Max Nomad, Rebels and Renegades, 1932.
Grandeur and Misery of Power
Sensitive souls in both hemispheres have found in Trotsky's fall from power a subject for melancholy meditation. They have expatiated upon the ingratitude of revolutions which devour their own children, the mercilessness of human hatreds and jealousies, and the fleeting character of popular favor. Generous as these sentiments may be, the famous exile has certainly nothing but contempt for them. A realist, he sees human history not as material for moral tales in which virtue triumphs and wickedness is punished at the end, but as a perfectly amoral succession of struggles for material comforts and power, between classes, cliques and leaders. In such a combat no quarter is given, and its inexorable rules hold good for revolutions as well as for other mass tragedies of the human race. Having lost the game, he probably consoles himself with the thought that historical figures like Danton and Napoleon, to whom he has often been compared, have likewise succumbed to men of lesser merit -- for not even defeat has shaken his self-confidence.
Trotsky's life is a striking episode in the century-long fight of Russia's educated classes for the westernizing of their country. This struggle began early in the nineteenth century, when the hosts of Napoleon carried in their wake the gospel of more efficient, more intelligent methods of ruling a world, then entering upon the stage of industrialism. In the Russia of a century ago a group of young officers, and a few high-minded intellectuals, all recruited from the landed nobility, appeared as carriers of the ideal of a national renaissance. This was then practically the only group with a modern education, a civilized outlook, and a deep resentment at the contempt in which their country was being held, regarded as it was as a sort of extension of Asiatic barbarism. These aristocratic rebels -- after their ill-fated revolt attempted in December, 1825, they were called Decembrists -- were not unanimous as to their aim. Some of them wanted a constitutional monarchy, while others believed in a military dictatorship, revolutionary in scope, preliminary to the establishment of a republic. They paid dearly for their patriotic daring, and it took nearly a hundred years before Russia rid herself of the nightmare of Tsarism.
The revolutionary torch wrung from the hands of the liberal officers was taken up by the intellectuals. These were still, for the most part, descendants of the nobility who were being trained to become the bureaucrats of a medieval State, or molders of the minds of the next generation of bureaucrats and officers. Time and again, the most brilliant members of that group, after visiting Western Europe or getting indirectly acquainted with western political and philosophical ideas, came out in favor of political and social reform. Circles discussing western socialist ideas were formed secretly, and their participants were brutally punished upon discovery. With the progress of economic development, the circle of the intelligentsia widened. It began to include a growing number of commoners from the middle and lower middle classes. Too weak for an open revolt, out of touch with the masses -- whom only the reactionary clergy were able to approach -- the great majority of the intellectuals found escape from, and a compensation for, their political humiliation, in philosophical speculation, with an iconoclastic rejection of all accepted values. Groups of conspirators flared up sporadically and disappeared again.
In the meantime, economic factors were causing deep general dissatisfaction. The insufficiency of the peasants' land allotments after their "liberation" from serfdom in 1861, coupled with their excessive tax-burdens, as well as crop failures and famines in several sections of the country, drove home the necessity of thorough changes. Other motive forces were the extremely reactionary, obscurantist educational policy of the government, on the one hand, and the great revolutionary ferment called forth all over the civilized world by the revolt of the Paris Commune of 1871, on the other.
The university students now became the banner bearers of discontent for all those sections of the educated classes which were not directly interested in maintaining special privileges enjoyed under the Tsarist system. In the early seventies, thousands of young students who had become acquainted with western ideas at the universities of Switzerland and France, formed an impressive army of apostles who "went among the people" to raise the cultural level of the peasantry and to spur them on to revolt. Their ideology called "narodnichestvo" ("populism") was a more or less genuine Russian product. It was a hazy anarchoid socialism, to a large extent inspired by the ideas of Michael Bakunin, with his postulate of an immediate abolition of the State and the establishment of free communes. It likewise included the ideas of the revolutionary philosopher Peter Lavrov, who spoke of the "debt" which the educated classes owed to the masses whose toil had enabled them to partake in all the benefits of intellectual progress. At the bottom of it all was a mystic faith that the quasi-collective character of Russian rural land-holding -- it was in reality a bureaucratic device to simplify the payment of taxes -- would enable Russia to pass over to socialism without the intermediary stage of capitalism. Generous and naive as these theoretical formulations were, they concealed the unconscious desire for a democratic peasants' republic, in which the intellectuals would be the advisers and organizers or, to put it more bluntly, the new ruling class. . . .
The students' crusade "among the people" turned out to be a tragic failure. The Russian peasants, who had risen in formidable insurrections during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under leaders of their own, did not take kindly to the generous and unsophisticated youths who came to them from the outside. The moujiks distrusted their attacks against the Tsar, suspecting some devilish machination on the part of the landed nobility to restore serfdom which had been abolished in the early sixties. More often than not the peasants themselves arrested the students and delivered them to the authorities of their Tsar.
Having learned their lesson, Russia's educated youth turned from cultural, propagandist and insurrectional activity among the peasants to a more heroic, if less ambitious, struggle. They became "Liberals with a bomb" and engaged in a direct terrorist combat against the Tsar aiming at the very prosaic goal of political democracy.
