My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 44

The Deportation

In October, a rigorous change in our situation took place. Communication with our personal and political friends, even with our relatives in Moscow, ceased abruptly; letters and telegrams no longer reached us. The Moscow telegraph office, as we learned through special channels, accumulated several hundred telegrams for me, especially telegrams on the anniversary of the October Revolution. The ring around us was closing in tighter and tighter.

During 1928, the opposition, in spite of the unbridled persecution, obviously was growing, especially in the large industrial plants. This was responsible for the increase of reprisals, including even the complete suppression of correspondence among the exiles themselves. We expected other measures of the same sort to follow, and we were not mistaken.

On December 16, a special representative of the GPU, coming from Moscow, in the name of that institution handed me an ultimatum: I must stop directing the opposition; if I did not, measures would be taken “to isolate me from political life.” The question of deporting me abroad, however, was not raised then; the measures under consideration, as far as I understood, were simply of a domestic character. I replied to this ultimatum with a letter addressed to the Central Committee of the party and the presidium of the Communist International. I think it necessary to quote the main points of this letter here:

Today, December i6, the representative of the collegium of the GPU, Volynsky, acting in the name of the collegium, delivered the following verbal ultimatum to me:

“The work of your political sympathizers throughout the country” (almost word for word) “has lately assumed a definitely counter revolutionary character; the conditions in which you are placed at Alma-Ata give you full opportunity to direct this work; in view of this, the collegium of the GPU has decided to demand from you a categorical promise to discontinue your activity; failing this, the collegium will be obliged to alter the conditions of your existence to the extent of completely isolating you from political life. In this connection, the question of changing your place of residence will arise.”

I informed the representative of the GPU that I can only give him a written reply provided I receive from him a written statement of the GPU’s ultimatum. My refusal to give any oral reply was based on my belief, derived from all my past experience, that my words would again be viciously distorted to mislead the working masses of the USSR and of the rest of the world.

But regardless of further action by the collegium of the GPU— which in this case is playing no independent rôle but is only mechanically executing the old decision, long familiar to me, of Stalin’s narrow faction — I think it necessary to bring the following to the notice of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party and of the Executive Committee of the Communist International:

The demand that I abstain from political activity is a demand that I renounce the struggle for the interests of the international prôletariat, a struggle which I have been waging continually for thirty-two years, throughout all of my conscious life. The attempt to represent this activity as “counter-revolutionary” comes from those whom I charge, before the international prôletariat, with violating the fundamental principles of the teachings of Marx and Lenin, with infringing on the historical interests of the world revolution, with renouncing the traditions and precepts of October, and with unconsciously, but all the more menacingly, preparing the Thermidor.

To abstain from political activity would be tantamount to ending the struggle against the blindness of the present direction of the Communist Party, which adds to the objective difficulties of the constructive Socialist work an ever-increasing number of political difficulties caused by its opportunist inability to conduct the prôletarian policy on a large, historical scale.

It would be tantamount to renouncing the struggle against a strangling party régime that reflects the growing pressure of the enemy classes on the prôletarian vanguard; it would be tantamount to passively acquiescing in that economic policy of opportunism which is undermining and shaking the foundations of the dictatorship of the prôletariat, retarding the latter’s material and cultural progress, and at the same time dealing severe blows at the union of the workers and the toiling peasants — the foundation of the Soviet power.

The Lenin wing of the party has been under a hail of blows ever since 1923, that is, ever since the unexampled collapse of the German Revolution. The increasing force of these blows keeps pace with the further defeats of the international and Soviet prôletariat as a con sequence of opportunist leadership.

Theoretical reasoning and political experience attest that a period of historical recoil or reaction can follow not only a bourgeois, but a prôletarian revolution, as well. For six years, we have been living in the USSR under the conditions of a growing reaction against October, and, consequently, of a clearing of the way for the Thermidor.

The most obvious and complete expression of this reaction within the party is the savage persecution and routing of the Left wing in the party organization.

