Leon Trotsky

Notes of a Journalist

(January 1936)

Written: January 10, 1936.
First Published: New International [New York], Vol.3 No.1, February 1936, pp.27-29, under the pseudonym “Alfa”.
Translated: 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.

Uruguay and the USSR

Uruguay has broken off diplomatic relations with the USSR. This step was indubitably taken under the pressure of Brazil and other Latin American countries, possibly the United States as well, as a type of “warning.” In other words, the rupture of diplomatic relations is an act of imperialist provocation. It has no other meaning. So far as financial assistance of the Communist International to the Latin American revolutionists is concerned, diplomatic organs are not at all needed for this purpose: there are dozens of other ways and means. We are not speaking here of the fact that the intervention of the Comintern into revolutionary movements has invariably led and leads to their shipwreck, so that the bourgeois governments, in all conscience, should not complain of the leaders of that institution but on the contrary bestow upon them the highest decoration—of course, not the “Lenin medal,” but, say, the “Stalin medal.”

But this aspect of the case does not interest us now. The conduct of the Soviet press does. It would be difficult to imagine a more repulsive spectacle! Instead of directing the thunder of its completely justified indignation against the all-powerful inspirers of Uruguayan reaction, the Soviet press is absorbed in insipid and idiotic mockery of Uruguay’s small territory, its numerically small population and its weakness. In the brazen and thoroughly reactionary verses of Demyan Bedny, we find retailed his inability to find Uruguay on the maps without the aid of glasses, and his recalling, in this connection, how the Uruguayan consul complained helplessly about the seizure of his automobile by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. In so doing, this poet laureate retails the consul’s speech with all sorts of “national” accents, entirely in the spirit of the Black Hundred witticisms of the tsarist official organs Novoye Vremya and Kievlyanin (it is rumoured, incidentally, that Demyan Bedny began his literary career precisely on the Kievlyanin) It is true that during the days of the October Revolution the workers and Red Guards seized the automobiles of Messrs. Diplomats; it was necessary to disarm the class enemy since all the diplomats sided with the counter-revolution. Suffice it to recall that Kerensky fled from Petrograd under cover of an American flag. But after the victory, when all sorts of complaints were investigated, the diplomats of the small and weak countries met with considerably greater attention and kindliness on the part of the Soviet government than did those of the big brigands. And, in any case, had anyone in those days attempted to indulge in the mockery of a “national” accent, he would have been thrown into the nearest garbage can.

It is otherwise today. Stalin and Litvinov prance on their hind legs before Mussolini and Laval. How abject was the tone in which Moscow conversed with Hitler immediately after the latter’s assumption of power! But, in return, they permit themselves to wreak their entire all-supreme splendour upon the head of “tiny,” “insignificant,” “not-to-be-noticed-on-the-map” Uruguay. As if involved here was a question of the size of the country, the numerical strength of the population, and not the question of state policy! In “trifles” of this sort the reactionary spirit of the ruling bureaucracy expresses itself more obviously, perhaps, than it does in its general policies.

Let us recall another episode. On the day of the arrival of the English minister Eden in Moscow, the party newspaper in Moghilev printed an article on the subject of the hypocrisy of British politics. Pravda flew into indignation: “Would anyone require a greater proof of political obtuseness?” To write about the hypocrisy of British diplomacy is ... to reveal obtuseness; but it is entirely permissible to engage in obscurantist and chauvinist pornography in relation to the people of Uruguay – yes, the people, for – let it be known to the sycophants of Pravda – the language, the territory, and the numerical strength of the population of a country pertain to the people and not to the government.

P.S. – As if this were not incredible enough, Molotov referred in his report to the Central Executive Committee to the shameful work of Demyan Bedny as the expressed governmental position on the rupture of diplomatic relations with Uruguay. On this chauvinist pornography is thus placed the official stamp of the Stalinist government. To backslide like this is to backslide all the way.

Torgler and Maria Reese

In December 1935, the press of the Comintern made public the expulsion of Torgler from the (German Communist) party for his “unworthy conduct at the (Reichstag fire) trial.” It is obvious that the Comintern, like many other diseased organisms, is distinguished by an extreme lag in reflexes. Two years have already elapsed since the Dimitrov-Torgler trial. During this time the Comintern has succeeded in expelling thousands of Communists who questioned the correctness of the social-patriotic turn, or the Marxian quality of the “People’s Front.” In Torgler’s case, they took their time: evidently, some hope was cherished that use might still be made of this cowardly petty bourgeois. Dimitrov was transformed into a semi-divinity, while Torgler was passed over in polite silence. A genuine revolutionary organization would have briefly taken note of Dimitrov’s courageous conduct as something that is taken for granted, and would have immediately expelled Torgler. However, the Comintern has long since lost the normal revolutionary reflexes ...

