L. Trotsky

On Lenin’s Program

(6 December 1939)

First Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike).

The New York Times,
New York City, N.Y.

Dear Sir:

On November 25, The New York Times published a letter signed by John Stuart Hamilton which begins with the words: “Leon Trotsky’s letter in The Times is replete with unproved insinuations.” A very serious accusation. You will permit me, I hope, to prove that it is false and to unmask in passing some of the methods by which Moscow and her agents bring into misapprehension an important section of public opinion throughout the whole world. This case is extremely favorable because the theoretic and political question touched upon in my letter has been, in and of itself, of great interest to every intelligent person regardless of his ideological, tendencies; and because Mr. Hamilton – through ignorance or carelessness – seized a wire highly charged with disagreeable surprises for him as well as for his retainer, Stalin.

My letter contained the affirmation that Lenin and the whole Bolshevik party without a single exception considered it impossible to build a socialist society in one country, all the more so in one as backward as Russia; and that only at the end of 1924 did Stalin make an about-face of 180 degrees thereby branding his viewpoint of yesterday as “counter-revolutionary Trotskyism.” The political reason for Stalin’s turn was that the Soviet bureaucracy had succeeded by that time in erecting their own “socialism,” that is, in firmly assuring their power and well-being ... in one country. This question long ago passed the bounds of internal Marxist discussion. It is not possible to understand either the evolution of the ruling party of the U.S.S.R. or the character of the present Soviet power’s foreign policy if clear account is not taken of the question as to how and why Stalin and company broke with the tradition of Bolshevism on the question of the international nature of socialist revolution.

A Single Quotation and That One Distorted

In order to demonstrate that there was no break whatsoever, Mr. Hamilton takes the following quotation from Lenin’s article written in 1915: “... The victory of socialism is possible, first in a few or even in a single capitalist country. The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and organized its own socialist production, would confront the rest of the capitalist world, attract to itself the oppressed classes of other countries ...” and so on. These lines express nothing more than the elementary idea that the socialist revolution cannot surge up at the same time in all the countries of the world but must inevitably begin “first” in a few or even in a single country.

By the “victory of socialism” Lenin means here, as is clear from the quotation, the conquest of power by the proletariat and the nationalization of the means of production but not at all the construction of an isolated socialist society. On the contrary, Lenin directly states that the conquest of power would place in the hands of the proletariat means for the development of revolution on an international scale. The whole argument of Mr. Hamilton like that of his Moscow teachers is based upon the identification of the victory of the socialist revolution with the construction of the socialist society. It is a grotesque sophism! More than once we called the October revolution a great “victory of socialism” but we saw in it only the beginning of a new historic epoch which over a period of generations would transform human society throughout the whole planet. The quotation contains no other meaning.

Is it moreover not astonishing that on the question of the construction of socialism in a single country Mr. Hamilton is incapable Of finding anything aside from a falsely interpreted quotation of 1915? Power was conquered by the Bolsheviks in 1917. During the five years in which Lenin remained at the head of the Soviet nation he expressed himself innumerable times in speeches and articles about the conditions for realizing a socialist society. In my History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. III, pp. 378–418, I gave dozens of Lenin’s pronouncements during the years 1917–1923. Permit me to quote a few of them here:

Instances of Lenin’s Real Position

When departing for Russia after the February revolution, Lenin wrote in a farewell letter to the Swiss workers:

“The Russian proletariat cannot with its own forces victoriously achieve the socialist revolution. But it can ... improve the situation in which its chief, its reliable ally, the European and American socialist proletariat, will enter the decisive battle.”

On April 23 (1918) he said at a session of the Moscow Soviet:

“Our backwardness has pushed us forward, and we shall perish if we cannot hold out until we meet a mighty support on the part of the insurrectionary workers of other countries.”

“For us it is easy to begin a revolution and harder to continue it,” he said in May (1918). “In the west it is harder to begin a revolution but it will be easier to continue.”

On the third anniversary of the October revolution, Lenin confirmed this:

“We always staked our plan upon an international revolution and this was unconditionally right ... We always emphasized the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution.”

At the tenth Congress of the Russian Party, March 1921, Lenin explained:

“In Russia we have a minority of workers in industry and an enormous majority of petty land-owners. In such a country the social revolution could achieve its final success only ... on condition of its timely support by a social revolution in one or several advanced countries.”

I limit myself to these few quotations not because they are the most striking – far from that – but because they are the shortest.

