On Zinoviev and Kamenev

(May 1933)

Written: 23 May 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 30, 10 June 1933, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

So they have once more capitulated. The Soviet press reports it triumphantly and the T.A.S.S. communicates the capitulation to the whole world. Meanwhile, it is hard to conceive of a fact which more mercilessly compromises not only the capitulators themselves but also the regime which requires such sacrifices. Broken backbones can no longer serve as props. And the Stalinist apparatus has become a machine for crushing backbones.

Zinoviev and Kamenev were subjected a few mouths before to expulsion from the party and exile not because of any oppositional activity of their own, but because of “knowledge of and failure to report” oppositional activity of the Right wing. At all events, this was only a formal cause. The real reason was the fact that, in the atmosphere of general discontentment, Zinoviev and Kamenev constituted a danger. They did, it is true, capitulate back in January 1928. But to whom? To the anonymous bureaucracy passing under the name of the party. Today, such a capitulation has lost all value. One must acknowledge the infallibility of Stalin in order to have the right to live and breathe politically. Zinoviev and Kamenev simply could not force themselves to such a moral prostration. They had been in the Lenin staff too long for that, too well did they know Stalin, his role in the past and his real caliber. The oath of personal fidelity to Stalin simply stuck in their throats. And that was just why they were expelled.

It is not hard to imagine what took place afterwards behind the scenes. For some time now the apparatus has been calculating that Stalin’s leadership is costing the party too dear. Stalin himself feels it. It didn’t go, of course, without the mediation and humble intercession on the part of the so-called “old Bolsheviks” on the one side, and their cynical exhortations on the other. “Acknowledge his genius – that costs very little nowadays – and come back to Moscow: after all, it is better to be in the party.” And Zinoviev and Kamenev “acknowledged,” that is, they finally sank down into the depths. Their personal fate is profoundly tragic. If the future historian will aim to show how pitilessly the epochs of great convulsions devastate men, he will bring forward the example of Zinoviev and Kamenev ...

At the time of the first capitulation they could still foster the illusion: “Work in the party,” “Contact in the party,” “Influence upon the masses.” Today there is not even a trace of these illusions left. Zinoviev and Kamenev do not return from the opposition to the party, but merely from exile to Moscow. Stalin needs their return for the selfsame purpose for which he needed the appearance of Bucharin and Rykov on the tribune during the celebration of May Day: thereby, the void around the “leader” is, if not filled up, then at least concealed.

The failure of Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s first capitulation, which had a political character, proved to be a relentless, and thereby an all the more effective demonstration of the correctness of the Left Opposition: the party can be served only by serving its ideas and not its devastated apparatus. The second capitulation, which has a purely personal character, strengthens that conclusion from the opposite end. Like Gogol’s hero, Stalin gathers together dead souls for want of the living. The salvaging of the heritage of Bolshevism, the training up of new revolutionary succession, remains not only the historical task but also a lofty privilege of the Left Opposition.

Prinkipo, May 23, 1933


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Last updated on: 22 October 2015