My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 20

My Expulsion From France

Certain French newspapers recently reported, when I was already in Constantinople, that the order for my expulsion from France is still in force to-day, after thirteen years. If that be true, it is added evidence that not all values were destroyed in the most terrible of world catastrophes. During those years, whole generations have been wiped out by shells, entire cities have been razed; imperial and royal crowns have been strewn about the waste lands of Europe; the boundaries of states have changed; the frontiers of France, forbidden to me, have moved. And yet, in the midst of this tremendous cataclysm, the order signed by Malvy in the early autumn of 1916 has happily been preserved. What of the fact that Malvy himself has since managed to be exiled and to come back? In history, the work of a man’s hands has often proved more formidable than its creator.

True, a strict jurist might object that he fails to see why there need be continuity in the life of the order. Thus, in 1918, the French military mission in Moscow placed its acting officers at my disposal. This could hardly have been done for an “undesirable” alien deprived of admission to France. Again, on October 10, 1922, M. Herriot paid me a visit in Moscow, not at all to remind me of the order for my expulsion from France. On the contrary, it was I who recalled it to him, when M. Herriot courteously inquired when I planned to visit Paris. But my reminder was in the nature of a jest. We both laughed, for different reasons, it is true, but we laughed together all the same. True, too, that in 1925 the ambassador of France, M. Herbette, on behalf of the diplomats present at the opening of the Shatura power station, replied to my speech with a most amiable greeting, in which even the most captious ear could not have detected the slightest echo of M. Malvy’s order. But what of that? There is significance in the fact that one of the two police inspectors who were conducting me from Paris to Irun in the autumn of 1916 explained to me: “Governments come and go, but the police remain.”

For the better understanding of the circumstances of my expulsion from France, it is necessary for me to dwell for a moment on the conditions under which the tiny Russian paper existed during my editorship. Its chief enemy was, of course, the Russian embassy. There the articles of the Nashe Slovo were diligently translated into French and forwarded with appropriate comments to the Quai d’Orsay and the Ministry of War. Thereupon, telephone calls of alarm would go to our military censor, M. Chasles, who had spent several years in Russia as a French teacher before the war. Chasles was not distinguished for any quality of resolution. He always solved his hesitations by crossing out rather than leaving in. (What a pity that he did not apply this rule to the unusually poor biography of Lenin that he wrote several years later!) As a timorous censor, Chasles extended his protection not only to the Czar, Czarina, Sazonov, the Dardanelles dreams of Miliukoff, but to Rasputin as well. It would require no great effort to prove that the whole war against the Nashe Slovo a veritable war of attrition was waged not against the paper’s internationalism, but against its revolutionary spirit in opposition to Czarism.

We ran into the first acid bit of censorship at the time of the Russian successes in Galicia. At the least military success, the Czar’s embassy would become arrogant to an extreme. This time the censor went so far as to cross out the entire obituary notice of Count Witte and even the title of the article, consisting only of five letters: WITTE. At that very time the official organ of the St. Petersburg Navy Department was publishing uncommonly insolent articles aimed at the French republic, sneering at the parliament and its “sorry little czars,” the deputies. With a copy of the St. Petersburg journal in my hand, I went to the censor’s office to ask for an explanation.

“I have nothing to do with this,” M. Chasles said to me. “All the instructions concerning your publication come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Would you like to speak to one of our diplomats?”

Half an hour later a gray-haired diplomat arrived at the War Ministry. The conversation between us, which I wrote down soon after it was over, was something like this:

“Could you explain to me why an article in our paper dealing with a Russian bureaucrat who was in retirement and also in disfavor, and, moreover, already deceased, has been crossed out? And what relation this measure has to military operations?”

“Well, you know such articles are displeasing to them,” the diplomat said, as he inclined his head vaguely presumably in the direction of the Russian embassy.

“But it is precisely to displease them that we write them.”

The diplomat smiled condescendingly at this answer, as if it were a charming joke. “We are at war. We depend on our allies.”

“Do you mean to say that the internal affairs of France are controlled by the Czar’s diplomacy? Didn’t your ancestors make a mistake then in chopping off Louis Capet’s head?”

“Oh, you exaggerate. And besides, please don’t forget; we are at war.”

Our further conversation was fruitless. The diplomat explained to me with a suave smile that since statesmen are mortal, the living ones do not like to hear the dead spoken of disparagingly. After the meeting, everything went on as before. The censor continued to blue-pencil. Instead of a newspaper, often all that appeared was a sheet of white paper. We were never guilty of disregarding M. Chasles’ will; he, in turn, was even less inclined to disregard the will of his masters.

Nevertheless, in September, 1916, the prefecture handed me the order for my expulsion from French territory. What was the reason for it? But they told me nothing. Gradually, however, it became apparent that the cause was a malicious frame-up organized by the Russian secret police in France.

