We found ourselves in Constantinople, first in the consulate building, and then in a private apartment. Here are a few lines from my wife’s notes dealing with the first period:
“It is probably not worth while to dwell on the petty adventures connected with our settling down in Constantinople — the little deceptions and coercions. I will record only one episode. We were still on the train, on our way to Odessa. The representative of the GPU, Bulanov, was setting forth all sorts of absolutely valueless considerations touching our security abroad, when L.D. interrupted him with the words: ‘You had better let my co-workers Syermuks and Poznansky go with me — that wouid be the only really effective thing to do.’ Bulanov immediately transmitted these words to Moscow. At one of the next stations, he triumphantly brought us a reply received by direct wire: the GPU, that is, the Politbureau, had agreed. L.D. laughed. ‘You will deceive us anyway.’ Apparently genuinely hurt, Bulanov examined: ‘Then you can call me a blackguard.’
“‘Why should I insult you?’ L.D. answered. ‘It won’t be you but Stalin who will do the deceiving.’ On our arrival at Constantinople, L.D. inquired about Syermuks and Poznansky. A few days later, a representative of the consulate brought us a cabled reply from Moscow: they would not be released. The rest of our experiences were of much the same sort.”
An endless stream of rumors, suppositions and plain inventions about our destiny poured over us through the newspapers as soon as we arrived in Constantinople. The press tolerates no gaps in its information, and works prodigiously. To make one seed grow, nature must cast a multitude of seeds to the wind. The press acts in the same way. It picks up rumors and disseminates them, multiplying them endlessly. Hundreds and thousands of reports die before the correct version even takes root. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until several years later. Some times, too, it happens that the time for truth never comes.
The thing that amazes one on occasions when public opinion is touched to the quick is man’s capacity for lying. I speak of this with no moral indignation, but rather in the tone of a naturalist who is simply stating a fact. The urge to lie, and the habit of it, reflect the contradictions in our lives. One may say that the newspapers tell the truth only as the exception. In saying this I have no desire to offend the journalists; they are not very different from other people, being merely their mega phones.
Zola wrote of the French financial press that it could be divided into two groups: the venal, and the so-called “incorruptible” that sells itself only in exceptional cases and at a very high price. Something of the sort may be said of the mendacity of newspapers in general. The yellow press lies as a matter of course, without hesitating or looking back. Newspapers like The Times or Le Temps speak the truth on all unimportant and inconsequential occasions, so that they can deceive the public with all the requisite authority when necessary.
The Times later published reports that I had come to Constantinople by arrangement with Stalin, to prepare for a military conquest of the countries of the Near East. The six years of struggle between me and the epigones were represented as a comedy with the parts distributed in advance. “Who will believe that?” some optimist may ask. He is wrong — many will believe it. Churchill probably will not believe his newspaper, but Clynes is sure to believe it, or at least half of it. It is this that constitutes the mechanics of the capitalist democracy, or, to be more exact, one of its most essential springs. But all this is merely in passing. Clynes will be discussed further along.
Soon after my arrival in Constantinople, I read in one of the Berlin papers the speech of the president of the Reichstag delivered on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Weimar National Assembly. It closed with these words: “Vielleicht kommen wir sogar dazu, Herrn Trolzki das freiheitliche Asyl zu geben” (Lebhafter Beifall bei der Mehrheit).” 1
Löbe’s words were a great surprise to me, since everything that had gone before had given me reason to believe that the German government had decided against my admission to Germany. Such, at any rate, had been the categorical statement of the agents of the Soviet government. On February 15, I called in the representative of the GPU who had accompanied me to Constantinople and said to him: “I must draw the conclusion that the information given me was false. Löbe’s speech was made on February 6. We sailed from Odessa for Turkey on the night of February 10. Löbe’s speech was known to Moscow at that time. I recommend that you send at once to Moscow a telegram suggesting that on the strength of Löbe’s speech they make an actual request to Berlin to grant me a visa. That will be the least discreditable way of winding up the intrigue that Stalin has apparently built up around the question of my admission to Germany.” Two days later, the representative of the GPU brought me the following reply: “In answer to my talegram to Moscow, I have received the confirmation that the German government had categorically refused to issue the visa as early as the beginning of February; a new application would be useless; Löbe’s speech was irresponsible. If you wish to verify this, you can apply for the visa yourself.”
