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Farrell Dobbs

Trotsky Memorial Speech

Address Delivered at the Minneapolis Memorial Meeting on Aug. 21, 1941
National Labor Secretary Pays Tribute to Teachings and Example of Trotsky

(August 1941)

Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 37, 12 September 1941, p. 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One year ago Comrade Trotsky sat for the last time at the work table in his Coyoacan study. He was a man without a country and at the same time a citizen of the World. Behind him were forty-four years of unceasing struggle in the interests of the world working class. He had never wavered from the decision which he made as a youth of eighteen to devote his life to the proletarian revolution.

He was co-leader with Lenin of the great October revolution which shines as the pole star for the revolutionary navigators of the world working class. It was Comrade Trotsky, our Old Man, who organized and inspired the Red Army which is now standing its ground so heroically before the guns of Hitler. It was Trotsky who led the Red Army to victory against the imperialist plunderers who tried to crush the October Revolution in its first hour of triumph.

Twice before, Comrade Trotsky had been exiled by the Czarist regime. Now, after the triumph of the Russian workers, he was again exiled from his native land, banned from the workers’ state. This time at the hands of Stalin, the betrayer of October, the organizer of working class defeats. Together with his valiant wife, Natalia, Trotsky had borne the horrible grief of seeing his children, one by one, either murdered or driven to suicide by Stalin. His secretaries had fallen, one after another, victims of the mad dogs of Stalin’s GPU. Trotsky had seen his co-workers of October, Lenin’s central committee, the whole generation of old Bolsheviks dragged into the cellars of the Lubianka and put to death. Such were the evil fruits of the infamous Moscow “trials” through which Stalin sought also to slander the name of Trotsky and prepare the ground for his assassination. Trotsky knew all this; he understood it clearer than anyone else.

Undaunted By Persecutions

Yet he remained undaunted by these terrible blows. He did not permit it to interfere with his revolutionary work. He kept his eyes turned toward the future, toward the unsolved problems of the workers. He was very impatient with anything which stood in the way of this central task. He continued to analyze world events, to patiently explain to the workers the program necessary for a solution of their problems. He sought constantly for the widest possible forces with which to rebuild the revolutionary movement after the debacle of Stalinism. He was ever alert to ferret out and completely expose any trace of false ideology which might creep into the movement. At every opportunity, through all available mediums he vigorously sounded the clarion call to class struggle. Trotsky’s was the greatest mind, his the stoutest heart of our day, and he was devoted unconditionally to the service of the world working class.

One year ago this great revolutionary sat for the last time at the work table in his Coyoacan study. At his back stood an agent of the GPU. The murderous hand of Stalin had finally reached into the presence of Leon Trotsky. Stalin drove a pick-axe into Trotsky’s brain, seeking to destroy that which he feared more than anything else in the entire world.

Then came the agonizing vigil, the desperate attempts to save his life, the hopes, the fears, the cruel grief of that short span of hours which seemed to pass more slowly than centuries. And finally the last fatal message: our beloved Old Man was no longer among the living.

Stalin’s Guilt Has Been Established

The whole world knows today who killed Trotsky. He accused Stalin on his death bed. He had already proven Stalin’s guilt in the events of the May 24 assault. The assassination and the subsequent efforts to protect the assassin have been typical of the widely known GPU methods. Stalin’s motives are abundantly clear. His betrayal of the workers in the Soviet Union, China, Germany, France Spain; the entire working class in the World War II – this endless chain of betrayals has driven Stalin to ever greater violence against the working class. He did not hesitate to murder the whole generation of old Bolsheviks, and he desired the death of Trotsky, whom he feared more than all the others. The hatred of an apostate against those who represent what he once claimed to be accounts in part for the sadistic violence of Stalin’s methods.

Both Stalin and Trotsky will be remembered in the recorded history of mankind. Stalin will receive mention in a brief and shameful paragraph. He will go down in history as the greatest betrayer of all time, a super Cain, Borgia, Judas.

Comrade Trotsky will stand on an historical plane with Marx, Engels and Lenin. He will be loved as a champion of the toiling masses, a gladiator of the working class, a builder of the new society, one of the greatest creators of all time.

The death of Leon Trotsky has been a terrible loss. It came at a very critical juncture in history. The workers are again plunged into the bloodbath of imperialist war. They are again confronted with widespread treachery and betrayal by the leaders of their mass organizations. There is great need for the firm hand and brilliant mind of Trotsky. He could perform even greater deeds than those already recorded during the eventful years of his heroic life.

Stalin killed Trotsky and removed him from the scene of immediate conflict. But he did not, he could not destroy him. The whole of Trotsky is preserved in his writings. He has left behind all the necessary tools: for the proletarian revolutionary fighters. We still have him to help us. It is only necessary to learn how to use these tools and then courageously to apply them.

