Maurice Paz

Four Days With Trotsky

An Interview with the Bolshevik Leader who Was Exiled to Constantinople

(April 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. 8, 15 April 1929, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Then you do not recognize me?”

I had indeed remained without voice, as if speechless, when after a three days journey I found myself facing him in this hotel room.

How could I fail to recognize him despite the seven years gone by since our last meeting?

To be sure, the radiant hair has turned grey; the crease in the cheeks denoting the contraction of a powerful jaw is accentuated, and the smooth face – shaved on the boat that brought him to Constantinople – makes a contrast to the face popularized by so many photographs. But who could mistake it? Behind the large rims of the spectacles are the same magnetic blue eyes, with their eagle’s glance, the same monumental brow, the large wilful mouth and – I am! not writing literature – there is still that same impression of a superhuman force. Yes, it is certainly Trotsky, it is the companion of Lenin, the chief of the October Revolution, and the encounter after all the ordeals, leaves me without words.

My emotion, his own also – At last, a friend! – cannot express itself otherwise than in a fraternal embrace.

We speak. Indiscriminately. In hurried sentences crammed with incidents. Tomorrow we will be more methodical, but how can it be arranged when there are so many things to talk about?

First of all, how is he, after that harsh year of deportation at Alma Ata, in the region chosen for him by Stalin as a place of exile, doubtlessly, because “malaria shares its dominion there with leprosy and the plague.”

Actually, malaria has taken hold of him, and if he speaks a bit cheerfully of his health, his wife and son, who share his exile and were themselves prey to the same fevers, told me that Leo Davidovitch made them very uneasy during a certain period when the illness assumed a very sharp form. To this day, malaria has not yet left Trotsky, but it seems to be weakening. Periodically, attacks of fever, accompanied by violent headaches, still come on to denote the virulence of the disease.

The malaria attacks an organism weakened by twelve incredible years of activity and hardships: twelve years of Revolution. It is added to a most persistent gout and a chronic inflammation of the colon which obliges our comrade follow a strict regime and to think, in short, of looking after himself.

At the moment these lines appear, the question of the visa will, I hope, be decided and Trotsky will be able to proceed to Germany to receive the care necessitated by his condition. Up to now, he has asked officially for asylum only from Germany where he can have recourse to the doctors who treated him previously. But in other countries, friends have already made obliging application and if the intrigues of Stalin should succeed in preventing Trotsky’s entry into Germany, we can surely reckon that he will find a more hospitable welcome elsewhere – in Holland, perhaps ...

On the whole, our comrade has lost none of his power to work, but he will have to bring himself to rest for a while. This will be cruel, and one understands it when he knows the activity of a Trotsky. But will it not be better to decide to give this security to the future?

Brought by force from Odessa to Constantinople on the Soviet vessel, Ilyitch, under the escort of the G.P.U., Trotsky lived for the first three weeks at the Soviet Consulate.

He was formally promised, before he sailed, that in order to assure a minimum of security two of his closest collaborators, Sermouks and Posnansky – now imprisoned in Siberia – would be permitted to rejoin him by the very next boat.

“And if you deceive me in this matter also?” asked Trotsky. “Then in that case, you will have the right to treat me like a scoundrel,” replied the G.P.U. man.

“That would be,” responded our comrade, “a pretty poor consolation for me.”

Could one expect anything else but false promises from Stalin? One day, he was informed that Sermouks and Posnansky would not come; at the same time he was compelled to quit the Consulate at once. Aside from the impossibility of finding lodgings in Constantinople right away, can one realize what it means for Trotsky, who was just the man who liberated the Crimea from Wrangel’s army, to be literally thrown into this city where thirty thousand of Wrangel’s men are located? It is pretty hard for Western comrades to grasp the full extent of this danger. I was convinced of it during my voyage.

Having no lodgings, the G.P.U. men chose a hotel for him. Under the threat of forcible expulsion in the middle of the night, our comrade was led to his present residence together with his wife and his son.

“I will tell all about this some day,” he told me, “when I have the leisure for it. The comrades will see to what low police methods the struggle against the Opposition has descended.”

In the meantime a burning question arises: How shall, we provide for Trotsky’s security? How shall we replace the protection that the presence of Sermouks and Posnansky would have provided?

In the course of these fruitful days where we confirmed our agreement by discussing the essential questions, the moments of relaxation were devoted to recollections. Recollections of the first years of the October. Recollections of Lenin, such abundant ones, where we perused some photographed letters (the originals having all been turned over to the Lenin Institute). Pictures of militants, of those who disappeared, of those also who rose in the harsh and thankless struggle of the Opposition, a Smilga, a Rakovsky, a Beloborodov and many others; young ones too, like Borish Lifschitz and Yakovin, who brought the contribution of their devotion and their work.

“You cannot imagine,” Trotsky told me, “what the intellectual life of the deportees had to be to remain active. At Alma Ata, after the first few weeks, before the suppression of all correspondence and the rigorous isolation of recent times, we succeeded in establishing contact with many comrades, in spite of the fact that the G.P.U. was actively engaged in delaying letters, in intercepting them. All the great questions on the order of the day were taken up by our comrades, sometimes in simple letters, sometimes in serious, documented studies. What enthusiasm, what ardor in the discussion! (This is what Yaroslavsky, with the help of some stolen letters, interprets, as the “decomposition” of the Opposition!) It is necessary that the comrades everywhere learn to know this movement of the deported Opposition, that they may know not only the repressions suffered but also the work accomplished.”

We will devote ourselves to this task.

... Very brief notes, written hastily since my return to Paris. I do not pretend to give here a writer’s “impressions”. I am not a writer and I do not feel the need of dwelling on the descriptive side of these days that will leave their mark in my life. I am a militant and I tell my comrades quite simply the emotion – the boundless emotion – that I felt on meeting again him who is our political chief.

Let this emotion be translated into work, into fruitful revolutionary action. That is the only thing that can interest my comrades.

Last updated on 29 June 2014