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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter III:
The Testament of Lenin

LENIN evidently knew the drift of things in the Central Committee during those last months. And he had the intention to correct it at the forthcoming convention of the party. But he also knew that he might not be able to attend the convention – he knew, as they did, that he might drop out of the scene at any moment – and so he wrote a letter to the party, to be read at that convention. [1] This letter, which was an express warning of the danger of a split in the party, and an attempt to avert it, went directly to the question of personal authority. Lenin confided it to his wife. She did not read it at the ensuing convention of the party (April 1923), because although Lenin had suffered a severe relapse, and withdrawn completely from active life, still the doctors assured her that there was a hope of his return. And at the next convention (May 1924), the machine organised by Stalin and Zinoviev was already strong enough to defy the last will and testament of Lenin. The central committee of the party, by a vote of about thirty against ten – and against the demand of Lenin’s wife – decided not to read his last letter to the party. [2] Thus one of the most solemn and carefully weighed utterances that ever came from Lenin’s pen, was suppressed – in the interests of “Leninism” – by that triumvirate [3] of “Old Bolsheviks,” Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who govern the Russian Communist Party.

What does the letter say about these Old Bolsheviks? Of Stalin, it says that he has concentrated too much power in his hands, and it demands that he be removed from his dominating position as secretary of the party. It criticises his character as “too brutal.”

Of Zinoviev and Kamenev it says just one thing: “Their retreat in October was not accidental.” That this is the most damaging thing Lenin could say about them, from the standpoint of their authority as Bolsheviks, will not appear immediately to the English reader. I advise him to examine Lenin’s own characterisation of that “retreat” – the Russian word also means “apostacy” – which I have translated in Appendix III. There were, in fact, two retreats at two different times, and Lenin characterised Zinoviev and Kamenev the first time as “strike-breakers” and “traitors,” and the second time as “unbelievers,” “waverers,” “doubters,” “deserters,” “strike-breakers,” and surrenderors to the bourgeoisie. The first retreat was immediately before the revolution of October, the second was immediately after it. That Lenin so judged these men throughout the most critical days in the life of the party, had been by common consent forgotten. Their ability and prestige were needful to him, and neither of them ever opposed him upon a vital question again. Faced with the probability of his own death, however, Lenin saw fit to remind the party of that incident, and declare that their behaviour above characterised was “not accidental.”

Lenin said in his Testament, that of the younger men the two most promising were Bucharin and Pitiakov. He did not qualify his praise of Pitiakov – who has stood with Trotsky throughout this crisis. His praise of Bucharin he did qualify in a very damaging way. Bucharin’s prestige rests, by about one-half, upon his personal popularity. Revolutionary self-denial and devotion and courage and simplicity of life, are the causes of it. The other half of his prestige rests upon a supposed theoretic mastery of the Marxian philosophy. Bucharin has written a book about Historic Materialism, which is at once so scholarly in appearance, and so utterly undigested and confusing to the brain, that most people are willing to concede his mastery of Marxism in order to avoid having to read and study this book. What Lenin said about Bucharin is that he “does not understand the Marxian dialectic” – which means that he does not know how to think with the method of Lenin – and that he is scholastic. “His head is full of books,” is about the expression that Lenin used.

What makes these attacks upon the authority of Stalin and Zinoviev and Kamenev and Bucharin so significant, is that Lenin’s letter began with the statement that Trotsky, in spite of his “too great self-confidence,” is “a devoted revolutionist,” and “the outstanding member of the Central Committee.” [4]

There exist enormous rumours about this letter, extending its details to several pages. It was, like every communication of Lenin upon a subject involving personal emotion, extremely brief. Lenin knew the weight of every word he was writing. He knew what Bonaparte fable he was explaining away, when he said that Trotsky’s fault was only a “too great self-confidence,” and that Trotsky was a “devoted revolutionist.” And the word which I have translated “outstanding” [5] is the one which Lenin habitually used to mean simply, and without emotion, the ablest and the greatest. A more direct endorsement of Trotsky’s authority – and incidentally that of Pitiakov – and a more direct warning against the excessive power of the group that is now ruling the Russian Communist Party and the International, could hardly have been pennedby Lenin.


1. The letter was written early in the winter of 1922-23.

2. They decided that it might be read and explained privately to the delegates – kept within the bureaucracy, that is to say – but not put before the party for discussion, as Lenin directed.

3. I adopt the word “triumvirate” from the popular talk in Russia. It was these three, working together, who maintained a balance of power against Trotsky in the Politburo when Lenin fell sick, and they formed the nucleus of the subsequent movement against him. Kamenev is decidedly subordinate, and there is at present a bitter rivalry between Stalin and Zinoviev.

4. The reader can rely absolutely upon the phrases from this letter which I have placed in quotation marks. They were verbally agreed upon by three responsible Communists in Russia, whom I interviewed separately and who had all recently read the letter and committed its vital phrases to memory.

At the same time with this letter, Lenin dictated two others – one of them that in which he “came to meet” Trotsky on the matter of Government Planning. The peculiar state of amnesia developed by the leaders of the bureaucracy in regard to the suppressed letter may be seen in the following quotation from a recent article by Bucharin, referring to the two that were not suppressed:

“Ilych, it seems to me, saw that his end was inevitable, saw it better than his nearest comrades, better than the doctors and professors. And when the second attack felled him, he dictated his political testament, and on the edge of the grave said things which for decades will determine the policies of our party. Thus once again, and for the last time, Ilych says to the party his last substantial words ...” (Pravda, January 21st, 1925.)

5. “Democritus was the outstanding materialist among the Greeks,” is a quotation from Lenin which shows his use of this word – Sarnie Vidaiuachisa in Russian.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009