Leon Trotsky

Zinoviev And Kamenev

Written: 1937
First Published: The Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 7, August 1941, pages 222-223
Translated: By The Fourth International
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2008. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License [You can freely copy, distribute, and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.]

This article, now published for the first time in English, was part of a journal kept by Trotsky during his imprisonment in Norway and his deportation to Mexico, in the period of the Moscow Trials. Other sections of the journal were published in the June, 1941 issue of FOURTH INTERNATIONAL. This sketch of Zinoviev and Kamenev forms part of a longer refutation of their “confessions.”

At this point I hear a question: “But can you say with complete certainty the self-same thing about Zinoviev and Kamenev that you say about yourself? Both of them made no few turns, and squandered no few principles in the last period of their lives. Why can’t we grant in that case that, despairing of the consequences of their own ca pitulations, they really did for a moment fling themselves to the side of terror? Later, in due course of their final capitulation, they consented to meet the GPU half-way and to entangle you in their illstarred designs, as a service to themselves and to the regime with which they once again sought to make peace.” This hypothesis has entered the minds of some of my friends. I have weighed it from all sides, without the slightest preconceptions or considerations of personal interest. And each time I came to the conclusion that it was utterly unfounded.

Zinoviev and Kamenev are two profoundly different types. Zinoviev is an agitator. Kamenev-a propagandist. Zinoviev was guided in the main by a subtle political instinct. Kamenev was given to reasoning and analyzing. Zinoviev was always inclined to fly off at a tangent. Kamenev, on the contrary, erred on the side of excessive caution. Zinoviev was entirely absorbed by politics, cultivating no other interests and appetites. In Kamenev there sat a sybarite and an aesthete. Zinoviev was vindictive. Kamenev was good nature personified. I do not know what their mutual relations were in emigration. In 1917 they were brought close together for a time by their opposition to the October revolution. In the first few years after the victory, Kamenev’s attitude toward Zinoviev was rather ironical. They were subsequently drawn together by their opposition to me, and later, to Stalin. Throughout the last thirteen years of their lives, they marched side by side, and their names were always mentioned together.

With all their individual differences, outside of their common schooling gained by them in emigration under Lenin’s guidance, they were endowed with almost an identical range of intellect and will. Kamenev’s analytical capacity served to complement Zinoviev’s instinct; and they would jointly explore for a common decision. The more cautious Kamenev would sometimes allow Zinoviev to carry him along farther than he had wanted to go hiinself, but in the long run they found themselves side by side along the same line of retreat. In the stature of their personalities they were peers, and they supplemented each other by their dissimilarities. Both of them were deeply and unreservedly devoted to the cause of socialism. Such is the explanation for their tragic union.

They Lacked Sufficient Character

There is no reason to impel me to take upon myself any political or moral responsibility for Zinoviev and Kamenev. Discounting a brief interval—from 1926 to 1927—they were always my bitter adversaries. Personally, I did no place much trust in them. Each of them, to be sure, was Stalin’s intellectual superior. But they lacked sufficient character. Lenin had precisely this trait in mind when he wrote in his “Testament” that it was “no accident” that Zinoviev and Kamenev were opponents of the insurection in the autumn of 1917. They failed to withstand the onset of bourgeois public opinion. When deep-going social shifts in the Soviet Union began to crystalize, combined with the formation of a privileged bureaucracy, it wa “no accident” that Zinoviev and Kamenev allowed themselves to be carried away into the camp of Thermidor (1922-1926).

They far excelled their then allies, including Stalin, in the theoretic understanding of the processes taking place. Herein lies the explanation for their attempt to break with the bureaucracy and to oppose it. In July 1926 at the Plenum of the Central Committee, Zinoviev declared that “on the question of apparatus-bureaucratic repression Trotsky was correct as against us.” Zinoviev, at that time, acknowledged that his mistake in waging a struggle against me was even “more dangerous” than his mistake in 1917! However, the pressure of the privileged stratum reached illimitable proportions. It was “no accident” that Zinoviev and Kamenev capitulated to Stalin at the end of 1927 and carried with them those who were younger and less authoritative. Thereafter they expended no little effort in blackening the Opposition.

But in 1930-1932 when the country’s entire organism was convulsed by the frightful consequences of the forced and unbridled collectivization, Zinoviev and Kamenev, like so many other capitulators anxiously lifted their heads and began discussing in whispers among themselves the dangers of the new state policy. They were caught reading a critical document which emanated from the ranks of the Right Opposition. For this terrible crime they were expelled from the party-no other charge was brought against them!-and, to top it off, were exiled. In 1933, Zinoviev and Kamenev not only recanted once again but prostrated themselves before Stalin. No slander was too vile for them to cast against the Opposition and especially at me personally. Their self-disarmament rendered them completely helpless before the bureaucracy that could henceforth demand of them any confession whatever. Their subsequent fate was a result of these progressive capitulations and self -abasements.

They Succumbed to Unprecedented Pressure

Yes, they lacked sufficient character. These words, however, should not be taken in their most simplified sense. The resistivity of matter is measured by the force required to destroy it. I have had the occasion to hear tranquil petty bourgeois tell me in the days between the beginnings of the trial and my internment: “It’s impossible to understand Zinoviev... He is so lacking in character!” And I would reply: “Have you yourselves experienced the full weight of the pressure to which he has been subjected for a number of years?” Unin’telligent in the extreme are the comparisons, so widespread in intellectual circles, of the conduct in court of Danton, Robespierre and others. These were the instances of revolutionary tribunes who found the knife of justice suspended over them, directly in the midst of the arena of struggle; at a time when they were in the full flower of their strength, with their nervous system almost untouched and, at the same time, when they despaired of all hope of salvation.

