the all-European revolution and its state form - the Soviet United States of Europe - become for the European workers.
What is the Social Democracy using to benumb and poison the consciousness of the European workers? It tells them that we - the whole of Europe, dismembered and sliced-up by the Versailles Peace - cannot get along without America, but the European Communist Party will say: You lie, we could if we wanted to. Nothing compels us to remain in an atomised Europe. It is precisely the revolutionary proletariat that can unify Europe, by transforming it into the proletarian United States of Europe.
(14) J. T. Murphy, The Errors of Trotskyism (1925)
It is said Comrade Trotsky wanted democracy to come from below, and the Central Committee wanted to introduce it from above. For Comrade Trotsky or anyone else to speak of introducing the Resolutions of the Party Conference from “below,” that is to begin with the locals spreading upwards, is to again forget the first principles of Bolshevik Party organisation, and thereby strengthen the political position of the opponents of the Party. Of what use is it to elect an Executive Committee if the decisions of the Party Congress can be effectively carried through without the election of such a committee? And this is what the proposals amounts to. It finds its echo amongst many industrialists in this country and also amongst reformist Labour leaders. The industrialists plead for more ballots, more referendums, impervious to the fact that they are simply transferring the Parliamentarism of the Labour Party to the industrial arena. The union leaders respond, and the “coming from below” turns out to be more often than not the means for preventing action than securing it.
The industrialists grasp at forms of procedure when the real issue is the organisation of the struggle against reformism due to the fact that the trade unions have yet to be won to the class war line of working class interests. It is this control of working class organisation by leaders who are opposed to the class interests of the workers and refuse to lead the workers in the fight for those interests, that makes it necessary to organise the struggle “from below” in the unions and the Labour Party. But this cannot apply to a revolutionary party based upon the interests of the working class. To apply it to such a party is to utterly demoralise it by the introduction of the reformist forces it exists to destroy. To propose such a course at an important stage in the history of the revolution, when the Party was called upon to make a tremendous strategic move, to adjust itself to an entirely new mileu, as must be the case in the change from war Communism to the NEP, was to endanger the united action of the Party by separating the C.C. from the body of the Party. Obviously if the Party is to undertake an internal transformation at the moment it has to conduct a political manœuvre it must retain unity. Such unity could only be secured under the central direction of the Executive. The high-sounding phrase of “action from below” proves to be nothing more nor less than Menshevik phrase-mongering. It reminds us of the would-be English revolutionary leaders who hide their own weakness in accusing the masses of never being ready and declaim, “They who would be free must themselves strike the blow.” Again - petty bourgeois deviation. How shall we face our October if these things take root in our Party?
(15) George Seldes wrote about Red Army in his book You Can't Print That! (1929)
Food clothing and propaganda have made the army loyal. Trotsky's personality and his knowledge of military strategy were an important factor for years. Although he has spent most of his life as a red agitator and writer, he has always been a student of military strategy, has written a book on Napoleon's manoeuvres and has been given credit for building the keenest morale and using the keenest military strategy in the numerous campaigns in which Russia defeated her enemies in the civil wars.
(16) Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)
I first saw Trotsky at a packed meeting of the Soviet. Trotsky was all tension and energy; he was, besides, an orator of unique quality, whose metallic voice projected a great distance, ejaculating its short sentences that were often sardonic and always infused with a truly spontaneous passion. The decision to fight to the death was taken enthusiastically, and the whole amphitheater raised a song of immense power.
He outshone Lenin through his great oratorical talent, through his organizing ability, first with the army, then on the railways, and by his brilliant gifts as a theoretician. His attitude was less homely than Lenin's, with something authoritarian about it. That, maybe, is how my friends and I saw him, we critical communists; we had much admiration for him, but no real love. His sternness, his insistence on punctuality in work and battle, the inflexible correctness of his demeanor in a period of general slackness, all imparted a certain demagogic malice to the insidious attacks that were made against him. I was hardly influenced by these considerations, but the political solutions prescribed by him for current difficulties struck me as proceeding from a character that was basically dictatorial. Had he not proposed the fusion of the trade unions with the State - while Lenin quite rightly wanted the unions to keep some of their independence?
(17) 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.
(18) Leon Trotsky, interviewed by St. Louis Post-Dispatch (17th January, 1937)
The Western attorneys of the GPU represent the confessions of Zinoviev and the others as spontaneous expressions of their sincere repentance. This is the most shameless deception of public opinion that can be imagined. For almost 10 years, Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others found themselves under almost insupportable moral pressure with the menace of death approaching ever closer and closer. If an inquisitor judge were to put questions to this victim and inspire the answers, his success would be guaranteed in advance. Human nerves, even the strongest, have a limited capacity to endure moral torture.
(19) In the trial of Karl Radek, it was claimed that he was involved in a plot with Leon Trotsky to restore the capitalist system in the Soviet Union. Trotsky refuted the charge in the Manchester Guardian (6th February, 1937).