Comrade Trotsky was a creator of profound ideas. But part of his greatness lay in the fact that he was not entirely a creator. He also could learn from others. He had nothing but contempt for the sniveling pride of the so-called independent thinkers, those little men who are too wrapped up in self-admiration to learn the lessons handed down by their revolutionary forebears. He placed before everything else the need to learn from the great working class leaders. Trotsky built upon the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin. He learned to understand their ideas and to master their method. He took this knowledge and applied it in the modern conditions of the daily struggle. The power of Trotsky was above all the power of Marxism.

The Struggle Against Stalinism,

After the death of Lenin, the rising Stalinist bureaucracy plunged the workers’ vanguard in the Soviet Union and throughout the world into a horrible swamp of confusion and disorientation. There was widespread; demoralization among the Bolshevik cadres and a rapidly swelling casualty list of the moral victims of Stalinism. It was Trotsky who cut through all this with the sharp knife of Marxist analysis and exposed the reactionary character of Stalin’s policies. It was Trotsky who came forward with a program that shone with the brilliance of the rising sun as it pierces a morning fog. Trotsky, the Marxist, the Leninist, brushed away the confusion, showed the way out and thus saved many of the best militants.

The degeneration of the workers’ state under Stalin has led to a serious alienation of sympathy for the Soviet Union among the world working class. Renegades of all breeds and varieties have helped to increase this isolation of the Soviet workers from their class. Many are the pseudo-Marxists who have tried to prove that Soviet Russia today is very little different from Hitlerite Germany. The crimes of Stalin against the workers of the world have in every instance served as the foundation for these foul theories, for this disorientstion of the working masses.

It was Trotsky who took the lead in the fight against Stalin inside the Russian Communist Party. Then, after the German debacle and the rise of Hitler, he explained the qualitative change which had taken place inside the Russian party: that it had become only a caricature of a communist movement. Therefore, Stalin must be overthrown by revolutionary means. It was necessary immediately to begin the task of reorganizing the revolutionary movement for a world struggle against Stalinism.

However, in sharp contrast to the charlatans who cleave to the false petty-bourgeois concepts of democracy arid morality, who see Stalinism as the natural product of Bolshevism, who renounce Marxism only to turn toward the bourgeois democrats or the half-way house of a mythical Third Camp – in sharp contrast to all these philistines, Trotsky was able to chart a course of struggle against Stalin without turning his back upon the workers’ state, the October revolution, Marxism, and the whole future of the working class. Trotsky taught the vanguard to struggle for the overthrow of the Stalin regime, but at the same time to stand for the unconditional defense of the USSR. True, he explained, under Stalin the Soviet Union has become a degenerated workers state, but that is a matter for the workers themselves to correct. Degenerated though the Soviet Union is, its economy is still based on nationalized property and monopoly of foreign trade. The capitalists have been and remain expropriated. This the workers must defend against all the imperialist bandits.

Trotsky’s Last Great Struggle

The last great political battle of Comrade Trotsky’s career was waged against the petty-bourgeois minority of the Socialist Workers Party. They tried to force the party to renounce the defense of the Soviet Union. They tried to turn the organization into the shambles of a social democratic debating society. In this fight Comrade Trotsky wrote a series of documents which must be carefully and thoroughly studied by every serious proletarian fighter. They are a virtual handbook on the most pressing problems of the day.

If Trotsky were in the Soviet Union today, or if the ideas of Trotskyism were being applied to wage revolutionary war against Hitler, the German army would literally melt before the political and military assault of the Red Army. The German workers would return home to settle accounts with their own fascist overlords and a gigantic revolutionary wave would arise to sweep the last remnants of capitalism from the face of the earth.

It was not only on the question of defense of the workers’ state that Trotsky maintained theoretical clarity in the program of the proletarian vanguard. He took the lead in exposing the false and treacherous Stalinist policy of the “Peoples’ Front” and all the other criminal maneuvers of the Kremlin bureaucrats. His brilliant pen poured forth devastating and unanswerable condemnation upon the anarchists and syndicalists for their miserable capitulation before the bourgeois democrats. He pilloried the decrepit social democrats for their bootlicking support of the imperialist war lords. He fought militantly and constantly against every deviation .from Marxist policy in the class struggle.

“No confidence in the bourgeois democrats!” thundered Trotsky. “No support of the democratic war mongers. War is inevitable and fascism a constant danger as long as capitalism exists. There is no course other than revolutionary proletarian struggle against capitalism.” He explained this over and over, in connection with many different events, but he always hammered hardest on these fundamental points.

Trotsky and the Trade Unions in War

One of the last of his great contributions was the forging of a proletarian military policy for this bloody epoch of imperialist war: the military training of worker soldiers and worker officers under trade union control. Together with this he left us an uncompleted but nonetheless important document on the whole trade union question. The capitalist class, with the aid of the Tobins, Greens and Hillmans, is seeking to bind the trade unions into the apparatus of state. The ruthless campaign of the dictator, Tobin, who is receiving the full support of the capitalist state in his campaign to smash the CIO union of the Minneapolis motor transport and allied workers is an eloquent example of what is in store for the workers under such an alliance between the government and the top officialdom of the trade union movement.

