Leon Trotsky

My Life

Preface to the
Norwegian Edition

(October 1, 1935)

Source: Leon Trotsky, Mitt Liv, Tiden, Oslo 1935.
Translation: Frans-Arne Stylegar.
HTML Markup: Jonas Holmgren.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit Marxists Internet Archive as your source.

I write these lines in Norway or, more specifically, in the community hospital in Oslo. A surprising chapter! One can often predict great historical events, but it is difficult to predict one’s own destiny. I recollect one situation: After the French government had expelled me from France to Spain because of my insufficient patriotic enthusiasm for the tsar and the Entente, I was without any reason whatsoever arrested by the government of Alfons XIII; as I lay on the bench in Madrid’s “model” prison I asked myself, laughing: how and why had I ended up here? A surprising chapter! But the serious answer is: However capricious the course of my personal life may seem, in the final instance it is shaped under the influence of weighty historical factors such as war, revolution and counter-revolution. One has to accept one’s destiny as it is being forged by the hammer of history ... And it is no exaggeration when I say that with a book in hand I felt just as confident as a year or a year and a half later in the Smolny or the Kremlin.

Almost twenty years have passed since then: quite a period in a single person’s life – especially when one considers that those very two decades have been filled with huge happenings in the history of the whole of humanity. But through all vicissitudes and upheavals I have happily managed to keep my inclination and readiness to laugh at the annoyances of my personal life intact. And the fact that I now, as the 18th anniversary of the October revolution approaches, lie ill in the Norwegian capital, can least of all make me feel “offended” by the course of history or delude me into complaining about my personal lot. True, the transition from the present, definitively bankrupt social system to a new and more harmonious one is much slower than I had believed and wished for; the conservatism and gullibility of the masses, the dullness and treason of their leaders has thrown humanity backward and is demanding innumerable further sacrifices – but the victory of the new society is certain, and that is the main point. Fais ce que doit, advienne que pourra ... [Do what you have to, come what may ...]

* * *

My first exile was so short (October 1903-February 1905) that it barely qualifies as an exile at all: between two periods of underground work, between two prison terms and two banishments in Tsarist Russia, a young revolutionary simply spent one and a half years in Western Europe, where from a circle of seasoned émigrés from two generations (Plekhanov and Axelrod, Lenin and Martov) he learnt Marxism and revolutionary politics.

My second exile lasted for ten years. It coincided with the dark and deep reactionary retreat between the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917). The latter phase of this exile stretches into the war years with their chauvinistic divisions and poisonings, which werre a major setback for the world proletariat.

My third exile began in January 1929, following a year of internal exile in Central Asia, and has now lasted for almost seven years. This period is characterised by the terrible sharpening of capitalist contradictions all over the world, by the growth and advance of fascism, by the heavy losses of the European proletariat (Germany, Austria, Spain). There is nothing accidental about these parallels between the periodisation of my personal life and that of history’s development. The destiny of many revolutionary generations, not only in Russia but in every country that has experienced major social upheavals has followed this curve: from prison and exile to power, and from power to prison and exile.

But this inevitably raises one objection: In the Soviet Union the counter-revolution has, after all, not been victorious; there the present social development is taking place on the basis created by the October revolution. But it was from this very same Soviet Union, which the author of this book had helped create, that he had to leave for his third exile. How can he explain this contradiction?

There is nothing enigmatic about it. The capitalist counter-revolution has not succeeded in the Soviet Union, that is true enough. Only very short-sighted people or those directly involved can overlook the deep degeneration which the party that carried through the victorious October revolution and the state that the victorious working class created have undergone during the last ten or twelve years. Over the Soviet state a bureacracy now rules. It has collected in its own hands unlimited power and innumerable material privileges. Incidentally, it would have been very instructive to calculate the part of the national income being devoured by the ruling, privileged caste; but these statistics belong to the great state secrets. As it definitively freed itself from the control of the masses and rose up above the community of a working class declared incapable of managing their own affairs, the bureaucracy unavoidably had to crystallise from its own ranks a chief arbitrator, a sealer of destinies, an absolute and infallible “leader”. In this thoroughly byzantine ideology the bureaucracy’s demand to play the role of the eternal, irremovable and well-paid legal guardian of the people finds its highest (more properly: lowest) expression. But this enlightened absolutism has nothing in common, and cannot have anything in common with a workers’ state, not to mention with “the classless, socialist society”.

The technical, economic and cultural conquests of the Soviet state are indeed magnificent. This is an indisputable fact. These results were accomplished through the nationalisation of the means of production and the heroic sacrifices of the working masses. But only the so-called “friends of the Soviet Union” (in reality the friends of the bureaucratic Soviet chiefs) can believe that socialist construction must rely on personal dictatorship, on a regime of bureaucratic irresponsibility, and on the merciless oppression of the thought and criticism of the advanced workers. In reality the Bonapartist arbitrariness, which follows from the struggle of the bureacracy to keep its position, is steadily coming into stronger and sharper conflict with the conditions neccessary for the construction of the new society. Through its sense of untenability of its own position against the mass of the people, which economically and culturally is becoming progressively stronger, the bureaucracy has introduced into its own circles a system of reciprocal assurance and mercilessly condemns anybody who dares doubt that its usurped privileges are of divine ..., nay, of “revolutionary” origin. Thus the furious oppression of the tens of thousands of older and younger revolutionaries who remain faithful to the banner of the October revolution. In this sense I can say that my third exile parallels the deep bureaucratic reaction in the Soviet Union.

Only a few days ago Le Temps, the leading organ of the French bourgeoisie, wrote on the occasion of the reintroduction of military ranks in the Red Army: “The outer change is one of the characteristics of the thoroughgoing changes currently taking place in the whole Soviet Union. The newly secured regime is starting to take solid shape. Revolutionary habits and customs are retreating, in the family as well as in society, before values and practices that still dominate in the so-called capitalist countries. The Soviets are getting more and more bourgeois (les sovjets s’embourgeoisent)” (Le Temps, September 25, 1935). This statement from a serious, careful and thoroughly conservative paper needs no comment. Statements like this occur by the thousand. They show incontestably that the bourgeois degeneration among the heads of Soviet society has advanced very far. At the same time they prove that the further development of the Soviet Union is unthinkable without freeing the socialist base of society of its bourgeois-bureaucratic and bonapartist superstructure. Here, in a few words, is the reason for my third exile ...

For four and a half year I lived with my wife, my steady comrade-in-arms and travel-mate, in Turkey on the island of Prinkipo; then two years in France; and finally the last months in Norway.

* * *

Before finishing this preface I cannot avoid mentioning that my stay at Ullevål hospital has given me an unexpected and rare opportunity to meet a particular category of Norwegians: doctors, nurses, female and male nursing students. In all these people I have encountered nothing but attentiveness, compassion, and straightforward, sincere humanity. I will forever remember and cherish my stay at Ullevål hospital.

On the table where I am writing these lines lies one of the hospital’s bibles in Norwegian. Thirty-seven years ago I had on my table in the solitary cell of Odessa prison – I had not yet reached my twentieth birthday – the same book written in different European languages. By comparing the parallel texts I practiced linguistics – the style of the gospel and the conciseness of the translations make the learning of foreign languages easier. Unfortunately, I cannot promise anybody that my new encounter with the old and well-known book will contribute to the salvation of my soul. But reading the Norwegian bible text can nonetheless help me learning the language of the country which has offered me its hospitality, and whose literature I already in younger years learnt to treasure and love.


Oslo Community Hospital
October 1, 1935
L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 6.5.2007