My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 16

My Second Foreign Exile: German Socialism

The party congress of 1907 held its meetings in a socialist church in London. It was a protracted, crowded, stormy, and chaotic congress. The second Duma was still alive in St. Petersburg. The revolution was subsiding, but it was still arousing great interest, even in English political circles. Prominent liberals invited the better-known delegates to their houses to show them off to their guests. The ebbing tide of the revolution was already evident in the lessening of the party funds. There was not enough money for the return journey, or even to carry the congress to its conclusion. When this sad news re-echoed under the arches of the church, cutting into the discussion on armed uprisings as it did, the delegates looked at one another in alarm and amazement. What was to be done? We could not stay in the church, of course. But a way out was found, and in quite an unexpected form. An English liberal agreed to lend the Russian revolution three thousand pounds, as nearly as I can remember the figure. He demanded, however, that the revolutionary promissory note be signed by all the delegates at the congress, and so the Englishman received a document bearing several hundred signatures, in the characteristic signs of all the races of Russia. He had to wait a long time, however, for the payment of the note. During the years of the reaction and the war, the party could not even dream of such huge sums. It was the Soviet government that bought back the promissory note of the London congress. Revolution carries out its obligations, although usually not without delay.

On one of the first days of the congress, I was stopped in the church vestibule by a tall, angular man with a round face and high cheek-bones, who wore a round hat. “I am your admirer,” he said, with an amiable chuckle.

“Admirer?” I echoed in astonishment. It seemed that the compliment referred to my political pamphlets that had been written in prison. My interlocutor was Maxim Gorky, and this was the first time I ever saw him. “I hope it is not necessary for me to say that I am your admirer,” I said, answering the compliment with another. In that period, Gorky was close to the Bolsheviks. With him was the well-known actress Andreyeva. We went about London together.

“Would you believe it?” said Gorky, as he glanced at Andreyeva in amazement, “she speaks all languages.” He himself spoke only Russian, but well. When some beggar would shut the door of the cab behind us, Gorky would plead: “We ought to give him some of those pence.” To which Andreyeva would answer, “They have been given, Alyosha dear, they have been given.”

At the London congress I renewed acquaintance with Rosa Luxemburg, whom I had known since 1904. She was a little woman, frail, and even sickly looking, but with a noble face, and beautiful eyes that radiated intelligence; she captivated one by the sheer courage of her mind and character. Her style, which was at once precise, intense and merciless, will always be the mirror of her heroic spirit. Hers was a many-sided nature, rich in subtle shadings. Revolution and its passions, man and art, nature, birds and growing things all these could play on the many strings of her soul. “I must have somebody,” she wrote to Luise Kautsky, “who believes me when I say that it is only through misunderstanding that I am in the midst of this whirlpool of world history, whereas in reality I was born to look after the geese in the fields.” My relations with Rosa were not marked by any personal friendship; our meetings were too brief and too infrequent. I admired her from a distance. And yet, I probably did not appreciate her enough at that time. On the question of the so-called permanent revolution, Rosa took the same stand as I did. In this connection, Lenin and I once had a half-humorous conversation in the lobby. The delegates stood about us in a close ring. “It is all because she does not speak Russian too well,” he said, referring to Rosa. “But then, she speaks excellent Marxian,” I retorted. The delegates laughed, and so did we.

At the congress I had occasion to set forth again my view of the proletariat’s part in the bourgeois revolution, and, in particular, of its relationship to the peasantry. In concluding the debate, Lenin said in reference to this: “Trotsky holds the view that the proletariat and the peasantry have common interests in the revolution of to-day.” Consequently: “We have solidarity of views here as regards the fundamentals of our attitude toward the bourgeois parties.” How little does this resemble the legend that in 1905 I ignored the peasantry! I need only add that my London programme speech in 1907, which to this day I think is absolutely right, was reprinted separately after the October revolution as an example of the Bolshevik attitude toward the peasantry and the bourgeoisie.