This version did not seem to me credible. I considered that the president of the Reichstag was in a better position to know the intentions of his party and his government than the agents of the GPU. The same day I wired Löbe informing him that on the strength of his statement I had applied to the German consulate with a request for a visa. The democratic and Social Democratic press derived malicious satisfaction from pointing out the fact that a believer in the revolutionary dictatorship was obliged to seek asylum in a democratic country. Some even expressed the hope that this lesson would teach me better to appreciate the institutions of democracy. Nothing was left me but to wait and see how the lesson would realize itself.
The democratic right of asylum obviously does not consist in a government’s showing hospitality to people who hold views similar to its own — even Abdul Hamid did that. Nor does it consist in a democracy’s admitting exiles only with the permission of the government that exiled them. The right of asylum consists (on paper) in a government’s giving refuge even to its opponents, provided they undertake to observe the country’s laws. I of course could enter Germany only as an irreconcilable opponent of the Social Democratic government. In giving an interview to the Constantinople representatives of the German Social Democratic press who called on me for that purpose, I supplied the necessary explanations, which I will quote here just as I wrote them down immediately after the conversation:
“As I am now applying for admission to Germany, where the majority of the government consists of Social Democrats, I am chiefly interested in clarifying my attitude toward the Social Democracy. In this respect there has been no change. My attitude toward the Social Democracy is just what it was. More over, my struggle against the centrist faction of Stalin is only a reflection of my general struggle against the Social Democracy. Neither you nor I stand in any need of vagueness or ambiguity.
“Some Social Democratic publications are trying to see a contradiction between my stand on the question of democracy and my request for admission to Germany. There is no contradiction. We do not at all ‘deny’ democracy as the anarchists ‘deny’ it, verbally. The bourgeois democracy has advantages in comparison with the state forms that preceded it. But it is not eternal. It must yield to Socialist society. The dictatorship of the prôletariat is the bridge to Socialist society.
“In all the capitalist countries Communists take part in the parliamentary struggle. There is no difference in principle in the usage of the right of asylum, and the usage of suffrage, of the freedom of the press and assembly, and so forth.”
So far as I am aware, this interview was never published. There is nothing surprising in that. In the meantime, voices were raised in the Social Democratic press insisting on the necessity of granting me the right of asylum. One of the Social-Democratic lawyers, Dr. K. Rosenfeld, acting on his own initiative, took it upon himself to intercede on my behalf with a view to securing my admission to Germany. But at the outset he encountered difficulties, for a few days later I received a telegram from him asking to what restrictions I would be willing to submit during my stay in Germany. I replied: “I intend to live in complete isolation, outside of Berlin; not to speak at public meetings, under any circumstances; and to confine myself to literary work within the bounds of the German laws.”
So the matter under discussion was no longer the democratic right of asylum, but the right of residence in Germany on an exceptional basis. The lesson in democracy that my opponents were going to accord me was given a restrictive interpretation at the very outset. But this was not the end of it. A few days later I received a new telegraphic inquiry: would I agree to come to Germany only for purposes of medical treatment? I wired in reply: “I request that I be given at least the possibility of staying in Germany for a course of treatment absolutely necessary for my health.”
Thus, the right of asylum at this stage shrank to the right of treatment. I named several well-known German physicians who had treated me during the past ten years, whose aid I needed now more than ever before.
Toward Easter, the German press sounded a new note: in government circles, it was stated, the opinion was held that Trotsky was not really so ill as to be absolutely in need of the help of German doctors and of German health resorts. On March 31 I telegraphed Dr. Rosenfeld:
“According to the newspaper reports my illness is not sufficiently hopeless to obtain my admission to Germany. I ask, did Löbe offer me the right of asylum or the right of interment? I am willing to submit to any examination by any medical commission. I undertake to leave Germany at the close of the health-resort season.”
In this way, in the course of a few weeks, the democratic principle was three times truncated. The right of asylum was at first reduced to the right of residence on a specially restricted basis, then to the right of treatment, and finally, to the right of interment. But this meant that I could appreciate the full advantages of democracy only as a corpse.