The charges in the present Moscow trial are framed with one object - that of exploiting international relations in order to suppress internal enemies. Stalin has invented nothing new. It is alleged, for instance, that in 1935 I wrote through Vladimir Romm, of whom I have never heard, to Karl Radek, with whom I have had no relations since 1928, telling him it was necessary to restore the capitalist system in the Soviet Union. But this is exactly what is being done by the new aristocracy of which Stalin is the head. Stalin is therefore merely trying to attribute to me through the person of Radek the very policy which I publicly accuse him of putting into practice. Only in the totalitarian state of Stalin, where the Soviets, the workers' organizations, the press and the Bolshevik Party are all stifled, only in that state where the bureaucracy alone can speak - a privilege that has been established as a monopoly of falsehood - only there could a trial so obviously staged as this one can take place. As a result of the defeat of the proletariat throughout the world, my views are represented only in a tiny minority in every country. The circumstances cannot now be changed, either by assassinating the Soviet bureaucracy or forming an alliance with Japan and Germany. In attributing such aims to me Stalin wishes, among other things, to compromise me before public opinion in democratic countries, and in this way deprive me of finding asylum anywhere. I reject all the statements concerning me made by the defendants. Not a single word is true. I consider that my political task is, before everything else, to destroy the control which the Soviet bureaucracy now has over an important section of the working class of the world. This political and theoretical work, which is not secret and which anyone may inspect and criticize, gives me every satisfaction because it is devoted to mankind of the future.
(20) The Granat Encyclopaedia of the Russian Revolution was first published by the Soviet government in 1924. Revised versions were published at regular intervals. The encyclopaedia included a collection of autobiographies and biographies of over two hundred people involved in the Russian Revolution. It included a biography of Leon Trotsky.
In 1924 a collection of Trotsky's articles appeared with a preface entitled 'The Lessons of October'. In it the whole Bolshevik concept of revolution underwent revision and the basis of the opposition platform became the hypothesis of permanent revolution, that is, Trotsky's fundamental error, his disparagement of the role of the peasantry in the revolution. This led to the formation of a Trotskyite party and a struggle with the Communist Central Committee. The latter could not reply to this in any other way than by expelling Trotsky and the opposition from its ranks.
Systematic efforts have been made by the reactionary capitalist press and elements within the Labour movement to create the opinion that the accused are convicted mainly upon testimony of their own confessions and a subtle attempt is made to create prejudice by printing the word “confession” within quotation marks.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all it should be noted that the detailed avowals of guilt are not confessions at all in the ordinary sense of the word, in the sense of “making a clean breast of it.” The prisoners talk about things which are already proved and which they cannot deny. Their statements concern mainly the question of the degree of guilt or their own share, large or small, in specific criminal activities. An interesting illustration of this was provided by the accused Krestinsky in connection with the letter which he claimed to have sent to Trotsky in 1927, severing his connection with the Trotskyist movement. During the first day of the trial, he insisted that the contents of this letter cleared him of all suspicions and demanded to know why it had not been produced. Two days later to his obvious discomfiture the very letter was produced in court by State Prosecutor Vyshinsky. After Rakovsky, who had read the letter in 1927, had identified it, and Krestinsky had agreed that the identification was correct, Vyshinsky read the contents only to disclose the fact that they were entirely different in meaning to that which Krestinsky had endeavoured to give them two days before.
Similarly the police spy Zubarev, confronted with the Tsarist police inspector under whose direction he had worked in Kotelnich during 1908-09 looked for all the world as though he had suddenly seen a ghost from his own past. The confrontation of Bukharin with the “Left” Social-Revolutionaries Karelin and Kamkov with whom he had been in conspiratorial alliance in 1918 to overthrow the Soviet Government, arrest and kill Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov and form a new government of Bukharinites and “Left” Social-Revolutionaries was as conclusive as it was dramatic, and was backed up by the production of three of the people who had been members of Bukharin’s own group of “Left” Communists at that time and who had participated in the plot.
Expert testimony from authoritative medical men in the Soviet Union in connection with the murder of Gorky, Kuibyshev, Menshinsky and Pashkov-Gorky, documentary evidence and the evidence of facts: train wrecks, slaughter of large numbers of livestock, attempts at bandit insurrections, etc., combined to build a cast-iron case for the prosecution out of which, despite all their wriggling, attempts at evasion and efforts to shift responsibility from their own shoulders to others, not one of the accused could escape. But in the case of no individual or crime did Vyshinsky depend solely upon the testimony of the accused.