From London, I went to Berlin to meet my wife, who was to come from St. Petersburg. By that time, Parvus had also escaped from Siberia. In Dresden, he arranged for the publication of my little book, There and Back, by Kaden’s Social Democratic publishing company. For this booklet dealing with my escape, I agreed to write a preface on the Russian revolution itself. Out of that preface, in the course of a few months there grew my book, Russland in der Revolution. My wife, Parvus and I went all three for a tramp through Saxon Switzerland. It was the end of the summer, the weather was magnificent, and the mornings were crisp; we drank quantities of milk as well as mountain air. An attempt to descend into a valley off the road nearly cost my wife and me our lives. Later we went to Bohemia, to a little hamlet called Hirschberg, a summer residence for petty officials, and stayed there several weeks. When our funds were getting low, and this happened periodically, either Parvus or I would dash off an article for the Social Democratic papers. While I was in Hirschberg, I wrote a book on the German Social Democracy for a Bolshevik printing house in St. Petersburg. There, for the second time the first was in 1905 I set forth the idea that the gigantic machine of the German Social Democracy might, at a critical moment for the bourgeois society, prove to be the mainstay of the conservative order. At that time, however, I did not foresee to what extent this theoretical presumption would be confirmed by the facts. From Hirschberg, we all went our separate ways I to the congress at Stuttgart, my wife to Russia to get our child, and Parvus to Germany.

There still hovered over the congress of the Socialist International the echo of the storms of the Russian revolution of 1905. Every one tried to keep in line with the left flank. But one noticed already a disappointment with revolutionary methods. Russian revolutionaries still aroused interest, but there was a touch of irony in it, as if people were saying: “Here they are, back again.” When in February, 1905, I was passing through Vienna on my way to Russia, I asked Victor Adler what he thought of the participation of the Social Democracy in the provisional government. Adler answered me in the Adler way: “Your hands are too full with the existing government to puzzle your brains over the future one.” At Stuttgart, I reminded him of his words. “I confess that you came nearer to provisional government than I expected,” he said. Adler was generally very friendly to me and if you look deeper, was not universal suffrage in Austria won by the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Delegates?

The English delegate at Stuttgart, Quelch, who had got me admission to the British Museum in 1902, at the congress referred disrespectfully to the diplomatic conference as a meeting of robbers. This did not find favor with Prince von Bülow. Under pressure from Berlin, the Wurtemberg government expelled Quelch. Bebel immediately became ill at ease. The party could not pluck up enough courage to take steps against Quelch’s expulsion. There was not even a single protest demonstration. The international congress was like a schoolroom: the rude boy is told to leave the room, and the rest keep silent. Behind the power in numbers of the German Social Democracy one could discern, all too clearly, the shadow of impotence.

In October, 1907, I was already in Vienna. Soon my wife came with our child. While we were waiting for a new tide of revolution, we took up our quarters outside the city, at Hütteldorf. We had long to wait. We were carried away from Vienna seven years later by a very different tide that one which soaked the soil of Europe with blood. Why did we choose Vienna when the rest of the foreign exiles were concentrated in Switzerland and Paris? At that period, my closest contacts were with German political life, but we could not settle down in Berlin because of the police. So we made Vienna our home. But during all those seven years I watched German life more attentively than I did Austrian, which reminded me too much of a squirrel in a cage.

Victor Adler, the recognized leader of the party, I had known since 1902. Now it was time for me to get acquainted with those who were around him, and with his party as a whole. I made the acquaintance of Hilferding in the summer of 1907, in Kautsky’s house. He was then at the peak of his revolutionism, which did not prevent him from hating Rosa Luxemburg and from being contemptuous of Karl Liebknecht. But for Russia, in those days he was ready, like many another, to accept the most radical conclusions. He praised my articles which the Neue Zeit had managed to translate from the Russian periodicals even before I came abroad, and, quite unexpectedly for me, he insisted from the very first that we address each other as “thou.” Because of this our outward relations took on the semblance of intimacy. But there was no moral or political basis for it.

