Leon Trotsky

Romain Rolland
Executes an Assignment

(October 1935)

Written: October 31, 1935.
First Published: The New International [New York], Vol.II No.7, December 1935.
Translated: The New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

L’Humanité of October 23 prints a letter by Romain Rolland which is intended to refute criticisms of the Soviet Union made by a Swiss preacher. We would not have had the slightest reasons for intervening in an argument between an apologist of Gandhism and a Protestant pacifist, were it not for the fact that Mr. Rolland himself, in passing, touches – in a very improper manner – upon a number of burning questions, both personal and public in character. We cannot and do not demand from Mr.Rolland either a Marxist analysis, political clarity, or revolutionary insight; but one should imagine we would be justified in expecting from him some psychological insight. Unfortunately,as we shall shortly see, not a trace has been left of that.

To justify the terror which is directed by Stalin primarily against his own party, R. Rolland writes that Kirov was murdered “by a fanatic, who was secretly supported by such people as Kamenev and Zinoviev.”Upon what grounds does Rolland make so serious a charge? Those who buzzed it to Rolland were simply lying. It is precisely upon this question, in which politics cuts across psychology, that Romain Rolland should have had no difficulty in judging, if he were not blinded by an excess of zeal.

The author of these lines has not the slightest reason to assume upon himself responsibility for the activity of Zinoviev and Kamenev, which was of no small aid to the bureaucratic degeneration of the party and the soviets. However, it is unthinkable to ascribe to them participation in a crime which is without any political meaning and which at the same time conflicts with the views and aims and the entire political past of Kamenev and Zinoviev.

Even if they had suddenly turned partisans of individual terror – such a hypothesis is fantastic! – they could never have chosen Kirov as a victim. Anyone acquainted with the history of the party and its personnel is only too well aware that Kirov was a third-rate bureaucratic figure in comparison with Kamenev and Zinoviev: his elimination could have had no effect whatever upon either the régime or its policies. Even during the trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev (one of the most shameless of trials!) the original version of the indictment was not sustained. Beyond an excess of zeal, what right has Mr. Rolland to speak about the participation of Kamenev and Zinoviev in the assassination of Kirov?

Let us remember that it was the intention of the initiators to extend the accusation to the author of these lines as well. There are many who probably still recall the role played by the “Latvian consul,”an agent provocateur of the GPU who attempted to obtain a letter from the terrorists “for transmission to Trotsky.” One of the hirelings of l’Humanité (I think his name is Duclos) even wrote in the heat of the moment that Trotsky’s participation in the assassination of Kirov “was proved.”I have dealt with all the circumstances relating to this case in my pamphlet The Kirov Assassination. Why didn’t Romain Rolland venture to repeat this part of the coarse and brazen Thermidorian amalgam? Only because I had the opportunity to make a timely exposure of the provocation and its direct organizers, Stalin and Yagoda. Kamenev and Zinoviev cannot avail themselves of such an opportunity: they are lodged in jail on the basis of a premeditated false charge. It is possible to slander them with impunity, Is this role becoming to Rolland?

On the pretext that they were implicated in the Kirov case, the bureaucracy took the lives of scores of people who were devoted heart and soul to the revolution, but disapproved of the self-indulgence and privileges of the ruling caste. Perhaps Mr. Rolland will venture to deny this? We propose that an international commission, unimpeachable in its composition, be established to examine the arrests, trials, executions, exiles, and so on, in connection with, say, the single Kirov case. Again it should be recalled that when we tried the Socialist Revolutionaries in 1922, for the commission of terrorist acts, we permitted Vandervelde, Kurt Rosenfeld, and other outstanding opponents of Bolshevism to attend the trial. Yet at that time, the position of the revolution was immeasurably more difficult. Will Mr. Rolland accept our proposal this time? It is doubtful, because this proposal will not be – and cannot be – accepted by Stalin.

The measures of terror which were applied during the initial,and, so to speak, “Jacobin,” period of the revolution were called for by the iron necessity of self-defence. We were in a position to give an open accounting of these measures to the entire international working class. The terror of the present Thermidorian period serves for the defence of the bureaucracy not so much against the class enemies as against the advanced elements of the proletariat itself. Thus, Romain Rolland steps forward as an advocate of Thermidorian terror.

Only recently, the Soviet newspapers loudly proclaimed the discovery of a new plot in which “Trotskyists” combined with White Guards and criminal elements for the purpose of ... wrecking Soviet railroads. Not a single serious-minded person in the Soviet Union will believe this new shameless fraud, which throws devastating light upon a number of previous amalgams. However, this will not deter the Stalinist clique from shooting several young Bolsheviks guilty of lèse majesté. And what will Mr. Rolland do? Will he perhaps devote himself to the task of convincing incredulous preachers that “Trotskyists” really do wreck Soviet railroads?

