My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 25

Concerning Slanderers

When I arrived in Petrograd in the early part of May, 1917, the campaign about the “sealed car” in which Lenin had made his way through Germany was in full blast. The new Socialist ministers were in alliance with Lloyd George, who had refused to let Lenin pass into Russia. And the same gentlemen were hounding Lenin for passing through Germany. My own experience on the return journey supplemented Lenin’s experience with a proof from the contrary. But that didn’t save me from being made the butt of the same slander. Buchanan was the first to set the ball rolling. In an open letter to the minister of foreign affairs (in May, it was no longer Miliukoff, but Teryeschenko) I described my Atlantic Odyssey. My argument culminated in this question: “Do you, Mr. Minister, consider it in order that England should be represented by a man who has disgraced himself by such shameless calumny and who has not moved a finger to rehabilitate himself?”

There was no answer, nor did I expect one. But Miliukoff’s paper stepped in to defend the ambassador of an ally, and repeated the charge on its own behalf. I decided to brand the calumniators as solemnly as I could. The first all-Russian congress of Soviets was then in session. On June 5, the hall was full to the brim. At the dose of the meeting I rose to make a personal statement. Gorky’s paper, which was hostile to the Bolsheviks, next day reported my concluding words and the scene as a whole as follows:

“‘Miliukoff charges us with being hired agents of the German government. From this tribunal of the revolutionary democracy, I ask the honest Russian press [Trotsky here turns to the press table] to reproduce my exact words: Until Miliukoff with draws his accusation, the brand of a dishonorable slanderer will remain on his forehead.’”

“Trotsky’s statement,” the report continues, “uttered with force and dignity, was received with a unanimous ovation from the entire gathering. The whole congress, without distinction of faction, applauded stormily for several minutes.”

And nine-tenths of the congress were our opponents. But this success, as subsequent events proved, was fleeting. It was one of the paradoxes peculiar to parliamentarism. Next day the Rech (The Speech) tried to pick up the glove by publishing the statement that the German patriotic Verein in New York had given me $10,000 to overthrow the Provisional government. This at least was plain speaking. I must explain that two days before I left for Europe, the German workers in New York, to whom I had lectured many times, together with my American, Russian, Lettish, Jewish, Lithuanian, and Finnish friends and followers, had given me a farewell meeting at which a collection was taken up for the Russian revolution. The sum collected amounted to $310, of which $100 was contributed by the German workers through their chairman at the meeting. On the following day, with the consent of those who organized the meeting, I distributed the $310 among five emigrants who were returning to Russia and were short of money for the trip. That was the history of the $10,000. I recounted it at the time in Gorky’s paper, the Novaya Zhizn (June 27), ending the article with this moral:

“To provide the necessary corrective for future occasions, I feel that it is pertinent for me to state, for the benefit of liars, slanderers, Kadet 1 reporters and blackguards in general, that in my entire life I have not only never had at my disposal, at one time, $10,000, but even a tenth of that sum. Such a confession, I am afraid, may ruin my reputation among the Kadet public more completely than all the insinuations of M. Miliukoff, but I have long since become reconciled to the thought of living without the approval of the liberal bourgeois.”

After this, the slanderous tales died down. I summed up the whole campaign in a pamphlet, To the Slanderers, and sent it to the printers. A week later, the July days were upon us, and on the 23rd of July I was imprisoned by the Provisional government on the charge of being in the service of the German Kaiser. The investigation was in the hands of practitioners of justice seasoned under the regime of the Czar. They were unaccustomed to treating facts or arguments honestly. This was a turbulent time, too. When I learned what the prosecution’s material was, I was so amused at its helpless stupidity that it took the edge off my wrath at the villainy of the accusation itself. I wrote in the record of the preliminary investigation of September 1:

“In view of the fact that the very first document produced (the deposition of corporal Yermolyenko, which so far has played the leading role in the persecution of my party and me, a persecution undertaken with the aid of members of the Department of Justice) is unquestionably a purposely fabricated document, not intended to clear up the case, but maliciously to cloud things over; in view also of the fact that M. Alexandrov, the court-examiner, has wilfully ignored the most important questions and circumstances concerning this document, the examination of which would inevitably expose the falsity of the evidence submitted by Yermolyenko, a person whom I do not know; in view of all this, I consider it morally and politically debasing for me to take any part in the procedure of investigation, while I reserve the right to expose the true meaning of the accusation before the public by every means at my disposal.”