The main plank of the "Will of the People" -- as they called their terrorist organization -- demanded a Constituent Assembly. This was to convene after the overthrow of the Tsarist regime, and would, they hoped, carry out the popular socialist ideals propagated by them during the earlier period. Made bolder by that mortal combat, the terrorists for awhile contemplated the conquest of power by their party alone, that is, a sort of revolutionary dictatorship that would carry out the necessary economic changes before calling a popular assembly. Unlike the Bolsheviks of a generation later -- who based their hopes upon an armed uprising of the working masses led by an organization of professional revolutionists -- the "Will of the People" relied exclusively upon the terrorist efforts of a few hundred determined conspirators, supported by the sympathy of the intelligentsia and the Liberal bourgeoisie. Later, however, when Tsarism showed a greater power of resistance than they had anticipated, they were ready to be content even with a constitutional monarchy -- upon the introduction of which they would have become perfectly respectable Liberals-without-a-bomb. . . .
The New Ideology
Leon Trotsky was born in 1879, and his childhood fell in the period when that heroic band of terrorists, mistakenly called "Nihilists," was bleeding to death under the counterblows of the Tsarist authorities. He was eight years old, when Lenin's older brother, Alexander Ulianov, was tried and executed for an attempt on the life of the Tsar -- -the last effort of the terrorist struggle which had begun nearly a decade before. From the ashes of "populism" -- both in its vaguely anarchist aspect of the early seventies and in its terrorist and purely political aspect of the late seventies and early eighties -- a new revolutionary ideology began to take shape in the minds of the Russian intelligentsia. This was Marxism, and it emphasized the inevitability of capitalist development and of class struggle of the industrial workers, as preliminary conditions for the overthrow of the Tsarist system. George Plekhanov, a former "populist," became the theoretical founder of the Marxist school in Russia and the teacher and spiritual father of generations of Russian intellectuals. It was he who launched the henceforth famous war-cry -- "the revolution in Russia will succeed as a working-class revolution, or it will not succeed," calling on the Russian workers to accomplish in Russia the counterpart of the French bourgeois revolution, since their own bourgeoisie was too weak for the task. When speaking about it to the workers, however, the Russian intellectuals preferred to use the expression "political revolution" or "democratic revolution." This was less explicit, but sounded better than "bourgeois revolution" for which the workers might not feel the same degree of enthusiasm. . . .
As the son of a prosperous Jewish farmer, the future organizer of the Red Army did not have to taste the misery of the Jewish lower-middle classes, from which so many revolutionary intellectuals were recruited. Nor did he have in his own family the ever-present memory of a brother who had been hanged for the cause of progress, as was the case with young Ulianov-Lenin. But he was a member of that fortunate race which, as a convenient scapegoat for the various ills racking the country, had incurred every refinement of religious, racial, economic and political sadism which a government steeped in oriental medievalism could devise. Was it not Pobiedonostzev, the Procurator of the Holy Synod and foremost ideological spokesman of the Tsarist system, who cynically suggested as a radical solution of the Jewish problem, that one-third of them be forced to leave the country, another third constrained to accept the blessings of the Gospel of Love, and the remainder left to starve? The educated Jew, unless he happened to be born in the family of a very rich business man, had no peaceful avenue of escape except through conversion, emigration, or Zionist dreams of future Palestinian grandeur -- various forms of resignation to fate. But if he had a mind to fight, there was still another way to preserve his self-respect as a man and to defend his interests as an intellectual. He could join the forces of opposition. These were of various shades -- from the moderate Liberalism of the successful lawyer and physician, to the "Populist" or Marxian socialism of the students and lower-middle-class intellectuals. The result was that the Jewish intellectuals -- along with those of the other oppressed nationalities, such as the Poles, Ukrainians, Letts, Georgians, and Armenians -- made up a considerable part of the revolutionary forces.
In his autobiography Leon Trotsky says frankly, "racial discrimination has probably given a subconscious stimulus to my dissatisfaction with the existing regime," though he denies that this was a determining factor. There is hardly a doubt that the racial humiliations of his school years have contributed more than he realizes, in stimulating his spirit of revolt, his ambition and his will to power.
While Trotsky was still in his teens, the radical spirit of general dissatisfaction with the Tsarist regime that pervaded all educated classes, merged with his Jewish woe into what he believed to be "sympathy for the down-trodden and indignation against injustice." That it was in the main sympathy with, and indignation over, his own hopeless situation, as a budding middle-class intellectual with scant prospects in a world of medievalism and privilege, he has never realized.
At the time when the seventeen-year-old youth graduated from high school, Russia's political life was beginning to recover from the stupor and passivity into which it had been plunged after the bloody suppression of the revolutionary movement in the early eighties. The labor movement, incipient in the seventies, had shown its latent force and possibilities throughout the eighties and the nineties, when spontaneous mass strikes for higher wages broke out in Petersburg and Moscow. The radical intelligentsia, who for more than a decade had been lying low, began to feel the coming of a new day. That new day was to belong to those who turned their eyes towards the industrial worker, yesterday a peasant, but now alert, combative and eager to throw off the age-old prejudices and superstitions by which his older brother in the village seemed still hopelessly befogged.
The Russian following of Marx was a variegated company. There were respectable scholars like Peter Struve, Bulgakov, and Tugan-Baranovsky, who quite intelligently acclaimed Marxism as the theoretical justification for Russia's entrance upon the road of capitalist development. These were the representatives of the so-called "legal Marxism," the Marxism of the university professors. There were the theorists Plekhanov and Axelrod, living in Switzerland, who nearly fifteen years before had set forth the gospel of Marx with more ardor than success. There was too, a galaxy of younger intellectuals -- already considered as "old men" because they were nearly thirty -- -still active "underground," but soon to be arrested. The most outstanding of these were Julius Zederbaum, who, later, under the name of Martov, became the most brilliant leader of the Mensheviks, and Vladimir Ulianov -- a man of many aliases, the most enduring of which was Lenin -- whose future greatness the Marxian elders had even then-begun to sense and to fear.