Hilferding regarded the staid and passive German Social Democracy of that time with great contempt, and contrasted it with the activity of the Austrian party. This criticism, how ever, retained its fireside character. In practice, Hilferding remained a literary official in the service of the German party and nothing more. On his visits to Vienna, he would come to see me and in the evenings would introduce me in the cafes to his friends among the Austrian Marxists. On my trips to Berlin, I called on Hilferding. We once met Macdonald in one of the Berlin cafes. Eduard Bernstein acted as the interpreter. Hilferding asked the questions, Macdonald answered. To-day, I do not remember either the questions or the answers; they were distinguished only by their triteness. I asked myself which of these three men stood farthest from what I had been accustomed to call socialism. And I was at a loss for an answer.

During the Brest peace negotiations, I received a letter from Hilferding. Nothing of significance was to be expected from him, but nevertheless I opened the letter with interest. After the October revolution, this was the first direct voice from the socialist West. And what did I find? In his letter, Hilferding asked me to free some war prisoner, one of the inescapable varieties of Viennese “doctor.” Of the revolution, the letter contained not a single word. And yet he addressed me in the letter as “thou.” I knew well enough the sort of person Hilferding was. I thought I had no illusions about him. But I could not believe my own eyes.

I remember the lively interest with which Lenin asked me:

“I hear that you had a letter from Hilferding?”

“I did.”

“Well?”

“He asks us to help his relative, a prisoner.”

“And what does he say about the revolution?”

“Nothing about the revolution.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Incredible,” said Lenin, staring at me. I was less at a loss because I had already accepted the thought that the October revolution and the tragedy at Brest were for Hilferding merely an occasion to ask favors for a relative. I will spare the reader the two or three epithets with which Lenin vented his amazement.

It was Hilferding who first introduced me to his friends in Vienna, Otto Bauer, Max Adler, and Karl Renner. They were well-educated people whose knowledge of various subjects was superior to mine. I listened with intense and, one might almost say, respectful interest to their conversation in the Central cafe. But very soon I grew puzzled. These people were not revolutionaries. Moreover, they represented the type that was farthest from that of the revolutionary. This expressed itself in everything in their approach to subjects, in their political remarks and psychological appreciations, in their self-satisfaction not self-assurance, but self-satisfaction. I even thought I sensed philistinism in the quality of their voices.

I was surprised to find that these educated Marxists were absolutely incapable of applying Marx’s method as soon as they came to the big problems of politics, especially its revolutionary turns. I first became convinced of this with regard to Renner. We sat very late in a cafe; it was too late to catch a street-car to Hütteldorf where I was living, and so Renner invited me to spend the night at his place. At that time, it never entered the head of this educated and talented Hapsburg official that the unhappy destiny of Austria-Hungary, whose historical advocate he then was, would make him, ten years later, the chancellor of the Austrian republic. On the way from the café, we spoke of the possible developments in Russia, where the counter-revolution was then firmly in the saddle. Renner discussed these questions with the civility and indifference of an educated foreigner. The Austrian ministry of the day, under Baron Beck, interested him much more. His view of Russia was substantially this: that the alliance between the landlords and the bourgeoisie which found its expression in Stolypin’s constitution after the coup d’etat of June 3, 1907, fully corresponded to the stage of development of the productive forces of the country, and consequently had every chance of surviving. I retorted that, as I saw it, the ruling bloc of the landlords and the bourgeoisie was paving the way for a second revolution, which in all likelihood would transfer the power to the Russian proletariat. I remember Renner’s fleeting, puzzled, and at the same time condescending glance at me under the lamp-post. He probably considered my prognosis as ignorant raving, rather like the apocalyptic prophecies of an Australian mystic who, a few months earlier, at the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart, had prophesied the date and hour of the coming world revolution.

“You think so?” he asked, adding with deadly civility: “Probably I am not sufficiently well acquainted with the conditions in Russia.” We had no common ground for continuing our conversation. I saw clearly that the man was as far from revolutionary dialectics as the most conservative Egyptian pharaoh.