In its latest attempts at resistance to the out-and-out Thermidorians, the Stalin faction is living on the chips and fragments of the ideas of the opposition. Creatively, it is impotent. The struggle against the Left deprives it of stability. Its practical policy has no backbone, being false, contradictory and unreliable. The noisy campaign against the danger from the Right is three-quarters sham, and serves first of all as a screen before the masses for the war of real extermination against the Bolshevik-Leninists. The world bourgeoisie and the world Menshevism have equally blessed this war; these judges have long since recognized “historical rightness” as being on Stalin’s side.

But for this blind, cowardly and utterly inept policy of adaptation to bureaucracy and philistinism, the position of the working masses in the twelfth year of the dictatorship would be infinitely more favor able, the military defense much stronger and more reliable, and the Communist International would be standing upon a higher level, in- stead of retreating step by step before the treacherous and venal Social Democracy.

The incurable weakness of the reaction headed by the apparatus, in spite of its apparent power, lies in the fact that “they know not what they do.” They are executing the orders of the enemy classes. There can be no greater historical curse on a faction, which came out of the revolution and is now undermining it.

The greatest historical strength of the opposition, in spite of its apparent weakness, lies in the fact that it keeps its fingers on the pulse of the world historical process, that it sees the dynamics of the class forces clearly, foresees the coming day and consciously prepares for it. To abstain from political activity would mean to abstain from getting ready for tomorrow.

The threat to change the conditions of my life and isolate me from political activity sounds as if I had not already been banished to a place 4,000 kilometres distant from Moscow, 250 kilometres distant from the railway, and about as far from the borders of the western desert provinces of China — a region where malignant malaria, leprosy, and plague hold dominion. It sounds as if the Stalin faction, whose direct organ is the GPU, had not already done everything it could to isolate me from political as well as from any other life. The Moscow newspapers take from ten days to a month or more to reach here. Letters come to me, with few exceptions, only after resting for one, two or three months in the files of the GPU and the secretariat of the Central Committee.

Two of my closest co-workers from the time of the civil war, Comrades Syermuks and Poznansky, who ventured of their own accord to accompany me to my place of exile, were arrested immediately on their arrival, incarcerated in a cellar with criminals, and then exiled to distant parts of the north country. A letter from my daughter, fatally ill, whom you expelled from the party and removed from her work, took seventy-three days to reach me from the Moscow hospital, so that my reply found her no longer living. A letter about the serious illness of my other daughter, who was also expelled from the party by you and removed from work, was delivered to me a month ago, forty-three days after leaving Moscow. Telegraph inquiries about my health in most cases never even reach their destination.

Thousands of irreproachable Bolshevik-Leninists whose services to the October Revolution and the international prôletariat far surpass the services of those who have imprisoned and banished them, are in the same situation, or worse.

In planning increasingly severe reprisals against the opposition, the narrow faction of Stalin — whom Lenin in his “Will” called “rude and disloyal” at a time when those characteristics had not been revealed in even one hundredth part of their present degree — is constantly endeavoring, with the aid of the GPU, to plant upon the opposition some “connection” with the enemies of the prôletarian dictatorship. Within their small circle, the present leaders say: “This is necessary for the masses”; sometimes, even more cynically: “This is for the fools.” My closest co-worker, Gegórgy Vasiliyevich Butov, who had been in charge of the secretariat of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic during all the years of civil war, was arrested and held under intolerable conditions. From this pure and modest man, this irreproachable party worker, they tried by force to extort a confirmation of charges in the spirit of the Thermidorian fabrications, charges known in advance to be false and counterfeit. Butov’s answer was a heroic hunger strike that lasted about 50 days; in September of this year he died in prison. Violence, beatings, torture — both physical and moral — are infficted on the best Bolshevik workers for their adherence to the precepts of October. Such are the general conditions which, in the words of the collegium of the GPU, “present no obstacle” at present to the political activity of the opposition in general, and to mine in particular.

The sorry threat to change these conditions for me in the direction of further isolation is nothing but the decision of the Stalin faction to substitute prison for exile. This decision, as I have already said above, is nothing astounding. As early as 1924 it was formed in prospect, and has been carried out gradually step by step, so that the oppressed and deceived party might imperceptibly grow accustomed to the Stalin methods, whose rudeness and disloyalty have now ripened into poisoned bureaucratic dishonesty.

