My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 41

Lenin’s Death and the Shift of Power

I was often asked, and even now I still am asked: “How could you lose power?” In most instances, the question covers a naive conception of letting some material object slip from one’s hands, as if losing power were the same thing as losing a watch or a notebook. But as a matter of fact, when the revolutionaries who directed the seizure of power begin at a certain stage to lose it, whether peacefully or through catastrophe, the fact in itself signifies either a decline in the influence of certain ideas and moods in the governing revolutionary circles, or the decline of revolutionary mood in the masses themselves. Or it may be both at the same time. The leading groups of the party that emerged from underground were inspired by the revolutionary tendencies which the leaders of the first period of the revolution were able to formulate clearly and to carry out completely and successfully in practice. It was exactly. Thus that made them the leaders of the party, and, through the party, leaders of the working class, and, through the working class, leaders of the country. It was thus that certain individuals had concentrated power in their hands. But the ideas of the first period of the revolution were imperceptibly losing their influence in the consciousness of the party stratum that held the direct power over the country.

In the country itself, processes were shaping themselves that one may sum up under the general name of reaction. These extended, in varying degree, to the working class as well, including even its party. The stratum that made up the apparatus of power developed its own independent aims and tried to subordinate the revolution to them. A division began to reveal itself between the leaders who expressed the historical line of the class and could see beyond the apparatus, and the apparatus itself — a huge, cumbrous, heterogeneous thing that easily sucked in the average communist. At first this division was more psychological than political in character. Yesterday was still too fresh in mind, the slogans of October had not had time to vanish from the memory, and the authority of the leaders of the first period was still strong. But under cover of the traditional forms, a different psychology was developing. The international prospects were growing dim. The everyday routine was completely absorbing the people. New methods, instead of serving the old aims, were creating new ones and, most of all, a new psychology. In the eyes of many, the temporary situation began to seem the ultimate goal. A new type was being evolved.

In the final analysis, revolutionaries are made of the same social stuff as other people. But they must have had certain very different personal qualities to enable the historical process to separate them from the rest into a distinct group. Association with one another, theoretical work, the struggle under a definite banner, collective discipline, the hardening under the fire of danger, these things gradually shape the revolutionary type. It would be perfectly legitimate to speak of the psychological type of the Bolshevik in contrast, for example, to that of the Menshevik. An eye sufficiently experienced could tell a Bolshevik from a Menshevik even by his outward appearance, with only a slight percentage of error.

This doesn’t mean, however, that a Bolshevik was always and in everything a Bolshevik. To absorb a certain philosophic out look into one’s flesh and blood, to make it dominate one’s consciousness, and to co-ordinate with it one’s sensory world is given not to every one but to only a few. In the working masses, a substitute is found in the class instinct, which in critical periods attains a high degree of sensitiveness. But there are many revolutionaries in the party and the state who come from the masses but have long since broken away from them, and who, because of their position, are placed in a separate and distinct class. Their class instinct has evaporated. On the other hand, they lack the theoretical stability and outlook to envisage the process in its entirety. Their psychology retains many unprotected surfaces, which, with the change of circumstances, expose them to the easy penetration of foreign and hostile ideological influences. In the days of the underground struggle, of the uprisings, and the civil war, people of this type were merely soldiers of the party. Their minds had only one string, and that sounded in harmony with the party tuning-fork. But when the tension relaxed and the nomads of the revolutions passed on to settled living, the traits of the man in the street, the sympathies and tastes of self-satisfied officials, revived in them.

Quite frequently I heard isolated remarks of Kalinin, Voroshilov, Stalin or Rykov with alarm. Where does this come from? — I asked myself — from what well does it gush? When I came to a meeting and found groups engaged in conversation, often they would stop when they saw me. There was nothing directed against me in those conversations, nothing opposed to the principles of the party. But they showed an attitude of moral relaxation, of self-content and triviality. People began to feel an urge to pour out these new moods upon each other — moods in which the element of philistine gossip came to have a very prominent place. Heretofore they had realized the impropriety of this sort of thing not only in Lenin’s or my presence but even with one another. On occasions when vulgarity showed itself — for example, on the part of Stalin — Lenin, without even lifting his head from his papers, would look around as if trying to find some one else who was repelled by the remark. In such cases, a swift glance, or an intonation in the voice was enough to reveal indisputably to both of us our solidarity in these psychological appraisals.