The accusation was soon lost in the larger events that swallowed up not only the investigators but all of old Russia, with her “new” heroes, like Kerensky.

I did not think that I should have to return to this subject. But there is a writer who in 1928 picked up and supported the old slander. His name is Kerensky. In 1928, eleven years after the revolutionary happenings that lifted him so suddenly to the crest and washed him as inevitably away, Kerensky assured us that Lenin and other Bolsheviks were agents of the German government, were connected with the German general staff, were receiving sums of money from it, and were carrying out its secret instructions with a view to bringing about the defeat of the Russian army and the dismemberment of the Russian state. This is all told in great detail in his amusing book, 2 I had formed a pretty dear idea of Kerensky’s intellectual and moral stature from the events of 1917, but I never would have thought it possible that at this time, after all that has happened, he could have the audacity to repeat the accusation. But that is exactly what he did.

He writes: “Lenin’s betrayal of Russia, at the most crucial moment in the war, is an indubitable, established historical fact.” Who, then, supplied these indubitable proofs, and when? Kerensky starts off with a pretentious story about how the German general staff recruited candidates for its espionage among the Russian prisoners of war and shoved them into the Russian armies. One of these spies, either actual or self-constituted (often they themselves did not know), presented himself to Kerensky to tell him of the entire espionage system. But, remarks Kerensky with a melancholy air, “these disclosures had no particular importance.” Precisely. Even from his own account one can see that some petty adventurer tried to lead him by the nose. Did this episode have any relation to Lenin or to the Bolsheviks in general? None whatsoever. The episode, as Kerensky himself admits, had no particular importance. Then why does he tell it? Only because he wants to fill in his narrative and make his further disclosures appear more important. Like his informer, Kerensky simply wants to lead the reader by the nose.

Yes, he says, the first case had no importance, but then, from another source, they received information of “great value,” and that information “proved beyond the possibility of a doubt that the Bolsheviks were in contact with the German general staff.” Please note that “beyond the possibility of a doubt.” Next follows: “The ways and means, too, by which this contact was maintained, could be established.” Could be established? This sounds equivocal. Were they established? We will know presently. Let us be patient: it took eleven years for the disclosure to ripen in the depths of its creator’s soul.

“In April, a Ukrainian officer by the name of Yarmolyenko came to General Alexeyev at Headquarters.” We had heard this name. He is the decisive figure in all this business. One notes too that Kerensky cannot be exact even when he has no interest in being inexact. The name of the petty rogue whom he brings out on the stage is not “Yarmolyenko,” but “Yermolyenko.” 3 This, at least, was the name under which he was listed by Mr. Kerensky’s court investigators.

And so, corporal Yermolyenko (Kerensky refers to him as “officer” with intentional vagueness) presented himself at headquarters as a pretended German agent, to expose the real German agents. The evidence given by this great patriot, whom even the bourgeois press — bitterly hostile to the Bolsheviks — was soon obliged to characterize as a dark and suspicious person, proved conclusively, once and for all, that Lenin was not one of history’s greatest figures, but only a paid agent of Ludendorff’s. How did corporal Yermolyenko discover this secret, and what proofs did he submit to captivate Kerensky? Yermolyenko, according to his statement, had received instructions from the German staff to carry on separatist propaganda in the Ukraine. “He was given,” Kerensky relates, “all (!) the necessary information regarding the ways and means of maintaining contact with the directing (!) German representatives, regarding the banks (!) through which the necessary funds had been forwarded, and the names of the more important agents, which included several Ukrainian separatists and Lenin.”

