Leon Trotsky

Letter on Eastman’s Book

1 July 1925

Written: 1 July, 1925 Source and First Publication: Inprecorr, 3 September 1925.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Martin Fahlgren for the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive.
Editor᾿ Note: On 11 September 1928 Trotsky wrote a letter, published in New International, Vol. 1 No. 4, November 1934. pp. 125–126, where he explained why he had signed the following statement. See On Max Eastman.
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike) Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2006.

Soon after my return from Sukhum to Moscow, a telegraphic inquiry from Comrade Jackson, editor of the Sunday Worker in London, informed me of the publication of a book, Since Lenin Died , which was used by the bourgeois press to attack our party and the Soviet government. Although my reply to Jackson was published by the press at the time, it will be appropriate to repeat the first part of it here: “Eastman’s book to which you refer is unknown to me. The bourgeois newspapers that quoted it have not reached me. Of course, I deny in advance and most categorically any commentaries directed against the Russian Communist Party.”

In the following part of the telegram I protested against the insinuations alleging that I was turning toward bourgeois democracy and free trade.

I afterwards received the book in question ( Since Lenin Died ) from Comrade Inkpin, secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who at the same time sent me a letter to the same effect as Comrade Jackson’s telegram. I had no intention of reading Eastman’s book, much less of reacting to it, as I assumed that my telegram to Comrade Jackson, which was published everywhere by the British and foreign press, was entirely sufficient. But party comrades who had read the book expressed the opinion that since the author referred to conversations with me, my silence could be regarded as an indirect support of this book, which is directed entirely against our party. This placed me under the obligation to devote more attention to Eastman’s book, and above all to read it carefully through. On the basis of certain episodes in the inner life of our party, the discussions on democracy in the party and the state regulation of our economy, Eastman arrives at conclusions directed entirely against our party, which are likely, if given credence, to discredit the party as well as the Soviet government.

We shall first deal with a question that is not only of historical importance, but of vital timeliness at the present moment: the Red Army. Eastman asserts that since changes have taken place among its leaders, the Red Army is divided, that it has lost its fighting capacity, etc. I do not know where Eastman got all this information. But its absurdity is obvious. At any rate, we would not advise the imperialist governments to base their calculations on Eastman’s revelations. Besides, he fails to observe that in thus characterizing the Red Army he is reviving the Menshevik myth of the Bonapartist character of our army, its resemblance to a Praetorian guard. For it is plain that an army capable of “splitting” because its leader is changed is neither proletarian nor communist, but Bonapartist and Praetorian. In the course of the book the writer quotes a large number of documents, and refers to episodes which he has heard secondhand or even more indirectly. This little book thus contains a considerable number of obviously erroneous and incorrect assertions. We shall only deal with the more important of these.

Eastman asserts in several places that the Central Committee has “concealed” from the party a large number of documents of extraordinary importance, written by Lenin during the last period of his life. (The documents in question are letters on the national question, the famous “Testament,” etc.) This is pure slander against the Central Committee of our party. Eastman’s words convey the impression that Lenin wrote these letters, which are of an advisory character and deal with the inner-party organization, with the intention of having them published. This is not at all in accordance with the facts.

During his illness, Lenin repeatedly addressed letters and proposals to the leading bodies and congresses of the party. It must be definitely stated that all these letters and suggestions were invariably delivered to their destination and they were all brought to the knowledge of the delegates to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Congresses, and have invariably exercised their influence on the decisions of the party. If all of these letters have not been published, it is because their author did not intend them to be published. Comrade Lenin has not left any “Testament”; the character of his relations to the party, and the character of the party itself, preclude the possibility of such a “Testament.” The bourgeois and Menshevik press generally understand under the designation of “Testament” one of Comrade Lenin’s letters (which is so much altered as to be almost unrecognizable) in which he gives the party some organizational advice. The Thirteenth Party Congress devoted the greatest attention to this and to the other letters, and drew the appropriate conclusions. All talk with regard to a concealed or mutilated “Testament” is nothing but a despicable lie, directed against the real will of Comrade Lenin and against the interests of the party created by him.

Eastman’s assertion that the Central Committee was anxious to conceal (that is, not to publish) Comrade Lenin’s article on the Workers and Peasants Inspection is equally untrue. The differences of opinion arising on this subject within the Central Committee - if it is possible to speak of “differences of opinion” at all in this case - were of a purely secondary significance, dealing solely with the question of whether or not the publication of Lenin’s article should be accompanied by a statement from the Central Committee pointing out that there was no occasion to fear a split.

But on this question too a unanimous decision was arrived at in the same session. All the members of the Political and Organization Bureaus of the Central Committee present at the meeting signed a letter addressed to the party organizations containing, among other things, the following passage: “Without entering, in this purely informational letter, into the criticism of the historically possible dangers made at the time by Comrade Lenin in his article, the members of the Political and Organization Bureaus consider it necessary, in order to avoid all possible misunderstandings, to declare unanimously that there is nothing in the inner activity of the Central Committee giving occasion to fear the danger of a split.“

Not only is my signature affixed to this document along with the other signatures, but the text itself was drawn up by me (January 27, 1923).

