Leon Trotsky

Tell Workers the Truth
About Stalin’s Hounding of
Revolutionists in the Soviet Union

(January 1936)

Written: 15 January 1936.
First Published: The New Militant [New York], 1 February 1936.
Translated: The New Militant.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2005; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The letters and documents recently published by Comrades Tarov and Ciliga have served to greatly stimulate interest in the repressions of the Soviet bureaucracy against the revolutionary fighters. Eighteen years after the October Revolution, at a time when, in accordance with the official doctrine, socialism has conquered “finally and irrevocably” in the USSR, revolutionists who are unwaveringly devoted to the cause of communism but who do not recognize the dogma of the infallibility of the Stalinist clique are clapped into jail for years; incarcerated in concentration camps; compelled to do forced labour; subjected, if they attempt to resist, to physical torture; shot in the event of real or fictitious attempts to escape; or deliberately driven to suicide. When hundreds of prisoners, in protest against the intolerable harassment, resort to the terrible means of a hunger strike, they are subjected to forced feeding, only in order to be placed later under even worse conditions. When individual revolutionists, finding no other means of protest, cut their veins, the GPU agents, i.e., the agents of Stalin, “save” the suicides only in order then to demonstrate with redoubled bestiality that there is no real salvation for them.

Into this horrible picture, Comrade Ciliga’s account introduces an element that is especially tragic. He was one of the former leaders of the Yugoslav section of the Comintern. Under any other conditions the differences of opinion between the leaders of this party would have been settled by means of discussion, by a convention, and, in extreme cases, by a split. But not in the Comintern. That section of the national Central Committee which at any given moment executes the instructions of the Moscow clique, transmits a request to the latter to rid it of the opposition. Stalin orders the Oppositionists to Moscow, where, after a brief attempt to “convince” them, they are placed under arrest, clapped into solitary confinement, and subjected to other forms of physical extirpation. Among the hundreds who were killed as being “implicated” in the Kirov case – i.e., in most instances being in no way involved in this case – a number of Bulgarian and other foreign Oppositionists were shot. The right of asylum for revolutionary refugees is thus conditioned upon their binding themselves to renounce all right to think independently. A call to Moscow “for a conference” implies time and again a treacherous trap. If the “criminal” is beyond grasp, then his wife, daughter, or son are seized. In these cases, the agents of Stalin utilize methods worthy of the best qualified American gangsters.

The so-called Communist parties not only cover up these unprecedented villainies of Messrs. Marshals and Super-Marshals against the revolutionists – villainies in which the leaders of the various sections of the Comintern take direct part – but the press of the Comintern seeks on top of this to turn the edge of the accusation against the victims themselves. Involved here, you see, are not mere Oppositionists, not Bolsheviks who rebel against Stalin’s arbitrariness or the patriotic degeneration of the Comintern. No; involved, if you please, are “terrorists,” conspirators against the sacred person of the Leader or one of his marshals, and finally, agents of foreign espionage, the hirelings of Hitler or the Mikado. Zinoviev and Kamenev have been caught red-handed in a horrible crime: they criticized (within four walls!) the adventuristic tempos of collectivization that led to the senseless destruction of millions of people. A genuinely proletarian court, investigating the case, would have indubitably clapped in jail the adventurists-collectivizers. But the court of Stalin and Yagoda sentenced Zinoviev and Kamenev to ten years imprisonment on the charge of – a terrorist act in which they were not and could not in any way be implicated!

Not more than two years ago the Social-Democratic, labour and trade union press eagerly seized upon revelations not only of the actual but also of the fictitious crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy, in order thus to compromise the October Revolution as a whole. At the present moment a complete about-face has occurred along this line, in Europe at any rate. The policy of the social-patriotic “united front” has become transformed into a conspiracy of mutual concealment. Even in those countries where no united front exists because of the insignificance of the Communist parties, the reformist organizations prefer not to quarrel with the Kremlin upper crust who, today, after they had inscribed upon their banner the defence of the League of Nations and of the democratic fatherland, are immeasurably closer to them than the revolutionary internationalists who are being persecuted. The “defence of the USSR” serves of course as a pious justification for passing in silence over the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In this connection, we ought to mention also a special category of the professional “friends” of the Kremlin: intellectuals in search of a gilt-edged ideal, writers who have taken stock of the superiorities of the State Publishing House, lawyers who are hungry for publicity, and, finally, ordinary amateurs who are attracted by free trips and anniversary banquets. These people, parasites in most cases, then eagerly broadcast throughout both hemispheres the inventions and insinuations that the agents of the GPU buzz into the ears of their “friends” during heroic suppers given in honour of the October Revolution. Suffice it to refer only to the unworthy role assumed by so outstanding a writer as Romain Rolland!

