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John G. Wright

Trotsky’s Biography of Stalin –
The Meaning of the Attacks Upon It

(18 May 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 20, 18 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is the first in a series of articles that The Militant will carry in connection with the publication of Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.

Few biographies have created the sensation aroused by the release of Stalin to the public. The reason for this and for the importance attached to this book can be fully understood only in the light of all the circumstances surrounding it. Years before the book itself reached the hands of the readers it had already become the center of vast international intrigue and struggle.

Who was more qualified to write a biography of the Kremlin dictator than Trotsky? In addition to his great literary gifts, his exceptional objectivity and his unquestioned ability to interpret events and individuals, Leon Trotsky brought to this work the knowledge of an eyewitness and a direct participant in the decisive events that shaped Stalin’s entire career.

Trotsky was the lone survivor abroad of the entire generation of Lenin’s leading collaborators. That is why Stalin feared him so; that is why he lamented in public that he had made a “mistake” in agreeing to exile Trotsky to Turkey in 1929.

Trotsky knew the truth about Stalin’s role in the counter-revolution in the USSR and was able to tell it better than anyone else. Stalin reached his decision to murder Trotsky long before the latter began working on this book. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons for staging the infamous Moscow frameups of 1936–38, in which Trotsky and his son Sedov figured as the principal defendants, was to prepare politically for the subsequent assassinations of both.

Try to Burn Archives

When the news reached the Kremlin that Trotsky had begun work on Stalin, the GPU redoubled its activities. They spared no efforts to destroy not only the author but also his archives and the manuscript. The GPU machine-gun squad that assaulted Trotsky’s home in Mexico on the night of May 24, 1940 tried to set his library on fire with incendiary bombs.

Trotsky was hastening to complete the manuscript, and was actually at work on it when the GPU assassin finally struck him down on August 20, 1940.

But while Stalin succeeded in preventing Trotsky from finishing the book, he was unable to destroy it. The most important sections dealing with Stalin’s real role in the Bolshevik movement prior to and during the Russian revolution, were completed. This part of Stalin’s past is one of the Kremlin bureaucracy’s most jealously guarded secrets. Stalin has for years sought to eradicate every trace of it. Documents and books in the USSR relating to this period have been systematically destroyed, and countless others falsified.

Book Recalled

The remaining part of Stalin (beginning with chapter VII) was left unfinished, but nevertheless in suitable form for publication. Harper and Brothers arbitrarily decided, however, that the man hired to translate the book should “edit” it. Whereupon the translator proceeded to interpolate material into the unfinished chapters. The views in some of these interpolations run directly counter to Trotsky’s own ideas.

After thus tampering with the text, the publishers then announced its publication in the fall of 1941. But it was not released. Even the review copies, already sent out, were recalled. This was one of the many favors that Roosevelt and the State Department accorded at the time to their “ally” in the Kremlin. Just as there were political motives for the suppression of Stalin in 1941, so, too, the break-up of the wartime alliance between Moscow and Washington permits the publishers to release the book in 1946.

Trotsky’s treatment of Stalin’s life has been subjected to attack by both capitalist critics and spokesmen for the Kremlin. The capitalist reviewers assail the book because its author personifies the Russian and world socialist revolution, and in his ideas defends the interests of the workers against all their enemies and misleaders.

The task of the Stalinist agents is to lie, slander and vilify the biography just as they lied, slandered and vilified its author when he was alive. Stalin must try to cast a shadow over the book because even from a purely factual standpoint it contains material highly damaging to the fraudulent biography the Kremlin despot has manufactured for himself.

While the Daily Worker as yet remains studiously silent, the work of defamation is being carried on, for the time being, by journalistic prostitutes who assume the pose of impartial observers. We will deal in detail with this two-front attack by the capitalist and GPU reviewers in a subsequent article.

Valuable History

The book is valuable not only from the standpoint of the data it contains on Stalin and Stalinism but also from the standpoint of the history of the Bolshevik Party. Before he began working on Stalin, Trotsky had been engaged in preparing a biography of Lenin. Because of its relevancy, Trotsky transferred a great deal of the material intended for use in that latter volume into the work on Stalin. In point of content it is the most brilliant product of Trotsky’s pen.

This outstanding biography in Marxist literature is, by a savage irony of history, the biography of the most abysmal betrayer of Marxism.

Stalin deserves the attention of every serious worker who is interested in the struggle for socialism. It casts an illuminating light on the real issues in the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin. This struggle was not at all a personal feud but a life and death duel between two diametrically opposed systems of ideas. What separates these two systems of ideas is the class struggle. Trotsky remained on the workers’ side of the barricade; Stalin deserted to the class enemy. Precisely for this reason this biography constitutes a powerful political weapon for the class-conscious workers.

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