My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 39

Lenin’s Illness

I  took my first leave in the spring of 1920, before the second congress of the Communist International, and spent about two months near Moscow. My time was given over to a course of medical treatment (I was just beginning to take my health seriously), working on the manifesto that during the following years served as a substitute for the programme of the Communist International, and hunting for game. After the years of strain I felt the need of rest. But I didn’t have the habit, and walks did not rest me any more then than they do to-day. The attraction in hunting is that it acts on the mind as a poultice does on a sore.

One Sunday early in May, 1922, I went fishing with a net in the old channel of the Moscow river. It was raining, the grass was wet, and I slipped and broke the ligaments of my foot. It was nothing serious and I had merely to spend a few days in bed. On the third day Bukharin came to see me.

“You, too, are in bed?” he exclaimed in horror.

“And who besides?” I asked him.

“Lenin is very ill. He has had a stroke, and he cannot walk or talk. The doctors are utterly at a loss.”

Lenin always showed great interest in the health of his colleagues, and often quoted the words of some émigré: “The old men will die and the young ones will surrender.”

“How many of us know what Europe is, what the world labor movement is? As long as we are the only ones with a revolution,” he said frequently, “the international experience of the upper group of our party cannot be replaced.” Lenin himself was considered a man of robust health, and this health seemed to be one of the indestructible pillars of the revolution. He was always active, alert, even-tempered and gay. Only occasionally did I notice alarming symptoms. During the first congress of the Communist International, he surprised me with his tired look, the unevenness of his voice, and his sick man’s smile. More than once I told him that he was spending himself on matters of secondary importance. He agreed, but said that he couldn’t do otherwise. Sometimes he complained of headaches, always casually and with a little embarrassment. But two or three weeks of rest sufficed to restore him. It seemed as if Lenin would never wear out.

At the close of 1921, his condition grew worse. On December 7, he sent a note to the members of the Politbureau: “I am going away to-day. Despite my working less and resting more during recent days, the insomnia has grown hellishiy worse. I am afraid that I shall not be able to make any reports either at the party conference or at the congress of the Soviets.” Lenin began to spend a great deal of his time in a village near Moscow. But he watched the progress of the work most carefully from there. At that time, preparations for the Geneva conference were under way. On January 23, 1922, Lenin wrote to the members of the Politbureau:

“I have just received two letters from Chicherin (dated the 20th and the 22d). He asks whether it wouldn’t be desirable to agree, for a proper compensation, to some small changes in the constitution, namely to the representation of the parasitic elements in the Soviets. This to please the Americans. This proposal of Chicherin’s shows, in my opinion, that he must be sent to a sanitarium at once; every concession in this respect, agreement to a delay, etc., will, in my opinion, be the greatest menace to all the negotiations.” In every word of this note, in which political ruthlessness is tinged with sly good-nature, is the living, breathing Lenin.

His health continued to grow worse. In March, his head aches grew more frequent. The doctors found no organic disorders, however, and prescribed a prolonged rest. Lenin settled down permanently in a Moscow village. And it was there that he had his first stroke, early in May. It seems that Lenin had been taken ill two days before Bukharin’s visit. Why had I been told nothing about it? At the time, I never thought of being suspicious. “We did not want to disturb you,” Bukharin told me, “and were waiting to see how his illness would develop.” Bukharin spoke quite sincerely, merely repeating what the “grown-ups” had persuaded him into believing. At that time, Bukharin was attached to me in his characteristic “Bukharin” way, half hysterically, half childishly. He finished his account of Lenin’s illness by dropping down on my bed and muttering, as he pressed his arms about me over the blanket: “Don’t you get sick, I implore you, don’t get sick . . . There are two men of whose death I always think with horror . . . Lenin and you.” I raffled [?] him in a friendly way to restore his poise. He was pre venting me from concentrating on the alarm that his news had caused. The blow was overwhelming. It seemed as if the revolution itself were holding its breath.

“The first rumors of Lenin’s illness,” writes N.I. Sedova in her notes, “were only whispered. It seemed that no one thought that Lenin could ever be taken ill. Many knew that he watched intently over the health of others, but it seemed that he himself was immune to disease. Nearly all the revolutionaries of the older generation had some affection of the heart, weakened by the excessive strain put on it. The doctors would complain: ’Nearly all of them have their motors misfiring.’

