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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter XIV:
Recent Events

IN spite of Trotsky’s failure to “acknowledge his mistakes,” the machine did not feel strong enough at the time of the May Congress to exclude him from the Politburo. He continued to sit in the inner councils. And although he was prevented by the reorganisation of the Red Army from doing his practical work, he continued to bear the title of President of the Revolutionary Military Soviet. Moreover, his popularity among the masses continued to grow and flourish under this monotonous tirade, which bored the unthinking and disgusted those who know how to think.

His discourse in August on the financial domination of Europe by the United States, was seized upon with avidity by every Russian Marxian who really wishes to understand the current historic process. And his analysis of the failure of the German revolution was generally accepted as stating the real facts from the point of view of revolutionary science. To a query from a party local as to whether it was to be regarded as the official opinion of the party, the Central Committee replied that it was – and this although it contradicted their own thesis adopted by the Third International a short time before. The intellectual leadership of Trotsky thus crops out in spite of the most anxious efforts of the inferior minds that have displaced him.

But in proportion as Trotsky continued to mount above them in popularity and real grasp of their problems, the “educational” campaign against him, and the campaign of suppressing and discharging from office and expelling from the party his friends and adherents, became more violent. [1] The use of the secret police by the party bureaucracy for spying upon its own membership – noted by Trotsky as a dangerous symptom in his original letter to the Central Committee – became the daily and accepted method of destroying him. No friend of Trotsky would let you write him a letter that you did not want to have read before it reached his hand. The Leningrad pamphlet, proclaiming Trotsky a “revolutionary dilettante,” reinforced by other books and pamphlets of a similar nature, and by a special journal founded for the express purpose of combating this “deviation,” continued to be energetically circulated with the sanction, and with the funds, of a party of whose highest executive committee Trotsky was ostensibly a member. This was the anomalous condition of affairs throughout the summer and up to the anniversary of the revolution last November.

On that date Trotsky issued the third volume of his complete works, comprising all his preserved speeches and writings for the year of the revolution, and entitled 1917. As an introduction to that volume he wrote an article called Lessons of October, and that article constituted the “violation of discipline” spoken of in the despatches announcing his resignation as Commissar of War. I will tell you exactly what that article is. It is, in the first place, a demonstration that the success of the Bolshevik revolution depended, among other things, upon Lenin’s forcing the party to act at the critical moment, and overcoming the resistance of those in the Central Committee who wanted to postpone it, upon the assumption that their strength would continue to grow with the mere passage of time. Trotsky attributes the failure of the recently expected German revolution largely to the fact that this same erroneous assumption, and a similar tendency to postpone the critical action, prevailed. As Zinoviev was a chief representative of this tendency in both situations, a certain sensitiveness to this particular “Lesson of October” on the part of the ruling group would naturally be expected.

But that is only one-half, it seems to me, of the real thesis of Trotsky’s Lessons of October. Besides being a demonstration of the strategy of the Russian revolution, it is also a treatise upon the theme propounded by Lenin in his suppressed letter to the party, namely, that “the retreat of Kamenev and Zinoviev in October was not accidental.” I cannot, of course, declare that Trotsky intended his introduction for a treatise upon this theme, but I can declare that that is what it is. And I consider it by no means a coincidence that he introduces into his text the very words employed by Lenin: “The disagreements in 1917 were very deep and by no means accidental. But it would be a miserable thing to try to make out of them now, after several years, a weapon of struggle against those who were mistaken then.” Trotsky is not making out of these mistakes a weapon of struggle against the ruling group, for the simple reason that he is not struggling against them – not to the extent of raising a finger. But, nevertheless – in my opinion – he is taking this means of stating the real facts about these leaders, and others who stood with them then, and stand with them now, as they were indicated by Lenin in his suppressed letter.

The uninitiated reader may have thought that, in saying that their retreat in October was “not accidental,” Lenin meant merely that they were likely at any time to betray the revolution in a panic of personal emotion. He meant exactly the opposite thing. He meant that their act was not attributable to a temporary emotion, but was the expression of a political tendency. And it is this political tendency, an essentially anti-Marxian and anti-Bolshevik opposition to Lenin, as it manifested itself at every important crisis from the March revolution to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which Trotsky analyses, and of which he writes the history in his Lessons of October. He shows that Kamenev opposed or sabotaged the policy of Lenin throughout this whole period, that Zinoviev joined him at both the moments of supremely critical importance, and that several other members of the present ruling group – Rykov, Lossovsky, Miluitin, and others – identified themselves in authentic documents with this same tendency. [2] He merely publishes these documents in his appendix.

The essay, whatever may be the ultimate judgment upon its thesis, is compact with indestructible facts. It has the weight of a sledge hammer, and is sincere and brilliant as blue steel. There is not any reason in the world why it should not be met and answered, with honesty and manhood, by those whose history it disparages.