My first impressions were only intensified by further observations. These men knew a great deal, and they were capable, within the limits of political routine, of writing good Marxist articles. But to me they were strangers. I was more firmly convinced of this, the more extensive my connections became and the keener my observations grew. In informal talks among themselves, they revealed, much more frankly than in their articles and speeches, either undisguised chauvinism, or the bragging of a petty proprietor, or holy terror of the police, or vileness toward women. In amazement, I often exclaimed, “What revolutionaries!” I am not referring here to the workers who, of course, also have many philistine traits, though of a more naive and simple sort. No, I was meeting the flower of the pre-war Austrian Marxists, members of parliament, writers, and journalists. At those meetings, I learned to understand the extraordinary variety of the elements that can be comprised within the mind of one man, and the great distance which separates the mere passive assimilation of certain parts of a system from its complete psychological re-creation as a whole, from re-educating oneself in the spirit of a system. The psychological type of Marxist can develop only in an epoch of social cataclysms, of a revolutionary break with traditions and habits; whereas an Austrian Marxist too often revealed himself a philistine who had learned certain parts of Marx’s theory as one might study law, and had lived on the interest that Das Kapital yielded him. In the old imperial, hierarchic, vain and futile Vienna, the academic Marxists would refer to each other with a sort of sensuous delight as “Herr Doktor.” Workers often called the academicians, “Genosse Herr Doktor.” During all the seven years that I lived in Vienna, I never had a heart-to-heart talk with any one of this upper group, although I was a member of the Austrian Social Democracy, attended their meetings, took part in their demonstrations, contributed to their publications, and sometimes made short speeches in German. I felt that the leaders of the Social Democrats were alien, whereas I found, quite easily, a mutual language with the Social Democratic workers at meetings or at Mayday demonstrations.

In this atmosphere, the correspondence between Marx and Engels was one of the books that I needed most, and one that stood closest to me. It supplied me with the greatest and most unfailing test for my own ideas as well as for my entire personal attitude toward the rest of the world. The Viennese leaders of the Social Democracy used the same formulas that I did. But one had only to turn any of them five degrees around on their axes to discover that we gave quite different meanings to the same concepts. Our agreement was a temporary one, superficial and unreal. The correspondence between Marx and Engels was for me not a theoretical one, but a psychological revelation. Toutes proportions gardèes, I found proof on every page that to these two I was bound by a direct psychological affinity. Their attitude to men and ideas was mine. I guessed what they did not express, shared their sympathies, was indignant and hated as they did. Marx and Engels were revolutionaries through and through. But they had not the slightest trace of sectarianism or asceticism. Both of them, and especially Engels, could at any time say of them selves that nothing human was strange to them. But their revolutionary outlook lifted them always above the hazards of fate and the works of men. Pettiness was incompatible not only with their personalities, but with their presences. Vulgarity could not stick even to the soles of their boots. Their appreciations, sympathies, jests even when most commonplace are always touched by the rarefied air of spiritual nobility. They may pass deadly criticism on a man, but they will never deal in tittle-tattle. They can be ruthless, but not treacherous. For outward glamour, titles, or rank they have nothing but a cool contempt. What philistines and vulgarians considered aristocratic in them was really only their revolutionary superiority. Its most important characteristic is a complete and ingrained independence of official public opinion at all times and under all conditions. When I read their letters, I felt, even more than when I read their writings, that the same thing which bound me so closely to the world of Marx and Engels placed me in irreconcilable opposition to the Austrian Marxists.

These people prided themselves on being realists and on being businesslike. But even here they swam in shallow water. In 1907, to increase its income, the party set out to establish its own bread-factory. This was the crudest adventure possible, one that was dangerous in principle and utterly hopeless in any practical sense. I fought against the venture from the start, but I was met with a smile of condescending superiority from the Vienna Marxists. Nearly twenty years later, after many vagaries and losses, the Austrian party had shamefacedly to hand it over to private hands. In defending themselves against the displeasure of the workers who had made so many futile sacrifices, Otto Bauer tried to prove the necessity of abandoning the factory by afterward quoting, among others, the warnings I had given them at the outset. But he did not explain to the workers why he had failed to see what I had seen, and why he did not act upon my warnings, which were not all the result of my personal powers of insight. I based my opinions neither on the situation in the bread-market nor on the state of the membership of the party, but on the position of the proletariat party in capitalist society. This seemed like dogmatic theorizing, but it proved to be the best criterion. The confirming of my warnings only meant the superiority of the Marxist method over its Austrian counterfeit.

