J. T. Murphy

Will Tito Repeat the Story of Trotsky?

The Last Great Split in World Communism

Source: Picture Post, July 17, 1948
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

[Cominform has excommunicated Tito and his Jugoslavs, uncovering to its own satisfaction a major heresy behind the world unity Communism has seemed to present. Only once before has a similar cleavage been revealed—when Trotsky, joint author with Lenin of the Bolshevik Revolution, was expelled in 1926. J. T. Murphy, the Englishman who moved the motion for expulsion at a meeting of the International, here tells the dramatic story of what happens when Communists fall out.]

THIS is really the story of three expulsions—Trotsky’s, my own and Marshal Tito’s—which began one winter’s night twenty-two years ago when the world waited for the next turn of events in Russia as it waits now—apprehensively. I was living in the Lux Hotel with my wife and son, the windows puttied against the fierce cold, food tending to be expensive (lemons two shillings each), and a sense of big events impending.

This was Russia ten years after the Revolution. A bathroom in the hotel was still a luxury, most people living there permanently did their own cooking, but the place was alive—as Russia was alive with a sense of continuous expectancy. The greatest experiment in the history of Russia was rising from its knees, and who knew what its ultimate stature might be? But, inevitably, behind the scenes, tremendous stresses had built up within the Communist International, and now they broke into the open, reaching crisis dimensions.

Trotsky—a tubby, bearded, dynamic Trotsky—was invited to appear before the Executive Committee of the Communist International—the equivalent of the Cominform today—to explain his drastic deviations from the Party line. Representative from half the world—Thaelman, from Germany; Duncan, from the U.S.A.; Dimitrov, Bulgaria; Kuusinen, Finland—came pouring into the small room of the huge International Headquarters, stamping snow from their boots, doffing fur caps and coats, full of the good cheer which tends to vary in proportion to the significance of the issues at stake. Tonight it was very marked. Tonight, high heresies were abroad which involved the very roots of the Communist philosophy.

I arrived at nine p.m., and at almost the same moment Trotsky was moving down the corridor—a suave, self-possessed person, to all intents and purposes a guest of honour. He came to the coat-stand, which was weighed down with every kind of hat and coat. He sought for a peg. “Can I help you?” said my secretary, Kharhan. Like a flash, Trotsky answered, “I’m afraid not. I’m looking for two things—a good Communist and somewhere to hang my coat. I shan’t find either here.”

Just half-an-hour later there began the most remarkable meeting I ever attended during my five years in Russia as a member of the International, representing the British Communist Party. It started at nine p.m. and finished at five a.m. It involved all the great ones of Russia, including Stalin, and it had a curious parallel with the events which today have brought about the expulsion of Marshal Tito from the Cominform. Yet, when the opening speeches began and the tobacco smoke was yet a pleasant haze on the air, nobody particularly desired the political death of Trotsky by expulsion.

Bucharin put the facts of the case before the meeting. What had begun, years earlier, as a small-scale difference within the Party, had widened and deepened, until now the very well-springs of Communist thinking were involved. It turned on three points—whether Socialism could be firmly established in Russia without at least a European revolution; how the world revolution should develop; and what should be the nature of the revolutionary party. If one had made up one’s mind, as Trotsky had, that Socialism could not be built in Russia until the Revolution extended its frontiers, then every problem which faced Russia would have to be dealt with from that point of view. Stalin saw it the other way. Russia could continue to compromise with Capitalist countries until she had firmly established the new order.

This crisis did not overtake the International suddenly. It had been boiling up for years, with all the characteristics of party discussion. Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and even Stalin himself had all, at different times, ransacked each other’s records to find the Marxist explanation of their ‘deviations.’ One sentence became almost haunting “. . . And it is by no means an accident that Comrade X says . . .” There followed some brilliant analyses of personal careers, proving that now one, now another, had never, in the true, thoroughbred sense of the word, been the complete Marxist. He was a Menshevik, a Social Revolutionary, a Syndicalist, but never, by the wildest stretch of philosophic interpretation, a Marxist of the man-eating variety!

Before the scores of delegates at this meeting Bucharin now went much deeper. If the Bolsheviks had followed Trotsky instead of Lenin, everything they did within Russia would have been nothing more than a temporary expedient. Inflaming insurrection throughout Europe, to bring about a European revolution as a means of preserving the Russian revolution, would have been its main job. Brest-Litovsk for Trotsky was the trumpet-call to European revolution. But Russia, fortunately, has not followed Trotsky.

Deeply embedded behind this, lay the principles of Communism as conceived by Marx. The way in which men earned their living, this was the key to social history. The existing relations of production—who owned the factories, who worked in them, who distributed what they made—these were the powers which determined the political, religious and cultural modes of any given stage of civilisation. At this most fundamental level, Lenin and Trotsky differed again. Lenin wanted a party of Communists, and Communists of a particular quality. Trotsky wanted a far more fluid party, which allowed people to become members without the obligation of working for the party. Now Trotsky was fighting for the right to have an organised opposition within the party.

Bucharin spoke for nearly an hour. Then came Trotsky. A born egotist, with a flare for the dramatic and the ability to sway a crowd within a few minutes, Trotsky was the exact opposite of the logical, scientific Stalin who now sat imperturbable a few seats away, listening to what he knew was the key-battle for power, without a touch of expression on his inscrutable face. Trotsky put up a masterly performance which lasted two hours. He challenged the internal policy of Russia, he challenged Stalin’s theory of revolution, he turned the full power of his wit and knowledge to demolish one argument after another, thrusting, debating, flashing an answer to every interruption, superbly sure of himself and his case. Trade unions, he said, must be controlled by the State. Industrialisation must be treated with the same ruthlessness as a military manoeuvre. Twenty-two years later, Marshal Tito was to take a somewhat similar line—and was similarly accused of destroying democracy in the interests of speeding up the Social revolution.