“‘There are only two hearts in proper order,’ Professor Guetier said to Lev Davydovich, ‘Lenin’s and yours. With such a heart, one can live to be a hundred.’ The examination by foreign specialists confirmed this — that out of all the hearts examined by them in Moscow, only those of Lenin and Trotsky worked exceptionally well. When Lenin’s sudden turn of health became known more widely, it was like a shift in the revolution itself. Was it possible that Lenin could fall ill and die, like anyone else? It was terrible to hear that Lenin had lost his ability to move about and speak. I could not help firmly believing that he would overcome it all, would rise and recover.” This was the sentiment of the entire party.

Looking back considerably later, I remembered with fresh surprise that I had not got news of Lenin’s illness until the third day. At that time, I did not stop to think about it. But this could have been no accident. Those who for a long time had been preparing to become my opponents — Stalin above all — were anxious to gain time. Lenin’s illness was of the sort that might come to a tragic end at any moment. Tomorrow, or even today, all questions of leadership might become crucial ones. My opponents thought it important to gain time for preparation, even if it were only a day. They conferred secretly and sounded out ways and means. It must be assumed that the idea of the trio (Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev) to oppose me was already decided on. But Lenin recovered. Driven by his unyielding will, his entire organism made a gigantic effort; the brain that was failing from lack of blood, that had lost the power to join together sounds or letters, suddenly revived.

Toward the end of May I went on a fishing-trip to a place about 80 versts away from Moscow. The place happened to have a sanitarium named after Lenin. The children walked along the lake with me, asked me questions about Lenin’s health, and gave me field flowers and a letter for him. Lenin as yet could not write. He dictated a few lines through his secretary: “Vladimir Ilyich has asked me to write you that he welcomes your suggestion to take a present from him to the children of the sanitarium at the station of Podsolnechnaya. Vladimir Ilyich also requests you to tell the little ones that he thanks them very much for their kind letter and flowers, and is sorry that he is unable to take advantage of their invitation; he has no doubt that he would soon recover in their company.”

In July, Lenin was on his feet again, and although he did not officially return to work until October, he kept his eye on every thing and studied everything. During those months of convalescence, among the things that engaged his attention was the trial of the Socialist-Revolutionists. The Socialist-Revolutionists had killed Volodarsky and Uritzky, had wounded Lenin seriously, and had made two attempts to blow up my train. We could not treat all this lightly. Although we did not regard it from the idealistic point of view of our enemies, we appreciated “the rôle of the individual in history.” We could not close our eyes to the danger that threatened the revolution if we were to allow our enemies to shoot down, one by one, the whole leading group of our party.

Our humanitarian friends of the neither-hot-nor-cold species have explained to us more than once that they could see the necessity of reprisals in general, but that to shoot a captured enemy means to overstep the limits of necessary self-defense. They demanded that we show “magnanimity.” Clara Zetkin and other European communists who still dared at that time to say what they thought, in opposition to Lenin and me, insisted that we spare the lives of the men on trial. They suggested that we limit their punishment to confinement in prison. This seemed the simplest solution. But the question of reprisals on individuals in times of revolution assumes a quite specific character from which humanitarian generalities rebound in impotence. The struggle then is for actual power, a struggle for life or death — since that is what revolution is. What meaning, under such conditions, can imprisonment have for people who hope to seize the power in a few weeks and imprison or destroy the men at the helm? From the point of view of the absolute value of the human personality, revolution must be “condemned,” as well as war — as must also the entire history of mankind taken in the large. Yet the very idea of personality has been developed only as a result of revolutions, a process that is still far from complete. In order that the idea of personality may become a reality and the half-contemptuous idea of the “masses” may cease to be the antithesis of the philosophically privileged idea of “personality,” the masses must lift themselves to a new historical rung by the revolutionary crane, or, to be more exact, by a series of revolutions. Whether this method is good or bad from the point of view of normative philosophy, I do not know, and I must confess I am not interested in knowing. But I do know definitely that this is the only way that humanity has found thus far.

These considerations are in no sense an attempt to “justify” the revolutionary terror. To attempt to justify it would mean to take notice of the accusers. And who are they? The organizers and exploiters of the great world slaughter? The nouveaux riches who offer up to the “unknown soldier” the aroma of their after-dinner cigars? The pacifists who fought war only when there was none, and who are ready to repeat their repulsive masquerade? Lloyd George, Wilson, and Poincaré, who considered themselves entitled to starve German children for the crimes of the Hohenzollerns — and for their own crimes? The English conservatives or French Republicans who fanned the flames of civil war in Russia from a safe distance while they were trying to coin their profits out of its blood? This roll-call could be continued without end. For me, the question is not one of philosophical justification, but rather of political explanation. Revolution is revolution only because it reduces all contradictions to the alternative of life or death. Is it conceivable that men who solve the question of sovereignty over Alsace-Lorraine every half-century by means of mountains of human corpses are capable of rebuilding their social relations by nothing more than parliamentary ventriloquism? At any rate, no one has shown us as yet how it can be done. We were breaking up the resistance of the old rocks with the help of steel and dynamite. And when our enemies shot at us, in most cases with rifles from the most civilized and democratic nations, we replied in the same vernacular. Bernard Shaw shook his beard reproachfully over this in the direction of both parties, but no one took any notice of his sacramental argument.

