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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter IX:
They Defend “Leninism”

To all this campaign of calumny and falsification Trotsky’s only reply was the following sentence inserted in the issue of Pravda for December 18th:

“I make no response to certain specific articles which have recently appeared in Pravda, since I think this better answers the interests of the party, and in particular of the discussion now in progress about the New Course.”

Having made this statement, Trotsky continued to define his position, impersonally, and with an elevation of thought and language that is unexcelled in the literature of revolution. Some of the essays in his little book on The New Course will take their place with the classics of Marxism.

In further defining his position upon the question of the old Bolsheviks and the new generation, Trotsky made the following statement:

“The point is exactly this, that the older generation should consciously change the course and thus guarantee their continued governing influence in the whole work of a self-active party.”

In further defining his position upon the question of renewing the party apparatus, he made this statement:

“It is monstrous to think that the party will break, or permit anybody to break its apparatus. The party knows that the most precious elements, in whom are incarnated an enormous part of our past experience, enter into the apparatus. But it wants to renew the apparatus, and remind its apparatus that it is elected by the party, and should not isolate itself from the party.”

In further defining his position upon the question of fractions Trotsky made the following statements:

“Fractions are the greatest evil possible in our circumstances, and groupings – even temporary ones – may transform themselves into fractions ... The party does not want fractions, and will not permit them.”

The articles containing these statements were published before the meeting of the conference of party officials in January. They were in the hands of these officials when they adopted the resolution which has put Trotsky before the world as having issued a “fractionalist manifesto,” attacking the leadership of the Old Bolsheviks, “pitting the younger generation against the fundamental framework of the party,” “giving the slogan ‘Destruction of the Apparatus of the Party,’” and “replacing the Bolshevik conception of the party as an organic whole, by another conception which makes the party an assemblage of groups and fractions.” [1]

Trotsky’s book was practically suppressed by the Politburo until they were sure of the success of their manoeuvre – and this, notwithstanding an order of the Central Committee, signed by Stalin and published in Pravda for December 15th, directing all the organisations of the party to permit a free and unhindered discussion of the resolution on Workers’ Democracy. This discussion ought, in the opinion of the Central Committee, to “involve the whole mass of the party membership in all corners of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.” Notwithstanding that excellent resolution, the unofficial suppression of Trotsky’s brochure was entirely effective. The brochure could not be openly bought, and a very general impression prevailed that it had been officially suppressed. Even after this embargo was removed, the whole apparatus of news and book distribution continued to impede its circulation. And in the meantime a stupendous “educational campaign” was undertaken in every town and hamlet of Russia, throughout the party locals, the trade unions, the schools, and the regiments of the Red Army, explaining that Trotsky had made an attack on the principles of Lenin, intimating that there had always been a conflict between them, and that Trotsky has always sought for some independent course which would set him off against Lenin, and make him seem as great. In short, an advertising campaign which outdoes anything known to the most enormous American manufacturing industry, a campaign endowed with the power to suppress the advertisements of its rivals as well as propagate its own, undertook to convince the Russian proletariat and Communist Party, and the proletariat and Communist parties of the whole world, that Trotsky is not only intellectually irresponsible and at heart a Menshevik, but that he is personally ambitious and would like to grab the power with a view to turning Leninism into “Trotskyism.” An irresponsible and ill-written pamphlet professing to give an account of Trotsky’s intellectual development, and stating that “Trotskyism” has always been “a form of intellectual opportunism ... guided in its political activities by the mood of the moment,” and that “Trotsky has always been in the sphere of political questions a revolutionary dilettante” [2] – was spread through the territory of the Union of Soviet Republics, like the Bible of the Gideons through the commercial hotels of the United States. The whole past history of the Russian revolution was revised and amended in order to create a picture of the original sin and unregenerate rebellion of Trotsky against Leninism. And not only the past but the present history, and not only the Russian but the more recent German revolution, was compelled to pay its tribute to this inebriate crusade. A wholesale redistribution of jobs was put into operation, such as to remove from positions of influence any persons who were known to support the programme of Workers’ Democracy as sincerely interpreted by Trotsky. Wholesale expulsions of students from the universities were enacted on the same principle. Old Bolsheviks, some of them the closest personal friends and aides of Lenin, were rooted up from positions of administrative importance, and shipped away to kick their heels in foreign embassies. And the organisation of the Red Army, created by Trotsky, understood by him, loyal to him, and under his hand the most powerful instrument ever possessed by a revolutionary movement in the world, was invaded and ripped to pieces and weakened of its power to defend the revolution, in order to make sure that it will never defend the name of Trotsky against those who are determined to destroy it.