All this is printed word for word on pages 295-296 of the great opus. Now we at least know how the German general staff behaved toward its spies. When it found an unknown and semi-literate corporal as a candidate for espionage work, it did not put him under the observation of a junior officer of the German intelligence service, but connected him with the “directing German representatives,” acquainted him at once with the entire network of German agents and even gave him the list of banks — not one, but all the banks — through which it forwarded its secret German funds. Say what you will, you cannot dispel the impression that the German staff acted with arrant stupidity. This impression is the result, however, of our seeing the German staff not as it really was, but as pictured by “Max and Moritz,” the two corporals — the military corporal Yermolyenko and the political corporal Kerensky.

But, in spite of his being unknown, unintelligent, and low in rank, could Yermolyenko perhaps have held some high post in the German espionage system? Kerensky would like to make us think so. But we happen to know not only Kerensky’s book but his sources as well. Yermolyenko himself is simpler than Kerensky. In his evidence, given in the tone of a stupid little adventurer, Yermolyenko himself quotes his price: The German general staff gave him exactly 1,500 roubles — the highly depreciated roubles of that time — for all the expenses incurred in arranging for the secession of the Ukraine and Kerensky’s overthrow. He candidly adds in his evidence (it has now been published) that he had complained bitterly but in vain about the stinginess of the Germans. “Why so little?” protested Yermolyenko, but the “directing personages” were deaf to all his pleas. Yermolyenko does not tell us, however, whether he conducted his negotiations with Ludendorif, Hindenburg, the Crown Prince, or the Kaiser himself. He stubbornly refrains from naming the “directing” gentlemen who had given him his 1,500 roubles for the breaking up of Russia, travelling expenses, tobacco, and liquor. We venture the hypothesis that the money was spent mostly on liquor, and that after the German funds had melted from the corporal’s pockets, without resorting to the banks of which he had been told in Berlin, he bravely presented him self at the headquarters of the Russian general staff to find further patriotic help. It is quite probable that on his way there he was picked up by some officer of the Russian intelligence service engaged in hounding out Bolsheviks, and it was from just such an officer that he probably got his inspiration. As a result, two views of life, so to speak, were lodged in the corporal’s incapacious head: on the one hand, he could not suppress his sense of injury against the German lieutenant who had thrown down 1,500 roubles and not a kopeck more; on the other, he did not dare forget that he had been initiated by the “directing German representatives” into the whole German espionage system, including all its agents and banks.

And who were the “several Ukrainian separatists” whom Yermolyenko disclosed to Kerensky? Kerensky’s book says nothing about this. To give additional weight to some of Yernmlyenko’s sorry lies, Kerensky simply adds a few of his own. According to his testimony, the only separatist Yermolyenko mentioned was Skoropis-Ioltukhovksy. But Kerensky is silent about this name, because his very mention of it would have compelled him to admit that Yermolyenko had no disclosures to make. The name of Ioltukhovksy was no secret to any one. During the war, the papers had mentioned it several times. And he himself did not try to conceal his connection with the German general staff. In the Paris Nashe Slovo, as early as the close of 1914, I had branded that small group of Ukrainian separatists who associated them selves with the German military authorities. I named all of them, including Ioltukhovksy. But we are also told that Yermolyenko had mentioned not only “several Ukrainian separatists,” but Lenin as well. Why separatists were mentioned, one can perhaps understand; Yermolyenko himself was being sent for separatist propaganda. But why mention Lenin to him? Kerensky does not answer that; and it is not through oversight, either.

Yermolyenko drags the name of Lenin in senselessly and without any connection. The man who inspired Kerensky tells how he was recruited as a paid German spy with “patriotic” aims; how he demanded an increase in his “secret funds” (1,500 war roubles); how he was informed of his future duties, such as espionage, blowing up bridges, etc. Then, according to his testimony, — and all this has nothing at all to do with the story he has just been telling — he was told (by whom?) that he would be working in Russia but “not alone”; that “Lenin and his followers were working in the same (!) direction there.” This is the verbatim text of his deposition. It seems that a petty agent engaged in blowing up bridges is initiated, for no practical reason, into such a secret as the relationship between Lenin and LudendorFf. Yermolyenko suddenly adds at the end of his evidence, still with no apparent connection with the rest of the tale, but obviously at the crude prompting of some other person: “I was told [by whom?] that Lenin took part in conferences in Berlin (with the representatives of the German general staff) and that he stayed at the home of Skoropis-Ioltukhovsky, as I later learned for myself.” And that’s all. Not a word to explain how he had found out.