If I took no part in the amusements that were becoming more and more common in the lives of the new governing stratum, it was not for moral reasons, but because I hated to inflict such boredom on myself. The visiting at each other’s homes, the assiduous attendance at the ballet, the drinking-parties at which people who were absent were pulled to pieces, had no attraction for me. The new ruling group felt that I did not fit in with this way of living, and they did not even try to win me over. It was for this very reason that many group conversations would stop the moment I appeared, and those engaged in them would cut them short with a certain shamefacedness and a slight bitterness toward me. This was, if you like, a definite indication that I had begun to lose power.

I am here limiting myself to the psychological aspect of the matter, and disregarding its social basis, that is, the changes in the anatomy of the revolutionary society. In the final reckoning, it is, of course, these latter changes that decide. But in actual life it is their psychological reflection that one encounters directly. The inner events were developing rather slowly, facilitating the molecular processes of the transformation of the upper stratum, and leaving no opening for contrasting the two irreconcilable positions before the masses. One must add that the new moods were for a long time, and still are, disguised by traditional formulas. This made it all the more difficult to determine how far the process of metabolism had gone. The Thermidor conspiracy at the end of the eighteenth century, prepared for by the preceding course of the revolution, broke out with a single blow and assumed the shape of a sanguinary finale. Our Thermidor was long drawn out. The guillotine found its substitute — at least for a while — in intrigue. The falsifying of the past, systematized on the conveyer plan, became a weapon for the ideological re arming of the official party. Lenin’s illness and the expectation of his return to the leadership made the temporary situation indefinite, and it lasted, with an interval, for over two years. If the revolution had been in the ascendancy, the delay would have played into the hands of the opposition. But the revolution on the international scale was suffering one defeat after another, and the delay accordingly played into the hands of the national reformism by automatically strengthening the Stalin bureaucracy against me and my political friends.

The out-and-out philistine, ignorant, and simply stupid baiting of the theory of permanent revolution grew from just these psychological sources. Gossiping over a bottle of wine or re turning from the ballet, one smug official would say to another:

“He can think of nothing but permanent revolution.” The accusations of unsociability, of individualism, of aristocratism, were closely connected with this particular mood. The sentiment of “Not all and always for the revolution, but something for oneself as well,” was translated as “Down with permanent revolution.” The revolt against the exacting theoretical demands of Marxism and the exacting political demands of the revolution gradually assumed, in the eyes of these people, the form of a struggle against “Trotskyism.” Under this banner, the liberation of the philistine in the Bolshevik was proceeding. It was because of this that I lost power, and it was this that determined the form which this loss took.

I have said before that Lenin, from his deathbed, was preparing a blow at Stalin and his allies, Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze. Lenin valued Dzerzhinsky highly. The estrangement began when Dzerzhinsky realized that Lenin did not think him capable of directing economic work. It was this that threw Dzerzhinsky into Stalin’s arms, and then Lenin decided to strike at him as one of Stalin’s supports. As for Ordzhonikidze, Lenin wanted to expel him from the party for his ways of a governor-general. Lenin’s note promising the Georgian Bolsheviks his full support against Stalin, Dzherzhinsky, and Ordzhonikidze was addressed to Mdivani. The fates of the four reveal most vividiy the sweeping change in the party engineered by the Stalin faction. After Lenin’s death, Dzerzhinsky was put at the head of the Supreme Economic Council, that is, in charge of all state industries. Ordzhonikidze, who had been slated for expulsion, has been made the head of the Central Control Commission. Stalin not only has remained the general secretary, contrary to Lenin’s wish, but has been given unheard-of powers by the apparatus. Finally, Budu Mdivani, whom Lenin supported against Stalin, is now in the Tobolsk prison. A similar “regrouping” has been effected in the entire directing personnel of the party and in all the parties of the International, without exception. The epoch of the epigones is separated from that of Lenin not only by a gulf of ideas, but also by a sweeping overturn in the organization of the party.

