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John G. Wright

Antoinette Konikow:
A Trotskyist to the End

From The Militant, Vol. 10, No. 28, July 13, 1946, p. 3.
Digitized & marked up by Marty Goodman & David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Antoinette Konikow was a revolutionary socialist to the last day of her life. A striking incident the night before she died indicates her spirit.

One of her friends in the medical profession, a leading Boston psychiatrist, visited her. Antoinette has long been famous in the medical world. But the conversation quickly turned to questions far more important than shop talk. Antoinette raised the question of dialectical materialism. The doctor responded with an attack on the dialect method claiming that it has not been borne out by latest developments in science.

Antoinette did not spend much time on the defensive. Almost 60 years as a Marxist had taught her the extraordinary importance of the dialectic method, and all her experiences in the medical field as well as study in other sciences had only confirmed what she had learned from the great Marxist teachers. She opened up with a counter-attack that quickly won her the upper hand. And then to pursue her advantage she persuaded her foe in dialectics to continue the subject the following night.

Antoinette wanted to pass on to the younger generation the lessons and truths gleaned in a long lifetime of hard experience. Three years ago, she retired from active practice, intending to devote the remainder of her life entirely to recording the most important things she had learned.

She assembled the great mass of notes she had jotted down from time to time and began putting them in order. First on the agenda was her memoirs. After writing about her childhood and youth in Czarist Russia and Germany as a background, she took up her political recollections. These begin with her impressions of George Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism and teacher of Lenin.

Still Learning – At 76!

To facilitate her work she decided last winter to learn touch typing – at the age of 76! Her letters to the Political Committee changed all at once from the long-familiar, difficult-to-decipher handwriting to neatly typed communications.

But she did not succeed in finishing her memoirs. The considerable body of material she leaves will have to be assorted and woven together by someone else.

Her main objective in this work was to leave the younger generation with a true impression of more than a half century of revolutionary socialism. She had seen what damage opportunism can do. With her own eyes she saw the Second International brought to ruin and betrayal. In the light of this experience she understood to the full the need for battling Stalinism tooth and nail, for the Stalinist regime not only spreads the same poison-of opportunism as the Second International, but wields totalitarian state power with utter ruthlesness.

Consequently she devoted a great deal of her last days to analyzing the revolutionary period of the Communist International in order to show what the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky really set out to do. The task of her generation, she felt, was to hand on the program of revolutionary socialism as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky had shaped it. Her study of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International resulted in an outline for class use and much additional unpublished material.

She wanted especially to write down her impressions of the Bolshevik generation that led the October 1917 revolution. Many of them she knew personally. They were the men cruelly slandered by Stalin as fascist “dogs gone mad.” She knew them to be victims of Stalin, framed-up in the Moscow trials organized by the Kremlin dictator.

In 1940 she visited Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia at Coyoacan. There the friendship with the great revolutionary couple, already many years old, was still more firmly cemented. The assassination of Trotsky by a GPU agent was a terrible personal blow to Antoinette.

Despite her age, Antoinette followed the press very closely. She intervened actively in political events, following the Militant and Fourth International and sending in her criticisms and opinions.

Recently she pointed out the necessity for the European Trotskyist movement to start up a paper in the Russian language. She mentioned the hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking refugees now in various countries. The paper, she thought, should be popularly written, and even if her own Russian wasn’t “classical” she was willing to become a contributor.

Antoinette spent her last days in the kind of surroundings she loved most, a cottage on the shores of Morse Pond, a beautiful lake at Wellesley, Massachusetts. The green surroundings reminded her of the Black Forest country of Germany where she one lived. She particularly admired a great pine tree standing between the porch and the lake. Some time ago a bolt of lightning ripped through the branches of this tree. After every storm Antoinette came out to see hour it had weathered the ordeal. But it always stood, sturdy and strong, ruggedly beautfiul despite the scars of time, wind and lightning.

Busy With Party Tasks

It was here that Antoinette Konikow died, busy with party tasks up to the very end.

Antoinette was not only a great teacher and leader of the Trotskyist movement. She was an Integral part of the Boston branch of the Socialist Workers Party. The members counted her as their closest friend and advisor. Most of them she had nurtured as budding revolutionary socialist politicians of the working class, and she took great personal interest in the development of each one. Her classes in speaking, in the principles of Marxism, and in the history of the movement gave most of the Boston comrades their first insight into Trotskyism.

No one saw through sham and pretense quicker than Antoinette. No one had more contempt for the traitors, the liars and the tyrants who occupy the high places. No one was more revolted than she over the medals showered by Stalin on his sycophants. But that did not prevent her from seeing the value of genuine leaders and of appreciation well earned. In fact she probably understood the pricelessness of these things all the more because she was a real iconoclast. One of the most moving incidents in her political life was her reaction to an autographed photograph and letter from Leon Trotsky on her Fiftieth Anniversary in the Marxist movement. In response to the tribute paid her by those present on the occasion, she responded:

Trotsky’s Warm Tribute

“The comrades have received me with warmth and friendship. It gives me tremendous happiness. The kind words written by Comrade Trotsky on his picture presented to me remind me of the greatest honor – the honor that was! – given to comrades in Russia, the Order of Lenin pinned upon their breasts. I feel as if Comrade Trotsky has pinned the Order of Trotsky on my breast! Not that I am a hero-worshipper – for I have helped to pull down too many heroes from their pedestals. But in the last ten years of darkness, of despair, the words of Leon Trotsky have been like a bell for a ship in distress, leading it to safe harbor.”

Last updated: 19 June 2021