Moissaye J. Olgin


Counter-Revolution in Disguise

Trotsky’s Career

TROTSKY calls himself “the true Bolshevik-Leninist”. So did the Social-Democratic hangmen of the German revolution, Noske, Scheidemann, Severing, call themselves “true Marxists”. Trotsky loves to pose as the last of the great revolutionary figures that carries forward the tradition of Lenin. There are people, especially among the younger generation, who think of him as an “old Bolshevik”. For wasn’t he leader of the Revolution in 1917? Wasn’t he at the head of the Red Army between 1918 and 1921?

These are the facts:

Trotsky started his political career around the turn of the century. In 1903, when the great division between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks took definite form, Trotsky allied himself with the Mensheviks. In one way or another he fought Bolshevism until late in the summer of 1917. Time and again he agreed with this or that point of the Bolshevik program, but soon he would join the Mensheviks to fight the Bolsheviks—and Lenin. He renewed his open hostility to Bolshevism in 1923 and has been fighting it ever since.

How did he become a revolutionary figure? He never was in the thick of the workers’ life as builder of their organizations. He never succeeded in winning to his particular side any considerable numbers of workers. He always was, and always remained, a writer and speaker only, enjoying great popularity among the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. When the revolutionary labor movement in Russia was young, a man with a sharp pen and an oratorical talent such as Trotsky could easily become noted. It is for these qualities that he became a member of the First Soviet of Workers’ Deputies organized during the Revolution in 1905. The Soviet of that time, according to Lenin, was a “broad fighting union of Socialists and revolutionary democrats—lacking definite form”. The first chairman of the Soviet, Chrustalev-Nosar, was not even a Socialist. After the latter’s arrest Trotsky became chairman. Of his role during those crucial days of the 1905 Revolution we have the testimony of a great scholar, the historian Pokrovsky:

“During the whole period of its activity, the Petersburg Soviet had at its head a very intelligent and clever Menshevik, an adept in the art of combining Menshevik substance with revolutionary phrases. The name of that Menshevik was Trotsky. He was a genuine, full-blown Menshevik who had no desire whatever for armed insurrection and was altogether averse to bringing the revolution to its completion, i.e., to the overthrow of Tsarism.” (M. N. Pokrovsky, Brief History of Russia, Vol. II, p. 320).

After 1906 he forms a little center in Vienna, Austria, where he publishes a non-periodical paper of his own. In this paper he fights Bolshevism, although in varying degrees. In 1912 he joins an anti-Bolshevist coalition known as the August Bloc. His attacks on Bolshevism become more vehement and unscrupulous. With the outbreak of the World War he occupies a Centrist position. In words he opposes the Social-Democrats who joined their capitalist governments to help one group of imperialist robbers, as Lenin called them, against the other. In fact he does not break with them and in his arguments he often defends them. He is against the war, but he is also against Lenin. The Leninist program called for work to defeat “our own” government during the war; it called for transforming—in each country—the imperialist war into civil war, i.e., a revolution against the bourgeoisie; it called for the formation of a new international organization of all really revolutionary Socialists. Trotsky is against these slogans. When Lenin says: it is good for the revolution that “our own” government should be defeated in war, Trotsky calls thus “a concession to the political methods of social-patriotism”. When the revolutionary Socialists gathered in 1915 in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, to organize for the struggle against the imperialist war, Trotsky belonged, not to the Leninist left wing, but to the center.

So much were his ideas at variance with those of Lenin that even after the February revolution of 1917, Lenin did not consider Trotsky a Bolshevik. In a letter to Kollontai, dated March 17, 1917, Lenin writes:

“In my opinion, our main task is to guard against getting entangled in foolish attempts at ‘unity’ with the social-patriots (or, what is still more dangerous, with the wavering ones, like . . . Trotsky and Co.) and to continue the work of our own party in a consistently internationalist spirit.” (V. I. Lenin, The Revolution of 1917, Vol. I, English edition, p. 21.)

In the middle of May, 1917, in preparing for a conference, Lenin writes a synopsis for a report, in which he points out the necessity of “being hard as stone in pursuing the proletarian line against the petty-bourgeois vacillations”, and adds the following significant line:

“The vacillations of the petty-bourgeois: Trotsky . . .” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XXX, Russian edition, p. 331.)

Trotsky, on arriving from abroad after the February revolution, joined the Social-Democratic group in Petrograd known as “interboroughites”. This group held a Centrist position and for many years fought the Bolshevik organization in Petrograd. Even after the February revolution they favored the unification of all the groupings of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, including the social-patriots. Gradually, however, they abandoned the idea of unity with the social-patriots, leaning more and more toward acceptance of the Bolshevik policies.

