My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 13

The Return to Russia

This connection with the minority of the second congress was brief. Before many months had passed, two tendencies had become conspicuous within the minority. I advocated taking steps to bring about a union with the majority as soon as possible, because I thought of the split as an outstanding episode but nothing more. For others, the split at the second congress was the beginning of the evolution toward opportunism. I spent the whole year of 1904 arguing with the leading group of Mensheviks on questions of policy and organization. The arguments were concentrated on two issues: the attitude toward liberalism and that toward the Bolsheviks. I was for an uncompromising resistance to the attempts of the liberals to lean upon the masses, and at the same time, because of it, I demanded with increasing determination the union of the two Social Democratic factions.

In September, I formally renounced my membership in the minority; I had ceased being an active member in April of that year. During that period I spent a few months away from Russian émigré circles, in Munich, which was then considered the most democratic and most artistic city in Germany. I came to know the Bavarian Social Democracy quite well, as well as the galleries of Munich and the cartoonists of Simplicissimus.

Even at the time of the party congress, the entire southern part of Russia was in the throes of a great strike. Peasant disturbances grew more and more frequent. The universities were seething. For a little while, the Russo-Japanese war stopped the movement, but the military debacle of Czarism promptly provided a formidable lever for revolution. The press was becoming more daring, the terrorist acts more frequent; the liberals began to wake up and launched a campaign of political banquets. The fundamental questions of revolution came swiftly to the front Abstractions were beginning in my eyes to acquire actual social flesh. The Mensheviks, Zasulitch especially, were placing great hopes in the liberals.

Even before the congress, after one of the editorial meetings in the café Landolt, Zasulitch began to complain, in the peculiar, timidly insistent tone which she always assumed for such occasions, that we were attacking the liberals too much. That was a sore point with her.

“See how eager they are about it,” she would say, looking past Lenin, though it was really Lenin whom she was aiming at. “Struve demands that the Russian liberals should not renounce Socialism, because if they do they will be threatened with the fate of the German liberals; he says they should follow the example of the French Radical Socialists.”

“We should strike them all the more,” said Lenin with a gay smile, as if he were teasing Vera Ivanovna.

“That’s nice!” she exclaimed in utter despair. “They come to meet us and we strike them down.”

I was with Lenin unreservedly in this discussion, which became more crucial the deeper it went. In 1904, during the liberal banquet campaign, which quickly reached an impasse, I put forward the question, “What next?” and answered it in this way: the way out can be opened only by means of a general strike, followed by an uprising of the proletariat which will march at the head of the masses against liberalism. This aggravated my disagreements with the Mensheviks.

On the morning of January 23, 1905, I returned to Geneva from a lecture tour, exhausted after a sleepless night on the train. A newsboy sold me a paper of the day before. It referred in the future tense to the march of the workers to the Winter Palace. I decided that it had failed to take place. An hour or so later I called at the Iskra office. Martov was all excitement.

“So it did not come off?”

“What do you mean, did not come off?” he pounced on me. “We spent the whole night in a café reading fresh cables. Haven’t you heard anything? Here it is, here, here . . . ” and he pushed the paper into my hands. I ran through the first ten lines of the telegraphed report of the bloody Sunday. 1 A dull, burning sensation seemed to overpower me — I could not stay abroad any longer. My connections with the Bolsheviks had ended with the congress. I broke away from the Mensheviks; I had to act at my own risk. Through a student I got a new passport, and with my wife 2, who had come abroad again in the autumn of 1904 I took the train to Munich. Parvus put us up in his own house. There he read my manuscript dealing with the events of the 22nd of January, and was much excited by it. “The events have fully confirmed this analysis. Now, no one can deny that the general strike is the most important means of fighting. The 22nd of January was the first political strike, even if it was disguised under a priest’s cloak. One need add only that revolution in Russia may place a democratic workers’ government in power.” It was after this fashion that Parvus wrote a preface to my pamphlet.

Parvus was unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century. He used the Marxian methods skilfully, was possessed of wide vision, and kept a keen eye on everything of importance in world events. This, coupled with his fearless thinking and his virile, muscular style, made him a remarkable writer. His early studies brought me closer to the problems of the Social Revolution, and, for me, definitely transformed the conquest of power by the proletariat from an astronomical “final” goal to a practical task for our own day.