The court examiner, Alexandrov, showed not the slightest interest in this single “factual” bit of Yermolyenko’s testimony. He did not ask him the plainest question as to how the corporal found out that Lenin was in Berlin during the war and that he had stayed with Skoropis-Ioltukhovsky. Or perhaps Alexandrov did ask this question — he could hardly help asking it — but, receiving an answer as inarticulate as a cow’s moo, decided not to keep the episode on record at all. Probably! Are we not entitled to ask about this cock-and-bull story: what fool will believe it? But it seems there are so-called statesmen who pretend that they believe it and invite their readers to believe it, too.

And is that all? It is. The military corporal has nothing more to say. The political corporal has only hypotheses and guesses. We will follow him. “The Provisional government,” Kerensky relates, “saw itself confronted with a difficult problem — that of further investigating the threads indicated by Yermolyenko, following on the heels of the agents who were going back and forth between Lenin and Ludendorff, and catching them red-handed with the most incriminating material.”

This high-sounding sentence is woven of two threads: falsehood and cowardice. This is the first time the name of Ludendorff is introduced. Yermolyenko does not mention a single German name: the corporal’s head was remarkable for its small capacity. Kerensky speaks with studied ambiguousness of the agents who went to and fro between Lenin and Ludendorff. On the one hand, it sounds as if the reference is to definite, already known agents who had only to be caught red-handed; on the other, it looks as if Kerensky simply had a platonic idea of agents. If he intended to “follow on their heels,” his problem was that of following unknown, anonymous, transcendental heels. By his verbal artifices, he only discloses his own Achilles’ heel, or, to put it in less classical language, his own “ass’s hoof.”

According to Kerensky, the investigation was conducted so secretly that no one but four ministers knew anything about it. Even the poor minister of justice, Perevyerzev, was not informed of it. That is the meaning of a really “statesmanlike” approach! At a time when the German general staff was disclosing to every Tom, Dick and Harry not only the names of its trusted banks, but even its connection with the leaders of the greatest revolutionary party, Kerensky was doing the exact opposite; aside from himself, he could find only three ministers case-hardened enough to follow on the heels of Ludendorff’s agents.

“The task was very difficult, complicated and long drawn out,” is Kerensky’s plaint. We are ready to believe that. But finally his patriotic efforts were crowned with success. Kerensky says it in so many words: “Our success, at any rate, was simply an annihilating for Lenin. His connection with Germany was established unquestionably.”

Let us remember that “established unquestionably.” How and by whom?

It is at this point in his crime novel that Kerensky introduces two well-known Polish revolutionaries, Ganetsky and Kozlovsky, and a certain Madame Sumenson, of whom no one could give any information and whose very existence has not yet been proved. These three, it is alleged, were the contact agents in question. What are Kerensky’s grounds for representing the now defunct Kozlovsky, and Ganetsky, who is still alive, as intermediaries between Ludendorff and Lenin? No information is given. Yermolyenko did not even mention these names. They crop up in Kerensky’s pages just as they cropped up in the newspaper pages of the July days of 1917, as suddenly as deus ex machina, with the Czarist intelligence service playing the part of the machine.

Here is Kerensky’s story: “The Bolshevik German agent from Stockholm, who was carrying with him documents which proved incontrovertibly the connection between Lenin and the German high command, was to be arrested on the Russo-Swedish border. The documents were known to us, exactly.”

