Leon Trotsky

A Letter from Exile in Alma-Ata

Written: 2 June 1928.
First Published: The Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 6, July 1941, pages 186-188.
Translated: By The Fourth International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2008. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.
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The following letter, written by Leon Trotsky while In exile in Alma-Ata, is published now for the first time in any language. It was written on June 2, 1928 (it Is undated but the internal evidence provides the date) and was of course forbidden publication in the Soviet Union. In typewritten copies it circulated as part of the Opposition political literature in the struggle against Stalinism. The letter illumines the conditions of the struggle at that time,especially the ruthless and vile persecution of Trotsky’s own family and his closest collaborators.

It was written at a time when Stalin was consummating his “left course,” that is, was breaking with the Right Wing of Bukharin-Rykov-Tomsky—with whom he had been in a bloc since 1925 – and was launching the program of industrialization, the main features of which he borrowed from the program of the Opposition and proceededto distort in his typical manner. As against the illusions (and weariness of the struggle) of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Pyatakov, AntonovOvseeyenko, Krestinsky, Safarov and others, who welcomed the “left course,” Trotsky and his collaborators, notably Rakovsky, warned that there could be no correct policy without party and Soviet democracy, Perhaps the most significant sections are the passages on the relation between policy and workers’ democracy.—THE EDITORS.

Dear Comrade,

I have recently received letters from many comrades each complaining that there have been no replies from me. My son has been similarly accused. These charges are all due to “misunderstandings” in the post-office. Not a single letter, not a single postcard, not one telegram has been received to ’which we did not reply either immediately, or, at the latest, on the very next day. There are many, many addresses to which we write without first waiting for a communication the moment news comes of the address of any new arrival (in exile), Consequently, if any comrade receives no reply to ’his letter it simply means either that his letter did not reach us or that our reply did not reach his address. To characterize the condition of postal communications it is only necessary to state that I received yesterday, i.e., on June 1st, a letter from my daughter in Moscow which she mailed on March 20. The remarkable thing is that letters arrive quite promptly from certain points, for example, from Rakovsky in Astrakhan, Preobrazhensky in Uralsk, Sosnovsky in Barnaul. On the other hand, there are other points whence letters either do not arrive at all, or come after a great delay, and, furthermore, not all of them. Thus, for example, I have not received to this day a single letter from comrade Radek. From Vrachev, the first letter dated May 12 was delivered yesterday; yet he informs me that he has already written me two letters, both sent by registered mail, with a return receipt requested and prepaid. I did not receive these two letters. Comrade Vrachev is thus entitled to demand payment from the post-office for the loss of registered mail. Other comrades should make systematic use of this method.

* * *

Some comrades make reference to a letter of Radek’s with which I am entirely unacquainted and in which he reportedly solidarizes with the resolution of the ECCI on the Chinese question. I believe there must be some misunderstanding here. While the resolutions-on the English and French questions-constitute a very oblique and muddled turn to the left, and by virtue of this represent the beginning of a movement in our direction, the resolution on the Chinese question is false from beginning to end and represents a direct ’continuation, development and deepening of the policy of the bloc of four classes, the subordination of the Communist Party to the Kuomintang, speculations on the Left Kuomintang, with the inevitable supplement of such opportunist policy by something in the spirit of the Canton putsch. In my opinion this question is absolutely decisive for our entire international orientation. At issue is the guidance of a revolution in a land with 400-million people. The current resolution of the ECCI prepares for the destruction of the Third Chinese Revolution as inevitably as the pro-Kuomintang course assured the collapse of the Second Chinese Revolution of 19251928. Moreover, there is the question of the revolution in India on the one side, and the revolution in Japan on the other. It is necessary to think out these questions to the end.