There was no reply to my telegram. After waiting a few days, I telegraphed Berlin again: “Regard the absence of reply as a disloyal form of refusal.” Only after this, on April 12, that is, after two months, did I receive a communication that the German government had refused my application for admission. There was nothing left but to telegraph the president of the Reichstag, Löbe: “Regret have not received the possibility for practical education in the advantages of the democratic right of asylum. Trotsky.” Such is the brief and instructive history of my first attempt to find a “democratic” visa in Europe.
Of course, it is understood that if the right of asylum had been accorded me, that in itself would not in the least mean a refutation of the Marxist theory of a class state. The régime of democracy, which derives not from self-sufficient principles, but from the real requirements of the dominant class, by the force of its inner logic also includes within itself the right of asylum. The granting of refuge to a prôletarian revolutionary in no way contradicts the bourgeois character of democracy. But there is no need of such arguments now, for in Germany, as directed by the Social Democrats, no right of asylum has been found to exist.
Through the GPU, Stalin proposed on December 16 that I renounce my political activity. During the discussion of the question of the right of asylum in the press, the same condition was advanced by the Germans as something taken for granted. This means that the government of Müller and Stresemann like wise regards those ideas that are being fought by Stalin and his Thälmanns as dangerous and harmful. Stalin, by diplomatic means, and the Thälmanns, by means of agitation, demanded that the Social Democratic government refuse me admission to Germany — presumably in the name of the interests of the prôletarian revolution. On the other flank, Chamberlain, Count Westarp and their like demanded that I be refused the visa — in the interests of the capitalist order. Hermann Müller was able in this way to satisfy both his partners on the right and his allies on the left. The Social Democratic government became the connecting link in the united international front against the revolutionary Marxism. For an image for this united front, one need only turn to the first lines of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels: “For a holy war against this ghost [communism], all the forces of old Europe joined hands — the Pope and the Czar, Metternich and Guizot, the French radicals and the German policemen.” The names are different, but the substance is the same. The fact that today the rôle of the German policemen is played by the Social Democrats alters the situation but little. Essentially they are protecting the same thing as the Hohenzollern policemen.
The variety of reasons that induce democracies to refuse a visa is great. The Norwegian government, if you please, proceeds solely from consideration for my safety. I had never imagined that I had so many considerate friends in high places in Oslo. The Norwegian government is of course unreservedly in favor of the right of asylum, just as are the German, French, English, and all the other governments. The right of asylum, as every one knows, is a sacred and impregnable principle. But an exile must first of all submit to Oslo a certificate guaranteeing that he is not going to be killed by anyone. Then they will extend hospitality to him — provided, of course, that no other obstacles arise.
The two debates in the Storthing about my visa constitute an inimitable political document. Reading it has given me at least a partial compensation for the refusal of the visa which my friends in Norway were trying to get for me. First, the Norwegian premier had of course a conversation in regard to my visa with the chief of the secret police, whose competence in democratic principles — I hasten to admit — is unquestioned. The chief of the secret police, according to Mr. Mohwinkel, put for ward the consideration that the wisest thing to do was to let Trotsky’s enemies finish him off outside of Norwegian territory. It was expressed not quite so precisely, but that was what was meant. The minister of justice on his part explained to the Norwegian parliament that the cost of protecting Trotsky would be too great for the Norwegian budget. The principle of state econ omy — also one of the indisputable democratic principles — proved this time to be in irreconcilable opposition to the right of asylum. At all events, the conclusion was that the person who most needs an asylum has the least chance of obtaining it.
Much wittier was the French government, which simply pointed to the fact that the order for my expulsion from France, as issued by Malvy, had never been rescinded. An utterly insurmountable obstacle in the way of democracy! I have related earlier in this book how after that expulsion, and in spite of the unrescinded order by Malvy, the French government was ready to place its officers at my disposal; how I was visited by French deputies, ambassadors, and one of the premiers. But these phenomena apparently were proceeding along two different planes that did not meet. And at present, the position is this: asylum in France would doubtless be accorded me if the archives of the French police did not contain an order for my expulsion from France issued at the demand of Czarist diplomacy. It is known that a police order is something like the Pole-Star; it is as impossible to annul it as it is to remove it.
Be that as it may, the right of asylum has been banished from France as well. Where then is the country in which this right has found its — asylum? Perhaps England?