In the Declaration submitted to the sixth congress — as if foreseeing the ultimatum presented to me today — we wrote verbatim:

“To demand from a revolutionary such a renunciation (of political activity, i.e., in the service of the party and the international revolution) would be possible only for a completely depraved officialdom. Only contemptible renegades would be capable of giving such a promise.”

I cannot alter anything in these words . . . To everyone, his due. You wish to continue carrying out policies inspired by class forces hostile to the prôletariat. We know our duty and we will do it to the end.

L. TROTSKY
December 16, 1928. Alma-Ata”

After this reply, a month passed without change. Our connections with the outside world had been completely broken off, including the secret ones with Moscow. During January, we received only the Moscow newspapers. The more they wrote about the struggle against the Right, the more confidently we waited for a blow against the Left. That is the Stalin method.

The Moscow emissary of the GPU, Volynsky, remained at Alma-Ata awaiting instructions. On January 20, he appeared at my house, accompanied by many armed agents of the GPU who occupied the entrance and exits, and handed me the following extract from the minutes of the GPU for January 18, 1929:

Considered: the case of citizen Trotsky, Lev Davydovich, under article 58/10 of the Criminal Code, on a charge of counter-revolutionary activity expressing itself in the organization of an illegal anti-Soviet party, whose activity has lately been directed toward provoking anti-Soviet actions and preparing for an armed struggle against the Soviet power. Resolved: Citizen Trotsky, Lev Davydovich, to be deported from the territory of the USSR.”

When later I was asked to sign a slip to the effect that I had acquainted myself with this decision, I wrote: “The decision of the GPU, criminal in substance and illegal in form, has been announced to me, January 20, 1929. Trotsky."

I called the decision criminal because it tells a deliberate lie in charging me with preparing for an armed struggle against the Soviet power. This formula, necessary for Stalin to justify the deportation, is in itself a most vicious attempt to undermine the Soviet power. If it were true that the opposition directed by the organizers of the October Revolution, the builders of the Soviet Republic and the Red Army, was preparing for an overthrow of the Soviet power by force of arms, this in itself would have spelled catastrophe for the country. Fortunately, the GPU formula is an insolent lie. The policy of the opposition has nothing to do with preparation for an armed struggle. We are guided wholly by a conviction of the profound vitality and elasticity of the Soviet régime. Our course is one of inner reform.

When I asked how and to where I was to be deported, I received the answer that I would be informed of this in European Russia by the representative of the GPU who was to meet me there. The whole next day was taken up with a feverish packing, almost exclusively of manuscripts and books. In passing, I may note that there was no suggestion of hostility on the part of the agents of the GPU. Quite the contrary.

At dawn on the twenty-second, my wife, my son, and I, with the escort, set off in an autobus which drove us along a smooth, firm road of snow to the top of the Kurday mountain range. On the summit, there were heavy snowdrifts and a strong wind. The powerful tractor that was to tow us over the Kurday pass got lodged in the snow up to its neck, together with the seven automobiles it was towing. During the snow-storms, seven men and a good many horses were frozen to death on the pass. We were obliged to transfer to sleighs. It took us more than seven hours to advance about 30 kilometres. Along the drifted road, we encountered many sleighs with their shafts sticking up, much material for the Turkestan-Siberian railway, in the process of construction, many kerosene-tanks — all deep in snow. Men and horses had found shelter from the snowstorms in the nearby winter camps of the Kirghizes.

On the other side of the ridge, an automobile again, and at Pishpek, a railway car. The Moscow papers which we get on the way reveal a preparing of public opinion for the deportation to foreign countries of the leaders of the opposition. In the Aktyubinsk district, we are met with a communication, transmitted over a direct wire, that the place of deportation is to be Constantinople. I demand to see two members of my family in Moscow, my second son and my daughter-in-law. They are brought to the station Ryazhsk, and placed under the same régime as we. The new representative of the GPU, Bulanov, tried to convince me of the advantages of Constantinople. I refuse categorically to avail myself of them. Bulanov engages in negotiations over a direct wire with Moscow. There everything has been foreseen except the obstacle of my refusal to go abroad voluntarily.