This agent, it transpires, was Ganetsky. We see that the four ministers, of whom the prime minister was naturally the wisest, did not work in vain: the Bolshevik agent from Stockholm was carrying with him documents that were known beforehand (“known exactly”) to Kerensky — documents containing incontrovertible proof that Lenin was the agent for Ludendorff. But why doesn’t Kerensky let us share his secret knowledge of these documents? Why doesn’t he throw some light, if only in a few words, on what they were about? Why doesn’t he say, or even intimate, how he learned of the contents of these documents? Why doesn’t he explain what the idea of the Bolshevik agent was in carrying documents that proved the Bolsheviks to be agents of Germany? Kerensky doesn’t say a word about all this. Once again, may we not ask: what fool will believe him?

But it turns out that the Stockholm agent was never actually arrested. The remarkable documents, “known exactly” to Kerensky in 1917 but still unknown to his readers in 1928, were never captured. The Bolshevik agent was proceeding toward the Swedish frontier, but he never reached it. Why? Because the minister of justice, Perevyerzev, who could not follow on his heels, bolted out corporal Yermolyenko’s great secret too soon. And success was so near, and so easy!

“The two months’ work of the Provisional government (chiefly of Teryeschenko) directed toward the exposure of the Bolshevik intrigues, ended in failure.” Yes, those are Kerensky’s exact words: “ended in failure.” On a previous page it was said that “the success of this work was simply annihilating for Lenin”; his connection with Ludendorff was “incontrovertibly established”; and now we read that “the two months’ work ended in failure.” Doesn’t all of this seem like rather questionable clowning?

Yet despite the failure of the four ministers who followed on the heels of the legendary Madame Sumenson, Kerensky does not lose heart. He proudly declares of the connection of the Bolsheviks with Ludendorff: “in complete consciousness of my responsibility before history, I can only repeat the words of the Prosecuting Attorney of the Petrograd Regional court.” This is his culmination. It was thus that he appeared on the public plat form in 1927 to charm the bourgeois volunteers, the Left lieutenants, the gymnasium students and the democratic young ladies: “in complete consciousness of my responsibility before history.” Here he is, in his full stature, the inimitable political corporal, Narcissus Kerensky. And a few pages after this solemn oath, another deadly confession: “We, the Provisional government, in this way lost forever (!) the possibility of proving Lenin’s treason decisively, and on the basis of documentary material.”

“Lost forever.” Of the whole structure founded on Yermolyenko’s shoulders, nothing is left, after all, except the word of honor before history.

But even this is not the end. Kerensky’s falsehood and cowardice reveal themselves perhaps more strikingly than ever in his treatment of my case. Concluding his list of German agents who were to be arrested by his orders, he modestly remarks: “A few days later Trotsky and Lunacharsky were arrested.” That is the only place where he includes me in the German espionage system. He does it with studied vagueness, with out any elocutionary bouquets, and saving his “words of honor.” There is reason enough for this. Kerensky cannot avoid mentioning me altogether, because his government did arrest me on the same charge as that preferred against Lenin. But he does not want to — nor is he able to — dwell on the evidence against me, because in my case his government disclosed its aforementioned “ass’s hoof” in a very spectacular way.

The only evidence against me that the court examiner Alexandrov produced was the allegation that I together with Lenin had passed through Germany in a sealed car. The old watchdog of Czarist justice had not the ghost of an idea that Lenin’s companion in the sealed car was not I but the leader of the Mensheviks, Martov; whereas I arrived a month after Lenin, from New York, travelling by way of a Canadian concentration camp and Scandinavia. The charges against the Bolsheviks were being compiled by such sorry and contemptible dealers in lies that they did not even think it necessary to find out from the newspapers when and by what route Trotsky had come back to Russia. I showed the court examiner up, then and there. I flung his dirty little papers in his face, and turned my back on him. Then I sent a protest to the Provisional government. Kerensky’s criminal guilt toward his readers is all the more obvious in its crudeness on this point. He knows how disgracefully his court justice collapsed in its charges against me. And that is why, although he includes me, in passing, in the German espionage system, he does not say a word about how he himself and his three other ministers had been following on my heels across Germany, at the time that I was in a concentration camp in Canada.