In the summer of 1922, the question of reprisals took on special urgency, because it was concerned with the leaders of a party that had once waged the revolutionary fight against Czarism, side by side with us, but had turned the weapon of terror against us after the October revolution. Deserters from the camp of the Socialist-Revolutionists disclosed to us the fact that the worst acts of terrorism were not instigated by individuals, as we had at first been inclined to believe, but by the party, although it did not risk a formal acknowledgement of its responsibility for the assassinations it was committing. The death-sentence by the tribunal was inevitable, but carrying it out meant just as inevitably a retaliating wave of terrorism. To limit the method of punishment to imprisonment, even for a long period of time, was tantamount to encouraging the terrorists, since they were the least likely to believe in the longevity of the Soviet. There was no alternative but to make the execution of the sentence dependent on whether or not the party continued the terrorist struggle. In other words, the leaders of the party must be held as hostages.

My first meeting with Lenin after his recovery was during the trial of the Social-Revolutionists. It was instantly and with relief that he agreed to the proposition that I made: “Quite right, there is no alternative.” His recovery was apparently inspiriting to him. But he still had some inner fear. “You understand,” he said, quite bewildered, “I could not even speak or write, and I had to learn everything all over again.” And he lifted his eyes questingly to me.

In October, Lenin officially returned to work; he presided at the Politbureau and at the Soviet of People’s Commissaries, and in November made programme speeches, to all appearances at heavy cost to his arteries. He seemed to sense the almost imperceptible threads of a conspiracy being woven behind our backs in connection with his illness. The epigones were not yet burning their bridges behind them, but here and there they were sawing through the beams and hiding away sticks of dynamite. Whenever opportunity offered they opposed me, as if they were taking exercises in being independent, and were carefully preparing such demonstrations. As Lenin got deeper into the work, he began to observe with anxiety the changes that had been taking place during the months preceding, but he said nothing about them, for fear of aggravating the situation. He was preparing to rebuff the “trio,” and began by doing it in individual matters.

Among the some odd-dozen jobs that I was directing as part of the party work — that is, privately and unofficially — was the anti-religious propaganda, in which Lenin was very much interested. He asked me insistently not to let this work out of my sight. While convalescent, he had somehow learned that Stalin was manoeuvring against me there by renewing the apparatus of the anti-religious propaganda and moving it away from me. From the country, Lenin sent the Politbureau a letter in which, without apparent necessity, he quoted my book on Kautsky, and praised the author, without mentioning either him or the book by name. I must confess that I did not at the time guess that this was a roundabout way of saying that Lenin con demned Stalin’s manceuvres against me. In the meantime, Yaroslavsky, I think in the guise of my deputy, was pushed forward to take charge of the anti-religious propaganda. When Lenin got back to work and heard about it, he ferociously attacked Molotov — and through him Stalin — at one of the meetings of the Politbureau: “Yar-os-lavsky? Don’t you know what Yar-os-lavsky is? Why, it would make a hen chuckle. He will never be able to manage this work,” and so on. Lenin’s vehemence may seem excessive to the uninitiated. But it was not a question of Lenin’s being unable to bear Yaroslavsky, but rather the party direction. Incidents like this were frequent enough.

If one looks into it more deeply, one sees that Stalin, from the very moment that he came into close contact with Lenin, and especially since the October revolution, had always been sup pressed and impotent in his opposition to him, and was all the more irritable because of it. Because of his enormous envy and ambition, Stalin could not help feeling at every step his intellectual and moral inferiority. It seems that he tried to get closer to me. Not until much later did I realize the meaning of attempts to establish something approaching familiarity between us. But I was repelled by those very qualities that were his strength on the wave of decline — the narrowness of his interests, his empiricism, the coarseness of his psychological make-up, his peculiar cynicism of a provincial whom Marxism has freed from many prejudices without, however, replacing them with a philosophical outlook thoroughly thought out and mentally assimilated. Judged by some of his casual remarks, which at the time seemed accidental but actually were not, Stalin was trying to find in me support against Lenin, whose control he found so irksome. At every attempt of this sort, I instinctively drew away from him and walked on. I believe that the sources of his cold and at first cowardly but thoroughly treacherous hatred of me are to be found in this. He systematically gathered about him either men who were like him, or simple fellows who wanted to live without being bothered by subtle problems, or those whose feelings had been hurt. The first, the second, and the third groups all were numerous.