Late in the summer of 1917 the “interborough” group joined the Bolshevik Party, on the eve of the Sixth Congress of the Party held in the beginning of August. They were represented in the Congress delegation, and the new Central Committee elected by the Congress included among its 22 members three former “interboroughites”, Trotsky, Uritsky and Yoffe.

Having declared his acceptance of the Bolshevik policies, Trotsky was given full opportunity by the Central Committee to work in the interests of the Party and the working class. An effective orator, and former chairman of the first Soviet in 1905, Trotsky, late in 1917, became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He held this position in the decisive days of October, working under the direct guidance of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.

During the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in November, 1917, Trotsky played an important role as a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee. But it would be absurd to say that he was the leader of the uprising.

“I am far from denying the undoubtedly important role of Comrade Trotsky in the uprising [says Stalin in his October Revolution, p. 71]. But I must state that Comrade Trotsky did not and could not have played any special role in the October uprising; that, being the president of the Petrograd Soviet, lie only carried into effect the will of the respective Party authorities, which guided every step of Comrade Trotsky.” (Article published November 26, 1924.)

Among the five members appointed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party on October 16 to serve as a center in charge of organizing the uprising, Trotsky’s name does not appear.

“Thus [says Stalin] something ‘terrible’ took place at this meeting of the Central Committee, i.e., ‘in some mysterious way’ the ‘inspirer’, the ‘principal figure’, the ‘only leader’ of the uprising, Comrade Trotsky, did not get on the practical center, which was called upon to lead the uprising. How can this be reconciled with the current notion about Comrade Trotsky’s special role?” (Ibid., pp. 71-72.)

He who knows the ways of the Bolshevik Party will easily understand why Trotsky was not among the leaders appointed by the Central Committee to direct the uprising. He was a new man. He had never helped build the Bolshevik Party. He had been in disagreement with the Bolsheviks up to a very short time before. In reality he was not of the Bolshevik mold. He was a man of influence recognized in Russia, but his influence extended primarily to the petty bourgeoisie. He was something like a connecting link between the Bolshevik Party and the petty-bourgeois masses which the Party wished to lead.

Trotsky’s disagreement with Lenin sprang up immediately after the seizure of power. It was necessary to sign the Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany in order that the proletarian revolution might have a breathing spell to consolidate itself. Trotsky, then Commissar for Foreign Affairs, refused to sign the treaty. Lenin’s stupendous will power, Lenin’s lashing castigation, were required to force Trotsky to abandon his untenable pose, and to acquiesce in a step that spelled the saving of the revolution.

Time passed. Trotsky worked with the Bolsheviks. To all appearances he became one of them. But he was a stranger in the Bolshevik Party. The civil war came and Trotsky was given a high post. He was, so to speak, propagandist-in-chief of the Red Army. He was Military Commissar but he was not a military man. He knew nothing about the organization of an army, he had wrong ideas about revolutionary war strategy. The work of organizing the Red Army was done by the entire country, by millions of the proletariat under the leadership of the Communist Party. The actual fighting was done under the supervision of military experts controlled by the Central Committee under the watchful leadership of Lenin. Trotsky traveled up and down the front, issuing crisp orders that can be quoted as examples of military style; he went into the trenches to talk to the Red Army men; he made great public orations—but he never led the civil war. He may have been deluded into believing that he was the whole moving spirit of that tremendous historic combat. He may believe so to the present day. The actual facts are just the reverse.* The facts are that Stalin and Voroshilov were the great fighters on the various battle fronts—leaders with clear revolutionary vision and strategists of the first order.

Before the thunder of the last battles of the civil war had died down Trotsky developed an open, violent opposition to the policy of Lenin in respect to the tasks of the trade unions. He wanted the unions to be, not organizations representing the workers in the factories and the shops, in the industries, but administrative units appended to the State and carrying out governmental functions. He organized, in opposition to Lenin, a small faction that threatened to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party at a time when unity was a question of life and death. Lenin branded this factionalism as a disruptive act. He said:

“Even if the ‘new tasks and methods’ had been pointed out by Trotsky just as highly correctly as in reality they have been pointed out incorrectly throughout, . . . by such an approach alone Trotsky would have caused injury both to himself, to the Party, to the union movement, to the education of millions of members of the labor unions, and to the Republic.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XXVI, Russian edition, p. 116.)

Trotsky was defeated. Had his “plan” succeeded, that would have wrecked the entire Soviet system.

In 1923 he again resumes his opposition to the Bolshevik Party. This time it is no more a single question. It is the whole Communist Party, its structure, its activities, its entire line that irk him. At first he was alone among the outstanding leaders. In 1926 he was joined by Zinoviev and Kamenev who, in November, 1917, had distinguished themselves by being opposed to the uprising and to the seizure of power by the Bolshevik Party and were branded by Lenin as “strikebreakers”. They had ideas differing from Trotsky’s in many respects, but they accepted his leadership and the fundamentals of his opposition.