Stalin has been the chief instrument in carrying out this overturn. He is gifted with practicality, a strong will, and persistence in carrying out his aims. His political horizon is restricted, his theoretical equipment primitive. His work of compilation, The Foundations of Leninism, in which he made an attempt to pay tribute to the theoretical traditions of the party, is full of sophomoric errors. His ignorance of foreign languages compels him to follow the political life of other countries at second-hand. His mind is stubbornly empirical, and devoid of creative imagination. To the leading group of the party (in the wide. circles he was not known at all) he always seemed a man destined to play second and third fiddle. And the fact that to-day he is playing first is not so much a summing-up of the man as it is of this transitional period of political backsliding in the country. Helvetius said it long ago: “Every period has its great men, and if these are lacking, it invents them.” Stalinism is above all else the automatic work of the impersonal apparatus on the decline of the revolution.

Lenin died on January 21, 1924. Death was for him merely a deliverance from physical and moral suffering. He must have felt it intolerably humiliating to be so utterly helpless, and especially to lose his power of speech while he was still fully conscious. He grew unable to endure the patronizing tone of the doctors, their banal jokes and their false encouragements. While he was still able to speak, he casually put test questions to the doctors, caught them unawares in contradictions, insisted on additional explanations, and dipped into the medical books himself. In this case as in everything else, he was striving most of all for clarity. The only medical man he could endure was Fyodor Alexandrovich Guetier. A good physician and a good man, unsullied by the traits of a courtier, Guetier was attached to Lenin and Krupskaya by a genuine affection. During the period when Lenin would not allow any other doctor to come near him, Guetier continued to visit him. Guetier was also a close friend and house-physician to my family during all the years of the revolution. Thanks to him, we always had most trustworthy and intelligent reports on the condition of Vladimir Ilyich, to supplement and correct the impersonal official bulletins.

More than once, I asked Guetier whether Lenin’s intellect would retain its power in case of recovery. Guetier answered me in this strain: the tendency to fatigue would increase, there would not be the former clarity in work, but a virtuoso would remain a virtuoso. In the interval between the first and second strokes, this prediction was confirmed to the letter. Toward the end of the meetings of the Politbureau, Lenin gave one the impression of being a hopelessly tired man. All the muscles of his face sagged, the gleam went out of his eyes, and even his formidable forehead seemed to shrink, while his shoulders drooped heavily. The expression of his face and of his entire figure might have been summed up in a word: tired. At such ghastly moments, Lenin seemed to me a doomed man. But with a good night’s sleep he would recover his power of thought. The articles written in the interval between his two strokes hold their own with his best work. The fluid of the source was the same, but the flow was growing less. Even after the second stroke, Guetier did not take away all hope. But his reports continued to grow more pessimistic. The illness dragged on. Without malice or mercy, the blind forces of nature were sinking the great sick man into a state of impotence from which there was no way out. Lenin could not and should not have lived on as an invalid. But still we did not abandon hope for his recovery.

In the meantime, my own indisposition lingered on. “At the insistence of the doctors,” writes N.I. Sedova, “L.D. was moved to the country. There Guetier visited the sick man, for whom he had a tender regard. Politics did not interest him, but he suffered deeply for us without knowing how to express his sympathy. The persecution of L.D. caught him unprepared. He did not understand it, and was waiting and worrying. At Archangelskoye, he spoke to me excitedly about the necessity of taking L.D. to Sukhum. In the end, we decided to take the step. The journey, which was long in itself — via Baku, Tiflis, and Batum — was made still longer by the snowdrifts that covered the tracks. But the travelling had a soothing effect. The farther we went from Moscow, the more we broke away from the depression that we had found there of late. But in spite of it all, I still had the feeling that I was accompanying a very sick man. The uncertainty tried one ’s patience: what sort of life would there be at Sukhum? Would we have enemies or friends about us there?”

January 21 found us at the station in TiFlis, on our way to Sukhum. I was sitting with my wife in the working half of my car, with the high temperature that was the usual thing at that time. There was a knock on the door, and my faithful assistant, Syermuks, who was accompanying me to Sukhum, entered. From his manner as he walked in, from his livid-gray face as he handed me a sheet of paper, looking past me with glassy eyes, I sensed a catastrophe. It was the decoded telegram from Stalin telling me that Lenin had died. I passed it to my wife; she had already guessed it.