And yet there was always something mad and unreliable about Parvus. In addition to all his other ambitions, this revolutionary was torn by an amazing desire to get rich. Even this he connected, in those years at least, with his social-revolutionary ideas. “The party apparatus has become petrified,” he would complain. “It is hard to get anything into even Bebel’s head. What we revolutionary Marxists need is a great daily newspaper published in three European languages. But for this we must have money, and lots of it.” Thus were thoughts of the revolution and of wealth intermingled in the heavy, fleshy head of this bulldog. He made an attempt to set up a publishing house of his own in Munich, but it ended rather badly for him. Then he went to Russia and took part in the revolution of 1905. In spite of his originality and ingenuity of thought, he failed utterly as a leader. After the defeat of the revolution of 1905, he went into a decline. From Germany he moved to Vienna, and from there to Constantinople, where eventually the World War found him. During the war he achieved wealth immediately through military commercial enterprises. At the same time, he came out publicly as a defender of the progressive mission of German militarism, broke definitely with the revolutionaries, and became one of the intellectual leaders of the right wing of the German Social Democracy. It goes without saying that since the war I have not had any political or personal contact with him.

From Munich, Sedova and I went to Vienna. The émigré tide was already rolling back to Russia. Victor Adler was completely engrossed in Russian affairs, and was obtaining money, passports, addresses and the like for the émigrés. In his house, a hairdresser wrought a change in my appearance an appearance that had already become too familiar to the Russian police-agents abroad.

“I have just received a telegram from Axelrod,” Adler in formed me, “saying that Gapon has arrived abroad and announced himself a Social Democrat. It’s a pity. If he had disappeared altogether there would have remained a beautiful legend, whereas as an émigré he will be a comical figure. You know,” he added, with a sparkle in his eye that dulled the edge of his irony, “such men are better as historical martyrs than as comrades in a party.”

While I was in Vienna, I heard the news of the assassination of Grand Duke Sergius. Events were crowding each other. The Social Democratic press turned its eyes to the east. My wife went ahead of me to arrange for living quarters and connections in Kiev. With a passport in the name of a retired corporal, Arbuzov, I arrived in Kiev in February, and for several weeks moved about from house to house. I stayed first with a young lawyer who was afraid of his own shadow, then with a professor at the Technological Institute, then with some widow who had liberal views. At one time I even found refuge in an ophthalmic hospital. Under instructions from the physician in charge, who understood my situation, the nurse, to my great embarrassment, gave me foot-baths and applied some harmless drops to my eyes. I had to be doubly secretive because of that, and write my proclamations out of her sight she watched me so rigidly to prevent me from tiring my eyes. During the rounds of inspection, the Doctor would get away from one of his assistants who was not considered reliable, rush into my room with a woman assistant whom he trusted, and quickly lock the doors and draw the curtains as if he were preparing to examine my eyes. After this, all three of us would break out into gay but cautious laughter.

“Have you cigarettes?” the doctor would ask. “Yes,” I would reply. “Quantum satis?” he continued. “Quantum satis,” I answered. And then we all laughed again. That was the end of the examination, and I would go back to writing proclamations. I was highly amused by this life. The only thing that made me feel a little ashamed of myself was having to deceive the amiable old nurse who treated me so conscientiously with foot-baths.

The famous underground printing-press was then in operation in Kiev, and, despite the many raids and arrests on every hand, managed to keep going for several years under the very nose of the chief of the secret police, Novitsky. It was in that same press that I had many of my proclamations printed in the spring of 1905. My longer writings I began to intrust to a young engineer named Krassin whom I met in Kiev. He was a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee and had at his disposal a large and well-equipped secret printing-press somewhere in the Caucasus. In Kiev, I wrote a number of leaflets for his press, which printed them clearly, an extraordinary thing in those underground conditions.