In this connection it is interesting to note that if the propaganda of the pro-fascist section of the capitalist press, and the confused Liberal and Socialist journals were based upon fact, the whole assortment of counter-revolutionary traitors united in these blocs would have been arrested and disposed of 20 months before, immediately following the much-vaunted “confessions” (as hostile newspapers print it) of the prisoners convicted during the trial of the Trotskyist-Zinoviev group. It is obvious that the prisoners convicted in the Zinoviev, trial, held back what they certainly knew, and only admitted their guilt in those crimes of which the proof was already so overwhelming that denial was futile. By discussing these proofs of crimes with the prosecutor in court, by questioning witnesses, cross-examinations, and energetic defence, each of the prisoners tried to the best of his ability or the ability of the lawyers defending him, to evade some measure of responsibility and to lighten the punishment to be meted out to him. The actions of the prisoners themselves during the trial, their final speeches and their last minute appeals for clemency, all showed very clearly that from beginning to end their fight was carried on to evade full punishment for crimes of which the State Prosecutor already had such overwhelming proof as to secure conviction from any court.
(22) In 1930 Herbert Morrison, a member of the Labour government, visited the Soviet Union. He wrote about the visit in An Autobiography (1960)
The interpreter-guide attached to our party was a woman who had lived for some time in the Middle West of the U.S.A. and spoke English with a strong Chicago accent. On a tour of the Revolutionary War Museum in Leningrad she was anxious to show us old history while I was more interested in relics of the 1917 revolution.
I was immediately struck by the fact that there was no trace whatever of Trotsky's contribution to the revolution. I asked the lady why this was and she replied:
"He had nothing to do with the military side of the revolution."
I protested that I had read about his activities from day to day in the newspapers at the time and that he had been very active indeed. "Trotsky was chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee according to the bulletins issued by Lenin himself," I added.
She denied this categorically, and when I said that it was ridiculous not to accept facts which were on record she snapped angrily: "That's what we are taught at the school of interpreters and that's the end of it."
(23) Leon Trotsky, Stalin (4th January, 1937).
Much was said in the Moscow trial about my alleged "hatred" for Stalin. Much was said in the Moscow trial about it, as one of the motives of my politics. Toward the greedy caste of upstarts which oppresses the people "in the name of socialism" I have nothing but irreducible hostility, hatred if you like. But in this feeling there is nothing personal. I have followed too closely all the stages of the degeneration of the revolution and the almost automatic usurpation of its conquests; I have sought too stubbornly and meticulously the explanation for these phenomena in objective conditions for me to concentrate my thoughts and feelings on one specific person. My standing does not allow me to identity the real stature of the man with the giant shadow it casts on the screen of the bureaucracy. I believe I am right in saying I have never rated Stalin so highly as to be able to hate him.
(24) Leon Trotsky, The Trial of the Seventeen (22nd January, 1937).
How could these old Bolsheviks who went through the jails and exiles of Czarism, who were the heroes of the civil war, the leaders of industry, the builders of the party, diplomats, turn out at the moment of "the complete victory of socialism" to be saboteurs, allies of fascism, organizer of espionage, agents of capitalist restoration? Who can believe such accusations? How can anyone be made to believe them. And why is Stalin compelled to tie up the fate of his personal rule with these monstrous, impossible, nightmarish juridical trials?First and foremost, I must reaffirm the conclusion I had previously drawn that the ruling tops feel themselves more and more shaky. The degree of repression is always in proportion to the magnitude of the danger. The omnipotence of the soviet bureaucracy, its privileges, its lavish mode of life, are not cloaked by any tradition, any ideology, any legal norms. The ruling caste is unable, however, to punish the opposition for its real thoughts and actions. The unremitting repressions are precisely for the purpose of preventing the masses from the real program of Trotskyism, which demands first of all more equality and more freedom for the masses.
(25) Walter Duranty, I Write As I Please (1935)
Stalin and Trotsky were antagonists by character and circumstances. Trotsky was brilliant, proud, and independent. He did not join the Communist Party until 1917, whereas Stalin had nailed his flag to Lenin's mast as early as 1902, and had never wavered in allegiance. After my first interview with him in the autumn of 1929 I wrote that he was "the inheritor of Lenin's mantle". He changed the phrase to "Lenin's faithful disciple and the prolonger of his work". There is a parallel which suggests itself. I mean the story in the New Testament about the labourers in the vineyard when some of them were hired in the early morning to work all day for a penny. At noon others were hired, for the same wage, and late in the evening a group was brought in to rush the work to completion, who still received the full penny, although they were only working for an hour or so in the cool of twilight. I have forgotten the moral of this parable, but quite naturally the morning-hired workers objected bitterly to the fact that the latest comers received the same pay as they who had sweated and laboured throughout the heat of the day.
That was Stalin's position with regard to Trotsky. When most of the Bolshevik leaders fled abroad after the abortive revolution of 1905-06, Stalin stuck it out in Russia to continue the seemingly hopeless task of organising the remnants of the Bolshevik cause under one of the most bloody and pitiless repressions in history. More than any other he "sweated in the heat of the day", tireless and persistent, always being arrested yet always escaping somehow, until at last they caught him in 1914, and exiled him to the far north of the Ural Mountains within the Arctic Circle, whence escape was impossible. Even there he never lost heart. He made friends with his guards and went hunting with them and outshot them. While other exiles sat and moped or died of cold and hunger Stalin shot bears and wolves and ptarmigan, caught fish through ice, ate well and kept himself fit and strong and warm with thick skins and fur. Because there was an indomitable purpose in his heart. He was not brilliant like Trotsky nor clever in the use of words; nor had he the humanity of Lenin, who ordered a Christmas-tree for the children on the country estate where he was living in the year before he died. Stalin would never have done that.