Our train, turned aside from the direction in which it has been going, moves along slowly, stops on a side-line near a dead little station, and there sinks into a coma between two stretches of thin woods. Day after day goes by. The number of empty cans about the train grows steadily. Crows and magpies gather for the feast in ever-increasing flocks. Waste . . . Solitude.

There are no hares here; they were wiped out in the autumn by a cruel epidemic, and so the fox has laid his stealthy tracks to the very train. The engine makes daily trips with one car to a larger station for our midday meal and our newspapers. Grippe rages in our car. We reread Anatole France and Klyuchevsky’s Russian history. I make my first acquaintance with Istrati. The cold reaches 53 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). Our engine keeps rolling back and forth over the rails to keep from freezing. In the ether, radio stations call to one another, asking our whereabouts. We don’t hear these inquiries; we are playing chess. But even if we heard them, we could not answer; we were brought here at night, and we ourselves don’t know where we are.

Thus we spent twelve days and twelve nights. We learned from the newspapers of new arrests of several hundred people, including 150 of the so-called “Trotskyist centre.” The published names included Kavtaradze, the former chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries of Georgia, Mdivani, the former trade representative of the USSR in Paris, and Voronsky, our best literary critic, and others — all old party members, leaders in the October Revolution.

On February 8, Bulanov announced: “In spite of all the efforts from Moscow, the German government has categorically refused to admit you to Germany. I have been given final instructions to conduct you to Constantinople.”

“But I will not go voluntarily, and I will say so at the Turkish frontier.”

“That will not change matters; you will be conducted into Turkey in any case.”

“Then you have made a deal with the Turkish police for my forcible deportation into Turkey?”

An evasive gesture: “We only carry out our orders.”

After a twelve-day halt, the train began to move. Our small train grew with the increase in our escort. Throughout the trip, ever since we had boarded the train at Pishpek, we were not allowed to leave our car. Now we were going at full speed toward the south, stopping only at small stations to take on water and fuel. These extreme precautions were due to the memories of the Moscow demonstration in connection with my exile in January, 1928. The newspapers received en route brought to us echoes of the great new campaign against the Trotskyists. Between the lines was visible a struggle in the upper groups over the question of my deportation. The Stalin faction was in a hurry, and for this there was reason enough: it had to overcome not only political but physical obstacles as well. The steamer Kalinin had been appointed to take us from Odessa, but it became ice-bound and all the efforts of the ice-breakers were in vain. Moscow was standing at the telegraph-line and urging haste. The steamer Ilyich put on steam by urgent order. Our train arrived in Odessa on the night of February 10. I looked through the car-window at familiar places; I had spent seven years of my school life in this city. Our car was brought right up to the steamer. It was bitterly cold. Despite the lateness of the hour, the pier was surrounded by troops and agents of the GPU. Here I had to say good-by to my younger son and my daughter-in-law, who had shared our imprisonment with us for the past two weeks. Peering through the car-window at the steamer awaiting us, we remembered that other boat that likewise had not been taking us to our proper destination. That was in March, 1917, off Halifax, when British marines, before the eyes of a crowd of passengers, had carried me on their shoulders from the Norwegian steamer Christianiafiord. Our family had been the same then, but we were twelve years younger.

The Ilyich, which carried no cargo or passengers, cleared about one o’clock in the morning. For a distance of sixty miles, an ice-breaker made passage for us. The gale that had been raging caught us here on the last strokes of its wings. On February 12, we entered the Bosphorus. To the Turkish police who boarded the steamer at Buyukdere to check off the passengers — besides my family and the agents of the GPU there were no passengers on the boat — I handed the following statement for transmission to the President of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Pasha:

“Dear Sir: At the gate of Constantinople, I have the honor to inform you that I have arrived at the Turkish frontier not of my own choice, and that I will cross this frontier only by submitting to force. I request you, Mr. President, to accept my appropriate sentiments.
 L. Trotsky. February 12, 1929.”

This declaration had no consequences. The steamer proceeded into the harbor. After a journey of 22 days, during which we had covered a distance of 6,000 kilometres, we found ourselves in Constantinople.

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