Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

Out of the Shadows

Trotsky at the ‘Cinema House’ in Moscow

The piece that follows is reproduced to illustrate the forms in which the present ferment of ideas inside the Soviet Union expresses itself on the significance of the career of Leon Trotsky in the history of the Communist movement.

The first meeting to reaffirm Trotsky’s role is described in Pierre Broué’s Voyage a Moscou in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.36, December 1988, pp.3-7, and an expanded version appears in English as A Trotskyist in Moscow, Carl Finamore (ed.), Gorbachev’s USSR: Is Stalinism Dead?, San Francisco 1989, pp.91-99. Other accounts of this meeting deriving from the same source can be found in Socialist Action (USA), January 1989, Memorial Group Holds Moscow Meeting to Demand the Rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky, in Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, no.61 , March 1989, and Trotsky's Rehabilitation Demanded in Moscow', in International Courier (IWL), Volume 1, no.3, November 1989.

Our article translates Trotsky A la Maison du Cinema by ‘A Reader’, in the French weekly Lutte Ouvrière, no.1124, 22 December 1989, whose editors deserve our gratitude. Vasetsky’s reply to the Pamyat intervention is to be printed in the History Workshop journal, as announced beforehand by Martin Bailey in Revealed: Why Trotsky Turned Down a Chance to Become Lenin’s Heir, Observer, 25 March 1990.

Further useful material that throws light upon the subjects dealt with here can be found in Susan Weissman, Back in the USSR, part I, Against the Current, no.22, September/October 1989, Trotsky’s Grandson in Moscow, Workers Vanguard, 31 March 1989. Marilyn Vogt-Downey, Trotsky's Voice Heard Again in the USSR, Bulletin in Defence of Marxism, no.69, December 1989, and Paul Siegel, Soviet Historians Begin to Reveal Truth About Trotsky, Socialist Action (USA), January 1990.

Some of the contributions made by Soviet scholars to the International Trotsky Symposium held at Wuppertal, West Germany on 26-30 March 1990 will appear in German in book form at a future date.

It was in Moscow that some 2000 persons were simply listening to a talk about Leon Trotsky and his supporters in the great hall of the Cinema Institute. It was at the end of November 1989 (yes, 1989 ... not 1919). Everything was rightly unassuming, the participants, among them some well known Soviet cinema directors as well as ordinary people, had an admission ticket in their pockets representing Leon Davidovich Trotsky and a facsimile of his Bulletin of the Left Opposition. Even at a time of Glasnost, all this was no ordinary affair.

Six persons spoke from the stage, and then replied to questions from the floor: historians, a journalist, and an eyewitness – Nadezhda, the daughter of Adolf Joffe (Trotsky’s friend and companion in struggle).

Vasetsky, an –historian’ opened fire. Low profile: it is time to publish the original texts, some are already, it is necessary to re-establish the truth: precise details about the birth, social milieu and family of Trotsky ... Then a change of gear, a dragging up of the musty, all too oft-repeated old scribblings: a great leader of the revolution, on a par with Zinoviev and ... Stalin! His polemic with Lenin in 1903 showed his unprincipled capacity to change sides constantly. He organised the Red Army, but only thanks to repression. His wish to militarise the trade unions illustrates his harshness very well ... But he was opposed to Stalinist deformations in the ’thirties.

There is in this Vasetsky an interesting mixture of clapped out Stalinist filth and of notions that are today firmly held among certain milieux in the USSR, borrowed from the Slavophile, racist and anti-Semitic outpourings of the extreme right-wing Pamyat. Judge for yourself: later in the evening, after other speakers had rightly taken him to task about some of his statements, he replied to two questions from the floor about the ‘Jewishness’ of Trotsky: “It is true that you cannot define Trotsky in his political activity by his origins, except to emphasise that from them he felt a certain complex that led him twice to refuse important positions offered him by Lenin, including the Presidency of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars.” This is almost a good reply, if you want to take it at that, but then things drift back again on the second question, bearing “on the role of Trotsky in the Judeo-Masonic plot that the October Revolution amounted to”. “We do not have enough documents about that. We must dig deeper”. This left Vasetsky to the jeers of the floor, which roared out “Do you want to dig with sappers’ shovels?” (like those used by the special troops in Tiflis on 9 April 1989, who charged Georgian demonstrators with shovels and killed some tens of them).

This merging of Stalinist and Fascist references is a symptomatic feature among certain Soviet intellectual and social layers today. Perhaps this is pregnant with menace for tomorrow.

The remainder, and these were the majority of the interventions, was infinitely more honest and more sympathetic. Nobody had the indecency to talk about ‘rehabilitation’. The only adequate word would have been ‘apologies’, but the speakers who were closest to Trotsky preferred to emphasise his “relevance to the present”.

Another ill-repentant historian regretted that Trotsky did not respond to Lenin’s offer to form a bloc against Stalin (a lie systematically pumped out today in the Soviet media) and charged him with having a lack of “intelligence” and not knowing how in his struggle against Stalin to take into consideration the community that surrounded him. He quoted a letter attributed to Lenin’s sister Maria that was very flattering for Stalin: the floor immediately asked to know from what year came those writings smelling of the usual Stalinography.

Another doctor of history, Sultan Zarasov, completely settled the matter, calling for “cleansing the Augean stables”. He pointed out to the public that the famous short note from Lenin describing Trotsky as “a little Judas” (itself often quoted in the present-day press) was published for the first time only in 1937, and emphasised that, in 1929, “Trotsky had only his pen and paper, but that was enough to bring fear to all the capitalists. There is Trotsky, there is the Revolution”, he said, quoting Sukhanov and John Reed.

Completely reflecting the present Social Democratic thought and tendencies in Moscow, he regretted that Trotsky had rejected the offer of a coalition made to him by the Mensheviks and the SRs in the aftermath of October. The phrase about the “dustbin of history” with which Trotsky dismissed them, he said, was used against him 10 years later by the Stalinist scum.

Another who intervened, Aleksandr Isaevitch, an historic witness, continued the useful correction of the facts and insisted upon the “present day relevance of Leon Trotsky”, notably to the debate inside the USSR on the reforging of the political and economic structures. He also appealed for a correction of the “present hasty judgements” (very popular among the magazines and the intelligentsia) about the “misdeeds of the revolution”. “There was also a white terror”, he recalled.

The journalist from Moscow News (one of the outstanding weeklies at the present time) – the author of a recent much criticised article about Mercader, Trotsky’s assassin – continued to correct the record, notably about his policy with regard to the Popular Fronts in 1936-37. He outlined the reasons why Trotsky did not believe in ‘Socialism in One Country’, and why he had not wanted to seize power from Stalin. “Trotsky knew all too well that, as the military victor during the Revolution, he would have been a ready made Bonaparte. That would have accorded neither with his political line nor with his psychology.”

Nadezhda Adolfovna Joffe was surely the most moving. In spite of her age and years in the camps, she spoke with a firm and passionate voice about her frequent childhood visits to the Trotsky household, and with emotion about the day in 1936 when, while she was lodged in the same barracks and concentration camp as Trotsky’s first wife, the latter learned by a letter from Lev Davidovich that had come to her by a miracle (and by sadism) of the death of her daughter Zina in Berlin. She recalled the arrest of Sergei, Trotsky’s second son in 1935, and how he had been shot in 1937, when he possessed neither political inclination nor activity.

She emphasised Trotsky’s tragic fate, seeing the death of all his children. This was a fate that identified him, she said, all the more with his Revolution and with his people of Russia.

A Reader

Updated by ETOL: 14.7.2003