It is not too much to say that Stalin held together the Bolshevik Party in Russia during the bitter years which followed Igo6. In those years a Bolshevik who did not weaken was a real man, and it was Stalin who picked these men, who saw them stand up or break under pressure and judged them by results. Intellectually Stalin is more limited than Trotsky, but one of the dangers of intellectual unlimitedness is that its possessor cannot believe wholeheartedly in anything except himself. Thus Trotsky believed in Trotsky, but Stalin believed in Lenin and in the Bolshevik cause and thought of himself as no more than an instrument or "chosen vessel". In this last phrase is implied all the resistless power of fanaticism when its exponent is, like Stalin, a man of inflexible will and great political adroitness. It is probable that Trotsky and Stalin are equally ambitious, but whereas Trotsky's ambition was personal, Stalin had sublimated his ambition to service of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, which gave him added strength.
Unlike most of the Bolshevik leaders, Stalin never raised his voice in opposition to Lenin on any point at any time. It was impossible, therefore, for him to forgive Trotsky's continuous criticism, which was further damned by his natural exasperation against this labourer who had been hired at the eleventh hour. He possessed, moreover, a strong weapon against Trotsky's brilliance - his Oriental patience and vindictive willingness to bide his time. Raymond Robbins once told me that he knew Stalin in the first winter of 1917-8. "He sat outside the door of Lenin's office like a sentry," said Robbins, "watching everyone who went in and out, no less faithful than a sentry and, as far as we then knew, not much more important.' In March, 1922, Stalin received the reward of his faithful watching. He was made General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which gave him, as he well knew, control of the Party machine. One month later Lenin was stricken, and Stalin and the others in the know must have guessed what we foreigners only learned later, that Lenin's sickness was mortal. While Lenin lived and had his strength, the Party Secretariat was no more than an important cog in the machine which Lenin had created and controlled, but with Lenin weakened and dying the cog became the keystone of the Soviet arch.
(26) Leon Trotsky, Hitler's Austria Coup (12th March, 1938).
There is a tragic symbolism in the fact that the Moscow trial is ending under the fanfare announcing the entry of Hitler into Austria. The coincidence is not accidental. Berlin is of course perfectly informed about the demoralization which the Kremlin clique in its struggle for self-preservation carried into army and the population of the country. Stalin did not move a finger last year when Japan seized two Russian islands on the Amur river: he was then busy executing the best Red generals. With all the more assurance during the new trial could Hitler send his troops into Austria. No matter what one's attitude toward the defendants at the Moscow trials, no matter how one judges their conduct in the clutches of the G.P.U., all of them - Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Piatakov, Radek, Rykov, Bukharin, and many others. - have by the whole course of their lives proved their disinterested devotion to the Russian people and their struggle for liberation.
(27) In March, 1937, Leon Trotsky, wrote an article, Amoralism and Kronstadt , where he replied to charges made by Wendelin Thomas, that Bolshevism and Stalinism were closely linked. Thomas used the example of how Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, dealt with opponents such as the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Kronstadt Rebellion.
Your evaluation of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 is basically incorrect. The best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the grey mass with big pretensions, but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations.
No less erroneous is your estimate of Makhno. In himself he was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt Uprising. Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had.
The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism.
(28) Walter Duranty, I Write As I Please (1935)
That disaffected elements existed apart from the small devoted group of Trotsky's adherents, particularly among senior (in length of membership) ranks of the Bolshevik Party, is obvious and natural enough. There were those who grumbled that the growing tendency to regard Stalin as a superman had destroyed Party Democracy as they had known it in the old days. Others as professional revolutionaries, or breakers-down, failed to readjust themselves as builders and executives, and rationalised their failure in terms of jealousy of the earlier labourers in the vineyard towards those who were called at the eleventh hour. Others again objected to the Stalinist theory of greater reward for greater service, to the new patriotism and to the conception of the U.S.S.R. as a world Power dealing with other Powers on terms of equality and friendship rather than as a disruptive force of permanent revolution. The number of malcontents was increased by personal grievance or disappointment no less than by ideological causes. All this provided fertile soil in which the Trotskyists could sow the seeds of disintegration and corruption.