So far as the “left course” is concerned, a part of its historical mission has already been fulfilled because it has aided in bringing about the natural evolution of the Zinoviev group. Safarov used to be in opposition to Zinoviev and Kamenev from the left. But this Safarov-leftism had only one historic design: to show the masters of the situation that he, Safarov, is ready to growl at and bite us far more decisively than are “opportunists” like Zinoviev and Kamenev. There are, as Saltykov used to say, the little people of the plaything industry; they wanted to play at the game of opposition, to amuse themselves with pranks on the apparatus of the dictatorship, and against their own will they were sucked into a great whirlpool. Small wonder that they now blow out bubbles of theory and hysterically lash out with all their extremities guided by the one and only desire: to remain on the surface, and if possible to prosper again. They began by saying that it was necessary to accept a Brest-Litovsk peace, that is, to deceive the party. And by a stroke of luck, the left course suddenly turned up. “Look! Look!” say these little people of the plaything industry, “That’s just what we said a long time ago.” They did do a lot of talking but it was about something just the opposite, i.e., not about a left course but a Brest peace, three months ago, at most six months ago. We have lost Pyatakov, Antonov-Ovseeyenko, Krestinsky, people who turned rotten long ago-for the Zinovievite tops constituted a Fronde of dignitaries who under the pressure of Petrograd workers and a squeeze from our side went much further than they ever intended. Now they have returned to the mangers they left behind them. However, hundreds of Petrograd workers did not follow their former leaders but remained with us. This fully justifies the bloc [The 1926-27 bloc between Trotskyists and Zinoviev-Kamenev.]both in its making and breaking.

I shall not dwell on the essence of the issue of the “left course” because I have already written concerning this in great detail in several letters to a number of comrades. Here I want only to add that in these letters I touched all too inadequately on the question of the methods of leadership--in the party, the state, the trade unions. This is quite correctly pointed out by comrade Rakovsky in a letter which I received yesterday. Comrade Rakovsky advances to the forefront the idea that a correct political line is inconceivable without the correct methods for elaborating and realizing it. Even if on this or that question, under the influence of this or that pressure, the apparatus-leadership should stumble onto the tracks of a correct line, there still are no guarantees that this line will be actually carried out.

“Under the conditions of the dictatorship of the party,” writes comrade Rakovsky, “a gigantic power is concentrated in the hands of the leadership, such power as was never known to any political organization in history, and therefore the observance of communist and proletarian methods of leadership become all the more indispensable inasmuch as every deviation from them, every falseness, is immediately reflected in the entire working class and the entire revolution. The leadership has become accustomed gradually to extend the negative attitude of the proletarian dictatorship toward bourgeois pseudo-democracy to those elementary guarantees of conscious democracy on which the party subsists and by means of which it is alone possible to lead the working class and the state.”

On the other hand, under the proletarian dictatorship in which, as has been said, unprecedentedly vast power is concentrated in the hands of the leadership, the summits, the violation of this spirit of democracy becomes the greatest and gravest evil. Lenin had already warned that our workers’ state had become infected with “bureaucratic deformations.” The danger of the party’s being infected by it disturbed his thoughts up to the last moments of his life. He used to speak often of what should be the relations between the leadership of the party and the trade unions, and the toilers generally (“gears,” “communicators”). Let us recall his indignant protests against certain manifestations of rudeness (“first play,”[Ordjonokidze, a member of the Polburo, had slapped a young comrade in a fit of anger. Lenin proposed that Ordjono kidze be expelled from the party for a period of years.]etc.), and against the individual failings of leaders, which to a superficial view are insignificant. Lenin’s indignation is best understood if one takes into consideration that what he had in mind was to preserve within the party just the opposite methods of leadership. In the same connection should be understood his warm advocacy of culture-the struggle against Asiatic morals-and finally his intentions in creating the Central Control Commission.