Even more inappropriate are comparisons with Dimitrov’s conduct in the Leipzig trial. To be sure, alongside of Torgier, Dimitrov made a favorable showing by his resoluteness and courage. But revolutionists in various lands and especially in Czarist Russia have shown no less firmness under incomparably more difficult conditions. Dimitrov was facing the most vicious class enemy. There was no evidence against him, nor could there have been. The State apparatus of the Nazis was stilt in its formative stages, and not adapted to totalitarian frameups. Dimitrov had the support of the gigantic apparatus of the Soviet state and the Comintern. From all the corners of the earth the sympathies of the popular masses went out to him. His friends were present at the trial. To become a “hero” one need only have had ordinary human courage.

But was this the situation of Zinoviev and Kamenev when they faced the GPU and the court? For ten years they had been enveloped by clouds of slander paid for in heavy gold. For ten years they had swayed between life and death, first in a political sense, then in a moral sense, and lastly in a physical sense. Can one find in all past history examples of such systematic, refined and fiendish destruction of spines, nerves and all the fibers of the soul? Zinoviev or Kamenev would have had more than ample character for a tranquil period. But the epoch of grandiose social and political convulsions demanded an extraordinary firmness of these men, whose abilities secured them a leading place in the revolution. The disproportion between their abilities and their wills led to tragic results.

The history of my relations with Zinoviev and Kamenev can be traced without difficulty in documents, articles and books. The Bulletin of the Russian Opposition (1929-1937) alone sufficiently defines that abyss which decisively separated us from the day of their capitulation. Between us and them there were no ties whatever, no relations, no correspondence, nor even any attempts in this direction-there were none nor could there have been. In my letters and articles, I invariably advised the Oppositionists, in the interests of political and moral self-preservation, to break ruthlessly with the capitulators. Consequently, whatever I am able to say concerning the views and plans of Zinoviev-Kamenev for the last eight years of their lives can in no case be construed as a deposition of a witness. But I have in my possession a sufficient number of documents and facts which are easily verifiable; I am so well acquainted with the participants, their characters, their relations, and the entire background as to be able to state with absolute assurance that the accusation of terrorism against Zinoviev and Kamenev is from beginning to end a contemptible, police-manufactured frameup, without an iota of truth in it.

The Moscow Trial Records Reveal the Lie

The mere reading of the report of the court-proceedings confronts every reflecting person with the following enigma: But who are these extraordinary accused? Are they old and experienced politicians, struggling in the name of a definite program and capable of combining the means with the end or are they victims of inquisition, whose conduct is determined not by their own reason or will but by the interests of the inquisitors? Are we dealing with normal people whose psychology is an inner unity reflected in words and actions, or with clinical cases who choose the least rational course, and who motivate their choice by the most insensate arguments?

These questions relate above all to Zinoviev and Kamenev. Just what were their motives-and these motives must have been exceptionally forceful-that guided them in their purported terror? At the first trial in January 1935, Zinoviev and Kamenev, while denying their participation in the assassination of Kirov, did acknowledge, by way of compensation, their “moral responsibility” for the terrorist tendencies, and in doing so they cited as the incentive for their oppositional activity their urge to restore capitalism.” If we had nothing else to go by except this inhuman political “confession,” it would be sufficient to expose the lie of Stalinist justice. And indeed who is capable of believing that Kamenev and Zinoviev were so fanatically set upon that capitalism which they themselves had overthrown that they were ready to sacrifice their own as well as other heads to attain this goal? The confession of the accused in January 1935 revealed Stalin’s own order so crudely that it jarred even upon the sensibilities of the least exacting “friends.”

In the trial of the sixteen (August 1936) the “restoration of capitalism” is completely discarded. The impelling motive to terror is the naked “lust for power.” The indictment rejects one version in favor of another as if it were a question of the alternative solutions of a chess problem, wherein the interchange of solutions is effected in silence and without any commentaries. Following the state prosecutor, the accused now repeat that they had no program, but that in its place they were seized by an irresistible desire to capture the commanding heights of the state, regardless of the price. But we should like to ask: Just how could the assassination of the “leaders” have delivered power into the hands of people who had managed through a series of recantations to undermine confidence in themselves, to degrade themselves, to trample themselves into mud and thereby forever to deprive themselves of a possibility of playing any leading political role in the future?

If the goal of Zinoviev and Kamenev is incredible, their means are still more irrational. In the most carefully thoughtout depositions of Kamenev it is underscored with especial insistence that the Opposition had completely isolated itself from the masses, had lost its principles, and was thereby deprived of any hope of gaining influence in the future; and it was precisely for this reason that the Opposition came to the idea of terror. It is not hard to understand how advantageous such a self-characterization is to Stalin: it is his order that is being fulfilled-that is absolutely self-evident. But while the depositions of Kamenev are suited for the purpose of debasing the Opposition, they are utterly unsuited for the justification of terror. It is precisely in conditions of political isolation that terrorist struggle signifies swift self-destruction for a revolutionary faction. We Russians are only too well aware of this from the example of Naroduaya Volya (1879-1883), as well as from the example of the Social-Revolutionists in the period of reaction (1907-1909). Zinoviev and Kamenev were not only brought up on these lessons, but they themselves commented innumerable times upon them in the party press. Could they, old Bolsheviks, have forgotten and rejected the A.B.C. truths of the Russian revolutionary movement only because they wanted power so very much? To believe this, is utterly impossible.

return return return return return

Last updated on: 15.4.2007