It is further true that in totalitarian states no opposition can be permitted, because the idea of the state has been deified and opposition is therefore a Deadly Sin, which forces oppositionists to work underground and not only to become conspirators but to gravitate towards each other and towards a common centre, if there is one. The Trotskyists offered such a centre and in consequence, as in the case of the abortive revolt against Hitler in 1934, an odd lot of the most divers elements became associated in common hostility towards the regime. Furthermore, the nature of conspiracies is such that those engaged in them move almost imperceptively from step to step. They begin as malcontents for one reason or another, they associate with other malcontents and gradually pass from grumbling to thoughts of action. Their aims become more definite, or more definite aims are suggested to them by others, until at last they find themselves committed to a line of conduct which they would never have contemplated at the outset. And to the question, `How could a man like Tukhachevsky betray his country's secrets to a potential enemy?', the answer is that he did not change at one fell swoop from a loyal soldier to a traitor, but was subjected to a creeping malady of disintegration and ultimate self-justification for a deed he might earlier have abhorred.
Thus one reaches a final synthesis, as follows:
(a) Trotsky was fanatically determined to overthrow the Stalinist regime.
(b) Hitler was fanatically determined to "expand eastwards" at the expense of the U.S.S.R.
(c) Both Hitler and Trotsky had at their disposal efficient organisations to develop conspirative action, sabotage and espionage within the U.S.S.R. and to conduct propaganda abroad.
(d) Opportunities for contact between Germany (and Japan) and the anti-Stalinist conspirators both inside and outside the U.S.S.R. were not lacking.
The conclusion is inevitable.
It cannot be negatived by foreign bewilderment over the "mystery" of the trials and of the confessions made by the accused, or by foreign belief that the morale of the Red Army has been gravely impaired and that the whole U.S.S.R. is engulfed in a flood of hysterical witch-hunting. The Kremlin's enemies have used this belief and bewilderment to weaken, at a most critical period, the international prestige of the U.S.S.R., but that does not alter the fact that their Trojan horse is broken and its occupants destroyed.
(29) Leon Trotsky, The Kronstadt Rebellion (July, 1938)
The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression. Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerhinsky could not tolerate anyone's interference with his functions (and property so). Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics. Victor Serge's conclusions on this score - from third hand - have no value in my eyes. But I am ready to recognize that civil war is no school of humanism. Idealists and pacifists always accused the revolution of "excesses". But the main point is that "excesses" flow from the very nature of the revolution which in itself is but an "excess" of history.
(30) Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (1932)
We may lay this down as a law: Revolutionary governments are the more liberal, the more tolerant, the more "magnanimous" to the reaction, the shallower their program, the more they are bound up with the past, the more conservative their role. And the converse: the more gigantic their tasks and the greater the number of vested rights and interests they are to destroy, the more concentrated will be the revolutionary power, the more naked its dictatorship.
(31) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
I cannot close this all too brief analysis of these three stout volumes (on The Russian Revolution) without at least a word on what the historian will find in them.
First, there is a powerful and eloquent statement of the doctrines and dogmas that guided Lenin and Trotsky in 1917.
Second, there are brilliant word pictures of scenes of revolution and masses in action.
Third, there are remarkable profiles, one-sided and unfair to the point of caricature, but always vivid and revealing, of all the principle actors.
Fourth, there is an account, unparalleled in historical literature, of the strategy and tactics, the military moves, in the preparation of the deceptive conspiracy of October to seize power under the guise of merely defending the revolution. Trotsky exults in his skill in disguising every step in the offensive as a defensive action, and enjoys now his recollection and meticulous exposition after the events of all the details which he knew better than any other man, even Lenin; for it was he, as Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee and Petrograd Soviet, who plotted every step, wrapped each maneuver in the brazen impudence of his eloquence, and personally directed the fulfillment of each measure. The chapters on the "Military Revolutionary Committee" and on the "Conquest of the Capital" are not equaled by all the other literature on the event put together.
Fifth, this history lays bare, both where it intends and where it does not intend, the soul of one of the principal actors in the October seizure of power - at the brief moment of consummation, the most important actor.
Finally, it is a history which no historian of Russia and no historian of revolution can afford to neglect. But let him be forewarned that Trotsky's is a pen that is frequently as persuasive as it is continuously one-sided. It is always the historian's duty, too often neglected out of worship of the bitch-goddess Success, to seek out the truths of the defeated along with the truths that get published by the victors. But particularly here must the reader come well equipped with an awareness of the truths of the defeated - the more so because somewhere concealed in this blinding flood of words which record the victory of Trotsky and his party, are also some of the secrets which explain why Trotsky, too, must in the end be reckoned as one of the defeated.
(32) James Cannon, speech. Leon Trotsky Memorial meeting held at the Diplomat Hotel in New York City on August 28, 1940.
Comrade Trotsky's entire conscious life, from the time he entered the workers' movement in the provincial Russian town of Nikolayev at the age of eighteen up till the moment of his death in Mexico City forty-two years later, was completely dedicated to work and struggle for one central idea. He stood for the emancipation of the workers and all the oppressed people of the world, and the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism by means of a social revolution. In his conception, this liberating social revolution requires for success the leadership of a revolutionary political party of the workers' vanguard.
In his entire conscious life Comrade Trotsky never once diverged from that idea. He never doubted it, and never ceased to struggle for its realization. On his deathbed, in his last message to us, his disciples-his last testament-he proclaimed his confidence in his life-idea: "Tell our friends I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International - go forward!"
