My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 38

The Transition to the New Economic Policy, And My Relations with Lenin

Now I am approaching the last period of my collaboration with Lenin, a period deriving further importance from the fact that it contained the foundations of the subsequent victory of the epigones. After the death of Lenin, a complicated and many-branched organization of an historical and literary nature was established for the sole purpose of distorting the history of our mutual relations. It has been done chiefly by painting a picture of a constant struggle between two “principles,” by isolating from the past the moments when we disagreed, by making a great deal out of individual polemical expressions, and most of all, by sheer invention. The history of the church as written down by the medieval apologists is a model of scientific treatment compared with the historical investigations of the epigones. Their work was somewhat facilitated by the fact that when I disagreed with Lenin, I mentioned it aloud, and, when I thought it necessary, even appealed to the party. Whereas the epigones, when they disagreed with Lenin, which happened much more often than in my case, usually either kept silent about it, or, like Stalin, sulked and hid away for a few days in the country, somewhere near Moscow.

In most cases, the decisions that Lenin and I arrived at independently of each other were identical in all essentials. A few words would bring about a mutual understanding. When I thought the decision of the Politbureau or of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries might turn out wrong, I would send Lenin a brief note on a slip of paper. He would answer: “Absolutely right. Submit your proposal.” Sometimes he would send me an inquiry whether I agreed with his proposal, and a demand that I speak in his support. Time and again he would arrange with me by telephone the manner in which some matter was to be handled, and if it was important he would insist: “Please come without fall.” In cases where we worked hand in hand — the usual thing with us on questions of principle — those who were dissatisfied with the decision, among them the present epigones, remained silent. Many a time Stalin, Zinoviev, or Kamenev disagreed with me on some question of great importance, but as soon as they learned that Lenin shared my opinion they lapsed into silence. We may regard the readiness of the “disciples” to renounce their own ideas in favor of Lenin’s in any way we choose, but this readiness clearly contained no guarantee that without Lenin they were capable of arriving at the same conclusions. In this book my disagreements with Lenin assume an importance that they never actually had. There are two reasons for this: our disagreements were the exception and as such attracted attention; after Lenin’s death they were magnified by the epigones to astronomic proportions and became an independent political factor in no way connected with either of us.

In a separate chapter, I gave a detailed account of my disagreements with Lenin in regard to the Brest-Litovsk peace. Now I will mention another disagreement that set us against each other for a couple of months at the close of 1920, on the very eve of the transition to the New Economic Policy.

One cannot deny that the so-called discussion of trades-unions clouded our relationship for some time. Each of us was too much the revolutionary and too much the politician to be able or even to want to separate the personal from the general. It was during that discussion that Stalin and Zinoviev were given what one might call their legal opportunity to bring their struggle against me out into the open. They strained every effort to take full advantage of the situation. It was for them a rehearsal of their future campaign against “Trotskyism.” But it was just this aspect of the thing that disturbed Lenin most, and he tried in every way to paralyze it.

The political content of the discussion has had so much refuse heaped upon it that I do not envy the historian of the future who tries to get to the truth of the matter. Long after the event, that is, after Lenin died, the epigones discovered that my stand at that time was one of “under — appreciation of the peasantry,” and one almost hostile toward the New Economic Policy. This was really the basis of all the subsequent attacks on me. In point of fact, of course, the roots of the discussion were quite the opposite, and to unmask this fact, I must go back a little way.

In the fall of 1919, when 60% of our locomotives were “diseased,” it was thought that by the spring of 1920 the figure would inevitably rise to 75%. That was the expressed opinion of our best experts. Under such conditions, the railway traffic was be coming a senseless affair, because the 25% of locomotives in half-health was only enough for the transport needs of the railways, since they depended on bulky wood for fuel. Engineer Lomonosov, who was actually in charge of the transport system during those months, made a diagram of the locomotive epidemic for the government. Indicating a mathematical point in the year1920, he declared: “Here comes death.”

“What is to be done then?” asked Lenin.

“There are no such things as miracles,” Lomonosov replied. “Even the Bolsheviks cannot perform miracles.” We looked at each other, all the more depressed because none of us knew the technical workings of the transport system, nor the technical workings of such gloomy calculations. “Still, we’ll try to perform the miracle,” Lenin muttered dryly through his teeth.

But during the following months the situation grew steadily worse. There was cause enough in actual conditions, but it is also very probable that certain engineers were making the transport situation fit into their diagrams. I spent the winter months of 1919-20 in the Urals directing the economic work. Lenin telegraphed me a proposal that I take charge of transport and try to lift it by emergency measures. I replied stating my acceptance.

From the Urals I brought with me a store of economic observations that could be summed up in one general conclusion: war communism must be abandoned. My practical work had satisfied me that the methods of war communism forced on us by the conditions of civil war were completely exhausted, and that to revive our economic life the element of personal interest must be introduced at all costs; in other words, we had to restore the home market in some degree. I submitted to the Central Committee the project of replacing the food levy by a grain-tax and of restoring the exchange of commodities.

