Leon Trotsky


Lenin Ill [1]

COMRADES, this year has put our party to a certain test in regard to clearness of thought and firmness of will. The test was difficult because it was determined by a fact that weighs heavily upon the consciousness of all party members and the broadest circles of the working population – to be more accurate, upon the entire working population of our country and to a considerable degree of the whole world. I speak of Vladimir Ilyich’s illness. When a change for the worse took place in his condition in the beginning of March, the political bureau of the Central Committee met to consider what we ought to tell the party and the country about the change in Comrade Lenin’s health. I believe you can all imagine, comrades, in what state of mind this session of the bureau took place when we had to give the party and the country this first serious and alarming bulletin. As a matter of course we remained politicians at this moment, too. No one will reproach us for that. We did not think only of Comrade Lenin’s health – naturally we were concerned about his pulse, his heart and his temperature – but we also thought what effect the number of his heartbeats would have on the political pulse of the workingmen and the party. With anxiety, but also with deep faith in the strength of the party, we said that we must inform the party and the country as soon as the danger was evident. No one doubted that our enemies would bestir themselves to use this news to confuse the population, particularly the peasants, to start alarming rumors, etc., but also no one doubted for a second that we must tell the party instantly how things were going, because we increase the responsibility of each party member. Our great party embracing half a million is a great community with great experience, but in this half million men Lenin occupies a place that is incomparable. The historical past knows no man who has exerted such influence, not only on the destiny of his own land, but on the destiny of mankind; she has no standard with which to measure Lenin’s historical significance. And therefore the fact that he has been separated from the work for a long time, and that his condition is bad, will call forth deep political alarm.

Naturally, naturally, naturally, we know positively that the working class will conquer. We sing: “No higher being saves us” – and also “no tribune.” That is right, but only in the last historical sense, that is, in so far as the workmen would finally conquer, if there had been no Marx, no Ulianof Lenin. The workmen themselves would have perfected the ideas and methods that they need, but it would have been slower. The circumstance that the working class has produced on both banks of their stream two figures like Marx and Lenin is of great advantage for the revolution. Marx is the prophet with the tables of the law and Lenin the greatest executor of the testament, who not only trained the proletarian aristocracy as Marx did, but trained classes and peoples in the execution of the law, in the most difficult situations, and who acted, manoeuvred, and conquered. This year, in part, we were obliged to do without Lenin in practical work. On ideological ground we have recently received hints and directions from him – about the peasant question, the state apparatus, and the questions of nationality, which will last for years.

And now we were obliged to announce the change for the worse in his health. We asked ourselves in justifiable anxiety what conclusions the, neutral masses, the peasant and the red army would form; for the peasant believes in Lenin in the first rank in our state apparatus. Apart from the others Ilyich is a great moral capital of the state apparatus in the correlations of the workmen and the peasants. Will not the peasant think – many among us asked this question – that Lenin’s policy will go through a change in his long separation from the work? How will the party, the masses of workmen, and the whole land react?

When the first alarming bulletins appeared, the party united as a whole, grew, and reached a higher moral plane. Naturally, comrades, the party consists of active men, and men have faults and defects and even among the communists there is much that is “human, all too human” as the Germans say, there are conflicts of groups and individuals, serious and incidental, and there always will be, for there is no great party without it. But the moral strength, the political specific gravity of a party is defined by what comes to the top during such tragic experience: the will for unity, discipline, or the incidental and personal, the human, the all too human. And here, comrades, I believe, we can draw our conclusion with absolute certainty: when the party saw that we would be deprived of Lenin’s leadership for a long time, it drew together, and put aside everything that threatened the clearness of its thinking, the unity of its will, and its ability to fight.