In view of the fact that this letter, expressing the unanimous opinion of the Central Committee on Comrade Lenin’s proposal with regard to the Workers and Peasants Inspection, also bears the signature of Comrade Kuibyshev, we have here a refutation of Eastman’s assertion that Comrade Kuibyshev was placed at the head of the Workers and Peasants Inspection as an “opponent” of Lenin’s plan of organization.

Eastman’s quotation from the wording of the “Testament” is equally wrong. This was published in the Sotsialistichesky Vestnik and was stolen from the party archives, so to speak, by counterrevolutionists. In reality the wording as published in the Vestnik passed through many hands before its appearance in this paper. It was “freshened up” again and again, and distorted to such an extent that it is absolutely impossible to restore its original meaning. It is possible that the alterations were made by the editorial staff of this paper.

Eastman’s assertions that the Central Committee confiscated my pamphlets and articles in 1923 or 1924, or at any other time or by any other means has prevented their publication, are untrue, and are based on fantastic rumors.

Eastman is again wrong in asserting that Comrade Lenin offered me the post of chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, and of the Council of Labor and Defense. I hear of this for the first time from Eastman’s book.

An attentive perusal of Eastman’s book would doubtless give me the opportunity of pointing out a number of other inaccuracies, errors, and misrepresentations. I do not, however, think that it would be of interest to go further.

The bourgeois press, especially the Menshevik press, makes use of Eastman’s statements, quotes from his reminiscences, in order to emphasize his “close relations,” his “friendship” with me (as my biographer) and by such indirect means attaching an importance to his conclusions which they do not and cannot have. I must therefore devote a few remarks to this matter.

The character of my real relations with Eastman is perhaps best shown by a business letter written by me at a time before there was any thought of Eastman’s book Since Lenin Died . During my stay in Sukhum I received from one of my Moscow friends, a publisher of my books, the manuscript of a book by ... M. Eastman, entitled Leon Trotsky: Portrait of a Youth . My collaborator informed me in his accompanying letter that the manuscript, which had been sent to the State Publishing Office by the writer for the purpose of being published in the Russian language, had made a strange and unusual impression among us on account of the sentimentality permeating it.

I replied as follows in my letter of April 3, 1925: “Even without being familiar with the contents of Eastman’s manuscript, I am perfectly in agreement with you that the publication of the book is inopportune. Although you have been kind enough to send me the manuscript, I cannot read it. I have absolutely no inclination to do so. I readily believe that it does not suit our taste, especially our Russian and communist taste.

“Eastman has been endeavoring for a long time to convince me that it is very difficult to interest the Americans in communism , but that it is possible to interest them in the communists . His arguments have been fairly convincing. For this reason I gave him a certain help, of a limited nature; the letter I sent him shows these limits. (1) I did not know that he had the intention of publishing this book in Russia, or I should probably have advised the State Publishing House at that time not to publish it. I cannot prevent Eastman from publishing this book abroad; he is a “free writer“; for a time he lived in Russia and collected material; at present he is in France, if not in America. Shall I ask him as a personal favor not to publish this book? I am not sufficiently intimate with him to do this. And such a request would hardly be appropriate.“

I repeat that the subject of this letter was a biographical sketch, the story of my youth up to about 1902. But the tone of my letter leaves no room for doubt on the nature of my relations with Eastman, relations which differ in no way from those maintained by me with other foreign communists or “sympathizers” who have turned to me for help in understanding the October Revolution, our party, and the Soviet state - there can be no question of anything more.

Eastman sneers with vulgar aplomb at my “Quixotism” in my relations with the comrades of the Central Committee, of whom I have spoken in friendly terms even in the midst of the most embittered discussion. Eastman seems to think himself called upon to correct my “error,” and he characterizes the leading comrades of our party in a manner which cannot be designated as anything else but slanderous.

We see from the above that Eastman has attempted to erect his construction on completely rotten foundations. He seizes upon isolated incidents occurring within our party in the course of some discussion, in order, by distorting the meaning of the facts and exaggerating the relations in a ridiculous manner, to slander our party and undermine confidence in it. It seems to me, however, that the attentive and thoughtful reader will not require an examination of the assertions made by Eastman and his documents (for which not everyone has the opportunity) but that it suffices to ask: If we assume that the malicious character of our leading party comrades alleged by Eastman is even partly correct, how is it possible that this party should have emerged from long years of illegal struggle? How could it stand at the head of millions of human beings, carry through the greatest revolution in history, and contribute to the formation of revolutionary parties in other countries?

There is no sincere worker who will believe in the picture painted by Eastman. It contains within itself its own refutation. Whatever Eastman’s intentions may be, this botched piece of work is none the less objectively a tool of the counterrevolution, and can only serve the ends of the enemies incarnate of communism and of the revolution.

(1) On May 22, 1925, I sent the following reply to Eastman’s repeated requests: “I shall do my utmost to assist you by means of conscientious information. But I cannot agree to read your manuscript, for this would make me responsible not only for the facts, but for the characterizations and estimates as well. This, of course, is impossible. I am prepared to take responsibility - if only a limited one - for the factual information which I send you in reply to your request. For everything else you alone bear the responsibility.”

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007