In the sphere of general questions of politics, Mr. Rolland makes assertions which are no less categorical and hardly more irreproachable. For the sake of defending the present policy of the Soviets and of the Communist International, R. Rolland, in accordance with the ancient ritual, hies himself back to the experience of Brest-Litovsk. We are all attention! He writes the following, “In the year 1918, in Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky said to Lenin: ‘We must die like knights of old.’ Lenin replied: ‘We are not knights. We want to live, and we intend to remain alive.’” Where did Mr. Rolland get this piece of news? As a matter of fact, Lenin was never in Brest-Litovsk. Did the conversation perhaps take place over a direct wire? But all the documents relating to this period have been printed, and obviously they do not contain this – to put it bluntly – asinine statement, which one of Rolland’s informers buzzed into his ear for wider distribution. Still, how is it that an old hand at writing did not have sufficient psychological intuition to understand the caricatured falseness of the dialogue he reproduced?

It would be out of place to enter here into a belated controversy with Rolland over the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. But since Rolland trusts in Stalin almost as much as he formerly trusted in Gandhi, we will take the liberty of referring to a statement Stalin made on February 1, 1918, i.e., during the final hours of the Brest-Litovsk decisions: “A way out of the difficult situation was given us by an intermediate point of view – the position of Trotsky.” I am not referring to my own recollections, or to conversations with interlocutors, no matter how highly placed, but to the official protocols of the sessions of the Central Executive Committee issued by the Government Printing Office in 1929. The above quotation will probably seem to Rolland utterly unexpected. But it ought to convince him of how careless it is for anyone to write on subjects he knows nothing about.

Mr. Rolland lectures us – me, in particular – that the Soviet government can conclude agreements, if need be, even with the imperialists. Was such a revelation worth a trip to Moscow? The French workers are forced every day to enter into agreements with the capitalists, so long as the latter continue to exist. A workers’ state cannot renounce the right which every trade union has. But should a trade union leader, upon signing a collective agreement, announce publicly that he recognizes and approves capitalist property, we would call such a leader a traitor. Stalin did not merely conclude a practical agreement, but on top and independent of that he approved the growth of French militarism. Every class-conscious worker knows that the French army exists primarily to safeguard the property of a handful of exploiters, and to support the rule of bourgeois France over sixty million colonial slaves.

Because of the just indignation aroused in the workers’ ranks by Stalin’s declaration, attempts are being made today, among them the one through Rolland, to explain that “practically” everything remains just as before. But for our part, we do not put an iota of trust in them. The voluntary and demonstrative approval of French militarism by Stalin, one should imagine, wasn't intended to enlighten the French bourgeoisie, who did not at all require any urging, and who met it quite ironically. Stalin’s declaration could have had only a single purpose: by weakening the opposition of the French proletariat to its own imperialism to buy at this price the confidence of the French bourgeoisie in the stability of an alliance with Moscow. This policy, despite all qualifications, is being vigorously followed right now. The shrieks of l’Humanité against Laval do not alter in any way the fact that the Comintern has become the political agency of the League of Nations, in which this very same Laval rules the roost,or his cousin Herriot, or his British partner Baldwin, who is no better than Laval.

With very little authority, Romain Rolland decrees that the new policy of the Communist International remains in strict harmony with the teachings of Lenin. In that case, the solidarity of the French Communist Party with the foreign policy of Leon Blum the (“social fascist” of yesterday, who, at any rate, remained true to himself); the belly-crawling before Edouard Herriot (who hasn’t the slightest inclination to turn traitor to French capital); the support of the League of Nations (this general staff of imperialist intrigues) by the Communist parties; does all this flow from the teachings of Lenin? No. Mr. Rolland had better return to his studies of the teachings of Gandhi.

Unfortunately, Marcel Martinet’s very clever, restrained, and apt warning left no impression upon Rolland. Instead of stopping and critically looking around, he slid all the way down into the ranks of the official apologists of the Thermidorian bureaucracy. In vain do these gentlemen deem themselves the “friends” of the October Revolution. The bureaucracy is one thing; the revolution is quite another. People’s Commissar Litvinov is a “friend of mine” even to the conservative bourgeois Herriot. But it does not follow from this that the proletarian revolution must consider Herriot as one of its friends.

It is impossible to prepare the coming day of the revolution otherwise than by an irreconcilable struggle against the régime of bureaucratic absolutism which has become the worst brake upon the revolutionary movement. The responsibility for the terroristic moods of the Soviet youth falls entirely upon the bureaucracy, which has clamped a leaden lid upon the vanguard of the working class, and which demands of the youth only blind obedience and glorification of the leaders.

The bureaucracy has concentrated colossal resources in its hands, of which it gives an accounting to nobody. These uncontrolled resources provide it in particular with an opportunity to entertain and shower gifts royally upon any of its useful “friends.” Many of them are hardly to be distinguished in their psychological makeup from those French academicians and journalists who are the professional friends of Mussolini. We have no inclination to include Romain Rolland in this category. But why does he himself so carelessly erase the line of demarcation? Why does he undertake commissions which do not become him?

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Last updated on: 19.4.2007