On June 5, 1929, the Independent Labor Party, of which Ramsay MacDonald is a member, sent me an official invitation, on its own initiative, to come to England and deliver a lecture at the party school. The invitation, signed by the general secretary of the party, read: “With the formation of the Labor government here, we cannot believe that any difficulties are likely to arise in connection with your visit to England for this purpose.” Nevertheless difficulties did arise. I was neither allowed to deliver a lecture before the supporters of MacDonald, nor was I allowed to avail myself of the aid of English physicians. My application for a visa was flatly refused. Clynes, the Labor Home Secretary, defended this refusal in the House of Commons. He explained the philosophical meaning of democracy with a directness that would have done credit to any minister of Charles II. According to Clynes, the right of asylum does not mean the right of an exile to demand asylum, but the right of the state to refuse it. Clynes’s definition is remarkable in one respect: by a single blow it destroys the very foundations of so-called democracy. The right of asylum, in the style of Clynes, always existed in Czarist Russia. When the Shah of Persia failed to hang all the revolutionaries and was obliged to leave his beloved country, Nicholas II not only extended to him the right of asylum, but supplied him with sufficient comforts to live in Odessa. But it never occurred to any of the Irish revolutionaries to seek asylum in Czarist Russia, where the constitution consisted entirely of the one principle expounded by Clynes, namely, that the citizens must be content with what the state authorities give them or take from them. Mussolini accorded the right of asylum to the King of Afghanistan in exact agreement with this very principle.
The pious Mr. Clynes ought at least to have known that democracy, in a sense, inherited the right of asylum from the Christian church, which, in turn, inherited it, with much besides, from paganism. It was enough for a pursued criminal to make his way into a temple, sometimes enough even to touch only the ring of the door, to be safe from persecution. Thus the church understood the right of asylum as the right of the persecuted to an asylum, and not as an arbitrary exercise of will on the part of pagan or Christian priests. Until now, I had thought the pious Laborites, though little informed in matters of Socialism, certainly well versed in the tradition of the church. Now I find that they are not even that.
But why does Clynes stop at the first lines of his theory of the state law? It is a pity. The right of asylum is only one component part of the system of democracy. Neither in its historical origin, nor in its legal nature, does it differ from the right of freedom of speech, of assembly, etc. Mr. Clynes, it is to be hoped, will soon arrive at the conclusion that the right of freedom of speech stands not for the right of citizens to express their thoughts, whatever they may be, but for the right of the state to forbid its subjects to entertain such thoughts. As to the freedom of strikes, the conclusion has already been drawn by British law.
Clynes’s misfortune is that he had to explain his actions aloud, for there were members of the Labor faction in Parliament who put respectful but inconvenient questions to him. The Norwegian premier found himself in the same unpleasant situation. The German cabinet was spared this discomfiture because in the whole Reichstag there was not a single deputy who took any interest in the question of the right of asylum. This fact assumes special significance when one remembers that the president of the Reichstag, in a statement that was applauded by the majority of the deputies, promised to accord me the right of asylum at a time when I had not even asked for it.
The October Revolution did not proclaim the abstract principles of democracy, nor that of the right of asylum. The Soviet state was founded openly on the right of revolutionary dictatorship. But this did not prevent Vandervelde or other Social Democrats from coming to the Soviet republic and even appearing in Moscow as public defenders of persons guilty of terrorist attempts on the lives of the leaders of the October revolution.
The present British ministers were also among our visitors. I cannot remember all of those who came to us — I haven’t the necessary data at hand — but I remember that among them were Mr. and Mrs. Snowden. This must have been as far back as 1920. They were received not simply as tourists but as guests, which was probably carrying it a little too far. A box in the Grand theatre was placed at their disposal. I remember this in connection with a little episode that it may be worth recounting at this point. I had arrived in Moscow from the front, and my thoughts were far away from the British guests; in fact I did not even know who those guests were, because in my absorption in other things I had hardiy read any newspapers. The commission that was receiving Snowden, Mrs. Snowden, and if I am not mi taken, Bertrand Russell and Williams, as well as a number of others, was headed by Lozovsky, who told me by telephone that the commission demanded my presence in the theatre where the English guests were. I tried to excuse myself, but Lozovsky insisted that his commission had been given full power by the Politbureau and that it was my duty to set others an example of discipline. I went unwillingly. There were about a dozen British guests in the box. The theatre was crammed to overflowing. We were gaining victories at the front, and the theatre applauded them violently. The British guests surrounded me and applauded too. One of them was Snowden. Today of course he is a little ashamed of this adventure. But it is impossible to erase it. And yet I too should be glad to do so, for my “fraternizing” with the Laborites was not only a mistake, but a political error as well. As soon as I could get away from the guests, I went to see Lenin. He was much disturbed. “Is it true that you appeared in the box with those people?” (Lenin used a different word for “people.”) In excuse, I referred to Lozovsky, to the commission of the Central Committee, to discipline, and especially to the fact that I had not the remotest idea who the guests were. Lenin was furious with Lozovsky and the whole commission in general, and for a long time I too couldn’t forgive myself for my imprudence.
