Archives of the Opposition

Trotsky’s Letter to Olminsky

(December 1921)

Written: 6 December 1921.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 45, 5 November 1932, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Two letters of Trotsky, one to Cheidze written in April 1913, very sharply attacking Lenin and seized at the time by the police department, were discovered in 1921. The old emigrants were well acquainted with the history of the factional fights and the little episodes that grew out of them. To them it was all a matter of the far distant past. Lenin must have merely smiled when Stalin (in all probability) slipped him the letter. But this does not cast the slightest shadow, nor could it, upon the relations between Lenin and Trotsky. Between the episodic letter written at a moment of acute factional struggle and the year 1921, when the letter, forgotten by the author, rose to the surface, stood the year 1917, with the October revolution, the following three years of civil war against a world of enemies, and the first year of common economic construction. Olminsky, who worked in the Institute of Party History, addressed to Trotsky a request for the publication of his letter to Cheidze. Behind this request must have been concealed an attempt at intrigue in which Olminsky was more the tool than the instigator. In view of the fact that later on Stalin made very extensive use of Trotsky’s letter, circulating it without a date, as if it had been written in 1923, there is sufficient ground to assume that behind Olminsky’s request stood Stalin: he always occupied himself with these matters with a particular relish. We consider it worth while to reprint here Trotsky’s reply to Olminsky:

Pardon my delay in replying. This week was a very busy one for me. You ask about the publication of my letter to Cheidze. I do not think that it would be in place. The time for history has not yet arrived. The letters were written under the impression of the moment and its needs, and the tone of the letters corresponded to them. The present-day reader will not understand this tone, will not establish the necessary historical corrections, and will only be confused. From abroad we are to receive the archives of the party and the foreign Marxian publications. In them is a large number of letters of all those who participated in the “scrap”. Are you planning to publish them at the present time? This would create altogether unnecessary political complications for there are hardly two old emigrants in the party who did not sharply abuse each other in correspondence under the influence of the ideological struggle, momentary excitement, etc. Write explanations for my letters? But this would mean to relate wherein I differed at that time with the Bolsheviks. In the introduction to my brochure, Results and Perspectives, I speak briefly about it. I see no need of returning to the subject because of the accidental discovery of the letters in the archives. To this should be added that a retrospective review of the factional fight might give rise to polemics even today, because – I avow it frankly – I do not at all consider that in my disagreements with the Bolsheviks I was, wrong on every point. I was wrong – and fundamentally – in my appraisal of the Menshevik faction, overestimating its revolutionary possibilities and hoping that we would succeed in isolating and nullifying its Right wing. This fundamental error, however, flowed from the fact that I approached both factions – the Bolshevik and the Menshevik – from the point of view of the ideas of the permanent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat whereas the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in that period supported the standpoint of the bourgeois revolution and the democratic republic. I considered that the differences between both factious were not very deep in principle and I hoped (this hope I expressed more than once in letters and speeches) that the very course of the revolution and the conquest of power by the working class would bring together the contending factions, which did occur up to a certain point in 1905. (The preface of comrade Lenin to Kautsky’s articles on the motive forces of the Russian revolution and the whole line of the paper, Natchalo).

I think that my evaluation of the motive forces of the revolution was indubitably correct, but the conclusions which I drew from it with regard to the two [f]actions were undoubtedly wrong. Bolshevism alone assembled in its ranks, thanks to its irreconcilable line, the really revolutionary elements of the old intelligentsia as well as the advanced stratum of the working class. Only thanks to the fact that Bolshevism succeeded in creating this compact revolutionary organization, was it possible to make such a speedy turn from the revolutionary democratic to the revolutionary socialist position. Even now I could without difficulty divide my polemical articles against the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks into two categories: one, those devoted to an analysis of the internal forces of the revolution, its perspectives (the Polish theoretical organ of Rosa Luxemburg, the Neue Zeit), and the other, those devoted to an appraisal of the factions of the Russian Social Democrats, their struggles, etc. The articles of the first category I could present even now without corrections, because they fully and entirely coincide with the position of our party beginning with 1917. The articles of the second category are patently erroneous and it would not be worth while republishing them. The two letters sent me belong to the articles of the second category; their publication is not opportune. Let it be done by somebody about ten years from now, if there should be any interest in it.

December 6, 1921

With Communist greetings,

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Last updated on: 5 May 2019