Leon Trotsky

Political Profiles

In memory of Plekhanov

(June 1918)

(Speech by comrade Trotsky at the 17th joint session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Moscow Soviet, the All-Russian and Moscow Central Council of Trade Unions, and representatives of all Moscow trade unions’ factory-shop committees and other workers organizations on June 4, 1918.)

COMRADES! We are living in an epoch when a particular man’s life seems nothing or almost nothing in the colossal whirlpool of events. During the war millions perished and died, and hundreds of thousands perished during the revolution. In such a movement and such a struggle of the human masses an individual personality is insignificant. Nevertheless even in a period of the greatest mass events there are those particular deaths which do not permit passing by in silence without attention. Such is the death of Plekhanov.

At this great meeting, packed to overflowing, there is not a single person who does not know the name of Plekhanov.

Plekhanov belonged to that generation of the Russian revolution and to that stage of its development when only small bands of intellectuals had joined the revolutionary struggle. Plekhanov passed through “Zemlya i Volya”, and “Cherny Peredel” and in 1883 he organized together with his closest colleagues, Vera Zasulich and Pavel Axelrod the “Emancipation of Labour” group, which became the first cell of Russian Marxism, though initially only an ideological one. Although there is not a single comrade here who does not know of Plekhanov’s name, amongst us Marxists of the older generation there is not a single one who has not studied the works of Plekhanov.

It was he who 34 years before October proved that the Russian Revolution would only triumph in the form of a revolutionary movement of workers. He strove to place the fact of the class movement of the proletariat at the root of the revolutionary struggle of the first circles of intellectuals. It is this that we learnt from him and in this lies the foundation not only of Plekhanov’s activity but also of the whole of our revolutionary struggle. To this we have remained true right up to the present day. In the subsequent development of the revolution Plekhanov abandoned that class which he had so excellently served in the grimmest period of reaction. There can be no greater tragedy for a political leader who has tirelessly proved through the decades that the Russian revolution could develop and reach victory only as a working-class revolution, no greater tragedy for such a leader, than to refuse to take part in the working class movement at its most crucial historical stage, in the period of the victorious revolution. Plekhanov ended up in such a position. He did not spare any blows against Soviet power, against the proletarian regime nor against that party of communists to which I and many of you belong and of course we answered him blow for blow. And before Plekhanov’s open grave we remain true to our banner, we are making no concessions to Plekhanov the compromiser and the nationalist, and we are not taking back a single one of the blows we struck nor demanding of our opponents that he spare us. But now when the fact that Plekhanov is no longer among the living has stabbed our consciousness we can sense in ourselves alongside an irreconcilable revolutionary hostility to all those who stand in the way of the working class, sufficient ideological breadth to recall Plekhanov now not as the one we fought against with every firmness but as the one from whom we learnt the alphabet of revolutionary Marxism. Plekhanov did not place in the weaponry of the working class a single sword he had sharpened or a single spear that does not mercilessly strike home. In the struggle with our class enemies and with their conscious and unconscious hirelings as in the struggle with Plekhanov himself in the last period of his life we have made use of and shall go on making use of the best part of the spiritual legacy which Plekhanov has left to us. He is dead but the ideas which he forged in the best days of his life are immortal just as the proletarian revolution is immortal. He is dead but we, his pupils, are living and fighting under the banner of Marxism, under the banner of the proletarian revolution. And before we turn to today’s struggle against oppression and exploitation, against lies and slander, I call on all of you to silently and solemnly honour the memory of Plekhanov and stand up.

Archives, 1918

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Last updated on: 10.4.2007