L.D. Trotsky

What the New Masses Refused to Print

Concerning the “Defenders”
of the October Revolution

(June 1930)

Written: 10 June 1930.
Source: The Militant, Vol. III No. 27, 26 July 1930, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
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Dear Friend:

I have received a copy of the New York magazine the New Masses containing articles about my autobiography and about the suicide of Maiakovsky. I do not regret the fifteen minutes I have spent getting acquainted with the American Left intelligentsia. Magazines like this are to be found in several countries. One of their most important tasks is said to be the “defense” of the Soviet Union. This is a wholly praiseworthy undertaking, regardless of whether the Messrs. “Defenders” fulfil it from inward conviction or – as is sometimes the case – from less lofty motives. But it would be foolish to exaggerate the importance of this defense. These groups, sufficiently variegated in their composition, busy themselves on one side with fringes of the bourgeoisie, on the other with the fringes of the proletariat, and offer no guarantee whatever as to their own future. As the majority of pacifists struggle against war only in times of peace, so these radical “defenders” of the Soviet Union, its titular “friends” from the ranks of Bohemia, will fulfil their mission only so long as this does not demand real courage and genuine devotion to the revolution. These qualities they do not possess. And where indeed should they get them? Their radicalism needs a protective coloration. For that reason it finds its chief expression in the “defense” of the Soviet Union – defense of a state possessing power, wealth and authority. It is a question of defending what exists and is already achieved. For such defense it is not at all necessary to be a revolutionist. You can quite well remain a mixture of anarchist and conservative. But at the same time you can seem revolutionary, deceiving others and, to some extent, yourself. We have seen this in the example of Barbusse and the French paper Monde, which belongs to the same category as New Masses. From the standpoint of time, their radicalism is chiefly directed toward the past. From the standpoint of space, it is directly proportional to the square of the distance from the scene of action. In relation to their own country, these bold boys always were and always will be infinitely more cautious and evasive than in relation to other countries – especially those in the East.

The best representatives of this type, excelling the rest by many heads both in gifts and character, is undoubtedly Maxim Gorky. He sympathized for years with the Bolsheviks and considered their enemies his enemies. This did not prevent him from appearing at the time of the proletarian revolution in the camp of its enemies. After the victory of the revolution he long remained in the camp of its enemies. He reconciled himself with the Soviet Republic when it became for him an unalterable fact – that is, when he could reconcile himself with it without departing from his essentially conservative outlook. There is irony in the fact that Gorky warred against Lenin at the greatest period of Lenin’s creation, but now, long afterward, gets along very peacefully with Stalin. What can we expect of the pencil-sized Gorkys?

The essence of these people from the Left wing of the bourgeois Bohemia is that they are capable of defending the revolution only after it is accomplished and has demonstrated its permanence, in defending the yesterday of the revolution they adopt an attitude of conservative hostility to all those who are laying the road to its tomorrow. The future can only be prepared by revolutionary methods, methods as foreign to the conservative Bohemia as were the ideas and slogans of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the day before the October revolution. These gentlemen remain, accordingly, true to themselves and to the social classes which created them and feed them. Furthermore, in spite of a formal veering to the Left, to the “new masses” (!), their conservativism has really grown stronger since they are leaning their backs against – not the October revolution, no! – but against a great state as an “institution”, independent of its guiding ideas and of its policy. They were with Lenin and Trotsky – by no means all of them, by the way – after that they were with Zinoviev, after that with Bucharin and Rykov, now they are with Stalin. And tomorrow? Upon that they will express themselves when tomorrow has

become yesterday. They have accepted every change in the governmental course as patriotic officials accept a change of uniform. There are always potential Chinovniks sitting around Bohemia. These people are courtiers of the Soviet power, not soldiers of the proletarian revolution.

The workers state, as a state, may have need of such characters for temporary goals, although I have always thought that the near-sighted epigones greatly exaggerate the weight of these groups – just as they exaggerated the value of the “defense” of Purcell or the “friendship” of Chiang Kai-Shek. As for these characters themselves, I am ready to acknowledge that it is better to be a courtier of the Soviet power than of the oil kings or the British secret service. But the proletarian revolution would not be the proletarian revolution if it allowed its ranks to be confused with this problematical, unreliable, fickle and wavering brotherhood.