Instead, it was met with a ruse and a new series of falsifications. Some “technical reason” was found for a three weeks’ delay in its publication after the first 5,000 copies had been sold, and while these were disappearing like drops of water in the sand, the whole literary and oratorical force of the ruling machine was turned loose to the business of “creating” an official opinion of Trotsky’s book. The public believed that the book had been suppressed, that Trotsky was arrested, imprisoned, exiled. People fought over the few copies in existence, and began typing off the Introduction for private circulation. And meanwhile the triumvirate filled the issues of Pravda and Izvestia, and the entire Russian Press with unscrupulous falsifications of its thesis and unrestrained vituperation against Trotsky. They called together a series of “representative” assemblies, fed them these official falsifications, these lies about Trotsky’s book, dictated to them the official denunciation, agitated them to the point of passing “unanimous resolutions” condemning a book of which not six in a thousand of them had ever read a single line. A firm supporter of Trotsky who attended one of these meetings was asked why he did not raise at least one voice against the resolution, and he replied: “In that fanaticised crowd if I had not applauded the resolution, I would have been beaten up.”

In short, the campaign of calumny and falsification against Trotsky was simply redoubled in quantity after the publication of his book. And it was redoubled in dishonesty and impudence and hate. The same slanders were printed and reprinted in all sorts of different newspapers and periodicals. On the counters of the book-stores you could find the same material under three or four different covers. Few bought them, but they were distributed gratuitously by tens of thousands to all clubs, to all libraries, to all unions and places of assembly. For this there was unlimited paper and funds. All Trotsky’s earliest writings were dragged up and subjected to the same process of falsification.

And more recent books, which had been universally accepted and advertised during the life of Lenin as expressions of official party opinion, were now found to contain subtle and terrible departures from Leninism – to be, in fact, nothing but a sly and sinister attempt to put “Trotskyism” in its place. Exquisitely printed anthologies appeared, of all the sentences ever written by Lenin in opposition to Trotsky or his opinions – sentences torn out of their context and their place in history, and simply thrown together to make a pile. An attack was even opened upon Trotsky’s career in the Red Army – it was “in spite of him,” and not with his help, that the revolutionary war was won by the party of Lenin. All the careerists and sycophants in Russia vied with each other in promoting this process, in devising new “loyalties” to the ruling group, new ignominies against Trotsky. His pictures and statues were chased out of store windows, out of the governmental institutions. Meetings at which he was scheduled to speak were called off or postponed. His salutation to the army of Budenny the papers were forbidden to print. The head of the Government printing house was discharged for publishing his book. Others involved in its publication were compelled to repent and abjure the heresy. It was made clear that a murmur on the part of any vulnerable Communist in defence of Trotsky, or in reply to the daily vilifications put out by the officials of the party, would cost him his place. The strong friends of Trotsky, or of the truth, saw that speech in such a tempest was futile. The campaign proceeded, therefore, in ominous and absolute silence from the most penetrating and the most honest minds in Russia. [3]

I have spoken of the “official lies” by which Trotsky’s book has been attacked, because, although the words are more agreeable, I cannot continue to call them falsifications or misrepresentations. There is some falsification, some misrepresentation. There is even occasionally a page of honest criticism. But, generally speaking, and speaking especially for the leaders, this business has gone entirely beyond the stage of falsifying or misrepresenting texts. They simply declare that Trotsky has said something which he has not said, and then they riddle it and ridicule it, and denounce it as an attack upon Lenin and upon Leninism. And, because the whole business of publicity and of the sale and distribution of literature is in their hands, Trotsky’s true texts do not appear in public to refute their statements. These texts are read privately, conscientiously, by those minds who have the courage and penetration to resist a universal official hysteria stimulated and supported by the State.

I am sure the reader has had enough of the quotation and analysis of so-called “arguments” employed in this pretended discussion. If I proved to him that the campaign against Trotsky’s New Course was carried on by means of falsifications, let him accept my statement that the campaign against Lessons of October was carried on by means of lies. Such a torrent of bigotry and irresponsible hypocrisy as the issues of Pravda were filled with from November to January of this year, when Trotsky resigned his command of the Red Army, has rarely been seen in history. I find it impossible to continue to mull over so much that is revolting. There are two recurrent motives in it, however, which I want to mention, merely by way of forewarning those who will meet this propaganda in a dilute form in England and America. First, Trotsky’s Lessons of October and his memoirs of Lenin, are advertised as an attempt to rewrite the history of the revolution in such a way as to discredit Lenin and give the glory to Trotsky. There is not a shadow of egotism in any of these books, and no solider and more real and beautiful tribute to the triumphant genius of Lenin will ever be written. Second, his Lessons of October is advertised as ignoring the party and writing the history of the revolution as though only the leaders and the masses played a role in it. Trotsky’s theme is not the role of the party, but the role of an oppositional tendency within the leadership of the party, but he founds his whole argument as to the importance of this tendency upon the explicit assertion that everything depended upon the party, that without the party there could have been no successful revolution. [4]

