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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter VIII:
Bucharin Falsifies History

I DO not think it is necessary to carry these citations farther, in order to prove that the campaign to depopularise Trotsky by falsifying his position, was deliberate. Either it was deliberate, or the present leaders of the party are hysterics. But the campaign received a certain apparent dignity from the long article by Bucharin, entitled Down with Factionalism, from which I think it is worth while to show the reader a further specimen. Stalin had concluded his original attack upon Trotsky with the statement that Trotsky constitutes a block with the democratic centralists and a part of the “Left Communists.” And Bucharin’s attack begins in harmony with this latter phrase. It tells us that we can only understand the present errors of Trotsky by discovering their origin, and for that purpose it goes back to Brest-Litovsk, and shows us “in what consisted the error of Comrade Trotsky and the Left Communists” in that crisis. It declares that his error consisted in “letting himself be carried away by the revolutionary phrase” – a statement which would indeed place him, as all the readers of Lenin know, among the Left Communists. Trotsky, at Brest-Litovsk, had a marvellous project, but he did not see the “damned reality which the genius of Lenin saw with such prodigious clarity.” And especially he “did not see the peasants, who would not and could not fight.”

From this Bucharin passes to the crisis about the trade unions, and shows that “the error of Trotsky and other comrades” in this crisis sprang from exactly the same cause. They had an excellent “plan” for the amalgamation of the trade unions with the apparatus of the State, but it involved a “political line absolutely contrary to the real state of things.” And Bucharin concludes his historical treatise with the statement that: “Our present divergences with Comrade Trotsky can be traced to the same source. These divergences have always existed, etc., etc. ...” In short, Trotsky has always been a Left Communist.

Does it not strike you as a little peculiar that this campaign against Trotsky, which has resulted in classifying him definitely and decisively as the leader of a “deviation to the right,” should have begun with a suggestion from Stalin and a most elaborate demonstration by Bucharin that Trotsky is a Left Communist? Is it conceivable that if these terms were being used, as they were used by Lenin, to discriminate actual facts, they could have been interchanged in the middle of the discussion without anybody’s noticing it? They were being used as weapons with which to destroy Trotsky’s authority as a disciple of Lenin. And the reason why the weapons were changed in the middle of the discussion, was that it proved expedient to go back farther than the days of Brest-Litovsk – to go back twenty years, in fact, and rake up quotations from the attacks made by Trotsky upon Lenin when Trotsky was trying to unite what he imagined to be the real revolutionists in the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions. It proved expedient to adopt Zinoviev’s form of abuse, instead of the form invented by Stalin and Bucharin. It is obvious that Trotsky cannot be permanently advertised as both a Menshevik and a Left Communist. You may experiment a little in the beginning, but in the long run you have got to standardise your abuse.

I am going to call your attention to another thing about Bucharin’s article. It was not signed by Bucharin; it was described as The Reply of the Editorial Staff of the Central Organ to Comrade Trotsky’s Letter. The reason I happen to know it was written by Bucharin is that Stalin stated this fact in a speech printed in Pravda for January 22nd, 1924. [1] Now let me tell you how Bucharin would have had to write his historical treatise on the errors of Comrade Trotsky if he had signed his article.

He would have had to say: Comrade Trotsky and I “both” took an erroneous position during the debate on the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, because we neither of us had in that crisis an adequate sense of reality. But Trotsky’s sense of reality was so much better than mine that he opposed the program of “revolutionary war” advocated by me and the Left Communists. His programme was to declare the war ended, but make our revolutionary character clear to the German workers by refusing to sign a peace with their rulers. And, moreover, when the Germans advanced, and Lenin declared that if we did not sign the Peace of Brest-Litovsk he would resign from the Government and the Central Committee, Trotsky, stating that we could obviously not fight with a divided party, deliberately withheld his vote and gave the majority to Lenin. Whereas I, with an obstinacy of stupidity that I can now only describe as idiotic, continued to vote against Lenin.

That is how Bucharin would have to write, over his own signature, the history of Brest-Litovsk. And the history of the discussion about the trade unions would fare but little better. For instead of a history of “the errors of Trotsky and other comrades,” it would be a history of the errors of Trotsky and me, each of us composing and advocating “an excellent plan” which, nevertheless, ignored the “real state of things,” and each of us receiving a good sound lecture from Lenin. [2]

It is obvious that such a history could not conclude with the rather pious statement that: “Our present divergences with Comrade Trotsky can be traced to the same source. These divergences have always existed, etc.” It would have to conclude somewhat as follows: “Our present divergences arise from the fact that I, having been upon the whole a great deal foolisher than Comrade Trotsky, and having had a less practical sense of reality, have suddenly become far more wise.”

And to this Bucharin might have added that having always admired Trotsky without bound or limit, having defended his practical judgment and praised his revolutionary devotion – having remembered when others forgot, that Trotsky once cheerfully sacrificed his own prestige in order to defend the prestige of the party – having done all these things in his folly, Bucharin in his wisdom can find nothing better to do than imitate Stalin in imputing to Trotsky’s carefully spoken words exactly the opposite meaning from that which they express, and upon the basis of that imputation describe him as a demagogue. I am going to ask you to attend to one last quotation which is typical of the mode of refuting Trotsky’s arguments adopted in this rather comically top-lofty article of Bucharin’s:

“We must without doubt – and no divergence of views is possible on this point – try during the New Course to elevate as much as possible the political and intellectual activity of the members; we can only do this by employing in the party the methods of democracy. It is clear, and we affirm it, that this is not the question which has provoked the discussion. The question is by what means the party shall be revived. Shall it be by developing ideologically the young adherents of the party and assimilating them to it with the aid of the old staff? ... According to Trotsky, it is not the old guard which should guide the young, but on the contrary, it is the young who should take it upon themselves to conduct the old ... That is evidently a demogogic viewpoint sufficiently remote from Leninism.”

Now let us recur once more to the thoughtful words of Trotsky:

“We ought to state – we ourselves, the ‘old men’ – that our generation, while naturally playing the role of leadership in the party [3], nevertheless does not contain within itself any automatic guarantee against a gradual and unnoticeable weakening of the proletarian and revolutionary spirit, provided the party permits any further growth and hardening of the bureaucratic-apparatus method of politics, which converts the younger generation into passive material for education, and creates inevitably an alienation between the apparatus and the mass, between the old and the young. Against this unquestionable danger there is no other defence, except a serious, deep, radical change of course in the direction of Workers’ Democracy, accompanied by a continually increasing introduction into the party of proletarians who remain in the shops.”

Is not Bucharin’s imputation of demagogism to Trotsky founded upon an exact logical falsification of his words? And if you remove that falsification, what is there that you can insert into its place in the argument of Bucharin, except the honest and obvious truth about the whole situation, namely:

“We must without doubt employ the methods of democracy, ... This is not the question which has provoked the discussion ... The question which has provoked the discussion is whether those methods of democracy shall go far enough to let the party membership take the excessive power out of our hands, and give to Trotsky, whom they love better and trust more, a dominant influence.”


1. As this book goes to press, I learn that Bucharin’s article was subsequently printed over his own signature. – M.E.

2. See Appendix II.

3. Italics mine.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009