A legend is peddled around to the effect that Trotsky and his associates were “not given a chance” to present their viewpoint to the rank-and-file Party membership. As a matter of fact, the debate between the opposition and the Party leadership was continued from 1924 till 1927. In numerous sessions of the central bodies, in numberless meetings of the lower bodies of the Party, the program of the opposition was threshed out. Scores of books, hundreds of pamphlets dealing with these questions were published and widely distributed. The opposition received a hearing even to the point of exhausting the patience of the Party members.

When the discussion was over these leaders with their group of associates were thoroughly discredited, despised by the masses of the Party and of the proletariat and exposed as plotters.

We are perfectly aware of the gravity of such an accusation. But how else can you term the activities of seemingly responsible Party members who, because the overwhelming majority of the membership disagrees with them and demands their submission, organize a little clique within the Party, with its own clique discipline and clique centers, make an alliance with non-Party petty-bourgeois elements to carry out anti-Party plans, start printing underhand literature against the Party leadership and broadcasting it among the masses and thus take the initial steps toward disrupting and breaking the very backbone of the Revolution, the Communist Party?

This is exactly what Trotsky-Zinoviev-Kamenev did in 1927. The Party was forced to expel the clique. Some of them later recanted, as they did even before 1927, only to resume their destructive activities. Trotsky did not recant. He was ordered to leave the capital and was transferred to the city of Alma-Ata in Central Asia. Later he was expelled from the country. Since then he keeps on supplying the world bourgeoisie with ammunition against the Soviet Union. His powder is wet. His cannon roar without actually hurting. But the bourgeoisie pretends to see in him a real source of genuine information. He conducts his counter-revolutionary activity on the score of having been a leader in the Revolution. In his innumerable writings he makes the unwary believe that it was he and not Lenin who led the Revolution.

Such is, briefly, the career of the man. Was he ever a Bolshevik? Out of a period of thirty-three years he was connected with the Bolsheviks for only six years. Even during that time he had a great number of violent disagreements with them. In fact, there was hardly a Leninist policy to which he wholeheartedly agreed. He never became an integral part of the Bolshevik organization. He seems to have been an alien body within the organism of the Bolshevik Party, even when he was a member of its Political Bureau.

Bolsheviks need not mention the non-Bolshevik past of a man who has sincerely and genuinely merged himself with their Party. If we mention Trotsky’s past it is because, as we shall see more clearly anon, it never became his past. It still is his present. He is now just as violently opposed to the Bolshevik Party under Stalin as he was opposed twenty years ago to the Bolshevik Party under Lenin; he slanders Stalin just as viciously as he slandered Lenin—and for the same reasons.

“How could it happen [says Stalin] that Comrade Trotsky, who was carrying such an unpleasant burden [of hatred for the Bolsheviks] on his back, nonetheless turned up in the ranks of the Bolsheviks during the October movement? This happened because Comrade Trotsky threw off (actually threw off) his burden at that time, concealed it in his cupboard. But for this ‘operation’ no serious collaboration with Comrade Trotsky would have been possible. . . .

“Could Comrade Trotsky, in such a state of affairs [when the impracticability of his theory was proven by actual experience] do anything else but conceal his burden in his cupboard and follow the Bolsheviks, he who did not have any more or less serious group behind him, who came to the Bolsheviks as a one-man political organization bereft of its army? Of course he could not.

“. . . The fact is that the old burden of Trotskyism, concealed in the cupboard in the days of the October movement, is now once more hauled into the light of day in the hope of finding a market for it.” (Joseph Stalin, The October Revolution, pp. 89-90.)

When Trotsky concealed his “unpleasant burden” in his cupboard he was a one-man organization. When he took it out again he believed he had a tremendous army back of him. He was mistaken. The rank-and-file membership of the Communist Party and every honest worker in the Soviet Union refused to follow the man with the unpleasant burden. Now he is trying to form such an army on a world scale. Quite unsuccessfully.



* As a matter of fact, his ideas about the strategy of the civil war were so wrong that, had they been carried out, the enemies would have triumphed. Suffice it to recall that in the summer of 1919, at the very crucial moment of the fight against the White General Kolchak, Trotsky proposed to move part of the Red forces from the Eastern front to the South, leaving the Ural region with its factories and railways in the hands of Kolchak. The Central Committee of the Communist Party decided against Trotsky. It ordered an advance against Kolchak to drive him out of the Ural. That was the beginning of the end of Kolchak. But that was also the end of Trotsky’s playing any role on the Eastern front. Soon he ceased playing any role also on the Southern front against the White General Denikin. He does not tell this in his history of the revolution. Trotsky’s veracity . . .

Next: 2.  The Social Basis of Trotskyism