Leon Trotsky

On Max Eastman

(September 1928)

Written: 11 September 1928
First Published: New International, Vol.1 No.4, November 1934. pp.125-126.
Translated: By New International
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Original 1934 Introduction by The New International

Under the sensational title “Trotsky Condemns Eastman’’, the Stalinist Workers Bookshop of New York has published a reprint of two letters against Max Eastman signed by Leon Trotsky sometime in 1925, on the occasion of Eastman’s publication of Lenin’s Testament and his own book, Since Lenin Died. The letter reproduced below was written by Trotsky during his exile in Alma-Ata to another exiled Bolshevik, N.I. Muralov, leader in the Moscow uprising in 1917 and subsequently commander of the Moscow in Military district. It throws light on the conditions in which the letters were written and signed, and also gives Trotsky’s opinion of Eastman’s revolutionary integrity. Our endorsement of this opinion does not, of course, affect our attitude towards Eastman’s attempts to revise Marxism, which have anything but our endorsement.

I received your inquiry about comrade Max Eastman who is played up from time as a bogie by our press, being almost depicted as a hireling of the bourgeoisie, selling it the state secrets of the USSR. This is a shameless lie. Comrade Max Eastman is an American revolutionist of the John Reed type, a devoted friend of the October revolution. He is a poet, writer, and journalist; he came to the Soviet Republic during the initial difficult years of her existence, learned the Russian language here, and came into intimate contact with our internal life in order to defend better and with greater assurance the Soviet Republic before the national masses of America.

In 1923 Max Eastman sided with the Opposition and openly defended it against political accusations and especially against insinuations and calumnies. I will not here touch upon those theoretical differences which separate comrade Eastman from the Marxists. But Eastman is an absolutely irreproachable revolutionist whose entire conduct is proof of his ideals and political disinterestedness. In this respect he is several heads higher than many of the functionaries who are hounding him. Eastman held to the opinion that the struggle waged by the Opposition was not energetic enough and he inaugurated a campaign abroad on his own accord and risk.

Having no access to the official communist press and desiring at any cost to give the widest possible publicity to Lenin’s Testament, Eastman handed it over to an American bourgeois newspaper. Everyone of us, both before and during the epoch of the Soviet government, has had more than one occasion to resort to foreign bourgeois newspapers in order to give one bit of news or another the wide circulation which we could otherwise not obtain. Lenin on more than one occasion utilized such publicity in the form of interviews given to foreign journalists. One must also add that except for an absolutely insignificant minority, American workers read only the bourgeois press.

Lenin’s Testament is no state or party secret. It is no crime to publish it. On the contrary, it is a crime to keep it hidden from the party and from the working class. Today, the minor and casual remarks of Lenin which he wittingly wrote for his own personal use (for example, notation, on book margins) are being printed by the hundreds, provided these notations can be used even if indirectly against the Opposition. But kept hidden are many hundred articles, speeches, letters, telegrams and notations made by Lenin, in proportion as they apply directly or indirectly against the present leadership, or in favor of the present Opposition. It is difficult to conceive of a ruder and more disloyal handling of the ideological heritage of Lenin. Had the Testament been given timely publication in our party press, it could have been freely reprinted by any in bourgeois newspaper. But inasmuch as the Stalinist censorship had placed a ban on Lenin’s Testament as well as upon hundreds of his other works, Eastman turned to the bourgeois press. There was nothing at all underhand in such a utilization by Eastman of a newspaper for the sake of publicity. Even on the pages of a bourgeois newspaper the Testament of Lenin remains Lenin’s testament.

But, the slanderers say, Eastman “sold” this testament. Yes, the bourgeois paper paid for the material it got. But did Eastman appropriate this payment and use it for his own personal purposes? No. He donated it all to the cause of the French Opposition in order that this same testament of Lenin and other documents shamefully kept hidden from the party and the proletariat may be published. Does this act place the least splotch on Eastman’s reputation? Not the slightest. On the contrary, Eastman’s entire behavior proves that he was motivated exclusively by ideological reasons.

During the time when the Opposition still figured on correcting the party line by strictly internal means without bringing the controversy out in the open, all of us, including myself, were opposed to steps Max Eastman had taken for the defense of the Opposition. In the autumn of 1925 the majority in the Political Bureau foisted upon me a statement concocted by themselves containing a sharp condemnation of Max Eastman. In so far as the entire leading group of the Opposition considered it inadvisable at that time to initiate an open political struggle, and steered toward making a number of concessions it naturally could not initiate and develop the struggle over the private question of Eastman who had acted as I said on his own accord and at his own risk. That is why, upon the decision of the leading group of the Opposition, I signed the statement on Max Eastman foisted upon me by the majority in the Political Bureau with the ultimatum: either sign the statement as written, or enter into an open struggle on this account.

There is no cause to enter here into a discussion whether the general policy of the Opposition in 1925 was correct or no. It is my opinion even now that there were no other ways during this period. In any case, my then statement on Eastman can be understood only as an integral part of our then line toward conciliation and peacemaking. That is how it was interpreted by all those members of the party who were in the least informed or who did some thinking. This statement casts no shadow either personal or political upon comrade Eastman.

To the extent that news has reached me about Eastman for the last year, he remains right now what he has been: a friend of the October revolution and a supporter of the views of the Opposition.

With Bolshevik greetings,
L. Trotsky
Alma-Ata, September 11, 1928.

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Last updated on: 15.4.2007