Pointing to the grave danger of this tendency toward subverting the trade unions into instruments of capitalist repression, Trotsky explains that if the trade unions are to be effective working class instruments they must be kept completely independent from the capitalist state. A second task, flowing from this need, he indicates, is constant vigilance and unceasing struggle to preserve trade union democracy.

Trotsky’s mastery of Marxism, his ability to apply these ideas and methods in modern conditions gave him a superb power of analysis and a crystal clear vehicle of expression. His method was the scientific approach of dialectical analysis. He knew hew to understand each event in the historical chain and how to place each event in proper relation to all other historic phenomena so as clearly to recognize the movement of the contending forces in the class struggle. Every proletarian fighter, no matter from what corner of the world he might come, would find in the course of a discussion with Trotsky a deeper and richer understanding of events in his own country and on the world arena.

There was nothing mystical about this power of Trotsky’s. The fountain of knowledge from which he drew his wisdom is available for all. Even more than that, he has greatly enriched this treasure chest of revolutionary learning by his own contributions. None of us can be Trotskys. He was a giant, even among giants. There will be other and possibly even greater Trotskys. But that is not an indispensable minimum for success. We need only use to the best of our ability the tools which he left for us.

Why Roosevelt Attacks The Trotskyists

We have been charged by Comrade Trotsky with the responsibility of carrying out his testament: “I have confidence in the victory of the Fourth International. Go Forward!” Our work of the past year has shown that we have the ability to use his tools and to carry out his last command. Our party has grown. Our press has been greatly expanded. We have sunk our roots deeper and deeper into the ranks of the workers, and they have responded to our call in increasing numbers. The attention we are receiving from the capitalist government is eloquent testimony of our ability to go forward.

We carry on in times of great world crisis. Heavy responsibilities rest upon our shoulders. Roosevelt is striving mightily to plunge the American workers headlong into a shooting war. The war party of American imperialism is finding it very difficult to whip up mass enthusiasm for the war program. They sense in this attitude the dormant seeds of working class revolt. There is no way for them to tell how close to the surface this danger lies. The capitalist class has no confidence in itself nor in its outworn system. This is especially true of its most conscious section. They have a mortal fear of the workers. The Roosevelt administration is thus driven to lash out viciously against the anti-war forces, especially in the ranks of the working class.

We, the Trotskyists, have the high honor of being the first political party attacked through the police powers of the warmongering Roosevelt administration. We are the first to be indicted by the federal government. More than anything else this testifies to the growing power of Trotsky’s ideas. The Stalinists call us fifth-columnists, agents of the fascists, and they urge Roosevelt to go the limit against us. But the bourgeoisie is not confused. They know what we are. They know that we stand in the vanguard of the protetariat. The capitalist state strikes first at the working class party which has the most correct, and therefore to them the most dangerous, program. Roosevelt has struck first at the Trotskyists.

We do not shrink, we do not retreat in the face of this assault. We follow the example of our Old Man. We stand firm. Nor shall we flinch in the fight, whatever the odds.

Comrade Trotsky had unbounded confidence in the working class. He treated with contempt those mental incompetents who seek to fasten upon the workers the responsibility for the crimes of their leaders. Many are the brazen cynics who say that the workers get the kind of leadership they deserve. What monstrosities these pompous little fatheads are Who speak with disdain of the heroic warriors who are the proletarian masses. Our Old Man set an example for us which we must never forget. He never blamed the workers for defeats. He sought always to draw for them the lessons of their experiences, to teach and inspire them, to give them proper leadership.

We Are Confident of the Future

This confidence of Trotsky’s in the workers was not based on superficial sentiment. He understood the dynamic power of the proletariat. He had learned well the lessons of the class struggle. At the time of his death he was writing an article on this very subject. He stated that it could be set down as an historic law that the mass radicalization of the workers must precede a fascist struggle for power; that fascism could conquer only if the proletarian vanguard failed to lead the radical masses to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. Such a stage of mass radicalization is high on the agenda of the American workers. We are determined that this historic opportunity shall not be lost. We follow Comrade Trotsky’s example in our preparations and we go forward with his confidence.

We shall defend Marxism against all renegades and revisionists. We have nothing but contempt for bourgeois opinion. We will stamp out every trace of this alien class influence which may seek to penetrate our ranks on the escalator of petty bourgeois confusionism. It is our firm resolve to strive for the fullest assimilation of the ideas and methods of Trotskyism. These we shall develop in modern conditions and then consistently apply them in struggle.

Comrade Trotsky often quoted these words from Hegel: “Nothing great is done in this world without passion.” In this bloody epoch of all-out struggle we stand and shall continue to stand in the front line positions of the class war. We take our places in the vanguard of the proletariat with absolutely no reservations. Nothing is more important to us. We entertain no petty thoughts of personal security in this world which is aflame with the death agony of capitalism. We fight with the burning passion of men and women who are conscious that the future of all mankind depends upon them. We struggle for the emancipation of the human race through the revolutionary working class. We are confident of victory.

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Last updated: 23 March 2019