There is no doubt that in routine work it was more convenient for Lenin to depend on Stalin, Zinoviev or Kamenev rather than on me. Lenin was always trying to save his time as well as everyone else’s. He tried to reduce to a minimum the energy spent in overcoming friction. I had my own views, my own ways of work ing, and my own methods of carrying out a decision once it had been adopted. Lenin knew this well enough, and respected it. That was why he understood only too well that I was not suited for executing commissions. When he needed men to carry out his instructions, he turned to some one else. In certain periods, especially when Lenin and I had had a disagreement, this probably made his assistants believe that they were particularly close to him. For example, he invited Rykov and Tzyurupa to be his deputies as chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries, and later on added Kamenev to them. I thought this was a good choice. Lenin needed practical, obedient assistants. I was Unsuited to the rôle, and I could only be grateful to Lenin for not offering me the deputyship. Far from considering this a lack of confidence in me, I saw in it on the contrary a definite and not unflattering appreciation of me and of our mutual relations. Later on, I had occasion to be completely convinced of this. In the interval between his first and second strokes, Lenin could work only half as much as before. Slight but none the less ominous warnings from his blood-vessels reached him off and on throughout this period. At one of the meetings of the Politbureau, as he got up to hand some one a note — Lenin always exchanged notes this way to speed up the work — he reeled a little. I noticed it only because his face changed expression instantly. This was one of many warnings from his vital centres. Lenin had no illusions on this score. He kept pondering from all points of view how the work would go on without him, and after him. It must have been then that he formulated mentally the document that later became known as his “Will.” And it was at this time — during the last weeks before his second stroke — that Lenin and I had a long conversation about my work in the future. Because of its political importance, I immediately repeated this conversation to a number of people (Rakovsky, I.N. Smirnov, Sosnovsky, Pryeobrazhensky, and others). If only be cause of this repetition, the conversation has been very clearly recorded in my memory.

It came about in this way. The central committee of the union of educational workers sent a delegation to Lenin and me with the request that I take over the commissariat of education in addition to my other duties, in the same way that I had taken charge of the commissariat of transport for a year past. Lenin wanted to know what I thought about it. I told him that in the educational field, as in every other, the difficulty would come from the administrative apparatus. “Yes, our bureaucratism is something monstrous,” Lenin replied, picking up my train of thought. “I was appalled when I came back to work . . . It is just because of this that you should not — or at least I think so — get drawn into any departmental work besides the military. Lenin proceeded to state his plan with passionate conviction. He had a limited amount of strength to give to the work of direction. He had three deputies. “You know them. Kamenev is, of course, a clever politician, but what sort of an administrator is he? Tzyurupa is ill. Rykov is perhaps an administrator, but he will have to go back to the Supreme Economic Council. You must become a deputy. The situation is such that we must have a radical realignment of personnel.” Again I pointed out the “apparatus” that made even my work in the war department increasingly difficult. “Well, that will be your chance to shake up the apparatus,” Lenin retorted quickly, hinting at an expression I had once used. I replied that I referred to the bureaucracy not only in the state institutions, but in the party as well; that the cause of all the trouble lay in the combination of the two apparatuses and in the mutual shielding among the influential groups that gathered round the hierarchy of party secretaries. Lenin listened intently, and confirmed my suggestions in that deep tone which came straight from the chest, a tone that would break through in him only when, sure that the person he was talking to understood him completely, he would dispense with the conventionalities of conversation, and touch openly on what was the most important and disturbing. After thinking it over for a moment, Lenin put the question point-blank: “You propose then to open fire not only against the state bureaucracy, but against the Organizational Bureau of the Central Committee as well?” I couldn’t help laughing, this came so unexpectedly. “That seems to be it.” The Organizational Bureau meant the very heart of Stalin’s apparatus.

“Oh, well,” Lenin went on, obviously pleased that we had called the thing by its right name, “if that’s the case, then I offer you a bloc against bureaucracy in general and against the Organizational Bureau in particular.”