The fraternization between the heads of the degenerated Comintern and the heads of the Second International evokes, however, a salutary reaction as well. An ever greater number of advanced workers are beginning to open their eyes. Such “socialist morals” as constant crawling on the belly before the “leaders,” Byzantine flattery, the creation of castes of “red” colonels, generals, and marshals, the reactionary cult of the petty-bourgeois family, down to the resurrection of the Christmas tree – all these compel thinking workers in all countries to surmise to what profound extent the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union has managed to degenerate. On this soil of awakened critical consciousness are falling today the accounts of the bestialities perpetrated by the bureaucracy upon those revolutionists who are a threat to its sacred privileges, and who stubbornly refuse to accept the gospel of Dimitrov, Litvinov, and the League of Nations.

The number of such “criminals” is constantly increasing. In the course of the latest purge of the ruling party of the USSR (the latter part of 1935) there were expelled, insofar as one can gather from the official data from ten to twenty thousand “Trotskyists” alone. All the expelled in this category are, as a general rule, immediately arrested and subjected to conditions that used to prevail in the tsarist hard-labour camps. These facts must be made known to the working class of the entire world!

To be sure, even at present there are still to be found in the West not a few activists in the workers’ movement who sincerely ask themselves the following question: But will not exposures of this sort bring harm to the Soviet Union? Is there not the danger that together with the bathwater the baby, too, may be thrown out of the tub? These fears, however, have no basis in reality.

Can the exposures of the Stalinist bestialities perpetrated upon revolutionists damage the Soviet Union in the eyes of the bourgeois world? Just the contrary is the case, for the entire bourgeoisie, including the White Guard émigrés, sees the best pledge of the “normalization” of the Soviet régime in Stalin’s offensive of extermination against the Bolshevik-Leninists and other revolutionists. The serious and responsible capitalist press of the entire world is unanimous in applauding the struggle against the “Trotskyists.” Small wonder! For Litvinov, side by side with the representatives of world reaction, sits in the Geneva Commission for the struggle against “terrorism.” Involved here, of course, is not the question of the struggle against governmental terror against revolutionary workers, but the question of the struggle against individual avengers, aiming at crowned and uncrowned tyrants. Marxists, as is well known, have irreconcilably rejected and continue to reject the method of individual terror. But this has never prevented us from always siding with William Tell and not with the Austrian despot Gessler. Soviet diplomacy, on the other hand, is now discussing jointly with the Gesslers how best to exterminate the Tells. By his participation in the international stalking of terrorists, Stalin supplements in the best manner possible his own terroristic stalking of the Bolsheviks. It is self-evident that in the eyes of the League of Nations, in the eyes of the American government, even in the eyes of Hitler, our exposures will only strengthen Stalin’s already quite extensive credit.

As regards the reformist labour bureaucracy in bourgeois countries, there is no reason to have any fears either. The reformist bureaucrats are quite well informed about the facts of the Stalinist repressions, but during the last two years they have deliberately and maliciously passed over them in silence. In the eyes of Leon Blum, Otto Bauer, Sir Walter Citrine, Vandervelde, and Company, our exposures will not, in any case, lower their esteem for the Soviet bureaucracy; involved here is a friendship that is calculated, and this friendship is directed first of all against the left, the revolutionary wing.

There still remain the masses of workers. In their majority, the workers are sincerely and honestly devoted to the Soviet Union, although they do not always know how to express this devotion in action. The masses find it all the more difficult to find a correct road on this question because bureaucratic apparatuses are raised over them, duping them incessantly and skilfully. Thus, the matter is reduced to the following simple question: Are we for our part duty-bound to tell them the truth? For a Marxist, to pose this question is to answer it. The revolution has no need of blind friends, or allies whose eyes are bandaged.

The workers are not children. They are capable of appraising at one and the same time both the colossal conquests of the October Revolution and the onerous historical heritage that has coagulated on its body in the shape of a frightful bureaucratic ulcer. A revolutionist who is afraid to tell the masses what he knows himself is absolutely worthless. We leave double bookkeeping to the patriotic parliamentarians, parlour idealists, and priests. Will the “Friends of the Soviet Union” and other philistines perhaps say that we are motivated by “factional” and even “personal” malice? Of course they’ll say it. But we have not yet become accustomed – thank goodness – to look upon philistines and their public opinion otherwise than with contempt. By embellishing the present it is impossible to prepare the future. Loyalty to the October Revolution demands mercilessly exposing, and, if need be, cauterizing its sores. lies serve as the instrument of the possessing classes. Today, lies have become the instrument of the Soviet bureaucracy as well. The oppressed need the truth. The workers must know the whole truth about the Soviet Union, so that impending events do not catch them off guard.

Through the medium of all honest publications, it is necessary to broadcast as far and wide as possible the news of the vile repressions to which irreproachable proletarian revolutionists are subjected in the Soviet Union. Our chief and immediate task therefore is: to alleviate the fate of tens of thousands of the victims of bureaucratic vindictiveness. It is necessary to come to their assistance by all the possible means that flow from the situation and from our burning desire to save the heroic fighters. Fulfilling this task, we will thereby assist the toilers of the Soviet Union and of the entire world to take a new step forward on their road to emancipation.

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Last updated on: 20.4.2007