Last, but not least, there were a number of influential heretics known under the name of "Economists," who for the present and the near future advocated exclusive emphasis upon the industrial, or as the Russians say, the "economic" struggle for higher wages and shorter hours. They believed that in order to win the confidence of the workers it was necessary, for the time being, to disregard all other issues -- such as propaganda for socialist principles or the political struggle against absolutism -- leaving politics to the Liberal bourgeoisie. They argued that until the workers had found out that it was impossible to obtain any improvements under the Tsarist system, the time was not ripe for open politico-revolutionary activity. It was a subtle plan, but the other Marxists sensed danger in it. Without speaking it out in so many words, they realized that the workers, fighting for higher wages only, and ignorant of any political issues, might eventually get out of hand; the movement might lead to wild, chaotic wage revolts, in the course of which the workers would be more anxious to force as much as possible from their employers, than to obtain for the latter a more civilized form of government. Or if, in the course of the fight, the Tsarist government should find it expedient to grant political liberties, the workers, having obtained the right to organize, might become steeped in non-political trade-unionism, pure and simple. In any case the socialist intelligentsia which sought political influence and power, would come out empty-handed.
Such was the situation of the revolutionary forces when in 1898, at a conference composed of nine delegates who assembled at Minsk, the "Social-Democratic Labor Party" was constituted. It included the various revolutionary groups that took their inspiration from Marx.
His First Revolutionary Steps
At the time when preparations were being made for organizing the Social-Democratic Labor Party, young Bronstein, who a few years later was to assume the name of Trotsky, was weighing the old ideology of "Populism" against the new, of Marxism. The swing was towards the new faith, and at the age of eighteen, during his last year in school, spent in Nikolayev on the Black Sea, he was actively engaged in underground propaganda with its exciting accompaniments -- secret meetings, hectographed leaflets and assumed names.
It is interesting to note that, as Trotsky himself recounts, the workers who were interested in his propaganda were mostly highly skilled mechanics, earning good wages, who were not so much interested in striking as in the "truth in social relations." One senses here that element -- the highest stratum of the manual-working class -- part of which, after the revolution, was to combine with the declasse intelligentsia in taking charge of the country and forming a large percentage of the new bureaucracy.
Young "Lvov" (his first alias) was the leader of his local group and the author of its "literature." He had practically broken with his well-to-do father and was making a living by tutoring; with a number of other congenial boys he "lived a Spartan life, without linen, nourished on soups cooked by ourselves."
A few months of activity, and then came the fate of every "underground" militant -- lie was arrested along with a great number of his friends and comrades. After two and a half years of imprisonment, during which he read voraciously, he was finally sentenced to four years banishment to Eastern Siberia.
His newly acquired faith in Marxism did not remain unchallenged during his exile. Criticism from socialist "Revisionists" and from downright bourgeois adversaries could easily be dismissed. A young rebel suffering for his cause is not likely to succumb to counsels of moderation. But in Siberia he stumbled upon a truly disconcerting critic from the Left. This was Waclaw Machajski, an exile like himself, but banished to a still more distant region in the Northeast.
As a conscientious journalist and historian, Trotsky refers to that critic -- whom incidentally he never met personally -- both in his autobiography and in his book on Lenin. But the short reference to an obscure Polish "Anarchist" -- for Trotsky considered it necessary to classify him under one of the old political categories -- does not do justice to a man who created a marked sensation among Russia's revolutionary intelligentsia of the early years of this century.
Waclaw Machajski (his pen-name was A. Wolski) had paid with ten years of prison and exile in Siberia for his early activities as a revolutionary Marxist in Poland. During the last years of his banishment in the frozen wastes he developed a theory of his own, which went as far beyond that of his original revolutionary creed as Marx's Socialism went beyond his democratic Liberalism of the early forties. In Machajski's conception, the socialist theories of the nineteenth century expressed the interests of the intellectual workers -- not those of the working class, in which he placed the manual workers only. The mental workers, he argued, were a rising privileged class, fighting for a place in the sun against the old privileged classes, the landed owners and capitalists. Higher education was their specific "capital" -- the source of their actual or potential higher incomes. Political democracy (or a revolutionary dictatorship, according to circumstances) was the first, and State Capitalism the next, step to their domination. To achieve these objects they needed the support of the manual workers. The confidence of the latter they won by helping them in their early struggles for better wages and by dangling before them the socialist ideal of equality. That socialist Beyond was meant only as propaganda, as a sort of proletarian religion -- not as an object of struggle for the living generation. The socialism which the radical intelligentsia really aspired to was nothing but State Capitalism: a system of government ownership, under which private capitalists would have yielded place to office-holders, managers, engineers; the coming form of exploitation, in which the intellectual workers receiving higher salaries than those paid for manual labor, would constitute the new and only ruling class, absorbing into their ranks the former capitalists and the self-taught ex-workers.
