Notes of a Journalist

(Early 1934)

Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 3, 27 January 1934, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

“Not Only, But Also ...”

In 1920, in order to save the transportation system from collapse, the party Congress, upon Trotsky’s recommendation, instituted the so-called political-sections over the railroads, that is, specially picked and militarized party organs, placed over the transport trade unions and the local party organizations. This emergency measure produced results: the transportation was improved. But the workers took a hostile attitude to these polit-sections which infringed upon the trade onion democracy. At the beginning of 1921, these polit-sections were removed and the normal order restored.

Today the polit-sections once again rule over transportation, and this time with unrestricted powers. In a public report, the head of the political directorate, Zimiu, was not at all optimistic in describing the situation in the railroads, and in particular the results that have been achieved by restoring the polit-sections. Everywhere Zimiu uncovers the activities of the Whites, enemies and sabotagers; and after each exposure, he never fails to point out that “all this took place under the very eyes of Communists.”

The reporter does not offer any explanations for this unconcern on the part of Communists. As Zimin puts it, the administrative reforms introduced by the polit-sections meet with resistance at every step. “It must be stressed – says he – that sabotage is current not only among the links below but also within the directing apparatus of the roads and the N.K.P.S.” In this casually tossed off phrase there is impeccably expressed the soul of the present Soviet regime. During the initial years after the Overturn, the havens of sabotage were the bureaus, departments and administrative organs and staffs of all sorts that were manned by the old specialists. The struggle against sabotage was led by means of control from below, through the rank and file workers, that is. Today this inter-relationship has been stood on its head: What incenses Zimin is that sabotage takes place not only amid the workers – this, so to speak, is in the nature of things – but also in the highest staffs whose mission it is to preserve the regime. Without desiring to do so, the political dictator of transportation has defined faultlessly the political bases of the entire Stalinist dictatorship.

* * * *

The Drive for Quality

The editors of the Pravda explain nothing, criticize nothing, but sit on a high horse. They “call to attention”, “place in full view”, and “demand immediate explanations”. Since the question relating to the quality of products is on the order of the day (or, to put it more precisely, has been for a number of years), the Pravda, in a tone that brooks no contradiction, issues regulations how to improve steel and calico and transportation.

But what about the quality of the Pravda itself? Evidently there is no one around to “call to attention” and “place in full view”. In the meantime, the quality of this newspaper, which has at its disposal exceptional resources and possibilities, is extremely low. It is printed on paper of the worst sort; from among the pile of newspapers over the entire world, the Pravda stands out by its ashy color and porous tissue. The print is dreadful, the typography ferocious. But worst of all is the newspaper itself as a newspaper. Instead of news – an incessant din. Instead of political articles – administrative decrees. Every column seeps with fulsome fawning to the “genial leader”, the “greatest theoretician” and so forth. And all this is written in the style of a frustrated functionary who has been put in charge of “ideology” because he is good for nothing else.

* * * *

The Class Enemy

Toward the end of October, the engineers, technologists and workers of the mine, Butovka, in the Don region, made public the successes they had achieved, in a letter addressed to Stalin. The first victory – they wrote – did not come easily; the agents of the class enemy, disguised in a miner’s blouse, offered us rabid opposition, and in the darkness of the mines they worked their dark deeds, trying to put the machines out of order, to flood the shaft, and to obstruct the veins.

“The class enemy disguised in a miner’s blouse” is none other than the dissatisfied worker. The extract from the letter shows with tragic eloquence that here the matter touches not isolated and demoralized elements but a mass struggle, a civil war in the mines. If the victory over sabotage did not come easily, it was because the victors did not have mass support. The authors of the letter cherish no illusions as to how stable the “victory” is under such conditions. “We are not letting matters rest here – they write – and we cannot let them rest. We know that the class enemy and the sabotagers have not been crushed. They have gone into hiding in order to bide opportune time to execute their destructive work.”

