The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


Individual terror sets as its task the murder of isolated individuals in order to provoke a political movement and even a political revolution. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the question of individual terror had importance not only as a general principle, but also had enormous political significance, since there existed in Russia the petit-bourgeois party of the Socialist Revolutionaries (epigones of the heroic Narodnaya Volya), who followed the tactic of individual terror with regard to tsarist ministers and governors. The Russian Marxists, including Trotsky during his earliest years, took part in the fight against the adventuristic tactic of individual terror and its iilusions, which counted not upon the movement of the masses of workers, but on the terrorists’ bomb to open the road to revolution. To individual terror, Marxism counterposes the proletarian revolution.

From his youth, Trotsky adhered resolutely and forever to Marxism. If one were to publish everything which Trotsky wrote, it would make dozens of thick volumes. One would not be able to find in them a single line which betrayed an equivocal attitude toward individual terror. How strange it is to have to even speak of it today!

Here is how Trotsky formulated the position of Marxism toward individual terror in an article appearing in the Austrian newspaper Der Kampf, in 1911:

Whether or not a terrorist attack, even if “successful,” provokes disturbance in the ruling circles depends on the concrete political circumstances. In any case, this disturbance can only be short-lived; the capitalist state does not rest on ministers and cannot be destroyed together with them. The classes which it serves will always find new men; the mechanism remains intact and continues its work.

But the disturbance which the terrorist attack brings to the ranks of the working masses themselves is much more profound. If it suffices to arm oneself with a revolver to arrive at the goal, why then the efforts of the class struggle? If one can intimidate high-ranking people with the thunder of an explosion, why then a party?

The Marxist Trotsky has given his whole conscious life, forty years! – to the workers movement. The last twenty years of Trotsky’s revolutionary activity have been spent before the eyes of the whole world. In this activity his worst enemies could not find an instance of “double-entry bookeeping,” or compromises with Marxism. For forty years, Trotsky has always taken the direct path to the final goal. To now take the path of individual terror, to renounce Marxism, would signify for Trotsky not only renouncing himself, but also reducing to nothing the fruits of forty years of revolutionary activity. That would signify political suicide.

Rejecting individual terror with regard to the bourgeois police state, because only the proletariat itself can overthrow this state, the Bolshevik-Leninist-Marxists still more strongly reject individual terror in the country of Soviets, where the greatest social revolution in history was accomplished. Individual terror in the USSR, completely independently of the intentions of the terrorists themselves, can only serve the cause of Bonapartist counterrevolution and could only facilitate the victory of fascism in the USSR.

In contrast to the bureaucrats and terrorists, the Left Opposition has always thought that the problem does not rest with Stalin personally, but in those social changes which have occurred in the USSR and as a result of which the victory of Stalin was guaranteed. Stalin’s absolutism is not at all accidental, it is result of historical development. It is not Stalin personally who holds unlimited power, but the bureaucracy as a social layer, through Stalin. This limitless power was given to the bureaucracy by the reaction which followed the heroic period of the Russian revolution. The strength of the bureaucracy and, derived from it, the strength of Stalin, “the party’s most eminent mediocrity,” does not at all lie in the “genius” of Stalin, but in that relation of class forces, a very unfavorable relationship for the proletariat, as it developed inside and outside the USSR in the recent period.

The removal of Stalin (from his position as General Secretary) as an individual question, was proposed by Lenin at the beginning of 1923, and this could have made sense at that time, because it could have facilitated the struggle against the bureaucracy which had not yet been able to strengthen itself. Today, and even long ago, the question of Stalin, as an independent question, does not exist. It is impossible to change by assassination the relationship of social forces and to stop the objective path of development. The personal removal of Stalin would today signify nothing but his replacement by one of the Kaganoviches whom the Soviet press would overnight turn into the genius of geniuses.

The Soviet bureaucracy is the greatest danger to the USSR. But it can be removed only by an active uprising of the working class. This uprising is only possible as the result of the rebirth of the workers movement in the West, which, reaching the USSR, would undermine and sweep away the Stalinist absolutism. There can be no other road for revolutionary Marxists. And it is not with the aid of some police machinations that Stalin will discredit Marxism and Marxists! For nearly a hundred years the worldwide police have been working toward this, from Bismarck and Napoleon III, but each time they have only burned their fingers. The police falsifications and machinations of Stalin hardly surpass the other examples of this same work; but he has carried them out – and in what a manner! – by “confessions” torn from the accused by the infinitely refined methods of the Inquisition.

To discredit Marxism, Stalin puts onto the stage the same Reingoid, who declares that “Zinoviev based (sic) the necessity of using terrorism on this, that although (?) terror was incompatible with Marxism, at the present time it is necessary to cast this (!!) aside.” What a beautiful accumulation of words! Zinoviev, don’t you see, based this on the fact, that although this is incompatible with Marxism, this has to be “cast aside.” What complete idiocy!

Toward Marxism, as toward theory in general, Stalin shows fear, and at the same time, a sort of contempt. A limited empiricist, “a practical person,” Stalin has always been a stranger to the theory of Marxism. For him, Marxism, more exactly the arguments “from Marxism,” are first of all a cover, a smokescreen. The “practical” arguments, those of day-today life and, in particular, the arguments of political gangsterism, are obviously closer to him. There, he is in his element.

If we approach the question of individual terror in the USSR, not from a theoretical, but a purely “empirical” point of view, from the point of view of so-called common sense, then it suffices to draw the following conclusion: the assassinated Kirov is immediately replaced by another Kirov-Zhdanov (Stalin has as many as he needs in reserve.) Meanwhile hundreds of people are shot, thousands, and very probably tens of thousands, are deported. The vise is tightened by several turns.

If Kirov’s assassination helped anyone, it is certainly the Stalinist bureaucracy. Under the cover of the struggle against “terrorists,” it has stifled the last manifestations of critical thought in the USSR. It has placed a heavy tombstone on all the living.

In fact, it is Stalin himself who pushed isolated groups of youth who are politically backwards and desperate onto the road of terrorism. By reducing liberty to the right to be a docile subject, by stifling all social life in the USSR, by giving no one the possibility of expressing his opinion in the framework of proletarian democracy, Stalin necessarily pushes isolated and desperate men onto the road of terrorism. The personification of the regime – the party does not exist, the working class does not exist, only Stalin and the local Kaganovich exist – this also cannot fail to feed terrorist tendencies. To the extent that these really exist in the USSR, Stalin – and he alone carries the full political responsibility. It is his regime which gives birth to them and not the Left Opposition.

It is also in this direction that the monstrous and bestial repression acts, in particular the latest Moscow shootings (and across the entire USSR there are undoubtedly shootings of which we know nothing!) At the time of Nikolaev’s revolver shot we, the communist-internationalists, had already condemned individual terror in the most pitiless and most decisive fashion. Today we maintain this point of view more firmly than ever. If Stalin, by his policy, his regime and the extermination of the Opposition, can create a terrorist state of mind, then revolutionary duty imperiously demands that the Bolshevik-Leninists repeat once again with all their energy: the path or individual terror is not our path, it can only be the path to the destruction of the revolution. It can facilitate the victory of the Bonapartist counterrevolution and only that.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005