For the moment, Stalin sat through Trotsky’s performance unmoved. An occasional note, an occasional adjustment of his pipe—he made no other sign. When, at last, he did come to his feet and made his way to the platform, it was with that deliberation which has always characterised his public appearances. He might have been opening a polite conversation, he slipped so easily into his peach. But as he took Trotsky’s arguments step by step and ground them to dust, every sentence rang with the power which had brought him from the streets of Tiflis, all those years ago, to the head of the Russian state. . . When did the central committee meet? Who was present? What were the resolutions and amendments? How did they vote? Stalin had it all, flawlessly, by heart. “Does Trotsky question this figure, that fact? All right, let him send for the records. No? Then let me get on with my speech . . .” Stalin never really raised his voice. But there was a concentrated force in his very presence which made itself felt against all restraints.

When he sat down, Trotsky’s case lay in shambles. Nothing more, it seemed, could be said. But this was only the beginning. Kuusinen—the quiet—came in next. He told of Trotsky’s long struggle against Lenin, how he accepted Party decisions when Lenin was with them, but repeatedly proved that he was no real follower of Lenin. He accused him of putting personal ambition before party interests. And then he dealt with the fate of Finland and all the suffering he, Kuusinen and others, had endured in the tragic days of the Mannerheim- von Gotz massacre, blazing up into a passionate declamation which—if any shreds of Trotsky’s case remained—finally destroyed them.

A wave of emotion ran through the hall like a live thing. It touched and moved me profoundly. Then it was my turn. I walked towards the platform, an unpremeditated idea growing at the back of my mind. I knew now that Trotsky had come, not to defend or retract his case, nor even to take the best form of defence—attack. He had plunged into a naked battle for power, and it was to bring about one of the strangest episodes in Russian history, when a comparatively unknown Englishman moved the expulsion of the second most powerful figure in the Russian state and . . .

But this is how it really went. From the platform I said the time had come for final decision. This was no longer an internal fight. It was a fight for control of the whole International. We had no option but to accept the challenge. “I therefore move that Comrade Trotsky no longer be recognised as a member of the Communist International . . .” For a moment the silence was almost tangible. Then they took the vote, and there were only two dissentions. In a matter of minutes the thing was done. Trotsky, at my inititive, had been expelled from the International. If only I had known what was to follow. . . .

Trotsky marched out, his head high. He was to become involved in a conspiracy movement to overthrow Stalin, and then, in due course, exiled. But it was my own fate now which became interesting. The ways of Communism can be many and mysterious, but any idea that the self-same fate would overtake me within seven years seemed like the clock striking thirteen—something which would invalidate everything else.

But so it came about. The scene changes to England. The year is 1931. I am the London representative of Pravda, still a member of the International and of the Executive of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and living in Highbury. Mr. Harry Pollitt has just tried to convince me of a curious thing. The Communist Party mustered 75,000 votes in the 1931 Election and the labour Party 6,500,000. Yet Mr. Pollitt would have me believe that the Labour Party is in a parlous state approaching collapse.

A little later I throw whatever weight I can muster into creating work for the unemployed. A worthy enough object you might think, without blemish in the eyes of any party. But when I boldly suggested that, since the Soviet Union desperately needed the machinery which our unemployed engineers could easily make, Britain should grant credits to Russia in order to open up trade and restore our own prosperity, the most sinister interpretations were at once put on the whole plan. . . .

On March 24, 1932, 1 received a letter from Mr. Pollitt: “We cannot bring forward the question of credits for the Soviet Union as a concrete party slogan, because we would be placing ourselves in a situation where we would be bringing forward plans for the solving of the marked crisis of British capitalism . . .”

So millions of unemployed must go on being unemployed because of the Communist Party Line. Crazy? It seemed so to me, and I did not mince my words. What followed was not comparable in stance or procedure to the epoch-making expulsion of Trotsky. But I, too, was now expelled, or rather I resigned, even though I was icily informed that I could not resign without permission. The final heresy was to take the law into your own hands. It meant that I must also be expelled from my membership of the International. I never again sat at those high Russian tables. My day in Russian history was done. . . .

It is just a century since the publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and in that time Communism has become the official creed of an area covering half-Europe and Asia. In that time, too, Trotsky, myself, and now Tito, have gone.

In what precisely Tito outraged the Manifesto remains obscure. Did he want to press his proposition for a federation of the Balkan States too far? Has he attempted to rush the industrialisation of Jugoslavia as Trotsky wanted to hurry Russia, taking industries under state control which were not yet historically ripe to be absorbed? Or has he overdone the intense nationalism which Russia, at one point, was at some pains to encourage? The answer remains uncertain. But one thing is very clear to me in the welter of wishful thinking which has now sprung to life in Western Europe. The International did not break up when Trotsky left. Nor will the Cominform, with Tito gone. I have known Russia and Eastern Europe and international Communist organisations for many years. Up to a point, by their very nature, they tend to flourish on internal friction. It may be as much a sign of strength as weakness.

And for those who imagine that Tito will now turn towards the West, I can only say that Marshal Tito has about as much in common with the British Labour party as a leopard has with a lady.