Their moral triviality assumes cynical and sometimes insufferable form when they, in the character of “friends of the family”, interfere in the inner problems of Communism. To this testifies the aforementioned number of the New Masses (a paradoxical name by the way for an organ of Bohemia!). These people, you see, think that my autobiography will serve the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, while New Masses, Monde, and other publications of this kind, are obviously necessary to the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. This aberration is easily explained: Fooling around the fringes of two hostile classes and revolving continually on their own axes, the Barbusses of all countries naturally get mixed up as to where is the bourgeoisie and where the proletariat. Their criteria are simple. Since the work of the Left Opposition decisively criticises the domestic policy of the Soviet Union and the world policy of the Comintern, and since the bourgeois newspaper-writers exult in this criticism and try to make use of it – why, the conclusion is perfectly obvious: The courtiers are in the camp of the revolution, and we, the Left Communists, in the camp of its enemies! This is the usual depth of the political thinking to be found in Bohemia.

The bourgeoisie would be stupid if they did not try to use the inner disagreements in the camp of the revolution. But was this question first raised in my autobiography? Wasn’t the expulsion from the Party of the President of the Comintern, Zinoviev, and one of the presidents of the Soviet government, Kamenev, a gift to the bourgeoisie? Did not the exile and subsequently the banishment, of Trotsky give the bourgeois press of the whole world a welcome theme for agitation against the October revolution? Was not the denunciation of the head of the government, Rykov, and the head of the Comintern Bucharin, as “bourgeois liberals” used by the bourgeoisie and the social democracy? These facts, brought to the attention of the whole world, were far more helpful to the bourgeoisie than the theoretical reflections or historical explanations of Trotsky. But what interest has the anarcho-conservative Bohemia in all this? It takes all the foregoing events, because stamped wth the official stamp, as once for all given and eternal. Criticism of the Stalin regime is impossible to them, not because the Stalinists are right, but because the Stalinists are today the government. I repeat. These are courtiers of the Soviet power, and not revolutionists.

For revolutionists, the question is decided by the class line, the content of ideas, the theoretical position, the historical prognosis, and the political methods, of each of the opposing sides. If you think, as we think – and as we have proven on a world scale through the experiment of the last six years – that the policies of the Stalin faction are weakening the October revolution, that they destroyed the Chinese revolution, that they are preparing the defeat of the Indian revolution and undermining the Comintern, then – and only then – our policy is justified. The bourgeoisie will grab up the fragments of our true and necessary criticism of course! But does that change in the slightest degree the essence of a great historical problem? Has not revolutionary thought always developed by the road of ruthless inner struggle, at whose fire the reaction always tried to warm its fingers?

I remark in parenthesis, however, that the whole bourgeois press, from the New York Times up to the Austro-Marxist Arbeiter Zeitung, in its political estimate of the struggle of the Left Opposition with Stalinist Centrism, stands incomparably nearer to the Centrists and never conceals it. You could publish a whole anthology of press clippings to prove this. Thus, in addition to all the rest, the “friends” and “defenders” of the revolution, having nothing in common either with the old or the new masses, crudely distort the genuine picture of the distribution of political sympathy and antipathy among the bourgeoisie and the social democrats.

Lying, by the way, is a necessary accomplishment in a courtier. In the article about Maiakovsky, as I turned over the leaves of the magazine, I hit upon the name of Rakovsky. I read eight or ten sentences, and although I am accustomed to much, nevertheless what I read made me gasp. It is related here how Maiakovsky “hated war” (”hated war” – what a vulgar formulation of the relation to war of a revolutionist!) and how, in contrast to that, Rakovsky, at Zimmerwald “was going to take off his coat and punch Lenin and Zinoviev ... in the jaw” for their revolutionary struggle against war. Rakovsky is named here for no purpose, whatever except for that of spreading this scandalous lie. It is necessary to spread it because Rakovsky is in exile and it is necessary to justify his being there. And so the courtier becomes a contemptible slanderer. He spreads this stupid scandal instead of stating – once he has named Rakovsky in connection with the war – with what revolutionary courage Rakovsky struggled against war under a hail-storm of persecution, slander, assault and police prosecutions. Exactly for that struggle Rakovsky was thrown into prison by the Roumanian oligarchy and was saved from the fate of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg only by the revolutionary Russian army.

That is enough. If the October revolution had depended upon its future courtiers, it would never have appeared in the world. And if its further destinies depended upon their “defense”, the revolution would be condemned to ruin. The proletarian vanguard can guarantee the future of the country of the Soviets, and prolong the road of tho world revolution, only by a correct policy. We must work out that policy, establish it theoretically, and defend it with tooth and nail against the whole world, and if necessary against the very “highest” institutions which have raised themselves up (or rather slid themselves down) on the back of the October revolution. But of those questions we need not speak in connection with the pseudo-revolutionary courtiers from the ranks of the petty bourgeois Bohemia. For them enough has been said.

Prinkipo, June 10, 1930


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Last updated on: 21.10.2012