“With a good man, it is an honor to form a good bloc,” I replied.

We agreed to meet again some time later. Lenin suggested that I think over the organization end of the question. He planned to create a commission attached to the Central Committee for fighting bureaucracy. We were both to be members. This commission was essentially to be the lever for breaking up the Stalin faction as the backbone of the bureaucracy, and for creating such conditions in the party as would allow me to be come Lenin’s deputy, and, as he intended, his successor to the post of chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries.

Only in this connection does the full meaning of the so-called “Will” become clear. Lenin names only six people there, and sums them up briefly, weighing each word. Unquestionably, his object in making the will was to facilitate the work of direction for me. He naturally wanted to do it with the least possible amount of friction. He talks about every one most guardedly, softening the most devastating judgments. At the same time he qualifies with reservations the too definite indication of the one whom he thinks entitled to first place. Only in his analysis of Stalin does one feel a different tones a tone which in the later postscript to the will is nothing short of annihilating.

Of Zinoviev and Kamenev, Lenin writes, with an effect of casualness, that their capitulation in 1917 was “not an accident”; in other words, it is in their blood. Obviously such men cannot direct the revolution, but they should not be reproached for their pasts. Bukharin is not a Marxist but a scholastic; he is, however, a sympathetic person. Pyatakov is an able administrator, but a very bad politician. It is quite possible, however, that these two, Bukharin and Pyatakov, will still learn. The ablest is Trotsky; his defect is his excess of self-confidence. Stalin is rude, disloyal, and capable of abuse of the power that he derives from the party apparatus. Stalin should be removed to avoid a split. This is the substance of the “Will.” It rounds out and clarifies the proposal that Lenin made me in our last conversation.

Lenin came to know Stalin really only after the October revolution. He valued his firmness and his practical mind, which is three-quarters cunning. And yet, at every step, Lenin struck at Stalin’s ignorance, at his very narrow political horizon, and his exceptional moral coarseness and unscrupulousness. Stalin was elected to the post of general secretary of the party against the will of Lenin, who acquiesced only so long as he himself headed the party. But after his first stroke, when he returned to work with his health undermined, Lenin applied himself to the entire problem of leadership. This accounts for the conversation with me. Hence, too, the Will. Its last lines were written on January 4. After that, two more months passed during which the situation took definite shape. Lenin was now preparing not only to remove Stalin from his post of general secretary, but to disqualify him before the party as well. On the question of monopoly of foreign trade, on the national question, on questions of the regime in the party, of the worker-peasant inspection, and of the commission of control, he was systematically preparing to de liver at the twelfth congress a crushing blow at Stalin as personifying bureaucracy, the mutual shielding among officials, arbitrary rule and general rudeness.

Would Lenin have been able to carry out the regrouping in the party direction that he planned? At that moment, he undoubtedly would. There had been several precedents for it, and one of them was quite fresh in mind and significant. In November, 1922, while Lenin was still convalescent and living in the country, and while I was absent from Moscow, the Central Committee unanimously adopted a decision that dealt an irreparable blow at the monopoly of foreign trade. Both Lenin and I sounded the alarm, independently of each other, and then wrote to each other and co-ordinated our action. A few weeks later, the Central Committee revoked its decision as unanimously as it had adopted it. On December 21, Lenin wrote triumphantly to me: “Comrade Trotsky, it seems that we have managed to capture the position without a single shot, by a mere manoeuvre. I suggest that we do not stop but press the attack.” Our joint action against the Central Committee at the beginning of 1923 would without a shadow of a doubt have brought us victory. And what is more, I have no doubt that if I had come forward on the eve of the twelfth congress in the spirit of a “bloc of Lenin and Trotsky” against the Stalin bureaucracy, I should have been victorious even if Lenin had taken no direct part in the struggle. How solid the victory would have been is, of course, another question. To decide that, one must take into account a number of objective processes in the country, in the working class, and in the party itself. That is a separate and large theme. Lenin’s wife said in 1927 that if he had been alive he would probably have been doing time in a Stalin prison. I think she was right. For the thing that matters is not Stalin, but the forces that he expresses without even realizing it. In 1922 — 23, however, it was still possible to capture the commanding position by an open attack on the faction then rapidly being formed of national socialist officials, of usurpers of the apparatus, of the unlawful heirs of October, of the epigones of Bolshevism. The chief obstacle was Lenin’s condition. He was expected to rise again as he had after his first stroke and to take part in the twelfth congress as he had in the eleventh. He himself hoped for this. The doctors spoke encouragingly, though with dwindling assurance. The idea of a “bloc of Lenin and Trotsky” against the apparatus-men and bureaucrats was at that time fully known only to Lenin and me, although the other members of the Politbureau dimly suspected it. Lenin’s letters on the national question and his Will remained unknown. Independent action on my part would have been interpreted, or, to be more exact, represented as my personal fight for Lenin’s place in the party and the state. The very thought of this made me shudder. I considered that it would have brought such a demoralization in our ranks that we would have had to pay too painful a price for it even in case of victory. In all plans and calculations, there remained the positive element of uncertainty — Lenin and his physical condition. Would he be able to state his own views? Would he still have time? Would the party understand that it was a case of a fight by Lenin and Trotsky for the future of the revolution, and not a fight by Trotsky for the place held by Lenin, who was ill? Because of Lenin’s exceptional position in the party, the uncertainty of his personal condition became the uncertainty of the condition of the entire party. The indefinite situation was being prolonged. And the delay simply played into the hands of the epigones, since Stalin, as general secretary, became the majordomo of the apparatus for the entire period of the interregnum.

