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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter X:
Trotsky’s Personal Reaction

You will wonder how it could have been possible, by such obvious tricks, to beat Trotsky down from his great height, and grab the whole power out of his hands. One thing that goes a little way toward explaining it is the peculiar reaction of Trotsky himself. Since the stampede was produced by a campaign of subtle and plausible misrepresentation on the part of men whom the party had learned to trust, the only thing which could have checked it, would have been an act of transcendant candour on Trotsky’s part. He would have had to find a way to put forth his whole real warm and convincing personality in a deliberate response to a deliberate personal attack. He would have had to make the entire party feel that they knew him personally, and could, therefore, personally deny what they were being told. But his pride led him in the opposite direction. So far as the articles in Pravda were not replies to his words, but a deliberate falsification of them, he made no answer whatever. He not only made no answer to this enormous polemical and calumnious outpouring, which filled all Russia for half the winter, but he never read any of it. I asked him once why he did not take all these issues of Pravda, and retire for a week, and analyse them and write a complete factual explanation of the whole thing.

“Why, this is not an argument, it is a personal attack,” he said, “I can’t reply to a thing like that.” And he spread out his hands as though this proposition were perfectly obvious.

To me it did not seem obvious, and I continued: “Now, you could take that speech of Stalin’s about The Six Mistakes of Comrade Trotsky, for instance ...”

“What is that?” he asked, and he smiled at my expression. “I haven’t read any of those things,” he explained.

I murmured my amazement, and he spread his hands again in that gesture which indicates that something is quite obvious.

“Why should I read what they write?” he said. “They aren’t discussing anything that I said. There is no misunderstanding.”

That is the way Trotsky talked to his friends. But throughout the height of this panic he was ill in the Caucasus, and even those few conversations for which he finds time in the pressure of his work were impossible. And in his published writings he maintained an impersonal dignity and objectivity that might in ordinary times be admirable. The self-command and perfect equilibrium revealed by it were admirable. But as a reaction to an attack, it was not intelligible to simple people. It played directly into the hands of those who were propagating calumnious legends about him. It made him seem remote, and a little mysterious, and very sharply different fromLenin, who so often cleared the air by the simple device of saying all that he thought.

I talked once about Trotsky with the man into whose family he moved at the age of nine, when he left home to go to school in Odessa. And the first thing that man said in answer to my questioning, was: “We did not really know what Leon Davidovitch was thinking about – even at that age he was so perfectly self-contained.”

In my own acquaintance with Trotsky I have observed this same quality, and found it irritating. He has that part of a social nature which consists of listening with sympathetic attention while you explain yourself, but he has not that part which consists of instinctively explaining himself. He is extremely frank – quite startling in that respect – but you have to ask him questions. As I have said, the most significant part of his speech before the party Congress was his offer to answer “any question whatever” that the delegates might ask him. And I notice that in his letter resigning his post in the Red Army he repeated this proposal. He had remained in Moscow, although ordered south by his physicians, in order to be able to “answer this or that question or make any necessary explanations.” Again, of course, no explanations were asked for. Nothing has been more precious to his enemies, and more essential to their success, than this poised reticence of Trotsky’s, his lack of that irresistible impulse which most of us have to explain ourselves.

Trotsky said, in the note inserted in Pravda which I have already quoted [1], that he refrained from answering these personal attacks because he believed it was to the best interests of the party. And in his letter of resignation he asserted that he still believed “his silence had been right from the standpoint of the general interests of the party.” In attributing his absolute silence to his temperament, I do not mean to deny that he exercised this judgment and acted upon it. Moreover, in so far as the true answer to the attack upon him consisted of laying bare the facts that I have stated here, it would be bold under the existing circumstances [2] to question his judgment. The thing which I attribute to his temperament is the absoluteness of his silence. A man who was not proud and had a strong impulse toward social self-expression, would not have acted upon a rigid principle here. He would have found a way to make the party feel the response of his personality without violating its discipline or breaking its solidarity before the world. At least, that is my opinion. And I believe that Trotsky himself might have found this more practical course if he had been able to appear in public at the beginning of the stampede. Nobody can tell how much his sickness played into the hands of his enemies. It is certain that they consciously reckoned upon it in starting this unscrupulous campaign.


1. See p.79. [See Chapter 9Transcriber Note]

2. “The circumstances of capitalist encirclement,” to use Trotsky’s own phrase in another connection. Of course, neither Trotsky’s silence, nor the silence of many strong and courageous men and women in the party who share his view, can be fully understood except in the light of that governing fact.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009