The First Time in History

Preface--L. Trotsky

Of the October Revolution and of Soviet Russia there is already a large literature. On account of the very character of the revolutionary epoch, each new book has characterized, with good will or with malice, a new step in the rapid course of revolutionary development.

There exist not a few books devoted to our civil war. Some of them paint our cruelty and blood-thirstiness; others tell of the heroism of the workers' vanguard, of the unexampled self-sacrifice of the toilers in the struggle for great new aims. Undoubtedly the breadth of the revolutionary struggle, its great sacrifices, have attracted to the cause of the Russian Revolution the sympathies not only of the toiling masses, but also of the better elements in the intellectual classes.

It is, however, necessary to state that the sympathies of these latter have not always proved stable. More than once we have observed that the very persons and groups among the intellectuals who accepted the Revolution but sighed on account of her cruelties and destructive influence on culture, yet felt themselves not only injured but somewhat insulted when the Revolution went over to the insistent drudgery of daily effort;--from the heights of tragic poetry they, don't you see, were thrown down to the prosaic depths of the NEP. (New Economic Policy.)

The trouble is that the ethical-esthetic standard by which is guided a considerable, and not the worst, part of the intellectuals, is entirely unfit for the grasping of great historic events. History is not at all guided in its movements by the rules of morals and beauty; it follows the logic of its inherent forces, the classes and material factors underlying the bases of all society. Ethics and aesthetics are already phenomena of second or third place. The new class, in the severe struggle towards a new epoch of history, by that very struggle lays down paths to new ethics and aesthetics.

"Alas! alas!" exclaim some of the injured "friends" in Russia, "behold the unlimited reign of Tsar Nep. Where is the tragic and bleeding Russia of 1918, 1919 and 1920?"

The author of the present book, Anna Louise Strong, does not belong to the number of such "friends." She approached the Revolution not from the asthetic, or contemplative point of view, but from the point of view of action. Under the prose of the Nep, as well as under the dramatic events of the civil war, she was able to see, or perhaps at the very beginning, merely to feel,--the intense, stubborn, uncompromising struggle against age-long slavery, darkness, barbarism for new higher forms of life. When the Volga was stricken by famine, Miss Strong arrived in Russia for the difficult, dangerous struggle with hunger and epidemics. She herself went through typhus. In her numerous articles and correspondence, she tirelessly made breaches in that wall of reactionary lies that made the most important part of the imperialistic blockade around the Revolution. This does not mean, of course, that Miss Strong was hiding the black spots; but she tried to understand and explain to others how these facts grew out of the past in its conflict with the future.

Thanks to such an approach, the only correct one, the NEP for the author of this book is not vulgar prose, and not a liquidation of the Revolution, but one of its necessary stages. The very people who fought on all the fronts of the civil war,--except, of course, for the tens of thousands who fell victims to French, English and American imperialism,--are working for the economic restoration of the country, in the name of the same aims, with the same energy, the same readiness to give themselves completely. The difficulties here are truly incredible, our economic and cultural backwardness is immeasurable, but a knowledge of our own backwardness, when it takes hold of the wide masses of the people, becomes in itself the greatest force towards culture. This force has been awakened by the Revolution. We have it, and on it we are building. One of the stages of our building, not infrequently mistaken, often awkward, but historically unconquerable, Anna Louise Strong shows in her book. That is why we think it has a right to attention.


Moscow, 1923.