Before I took my train for Kharkof I spoke with our Moscow commandant, Nicolas Ivanovich Muralof, whom many of you know as an old party comrade, asking how the red army would look upon the situation in connection with Lenin’s illness. Muralof said: “At first the news will be like a thunderbolt; they will fall back, and then they will think about Lenin more deeply.” Yes, comrades, the neutral red army has now, in its own way, thought deeply over the r6le of personality in history, thought over what we men of the old generation as school boys, as students, or young workmen, studied in books, weighed and debated, in the prisons, and jails, in exile, namely, the relation of the “hero” to the “masses,” the subjective factor and the objective conditions, etc. And now, in 1923, our young red army with a hundred thousand heads has thought concretely about this question and along with them the All Russian, the All Ukrainian, and every other kind of peasant with a hundred million heads has thought over the r6le of Lenin’s personality in history.

How do our political organs answer this, our commissars, and group secretaries? Their answer is: Lenin was a genius, a genius is born once in a century, and the history of the world knows only two geniuses as leaders of the working class: Marx and Lenin. No genius can be created even by the decree of the strongest and most disciplined party, but the party can try as far as it is possible to make up for the genius as long as he is missing, by doubling its collective exertions. That is the theory of personality and class which our political organs present in popular form to the neutral red army. And this theory is right: Lenin is not working for the moment and so WE must work doubly as brothers, watch the dangers with double care, guard the revolution from them with double energy, make use of the possibilities of further development with double persistency. And we shall all do this, from the members of the Central Committee to the neutral red army.

Our work, comrades, is very wearisome, very paltry, even if it is carried on in the frame of the large plan; the methods of our work are “prosaic”: bookkeeping, calculation, taxation of products and grain export, we do all this step by step, stone on stone. But is there not the danger of the degeneration of the party into the petty? And we can no more permit such degeneration than we can permit even a trifling violation of their unity of action; for even if the present period lasts quite a long time, still it cannot last forever. Perhaps not even long. A revolutionary explosion on a large scale, such as the beginning of a European revolution, may happen sooner than many of us think. If from Lenin’s numerous strategic lessons we wish to remember something with especial clearness, let it be what he calls the policy of the great changes: Today on the barricades and tomorrow in the seat in the Third Duma, today a summons to world revolution, to the international October revolution, and tomorrow negotiations with Kiihlmann and Czernin to sign the disgraceful peace of Brest-Litovsk. The situation changed or we believed it changed; the march to the west followed, “to Warsaw I” The situation forced us to change our method; we had to sign the Riga peace, as you all know, just as disgraceful a peace ... And then again persistent work, brick upon brick, economy, restriction of the staff, control. Are five or three telephonists necessary? If three are enough, don’t take five, because then the peasant must hand over a few more poods of grain. Daily crumbs of petty work, but look, on the Ruhr, the flame of revolution flares up; now, will it find us degenerate?

No, comrades, no! We are not degenerating. We change our methods, ways of working – but the revolutionary instinct of self-preservation of the party is the highest thing for us. We study bookkeeping and at the same time we keep a sharp eye to the east and west and events will not surprise us. By self-cleaning and enlarging of the proletarian basis our strength grows ... We will make a compromise with the peasantry and the little bourgeoisie, we will yield to the NEP (New Economic Policy) people, but we will not allow the NEP people and the little bourgeoisie into the party. No, we will burn them out of the party with sulphuric acid and glowing iron. And at the Twelfth Congress, which will be the first congress since the October revolution without Vladimir Ilyich, and besides one of the few congresses in the history of our party without him, we shall say to each other that we must write or cut with a sharp pencil the chief commands in our consciousness: not to grow hard – consider the skill of the sudden changes, manœuvre without breaking up the ranks, make a compromise with temporary and lasting comrades, but do not let them into the party. Remain what you are, the advance guard of world revolution! And when the sound of the storm reaches here from the west, and it will resound, then whatever burdens us, bookkeeping, calculation, and NEP, we will answer without hesitation and without delay: We are revolutionaries from head to foot, we were so, we remain so, we shall remain so to the end.


1. From a report at the Seventh All Russian Party conference of April 5th, 1923.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007