Victor Adler was in all respects far above the rest of his colleagues. But he had long been a sceptic. In the Austrian scramble, his fighting temper was wasted on little things. The vistas of the future were obscure, and Adler turned his back on them, sometimes demonstratively. “The business of a prophet is a thankless one, and especially in Austria,” this was the constant refrain of his speeches. “You may say what you like,” he said in the lobby of the Stuttgart congress, apropos of the above-mentioned Australian prophecy, “but for my part I prefer political predictions based on the Apocalypse to those supported by a materialistic interpretation of history.”

This was, of course, a jest. And yet, not merely that. It was this that placed Adler and me at opposite poles in the things that were most vital to me; without a broad political view of the future, I cannot conceive either of political activity or of intellectual life in general. Victor Adler became a sceptic, and as such he tolerated everything and adapted himself to everything, especially to the nationalist spirit which had corroded the Austrian Social Democracy to the very core.

My relations with the leaders of the party were even more strained when I came out openly against the chauvinism of the Austro-German Social Democracy. This was in 1909. During my meetings with the Balkan Socialists, and especially with the Serbs — one of whom was Dmitry Tutsovitch who later was killed as an officer of the Balkan war I had heard indignant complaints to the effect that all the Serbian bourgeois press was quoting the chauvinist outbursts of the Arbeiter-Zeitung with a sort of malicious delight, in proof of the fact that the international solidarity of workers was no more than a fraudulent tale. I wrote a very cautious and tempered article against the chauvinism of the Arbeiter-Zeitung and sent it to the Neue Zeit. After much hesitation, Kautsky published the article. The next day, an old Russian émigré, Klyachko, with whom I was very friendly, informed me that the leaders of the party were angry with me . . . “How dared he?”

Otto Bauer and other Austrian Marxists privately admitted that Leitner, the foreign-news editor, had gone too far. In this they were simply echoing Adler himself, who, although he tolerated extremes of chauvinism, did not approve of them. But in the face of daring interference from outside, the leaders be came united in sentiment. On one of the following Saturdays, Otto Bauer came up to the table at which Klyachko and I were sitting and began to rail at me. I confess that under his torrent of words I did not know what to say. I was astounded not so much by his lecturing tone as by the nature of his arguments.

“What importance have Leitner’s articles?” he demanded with an amusing haughtiness. “Foreign policy does not exist for Austria-Hungary. No worker ever reads about it. It has not the slightest importance.”

I listened with wide-open eyes. These men, it seemed, believed neither in revolution nor in war. They wrote about war and revolution in their Mayday manifestos, but they never took them seriously; they did not perceive that history had al ready poised its gigantic soldier’s boot over the ant-heap in which they were rushing about with such self-abandon. Six years later, they learned that foreign policy existed even for Austria-Hungary. And, at the same time, they began to speak in that same shameless language which they had learned from Leitner and other chauvinists like him.

In Berlin, the atmosphere was different though essentially perhaps not much better, still, different. The ridiculous mandarin attitude of the Vienna academists scarcely existed there. Relations were simpler. There was less nationalism, or at least it had not the incentive to reveal itself as often or as vociferously as it had in many-nationed Austria. For the time being, nationalist sentiment seemed to have dissolved in the pride of the party the most powerful Social Democracy, the first fiddle of the International!

For us Russians, the German Social Democracy was mother, teacher, and living example. We idealized it from a distance. The names of Bebel and Kautsky were pronounced reverently. In spite of my disturbing theoretical premonitions about the German Social Democracy, already mentioned, at that period I was undeniably under its spell. This was heightened by the fact that I lived in Vienna, and when I visited Berlin off and on, I would compare with two Social Democratic capitals and console myself: No, Berlin is not Vienna.

