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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter I:
Lenin and Trotsky

NOTHING that has happened in Russia has been so misunderstood by the entire Western world as the crisis in the Communist Party which has thrown into a silenced opposition men like Trotsky, Rakovsky, Radek, Antonov, Pitiakov, Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky, and many more of the intimate friends and aides of Lenin, and concentrated the whole ruling power in the hands of a group dominated by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. And yet there is nothing which the workers of other countries, who look to Moscow for leadership, have a more natural right to understand. As I was in Russia during the whole development of this dispute, and attended the convention of the party in which it reached its climax, and as I have the good fortune not to be separated by the barrier of language from the real facts and ideas involved, I think it will be useful if I explain the thing frankly and completely as it appears to me. I have hesitated to do this for over six months, because I wanted to be sure that I should serve not merely the ends of historic truth, or personal justice, but the real strategy of the revolution. I am convinced now that it is time for somebody to state a few facts exactly as he sees them, and not as they are dictated to him by a temporary political purpose or position.

In order to understand what has happened, it is necessary to know the history of the relations between Lenin and Trotsky. Their friendship began in 1902, when Trotsky, escaping from Siberia, came to London to put himself at the service of that “Organisation of Professional Revolutionists,” which Lenin was forming around the underground journal Iskra. Although Trotsky was only twenty-three years old, Lenin recognised his magnificent abilities instantly, and was only prevented by his older colleague, Plekhanov, from making him one of the editors of Iskra. He admired Trotsky with that wholehearted revolutionary affection which was the romantic motive in his life. They were so close together politically that in the early days of the great convention of the party in 1903, Trotsky received the nickname among the delegates of “Lenin’s Big Stick.” It was at that convention that the split arose between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Trotsky tried at first to prevent this split, and then he tried to mend it. And when Lenin proved inexorable, and ready to break with all the other editors of Iskra, including Plekhanov, the “father of Russian Marxism,” and including also Trotsky’s best friends and daily companions, Trotsky reacted strongly against him.

For a few months after that split – which was about a question of organisation – Trotsky went into the camp of the Mensheviks. But as soon as their political tendency began to define itself – the tendency to co-operate with the liberal bourgeoisie, instead of relying upon the peasants to support the working class in a popular revolution – Trotsky realised that he could not work with them. He sensed the compromise here, and withdrew from the Menshevik faction. But he did not reconcile himself to the organisational lines drawn by Lenin. He stood alone between the two factions, still believing that the real party consisted of the sincere Marxians in both camps, and devoting himself loyally to the foolish task of trying to unite them. Doubtless a personal pride contributed to the stubbornness and long duration of Trotsky’s opposition to Lenin. The two factions were compelled to work together in the revolution of 1905, and Trotsky, still standing between them, became a president of the revolutionary Soviet of St. Petersburg, and the chosen leader of the first Russian revolution. Under the shadow of the Czar’s palace he publicly prepared an insurrection, and actually wielded for some days an authority in Russia exceeding that of the Czar. It would have been a miracle if a young man of an oppressed race, rising to that height at the age of twenty-six, had remained free from all pride of opinion.

Trotsky’s pride of opinion was supported, moreover, by a piece of political thinking as far-sighted as any of those which foretold the events of 1917. Rejecting the theory of the Mensheviks that the Russian revolution would end in a bourgeois republic, and also the slogan with which Lenin opposed them, the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants,” he adopted from Marx the concept of “permanent revolution.” He declared that the Russian revolution, once begun, and led by determined Marxists, would not stop at either of these preliminary stages, but would develop straight forward to a dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasants, and opening an epoch of international revolution. This realistic prediction, and the resolute and yet flexible concept of “permanent revolution,” were peculiarly akin to the intellectual method of Lenin. They led Trotsky straight to Lenin’s side at the time when the real work began, the spring of 1917, when many of the oldest “Leninists” jumped away in fright at the audacity of his programme. At that time Lenin himself was entertaining the possibility of co-operating with the more revolutionary Mensheviks, and there was not the slightest divergence of opinion between him and Trotsky – for Lenin’s ideas were never fixed, and he never regarded his whole past course as faultless and infallible. But events soon taught them both the impossibility of co-operating with Mensheviks. Events taught them that Lenin had been right in drawing an inexorable line between these two factions, and Trotsky had been wholly wrong. Trotsky began to realise that, although his political analysis of the coming revolution had been the more happy, Lenin had created an organisation and invented a political method, or system of revolutionary engineering, wholly beyond the scope of his genius. His pride of opinion did not prevent him from acknowledging this fact and accepting the leadership of Lenin absolutely. “I came to Lenin fighting,” he says, “but I came unreservedly and all the way.”

Trotsky is a proud man, and he has that consciousness of his own self that proud men have, and that makes their relations with people too personal. [1] And, more over, he has an instinctive self-confidence, an unthinking aggressiveness of will, that is at times almost ludicrous, and at other times – or from other points of view – presumptuous. This makes it easy to say derogatory things about him, and get them believed. But those who know Trotsky intimately, all of them, know that the iron core of his character is a selfless and fearless, and to use just the accurate word for it – saintly, devotion to the revolution. And no one knew this better than Lenin. Lenin always believed in Trotsky. He attacked him violently enough, as he invariably attacked people who he believed were making even temporary mistakes. But he never identified him with the Mensheviks. He never broke with him, as he did with Plekhanov, Martov – with all those whom he felt had gone over, whether consciously or unconsciously, to the side of the bourgeoisie. He always regarded Trotsky as one of the real leaders of the Russian revolution, and always thought of him as a comrade in arms. It is well known among Trotsky’s friends that he received a letter from Lenin’s wife some days after Lenin died, reminding him of their early friendship in London, and assuring him that Lenin’s feelings towards him had never changed from then until the day of his death. Lenin’s wife shared his confidence completely; and her statement derives an added significance from the fact that it was written after the attack of Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and others, upon Trotsky’s character and authority as a Bolshevik had been raging in the party Press for almost two months, and after a special conference of party officials called by them for that purpose had formally branded Trotsky as an enemy of “Leninism.”