The Tiflis authorities soon received a similar telegram. The news of Lenin’s death was spreading in ever-widening rings. I got the Kremlin on the direct wire. In answer to my inquiry, I was told: “The funeral will be on Saturday, you can’t get back in time, and so we advise you to continue your treatment.” Accordingly, I had no choice. As a matter of fact, the funeral did not take place until Sunday, and I could easily have reached Moscow by then. Incredible as it may appear, I was even deceived about the date of the funeral. The conspirators surmised correctly that I would never think of verifying it, and later on they could always find an explanation. I must recall the fact that the news of Lenin’s first illness was not communicated to me until the third day. This was a system. The object was to “gain time.”

The Tiflis comrades came to demand that I write on Lenin’s death at once. But I knew only one urgent desire-and that was to be alone. I could not stretch my hand to lift my pen. The brief text of the Moscow telegram was still resounding in my head. Those who gathered at the train waited for a response. They were right. The train was held up for half an hour, and I wrote the farewell lines: “Lenin has gone. Lenin is no more.” The few handwritten pages were transmitted to the direct wire.

“We arrived quite broken down,” writes my wife. “It was the first time we had seen Sukhum. The mimosa were in full bloom — they are plentiful there. Magnificent palms. Camellias. It was January; in Moscow the cold was bitter. The Abhazians greeted us on our arrival in a friendly manner. In the dining-room of the rest-house, there were two portraits on the wall, one — draped in black — of Vladimir Ilyich, the other of L.D. We felt like taking the latter one down, but thought it would look too demonstrative.”

At Sukhum I spent long days lying on the balcony facing the sea. Although it was January, the sun was warm and bright. Between the balcony and the glittering sea there were huge palms. With the constant sensation of running a temperature were mingled thoughts of Lenin’s death. In my mind I went through all the stages of my life: my meetings with Lenin, our disagreements, polemics, our renewed friendliness, our fellowship of work. Individual episodes emerged with the vividness of a dream. Gradually all of it began to assume increasingly sharp outlines. With amazing clarity I saw those “disciples” who were true to their master in the little things, and not in the big. As I breathed the sea air in, I assimilated with my whole being the assurance of my historical rightness in opposition to the epigones.

January 27, 1924. Over the palms and the sea reigned silence, sparking under the blue canopy. Suddenly it was pierced by salvos of artillery. The cannonading was going on somewhere below, on the seashore. It was Sukhum’s salute to the leader who at that hour was being buried in Moscow. I thought of him and of the woman who had been his life-companion for so many years, receiving through him her impressions of the world. Now she was burying him, and must inevitably feel lonely among the grieving millions around her — grieving, but not as she was grieving. I thought of Nadyezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya. I wanted to speak a word of greeting, of sympathy, of endearment to her from where I was. But I could not bring myself to do it. Words seemed much too light in the face of what had happened. I was afraid that they would only sound conventional. And so I was shaken with gratitude when I received a letter a few days later from Nadyezhda Konstantinovna. This is how it read:

“ Dear LEV DAVYDOVICH,

I write to tell you that about a month before his death, as he was looking through your book, Vladimir Ilyich stopped at the place where you sum up Marx and Lenin, and asked me to read it over again to him; he listened very attentively, and then looked it over again himself. And here is another thing I want to tell you. The attitude of V.I. toward you at the time when you came to us in London from Siberia has not changed until his death. I wish you, Lev Davydovich, strength and health, and I embrace you warmly.

N. KRUPSKAYA.”

In the book which Vladimir Ilyich was looking over before his death, I compared Lenin with Marx. I knew only too well Lenin’s attitude toward Marx, an attitude made up of a disciple’s grateful love and of the pathos of distance. The relationship between master and disciple became, in the course of history, the relationship of the theoretical precursor and the first realizer. In my article I did away with the traditional pathos of distance. Marx and Lenin, so closely linked historically and yet so different, were to me the two unsurpassable summits of man’s spiritual power. And I rejoiced at the thought that Lenin had read my lines about him attentively a short time before he died, and probably with emotion, since for him, as for me, the Marx scale was the most titanic for measuring human personality.

And with emotion I now read Krupskaya’s letter. She took two extreme points in my connection with Lenin — the October day in 1902 when, after escaping from Siberia, I had raised Lenin from his hard London bed early in the morning, and the end of December, 1923, when Lenin had twice read my appreciation of his lifework. Between these two points there had passed two decades — at first joint work, then bitter factional struggle, then joint work again on a higher historical foundation. In Hegel’s phrase: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And now Krupskaya bore witness that Lenin’s attitude toward me, despite the protracted period of antithesis, remained the “London” one; that is, one of warm support and friendly sympathy, but now on a higher historical plane. Even if there were nothing else, all the folios of the dissemblers could not outweigh in the judgment of history this little note written by Krupskaya a few days after Lenin’s death.

