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Natalia Sedova Trotsky

Natalia Sedova Trotsky

Letter from Natalia

(6 November 1944)

Written: 6 November 1944.
Source: SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. 6 No. 13, December 1944, pp. 23–27.
Source: Mike Pearn.
Online Version: Natalia Sedova Internet Archive, May 2020.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

November 6, 1944

Dear Friends,

I shall not dwell on the section of your letter which contains information, limiting myself to a grateful acknowledgement. I must tell you, however, that it supplied me with hardly anything new. The tireless work of our friends and its successes are a guarantee of its viability and we have all the more grounds for a fearless review of our slogans. I must come to the defense of those friends whom you condemn in connection with differences of views, for having altered the character of the mutual (personal) relations, coloring them with sharpness, hostility and impoliteness. This is quite human. We are united by unity of ideas. Whenever this is disrupted, the internal interrelations, and together with them also their external forms become altered.

After an exposition contained in the informational section in your letter, you pass on to the controversial question of the defense of the USSR; and you begin with a declaration of your complete agreement with me in the evaluation of the Soviet bureaucracy. I never entertained the slightest doubts about it. This has been firmly established through the greatest experience over many years; this was and remains the basis of our successive conclusions. Your declaration as well as, incidentally, the exposition in the informational section (of your letter) was necessary in order to facilitate for you the road of further discussion. But, after all, the criticism of the Russian bureaucracy does not exist of and by itself, no more than does the slogan of the defense of USSR. One must not incessantly repeat one’s condemnation of Russian bureaucracy, without drawing corresponding conclusions from it. Criticism may undergo change during this or that segment of time, corresponding with the changes in the conduct of the bureaucracy itself; we criticize with greater force now one, now another of its sides. It is impermissible to confine oneself to an absolute adjustment once and. forever. Criticism of this sort becomes transformed into a worthless, lifeless trinket which serves to lull oneself and to shut one’s eyes to the occurring changes. By your declaration – and thereby you seek to bring about appeasement – you rid yourself of any genuine living criticism of the situation that has been created.

“Yes, yes, I am in agreement with the criticism of the Soviet bureaucracy,” you say to yourself and by this lamentation – you free yourself from the analysis of the current events, current facts which are bound up with the deeds of the bureaucracy.

You behave similarly with the slogan of the defense of the USSR. You ignore the profoundest changes both in the domestic and foreign situation of the Soviet land. For you the slogan of the military defense of the USSR is fixed once and for all, you do not notice changes that have been introduced into the concept of defense by the general surrounding background; that the direct need of it has fallen away and that in view of the altered conditions now comes to the fore with all its force not the military defense of the USSR but its defense against the internal enemy, the mightiest and most dangerous one.

You forget the essence of the slogan of the defense of the USSR. It includes at one and the same time the military defense against foreign intervention and internal (defense) against the usurping bureaucracy – the latter conditions the former. I do not propose as I have already – not once – written to take off the slogan of the defense of the USSR. But in view of the altered general situation I did propose to remove military defense to the background in view of its needlessness in the present conditions and to advance to the forefront with full force that on which military defense is grounded: the struggle against the Stalinist regime. Once again, the slogan of defense contains a two-fold meaning and depending upon the circumstances of the general political situation its center of gravity shifts now to one side, how to the other. It is you and not I who reduce to zero the meaning of the slogan of defense as a whole, when you incessantly repeat it in a situation in which the first part of the slogan does not find application; I say as a whole, because the actual situation with its full force demands stress on the second part. By continuing in uncorresponding conditions to advance the slogan of military defense, you wholly annul the slogan of defense. Whereas I propose to preserve it by removing its first part to the third plan, saving thereby its most important ground (the second part).

“Whither the USSR?” This question must be placed in the center of our attention, of our propaganda, of our agitation. It is impermissible to plead lack of knowledge concerning what is taking place in Russia, (to cite) lack of information, Russian censorship, and so on. With respect to information, the conditions at the present time are much more favorable than was the case a few years ago, which did not prevent us (at the time) from analyzing the internal situation of the USSR, determining the character of the first workers state in this or that period of time, analyzing the tendencies of its development, and drawing conclusions and sketching out perspectives, recall the numerous articles of LD on this subject – articles elucidatory, persuasive, and outlining the possible perspectives. His variant of the revolution in the USSR which would, overthrow the bureaucracy, clearing the road for the defense of the Soviet Union against the onslaught of the capitalist environment, rallying the international proletariat to its aid. And the other variant: the military successes of the bureaucracy, its temporary strengthening, the mighty entrenchment of its position, but its inevitable fall, all this notwithstanding. You recall the caution with which LD each time analyzed the political condition of the workers state in order to determine its further evolution. Absolutely correct. But caution served him for a definite aim; to carry out the analysis on the basis of carefully selected material. Caution in and of itself, just as criticism of the Soviet bureaucracy in and of itself, just like the slogan of defense in and of itself, becomes transformed into something just the opposite, something harmful, and incautious (it is at least incautious in the given conditions not to deal with burning questions) into a fear of seriously undertaking the analysis of the most important Russian question: this “bad” caution prompts you to adduce such arguments as lack of information concerning the USSR, absence of materials for arriving at judgments, and so on. And the result is that we, with excessive lack of caution have kept silent over the Russian question in the course of four years. In your letter, you absolutely correctly take note in your letter of this most onerous omission. Unjustified caution obstructs the road to a review (an analysis) of the slogan of the defense of the USSR. We have delayed exceedingly with it, too.