As a champion of the manual workers, particularly the unskilled and the unemployed, he advocated revolutionary mass struggle for higher wages and government provision for the unemployed, as the only issues of actual interest to the working class. The leadership of that struggle he visualized in the hands of an international secret organization of revolutionists. Engaged exclusively in unifying, and in extending the scope of, the spontaneous uprisings of the manual workers and of the unemployed, this organization "would dictate the law to the governments," using the weapon of "world-wide strikes." In other words, it would force the privileged classes and their governments to provide either work or support for the unemployed and to grant sweeping increases in the wages of the manual workers. Elimination of private capitalist profits, automatic transition to State Capitalism, and finally equalization of the incomes of the manual workers with those of the new rulers would be the progressive steps of the revolutionary mass struggle. Equality of income would secure to all an equal opportunity for higher education and thus would do away with all class divisions. The function of government having ceased to be the privilege of an educated minority, the State as an instrument of oppression and exploitation would disappear. Marx considered that exploitation ceased with the disappearance of the private capitalists. In Machajski's opinion the Marxian scheme of eliminating capitalists but maintaining higher rewards for mental than for manual labor would "substitute for the capitalists a class of hereditary soft-handed intellectuals, who would perpetuate the slavery of the manual workers and of their offspring."
Machajski's ideas gained some converts [The revolutionary years of 1905-06 saw the formation, in Russia and Poland of a few groups inspired by Machajski's ideas. But, as if in tragic-ironic confirmation of his own theory, he never succeeded in winning an important number of active revolutionists. Their interests as intellectuals (or semi-educated workers with the prospects of becoming intellectuals) were better served by the old-time revolutionary ideologies. Machajski and his followers were, however, full of hope. They believed that the working class would inevitably become disillusioned with the various socialist schools and would eventually force many of their old leaders to change their course.] among his fellow exiles. The majority of the latter, however, including young Bronstein-Trotsky, though impressed at first by these theories, were mainly shocked. Machajski ignored the struggle for power as a mere family quarrel within the educated classes and reduced the role of the revolutionary intellectual, if he wanted to join in, to that of a disinterested champion of the workers' bread-and-butter demands, leaving no place for his political ambitions. . . .
Among the Elders
In 1902 Leon Trotsky escaped from Siberia, made a round of various cities to acquaint himself with the situation of the revolutionary movement, and finally crossed the Austrian frontier. This was not an easy task, for the high-school boy who was in charge of the underground railway for revolutionary fugitives nearly balked when he found out that his charge was a political opponent. This political purist belonged to the Socialist-Revolutionist [Their official name was "Socialists-Revolutionists." They are usually referred to as "Social Revolutionists," or, in abbreviation as "Esers."] Party and was accordingly a mortal enemy of all Social-Democrats, such as Trotsky. The Socialist-Revolutionists were the successors of the terrorist "Will of the People" of twenty years before. They placed their hope for the success of the Revolution in the terrorist activities of their fighting organization, and in the pressure of the intelligentsia and the peasantry. Like their predecessors of the early eighties, they were at bottom "Liberals with a bomb," and as the party of the peasantry, they were rivals for power of the Social-Democratic Labor Party, representing that section of the revolutionary intelligentsia whose strength lay chiefly in the support of the industrial workers.
When the young fugitive reached London, he found himself immediately in the intellectual center of the Social-Democratic Labor Party, including the finest spirits of the Marxist intelligentsia. There was, first of all, Lenin, little over thirty, but already a seasoned revolutionary thinker and leader; a man of one idea and one passion, thoroughly convinced that his was the only way to carry the revolution to a victorious conclusion and taking his own supreme leadership as a matter of course. A man of no doubts, to whom other men were hardly more than robots for the revolution, working in unison under the instructions of the all-powerful engineer. He fascinated the younger generation, but he was quite naturally disliked by the elders -- the Marxian veterans, particularly George Plekhanov and Paul Axelrod, who heretofore had been the traditional revolutionary mentors. To them, at best, Lenin was the future Robespierre of the Russian Revolution; at worst, an unscrupulous fanatic with Bonapartist propensities. At the opposite extreme from Lenin, was Julius Martov, the future leader of the Menshe-viks, brilliant and learned, but lacking Lenin's sacred fire of fanaticism and unshaken self-confidence. The older generation was represented by Vera Zasulich, not less brilliant than heroic, who in 1878 had fired the first shot in the terrorist struggle against the Tsarist government and a few years later had become a convert and apostle of Marxism. A little later, after the party headquarters had been transferred to Switzerland, Trotsky came into closer contact with Plekhanov and Axelrod.
Young Trotsky's literary and oratorical abilities were soon appreciated by his elders. He was permitted to write for their organ, the Iskra ("Spark"), as famous in the history of Russian revolutionary thought since 1900, as was the Liberator at the time of Abolitionism. He was sent as a lecturer to various capitals of the Continent, wherever Russian students were expected to be won over by his oratory. The following year was fateful in the history of Russian Marxian Socialism. The contradictions smoldering within the organization blazed out at the party conference in 1903, which was followed by a split. Henceforth there was no longer a united Social Democratic Labor Party but two separate camps; the majority faction of the Bolsheviks and the minority faction of the Mensheviks. That split, which grew deeper and deeper as time went on, was caused by questions of organization rather than of principles or tactics. Both factions believed in Marxian principles; they agreed in advocating a revolutionary political struggle to establish a democratic form of government, with socialism as an ideal of the distant future only. They disagreed on the question of party membership and authority. In his book, What is to be done? published in 1902, Lenin had laid down his specific conception of the methods of revolutionary activity. The crucial point in his argument was his insistence upon the great importance of a body of professional revolutionists, to conduct the whole movement in an efficient manner. With this insistence was connected his belief in the necessity of recognizing as party members only those who were also actual members of the secret organizations in Russia. This would leave out all those middle-of-the-road sympathizers from among the bourgeois intellectuals -- professional men, students, and high-school boys alike -- who had not the courage to burn their bridges and risk everything. In Lenin's opinion this course would avoid the danger of swamping the party with weak-kneed adherents who would dampen its combative spirit.