“Considerably delayed by the snow, the newspapers began to bring us the memorial speeches, obituaries, and articles. Our friends were expecting L.D. to come to Moscow, and thought that he would cut short his trip in order to return, since no one imagined that Stalin’s telegram had cut off his return. I remember my son’s letter, received at Sukhum. He was terribly shocked by Lenin’s death, and though suffering from a cold, with a temperature of 104, he went in his not very warm coat to the Hall of Columns to pay his last respects, and waited, waited, and waited with impatience for our arrival. One could feel in his letter his bitter bewilderment and diffident reproach.” This again is quoted from my wife’s notes.

A delegation of the Central Committee composed of Tomsky, Frunze, Pyatakov, and Gusyev came to me at Sukhum to coordinate with me in making changes in the personnel of the war department. This was sheer farce. The renewal of the personnel in the war department had for some time been going on at full speed behind my back, and now it was simply a matter of observing the proprieties.

The first blow in the war department fell on Sklyansky. He was the first to bear Stalin’s revenge for the latter’s reverses before Tsaritsin, his failure on the southern front, and his adventure before Lvov. Intrigue reared high its serpentine head. To uproot Sklyansky — and me in the future — an ambitious but talentless intriguer named Unschlicht had been installed in the war department a few months before. Skiyansky was dismissed and Frunze, who was in command of the armies in the Ukraine, was appointed in his place. Frunze was a serious person. His authority in the party, due to his sentence of hard-labor in Siberia in the past, was higher than the more recent authority of Sklyansky. Furthermore, he had revealed an indisputable talent for military leadership during the war. But as a military administrator, he was far inferior to Sklyansky. He was too apt to be carried away by abstract schemes; he was a poor judge of character; and he succumbed easily to the influence of experts, especially those of the second order.

But I must finish Sklyansky’s story. With that rudeness characteristic of Stalin, without even being consulted about it, he was transferred to economic work. Dzerzhinsky, who was glad to get rid of Unschiicht, his deputy at the GPU, and secure for industry such a first-class administrator as Sklyansky, put him in charge of the cloth trust. With a shrug of his shoulders, Sklyansky plunged into his new work. A few months later he decided to visit the United States, to look about, study, and buy machinery. Before he left he called on me to say good-by and to ask my advice. We had worked hand in hand during the years of civil war. But our talk had usually been about troop units, military rules, speeding up the graduation of officers, supplies of copper and aluminum for military plants, uniforms and food, rather than about the party. We were both too busy for that. After Lenin was taken ill, when the plots of the epigones began to force their way into the war department, I refrained from discussing party matters, particularly with the military staff. The situation was very indefinite, the differences were then only be ginning to crop up, and the forming of factions in the army concealed many dangers. Later on I was ill myself. At that meeting with Sklyansky in the summer of 1925, when I was no longer in charge of the war department, we talked over almost everything.

“Tell me,” Sklyansky asked, “what is Stalin?”

Sklyansky knew Stalin well enough himself. He wanted my definition of Stalin and my explanation of his success. I thought for a minute.

“Stalin,” I said, “is the outstanding mediocrity in the party.” This definition then shaped itself for me for the first time in its full import, psychological as well as social. By the expression on Sklyansky’s face, I saw at once that I had helped my questioner to touch on something significant.

“You know,” he said, “it is amazing how, during this last period, the mean, the self-satisfied mediocrity is pushing itself into every sphere. And all of it finds in Stalin its leader. Where does it all come from?”

“This is the reaction after the great social and psychological strain of the first years of revolution. A victorious counter-revolution may develop its great men. But its first stage, the Thermidor, demands mediocrities who can’t see farther than their noses. Their strength lies in their political blindness, like the mill-horse that thinks that he is moving up when really he is only pushing down the belt-wheel. A horse that sees is incapable of doing the work.”

In that conversation I realized for the first time with absolute clarity the problem of the Thermidor — with, I might even say, a sort of physical conviction. I agreed with Sklyansky to return to the subject after he got back from America. Not many weeks later a cable informed us that Sklyansky had been drowned in some American lake while boating. Life is inexhaustible in its cruel inventions.

