Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(4 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 47, 4 July 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

June marks an anniversary that should not be passed by without mention. Ten years ago appeared the first number of the Bulletin of the Opposition (Byuletin Oppositsye), the first regularly printed organ of the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists.

Leon Trotsky, Natalia Ivanovna Sedov and their son Leon had been banished from the Soviet Union by the G.P.U. a few months earlier, in January 1929, and had taken up residence in Istambul, Turkey. Stalin’s decree banishing the organizer and the sword of the October Revolution was perhaps the greatest single mistake made by the Kremlin autocrat in his self-assigned task of interring the world revolution. Despite the natural restrictions imposed upon a political exile in Turkey, Trotsky’s release from “house detention” in the wilderness of Alma-Ata, where he had been confined for about a year since his expulsion from the Russian Communist party, afforded him his first real opportunity to establish contact with the international movement.

Rearming the Movement

Clearing away the mass of misrepresentation and falsehood spread by the Stalinist machine about the Bolshevik opposition in the Soviet Union was the first job to be tackled – and nothing in our time has more closely resembled Hercules’ task of cleansing the Augean stables. Inseparably connected with this job went the one of re-arming the international communist movement with the principles and traditions of Marx and Lenin, which the Moscow machine had ridiculed, discredited and then solemnly banned as heresy.

The accomplishment of these tasks would not have been impossible without the Bulletin of the Opposition, but it would have been infinitely harder than it was.

Up to the time it began publication, the only material we could rely upon to give us a true picture of the situation in the Soviet Union and the program of the Bolshevik Opposition – what appeared in the Stalinist press could of course not be relied on at all, then as now – was contained in the episodic scraps which Trotsky or other comrades managed to smuggle out of the Soviet Union. From June 1929 onward, we – and I speak here primarily about our own terribly isolated movement of those days – had at our disposal not only a dependable source of information, but a political-theoretical organ which measured up to the highest standards of the great literature of Marxism. Even nowadays we await each issue with impatience, and just as impatiently the translation of the important articles, which usually means virtually the full contents of the number.

Trotsky’s Contributions

It is almost an iron law of the movement, as we have observed it in the last decade, that every backslider and turncoat from Marxism who is abandoning its revolutionary principles, or even those shreds to which he was once attached,, covers his retreat by squeaky denunciation of “Trotsky’s dictatorship” or the “one-man International” or more of the same. Anyone acquainted with the early years of our international movement, back in the days of Marx and Engels, will easily identify this refrain, if only the names in the latter-day revisionist lament are changed from Marx to Trotsky.

The most merciful thing that can be said about these critics is that they are guilty of the crime of ignorance. They know nothing about the actual functioning of our movement. Those of us who do, understand how absurd is the accusation – more accurately, this pretext for retreat. We who have been eager to learn and fight in the revolutionary struggle, not only at high tide but also at low, know how to appraise justly the invaluable and unique contribution Trotsky has made in enriching the arsenal of the living movement. And unlike the shamefaced “friends” of the revolution, whose much-touted “independence of thought” is conceived by them as license for fluttering around in a thickening daze, we are proud to proclaim ourselves followers of Leon Trotsky.

The Bulletin of the Opposition has played a tremendous role in the crystallizing of our political ideas and in the solidifying of our movement throughout the world, the movement which our enemies are pleased to call – it is a name we readily accept – “Trotskyist.”

A Salute to Leon Sedov

No comment on the Bulletin can end without a mention of the comrade who was its effective director from the very beginning, the late Leon Sedov. Soon after his banishment to Turkey, he left for Berlin, where the Bulletin was launched. Although he lived under difficult political conditions, “Lyova” succeeded in editing and managing (and contributing to) the Bulletin until early in 1933. The advent of the Hitler regime meant the end of the German publication of the review. The Nazis banned it, forcing young Sedov to flee to Paris, where publication of the Bulletin was resumed.

Those who had the privilege of knowing this magnificent young revolutionist could learn from his conduct what a model militant should be. His devotion was tireless and profound. His political development – he died at the age of 32 – was remarkably rapid and solid. He knew in what proportions to mix boldness, courage and prudence, even though he never tended to lay emphasis on the last-named. Despite surveillance by the G.P.U. and the bourgeois police, he knew his job, knew how to accomplish it, and did accomplish it. It was not only the Bulletin of the Opposition that owed its existence to Leon Sedov.

We evaluated him in life less keenly, alas, than did the G.P.U. We did not realize in time how determined Stalin’s hatchet-men were to rid their boss of Leon and his works. Only later we learned of the special attention the G.P.U. had devoted to the young militant for a long time before his death. Only later was it revealed that he had been shadowed daily and almost assassinated one day at a rendezvous which, by happy accident, did not materialize.

Leon died in “mysterious circumstances.” But not so mysterious that the hand of the Kremlin butcher is not evident.

His death was a stiff blow to his parents, a blow to the Bulletin, a great blow to our international movement. On the tenth anniversary of the Bulletin we salute the shining memory of the intrepid revolutionist whose name will always be associated with it – Leon Sedov.

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