From this point of view, Lenin insisted also upon the greatest possible extension of the powers given to the Central Committee of the party, which was to direct all revolutionary activities. These powers were to include that of confirming the personnel of local committees, and even of nominating their members. Except for Plekhanov, who for awhile sided with Lenin, all the members of the editorial board of Iskra came out against these proposals, which they condemned as "Blanquist." Instead of a movement based on mass support, they asserted, Lenin wanted an organization of conspirators -- his attitude implying a belief that revolutions could be planned in advance -- as opposed to the Marxist point of view that revolutions occurred but were not made. Some of Lenin's opponents, indeed, went so far as to call his postulates Bonapartist, because, if carried out, his scheme would have concentrated all the power in his own hands.
When the split occurred, Leon Trotsky joined the Menshe-viks. He was bound to Martov by strong ties of personal admiration and friendship. He was particularly attached to the two veterans, Vera Zasulich and Paul Axelrod, and he was highly indignant at Lenin's demand that they be removed from the editorial board of the Iskra. He admitted no necessity for a centralization of power behind which he was inclined to suspect Lenin's ambition for personal dictatorship, and he bitterly denounced that ambition. Thus, in 1904, he wrote that for the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin wished to substitute the dictatorship of the party over the proletariat; for the dictatorship of the party, the dictatorship of the Central Committee over the party; and for the dictatorship of the Central Committee, the dictatorship of Lenin over the Central Committee.
The Revolution of 1905
In the meantime the signs of an approaching revolution were multiplying. In 1903 a general strike hurricane swept Southern Russia, from the oil fields of Baku to the industrial centers of the Ukraine. The strikes were spontaneous in character, with higher wages as their objective. The various groups of the socialist intelligentsia were amazed and thoroughly displeased. The Socialists-Revolutionists, who had been all along dealing one terrorist blow after another to the various Tsarist ministers and governors, forgot their irreconcilable hostility to the system and expressed satisfaction whenever they saw the movement proceeding as mildly as possible. The Social-Democrats took a similar attitude. They found the "news from the South not particularly cheerful." [Quoted from A. Wolski's (W. Machajski), The Mental Worker, Part III. Geneva, 1905.] because the movement "did not assume a sufficiently conscious-political tinge." A revolt in which the workers were asking for higher wages only could be of no particular interest to the revolutionary intelligentsia -- whether it took its inspiration from the "native" socialism of the "Populists" or from the western socialism of Marx. In their eyes, it could only retard the real, the political, revolution. Being directed against the capitalists, it was likely to frighten the liberal bourgeoisie and drive them into the arms of Tsarist political reaction. Lacking leadership, that great mass movement soon ebbed away. Had the Socialists of various denominations made themselves the spokesmen of the wage demands of the masses already in revolt, the movement, as it developed, would have swept away the Tsarist system. But a revolution, started under such auspices would have exceeded the limits of a strictly bourgeois revolution. It might have developed into a real working-class revolution engulfing in its continuously growing wage demands the incomes of all those who were better off than the manual workers. That was not the aim of the revolutionary intelligentsia, who simply wanted to be one of the several dominant groups in a westernized capitalist Russia. . . .
In the year following the great Southern strike, came the war with Japan. A wave of discontent began to shake the whole country -- and this time the liberal bourgeoisie and the students led in protest against the Tsarist system. Political revolution now seemed at hand. The Socialist-Revolutionists increased their terrorist activities. The Menshe-viks began to dream of a Revolution which would bring the Liberals into power, with the Socialists as a law-abiding parliamentary opposition party. A government by the Liberal Party was in their opinion the only solution under the prevailing economic conditions. Lenin's solution was different: history had taught him that the liberal bourgeoisie was too pusillanimous, too cowardly, to take the energetic measures needed to hold what had been won. The forces of reaction, in his opinion, were bound to come back -- as they had done in Western Europe in 1848 -- if the Liberals were left to defend the political achievements of the Revolution. His way out was a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry." These two classes must assume power and by ruthless measures destroy all vestiges of Tsar-ism and render its return impossible. This, however, was not to be a social revolution. The "proletariat and the peasantry" were to exert their dictatorship only for the purpose of establishing an honest-to-goodness bourgeois-democratic system on the Western-European model. The only social difference would be that the big land-holders, the mainstay of absolutism, would be abolished and their land distributed among the peasantry. The capitalists, too, would be forced to make some concessions to the workers. Stripped of its specific terminology, the Bolshevik program of that period called for the destruction of Tsarist power and the establishment of a coalition government composed of representatives of the Bolshevik intelligentsia, controlling the industrial workers, and the Socialist-Revolutionist intelligentsia, speaking for the peasantry.
At last the Revolution broke out early in 1905; but it offered no opportunity for applying either the Menshevik formula of helping the establishment of a bourgeois-liberal regime or the Bolshevik "democratic dictatorship" of the radical intelligentsia.
