Julii Martov

Leon Trotsky

Political Profiles


(March 1919)

WITHOUT doubt Martov represents one of the most tragic figures in the revolutionary movement. A talented writer, a resourceful politician, a penetrating mind and a graduate of the school of Marxism, Martov will nevertheless enter the history of the workers’ revolution as an enormous minus. His thought lacked courage, his incisiveness lacked will. Tenacity was no substitute. It destroyed him. Marxism is a method of objective analysis and at the same time a prerequisite for revolutionary action. It presupposes a balance of thought and will which can communicate physical force to thought itself and can discipline the will with the dialectical coordination of the subjective and the objective. Deprived of the will’s mainspring Martov’s thought consistently directs all the force of its analysis towards theoretically justifying the line of least resistance. There scarcely is or could be at any time another socialist politician who could exploit Marxism with such talent to justify deviations from and direct betrayals of it. In this respect Martov could be called without any irony a virtuoso. Hilferding, Bauer, Renner and Kautsky himself though more educated in their own fields were in comparison with Martov but clumsy apprentices when it was a question of the political falsification of Marxism i.e. the theoretical presentation of passivity, adaptation and capitulation as the supreme forms of the irreconcilable class struggle.

A revolutionary instinct doubtless lay in Martov. His first reaction to great events always revealed a revolutionary aspiration. But after every such effort his thought not being sustained by the mainspring of will power disintegrated and sank back. This could be observed at the first glimpses of the waves of revolution (Iskra), and then in 1905, then again at the start of the imperialist war and in part yet again at the beginning of the 1917 revolution. But it was in vain. The resourcefulness and flexibility of his thought was expended entirely on evading the fundamental questions and seeking out yet more pretexts in favour of what was indefensible. Dialectics became in his hands the most refined casuistry. An unusual, quite cat-like tenacity, the willfulness of indecision and the stubbornness of hesitation allowed him for months and years on end to adhere to the most contradictory and insoluble positions. Though revealing in the face of the decisive historical tremors a desire to take up a revolutionary position and arousing hopes, each time he was disappointed: his sins were not forgiven. And as a result he slid still further downhill. Finally Martov became the most cultivated, the most refined, the most elusive and the most incisive politician of the stupid, banal and cowardly petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. And the fact that he himself did not see nor understand this indicates how mercilessly his Mosaic incisiveness was laughing at him. Nowadays in a period of the greatest tasks and possibilities that history has at any time opened up and posed, Martov is stretched between Longuet and Chernov. It is sufficient to mention these names in order to gauge the depth of the ideological and political fall of this man who was more greatly gifted than many others.

World Revolution, Vol.1, March 18, 1919/April 24, 1922

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Last updated on: 10.4.2007