This speech was made by Leon Trotsky on September 2, 1918, at a session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets. The attempt on Lenin’s life took place on August 30. Trotsky was at the front at the time and received the news only on September1, when, as he relates in his autobiography a code telegram arrived from Moscow: “Come at once. Vladimir Ilyich wounded, how dangerously not yet known …. Sverdlov.” Trotsky left at once and, as is apparent from the dates delivered his speech on the day of his arrival in Moscow, i.e., on the’ third day after the attempt. Lenin remained on his sick-bed the first time August 30 to September 16, 1918.
Trotsky’s speeches on Lenin are of added interest because of Lenin’s own attitude toward them. After Lenin’s death on January 21, 1924, N.K. Krupskaya sent a letter to Trotsky. This is how it read:
“Dear Lev Davidovich,
“I write to tell you that about a month before his death, as he was looking through your book, Vladimir Ilyich stopped at the place where you sum up Marx and Lenin, and asked me to read it over again to him; he listened very attentively, and then looked it over again himself. And here is another thing I want to tell you. The attitude of V.I. toward you at the time from when you came to us in London from Siberia has not changed until his death. I wish you, Lev Davidovich, strength and health, and I embrace you warmly. “N. Krupskaya.”
There are several English translations of the September 2 speech. This is a new translation from the original—Ed.
Lenin Wounded: A Speech
By LEON TROTSKY
Comrades, your brotherly greetings I explain by the fact that in these difficult days and hours we all feel deeply as brothers a need of closer union with each other and with our Soviet organizations, and the need of closing our ranks more Tightly under our Communist banner. In these days and hours so filled with anxiety, when our standard-bearer, and with perfect right it can be said, the international standard-bearer of the proletariat, lies on his sick-bed fighting with the terrible shadow of death, we are drawn closer to one another than in the hours of victory .
The news of the attack on comrade Lenin reached me and many other comrades in Svyazhsk on the Kasan front. We suffered blows there, blows from the right, blows from the left, blows between the eyes. But this new blow was a blow in the back from ambush deep in the rear. This treacherous blow has opened a new front, which for the present moment is the most distressing, the most alarming for us: the front where Vladimir Ilyich’s life struggles with death. Whatever defeats may await us on this or that front—and I am like you firmly convinced of our imminent victory—no single partial defeat could be so onerous, so tragic, for the working class of Russia and the whole world, as would be a fatal issue of the fight at the front that runs through the breast of our leader.
One need only reflect in order to understand the concentrated hate that this figure has called forth and will continue to call forth from all the enemies of the working class. For nature produced a masterpiece when she created in a single individual an embodiment of the revolutionary thought and the unbending energy of the working class. This figure is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The gallery of proletarian leaders, revolutionary fighters, is very rich and varied, and like many other comrades who have been for three decades in revolutionary work, I have had the opportunity to meet in different lands many varieties of the proletarian type of leader—the revolutionary representatives of the working class. But only in the person of comrade Lenin have we a figure created for our epoch of blood and iron.
Behind us lies the epoch of so-called peaceful development of bourgeois society, during which contradictions accumulated gradually, while Europe lived through the period of so-called armed peace, and blood flowed almost in the colonies alone, where predatory capital tortured the more backward peoples. Europe enjoyed her so-called peace of capitalist militarism. In this epoch were formed and fashioned the outstanding leaders of the European working class movement. Among them we see such a brilliant figure as that of August Bebel, the great dead. But he reflected the epoch of the gradual and slow development of the working class. Along with courage and iron energy, the most extreme caution in all moves, the painstaking probing of the ground, the strategy of watchful waiting and preparation were peculiar to him. He reflected the process of the gradual molecular accumulation of the forces of the working class—his thought advanced step by step, just as the German working class in the epoch of world reaction rose only gradually from the depths, freeing itself from darkness and prejudices. His spiritual figure grew, developed, became stronger and rose in stature—but all this took place on the self-same ground of watchful waiting and preparation. Such was August Bebel in his ideas and methods—the best figure of an epoch which lies behind us and which already belongs to eternity.
Our epoch is woven of different material. This is the epoch when the old accumulated contradictions have led to a monstrous explosion, and have torn asunder the integument of bourgeois society. In this epoch all the foundations of world capitalism are being shattered to the ground by the holocaust of the European peoples. It is the epoch which has revealed all the class contradictions and has confronted the popular masses with the horrible reality of the destruction of millions in the name of the naked greed for profits. And it is for this epoch that the history of western Europe has forgotten, neglected, or failed to bring about the creation of the leader—and this was not due to chance: for all the leaders who on the eve of the war enjoyed the greatest confidence of the European working class reflected its past but not its present .
And when the new epoch came, this epoch of terrible convulsions and bloody battles, it went beyond the strength of the earlier leaders. It pleased history—and not by accident!—to create a figure at a single casting in Russia, a figure that reflects in itself our entire harsh and great epoch. I repeat that this is no accident. In 1847, backward Germany produced from its milieu the figure of Marx, the greatest of all fighter-thinkers, who anticipated and pointed out the paths to new history. Germany was then a backward country, but history willed it that Germany’s intelligentsia of that time should go through a revolutionary development and that the greatest representative of this intelligentsia, enriched by their entire scientific knowledge, should break with bourgeois society, “place himself on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, and work out the program of the workers’ movement and the theory of development of the working class.