In Berlin, I attended two of the weekly meetings of the left-wingers. They were held on Fridays in the Rheingold restaurant. The principal figure at these gatherings was Franz Mehring. Karl Liebknecht also came there; he always arrived late and left before the rest. I was taken there the first time by Hilferding. Then he still regarded himself as of the “left,” although he hated Rosa Luxemburg with the same fierce passion that Dashinsky was cultivating against her in Austria. My memory has retained nothing significant from these conversations. Mehring asked me ironically, with a twitch of his cheek — he suffered from a tic — which of his “immortal works” had been translated into Russian. Hilferding, in conversation, referred to the German left-wingers as revolutionaries. “We are revolutionaries? Bah!” Mehring interrupted him. “Those are revolutionaries,” and he nodded in my direction. I knew Mehring too little and I had met philistines who spoke mockingly of the Russian revolution too often to be able to make out whether he was jesting or serious. But he was serious, as his subsequent life showed.

I met Kautsky for the first time in 1907. Parvus took me to his house. It was with much excitement that I walked up the steps of a neat little house in Friedenau, near Berlin. A white-haired and very jolly little old man with clear blue eyes greeted me with the Russian: “Zdravstvuyte.” With what I already knew of Kautsky from his books, this served to complete a very charming personality. The thing that appealed to me most was the absence of fuss, which, as I later discovered, was the result of his undisputed authority at that time, and of the inner calm which it gave him. His opponents called him the “papa” of the International. Sometimes, he was called that by his friends, too, in a genial way. Kautsky’s old mother, who wrote problem novels which she dedicated to “her son and teacher,” on her seventy-fifth birthday received a greeting from Italian socialists that read “alla mamma del papa” (to papa’s mama).

Kautsky saw his principal theoretical mission as the reconciling of reform and revolution. But he achieved his intellectual maturity during an era of reform. Reality was simply reform for him, revolution a misty historical prospect. After he had accepted Marxism as a complete system, Kautsky popularized it like a school-teacher. Great events were beyond his ken. His decline set in as early as the days of the revolution of 1905. One got little from conversation with Kautsky. His mind was too angular and dry, too lacking in nimbleness and psychological insight. His evaluations were schematic, his jokes trite. For the same reason he was a poor speaker.

Kautsky’s friendship with Rosa Luxemburg coincided with the best period of his intellectual activity. But soon after the 1905 revolution, appeared the first signs of a growing coolness between them. Kautsky warmly sympathized with the Russian revolution, and could interpret it fairly well from afar. But he was by nature hostile to a transfer of revolutionary methods to German soil. When I came to his house before the demonstration in Treptow Park, I found Rosa engaged in a heated argument with him. Although they still addressed each other as “thou,” and spoke as intimate friends, in Rosa’s retorts one could hear suppressed indignation, and in Kautsky’s answers one sensed a profound inner embarrassment disguised by rather uncertain jokes. We went to the demonstration together Rosa, Kautsky, his wife, Hilferding, the late Gustav Eckstein, and I. There were more sharp clashes on the way. Kautsky wanted to remain an onlooker, whereas Rosa was anxious to join the demonstration.

The antagonism between them burst out in 1910 over the question of the struggle for suffrage in Prussia. Kautsky developed at that time the strategic philosophy of wearing out the enemy (Ermattungsstrategie) as opposed to the strategy of overthrowing the enemy (Niederwerfungsstrategie). It was a case of two irreconcilable tendencies. Kautsky’s line was that of an increasingly firm adaptation to the existing system. In the process, what was “worn out” was not bourgeois society, but the revolutionary idealism of the masses of workers. All the philistines, all the officials, all the climbers sided with Kautsky, who was weaving for them the intellectual garments with which to hide their nakedness.

Then came the war; the political strategy of exhaustion was ousted by the trench variety. Kautsky was adapting himself to the war in the same way that he had been adapting himself to peace. But Rosa showed how she interpreted loyalty to her ideas.

I remember the celebration in Kautsky’s house of Ledebour’s sixtieth birthday. Among the guests was August Bebel, already past his seventieth year. It was at the time when the party was at its peak; they were united in policy; the elders recorded the successes and looked into the future with assurance. During the supper, Ledebour, the centre of the festivity, drew amusing caricatures. It was at this party that I first met Bebel and his Julia. Every one there, including Kautsky, listened avidly to every word that old Bebel uttered. Needless to say, I did too.