Despite the Byzantine terminology that they are compelled to use, the authors of the letter point out clearly how and why the worker is turned into a class enemy. Enumerating the victories, the letter admits casually that “in the sphere of improving the living and cultural conditions ... we still continue to lag behind.” What is hidden behind these words? We may gather a partial answer from their inventory of successes and victories: “Individual gardening has been widely extended in our mine ... Our cadres are fully assured of vegetables for the entire winter.” This last phrase is printed in bold type in the newspaper, to stress the extent of the victory. Individual gardens imply that after a hard day’s labor, the worker must dig away at a little plot of land in the manner of a Chinese peasant; as a consequence of this double labor, the working cadres, the mining aristocracy, that is, are assured of vegetables for the entire winter.

Such is reality even when it is seen through the prism of a laudatory official dispatches!

* * * *

Cleansing the Party

A good crop in the Ukraine was needed, and Roosevelt had to recognize the Soviet government, before the Stalinist bureaucracy would graciously consent to call a party Congress, after an interval of three and a half years. The party Congress is intended not to determine the policies to be pursued under the difficult conditions but to sing hosannahs to the leaders upon these episodic successes.

But even given the conditions that we mentioned above, a preparatory cleansing of the party was felt needed prior to the calling of the Congress. The cleansing took place under various criteria. No doubt, a certain number of rascals and agents of the class enemy were cleaned out. Under the present regime, it is impossible to judge the percentage that has remained in the party. But the chief aim of the chistka was to terrorize the party prior to the Congress. Of course, the party is sufficiently cowed even without this. But who can tell? Might not the dissatisfaction brewing and collecting in the masses break out into the open in the form of a discussion before the Congress ... Therefore, to prepare for the Congress not a discussion was In order, but a cleansing. This time, everybody was to be kicked out who had ever evinced the slightest inclination toward party discussion. One needs at least three pairs of spectacles to judge the course of the chistka by the Pravda. These people have become so attuned to lying that they cannot halt their proclivities even in those instances where a minute pinch of truth would rebound to their advantage. But, in any case, one thing is clear: “Trotskyism” won’t let the bureaucracy rest in peace. “Trotskyism” is no longer referred to as crushed, buried and so forth; on the contrary, the tendency is rather to exaggerate its forces.

Through all the articles and notices on the chistka there runs the red thread of “Trotskyism”, and thereto in a double guise; on the one hand, enrolled as “Trotskyites” are those bureaucrats who have been most compromised and whose hides can no longer be saved; and on the other hand, all criticism of bureaucratism in general falls under the category of “Trotskyism”. The two symptoms mutually exclude each other. But the Stalinist apparatus can dispense with neither of them; it is necessary that the guilt for the crimes of the Stalinists who are most hated by the populace be loaded upon Trotskyism; but, on the other hand, it is equally necessary to remind those who have a tendency to relied and to be critical and who are courageous that if they let themselves be carried away they will be dealt with as befits Trotskyites.

The Pravda in summing up the results of the cleansing bewails the obstacles that the apparatus has to meet with on the part of the enemies of the party.

“It is characteristic – writes the paper – that in all these activities a very active role is played by those Trotskyites who did not disarm. They stream to the chistkas from different places and in groups, and they are ready to crawl out of their skins in order to whitewash their cronies, saving them for the future work. Commonly, they resort to masked methods, instead of coming out openly they sow their seeds of counter-revolution in the guise of asking questions, interjecting remarks, and offering explanations and so forth.”

These words ring with the inimitable indignation of a frightened bureaucracy: the enemy sows the “seeds of counter-revolution” by means of ordinary questions, remarks and explanations. How tense must be – how saturated with lies, that is – the inter-relations between the workers and Sirs “Cleansers” if it is necessary so viciously to hound ordinary questions, the moment that they threaten to unveil the mechanics of the leadership!

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Last updated on: 8 February 2016