On January 20th, 1925, a meeting was called of the Central Committee and the Central Control Committee of the party, to discuss the so-called “attack” upon the party executive contained in Trotsky’s Lessons of October. Trotsky, being unable because of his illness to attend the meeting, wrote them a letter in which he defended himself in very restrained language as to a few of the more outrageous crimes and follies that had been imputed to him. [5] He concluded his letter with a recommendation that he be removed from his post as President of the Military Soviet, and a renewal of his offer to “answer this or that question, or give any necessary explanations.” His resignation was accepted, but his offer to answer questions or make any explanations was once more silently ignored.

Instead of welcoming such a direct and honest confrontation of the realities of the situation, as that invitation suggested, the defenders of “Leninism” preferred to wrap themselves up in a new and perfected series of ideological distortions of reality, lies and rationalisations, so extreme that it is almost impossible for a man in his right mind to read them. The only possible conclusion of such a wholesale indictment of a man’s character, conduct and opinions as was contained in their official resolution, would be his exclusion from the party – if not, indeed, his incarceration in a doubly reinforced and hermetically sealed cell or lethal chamber! And yet they not only did not exclude Trotsky from the party, but they did not even remove him from the Politburo! He remains a member of the ruling committee of seven, who exercise the sovereign power in a party, to whose whole essential nature, purpose and philosophy he is declared to be opposed. This anomalous situation means, in the first place, that there is not the slightest breath of sincerity in that outrageous indictment of Trotsky. And it means, in the second place, that there is a bitter rivalry between Stalin and Zinoviev for the position of leadership. Zinoviev demanded Trotsky’s exclusion from the Politburo, and he was supported in this by Kamenev. Stalin, for his own reasons, opposed this demand, and Zinoviev, in a huff, declaring that Stalin merely wanted to use Trotsky against him, tendered his own resignation. It was not accepted, of course, and the tragic comedy continues upon the same essential terms as before. The reader should not be deceived, however, into thinking that there is any length to which these men may not go in their determination to destroy the indestructible popularity of Trotsky.

According to the most intelligent information I receive from Russia, the majority of the party membership is still “indubitably sympathetic to Trotsky.” [6] To the masses of the workers and peasants he is a national hero, the one great man that Russia has left. The inevitable effect, therefore, of this rabid attack upon him by the party organisation and its Press is to discredit the party and its official organisation with the masses. All forms of political discontent, both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, tend inevitably to express themselves in the form of indignant sympathy for Trotsky. In short, that “separation of the party from the mass,” cited in the resolution on Workers’ Democracy as the chief danger resulting from the bureaucratisation of the party, is being realised. And because the party bureaucracy attacks Trotsky – without any cause intelligible to the mass or related to their interests – Trotsky inevitably, and without any motion on his part, becomes identified with the mass in its divergence from the party. Undoubtedly Trotsky understands this situation better than anybody else, and he will never let himself be used by any social forces that have a purpose other than that defined and crystallized in the party of Lenin. But the dangerous confusion of the situation is no less real for that.


1. Trotsky’s own trusted secretary, Glazman, a hero of the Red Army, was expelled in September – for no real cause – and committed suicide. An obituary article which Trotsky sent from the Caucasus was not printed. The custom of suicide among party members has grown to such proportions since the beginning of this campaign that a special investigation was conducted, and a report made to the Central Committee recommending means to combat it. (See Pravda for October 9th, 1924.)

2. Kalinin was also of those who opposed the revolution or wanted to postpone it.

3. I do not think Trotsky had any anticipation of the political storm which would follow the publication of his Lessons of October. Russia was being flooded all summer with the false and scurrilous historical propaganda put out against him by his enemies. Under their direction the whole literate population of the country was taking an obligatory course – on pain of losing their jobs – in the new science of knowing that Trotsky is a Menshevik. It must have seemed natural to Trotsky that he himself should be permitted to write a little history. It must have seemed legitimate that his own view, and the suppressed view of Lenin, should find some expression in the midst of this whirlwind of “historical” tomes and treatises. He is not, you remember, in any sense of the word, a psychologist.

4. Whether Trotsky stresses too much the role of the leaders in general, as opposed to the masses of the workers and peasants, is a quite different question upon which a discussion would be highly profitable. The attacks of an unscrupulous bureaucracy upon Trotsky do not prove that everything that he says is right!

5. See Appendix VII.

6. Letter received in December, 1924. I left Russia in June, 1924, and throughout this concluding chapter I have relied upon my own reading of the Russian Press and on letters from Communists in Russia who are courageous and know how to tell the truth.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009