The resolution on Workers’ Democracy had declared that “the party must facilitate the flowing in of new groups of industrial workers, and their promotion from candidates to members.” And Trotsky had emphasised this necessity, too, in his letters on the New Course. The bureaucracy seized upon this as an opportunity to change at a stroke the essential composition of the party. Passing a resolution to admit 100,000 workers, they opened the gates to almost 200,000. And, instead of “facilitating their promotion” from candidates (or probational members) to complete membership, they endowed them immediately with the right to vote for delegates to the next Congress of the party. At the same time they passed a resolution that no more “intellectuals” should be admitted. And in the spring they instituted a “purgation” of the party, directed particularly to the expulsion of intellectuals who failed in some respects to come up to the standards of “Leninism.” It is perfectly obvious that all these drastic measures, carried out in a hurry, and at the height of the panic about Trotsky’s alleged attack on “Leninism,” resulted automatically in perfecting the control of his enemies upon the party. One need not even attribute to them a conscious intention, though it would be idiotic to ignore it. The selections of new members and the expulsions of old were carried out by the existing apparatus, already “dangerously” bureaucratised by its own confession, and now very widely indoctrinated with the necessity of defending “Leninism” against “Trotskyism.” The result was a perfectly automatic change of composition of the party in the direction of support to the existing machine and opposition to Trotsky.

Even had there been no selection by the bureaucracy, the very admission of an enormous number of workers in the shops, and an expulsion of “intellectuals,” at just that moment, must inevitably strengthen the hold of the bureaucracy. This is not only because the workers are inherently more subject to organisational management than the intellectuals – their fundamental revolutionary strength being in this situation a weakness – but it is also because of the intellectual complexity of the trick that had been played upon them. It is perfectly clear from the citations I have adduced that only a man having some time for critical study, and also some training in such study, could save himself, except by a rare emotional intuition, from becoming the dupe of the official machine. The confident love of the whole underlying mass of the party, workers and intellectuals alike, for Trotsky was what originally compelled his enemies to resort to this campaign of slander and falsification. But after they had carried their campaign through to the end, brutally and ruthlessly, it followed as an automatic conclusion that Trotsky’s support remained firmest in those sections ofthe party possessing intellectual leisure and the habit of critical thought.

I promised to tell the reader all the points that were made against Trotsky in the course of this stampede. And this is the last one – that, after it was over, Trotsky appeared to be a man who was better supported by the intellectuals than by the workers. This inevitable result of the demagogue-method by which he had been attacked was converted into an argument against him as the leader of a proletarian revolution. And this argument was reinforced by an additional fact, namely, that the whole general population of Russia – including those who would like to hang him – admire Trotsky, and have the same involuntary respect for him that they had for Lenin. Everybody loves a hero, though the fight goes on. But those very same “proletarian” writers who repeated a thousand times in praise of Lenin the fact that his enemies admired him, adduce this fact about Trotsky in proof that he really belongsto the bourgeoisie.