One of the present British ministers visited Moscow several times, I believe; at any rate, he rested in the Soviet republic, stayed in the Caucasus and called on me. It was Mr. Lansbury. The last time I met him was at Kislovodsk. I was urged to drop in, if only for a quarter of an hour, at the House of Rest where some members of our party and a few foreign visitors were staying. A goodly number of people were sitting around a large table. It was in the nature of a modest banquet. The place of honor was held by the guest, Lansbury. On my arrival, he offered a toast and then sang: “For he’s a jolly good fellow.” Those were Lansbury’s feelings toward me in the Caucasus. Today, he too would probably like to forget about it.
When I applied for the visa, I sent special telegrams to Snowden and Lansbury, reminding them of the hospitality that had been accorded them by the Soviets and in part by myself. My telegrams had little effect. In politics, recollections carry as little weight as democratic principles.
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb most courteously paid me a visit quite recently, early in May of 1929, when I was already on Prinkipo. We talked about the possible advent of the Labor party to power. I remarked in passing that immediately after the formation of MacDonald’s government, I intended to demand a visa. Mr. Webb expressed the view that the government might find itself not strong enough, and because of their dependence on the Liberals, not free enough, either. I replied that a party that isn’t strong enough to be able to answer for its actions had no right to power. Our irreconcilable differences needed no new test. Webb came into power. I demanded a visa. Mac Donald’s government refused my application, but not because the Liberals prevented it from following its democratic convictions. Quite the contrary. The Labor government refused the visa, despite the protests of the Liberals. This was a variant that Mr. Webb did not foresee. It must be pointed out, however, that at that time he was not yet Lord Passfleld.
Some of these men I know personally. Others I can judge only by analogy. I think that I measure them correctly. They have been raised up by the automatic growth of labor organizations, especially since the war, and by the sheer political exhaustion of liberalism. They have completely shed the naive idealism that some of them had 25 or 30 years ago. In its stead, they have acquired political routine and unscrupulousness in the choice of means. But in their general outlook they have remained what they were — timid, petty bourgeois whose methods of thought are far more backward than the methods of production in the British coal-mining industry. Today, their chief concern is that the court nobility and the big capitalists may refuse to take them seriously. And no wonder. Now that they are in power, they are only too sharply aware of their weakness. They have not and cannot have the qualities possessed by the old governing cliques in which traditions and habits of rulership have been handed down from generation to generation, and often take the place of talent and intellect. But neither do they have what might have constituted their real strength — faith in the masses and the ability to stand on their own feet. They are afraid of the masses who put them there, just as they are afraid of the conservative clubs whose grandeur staggers their feeble imaginations. To justify their coming to power, they must needs show the old ruling classes that they are not simply revolutionary upstarts. God forbid! No, they really deserve every confidence because they are loyally devoted to the church, to the King, to the House of Lords, to the system of titles; that is to say, not simply to the sacrosanct principle of private property, but to all the rubbish of the Middle Ages. For them to refuse a visa to a revolutionary is really a happy opportunity to demonstrate their respectability once again. I am very glad that I gave them such an opportunity. In due time, this will be taken into account, since, in politics, as in nature, there is no waste.
One needs no great imagination to picture Mr. Clynes’s interview with his subordinate, the chief of the political police. During the interview, Mr. Clynes feels as if he were undergoing an examination, and is afraid that he will not seem firm enough to the examiner, or statesmanlike or conservative enough. Thus it needs little ingenuity on the part of the chief of the political police to prompt Mr. Clynes to a decision that will be greeted with full approval in the conservative papers next day. But the conservative press does not merely praise — it kills with praise. It mocks. It does not take the trouble to conceal its disdain for the people who so humbly seek its approval. No one will say, for instance, that the Daily Express belongs to the most intelligent institutions in the world. And yet this paper finds very caustic words to express its approval of the Labor government for so carefully protecting the “sensitive MacDonald” from the presence of a revolutionary observer behind his back.