As a matter of fact, Torgler was expelled not for his already half-forgotten conduct at the trial, but for his completely going over to the camp of Naziism. According to the dispatch in Pravda, Torgler has not only been freed from the concentration camp but is at work together with Maria Reese “on some sort of book.” If that is the case, then there can be no doubts whatever on the matter, because Maria Reese has long since sold herself to the Ministry of Nazi Propaganda.

Moscow Pravda (December 27, 1935) underscores the fact that Reese went “from Trotsky to Hitler.” For once in a blue moon, there is an iota of truth in this assertion, namely, that Maria Reese, who played a big role in the Stalinist party before selling herself to Goebbels, did actually attempt to worm her way into the organization of the Bolshevik-Leninists. Very soon, however, it became apparent that this individual belongs to that type, now reigning in the apparatus of the Comintern, which looks upon the workers’ movement as a source of influence and income. It was precisely because of this that she was unable to maintain herself in our midst – not for years, as she did in the midst of the Stalinists, but for more than a few months, in reality a few weeks.

But what about Torgler? He was no accidental figure. He was the chairman of the Reichstag fraction of the CP! And he, in any case, went to Hitler directly from Stalin, without first feeling out the Bolshevik-Leninists. On this particular “adventure” Pravda keeps mum. Yet the ranks of the Stalinist bureaucracy in all countries are filled with similar Torglers and Reeses. They are ready for any and all turns—provided two conditions are guaranteed: first, that their own skins be in no way endangered thereby; second, that they be paid for the turns in stable currency. Everything else is of no importance to them. It is not difficult to foresee that in the ominous events impending in Europe the apparatus of the Comintern will be the sower of renegacy.

“Socialist Culture”?

At the Kremlin conference of the Stakhanovists the director of the Gorky automotive plant, one Dyakonov, spoke cautiously an discreetly of the possibility of completing the five year plan in four years. Ordzhonikidze heckled him every time he made a statement, not only with questions, but urging him on with jeers and inappropriate witticisms. It is not difficult to picture to oneself the position in which the modest reporter was placed by these majestic wisecracks in the luxurious hall of the Kremlin palace. Dyakonov even permitted himself to remark, “Comrade Sergo, I would like to answer your questions, but you don’t give me the time.” However, Ordzhonikidze was not to be deterred. According to the newspaper account he interrupted Dyakonov’s very brief report no less than fourteen times, in addition to which he spoke throughout to the director of the factory, i.e., one of his inferiors, using the familiar form of address. Is it that they are merely old chums? No. Dyakonov replies to his superior, always in a respectful tone, always addressing him not as “thou” but as “you.” ...

At the conference a great deal was said on the subject of a cultural attitude toward labour and toward people. But Ordzhonikidze – and he was not the only one – deported himself after the manner of the true-bred Russian industrial feudalist of the good old days, who jovially mocks his inferiors in the familiar “Hey, you there!” style. It is not difficult to imagine how Lenin would have reacted to such grandee manners! He was organically incapable of tolerating brazenness and vulgarity, all the more so in relation to a subordinate, younger comrade who can be easily rattled on the platform.

Incidentally, Ordzhonikidze deigned to mock Dyakonov quite benignly; but his tone clearly conveyed that he was very well able to deport himself otherwise. One cannot but recall in this connection an incident that occurred in 1923, when Ordzhonikidze, in the role of first dignitary of the Trans-Caucasian district, slapped a younger comrade in the face because the latter had dared to contradict him. Lenin on his sickbed gathered all the facts relating to this abomination and proposed that the Central Committee immediately remove Ordzhonikidze from all responsible posts and expel him from the party for two years. It was precisely this proposal that sealed the alliance between Ordzhonikidze and Stalin. But today, in the struggle for socialist “culture,” Ordzhonikidze does not have to restrain himself ...

It ought to be said that Kaganovich does all he can not to be outstripped by Ordzhonikidze. Not for nothing are they both – “beloved people’s commissars.” Kaganovich also addressed the railway machinists who spoke at the conference familiarly, entirely in the manner of a general addressing his orderly in the good old days. Kaganovich does it, if anything, more repulsively than Ordzhonikidze.

And Pravda, the central organ of the Communist (!?!) Party, prints these exemplars of grandee vulgarity so that all may learn and emulate.


On November 17, in the Kremlin, during the Stakhanovist conference, Voroshilov spoke of pilots “who master completely, in a real way, in a Stalinist way, the technique of aviation” (Pravda, November 20, 1935). Thus we suddenly learn that Stalin, in his perfection, is a master of aviation technique.