The Dewey Commission Decision on This

Mr. Hamilton refers to the fact that Lenin’s quotation of 1915 is “familiar” to me and that consequently I am hiding it consciously from the readers of The New York Times. As a matter of fact, I am acquainted not only with this quotation but with Lenin’s work in general and with his whole historical conception. For the agents of the Kremlin, Lenin is reduced to a falsified quotation from 1911. The thing went so far that Prosecutor Vyshinsky introduced the 1915 quotation in his indictment against me and others.

This necessarily made it the object of a special research by the Commission of Dd. John Dewey in its investigation of the Moscow trials. One can disagree with John Dewey and his collaborators in the sphere of philosophy and politics, that is precisely the case with me, but there is scarcely one reasonable man in the world who would dare to deny the outstanding intellectual honesty of John Dewey, without mentioning his capacity to analyze textual matters. His collaborators: Professor Edward Alsworth Ross, John Chamberlain, Suzanne LaFollette, and the others are people of high intellectual and moral qualifications. A more authoritative investigation, especially for American public opinion could not have been made. Here are the findings of the Commission on this particular point:

“Lenin’s article (1915) ... can be taken to mean that socialism can be definitively established in a single country only if one leaves out the crucial phrase ‘at the beginning’ (or ‘first’ in the quotation cited by Mr. Hamilton) and wrenches the quotation from its context in the matter under discussion: (2) that Trotsky and Lenin are in essential agreement that the socialist revolution can begin on a national basis but that it will be completed internationally ...”

And further:

“A careful study of the relevant historical material has convinced this Commission that Lenin’s actual view on this subject was that while the socialist revolution could triumph initially in a single country, it could not be ultimately successful without the aid of successful socialist revolutions elsewhere ... We are not in the least concerned with the correctness of Lenin’s view. What does concern us is (1) that the Prosecutor falsified Lenin’s position; and (2) that Trotsky, far from opposing Lenin on the question of ‘socialism in one country’ was in essential agreement with him. Obviously, if Trotsky had not held this position he would have opposed instead of vigorously supporting the October Revolution.” (My emphasis – L.T.) (Not Guilty. Report of Dewey Commission, Harper & Brothers; New York. 1938. pp. 343, 348)

Mr. Hamilton thus has only repeated the long-ago unmasked falsification of Prosecutor Vyshinsky.

How Stalin Tried to Change Lenin’s Thought

The initiative for the falsification belongs however not to Vyshinsky but to Stalin. In April 1924 in a pamphlet entitled The Foundations of Leninism Stalin wrote:

“The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country alone does not, per se, mean the complete victory of socialism. The chief task, the organization of socialist production, still lies ahead. Can this task be performed, can the final victory of socialism be gained, in one country alone, and without the joint efforts of the proletarians in several of the most advanced countries? No, this is out of the question. The history of the Russian Revolution shows that the proletarian strength of one country alone can overthrow the bourgeoisie of that country. But for the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the strength of one country (especially a peasant country, such as Russia) does not suffice. For this, the united strength of the proletarians in several of the most advanced countries is needed ... (Leninism, by Joseph Stalin. New York: International Publishers, 1928. pp. 52–53.)

Stalin concluded this explanation with the words:

“Such, in broad outline, are the characteristics of Lenin’s theory of the proletarian revolution.”

By the end of the same year he changed this explanation to read as follows:

“Having consolidated its power, and taking the lead of the peasantry, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society.”

Can and must! And this diametrically contradictory explanation of Lenin’s position ends with the same words:

“Such, in broad outline, are the characteristics of Lenin’s theory of the proletarian revolution.”

Thus during the elapse of half a year Stalin ascribed to Lenin two diametrically opposed conceptions on the most fundamental question of revolution. Yagoda, the chief of the G.P.U. was commissioned to prove the correctness of the new point of view.

Mr. Hamilton tried to accuse me of the concealment of one quotation from Lenin, – we have just seen with what success. I accuse the Comintern school not of the concealment of one quotation but of the systematic falsification of ideas, facts, quotations in the interests of the Kremlin ruling clique. A codified collection of such a series of falsifications, The History of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R., has been translated into all the languages of civilized mankind, and published in the U.S.S.R. and abroad in tens of millions of copies. I take upon myself to prove before any impartial commission that in the library of humanity there is not a single book more dishonest than this History, which serves now not only as the basis of political propaganda but also as the directive for Soviet painting, sculpture, theater, films, and so on. Unfortunately one can be certain in advance that my opponents will not accept my challenge.

December 6, 1939
Coyoacan, D.F.

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 18 July 2016