Trotsky himself believed that ideas are the greatest power in the world. Their authors may be killed, but ideas, once promulgated, live their own life. If they are correct ideas, they make their way through all obstacles. This was the central, dominating concept of Comrade Trotsky's philosophy. He explained it to us many, many times. He once wrote: "It is not the party that makes the program [the idea]; it is the program that makes the party." In a personal letter to me, he once wrote: "We work with the most correct and powerful ideas in the world, with inadequate numerical forces and material means. But correct ideas, in the long run, always conquer and make available for themselves the necessary material means and forces."
Trotsky, a disciple of Marx, believed with Marx that "an idea, when it permeates the mass, becomes a material force." Believing that, Comrade Trotsky never doubted that his work would live after him. Believing that, he could proclaim on his deathbed his confidence in the future victory of the Fourth International which embodies his ideas. Those who doubt it do not know Trotsky.
Trotsky himself believed that his greatest significance, his greatest value, consisted not in his physical life, not in his epic deeds, which overshadow those of all heroic figures in history in their sweep and their grandeur-but in what he would leave behind him after the assassins had done their work. He knew that his doom was sealed, and he worked against time in order to leave everything possible to us, and through us to mankind. Throughout the eleven years of his last exile he chained himself to his desk like a galley slave and labored, as none of us knows how to labor, with such energy, such persistence and self-discipline, as only men of genius can labor. He worked against time to pour out through his pen the whole rich content of his mighty brain and preserve it in permanent written form for us, and for those who will come after us.
(33) C. L. R. James, Stalin and Socialism (1937)
In the Testament, Lenin, as superior to his contemporaries in grasp of men as of politics, had warned the party of a probable split between Trotsky and Stalin. It was, he said, a trifle, but "a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Lenin believed in historical materialism but he did not underestimate the significance of individuals, and the full immensity of the consequences are visible today.
Yet, as Lenin, quite obviously saw, the immediate origin of the danger was personal. Lenin did not say so in so many words. The Testament is very carefully phrased, but all through the civil war there had been clashes between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who supported him at first, hated Trotsky, but Stalin hated him with a hatred which saw in him the chief obstacle to his power; Zinoviev and Kamenev Stalin knew he could manage. Zinoviev on his part feared Trotsky, but feared Stalin also. He had the idea of balancing one against the other. But he went with Stalin for the time being. What manner of man was this who was so soon to usurp Lenin's position and attempt to play Lenin's part? No man of this generation, few men of any other, could have done this adequately.
Lenin, first and foremost, knew political economy as few professors in a university did. He was-absolute master of political theory and practice. He knew the international working class movement of the great countries of Europe, not only their history theoretically interpreted by historical materialism, but from years of personal experience in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. He spoke almost faultless German and wrote the language like a second tongue. He was at home in French and English and could read other European languages with ease. Intellectual honesty was with him a fanatical passion, and to his basic conception of allying the highest results of his theoretical and practical knowledge in the party to the instinctive movements of millions, honesty before the party and before the masses was for him essential. The range and honesty of his intellect, his power of will, the singular selflessness and devotion of his personal character, added to a great knowledge and understanding of men, enabled him to use all types of intellect and character in a way that helped to lift the Bolshevik party between 1917 and 1923 to the full height of the stupendous role it was called upon to fulfill. No body of men ever did so much, and how small most of them really were we can realise only by looking at what they became the moment their master left them. Lenin made them what they were. He was sly and manoeuvred as all who have to manage men must manoeuvre. But through all the disagreements of those years which often reached breaking-point he never calumniated, exiled, imprisoned or murdered any leaders of his party. He was bitter in denunciation, often unfair, but never personally malicious. He was merciless to political enemies, but he called them enemies, and proclaimed aloud that if they opposed the Soviet regime he would shoot them and keep on shooting them. But Trotsky tells us how careful he was of the health of his colleagues; hard as he was it is easy to feel in his speeches, on occasions when the party was being torn by disputes, a man of strong emotions and sensitiveness to human personality. In his private life he set an unassuming example of personal incorruptibility and austere living. No man could ever fill his place, but it was not impossible that someone able and willing to act in his tradition could have carried on where he left off, and all knew that Trotsky was best fitted for that difficult post. Lenin had designated him as such in the Testament. But the irony, the cruellest tragedy of the post-war world is, that without a break the leadership of the over-centralised and politically dominant Bolshevik party passed from one of the highest representatives of European culture to another who, in every respect except singlemindedness of purpose, was the very antithesis of his predecessor.
(34) Leon Trotsky, Art and Politics in Our Epoch (1938)
Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.