What Marx prophesied in that epoch, our epoch is called upon to carry out. But for this, our epoch needs new leaders, who must be the bearers of the great spirit of our epoch in which the working class has risen to the heights of its historic task and sees clearly the great frontier that it must pass if mankind is to live and not rot like carrion on the main highway of history. For this epoch Russian history has created a new leader. All that was best in the old revolutionary intelligentsia of Russia, their spirit of self-denial, their audacity and hatred of oppression, all this has been concentrated in this figure, who, in his youth, however, broke irrevocably with the world of the intelligentsia on account of their connections with the bourgeoisie, and embodied in himself the meaning and substance of the development of the working class. Relying on the young revolutionary proletariat of Russia, utilizing the rich experience of the world working class movement, transforming its ideology into a lever for action, this figure has today risen in its full stature on the political horizon. It is the figure of Lenin, the greatest man of our revolutionary epoch.
I know, and you know too, comrades, that the fate of the working class does not depend on single personalities; but that does not mean that personality is a matter of indifference in the history of our movement and in the development of the working class. A personality cannot model the working class in his own image and after his likeness, nor point out to the proletariat arbitrarily this or that path of development, but he can help the fulfillment of the workers’ tasks and lead them more quickly to their goal. The critics of Karl Marx have pointed out that he forecast the revolution much sooner than was actually the case. The critics were answered with perfect right that inasmuch as Marx stood on a lofty peak, the distances seemed shorter to him.
Many including myself have criticized Vladimir Ilyich too, more than once for seemingly failing to take into account many secondary causes and concomitant circumstances. I must say that this might have been a defect for a political leader in an epoch of “normal” gradual development; but this is the greatest merit of comrade Lenin as leader of the new epoch, during which all that is concomitant, superficial and secondary falls away and recedes to the background, leaving only the basic, irreconcilable antagonism of the classes in the fearful form of civil war. To fix his revolutionary sight upon the future, to grasp and point out the most important, the fundamental, the most urgently needed—that was the gift peculiar to Lenin in the highest degree. Those to whom it was granted, as it was to me in this period, to observe Vladimir Ilyich at work and the workings of his mind at close range could not fail to greet with open and immediate enthusiasm—I repeat, with enthusiasm—this gift of the penetrating, piercing mind that rejected all the external, the accidental, the superficial, in order to mark out the main roads and methods of action. The working class is learning to value only those leaders who, after uncovering the path of development, follow it without hesitation, even when the prejudices of the proletariat itself become temporarily an obstacle along this path. In addition to this gift of a powerful mind Vladimir Ilyich also was endowed with an inflexible will. And the combination of these qualities produces the real revolutionary leader, who is the fusion of a courageous, unwavering mind and a steeled and inflexible will.
What good fortune it is that all that we say, hear, and read in our resolutions on Lenjp is not in the form of an obituary. And yet we came so near that.. We are convinced that on this near front, here in the Kremlin, life will conquer and Vladimir Ilyich will soon return to our ranks.
I have said, comrades, that he embodies the courageous mind and revolutionary will of the working class. One ought to say that there is an inner symbol, almost a conscious design of history in this, that our leader in these difficult hours when the Russian working class fights on the outer front with all its strength, against the Czechoslovak, the White Guards, the mercenaries of England and France—that our leader is fighting those wounds which were inflicted on him by the agents of these very White Guards, Czechoslovak, the mercenaries of England and France. 1n this is an inner connection and a deep historical symbol! And just as we are all convinced that in our struggle on the Czechoslovak, Anglo-French and White Guard front we are growing stronger every day and every hour—I can state that as an eye-witness who has just returned from the military arena—yes, we grow stronger every day, we shall be stronger tomorrow than we are today, and stronger the day after than we shall be tomorrow; I have no doubt that the day is not distant when we can say to you that Kasan, Simbirsk, Samara, Ufa, and the other temporarily occupied cities have returned to our Soviet family—in exactly the same way we are hopeful that the process of recovery of Comrade Lenin will be swift.
But even now his image, the inspiring image of the wounded leader, who has left the front for a time, stands clearly before us. We know that not for a moment has he left our ranks, for, even when laid low by treacherous bullets, he rouses us all, summons us, and drives onward. I have not seen a single comrade, not a single honest worker, who let his hands drop under the influence of the news of the traitorous attack on Lenin, but I have seen scores who clenched their fists, whose hands sought their guns; I have heard hundreds and thousands of lips that vowed merciless revenge on the class enemies of the proletariat. You need hardly be told how the class-conscious fighters at the front reacted, when they learned that Lenin was lying with two bullets in his body. No one can say of Lenin that his character lacks metal; but now there is metal not in his spirit only, but in his body, and thereby he is even dearer to the working class of Russia.
I do not know if our words and heart-beats can now reach Lenin’s sick-bed, but I have no doubt that he senses them. I have no doubt that he knows even in his fever how our hearts too beat in double, threefold measure. We all realize now more clearly than ever that we are members of a single Communist Soviet family. Never did the life of each of us seem such a secondary or tertiary thing as it does at the moment when the life of the greatest man of our time is in mortal danger. Any fool can shoot a bullet through Lenin’s head, but to create this head anew—that is a difficult task even for Nature herself.
But no, he will soon be up again, to think and to create, to fight side by side with us. In return we promise our beloved leader that as long as any mental power remains in our own heads, and blood runs through our hearts, we shall remain true to the banner of the Communist revolution. We shall fight against the enemies of the working class to the last drop of blood, to our last breath.
1. Speech made at a session of the All Russian Central Executive Committee on September and, 1918.
Last updated on: 20.1.2007