Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Lenin and Martov

Dear Editors,

I noticed a few small errors of fact in the Nils Dahl memoir, published in your issue of Summer 1989 (Volume 2, no.2). The first concerns a reference to the Berlin transport workers’ strike that occurred in the autumn of 1932. Dahl says that “in Prussia there was a Labour [i.e. Social Democratic Party – RB] government which sent troops against the strikers.” This was not so. The minority Social Democratic administration had been ousted by Chancellor von Papen’s legal coup d’etat on 20 July 1932. Prime Minister Otto Braun was deposed, along with all his SPD cabinet colleagues, and replaced by a commissioner, the conservative mayor of Essen, Dr Bracht. (The removal of the Prussian Social Democrats had been a shared objective of the Communist Party and Nazi leaders, and had led to their joining forces the previous year in a referendum for this very purpose.)

Dahl is also mistaken in describing the Black Front as being led by Gregor Strasser. It was in fact a left Nazi organisation created by Gregor’s brother Otto in 1930, following the latter’s break from Hitler. Otto Strasser had objected to Hitler’s policy of courting support from big business, and broke away to form what he considered to be a pure Nazi movement. Otto Strasser fled Germany after the Nazi takeover, thus avoiding the fate that befell his brother in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ of June 1934.

The two other errors may not be those of Dahl but of Trotsky himself. Dahl recalls Trotsky referring to Lenin’s “first revolutionary government” as including Socialist Revolutionaries and ”other people, some of whom had rather Anarchistic leanings”. The first Bolshevik government in fact contained no other parties. The Left SRs (but never any Anarchists ... they would shortly be joining other non-Bolshevik left groups in either exile, premature graves or labour camps) became the Bolsheviks’ very junior partners in a coalition formed two weeks later, and resigned after their opposition to the Treaty of Brest Litovsk in March 1918.

The other error concerns Lenin’s relationship with Martov. According to Dahl, Trotsky recalled that Lenin expelled Martov from the USSR. That is not so. Martov left the USSR in September 1920 by his own choice, on a Soviet passport made out and stamped by the appropriate authorities. Lenin authorised his departure, but did not order it. It is also certain that Martov did not go to Switzerland, as Dahl says, but to Berlin, where he died of TB in April 1923.

I cannot comment on the assertion that Lenin secretly sent money to finance the Menshevik newspaper Martov was helping to edit, Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik. What are on record are Lenin’s characterisations of Martov’s policies and activities in his last years of exile. In his pamphlet The Tax in Kind, which outlined the principles of the New Economic Policy, Lenin describes Martov as one of a group of “servile accomplices of the white guards”, as guilty of “placing the masses at the mercy of whiteguard terrorism”, and of being one of several “abominable agents and out and out servitors of reaction” (an anticipation of ‘Social Fascism’?). Martov himself Lenin called “nothing but a philistine Narcissus” for defending the Kronstadt rebels and concluded that “the place for Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries ... is not at a non-party conference but in prison, or on foreign journals, side by side with the white guards ... we were glad to let Martov go abroad” (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 32, pp.359-362). A year later, at the Eleventh Party Congress, Lenin was demanding that “for the public manifestations of Menshevism, our courts must pass the death sentence, otherwise they are not our courts, but God knows what ...” (Collected Works, Volume 33, p.282).

Was Lenin financing Martov’s ‘white guard’ journalism, as footnote 11 asserts (“there can be no doubt about its authenticity”)? Despite Lenin’s undoubted lingering affection for his old Iskra comrade, I do not think so. But neither do I think Lenin believed a single one of the insults he hurled at him. Nevertheless, one must ask the question ... is this the behaviour of someone who, to quote Dahl, “regarded criticism as valuable”?

Readers might be interested to know that I have written a play on this theme, and hope to have it produced shortly.

Robin Blick

Editor’s note: Robin Blick is almost certainly mistaken here. We now know that it was Nadezhda Krupskaya who was responsible for sending Lenin’s Testament after his death to the Menshevik press. She would not have done this if she did not know that it was in accordance with his wishes.

Updated by ETOL: 7.7.2003