“If Lenin had not had the support of all the material and technical power of the German propaganda apparatus and the espionage system,” the slanderer generalizes, “he would never have succeeded in destroying Russia.” Kerensky wants to believe that the old regime (and he, along with it) was overthrown by German spies rather than by the revolutionary people. How consoling it must be to have a historical philosophy that represents the life of a great country as a toy in the hands of an organization of spies maintained by that country’s neighbors! But if the military and technical power of Germany was able to overthrow Kerensky’s democracy in a few months and plant Bolshevism in its place by artificial means, why has the material and technical apparatus of all the countries of the Entente failed in twelve years to overthrow this artificially fostered Bolshevism? But let us not be drawn into the realm of historical philosophy; let us stick to the world of facts. In what did the technical and financial assistance of Germany actually find expression? Kerensky does not say a word about that. In 1917, the Bolsheviks in Petrograd were publishing a tiny newspaper, like the one they had published in 1912, before the war. They were issuing handbills. They had agitators. In other words, we were a revolutionary party. Where, then, did the help of the German espionage system express itself? Of this, too, there is no word in Kerensky’s book. But what could one say of this, any way?

We have examined Kerensky’s evidence “before history,” sup pressing our disgust and resorting to the support of a saving irony that is sometimes as necessary as a lemon in seasickness. We have not ignored a single argument or a single consideration, in spite of the doubt that kept plaguing us throughout this examination: whether it was generally worth while to rake up this garbage. Ludendorff, Hindenburg, and many other heads and workers of the German staff are still alive. They are all enemies of the Bolsheviks. What prevents them from giving away the old secret? In Germany, the power is now in the hands of the Social Democracy, which has access to all the old archives. If Ludendorff did not hide his connection with Lenin from Yermolyenko, there are surely many people in Germany who knew at least as much as was confided to the Russian corporal. Why do all these implacable enemies of the Bolsheviks and the October revolution keep silent?

It is true that Kerensky mentions Ludendorffi’s memoirs. But only one fact emerges from these memoirs: Ludendorif hoped that the revolution in Russia would lead to a disintegration of the Russian army — first the February revolution, and later the October one. No memoirs were necessary to disclose this scheme of his. The fact that he allowed a group of Russian revolutionaries to pass through Germany was enough. On Ludendorff’s part, this was an adventure dictated by the grave military situation in Germany. Lenin took advantage of Ludendorff’s plans to further thereby his own. Ludendorff was saying to himself:

“Lenin will overthrow the patriots, and then I will strangle Lenin and his friends.” And Lenin was saying to himself: “I shall pass through in Ludendorff’s car, but for his service I shall pay him in my own way.”

No detective talents like Kerensky’s were necessary to prove that two opposing historical plans crossed each other’s paths at a certain point, and that this point was the “sealed car.” The fact is history. Since then, history has already had time to check up on both reckonings. On October 25 (November 7), 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power. Exactly a year later, under the mighty influence of the Russian revolution, the revolutionary masses of Germany overthrew Ludendorff and his masters. And ten years after that, the democratic Narcissus whose feelings history had hurt tried to give fresh life to a stupid calumny — not against Lenin, but against a great nation and its revolution.

1. The Constitutional-Democratic Party, founded by Prof. Miliukoff, is known colloquially as the “Kadet” party (after the first letters, K-D) and its members as the “Kadets.” In Russian usage the term is almost synonymous with “liberal.” — Trans.

2. The quotations in the above text are translated directly from the Russian edition of Kerensky’s book, and the pages cited refer to that edition. An English translation is published in New York by D. Appleton & Co. under the title of “The Catastrophe.” In that translation the passages discussed will be found on pp.229-233 and with especial emphasis on pages 290-310. — Trans.

3. In Russian, the diphthongs “ya” and “ye” are represented by two different characters: “Я” and “Е,” respectively. — Trans.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trotsky/leon/my_life/chapter25.html

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