(35) Eugene Lyons, The Life and Death of Sacco and Vanzetti (1927)
The defeat of Trotsky was complicated by personal antagonisms, theoretical disputes, and a struggle for sheer power. In essence, however, it was a repudiation of Leftism. The Russian people, including the communists, were in a mood for truce. The failure of revolutionary efforts in Germany, Hungary, and China had bankrupted the hope for world revolution and foreign allies. Millionfold classes, not the least of them being the vast bureaucratic apparatus and entrenched police machine, had developed a sizable stake in the status quo of Nep. The existing system, like any system ever devised, had developed a robust will to survive-to make a permanent abode of the historical half-way house. In attacking the talk about "permanent revolution" and more vigorous struggle against Nep, Stalin had voiced the weariness and the despair of a people surfeited with struggle and sacrifice.
The Party membership itself was in the main content to let things be. It had been considerably watered in the last years by the admission of hundreds of thousands of new members without personal memory or intimate relation to the old revolutionary struggle. The admixture was largely from the factories. The diluted Party may have become much more "proletarian," but its cultural average was lowered and its contempt for intellectuals raised. Never much enamored of democratic rights, unable indeed to grasp the meaning of such rights, the newcomers were not impressed with efforts to safeguard the relative internal Party democracy that had existed under Lenin. The strong-arm methods of less finicky men were closer to their inherited tastes. As long as they held their jobs and their privileged status, they were content to shift the responsibility of thinking upon "practical," down-to-earth professional leaders.
Stripped of all secondary factors, the defeat of Trotsky expressed a genuine and growing annoyance with intellectuals and idealistic "dreamers," with world revolution and with new revolutions at home. It reflected a natural yearning to settle down and bite into the fruits of the revolution.
It was a reaction, when all is said and done, against internationalists and Westernizers (a large portion of them Jews, it happened) and a straining back to folk ways and national self-sufficiency. Though not consciously anti-Semitic, the movement had distinct anti-Semitic undercurrents, in that it reacted against the Jewish type of mind: idealistic, missionary, and without tough roots in the Russian soil. To the extent that the reaction turned inward along national lines, threw off its "duty to the world revolution," repudiated intellectualism and handed over all power to divinely inspired leaders, it was distinctly "fascist."
Stalin's rough ways may have aroused misgivings in the heart of the dying Lenin; they aroused a comforting confidence in the people trained by a thousand years of history to expect and respect naked power, a people distrustful of democratic gadgets. Stalin might be a swarthy Georgian, but his methods - cunning, patient, brutal - were Russian compared with the loose idealistic talk of Westernized alien minded Lefts.
In adopting the main features of Trotsky's program, except for its international implications, Stalin was therefore thumbing his Caucasian nose at the tides on which he had ridden to the dictatorial apex. Confident that his political machine was now invulnerable, he pitted his will against his closest advisers, against the mass of the population, and against the majority of his Party.
No estimate of popular sentiment, naturally, can ever be made. I can only record my own certainty at the time that the country and the Party were overwhelmingly Right and accepted Stalin's unexpected course in a sullen and frightened spirit. Every time the Kremlin in a speech or decree hinted a let-up in socialization, greater leeway for the abler peasants, more immediate comforts for the workers, wider private trade-in short, a tendency toward the Right-the feeling of relief in Moscow was unmistakable.
On the eleventh birthday of the revolution, November 7, 1928, the course was still uncertain. The Congress of the Comintern (Communist International) which had ended the month before had been violent in its language but vague in its practical commitments to action; there was little enough clew to future policy in its fulminations. After the November holidays, however, things moved swiftly. The Right point of view, until then tolerated, suddenly blossomed into the blackest of heresies. It became, in the official jargon, the "chief danger."
Stalin achieved a bloodless victory. Never again was his decision on any matter, large or small, to be questioned. The "monolithic" Party, a Soviet equivalent for the "totalitarian" parties in fascist countries, was in absolute control. The Russia which it created in the next few years was as different from the one bequeathed by Lenin as it was from the tsarist Russia.
(36) Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (1930)
Just as a blacksmith cannot seize the red hot iron in his naked hand, so the proletariat cannot directly seize the power; it has to have an organisation accommodated to this task. The co-ordination of the mass insurrection with the conspiracy, the subordination of the conspiracy to the insurrection, the organisation of the insurrection through the conspiracy, constitutes that complex and responsible department of revolutionary politics which Marx and Engels called “the art of insurrection.” It presupposes a correct general leadership of the masses, a flexible orientation in changing conditions, a thought-out plan of attack, cautiousness in technical preparation, and a daring blow.
(37) Walter Duranty, I Write As I Please (1935)
A great man Trotsky, of that there is no doubt, a man of superlative mental ability, and a most competent executive withal; a man of proven courage, both physical and moral, a splendid writer and orator with the rare power of equal appeal to an intelligent and to a popular audience. In all history there are few careers so romantic as that of Trotsky: to have risen from so low to such a height, to have shone so bright in the sun, and have done brave deeds in a quaking world - and then to have fallen again to nothing, to spend his declining years in spiteful twilight. What a tragic fate for this man who was gifted with intelligence and force beyond his fellows, yet cursed by the folly of selfishness and pride.