It was the beginning of March, 1923. Lenin was lying in his room in the huge building of the courts of justice. The second stroke was near; it was preceded by a series of lesser shocks. I spent several weeks in bed with lumbago in the former Kavaler sky building, where we had our apartment, and was separated from Lenin by the enormous courtyard of the Kremlin. Neither Lenin nor I could reach the telephone; furthermore, the doctors strictly forbade Lenin to hold any telephone conversations. Lenin’s two secretaries, Fotiyeva and Glasser, did service as liaison officers. This is what they came to tell me: Vladimir Ilyich was very much disturbed by Stalin’s preparations for the coming party congress, especially in connection with his factional machinations in Georgia. “Vladimir Ilyich is preparing a bomb for Stalin at the congress” — that was Fotiyeva’s phrase, verbatim. The word “bomb” was Lenin’s, not hers. “Vladimir Ilyich asks you to take the Georgian case in your hands; he will then feel confident.” On March 5, Lenin dictated this note to me:

“Dear Comrade Trotsky: I wish very much to ask you to take upon yourself the defense of the Georgian case in the Central Committee of the party. At present, the case is under the ’persecution’ of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky, and I cannot trust their impartiality. Quite the opposite. If you were to agree to under take the defense, my mind would be at rest. If for some reason you cannot agree to do so, please return the entire dossier to me; I shall consider that a sign of refusal from you. With best comradely greetings, LENIN.”

What had brought the question to such an acute stage? — I inquired. It turned out that Stalin had betrayed Lenin’s confidence; in order to insure himself support in Georgia, acting behind Lenin’s back and without the knowledge of the entire Central Committee, he had carried out, with the help of Ordzhonikidze and not without support from Dzerzhinsky, an organized coup d’édat there against the best section of the party, shielding himself falsely behind the authority of the Central Committee. As Lenin’s illness made it impossible for him to meet other comrades, Stalin had taken advantage of this and had surrounded him with misinformation. Lenin instructed his secretaries to gather all the material they could on the Georgian matter and decided to come out openly with a statement. It is hard to say what shocked Lenin most — Stalin’s personal disloyalty or his rough and bureaucratic policy on the national question. Probably it was a combination of both. Lenin was getting ready for the struggle, but he was afraid that he would not be able to speak at the congress, and this worried him. Why not talk the matter over with Zinoviev or Kamenev? — his secretaries kept prompting him. But Lenin waved them aside impatiently. He foresaw that if he withdrew from activity, Zinoviev and Kamenev would join Stalin to make up a trio against me, and thus would betray him. “Do you happen to know Trotsky’s attitude on the Georgian question?” Lenin asks. “At the plenary meeting, Trotsky spoke in agreement with your views,” answers Glasser, who acted as the secretary at the meeting.

“Are you sure?”

“Quite. Trotsky accused Ordzhonikidze, Voroshilov and Kalinin of failing to understand the national question.”

“Verify it again,” Lenin demands.

The next day, at the meeting of the Central Committee at my house, Glasser handed me a note with a brief summary of my speech of the day before, concluding with the question: “Did I understand you correctly?”

“What do you want it for?” I asked. “For Vladimir Ilyich,” Glasser answered. ”Yes, this is correct,” I replied. In the mean time, Stalin watched our correspondence with alarm, but at that moment I was still unaware of what it was all about. “After he read my correspondence with you,” Glasser told me afterward, “Vladimir Ilyich fairly shone . . . ‘Now, it is a different matter.’ And he instructed me to hand over to you all the manuscripts that were to make part of his bomb for the twelfth congress.” Lenin’s intentions now were quite clear to me; by taking the example of Stalin’s policy he wanted to expose to the party, and ruthlessly, the danger of the bureaucratic transformation of the dictatorship.

