Leon Trotsky

A Letter to the Workers of Zurich

Trotsky Replies to a Calumny of the Social Democrats

(June 1932)

Written: 25 June 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 34 (Whole No. 130), 20 August 1932, pp. 4 & 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

In the night of the 15th of June, violent encounters took place in Zurich between the workers and the police. I learned of these events from the cables of the bourgeois press agencies, which were, consequently, very tendentious and hostile to the workers. But even without knowing the details, it is not very difficult to get a general idea of the character of these events. Encounters between workers, especially striking workers or the jobless, and the police are abundant in the whole history of capitalism. The present terrible crisis which is revealing all the rottenness of the capitalist system is stretching the nervous tension of the bourgeoisie to the extreme and is driving it to make use of the police and the army at the slightest alarm. On the other hand, the very just indignation of the workers against the bourgeoisie is growing and is seeking a way out. No matter what political tendency was heading the strike and the demonstration at Zurich, the character of the bloody encounter is one and the same. Capitalism has reduced the workers to starvation, to misery, to despair. Capitalism is throwing them out into the streets. Capitalism is beating them down by armed force. The lackeys of the capitalist press calumniate the workers and the capitalist judges condemn the “leaders” to jail if the bullets of capitalism do not fell them beforehand.

This was the simple and obvious explanation I gave, far from Zurich, to the events of June 15 and 16. Today, on June 25, I have received from friends a leaflet issued by the “Socialist Party of Zurich” entitled Settling Accounts with the Communists. In this document the Zurich Social Democracy, which is running the municipality in that town, attempts to vindicate itself of all responsibility for the repression against the strikers and the demonstrators. According to this document, the fault of the conflict in incumbent not upon capitalism but upon Communism. In defense of its actions against the Zurich workers, the social democracy writes:

“Lenin and Trotsky, in similar situations, were severe against all the ultra-Left syndicalists of the anarchist tendency. They pitilessly crushed in blood all the putschists.”

This leaflet has instigated me to address myself by means of the present letter to the Zurich workers. It is the aim of the present letter to denounce this calumny. Lenin and myself have more than once been the objects of calumny. You doubtless know that we were even accused of being in the service of the German general staff. Nevertheless I have never known a more mendacious and a baser calumny than the one cast on us by the leaflet of the Zurich social democracy.

The whole life of Lenin was dedicated to the overthrow of bourgeois society, of its state, its privileges, its laws, its justice, its police, its prisons and its army. How then can anyone employ the name of Lenin to justify the reprisals of the bourgeoisie against the workers. I also protest against the utilization of my name because during the thirty-five years of my conscious life I have served and continue to serve in so far as my forces permit me, the cause of the emancipation of the working class.

— But the Soviet power, the Messrs. Social Democratic journalists will reply, didn’t it employ measures of reprisal against the anarchists of the Left Social Revolutionists who attempted to organize an insurrection? To be sure! But the difference lies precisely in this – an insignificant difference, isn’t it, comrades, workers? – that with us it was a matter of defending, not a bourgeois state, but a proletarian state. The Bolsheviks had previously organized the October insurrection (1917) by means of which the proletariat overthrew the bourgeoisie, took possession of its banks and factories, confiscated the laud of the rural gentry and turned it over to the peasants, chased out the parasites from their palaces and put up the workers’ children in them, deprived the exploiters of their voting rights, concentrated the power and the weapons in the hands of the workers and thus guarded the first proletarian state against its enemies. It is precisely therein that the regime of the proletarian dictatorship consists. Yes, we have defended this regime effectively with guns in hand. For its defense we created the Red Army. Social democracy of the entire world condemned us and hurled all sorts of curses on our heads. The German social democracy supported the Hohenzollerns who tried to strangle the Soviet republic. But the Bolsheviks did not allow themselves to be strangled. With an iron fist they defended the workers’ state. The domestic enemies of the proletarian dictatorship were the bourgeoisie divested of their rights, the bourgeois officers and students, gentlemen of the type of Conradi who assassinated my friend Vorovsky. The Russian social democrats (the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists) directly and indirectly supported this struggle against the workers’ state. In all instances in which they rose against it with guns in hand, we treated them without mercy.

But the Zurich social democracy is deceiving you when it refers to Lenin and Trotsky to justify its bloody violence against the workers rising against the capitalist state. Violence is used, to be sure, in both instances. Wherever the classes are conducting an implacable struggle, in the last analysis, we always arrive at a point where violence is resorted to. This will always be the case as long as the classes continue to exist. But the whole question is determined by what class exercises the violence.

At one of the sessions of the Brest-Litovsk conference, on January 14, 1918, General Hoffman, the actual head of the German General Staff on the Eastern Front, protested against the violence employed by the Soviet government. I take the occasion to quote verbatim from the minutes the following extract from my reply:

“The honorable general has remarked that our government rests on force and employs violence against all those who profess adverse ideas which are stigmatized as counter-revolutionary. The honorable general is absolutely correct when he says that our government rests on force. Up to the present, history has not known any other type of government. As long as society will be composed of classes engaged in struggle, the state will inevitably be an arm of compulsion, and will make use of a coercive apparatus ... That, in our actions, which astonishes and outrages the governments of other countries – is the fact that we arrest not the strikers but the capitalists who lock out the workers, the fact that we do not shoot down the peasants who demand the land but arrest the landed gentry and the officers who attempted to shoot down the peasants.”

The leaders of the Zurich democracy have not gone any further than General Hoffman in so far as they speak of violence without defining the class which employs this violence. And for good cause: the social democracy cannot pose this question openly and honestly, since its leaders themselves serve the capitalist regime. In the petty local questions, the secondary ones, for example – the municipal questions, the social democracy attempts to bargain with capitalism for the workers, in order to maintain its authority among them. But wherever it is a matter of the fundamental interest of the capitalist order and of private property, the very foundations of the exploitation of man by man, there the social democracy, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Austria, in France and in the entire world, invariably takes the side of the exploiters. It has once more demonstrated this in a striking fashion by the June events in Zurich.

Since the gentlemen of the social democratic leadership have taken advantage by referring to Lenin and to myself in casting off their guilt, I will say the following in conclusion: although I cannot judge the events in Zurich except through the accounts rendered by the bourgeois journals to which I can hardly accord more than ten percent of credence, I nevertheless declare in all security, since the labor movement is involved, that all my sympathies are without the slightest reserve on the side of those who participated in the strike, who protested against the brutality of the police and who have fallen victims of the new attacks. No matter what the tactical views of the Zurich Communists may be, I will always be found on the same side of the barricade with them. Even if they have committed one mistake or another – I do not know of any – these are the mistakes of our class, these are the mistakes of the proletarian revolution which is raising its head against the capitalist yoke. In spite of all the “democratic” peacock-feathers with which the social democracy is covering itself up, it has acted and it is acting in the events of Zurich as the direct agent of the class enemy. The social democracy is concealing its task of treachery with calumnies against the proletarian revolution. It is undermining the authority of the workers’ state to the great profit of the authority of the bourgeois state by placing on the same level the violence of the revolution and the violence of reaction.

I hope that every Zurich worker, the social democratic worker included, will deeply reflect upon these events and upon the role which the social democratic leaders have played in them in order to draw the necessary political conclusions. Only then will we be able to say that the June victims will not have been sacrificed in vain.

Prinkipo, June 25, 1932

Leon Trotsky

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Last updated on: 1.1.2014