Of all the active and well-known revolutionists then living abroad, Trotsky was one of the first to return to Russia. The young orator went to Kiev, in the Ukraine, at first, moving under assumed names from one hiding-place to another, writing revolutionary appeals, and having them printed in a secret printing plant. From Kiev he went to Petersburg, where he was likewise forced to live "illegally" -- that is, under an assumed name. He belonged neither to the Mensheviks nor to the Bolsheviks, but entertained friendly relations with both. He had left the Mensheviks shortly after he had joined them, for he objected both to their conciliatory attitude towards the Liberals, and to their coolness toward the idea of a reunion with the Bolsheviks. Arrests among his Menshevik friends caused him to go for awhile to Finland which, though connected with the Russian Empire, enjoyed a certain freedom from police surveillance. During that interval of quiet he worked out his famous theory of the "Permanent Revolution."
This theory held that the Russian revolution could not remain purely democratic in scope. The revolutionary government, Trotsky believed, would be obliged to make substantial concessions to the workers, such as providing for the unemployed and taking over those industries whose owners refused the demands of the striking workers. He assumed that the peasant party, which would control the government jointly with the Social-Democrats, would not agree to these reforms and thus would come into conflict with the workers. In case the workers should prevail in that conflict, the economic backwardness of the country would make it impossible to carry out all the necessary socialist measures. The only way out of the situation was thus a revolution in Western Europe, which would join hands with the Russian proletariat in establishing socialism.
Thus, in 1905, twelve years before the revolution of 1917, Leon Trotsky envisaged the idea of a sort of social revolution arising in Russia in the wake of the democratic anti-Tsarist revolution, and thence spreading over all Western Europe as well. This was something new in the European socialism of that time, when it had become almost an axiom that the ambition of the socialist intelligentsia hardly went beyond a career as comfortable politicians and office-holders in a democratic world ruled by the industrial and financial oligarchy, with State Capitalism as a distant dream.
As a result, Trotsky's opinions were not taken seriously either in Russia or abroad. Even by the orthodox Marxists, particularly in Austria, "Trotskyism" (the term was already heard in 1905) was treated as a joke. That it was meant in red-blooded earnest was proved by the development of the revolution of 1917, which to a great extent bore out his predictions.
Lenin's conception of the possibilities of the expected revolution -- as recorded in his writings since 1905 -- underwent many changes and finally came very close to that of Trotsky. A literature that would fill dozens of shelves has since been turned out, in Russia and abroad, on the various ''interpretations" of Lenin's and Trotsky's respective formulas. In his Permanent Revolution, written during his Turkish exile, Trotsky boils down the difference between his opinion and Lenin's to the question whether "the participation of the representatives of the proletariat as a minority in the democratic government" (established by the revolution) was "theoretically permissible." This question w.as answered in the affirmative by Lenin, who was ready for a peasant (i.e. Social-Revolutionist) predominance in the government, while Trotsky insisted upon a "proletarian" majority -- that is, a majority composed of Marxian intellectuals. The historical test of the second revolution actually settled the controversy. "In November 1917," Trotsky writes in his Permanent Revolution, "a struggle raged in the summits of the party around the question of the coalition government with the Social-Revolutionists and the Men-sheviks. Lenin was not opposed in principle to a coalition on the basis of the Soviets, but he categorically demanded a firm safe-guarding of the Bolshevik majority. I went along with him hand in hand." It was, therefore, Trotsky's point of view which in fact prevailed in 1917.
In 1905, however, the revolution was still far from becoming a "permanent" affair -- though for a moment it actually looked very hopeful. In October a political strike forced the Tsar to issue the famous October Manifesto, granting some modicum of constitutional liberty. Leon Trotsky returned to Petersburg while the strike was on, and simultaneously with the Mensheviks he conceived the idea of forming a non-partisan "Council of Workers' Delegates" to represent the interests of the masses and to keep up the revolutionary spirit. Lenin was still abroad, and the Bolshevik militants kept aloof, until the arrival of their great leader made them change their position.
Trotsky, at twenty-six, became the soul of the first Russian Soviet. He wrote all its appeals and resolutions and was the best of its revolutionary speakers. Soon he was elected Chairman of the body. At the same time he joined the Mensheviks in publishing a big political daily which enjoyed great success. The Bolsheviks had a paper of their own, but there was no mutual bitterness or acerbity between the two step-brothers. Their eyes directed towards the success of the political revolution, both papers were in favor of a reconciliation of the two factions.
But the victorious progress of the Revolution which had begun so hopefully in October, 1905, came soon to a stop. The Tsarist government became aware of a very fundamental weakness of its enemies. Chiefly concerned with the political aspects of the revolution, that is, with changing the country's regime to the pattern of a western democracy, the revolutionists showed no particular enthusiasm for the wage-demands of the hungry masses. They had won over the skilled workers who were interested in trade unions. But the hungry crowds of the cities, as well as the village poor, cared little for all the talk of political democracy, and even the promise of land meant nothing to them. They wanted bread, work, higher wages. To get these they would have risen in irresistible revolt, like that which quite spontaneously swept Southern Russia two years before. But even the most radical sections of the socialist intelligentsia were not interested in such a departure. . . .
Thus, the Tsarist government was given the opportunity to let loose against the revolutionists those same hungry masses whose interests had been disregarded by the revolutionary intellectuals. A wave of massacres was skilfully arranged by the Machiavellian statesmen of the Romanov Empire -- the Russian city-and-village poor arrayed against the Jews, the Turko-Tartars against the Armenians, the laborers and other slum dwellers against the students and the intelligentsia in general.