“To-morrow Kamenev is going to Georgia for the party conference,” I said to Fotiyeva. “I can acquaint him with Lenin’s manuscripts so as to induce him to act properly in Georgia. Ask Vladimir Ilyich about it.” A quarter of an hour later, Fotiyeva returned out of breath:

“Under no circumstances.”

“Why?”

“Vladimir Ilyich says: ‘Kamenev will immediately show every thing to Stalin, and Stalin will make a rotten compromise and then deceive.’

“Then the thing has gone so far that Vladimir Ilyich no longer thinks that we can compromise with Stalin even on the right line?”

“Yes, he does not trust Stalin, and wants to come out against him openly, before the entire party. He is preparing a bomb.”

About an hour after this conversation, Fotiyeva came to me again with a note from Lenin addressed to an old revolutionary, Mdivani, and to other opponents of Stalin’s policy in Georgia. Lenin wrote to them: “I am watching your case with all my heart and soul. Ordzhonikidze’s rough methods and Stalin’s and Dzerzhinsky’s encouragement fill me with indignation. I am preparing notes and a speech for you.” The copy of the note was addressed not only to me, but to Kamenev as well. This surprised me.

“Then Vladimir Ilyich has changed his mind?” I asked.

“Yes, his condition is getting worse every hour. You must not believe the reassuring statements of the doctors. He can speak now only with difficulty . . . The Georgian question worries him terribly. He is afraid he will collapse before he can undertake anything. When handing me this note he said: ‘Before it is too late . . . I am obliged to come out openly before the proper time!’”

“But this means that now I can talk to Kamenev?”

“Obviously.”

“Ask him to come to see me.”

Kamenev came an hour later. He was completely at sea. The idea of a trio — Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev — had long been established. Their spearpoint was directed at me. The whole plan of the conspirators was that after they had mustered enough support in the organizations, they would be crowned legitimate successors to Lenin. The little note cut into their plan like a sharp wedge. Kamenev did not know what to do, and admitted it to me quite frankly. I gave him Lenin’s manuscript to read over. Kamenev was an experienced enough politician to understand at once that for Lenin the question was not only one of Georgia but of Stalin’s entire rôle in the party. Kamenev gave me some additional facts. He had just been to see Nadyezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, at her request. She told him in great alarm: “Vladimir has just dictated to his stenographer a letter to Stalin saying that he breaks off all relations with him.” The immediate cause of this was of a semi-personal character. Stalin had been trying to isolate Lenin from all sources of information, and in this connection had been very rude to Nadyezhda Konstantinovna. “But you know Vladimir,” Krupskaya added. “He would never have decided to break off personal relations if he had not thought it necessary to crush Stalin politically.” Kamenev was quite pale and agitated. The ground was slipping away under his feet. He did not know what to do next, or which way to turn. It is quite likely that he was simply afraid of my acting in an unfriendly way toward him.

I gave him my opinion of the situation. “Sometimes,” I said, “out of fear of an imaginary danger, people are capable of bringing real danger down upon themselves. Remember, and tell others that the last thing I want is to start a fight at the congress for any changes in organization. I am for preserving the statusquo. If Lenin gets on his feet before the congress, of which there is unfortunately little chance, he and I will discuss the matter together anew. I am against removing Stalin, and expelling Ordzhonikidze, and displacing Dzerzhinsky from the commissariat of transport. But I do agree with Lenin in substance. I want a radical change in the policy on the national question, a discontinuance of persecutions of the Georgian opponents of Stalin, a discontinuance of the administrative oppression of the party, a firmer policy in matters of industrialization, and an honest co-operation in the higher centres. On the national question the Stalin resolution is good for nothing. It places the high handed and insolent oppression by the dominant nation on the same level with the protest and resistance of small, weak and backward nationalities. I gave my resolution the form of amendments to Stalin’s to make it easier for him to alter his line of policy. But there must be an immediate and radical change. In addition, it is necessary that Stalin should write to Krupskaya at once to apologize for his rudeness, and that he revise his behavior. Let him not overreach himself. There should be no more intrigues, but honest co-operation. And you,” and here I turned to Kamenev, “when you are at the conference at Tiflis, must arrange a complete reversal of the policy toward Lenin’s Georgian supporters on the national question.”