The urn with Sklyansky’s ashes was brought back to Moscow. Every one was sure that it would be immured in the Kremlin wall in the Red Square, which had become the Pantheon of the revolution. But the secretariat of the Central Committee decided to bury Sklyansky outside of the city. Sklyansky’s farewell visit to me had apparently been noted and taken into account. The hatred extended to the burial-urn. The belittling of Sklyansky was part of the general fight against the leadership that had insured victory in the civil war. I do not think that Sklyansky alive was interested in the matter of where he was to be buried. But the decision of the Central Committee took on a character of personal and political meanness. Throwing aside my sense of repulsion, I called Molotov. But the decision could not be altered. History has yet to pass its verdict on it.

In the autumn of 1924, my temperature again began to mount. By that time, another discussion had blazed up, brought about this time from above in accordance with some pre-arranged plan. In Leningrad, in Moscow, and in the provinces, hundreds and thousands of preliminary secret conferences had been held to prepare the so-called “discussion,” to prepare, that is, a systematic and well-organized baiting, now directed not at the opposition but at me personally. When the secret preparations were over, at a signal from the Pravda a campaign against Trotskyism burst forth simultaneously on all platforms, in all pages and columns, in every crack and corner. It was a majestic spectacle of its kind. The slander was like a volcanic eruption. It was a great shock to the large mass of the party. I lay in bed with a temperature, and remained silent. Press and orators did nothing but expose Trotskyism, although no one knew exactly what it meant. Day after day they served up incidents from the past, polemical excerpts from Lenin’s articles of twenty years’ standing, confusing, falsifying and mutilating them, and in general presenting them as if everything had happened just the day before. No one could understand anything of all this. If it had really been true, then Lenin must have been aware of it. But was there not the October revolution after all that? Was there not the civil war after the revolution? Had not Trotsky worked together with Lenin in creating the Communist International? Were not Trotsky’s portraits hanging everywhere next to those of Lenin? But slander poured forth in a cold lava stream. It pressed down automatically on the consciousness, and was even more devastating to the will.

The attitude toward Lenin as a revolutionary leader gave way to an attitude like that toward the head of an ecclesiastital hierarchy. Against my protests, a mausoleum was built on the Red Square, a monument unbecoming and offensive to the revolutionary consciousness. The official books about Lenin evolved into similar mausoleums. His ideas were cut up into quotations for hypocritical sermons. His embalmed corpse was used as a weapon against the living Lenin — and against Trotsky. The masses were stunned, puzzled, and overawed. Thanks to its sheer bulk, the campaign of ignorant lies took on political potency. It overwhelmed, oppressed, and demoralized the masses. The party found itself condemned to silence. A regime was established that was nothing less than a dictatorship of the apparatus over the party. In other words, the party was ceasing to be a party.

In the morning, papers were brought to me in bed. I looked over the cable reports, and the titles and signatures of the articles. I knew those men well enough; I knew their inner thoughts, what they were capable of saying and what they had been ordered to say. In the majority of cases, they were men already exhausted by the revolution. Some were simply narrow-minded fanatics who had let themselves be deceived. Others were young “careerists” in a hurry to prove how invaluable they were. All of them contradicted each other and themselves. But the slander kept up incessantly in the newspapers: it howled and shrieked, drowning its contradictions and superficiality in its own noise. It succeeded by sheer volume alone.

“The second attack of L.D.’s illness,” writes N.I. Sedova, “coincided with a monstrous campaign of persecution against him, which we felt as keenly as if we had been suffering from the most malignant disease. The pages of the Pravda seemed endless, and every line of the paper, even every word, a lie. L.D. kept silent. But what it cost him to maintain that silence! Friends called to see him during the day and often at night. I remember that some one once asked him if he had read that day’s paper. He replied that he no longer read the newspapers. And it is true that he only took them up in his hands, ran his eyes over them, and then threw them aside. It seemed as if it were enough for him merely to look at them to know all that they contained. He knew only too well the cooks who had made the dish, and the same dish every day, to boot. To read the papers at that time was exactly, he would say, like pushing a funnel brush into one’s own throat. It might have been possible to force himself to read them if L.D. had decided to reply. But he remained silent. His cold lingered on, thanks to his critical nervous condition. He looked pale and thin. In the family we avoided talking about the persecution, and yet we could talk of nothing else. I remember how I felt when I went to my work every day at the Commissariat of Education; it was like running a gauntlet. But never once did any one permit himself an unpleasant insinuation. Side by side with the inimical silence of the small ruling group, there was unquestionable sympathy from most of my colleagues. The life of the party seemed to be split in half: the inner, hidden life and the outward life for show only, and the two lives were in absolute contradiction to each other. Only a few brave souls ventured to reveal what was latent in the minds and hearts of most of those who concealed their sympathies under a ’monolithic’ vote.”