The party, like the revolution, was still young at that time, and one was struck by the inexperience and lack of finish revealed both by the members and by their actions in general. Krassin likewise was not wholly free from this fault. But there was something firm, resolute and “administrative” about him. He was an engineer of some experience, he held a paying job and filled it well; he was valued by his employers, and had a circle of acquaintances that was much larger and more varied than that of any of the young revolutionaries of the day. In workers’ rooms, in engineers’ apartments, in the mansions of the liberal Moscow industrialists, in literary circles everywhere, Krassin had connections. He managed them all with great skill and, consequently, practical possibilities that were quite closed to the others were opened to him. In 1905, in addition to participating in the general work of the party, Krassin had charge of the most dangerous fields of the work, such as armed units, the purchase of arms, the preparing of stocks of explosives, and the like. In spite of his broad outlook he was primarily a man of immediate achievements, in politics as well as in life. That was his strength, but it was also his heel of Achilles. For long years of laborious gathering of forces, of political training, of theoretical analysis and experience for all this he had no call, and when the revolution of 1905 failed to realize its hopes, electro-technics and industry in general be came his first consideration. Even in that phase, Krassin excelled as a man who realized his aims, who could show exceptional achievements. There is no doubt that his greatest successes in engineering gave him the sort of personal satisfaction that he had earlier found in the revolutionary struggle. He received the Bolshevik revolution with hostile bewilderment, as an adventure foredoomed to failure. For a long time, he refused to believe in our ability to overcome the breakdown of the country. Later, however, he was carried away by the vista of work that was opened up before him.

As for myself, my connection with Krassin in 1905 was a godsend. We arranged to meet in St. Petersburg; he also supplied me with secret addresses there. The first and most important was that of the Konstantinovsky School of Artillery, where I was to meet the chief medical officer, Alexander Alexandrovitch Litkens, to whose family fate bound me for a long time after. It was in Litkens’ house on Zabalkansky Prospect, in the school building, that I sought secret refuge more than once in the restless days and nights of 1905. Sometimes under the very eyes of the military doorman the house of the chief physician was visited by such people as the school courtyard and its staircases had never seen. But the lower functionaries were very friendly to the doctor, no reports were made to the police, and everything went off smoothly. The doctor’s elder son, Alexander, who was about 18, was then a member of the party, and a few months later led the peasant movement in the Orlov district. But he could not stand the terrific nervous strain, and fell ill and died. The doctor’s younger son, Evgraf, then a student in the gymnasium, later played an important part in the civil war and in the educational work of the Soviet Government, but was killed by bandits in the Crimea in 1921.

In St. Petersburg I lived officially on the passport of a landowner named Vikentiev. In revolutionary circles I was known as Peter Petrovitch. I was not formally a member of either of the two factions. I continued to work with Krassin, who was at that time a Bolshevik conciliator. This, in view of my inter-factional position, brought us even closer together. At the same time, I kept in touch with the local Menshevik group, which was following a very revolutionary policy. Under my influence, the group advocated boycott of the first advisory Duma, which brought it into conflict with the Menshevik centre abroad. This group was soon trapped by the government, however. It was betrayed by one of its active members, Dobroskok, known as “Nikolay of the Gold Spectacles,” who turned out to be a professional agent-provocateur. He knew that I was in St. Petersburg, and he knew me by sight. My wife was arrested at the Mayday meeting in the woods. I had to hide for a while, and so, in the summer, I left for Finland. Then there was a short interval of peace in which I did intensive literary work and took short walks in the country. I read the papers with avidity, watched the parties take shape, clipped newspapers, and grouped and sifted facts. During that period, I finally formulated my conception of the inner forces of Russian society and of the prospects of the Russian revolution.

Russia, I wrote then, is facing a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The basis of the revolution is the land question. Power will be captured by the class or the party which will lead the peasantry against Czarism and the landowners. Neither the liberals nor the democratic intelligentsia will be able to do so; their historical time has passed. The revolutionary foreground is already occupied by the proletariat. Only the Social Democracy, acting through workers, can make the peasantry follow its lead. This opens to the Russian Social Democracy the prospect of capturing the power before that can possibly take place in the countries of the West. The immediate task of the Social Democracy will be to bring the democratic revolution to completion. But once in control, the proletariat party will not be able to confine itself merely to the democratic programme; it will be obliged to adopt Socialist measures. How far it will go in that direction will depend not only on the correlation of forces in Russia itself, but on the entire international situation as well. Hence the chief strategic line of action consequently demands that the Social Democracy, while fighting liberalism for the leadership of the peasantry, shall also set itself the task of seizing the power even during the progress of the bourgeois revolution.

The question of the general prospects of revolution was most intimately bound up with tactical problems. The central political slogan of the party was the demand for a constituent assembly. But the course of the revolutionary struggle raised the question of who would summon the constituent assembly, and how. From the prospect of a popular uprising directed by the proletariat, there followed logically the creation of a provisional revolutionary government. The leading rôle of the proletariat in the revolution was bound to secure for it a decisive part in the provisional government.