Through all this proceeding Trotsky remained silent, doing his work so far as health and the will of the triumvirate permitted him to do it, preparing his own documentary history of the past, and studying the economic situation with a view to some comprehensive plan which may guarantee the future of the revolution. His personal popularity, however, supported by the simple fact that he had approached a revolutionary problem with Marxian understanding and in the spirit of Lenin, continued to embarrass his enemies. And not feeling strong enough to eliminate him from the government, they put forth the preposterous demand that he should “acknowledge his mistakes.” At the party convention in May, 1924, Zinoviev officially voiced this challenge, and it was the general feeling in the party, and even among the friends of Trotsky, that he ought to appear and speak at the party convention. Many had the impression that his illness and his subsequent absence in the Caucasus were the reasons for his not responding personally and polemically to the attacks upon him. Trotsky hesitated long about speaking at the convention. It was undoubtedly one of the most perfectly ‘’packed” conventions ever held in the history of the world. And what could be gained by repeating again, and redefining, those clear thoughts which they were inflexibly determined to pervert? Nevertheless, Trotsky finally yielded to the general demand. He acted upon the counsel of Lenin: “The party will learn not to exaggerate its differences.” [3] He spoke with the utmost moderation and restraint, reasserting his opposition to fractionalism, and his loyal submission to the discipline of the party, explaining once more exactly what he meant about the two generations, and merely recalling to the delegates that the danger of bureaucratism against which he had struggled was generally recognised, and that the admission of 200,000 workers, although improving the social composition of the party, had not removed that danger. The problem of the relation between the “old theoretically experienced and tempered generation” who govern the party, and the “innumerable youth,” had been made only “more pressing and more important.”

It was an admirable speech, quiet and profound and sure; but I think it was one of the hardest ordeals in Trotsky’s life. He came into the tribune with signs of pain in his face and bearing that I have never seen before. When it was over, these signs were gone, and the next morning, at a celebration in the aerodrome, he was radiant with energy and health and good confident laughter, as always. It was against his instinct to try to say anything to that convention, and the event proved that he was right. The heads of the party were determined to “exaggerate its differences.” His restraint and moderation only set them free. Nothing that he said was met and answered; there was no discussion of any problem. An exhibition was put on of the perfection of the bureaucratic machine – an exhibition which proved the truth of everything that Trotsky had said, but only by the process of automatically dismissing and ridiculing it. Trotsky had spoken in the morning, and all day long one obedient delegate after another, constituting a kind of representative bouquet from all sections of the party, stepped up and made his little superficial contribution, not to a solution of the great and real problem of the party’s future which had been raised by Trotsky, but to the business of confirming and perpetuating the false paper caricature of Trotsky, which they had learned by heart from the writings of Stalin, and Zinoviev, and Kamenev, and Bucharin and their associates.

The general drift of their remarks was that Trotsky’s speech had been unintelligible, equivocal, “diplomatic” – Trotsky had not been candid. In view of this, it is worth while to quote his opening sentences:

“I will concentrate, or I will try at least to concentrate, your attention upon that question, an explanation of which the Congress (or a certain part of it – more truly, all of it) expects from me, but in doing this I will set aside from the beginning – and I think the convention will understand my motives – all that which might in any degree sharpen the question, introduce personal moments, and make more difficult the liquidation of the difficulties which have arisen before the party, and from which we all want to extricate the party with benefit for its further work. If for this reason I do not touch upon a series of sharp issues with which my name has lately been associated, that is not because I would decline to give the Congress an answer to any question whatever ...”

Not one of the delegates who proceeded to pounce upon Trotsky’s speech for its unintelligibility and lack of candour, not one of them, though they devoted the whole day to this matter, essentially involving Trotsky’s personal attitude, accepted his invitation to ask him a question. That is a sufficient testimony to the machine character of the whole performance. They did not want him to answer any questions. They did not want him to introduce “personal moments” or touch upon any of those “sharp issues” of which I have written the history here.