Bebel personified the slow and stubborn movement of a new class that was rising from below. This withered old man seemed to have been cut out of patient but adamantine will directed toward a single end. In his reasoning, in his eloquence, in his articles and books, Bebel knew no such thing as expending mental energy on an object which did not immediately serve some practical purpose. The quiet magnificence of his political pathos lay in this. He reflected the class that gets its learning during its spare hours, values every minute, and absorbs voraciously only what is strictly necessary an incomparable portrait of a man. Bebel died during the Bucharest peace conference, in the interval between the Balkan war and the World war. The news reached me at the station in Ploesci, Roumania. It seemed incredible: Bebel dead! What would happen to the Social Democracy? Ledebour’s words about the core of the German party instantly flashed through my mind: twenty per cent radicals, thirty per cent opportunists and the rest follow Bebel.

Bebel’s fond hopes for a successor centred in Haase. The old man was doubtless attracted by Haase’s idealism not broad revolutionary idealism, which Haase did not possess, but a narrower, more personal, everyday sort of idealism; one might instance his readiness to sacrifice a rich legal practice at Königsberg to party interests. To the great embarrassment of the Russian revolutionaries, Bebel referred to this not very heroic sacrifice even in his speech at the party congress I think it was in Jena and insistently recommended Haase for the post of second chairman of the party’s central committee. I knew Haase fairly well. After one of the party congresses we joined each other for a tour of some parts of Germany, and saw Nuremberg together. Gentle and considerate as he was in personal relations, in politics Haase remained to the end what his nature intended him to be an honest mediocrity, a provincial democrat without revolutionary temperament or theoretical outlook. In the realm of philosophy he called himself, some what shyly, a Kantian. Whenever the situation was critical, he was inclined to refrain from final decisions; he would resort to half-measures and wait. No wonder the party of the independents later chose him as its leader.

Karl Liebknecht was entirely different. I knew him for many years, but there were long intervals between our meetings. Liebknecht’s Berlin house was the headquarters of the Russian émigrés. Every time it was necessary to raise a voice of protest against the friendly assistance the German police gave Czarism, we referred first to Liebknecht, and he rapped at all the doors and at all the skulls. Although he was an educated Marxist, he was not a theorist but a man of action. His was an impulsive, passionate and heroic nature; he had, moreover, real political intuition, a sense of the masses and of the situation, and an incomparable courage of initiative. He was a revolutionary. It was because of this that he was always a half-stranger in the house of the German Social Democracy, with its bureaucratic faith in measured progress and its ever-present readiness to draw back. What a group of philistines and shallow vulgarians were they, who, under my own eyes, looked down ironically at Liebknecht!

At the Social Democratic congress at Jena, in the early part of September, 1911, I was asked at Liebknecht’s suggestion to speak on the tyrannies of the Czarist government in Finland. But before my turn came, a report was received of the assassination of Stolypin in Kiev. Bebel immediately began to question me: What did the assassination mean? Which party was responsible for it? Would not my proposed speech attract unwelcome attention from the German police?

“Do you fear,” I asked the old man cautiously, remembering Quelch’s case in Stuttgart, “that my making a speech may cause trouble?”

“I do,” answered Bebel. “I should prefer, I confess, that you do not speak.”

“In that case, there can be no question of my speaking.”

Bebel sighed with relief. A minute later Liebknecht came rushing over to me with a disturbed look on his face. “Is it true that you have been asked not to speak? And that you agreed?”

“How could I refuse?” I answered, trying to excuse myself. “The host here is Bebel, not I.”

Liebknecht gave vent to his indignation in a speech in which he lashed the Czar’s government mercilessly, ignoring the signals of the presidium, who did not want to create complications by lèse-majesté. All the subsequent developments had their germ in these small episodes.