Trotsky’s tributes to the genius of Lenin in all his speeches and writings are such as to sweep out of thought the suggestion that he pretends to be Lenin’s equal, or stand beside him hi historic importance. But notwithstanding this fact, there has always existed among certain groups of the old followers of Lenin an extreme jealousy of Trotsky. It is nourished by Trotsky’s self-assurance and his lack of personal tact, but it is natural enough in any case. Trotsky seems to them a newcomer, and, by contrast with Lenin’s far more prodigious gift of practical thinking, the brilliant endowment, the picturesque and thrilling personality of Trotsky seem to them alien and unreliable. They cannot estimate Trotsky as a certain individual, namely himself, but they see him always as a personality which puts up claims to stand beside Lenin. And all the general population of the globe, including Lenin himself, have contributed to this exasperating thing. Lenin himself used the phrase “Lenin and Trotsky,” exactly as it was used by the rest of us in the public Press. [2] He was always at pains to support the growing prestige of Trotsky, and to deny the least rumour of a disharmony between them. Even Gorki was surprised at the warmth with which Lenin denied such rumours, and affirmed the greatness of Trotsky.

“They lie a lot, it seems, an awful lot, about me and Trotsky!” Lenin said to Gorki. And then, striking his fist on the table: “Show me another man who could organise almost a model army in a single year – yes, and win the respect of military experts!” [3]

Trotsky recounts in a little book of his memories of Lenin during the revolution a moment when Lenin suddenly said to him, “What if they kill you and me, can Bucharin and Sverdlov get away with it?”

“Perhaps they won’t kill us,” Trotsky answered jokingly.

“The devil knows about them,” Lenin answered, and laughed.

That anecdote is a reminder, and, of course, a deliberate reminder, of the relation which existed among the leaders during the critical days of the revolution and the formation of the Soviet Government. Lenin knew, just as all the world knows, that Trotsky stood head and shoulders above the other Bolsheviks, both in personal force and revolutionary understanding. It is absurd to debate this question, and drag up records of the disagreements [4] between Lenin and Trotsky – as though having always agreed with Lenin were the basis upon which you could judge the merits of a disciple. [5]

Such questions are not decided by debates and gossipy recollections, but they are decided by a man’s acts. And ever since Trotsky joined hands with the Bolsheviks, at every single point where it was possible to put a man in a position of supreme importance, both from the standpoint of prestige and from the stand point of service to the revolution, Lenin proposed Trotsky for that position. Trotsky was elected with Lenin’s support to the presidency of the Petrograd Soviet in the summer of 1917, and in that all-powerful position, while Lenin in hiding was guiding the deeper currents of the revolution, Trotsky made all the immediate great decisions which it was necessary for a general in the field to make. In that position, while Zinoviev and Kamenev, and many others of the faithful followers of Lenin in easier times deserted the advancing banners of the party, Trotsky marshalled the workers and soldiers of Russia for the Bolshevik insurrection. And when the power was seized and it came to the formation of the revolutionary Government, Trotsky was appointed to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Why? Not because of any genius for diplomacy; a certain lack of diplomacy belongs to the essence of Trotsky’s genius. He was appointed to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs because that is by general acceptance the second position in any Government, and because at that particular moment in the international revolution it was the position which required the most reliable audacity and the most comprehensive understanding. And when the situation passed out of that phase and into the phase of war, Trotsky was appointed to organise the first Communist army and defend the life of the revolution. He saved the life of the revolution. And when the last crisis came, when Lenin fell sick and was compelled to withdraw from the Government, he turned again to Trotsky and asked him to take his place as President of the Soviet of People’s Commissars and of the Council of Labour and Defence. And, moreover, when Trotsky declined, Lenin did not turn to any other strong man; he passed over the heads of those who might conceivably imagine themselves to be rivals of Trotsky, and divided the position among three men who are obviously not leaders. [6] In the face of these acts, to doubt the unique reliance which Lenin placed upon the force and devotion and revolutionary understanding of Trotsky is simply absurd.


1. See Appendix I.

2. I have in mind his comment on a counter-revolutionary romance published in Paris. As I have not his complete works here, I cannot cite the volume and page.

3. Gorki, Vladimir Lenin, in the Russky Sovremennik, Vol.I, No.1.

4. See Appendix II.

5. Having once invented and stood out for a fundamental change of programme, which Lenin opposed and was subsequently convinced of, as Trotsky did in the important matter of “Government Planning,” is worth all the impeccable records of “agreeing with Lenin,” which go to make up the mere popular history of the whole epoch. Agreeing with Lenin is certainly the easiest task that an uncreative and unthinking revolutionist could set himself.

I quote this sentence from a Note about Government planning, dictated by Lenin in December, 1922: “Trotsky advanced this idea, it seems, a good while ago. I appeared as his opponent then because I thought that in such an event there would be a fundamental disaccord in our system of legislative institutions. But after an attentive investigation of the thing, I find that, in the essence, there is a healthy idea here ...”

6. Rykov, Tzuryupov, and Kamenev.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009