This question caused animated discussions in the upper circles of the party, as well as between Krassin and me. I wrote theses in which I argued that a complete victory of revolution over Czarism would mean either a proletariat in power, supported by the peasantry, or a direct step toward such power. This decisive statement frightened Krassin. He accepted the slogan of provisional revolutionary government, and the programme of its activities as I outlined them. But he refused to lay down in advance any rules on the subject of a Social Democratic majority in the government. In this form, my theses were printed in St. Petersburg, and Krassin took it upon him elf to defend them at the all-party congress which was to meet abroad in May. The congress, however, failed to occur. Krassin took an active part in the discussion of the question of provisional government at the Bolshevik congress and submitted my theses as an amendment to Lenin’s resolution. This episode is so interesting, politically, that I feel obliged to quote the minutes of the Bolshevik Congress.

“As regards the resolution of Comrade Lenin,” said Krassin, “I see its weak point in its failure to stress the question of provisional government, and to indicate, with sufficient clarity, the connection between provisional government and armed tip rising. As a matter of fact, the provisional government is established by the popular uprising as its own organ . . . I further find in the resolution the incorrect opinion that the provisional revolutionary government will appear only after the final victory of the armed uprising and after the overthrow of autocracy. No it arises in the very process of the uprising and takes the most active part in the conduct of the uprising, insuring the latter’s victory by its organized action. It is naive to think that the Social Democracy will be able to take part in the provisional revolutionary government the moment the autocracy is completely overthrown; when the chestnuts have been removed from the fire by other hands than ours, nobody will ever dream of sharing them with us.” All this was an almost verbatim statement of my theses.

Lenin, who in his introductory report had raised the question in its purely theoretical form, received Krassin’s point of view with great sympathy. This is what he said:

“Taking it by and large, I subscribe to the opinion of Comrade Krassin. It is natural that as a literary man, I should concentrate my attention on the literary shaping of the question. The importance of the object of the struggle is pointed out by Comrade Krassin very exactly, and I wholly subscribe to his view. One cannot engage in a struggle without expecting to capture the position for which one is fighting.”

The resolution was correspondingly amended. It may not be superfluous to remark that during the polemics of the last few years, the resolution of the third congress on the question of provisional government has been quoted hundreds of times as something opposed to “Trotskyism.” The “red professors” of the Stalin school have not the ghost of an idea that they are quoting against me, as an example of Leninism, the very lines that I wrote myself.

The environment in which I lived in Finland, with its hills, pine-trees and lakes, its transparent autumn air, and its peace, was scarcely a reminder of a permanent revolution. At the end of September I moved still farther into the Finnish interior and took up my quarters in the woods on the shore of a lake, in an isolated pension, Rauha. This name in Finnish means “peace.” The huge pension was almost empty in the autumn. A Swedish writer was staying there during these last days with an English actress, and they left without paying their bill. The proprietor rushed after them to Helsingfors. His wife was very ill; they could only keep her heart beating by means of champagne. I never saw her. She died while the proprietor was still away. Her body was in a room above me. The head waiter went to Helsingfors to look for her husband. There was only a young boy left for service. A heavy snow fell. The pine-trees were wrapped in a white shroud. The pension was like death.

The young boy was away down in the kitchen, somewhere below the ground. Above me the dead woman was lying. I was alone. All in all, it was “rauha” peace. Not a soul, not even a sound. I wrote and walked. In the evening, the post man brought a bunch of St. Petersburg papers. I opened them, one after another. It was like a raging storm coming in through an open window. The strike was growing, and spreading from town to town. In the silence of the hotel, the rustling of the papers echoed in one’s ears like the rumble of an avalanche. The revolution was in full swing.

I demanded my bill from the boy, ordered horses, and left my “peace” to meet the avalanche. That same evening I was making a speech in the great hall of the Polytechnic Institute in St. Petersburg.

1. On January 22, 1905, great masses of workers in St. Petersburg, led by the priest Gapon and carrying church banners and the portrait of the Czar, marched to the Winter Palace to submit a petition in which they set forth their grievances and appealed to the Czar to help improve their lot. The men, their wives and children proceeded to the Palace Square, but were met by government troops who shot and sabred them, killing or wounding thousands. The day has become known in Russia as “The Bloody Sunday.” — Trans.

2. Natalia Ivanovna Sedova, the author’s second wife. — Trans.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05