“When Lenin was alive,” continues comrade Rakovsky, “the party apparatus did not wield one-tenth of the power it now possesses, and therefore everything that Lenin feared has now become tens of times more dangerous. The party apparatus has become infected with the bureaucratic deformations of the state apparatus, and there have been added to all this the deformations elaborated by the false bourgeois parliamentarian democracy. As a result, a leadership has arisen which instead of a conscious party democracy fosters: I) fabrications of the theories of Leninism adapted for the purpose of intrenching the party bureaucracy; 2) abuse of power, which with respect to communists and workers under the conditions of dictatorship cannot fail to assume monstrous pro-portions; 3) fraudulent tampering with the entire party electoral machinery; 4) utilization of methods during discussion periods of which bourgeois-fascist authorities could be proud but never a proletarian party (strong-arm squads, hecklers who disrupt meetings, speakers torn from the platform, etc.); 5) the absence of comradely bonds and conscientiousness in personal relations, etc., etc.”

It is from this that Rakovsky deduces all those monstrous trials [The first show-trials, 19271928, prerunners of the Moscow frameup trials of 1936-1938.] which have in recent months finally come out into the open (the Shakhti case, the Artemovsk case, the Smolensk case, and so on). Those will invariably and always make mistakes who approach isolated economic measures separate and apart from the political process and political activity as. a whole. Comrade Rakovsky very appropriately reminds us that politics is concentrated economics.

Bourgeois Evaluations of Stalin’s Role

You have of course noticed that our press refrains almost entirely from printing the reactions of the European and American press to the events inside our party. This alone should lead one to gather that these reactions are not suited to the style of the new course. On this score I now possess not only conjectures but printed evidence, graphic in the extreme. A comrade has sent me a page clipped from the February 1 issue of The Nation, an American periodical. After briefly summarizing the latest events in our country, this most prominent left-democratic journal says:

“This action brings to the front the question: Who’ represents the continuation of the Bolshevik program in Russia and who the inevitable reaction from it? To the American readers it has seemed as if Lenin and Trotsky represented the same thing and the conservative press and statesmen have arrived at the same conclusion. Thus, the New York Times found a chief cause for rejoicing on New Year’s Day in the successful elimination of Trotsky from the Communist Party, declaring flatly that ’the ousted Opposition stood for the perpetuation of the ideas and conditions that have cut off Russia from Western civilization.’ Most of the great European newspapers wrote similarly. Sir Austen Chamberlain during the Geneva Conference was quoted as saying that England could not enter into conversations with Russia for the simple reason that ‘Trotsky has not yet been shot against a wall.’ He must be pleased by Trotsky’s banishmentAt any rate, the mouthpieces of reaction in Europe are one in their conclusion that Trotsky and not Stalin is their chief Communist enemy.” (The Nation, February 1, 1928.)

The Nation, we see, considers inevitable the reaction against Bolshevism, or Thermidor (the article is entitled “Russia’s Thermidor?”). In conclusion, it states flatly:

“No doubt Stalin’s tendency to depart from the rigorous Bolshevik program must be defended as a concession to the will of a majority of the people.”

Pravda sometimes tries (it has tried this before) to quote isolated voices in the social democratic press who pick up our criticism just as they are now picking up the official “selfcriticism” as Pravda itself admits. As if genuine class lines were determined by the petty intrigues of the social democratic press which tries to warm its hands on our disagreements by picking now from this end, now from the other. The basic line of the social democracy is determined by the fundamental interests of bourgeois society. But the social democracy is able to play the role of the last prop of the bourgeois regime precisely because it is not at all identical with fascism, as is sweepingly asserted in the Soviet press, but on the contrary is able on all non-fundamental questions to play with all the colors of the rainbow. Social democracy can utilize an opportunity to roar against reaction and slap genuine revolutionists (so long as they remain in the minority) approvingly on the back, and swallow swords and fire, in a word, fulfill its function as the extreme left wing of bourgeois society. That is why it is necessary to know how to read the social democratic press. It is necessary to distinguish the basic line (basic for the bourgeoisie) from all the verbal political .charlatanism which is basic for the social democracy itself for it thrives thereon.