“The present policy of equalized requisition according to the food scale, of mutual responsibility for deliveries, and of equalized distribution of manufactured products, tends to lower the Status of agriculture and to disperse the industrial proletariat, and threatens to bring about a complete breakdown in the economic life of the country.” In these words, I formulated my view in the statement submitted to the Central Committee in February, 1920.

“The food resources,” the statement continued, “are threatened with exhaustion, a contingency that no amount of improvement m the methods of requisition can prevent. These tendencies toward economic decline can be counteracted as follows: (1) The requisition of surpluses should give way to payment on a percentage basis (a sort of progressive income tax in kind), the scale of payment being fixed in such a way as to make an increase of the ploughed area, or a more thorough cultivation, still yield some profit; (2) a closer correspondence should be established between the industrial products supplied to the peasants and the quantities of grain they deliver; this applies not only to rural districts (volosts) and villages, but to the individual peasant households, as well.”

These proposals are very guarded. But the basic propositions of the New Economic Policy adopted a year later did not at first go any farther. Early in 1920, Lenin came out firmly against my proposal. It was rejected in the Central Committee by a vote of eleven to four. The subsequent course of events proved the decision of the Committee to be a mistake. I did not carry it to the party congress, which was conducted throughout under the slogan of war communism. For the entire year following, the economic life of the country struggled along in a blind alley. My quarrel with Lenin grew out of this blind alley. When the change to the market system was rejected, I demanded that the “war” methods be applied properly and with system, so that real economic improvements could be obtained. In the system of war communism in which all the resources are, at least in principle, nationalized and distributed by government order, I saw no independent role for trades-unions. If industry rests on the state’s insuring the supply of all the necessary products to the workers, the trades-unions must be included in the system of the state’s administration of industry and distribution of products. This was the real substance of the question of making the trades-unions part of the state organizations, a measure which flowed inexorably from the system of war communism, and it was in this sense that I defended it.

The principles of war communism approved by the ninth congress were the basis of my work in the organization of transport. The trade-union of railway men was closely bound to the administrative machinery of the department. The methods of military discipline were extended to the entire transport system. I brought the military administration, the strongest and best disciplined at that time, into close connection with the transport administration. This yielded certain important advantages, especially since military transport again assumed first importance with the beginning of war with Poland. Every day I went from the war commissariat, whose operations destroyed the railways, to the commissariat of transport, where I tried not only to save the railways from final collapse, but to raise them to a higher level of efficiency.

The year of work in transport was a year in school for me. All the fundamental questions of socialist organization of economic life found their most concentrated expression in the sphere of transport. The great variety in the types of locomotives and cars complicated the work of the railways and the repair-shops. Extensive preparatory work was set on foot to standardize the transport system, which, before the revolution, had been con trolled equally by the state and by private companies. Locomotives were grouped according to class, their repair was more systematically organized, and the repair-shops began to receive precise orders based on their technical equipment. The programme for bringing the transport up to the pre-war standard was to be carried out in four and a half years. The measures adopted were a pronounced success. In the spring and summer of 1920, the transport system began to recover from its paralysis. Lenin never missed an occasion to remark the restoration of the railways. If the war started by Pilsudski in the hope that our transport system would collapse failed to yield Poland the expected result, it was because the curve of railway transport had begun to rise steadily upward. Those results were obtained by extraordinary administrative measures proceeding inevitably from the serious position of the transport system as well as from the system of war communism itself.

But the working masses, who had gone through three years of civil war, were more and more disinclined to submit to the ways of military rule. With his unerring political instinct, Lenin sensed that the critical moment had arrived. Whereas I was trying to get an ever more intensive effort from the trades-unions, taking my stand on purely economic considerations on the basis of war communism, Lenin, guided by political considerations, was moving toward an easing of the military pressure. On the eve of the tenth congress, our lines crossed antagonistically. A discussion flared up in the party; it was actually beside the point. The party was considering the rate at which the trades-unions were to be converted into a part of the state mechanism, where as the question at issue was really one of daily bread, of fuel, of raw material for the industries. The party was arguing feverishiy about “the school of communism,” whereas the thing that really mattered was the economic catastrophe hanging over the country. The uprisings at Kronstadt and in the province of Tambov broke into the discussion as the last warning. Lenin shaped the first and very guarded theses on the change to the New Economic Policy. I subscribed to them at once. For me, they were merely a renewal of the proposals which I had introduced a year before. The dispute about the trades-unions instantly lost all significance. At the congress, Lenin took no part in that dispute, and left Zinoviev to amuse himself with the shell of an exploded cartridge. During the debate at the congress, I gave warning that the resolution on trades-unions adopted by the majority would not live until the next congress, because the new economic orientation would demand a complete revision of the trades-union strategy. And it was only a few months later that Lenin formulated entirely new principles on the role and purpose of trades-unions, based on the new economic policy. I expressed my unreserved approval of his resolution. Our solid front was restored. Lenin was afraid that as a result of the discussion, which had lasted two months, permanent factions would be established in the party, embittering relationships and making the work much more difficult.