After less than two months existence the Petersburg Soviet was arrested and Trotsky was once more in prison. But this time he was no longer the obscure schoolboy of seven years before -- he was one of the most popular figures of the Revolution -- may be, at the moment, the most popular.
Again in Exile
After fifteen months in various prisons he was banished to Siberia. He succeeded in escaping before he reached his place of destination and was once more abroad -- staying mostly in Vienna, where he published a semi-monthly propaganda paper to be smuggled to Russia.
A new development began to come markedly to the fore during the years of Trotsky's second exile. The rift between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, after their short reconciliation in 1906, was now becoming wider and wider. More and more it became obvious that the Mensheviks, after their brief flare-up during the Revolution of 1905, were gathering around their banner the more conciliatory, less determined, elements, who were tired of the romance of the revolutionary underworld. Having lost hope in the Revolution, they were ready to forsake "illegal" methods of struggle altogether, and to make use of the few rudiments of constitutional rights that had still remained from the wreckage of the Revolution. For this they were contemptuously called "Liquidators" by their adversaries -- because they wanted to wind up the revolutionary struggle. The Bolsheviks, who so mercilessly applied that term, included the more desperate and energetic elements -- and a statistical survey would have no doubt established that on the whole those of the intelligentsia who followed Lenin were even more declassi economically than their conciliatory Menshevik rivals. They did not believe that the revolutionary flame had been extinguished for good, and they hoped for a new revolution.
Leon Trotsky remained in the air between the two factions and tried to bring them together, in the hope of winning the Mensheviks over to the renewed revolutionary activities which he saw to be at hand. A number of Bolsheviks sympathized with his efforts, and a general Social-Democratic conference was called at Vienna in 1912. But Lenin was adamant -- he was fully convinced that it was useless to form a bloc with elements that he no longer considered revolutionary, alliance with whom was sure to be a liability; as a result the Bolsheviks stayed away. Trotsky found himself in uncomfortable association with Mensheviks, with whom he disagreed on most points, and a few disobedient Bolsheviks. This venture of his put a further strain on his relations with Lenin.
Already, two years before, Trotsky had had an unpleasant conflict with the great revolutionist, a conflict in which the honors were not exactly on his side. During his years of exile, Trotsky was a free-lance litterateur, supporting himself and his family with contributions to progressive papers in Russia and socialist papers in Germany and Austria. In 1910 an International Socialist Congress was to be held in Copenhagen, and on this occasion he wrote an article to the Berlin Vorwärts, central organ of the German Socialist Party, in which he dealt with the revolutionary situation in Russia. He took to task the Mensheviks, with whose moderation he did not agree, but he also attacked the Bolsheviks, chiefly on the score of the "expropriations" -- the armed hold-ups of government funds which some of their fighting groups carried out -- in order to replenish the party treasury chest. With all his contempt for the philistinism and respectability of the Western socialists, Trotsky had apparently become contaminated by the same disease. The Bolsheviks, not having many rich "angels" at their disposal, needed money badly -- and took it. Stalin, then a humble revolutionary worker in the vineyard of which in time he was to become the undisputed Lord, was one of those heroic dare-devils who, like Pilsudski at the same time, were braving bullets and the gallows to get the Tsarist "dough." Some of the many revolutionary "expropriators" -- whether Bolsheviks, Socialist-Revolutionists, Anarchists or Polish Social-Patriots, at times went wrong and turned common bandits, much to the discredit of the revolutionary cause. It is to this sad feature that Trotsky referred, attacking the Bolsheviks for not abandoning this method altogether. That the tactics of parliamentarism, as practiced by the Western socialists, were incomparably more demoralizing, having gradually converted each Socialist Party into a little Tammany Hall with its climbers and job-hunters, Trotsky entirely overlooked. He likewise overlooked the fact that it was in very bad taste, to say the least, to denounce, on such a ticklish score, the most militant section of the Russian revolutionists to a gloating public of pink politicians -- and indirectly to the bourgeois authorities as well. Lenin, who was known not to be opposed to the expropriations, was extremely bitter on that score, and what Stalin must have thought and felt at that time can be easily surmised.
War and Revolution
The great War found Trotsky in Vienna. Being an "enemy alien," he was forced to leave and went to Switzerland. He did not stay there long, but soon left for France, where he could earn his living as the war correspondent of a Liberal daily published in Russia.
A year after the beginning of the War, the first attempt was made to bring together from their various countries all the internationalist anti-war elements of the socialist parties, and to begin a campaign against the world slaughter. At the historic conference at Zimmerwald, a small mountain village in Switzerland, the revolutionary internationalists found themselves opposed by moderate internationalists who were merely pacifists. Lenin, who headed the former, believed in the necessity of converting the World War into a world-wide civil war. Trotsky took a similar stand -- though he refused to join the so-called "Zimmerwald Left" -- the body dominated by Lenin. The old personal grudge and his unwillingness to recognize a boss had more to do with his aloofness than any difference in principle.
Another year, and Trotsky was forced to leave France. A mutiny in the ranks of the detachments sent by Tsarist Russia to France, and the death of a Russian colonel killed by his soldiers, were charged to the propaganda conducted by a small Russian daily edited by Trotsky. This was preposterous, for the paper was censored and could not have possibly had anything to do with that affair. But the Russian authorities, supported by the reactionaries in France, carried the day; Trotsky was expelled and was smuggled over to Spanish territory, where the Spanish authorities did not want him either. Accordingly, about three months before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, he had to leave his last European refuge and to sail for the United States.