You write that "the Russian proletariat has not yet spoken its final word." To whom do you address this assertion? Precisely because the Russian proletariat has not spoken its final word, I proposed to review the question of military defense by transferring the center of gravity to the internal struggle against the most dangerous and, at the given time, the one and only enemy of the Russian proletariat – the Soviet bureaucracy, summoning it (the Russian proletariat) daily and hourly to “speak its final word.”

In The Militant, No. 34 there appeared a very good article on the actions of the Red Army (the Soviet bureaucracy) in Poland, with this exception, that, in my opinion, it is incorrect to consider partisan detachments as revolutionary. Both in their origin and in their composition they bear a purely nationalist character. If one takes into account the point of view expressed in your letter, it is possible to conclude that your attitude to the article is a negative one. Is that the case? In this connection I can adduce a quotation from the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, No. 72, 1938:

“Those who under the pretext of the war danger recommend the cessation of war against Stalinism (the Kremlin) are actually deserting revolutionary tasks, covering themselves with loud phrases about a world catastrophe. We have nothing in common with this utterly false view.”

You pose the questions: (1) What is the degree of degeneration reached by the workers state? (2) How long can the period of degeneration endure? (3) What form can it take? (The first two questions are scholastic.) Into the first question it would be possible to introduce greater precision: has the development of the tendencies of the workers state to the side of capitalism been deepened in the last four years? The time terms of its degeneration can hardly be indicated with precision, and essentially this is not important. The third question is determined by the first – complete degeneration can lead only to capitalism. Regeneration is possible through revolution which will overthrow the bureaucracy and lead to socialism. The questions posed by you ought to be combined into a single one: "Forward to Socialism or back to Capitalism?" And a number of articles should be written on this subject. It is also necessary to pose the question of the Red Army; it must enter into the above-mentioned unified question, but one ought to deal in greater detail with it in a special article or pamphlet. Because there are among us the greatest errors on this score. Here is what was written as far back as May–June 1938 in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, Nos. 66–67:

“The transition from a barracks army to a militia army was systematically prepared for over a decade. But from the moment when the bureaucracy completely crushed all manifestations of independence by the working class, it proceeded openly to transform the army into an instrument of its rule. The militia system was completely set aside. An officer caste with generals and Marshals has been reinstituted. From an instrument of socialist defense the army has become the instrument for the defense of the privileges of the bureaucracy.” (My emphasis)

This was written, as I have already said, in 1938. But what has happened since then? You are acquainted with it. The example of Bulgaria which you adduced in your letter, undoubtedly indicates the revolutionary spirit of the Bulgarian masses, seeking the Red Banner. But not the revolutionary spirit of the Red Army.

To all your questions, you can already now receive answers from the articles in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition. They wholly retain their actuality. The anti-revolutionary tendencies of the USSR, outlined in them, have been and are deepening year by year; they have deepened catastrophically in the recent war years. I cite still another quotation from the same source:

“The evolution of the Soviet state therefore proceeds in complete contradiction with the principles of the Bolshevik program. The reason for it is that society, as has already been said, is evolving not toward socialism, but toward social contradictions. If in the future the process continues along this same road (and it is proceeding along this road – N.), it will inevitably lead to the regeneration of classes, the liquidation on of planned economy and the restoration of capitalist property. The state regime will in that case inevitably become fascist.”

Permit me still another quotation:

“Thus, while it is impermissible to reject in advance in rigidly specific cases the possibility of a ‘united front’ with the Thermidorian section of the bourgeoisie against the open offensive of capitalist counter-revolution, the chief political task in the USSR still remains: the overthrow of the Thermidorian bureaucracy itself. (This appears in bold face – N.) Every additional day of its rule shakes apart the socialist elements of economy and increases the chances of capitalist restoration.”

Articles from the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition on this subject could be very instructive now. It is incomprehensible why they have remained unutilized in the course of four years. Not only were they not read in their entirety, but they wore never quoted, nor referred to – this is very indicative. Only our Spanish friends have occupied themselves with this question. While the articles are being written on the subject treated by us: “Whither the USSR?” I would propose that a number of articles from the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition be translated both for the magazine and for the paper; and that they be carried from issue to issue. One could begin say with the article Does the Soviet Government still continue to follow the Principles Adopted 20 Years Ago? (Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, Nos. 66–67). The Bulletin ought to be studied and everything necessary taken from it.

Finally, a few more words about the Russian masses. There cannot be any doubts that the Russian masses are dissatisfied; that there exist oppositional elements and illegal organizations in the USSR.

The Master of the Soviet land cannot pass over to capitalism without a counter-revolution, failing this he will not be able to tear away from the peasants the land for which they struggled for ages. It is still more difficult to perform this operation at a time when Europe is seized by a revolutionary movement. “There cannot be any reason to doubt that the overwhelming majority of the communists as well as of the population do not want a return to capitalism, especially now that capitalism has plunged mankind into a new war.” (Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, Nos. 82–83). From this flows the vital need of intensified propaganda on the above-described subject. Let us warn against the mortal danger threatening the Russian proletariat, let us explain to them the causes of it, let us summon them to a struggle against the usurpers and gravediggers of the great revolution, basing ourselves on the European revolutionary movement.

One additional comment: the article, Does the Soviet Government Still Continue to Follow the Principles Adopted 20 Years Ago? should be supplemented with detailed notes, pointing out the road of further degeneration 1938–1944, and corroborated with the corresponding (enormous) materials which are at our disposal; and this should be done as quickly as possible.


With friendly greetings,

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