But I wound up all conferences with those who shared my view on the question of trades-unions while the congress was still in session. A few weeks after the congress, Lenin was assured that I was as anxious as he to do away with the temporary factions, which no longer had any basis in principle. Lenin felt as if a weight had been lifted from his chest. He took advantage of some impudent remark that Molotov, who had just been elected to the Central Committee, aimed at me, to charge him with more zeal than reason, and to add then and there: “Comrade Trotsky’s loyalty in the inter-party relations is absolutely irreproachable.” He repeated it several times. It was obvious that in this way he was thrusting back not only at Molotov but at some one else, for Stalin and Zinoviev were trying artificially to prolong the atmosphere of the dispute.

At this tenth congress, on Zinoviev’s initiative and quite against Lenin’s will, Stalin was put forward as a candidate for the post of the general secretary of the party. The Congress believed that he had the backing of the entire Central Committee. But no one attached much importance to this appointment. Under Lenin the post of general secretary, established by the tenth congress, could have only a technical character, never political. Yet Lenin had his fears. “This cook will make only peppery dishes,” he would say of Stalin. That was why Lenin, at one of the first meetings of the Central Committee after the congress, insisted on emphasizing “Trotsky’s loyalty”; it was a thrust at a subterranean intrigue.

Lenin’s remark was no casual one. During the civil war, Lenin had once expressed his moral confidence in me, not by word but by action, so completely that no man could either have asked or received more. The occasion was provided by that same military opposition directed behind the scenes by Stalin. During the war, I had practically unlimited power. The revolutionary tribunal held its sessions in my train, the fronts were subordinate to me, and the bases auxiliary to the fronts — and at times, nearly the entire territory belonging to the republic, not occupied by Whites, consisted of bases and fortified regions. Those who happened to get run over by the wheels of the military had relatives and friends who did whatever they could to get relief for them. Petitions, complaints and protests concentrated in Moscow by various channels, and especially at the presidium of the Central Executive Committee.

The first episodes of this sort were connected with events that had taken place as long before as the month at Sviyazhsk. I have already told about the incident of the commander of the fourth Latvian regiment who was put on trial by me for threatening to withdraw it from its position. The tribunal sentenced the commander to five years’ imprisonment. Several months later, petitions began to come in, pleading for his release. The pressure of Svyerdlov was especially great. He put the question to the Politbureau. I briefly described the military situation of that time, when the regiment commander had threatened me with “consequences that would be dangerous for the revolution.” During my narrative, Lenin’s face grew grayer and grayer. I had hardly finished my story when he exclaimed in that stifled, hoarse voice that with him always indicated excitement: “Let him stay in. Let him stay there!” Svyerdlov looked at both of us and said, “I think so, too.”

The second episode, a much more significant one, was that connected with the shooting of the commander and the commissary who withdrew their regiment from its post, seized a steamer by threat of arms, and prepared to steam to Nijni Novgorod. The regiment had been formed at Smolyensk under the direction of those opponents of my military policy who later became its ardent supporters. But at that time they were loud in protest. The commission of the Central Committee, appointed at my request, was unanimous in stating that the action of the military authorities was absolutely right; that the situation had warranted it. But the ambiguous rumors continued. Several times I felt that their source was not far from the Politbureau, but I was too busy to conduct an investigation or to disentangle intrigues. Only once did I remark, at the meeting of the Politbureau, that if it had not been for the ruthless measures at Sviyazhsk, we would not have been holding our meeting. “Absolutely,” Lenin picked it up, and then and there began to write very fast, as he always did, in red ink at the bottom of a blank sheet that bore the seal of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries. Lenin was in the chair, and so the meeting stopped. Two minutes later, he handed me the sheet of paper. 1

“I will give you,” said Lenin, “as many forms like this as you want.” In circumstances as serious as those of civil war, with its necessity of making hasty and irrevocable decisions, some of which might have been mistaken, Lenin gave his signature in advance to any decision that I might consider necessary in the future. And these were decisions that carried life or death with them. Could there be a greater confidence of one man in an other? The very idea of this extraordinary document could have come to Lenin only because he knew better than I did, or else suspected the source of the intrigue and thought it necessary to strike back at it with the utmost vigor. But he could risk such a step only because he was so firmly convinced that I could not be disloyal or abuse the power. This confidence in me he expressed to the full in a few lines. The epigones may look in vain for such a document among their possessions. If Stalin finds anything in his archives, it could only be Lenin’s “Will,” which Stalin concealed from the party — the “will” in which Stalin himself is referred to as a disloyal man, capable of abuse of power. It is enough simply to juxtapose these two texts — the unlimited moral power of attorney which Lenin conferred on me, and the moral “wolf’s passport,” 2 issued to Stalin — to realize to the full his attitude toward each of us.

1.Knowing the strict character of Comrade Trotsky’s orders, I am so convinced, so absolutely convinced, of the correctness, expediency, and necessity for the success of the cause of the order given by Comrade Trotsky, that I unreservedly endorse this order.” — LENIN.

2. The name of “wolf’s passport” was applied colloquially in Czarist Russia to a document, also known as "the transit certificate,” issued to criminals in lieu of a passport; it usually made them outcasts not allowed to stay long in any one place. — Trans.

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