I will give you an example of the intellectual level upon which this “discussion” was carried on. In declaring his loyalty to the discipline of the party, Trotsky had made this statement:

“The party in the last account is always right, because the party is the single historic instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its fundamental problems. I have already said that before the face of one’s own party nothing could be easier than to acknowledge a mistake, nothing easier than to say: all my criticisms, my announcements, my warnings, my protests – the whole thing was a mere mistake. I, however, comrades, cannot say that, because I do not think it. I know that one must not be right against the party. One can be right only with the party, and through the party, for history has created no other road for the realisation of what is right. The English have a saying: ‘ Right or wrong, it is my country.’ With far greater historic justification we may say: Right or wrong, in separate particular concrete questions, at separate moments, nevertheless it is my party ...” [4]

Whatever you may think of this statement, and of the Hegelian-Marxian philosophy of history in which it has its roots, you certainly cannot imagine that it imputes to the party a papal infallibility in the solution of “separate, particular, concrete questions at separate moments.” And yet that was the meaning attributed to it throughout the discussion. And, thanks principally to Stalin and Zinoviev, all official Communist Moscow was seriously discussing for some days after, the question whether the Russian Communist Party is infallible! Here is what Stalin said – you must judgefor yourself whether with clever dishonesty, or naive stupidity:

“ ‘The party,’ says Trotsky, ‘cannot make a mistake.’ That is not true. The party often makes mistakes. Ilych taught us to teach the leaders of the party on their own mistakes. If the party never made mistakes, there would he nothing on which to teach the party.... I think this sort of an announcement from Comrade Trotsky is something of a compliment, with something of an attempt to make fun of us – an attempt, to be sure, not very successful.” [5]

And here is Zinoviev :

“Comrade Stalin said, and I, of course, am in full accord with him, that the party can make mistakes. It is useless to hand us these sour-sweet compliments. The party has no need of that. Can you imagine Vladimir Ilych ever coming out on the platform and saying that the party cannot make a mistake? ‘A switch!’ you remember. It was he that said it at one Congress of the soviets. ‘A switch is what you need. If we make mistakes, we will fail and go up the spout!’ That is what he said, and not, on the one hand, ‘the party is wrong, and, on the other hand, the party ‘cannot make mistakes.’There, that’s your answer to the question whether the party can make mistakes!” [6]

Are we to take this sort of thing, this solemn juvenile nonsense – “Stalin says that the party can make mistakes, and I, of course, am in full accord with him” – as the serious meditation of the leaders of the international proletariat? For my part, as I listened to their speeches, I found it impossible to credit them with so silly and superficial a pair of brains. The performance at this convention was a continuation of the deliberately unscrupulous campaign carried on during the winter. Sometimes a gang of mediocre bad boys will decide to make the world an impossible place for mature people, to whom truth is true and important things are important. If a gang of these boys had got their bottoms into the vacant chair of Lenin, they would behave towards Trotsky in about the same way that these great revolutionists have behaved.

As for the minor delegates, their performance reminded me of nothing so much as the Armistice Day exercises in a patriotic American private school. The originality of each pupil and, at the same time, their perfect training, is demonstrated by the clever variety of ways in which they all say the same thing, namely, that they hate the Germans and cleave to the Stars and Stripes. A greater contrast to the earnest and terribly honest analytical confronting of every suggestion concerning the problems of the revolution, which has always been the single occupation of the conventions of Lenin’s party, could not be imagined. The thing was so manifestly a mere staged ceremony of mutilating the corpse of Trotsky’s authority in the party machine, that at last Lenin’s wife asked for the floor, and reminded the delegates that they were not discussing any practical question and that, if Trotsky had declared that he was against fractions, that was enough. She was greeted with rounds of applause, which suggested that the delegates were sick of their own performance, and after a full day devoted to it, in a late hour of the evening, this post-mortem ceremony came to an end.