When the Czech trade-unions opposed the German leadership, the Austrian Marxists advanced, against the split in the trade organizations, arguments which skilfully counterfeited internationalism. At the international congress in Copenhagen, the report on the question was read by Plekhanov. Like all of the Russians, he completely and unreservedly supported the German point of view as opposed to the Czech. Plekhanov’s candidacy as chairman of the committee was put forward by old Adler, who found it more convenient in such a delicate matter to have a Russian for the principal accuser of Slavic chauvinism. For my part, I of course could have nothing in common with the sorry national narrowness of such men as Nemec, Soukup, or Smeral, who tried hard to convince me of the justice of the Czech case. At the same time, I had watched the inner life of the Austrian labor movement too closely to throw all or even the principal blame upon the Czechs. There was plenty of evidence that the rank and file of the Czech party were more radical than the Austro-German party, and that the legitimate dissatisfaction of the Czech workers with the opportunist leadership of Vienna would be cleverly utilized by Czech chauvinists like Nemec.

On the way from Vienna to the congress at Copenhagen, at one of the stations where I had to change trains, I suddenly met Lenin on his way from Paris. We had to wait about an hour, and a significant conversation took place there, in its first stages very friendly, later quite the opposite. I argued that if any one was to blame for the secession of the Czech trade-unions, it was first of all the Vienna leaders, who made high-sounding appeals to fight to the workers of all countries, including the Czechs, and then always ended in deals behind the scenes with the monarchy. Lenin listened to me with great interest. He had a peculiar capacity for attention, watching the speech of his interlocutor for the exact thing he wanted, and meanwhile looking past him into space.

Our conversation assumed a very different character, how ever, when I told Lenin of my latest article in the Vor’waerts about the Russian Social Democracy. The article was written for the congress, and was severely criticised by both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. The most prickly question in the article was that of so-called “expropriations.” After the defeat of the revolution, armed “expropriations” and terrorist acts inevitably tended to disorganize the revolutionary party itself. The London congress, by a majority of votes composed of Mensheviks, Poles and some Bolsheviks, banned “expropriations.” When the delegates shouted from their seats:

“What does Lenin say? We want to hear Lenin,” the latter only chuckled, with a somewhat cryptic expression. After the London congress, “expropriations” continued; they were harmful to the party. That was the point on which I had centred my attack in the Vorwaerts.

“Did you really write like this?” Lenin asked me reproach fully. At his request I repeated to him from memory the principal ideas as I had formulated them in the article.

“Could it be stopped by telegraph?”

“No,” I answered. “The article was to appear this morning and what’s the use of holding it up? It is perfectly right.”

As a matter of fact, the article was not right, for it assumed that the party would take shape by the union of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, cutting off the extremes, whereas in reality the party was formed by a merciless war of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks. Lenin tried to induce the Russian delegation at the congress to condemn my article. This was the sharpest conflict with Lenin in my whole life. He was unwell at the time; he was suffering from a violent toothache, and his head was all bandaged. In the Russian delegation, the attitude toward the article and its author was rather hostile; the Mensheviks were no less displeased with another article in which the main ideas were directed chiefly against them.

“What a disgusting article he has in the Neue Zeit!” Axel rod wrote Martov in October, 1910. “Perhaps even more disgusting than the one in the Vorwaerts.”

“Plekanov, who disliked Trotsky intensely,” Lunarcharsky writes, “took advantage of the situation and tried to engineer bringing him to trial. I thought this was not fair and spoke for Trotsky. Together with Ryazanov, we helped to collapse Plekhanov’s plan.” The majority of the Russian delegation knew the article only from indirect reports. I demanded that it be read. Zinoviev argued that there was no need of reading the article to condemn it. The majority did not agree with him. The article was read aloud and translated, if my memory serves me, by Ryazanov. The previous account of the article pictured it as such a monstrous thing that its reading was an anticlimax; it sounded perfectly harmless. By an over whelming majority of votes, the delegation declined to condemn it. This does not prevent me to-day from condemning the article as an incorrect evaluation of the Bolshevik faction.

On the question of the Czech trade-unions, the Russian delegation voted at the congress for the Vienna resolution as opposed to the one moved by Prague. I tried to move an amendment, but with no success. After all, I was not yet sure of the sort of amendment that must be made to the entire policy of the Social Democracy. The amendment should have been in the nature of a declaration of a holy war against it. This move we did not make until 1914.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trotsky/leon/my_life/chapter16.html

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