As regards the solid capitalist press, it has no reasons for playing hide and seek on questions concerning the communists and the proletariat. That is why the article from The Nation is of interest to us not only in and of itself but also for the reactions it quotes from the world of imperialist politics. Now, here we have a serious and not accidental or episodic verification of the class line. It is all the less accidental because more than a year ago the organ of the Council of French Heavy Industry evaluated in absolutely the same way the internal tendencies in our party and our country. Moreover this was done not in a newspaper but in a bulletin intended for a comparatively narrow circle of the initiated.

The Plight of His Family

That is all for the time being on questions of politics. Our personal situation is on the whole satisfactory despite the persistent malaria which besieges Natalia Ivanovna much more cruelly than it does me. We hope to get rid of it by moving up higher, into the mountains. The preparations for moving were begun in May, but no apartments were available at the time, and the month of May itself brought only cold and rain. But now we have already moved to the mountains, the place is eight versts from the center of the city. There are many gardens here and it is cooler here than below in the valley. Our youngest son has been living with us for more than a month. Our daughter-in-law (the wife of our older son) arrived from Moscow more than a week ago, so that our family has greatly grown. Unfortunately things are not favorable in the rest of our family. One of my two daughters, Nina, is gravely ill with galloping consumption. I telegraphed Professor Gautier and a few days ago received his reply: “Galloping type. Incurable.” My daughter is 26 years old, she has two babies, her husband Nevelson is in exile. From the hospital my daughter wrote me on March 20 that she wished to “liquidate” her illness in order to return to her job, but her temperature was high. Had I received this letter in time I could have telegraphed her and our friends to have her stay in the hospital. But the letter she mailed on March 20 was delivered to me only on June 1st-it was in transit for 73 days, i.e., it remained for more than two months in the pocket of a Deribas or an Agranov or some other scoundrel corrupted by impunity. My oldest daughter Zina-she is 27 -has also been “running a temperature” for the last two, three years. I should like very much to have her here but she is now taking care of her sister. Both of my daughters have of course been expelled from the party and removed from their jobs, although my older daughter who used to be in charge of a party school in Crimea had been transferred a year ago to a purely technical post. In a word, these gentlemen are diligently occupying themselves with my family after they smashed my secretariat.

You doubtless recall that my best collaborator Glazman, a splendid party member, was driven to commit suicide by vile persecutions as far back as 1924. The crime remained of course unpunished. Now the three remaining collaborators are being cruelly persecuted. They all went with me-as did Glazman-through the entire civil war. Sermuks and Poznanski decided on their own responsibility to go to Central Asia in order to be with me. Sermuks was arrested here on the second day after his arrival. They kept him in a cellar for about a week, allowing him 25 kopeks a day from his own funds and then shipped him to Moscow whence he was exiled to the province of Komi. Poznanski was arrested in Tashkent and exiled to Kotlas. Butov remains sitting in jail to this day

I warmly shake your hand,

Leon Trotsky.

P. S. Have gone through the Draft Program of the C. I. What a wretched document. There is no unity of thought, no firmness in structure, all the walls have yawning revisionist cracks, the roof is full of holes . . . what a sorry edifice! At the same time it is all plastered and painted up with “cheerful” revolutionary colors-all our remarks have been taken into consideration not in essence but merely for purposes of camouflage.

The first Bukharinist draft has been rejected precisely on account of its narrow national construction (see our “documents” in Pravda for January 15, 1928). And now Pravda is boasting that the new construction is strictly internationalist “not like the social democrats,” and that “we” take our point of departure from world economy and not national economy. There too is a forgery of what we said. But the essence is not there-only one patch upon another. I am writing a detailed criticism for the Sixth Congress and making an attempt to keep them from adopting this fatal document. [The detailed criticism referred to is the “Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern” published in English under the title, “The Third International After Lenin,” Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1936.]

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Last updated on: 15.4.2007