From Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 21, 2 September 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
“... mankind is shorter by a head, and the greatest head of our time at that ... Well, we must see it through. What else are we here for?”
— Engels to Sorge on the death of Marx
Whenever a great leader dies, his followers and particularly his close collaborators, always proclaim that the best tribute to the illustrious dead is to carry on undauntedly in his spirit and tradition. So words are easy. Stalin said the same of Lenin. Yet by murdering Trotsky, Stalin has culminated his crimes by placing the revolutionary socialist movement in the gravest crisis it has faced during nearly a hundred years of its existence.
The movement was born in the decade that followed the emergence of the proletariat as on organized force in the class struggle. The Lyons insurrection took place in 1831; a few years later. Chartism challenged the power of the English bourgeoisie. During the early forties, Marx and Engels were clearing their way to the fundamentals of Marxism. In 1848 appeared the greatest pamphlet in all political literature – The Communist Manifesto – and our movement was launched.
Since that day we have never lacked a titanic intellect to guide, and a voice to speak, so that the message would be heard wherever class-conscious workers congregated. For nearly forty years Karl Marx taught the working class. By massive volumes, tracts, pamphlets and letters, he laid the foundation of our movement and guided the struggle all over the world. He was the mentor of the First International. During the American Civil War he lifted the English working class to the height of its historic task. When the bourgeoisie mobilized its battalions of liars and slanderers to drown the Commune in filth, Marx, from his modest home in London, spoke with such power and authority as to hearten and stiffen all who had to bear the burden in that black hour.
Upon Marx’s death in 1883, Engels continued the same work until he died in 1895. Between 1895 and 1914, a group of brilliant Europeans – Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg, Kautsky, and specifically in Russia men like Lenin, Trotsky, and Martov maintained the movement not only among the workers but in the intellectual life of the day.
With 1917, a new era began. From the high tribune of the Soviet state Lenin and Trotsky spoke so that their voices were heard in the farthest corners of the world. After Lenin’s death Stalin usurped the leadership of the Revolution, and proceeded to crush it. Trotsky, ever raising the banner of international socialism, fought Stalin’s corruption of internationalism relentlessly. Against Trotsky, Stalin loosed a campaign of slander and eventual murder.
From the day Trotsky was expelled from Russia, untrammelled by Stalinist tyranny, he was beyond any doubt, the leading voice of the movement. His previous eminence, the personal force and brilliance with which he handled the Marxist method, his indomitable courage, and the power, expressed or latent, of the proletariat in modern society, all combined to give him a status and range in the political conflicts of this political age, out of all proportion to the meagerness of the political forces he personally directed. History has seen no similar phenomenon, a testimony certainly to the strength of our cause and to the passion of his advocates. A Stalin in exile would be consulted by the world press only on massacre, murder, and fake trials.
With the death of Trotsky, the movement is for the first time without an authoritative spokesman – and such a spokesman is needed now as never before. The movement and the international proletariat are like a ship on a vast ocean, not uncharted, but sown with perils old and new; and has lost the pilot who hod guided it through many stormy seas. Today, for the first time since we began nearly o hundred years ago, the internationalists are thrown on their own resources. Only by the fullest recognition of what we have lost are we able to brace ourselves to meet the future. True, the principles of Marxism are far more easy to grasp than they were forty years ago. But each generation has not only to learn them afresh but recreate them in its own experience. The principles may be old and well-tried; their application is eternally new.
In this sense, we, in whose hands the torch has been left, suffer a special and, in a literal sense a personal loss. Trotsky did more than speak and analyze. He taught those who had our independence of spirit never to forget that slavish repetition never created anything but slavish repetition in unending sequence. He was an inexhaustible source of ideas, of theoretical inspiration, of energy, of devotion. Every line he wrote was suffused with confidence in the mission of the proletariat and in our ideas however sparsely distributed, as a vital force in the cataclysmic social conflicts of our time. To know that he would hear what we said, or read what we wrote, was on ever-present spur to the best in us.
For those who sometimes disputed with him and finally came to his conclusions or, occasionally, rejected them – the only way to strength, the way he came finally to Leninism – the loss is irreparable. Not only his theories, his voice to the workers, but something internal in the equipment of all of us is gone, something that all previous Marxists had, and which we, for the most part an untried generation, facing awful responsibilities, needed more than any other.
When we face these things squarely, we shall be able to do more than repeat the traditional exhortation to carry on in his spirit. Only when we know the gap that now yawns in us collectively and individually can we set about the task of filling it as far as it can be filled. We know that if he remained alone, a chained and solitary representative of our creed against all the states and armies of bourgeois society, he would spend his iast half hour elaborating with scrupulousness and care a last defiance and a message of hope and solidarity for whoever might in a new generation grope for the ideas of socialism.
It is not given to many men to produce an epoch-making analysts of social forces, to lead a great revolution, to organize an army in its defense, to touch the peaks of human achievement as he did. But we can equal him, if not in the magnitude and scope, at least in the tenor and temper of his devotion. Marxists draw the lessons of every experience, and his life was a great experience. Let us meet this crisis as he would have met it, with a full realization of its import, and with unshaken confidence in the victory of our cause.
Last updated on 6.10.2012