When deputy Jean Longuet came to Briand to protest, or, to be more precise, to grieve (Longuet’s protests always sounded like the gentlest of tunes) about my expulsion, the French prime minister answered him: “Do you know that the Nashe Slovo was found on the persons of the Russian soldiers who murdered their colonel at Marseilles?” Longuet had not been expecting this. He knew of the “Zimmerwald” policy of the paper; he could reconcile himself more or less to that, but the murder of a colonel could not but find him at a loss. He turned to inquire of my French friends there, and they in turn asked me, but I knew no more about the murder at Marseilles than they did. Correspondents of the Russian liberal press who were patriotic enemies of the Nashe Slovo accidentally came into the affair and cleared up the whole Marseilles incident.

It happened that when the Czar’s government brought troops to the soil of the republic troops called “symbolical” because of their slim numbers they also mobilized in haste the requisite number of spies and agents-provocateurs. Among these was a certain Vining (I believe that was his name) who arrived from London with a letter of introduction to the Russian consul. To start things going, Vining tried to induce the most moderate of the Russian correspondents to take part in the “revolutionary” propaganda among the Russian soldiers. They refused. He did not dare address himself to the editors of the Nashe Slovo, and consequently we did not even know of him. After his failure in Paris, Vining went to Toulon, where it seems he had some success among the Russian sailors, who were unable to see through him. “The soil is very favorable for our work here. Send me revolutionary books and papers,” he wrote to certain Russian journalists, whom he chose at random; but he received no answer. Serious mutinies broke out on the Russian cruiser Askold, stationed at Toulon, and were cruelly suppressed. Vining’s part in the business was only too obvious, and he decided that it was an opportune time to transfer his activities to Marseilles. The soil proved “favorable” there, too. Not without his co-operation, mutinies broke out among the Russian soldiers and culminated in the stoning to death of the Russian colonel, Krause, in the courtyard of the barracks. When the soldiers concerned in the affair were arrested, copies of the same issue of the Nashe Slovo were found on them. The Russian correspondents, coming to Marseilles to investigate, were told by the officers that during the disturbances a certain Vining had distributed the Nashe Slovo to all soldiers, whether they wanted it or not. And that was the only reason why the paper was found on the arrested soldiers, who had not even had a chance to read it.

Immediately after Longuet’s interview with Briand concerning my expulsion that is, before Vining’s part in the affair had been disclosed I wrote an open letter to Jules Guesde in which I suggested that the Nashe Slovo might have been intentionally distributed among the soldiers at the right moment by some agent-provocateur. This surmise was completely confirmed by bitter opponents of the paper, sooner than I could have hoped for. But it did not matter. The Czar’s diplomacy gave the government of the republic to understand, only too dearly, that if France wanted Russian soldiers the nest of Russian revolutionaries must be destroyed at once. The object was achieved; the French government, hesitant until then, closed down the Nashe Slovo, and the minister of the interior, Malvy, signed the order, previously prepared by the prefect of police, expelling me from France.

Now the ministry felt that it was well covered. Briand quoted the Marseilles incident as the reason for my expulsion, not only to Jean Longuet, but to a number of other deputies as well, among them the chairman of the parliamentary committee, Leysgues. This could not fail to have its effect. But since the Nashe Slovo was a censored paper sold openly on the newsstands, and could not call upon soldiers to kill their colonel, the case remained a mystery until the frame-up was disclosed. It became known even in the Chamber of Deputies. I was told that Painlevé, then the minister of education, when he was told the “inside” story exclaimed: “It’s a shame . . . things must not be left at that.”

But there was a war on. The Czar was an ally. Vining could not be exposed. There was nothing to do but to carry out Malvy’s order.

The Paris prefecture informed me that I was being expelled from France to any other country I might choose. I was also in formed that England and Italy declined the honor of having me as a guest. My only choice was to go back to Switzerland. Alas! the Swiss legation flatly refused to issue a visa to me. I telegraphed my Swiss friends and received a reassuring answer from them: the question would be decided favorably. The Swiss legation, however, continued to refuse me a visa. I found out later that the Russian embassy, with the help of the Miles, put on the screws in Berne when it seemed necessary, and the Swiss authorities deliberately delayed the solution of the question hoping that in the meantime I would have been expelled from France. I could get to Holland and Scandinavia only through England, but the English government refused me the right of passage. Spain was the only country left. But now it was my turn to refuse to go voluntarily to the Iberian peninsula.

Arguments with the Paris police continued for about six weeks. Detectives followed me wherever I went; they stood on guard outside my home and the offices of our paper, never once letting me out of their sight. Finally, the Paris authorities decided to take firm measures. The prefect of police, Laurent, invited me to his office and told me that since I refused to leave voluntarily, two police inspectors in “plain clothes” however, he added with the utmost consideration would be sent to conduct me to the frontier. The Czar’s embassy achieved its end; I was expelled from France.

The details of this account, which is based on the entries I made at that time, may show some slight inaccuracies. But all the main facts are absolutely irrefutable. Besides, most of the people who had anything to do with the episode are still alive; many of them are in France now. There are documents as well. It would therefore be quite easy to establish the facts. For my part, I have no doubt that if Malvy’s order for my expulsion were resurrected from the police archives and if the document were subjected to a dactyloscopic examination, it would be found to bear somewhere in a corner the finger-prints of Monsieur Vining.

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