Kamenev gave a sigh of relief. He accepted all my proposals. His only fear was that Stalin would be obstinate: “He’s rude and capricious.”

“I don’t think,” I answered, “that Stalin has any alternative now.” Late that night Kamenev informed me that he had been to see Stalin in the country, and that Stalin had accepted all the terms. Krupskaya had already received his letter of apology, but she could not show it to Lenin, for his condition had grown worse. I gained the impression, however, that Kamenev’s tone was different from that at our parting a few hours earlier. It was not until later that I realized that the change was the result of Lenin’s more serious condition. On his way to Tiflis, or immediately after his arrival, Kamenev received from Stalin a telegram in code telling him that Lenin was paralyzed again, and unable to speak or write. At the Georgian conference, Kamenev carried out Stalin’s policy against Lenin’s. Cemented by personal treachery, the trio had become a fact.

Lenin’s offensive was directed not only against Stalin person ally, but against his entire staff, and, first of all, his assistants, Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze. Both of them are mentioned constantly in Lenin’s correspondence on the Georgian question. Dzerzhinsky was a man of great and explosive passion. His energy was held at a high pitch by constant electric discharges. In every discussion, even of things of minor importance, he would fire up, his nostrils would quiver, his eyes would sparkle, and his voice would be so strained that often it would break. Yet, in spite of this high nervous tension, Dzerzhinsky had no apathetic intervals. He was always in that same state of tense mobilization. Lenin once compared him to a spirited thoroughbred. Dzerzhinsky fell in love, in a mad infatuation, with everything he did, and guarded his associates from criticism and interference with a passionate fanaticism that had no element of the personal in it, for he was completely dissolved in his work.

Dzerzhinsky had no opinions of his own. He never thought of himself as a politician, at least while Lenin was alive. On various occasions, he said to me: “I am not a bad revolutionary, perhaps, but I am no leader, statesman or politician.” This was not mere modesty; his self-appraisal was essentially right. In political matters, Dzerzhinsky always needed some one’s immediate guidance. For many years he had followed Rosa Luxemburg and with her had gone through not only the struggle against Polish patriotism, but that against Bolshevism as well. In 1917 he joined the Bolsheviks. Lenin said to me with great joy, “No traces of the old fight are left.” During the first two or three years, Dzerzhinsky was especially drawn to me. In his last years, he supported Stalin. In his economic work, he accomplished things through sheer temperament — appealing, urging, and lifting people off their feet by his own enthusiasm. He had no considered ideas about economic development. He shared all Stalin’s errors and defended them with all the passion of which he was capable. He died practically on his feet, just after he had left the platform from which he had so passionately been denouncing the opposition.

Stalin’s other ally, Ordzhonikidze, Lenin thought it necessary to expel from the party because of his bureaucratic high-handedness in the Caucasus. I argued against it. Lenin answered me through his secretary: “At least for two years.” How little could he imagine at that time that Ordzhonikidze would become head of the Control Commission that Lenin was planning to create to fight Stalin’s bureaucracy, and which was to embody the con science of the party.

Aside from its general political aims, the campaign that Lenin opened had as its immediate object the creation of the best conditions for my work of direction, either side by side with him if he regained his health, or in his place if he succumbed to his illness. But the struggle, which was never carried out to its end, or even part way, had exactly an opposite result. Lenin man aged only to declare war against Stalin and his allies, and even this was known only to those who were directly involved in it, and not to the party as a whole. Stalin’s faction — at that time it was still the faction of the trio — closed its ranks more tightly after the first warning. The indefinite situation continued. Stalin stood at the helm of the apparatus. Artificial selection was carried on there at a mad pace. The weaker the trio felt in matters of principle, the more they feared me — because they wanted to get rid of me — and the tighter they had to bolt all the screws and nuts in the state and party system. Much later, in 1925, Bukharin said to me, in answer to my criticism of the party oppression: “We have no democracy because we are afraid of you.”

“Just you try to stop being afraid,” I proffered by way of advice, “and let us work properly.” But my advice was vain.

The year 1923 was the first year of the intense but still silent stifling and routing of the Bolshevist party. Lenin was struggling with his terrible illness. The trio were struggling with the party. The atmosphere was charged, and toward autumn the tension resolved itself into a “discussion” of the opposition. The second chapter of the revolution had begun — the fight against Trotskyism. In reality, it was a fight against the ideological legacy of Lenin.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trotsky/leon/my_life/chapter39.html

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