And are these the people who are called upon to lay the foundations of a new human society? No, they are only the penultimate resource of the old society. I say “penultimate” because the ultimate resource is physical repression. I must admit that the roll-call of the western European democracies on the question of the right of asylum has given me, aside from other things, more than a few merry minutes. At times, it seemed as if I were attending a “pan-European” performance of a one-act comedy on the theme of principles of democracy. Its text might have been written by Bernard Shaw if the Fabian fluid that runs in his veins had been strengthened by even so much as five per cent of Jonathan Swift’s blood. But whoever may have written the text, the play remains very instructive: Europe without a Visa. There is no need to mention America. The United States is not only the strongest, but also the most terrified country. Hoover recently explained his passion for fishing by pointing out the democratic nature of this pastime. If this be so — although I doubt it — it is at all events one of the few survivals of democracy still existing in the United States. There the right of asylum has been absent for a long time. Europe and America without a visa. But these two continents own the other three. This means — The planet without a visa.
On many sides it has been explained to me that my disbelief in democracy is my greatest sin. How many articles and even books have been written about this! But when I ask to be given a brief object-lesson in democracy, there are no volunteers. The planet proves to be without a visa. Why should I believe that the much more important question — the trial between the rich and poor — will be decided with strict observance of the forms and rituals of democracy?
And has the revolutionary dictatorship produced the results expected of it? — I hear a question. It would be possible to answer it only by taking a reckoning of the experience of the October Revolution and trying to indicate its future prospects. An autobiography is no place for this, and I will try to answer the question in a special book on which I had already begun to work during my stay in Central Asia. But I cannot end the story of my life without explaining, if only in a few lines, why I adhere so completely to my old path.
That which has happened in the memory of my generation, already mature or approaching old age, can be described schematically as follows: During several decades — the end of the last century and the beginning of the present — the European population was being severely disciplined by industry. All phases of social education were dominated by the principle of the productivity of labor. This yielded stupendous results and seemed to open up new possibilities to people. But actually it only led to war. It is true that through the war humanity has been able to convince itself, in the face of the crowings of aruemic philosophy, that it is not degenerating after all; on the contrary, it is full of life, strength, bravery, enterprise. Through the same war, it realized its technical power with unprecedented force. It was as if a man, to prove that his pipes for breathing and swallowing were in order, had begun to cut his throat with a razor in front of a mirror.
After the end of the operations of 1914-18, it was declared that from now on the highest moral duty was to care for the wounds which it had been the highest moral duty to inflict during the preceding four years. Industry and thrift were not only restored to their rights, but were put into the steel corsets of rationalization. The so-called “reconstruction” is directed by those same classes, parties, and even individuals who guided the destruction. Where a change of political régime has taken place, as in Germany, the men who play the leading rôles in the direction of reconstruction are those who played second and third rôles in guiding the destruction. That, strictly speaking, is the only change.
The war has swept away an entire generation, as if to create a break in the memory of peoples and to prevent the new generation from noticing too closely that it is actually engaged in repeating what has been done before, only on a higher historical rung, which implies more menacing consequences.
The working class of Russia, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, made an attempt to effect a reconstruction of life that would exclude the possibility of humanity’s going through these periodical fits of sheer insanity, and would lay the foundations of a higher culture. That was the sense of the October Revolution. To be sure, the problem it has set itself has not yet been solved. But in its very essence, this problem demands many decades. Moreover, the October Revolution should be considered as the starting-point of the newest history of humanity as a whole.
Toward the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the German Reformation must have appeared the work of men who had broken out of a lunatic asylum. To a certain extent, it really was: European humanity broken out of the medieval monastery. Modern Germany, England, the United States and the modern world in general would never have been possible without the Reformation with its countless victims. If victims are generally to be permitted — but whose permission could one ask? — it is certainly victims that move humanity forward.