(38) Cass Canfield, Up and Down and Around (1971)
The first impression Trotsky made was one of unusual vitality and health; he was rosy-cheeked and bouncy. I was struck with his fine brow and shock of white hair, his strong face and expressive mouth. He was neatly dressed in gray trousers and a white Russian smock. When asked how he managed to keep in such fine physical condition, he surprised me by replying in perfect English, "Oh, I go to the neighboring mountains and hunt game," which conjured up a picture of an Austrian nobleman shooting ; chamois in Franz Josef's time. In the course of talking to this highly intelligent, engaging but thoroughly dangerous character, I noticed a line of hooks on the wall behind his desk from which were hung our galley proofs of the first half of his biography of Stalin.
Trotsky was affable and provocative. The biography would be completed before many months, he assured us. He said that he had been hampered by the difficulty of obtaining reliable source material in Mexico on Stalin's life and that he got most of the information he required from friends all over the world, some of them in the Soviet Union; I had the impression of a kind of political Voltaire, conducting a vast correspondence.
One question I forgot to ask Trotsky: Just how did Lenin meet his end? I had heard from Louis Fischer, an expert on Soviet affairs, that when Lenin had fallen seriously ill, he had asked various of his political colleagues to give him poison so that lie could die quickly. One by one they refused, shocked and unbelieving. How could the Soviet Union survive without its founder, who already enjoyed a saint like status?
Commenting on Stalin's Russia, Trotsky said that lie felt that the Communist Party no longer ruled, that party officials were really rubber stamps for the bureaucracy, as under the Nazi regime. As for the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, which was still going on at that time and puzzling most observers because the Soviet forces weren't making much progress, Trotsky did not doubt the outcome - it was just a matter of time before the Finns would be overwhelmed. The slowness of the Russian advance was explainable, he said, because Stalin had purged the army of many of its best commanders; and the political commissars had such power, the officers being so fearful of them, that military movements were hampered. Also, the Soviet troops, sent to Finland from the Ukraine and southern parts of Russia, were totally unused to the conditions of winter warfare in Finland.
We talked about the world political situation. This was after the Stalin-Hitler pact, which, in Trotsky's view, Stalin had signed because he did not expect Hitler to win the war he knew was coming. Trotsky further believed that Stalin, having secured his front for a period of time, would desert Hitler at the moment of his choice. As we know, the Stalin-Hitler pact failed to achieve its purpose because Hitler attacked before Stalin could desert his Nazi ally. It is amazing how accurately Trotsky had the Nazi-Soviet situation sized up. He pictured Hitler as a master strategist, more formidable than Stalin. Nevertheless, he was confident that Germany would lose the war after a great struggle and that the United States would have to join in and save the Allies. Hitler had successfully invaded Poland when this interview took place, so Trotsky was making these observations at a time when the Nazis were looking very strong.
I asked him what he foresaw at the end of the war. "A ruined planet under American hegemony," he replied. "There will be revolution in the United States, and presumably elsewhere, coming at a time of profound economic dislocation." The British Empire was dying, in his opinion, and he prophesied that her colonies would split off as a consequence of England's lack of vitality, as shown by her policy of appeasement and the Munich reverse.
Not all of Trotsky's predictions were right, but many were; for me the visit was a telling revelation. Trotsky possessed a naturally inquisitive mind and, perhaps because of his confinement to one place, was eager to learn all he could about what was going on in the world. He asked countless questions and listened carefully to everything we said. This was a response I had never encountered before from a world figure, most of whom like to do all the talking. Trotsky spoke frankly and showed a sense of humor, as when I asked whether he would like to visit the United States. "Indeed I would," he replied promptly, "and I'd be there now if it weren't for `That Man in the White House.' Mr. Roosevelt knows enough about me so that lie wouldn't consider letting me into the country. If you had a Republican President, he would have been less well informed and I would have been able to cross your border."
I inquired what he would be doing if he were in the United States; this was like asking a safecracker what he'd do when he got out of jail. "Start a revolution, of course!" Trotsky answered.
Within a few months of this interview Trotsky was assassinated in his study by Ratnon del Rio. In the struggle with his assailant, he was pinned up against the large hooks where the proofs were hung. These proofs, spattered with Trotsky's blood, are now kept in the Houghton Library at Harvard.
With Trotsky dead, it was necessary to find a qualified person to finish the book from his voluminous notes. We chose Charles Malamuth, a Russian scholar, for this assignment, and he performed it well. In a preface he explained exactly how the biography had been prepared. So finally, after years of work, the book was finished. We sent out advance copies on a Friday morning and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The final chapter of this story is concerned with what happened forty-eight hours later, on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941- On that day the terrible news of Pearl Harbor came over the radio. After the first shock I began to think about the publishing problems presented by Trotsky's Stalin. It was obvious that, within a few days, Stalin would be America's ally and that he would deeply resent the appearance of this biography by his arch rival. On the other hand, we had an obligation to the author - in this case to his estate.
© John Simkin, March 2013