It remained plausible, however, that the “debate” must be “summed up.” And the better part of the next morning was devoted to a resume of the now perfectly stereotyped falsifications of Trotsky’s position by Stalin and Zinoviev – the speeches from which I have quoted. Stalin rehearsed his “Six Mistakes of Comrade Trotsky” – reduced to five now, because he had found it convenient to forget one of them. [7] And Zinoviev, holding Trotsky’s little book on The New Course in his hand, and sweeping the delegates after him in a torrent of contemptuous oratory – not omitting a sneer at the “Christian Socialism” of Lenin’s wife for her intervention of the night before [8] – made a series of statements, of which the following is a typical example:

“In this book there is a whole chapter on fractions and groupings. There it is not said, ‘I am for groupings and fractions.’ That is not said directly, but it is written betweenthe lines. Everybody understood it so at the time. That is just such a clever ‘diplomatic’ article as yesterday’s speech.”

Knowing that if anybody had looked inside of Trotsky’s book, he would have found fractions denounced there as a “malicious caricature” of the programme he was advocating, and as a “terrible political danger,” and that he would have found the assertion that “fractions are the greatest evil possible in our circumstances, and groupings – even temporary ones – can turn into fractions,” and the statement that “the party does not want fractions, and will not permit them” – knowing this fact, I walked out after the meeting into an adjoining enormous hall, which was full to the windows of piles of every species of revolutionary literature that has been published by any publishing house in Russia, from Marx’s Capital to the last little pamphlet of an aspiring high-school teacher – all for the instruction of the delegates – and I asked for a copy of Trotsky’s New Course, and I was informed that it was not on hand. I never saw a copy of the book outside of Zinoviev’s possession during the whole of this performance, which was supposed to be a discussion by grown men, “in the spirit of Lenin,” of the infinitely precise and conscientious thoughts contained in it.

It was a few days before this Congress that Lenin’s wife presented to the Central Committee the Testament of Lenin [9], his letter, which he had directed should be read to the Party Congress, and which demanded the removal of Stalin from his place of power, warned them that the behaviour of Zinoviev and Kamenev in October was not accidental, and that Bucharin does not know how to think like a Marxian, and explained that Trotsky’s fault is only an excessive self-confidence, and that he is a devoted revolutionist, and the outstanding revolutionist among them. Lenin’s wife demanded that the letter should be read as Lenin directed. It was a severe test for the machine – for the triumvirate – but there was only a moment of wavering. The letter was soon locked up in the safe. Zinoviev closed the convention with a benediction:

“Although we may not have seen so clearly, or so deeply, or so far, as Vladimir Ilych knew how to, yet one thing can be said, that the whole convention, like one man, has been inspired with a desire to work as though Vladimir Ilych were among us.”

If you danced on the corpse of Vladimir Ilych, you would insult his spirit less than by clapping the censorship on his own last words to his party, and juggling under the table with the cheapest tricks of the demagogue, the conscientious thoughts of that man whom he designated as the best of you.


1. This conference also condemned the “opposition” – “with Comrade Trotsky at the head of it” – for “interpreting the importance of discipline in a way absolutely contrary to the Bolshevik viewpoint.” It is, therefore, worth while to see just what Trotsky said in his supplementary articles about discipline:

“Where tradition is conservative, there discipline is passive and is violated at the first serious shock. Where, as in our party, tradition consists of the highest revolutionary activity, there discipline attains the highest intensity, for its deciding significance is continually verified in practice. Hence the indissoluble union between revolutionary initiative, bold critical study of problems – and iron discipline in action. Only through the highest activity can the young man receive that tradition of discipline from the old.”

2. This pamphlet was published by the Leningrad Soviet, of which Zinoviev is President.

3. See Appendix II.

4. Stenographic Report of the Thirteenth Congress, p.166.

5. Stenographic Report of the Thirteenth Congress, p.245.

6. Ibid., p.261.

7. See Appendix VII.

8. A parenthetical apology appears in the printed report of Zinoviev’s speech: “The term ‘Christian Socialism’ was employed in similar circumstances by Vladimir Ilych.” (!)

9. See p.28. [See Chapter 3Transcriber Note]

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009