My letter to Chiedze against Lenin was published during this period. This episode, dating back to April, 1913, grew out of the fact that the official Bolshevik newspaper then published in St. Petersburg had appropriated the title of my Viennese publication, The Pravda — a Labor Paper. This led to one of those sharp conflicts so frequent in the lives of the foreign exiles. In a letter written to Chiedze, who at one time stood between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, I gave vent to my indignation at the Bolshevik centre and at Lenin. Two or three weeks later, I would undoubtedly have subjected my letter to a strict censor’s revision; a year or two later still it would have seemed a curiosity in my own eyes. But that letter was to have a peculiar destiny. It was intercepted on its way by the Police Department. It rested in the police archives until the October revolution, when it went to the Institute of History of the Communist party. Lenin was well aware of this letter; in his eyes, as in mine, it was simply “the snows of yesteryear” and nothing more. A good many letters of various kinds had been written during the years of foreign exile! In 1924, the epigones disinterred the letter from the archives and flung it at the party, three-quarters of which at that time consisted of new members. It was no accident that the time chosen for this was the months immediately following Lenin’s death. This condition was doubly essential. In the first place, Lenin could no longer rise to call these gentlemen by their right names, and in the second place, the masses of the people were torn with grief over the death of their leader. With no idea of the yesterdays of the party, the people read Trotsky’s hostile remarks about Lenin and were stunned. It is true that the remarks had been made twelve years before, but chronology was disregarded in the face of the naked quotations. The use that the epigones made of my letter to Chiedze is one of the greatest frauds in the world’s history. The forged documents of the French reactionaries in the Dreyfus case are as nothing compared to the political forgery perpetrated by Stalin and his associates.

Slander becomes a force only when it meets some historical demand. There must have been some shift, I reasoned, in social relations or in the political mood, if slander could find such an endless market. It is necessary to analyze the content of this slander. As I lay in bed, I had plenty of time to do so. From what does this accusation of Trotsky’s wishing “to rob the peasant” derive — that formula which the reactionary agrarians, the Christian socialists, and the Fascists always direct against socialists and against communists in particular? Whence this bitter baiting of the Marxist idea of permanent revolution, this national bragging which promises to build its own socialism? What sections of the people make demands for such reactionary vulgarity? And lastly, how and why this lowering of the theoretical level, this retrogression to political stupidity? Lying in bed, I went over my old articles, and my eyes fell on these lines written in 1909, at the peak of the reactionary regime under Stolypin:

“When the curve of historical development rises, public thinking becomes more penetrating, braver and more ingenious. It grasps facts on the wing, and on the wing links them with the thread of generalization . . . But when the political curve indi cates a drop, public thinking succumbs to stupidity. The price less gift of political generalization vanishes somewhere without leaving even a trace. Stupidity grows in insolence, and, baring its teeth, heaps insulting mockery on every attempt at a serious generalization. Feeling that it is in command of the field, it be gins to resort to its own means.”

One of its most important means is slander.

I say to myself that we are passing through a period of re action. A political shifting of the classes is going on, as well as a change in class-consciousness. After the great effort, there is the recoil. How far will it go? Certainly not back to its starting-point. But no one can indicate the line in advance. The struggle of the inner forces will determine that. First, one must understand what is happening. The deep molecular processes of reaction are emerging to the surface. They have as their object the eradicating, or at least the weakening, of the dependence of the public consciousness on the ideas, slogans and living figures of October. That is the meaning of what is now taking place. So let us not become too subjective, or quarrel or feel put out with history for conducting its affairs in such involved and tangled ways. To understand what is happening is already to half insure the victory.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trotsky/leon/my_life/chapter41.html

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