The same can be said of the French Revolution. That narrow-minded, reactionary pedant, Taine, imagined that he was making a most profound discovery when he established the fact that a few years after the execution of Louis XVI, the French people were poorer and more unhappy than under the old régime. But the whole point of the matter is that such events as the great French Revolution cannot be viewed on the scale of “a few years.” Without the great revolution, the entire new France would never have been possible, and Taine himself would still have been a clerk in the service of some contractor of the old régime instead of being able to blacken the revolution that opened a new career to him.
A still greater historical perspective is necessary to view the October revolution. Only hopeless dullards can quote as evidence against it the fact that in twelve years it has not yet created general peace and prosperity. If one adopts the scale of the German Reformation and the French Revolution, representing two different stages in the evolution of bourgeois society, separated from each other by almost three centuries, one must express amazement at the fact that a backward and isolated Russia twelve years after the revolution has been able to insure for the masses of the people a standard of living that is not lower than that existing on the eve of the war. That alone is a miracle of its kind. But of course the significance of the October Revolution does not lie in that. The revolution is an experiment in a new social régime, an experiment that will undergo many changes and will probably be remade anew from its very foundations. It will assume an entirely different character on the basis of the newest technical achievements. But after a few decades and centuries, the new social order will look back on the October Revolution as the bourgeois order does on the German Reformation or the French Revolution. This is so clear, so incontestably clear, that even the professors of history will understand it, though only after many years.
And what of your personal fate? — I hear a question, in which curiosity is mixed with irony. Here I can add but little to what I have said in this book. I do not measure the historical process by the yardstick of one’s personal fate. On the contrary, I appraise my fate objectively and live it subjectively, only as it is inextricably bound up with the course of social development.
Since my exile, I have more than once read musings in the newspapers on the subject of the “tragedy” that has befallen me. I know no personal tragedy. I know the change of two chapters of the revolution. One American paper which published an article of mine accompanied it with a profound note to the effect that in spite of the blows the author had suffered, he had, as evidenced by his article, preserved his clarity of reason. I can only express my astonishment at the philistine attempt to establish a connection between the power of reasoning and a government post, between mental balance and the present situation. I do not know, and I never have, of any such connection. In prison, with a book or a pen in my hand, I experienced the same sense of deep satisfaction that I did at the mass-meetings of the revolution. I felt the mechanics of power as an inescapable burden, rather than as a spiritual satisfaction. But it would perhaps be briefer to quote the good words of someone else.
On January 26, 1917, Rosa Luxemburg wrote to a woman friend from prison: “This losing oneself completely in the banalities of daily life is something that I generally cannot understand or endure. See, for example, how Goethe rose above material things with a calm superiority. Just think of what he had to live through: the great French Revolution, which at near range must have seemed a bloody and utterly aimless farce, and then from 1793 to 1815, a continuous sequence of wars. I do not demand that you write poetry as Goethe did, but his view of life, the universality of his interests, the inner harmony of the man, every one can create for himself or at least strive for. And should you say that Goethe was not a political fighter, I maintain that it is precisely the fighter who must try to be above things, or else he will get his nose stuck in all sorts of rubbish — of course, in this case, I am thinking of a fighter in the grand style . . . ”
Brave words. I read them for the first time the other day, and they immediately brought the figure of Rosa Luxemburg closer and made her dearer to me than ever before.
In his views, his character, his world outlook, Proudhon, that Robinson Crusoe of socialism, is alien to me. But Proudhon had the nature of a fighter, a spiritual disinterestedness, a capacity for despising official public opinion, and finally, the fire of a many-sided curiosity never extinguished. This enabled him to rise above his own life, with its ups and downs, as he did above all contemporaneous reality.
On April 26, 1852, Proudhon wrote to a friend from prison:
“The movement is no doubt irregular and crooked, but the tendency is constant. What every government does in turn in favor of revolution becomes inviolable; what is attempted against it passes over like a cloud: I enjoy watching this spectacle, in which I understand every single picture; I observe these changes in the life of the world as if I had received their explanation from above; what oppresses others, elevates me more and more, inspires and fortifies me; how can you want me then to accuse destiny, to complain about people and curse them? Destiny — I laugh at it; and as for men, they are too ignorant, too enslaved for me to feel annoyed at them.”
Despite their slight savor of ecclesiastical eloquence, those are fine words. I subscribe to them.
1. “Perhaps we shall even arrive at the point of granting Mr. Trotsky the democratic right of asylum.” (Vigorous applause from the majority)
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14