The said Voroshilov stated during the same speech: “Stalin, who has studied the question of arming the army in its full scope ... has said more than once that tanks, airplanes, cannons – all these are not soap, not matches, not pastry, these are means of defence, and therefore be so kind as to carry on the work as it should be carried on.” We learn that it is permissible to carry on the work of making matches and soap not “as it should be,” but in any way at all. Such talk is commonly known as “excessive zeal”!

It is quite comprehensible that Stalin should occupy himself with a close study of arming the army. But take Mikoyan, for example. Mikoyan, drawing profounder conclusions than Voroshilov, related at the same conference the following instructive anecdote. The Soviet plants produce for export “excellent candies, Cologne water, bologna,” etc., whereas the same stuffs of absolutely rotten quality are supplied for domestic consumption (we have just heard from Voroshilov that this is entirely permissible with reference to matches, soap, and pastry). Stalin, it turns out, gave Mikoyan a piece of advice: fool the workers by telling them that the goods are allegedly manufactured for export, and then place them in circulation on the domestic market. One is at a loss what to marvel at in the dignitary’s anecdote: the contempt toward the Soviet consumer, or Stalin’s resourcefulness, or Mikoyan’s excessive zeal.

But the said Mikoyan went much further. It turns out that when Mikoyan issued “an order to re-establish all the best grades of soap,” Stalin was not satisfied with this and he in turn issued an order (to Mikoyan!) to bring samples of toilet soap to a session of the Political Bureau. As a result, the faithful Mikoyan relates, “we received a special decision of the Central Committee ... on the assortment and formulas of soap.” Thus Stalin turns out to be not only an aviator but a skilled soap-maker.

This is the spirit, with a greater or lesser admixture of Mikoyanism, in which all speeches at the conference were delivered. The entire atmosphere is permeated through and through with the spirit of intolerable Byzantinism. No, gentlemen, the country cannot and will not long breathe in such an atmosphere! ...

A Chance Admission

Sarkisov, secretary of the Donets Basin, in his report on the Stakhanovist movement at a session of the CEC, provided two remarkable master strokes. According to him, the Stakhanovists themselves ought to write in the newspapers about Stakhanovism; “it comes out more clearly and simply, and another worker, reading this learns that there actually exists such a man.”

Molotov: “Correct.”

In these chance words there is revealed an annihilating truth: the readers one and all do not believe the official press; the workers do not doubt that the bureaucrats manufacture not only mythical statistics but also individuals. It is necessary to seek special means in order to compel workers to believe that “there actually exists such a man.” Such, we might remark, is one of the tasks of these solemn conferences of Stakhanovists in the Kremlin, these publications of photographs, etc.

The same Sarkisov adduced the following example of the rise in the productivity of labour in the coal mines: “A single driver is capable of taking care of two horses.” In addition to raising the productivity of labour, said he, there is an added benefit, in that “the horses can rest.” The driver, in any case, does not have to take a rest: the sweaty horse rests for him.

And Who Are the Judges?

Dimitri Sverchkov participated, as a Menshevik, in the Petrograd Soviet in the year 1905. As a right-wing Menshevik he was the courier for Avksentiev, minister of the interior under Kerensky. He took refuge from the October Revolution in White Guard Kuban, and thundered against the Bolsheviks in the local press there. After the Caucasus were cleaned up by the Red Army, Sverchkov safely joined the Bolsheviks. In 1922 he wrote a book, At the Dawn of the Revolution, in which, from his personal recollections, he reconstructed the period of the 1905 Soviet. This snappily written volume went through several editions. But in view of the fact that this book retails facts and not the latest fictions, it does not fill the bill today. On December 12, 1935, Pravda carried a wild notice about this old book, which allegedly “glorifies Trotsky.” In the meantime the said Dimitri Sverchkov has made a career for himself. today he is a member of the Supreme Court of the USSR. The hapless author immediately recognized the appraisal of his book to be “correct,” via a letter to the editors of Pravda. To be sure! In 1922 Sverchkov’s memory was temporarily impaired due to terrific personal experiences, but in 1935 he was completely restored to balance. In a newspaper article written on the occasion of the anniversary of the first soviet, Sverchkov supplies “recollections” of precisely the opposite nature to those he provided thirteen years ago in his book!

Such is the stuff Messrs. Judges are made of. Some of them, it may be, will in time have to take their seats on the witness chair as defendants ... most probably to answer charges of sycophancy, perjury, and other manifestations of human baseness ...

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Last updated on: 19.4.2007