The American episode lasted hardly longer than ten weeks. Trotsky was in the process of helping to organize a left wing within the Socialist Party, when news of the downfall of the Tsarist regime and the establishment of a provisional government made the American socialist scene appear to him about as important as the internal squabbles of a sick-benefit society on the lower East Side. In his reminiscences of this country, he is not very tender to the socialist leadership, with its "prosperous and semi-prosperous physicians, lawyers, dentists, civil engineers, and so on," to whom socialism was not so much a political career as part of their social entertainments and business connections. He has a few good words for old Gene Debs -- who wouldn't? -- but spoils it all by referring to the great orator's bibulous inclinations. It appears that Debs was in the habit of affectionately embracing and kissing the visitor whenever he met him. Trotsky was amused at this effusion, while Debs did not realize that the man whom he admired as a hero and a symbol of Revolution and Socialism, was at heart as cold as steel, and as contemptuous of men and their affections, as the great Corsican himself.
Trotsky's return to Russia was delayed by the cautious British authorities, who scented the danger that threatened the Provisional Government and its determination to go on with the War on the side of the Allies. Arrested on the boat which was to take him to Russia, he spent a month in a Canadian concentration camp, until pressure from the Petro-grad Soviet -- then still in the hands of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionists -- forced Professor Miliukov, the Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs, to demand his release. The British Embassy in the Russian capital tried to impress Trotsky's countrymen with stories of German subsidies granted for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and for the betrayal of the country. But the public refused to be alarmed.
Immediately after his arrival in Petrograd, Trotsky proved that English official apprehensions were but too well justified. His propaganda against the continuation of the War and against the Provisional Government became more and more embarrassing to the Liberals, Socialist-Revolutionists, near-Socialist-Revolutionists of the Kerensky brand, and Right-Wing-Mensheviks, who constituted or supported the Government.
In the beginning he stood almost alone in his demand for the conquest of power by the Socialists alone. The only other man in the socialist camp to advocate the same course was Lenin, who had arrived in Russia a month before Trotsky. Independently of each other, Lenin in Europe, Trotsky in America, they had come to the same conclusion. In his own party, Lenin was altogether isolated on that issue. Lenin's old demand of 1905 for a "Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry," was now forgotten by his disciples. The peasants were with the Socialist-Revolutionists -- and the Socialist-Revolutionists were in coalition with the Liberals. To call for the overthrow of the government meant to demand a purely socialist government, something very much in line with the "Trotskyism" of 1905 -- the generally scorned "utopian" formula of a romantic free-lance, which neither the Mensheviks nor the Bolsheviks had taken seriously.
With much glee and vindictiveness, Trotsky tells how, in the early days of the Revolution of 1917, Stalin and the rest of the Old Guard, without a single exception, stood for supporting the Provisional Government and for merging with the Mensheviks. It took Lenin three months of struggle within the party before he succeeded in winning it over to his side. Trotsky's insistence on this point is easily explained. For what were all his old-time casual flirtations with the Mensheviks -- he seems to imply -- as compared with his perfectly correct stand at the crucial historical moment; a stand which placed him beside Lenin, as against the rest of the Bolshevik leaders?
Meanwhile the Provisional Government was preparing its defense. It could not possibly arrest Trotsky and Lenin. As old veterans of the revolutionary struggles, these two had a certain grip on the imagination of the masses, who would have rushed to defend them, even while disagreeing with their extreme proposals. So the old weapon of Don Basile was resorted to : a barrage fire of calumny was started in the Liberal press. Professor Miliukov personally directed the fire, and the good work was later continued by Kerensky. Both Lenin and Trotsky were accused of being German agents, hired and paid by the Kaiser's general staff. . . .
November 7, 1917
Slander, diligently repeated, like a permanent advertisement, rarely misses its effect. Otherwise it would not be the favorite instrument of that astute statesmanship which knows that man rules not by the sword alone. Large sections of the middle classes soon became aroused against the "traitors," and that mood rose to a frenzy after the unsuccessful uprising which the workers of Petrograd, with part of the garrison, had attempted early in July. Lenin had to go into hiding, or he would have been lynched or "shot in flight," if he had been arrested. Party headquarters were destroyed, and many of the members were attacked. Trotsky, meanwhile, though collaborating with the Bolsheviks, was still outside their party, his official adherence being scheduled for the party convention, together with other near-Bolsheviks who later became prominent in the councils of the Soviet regime, such as Lunacharsky, Joffe, Karakhan, he belonged to a separate organization. A few days after the July revolt, he was arrested for publicly declaring his solidarity with Lenin.
This imprisonment did not last long. In August the counter-revolutionary General Kornilov -- probably in secret agreement with Kerensky -- began his march on Petrograd. It is generally assumed that Kerensky, who had hoped to use the general in consolidating his power against the rising tide of Bolshevism, had at the last moment some misgivings about the purely constitutional intentions of his subordinate. Rather than be the dupe of a Tsarist general -- who might have dispatched him in the same batch with the Bolsheviks -- he appealed for the help of those "German agents" and freed them to get their aid in repulsing the "patriotic" soldier. Yet ten years later, in a book on the Russian revolution, he again accused the Bolsheviks of complicity with the German general staff.
The counter-revolutionary attempt of General Kornilov, and the sad part played by Kerensky during the whole affray, greatly increased the prestige of the Bolsheviks in the Petrograd Soviet, which hitherto had had a Menshevik-Socialist-Revolutionist majority. At the vote taken in October for the election of the presiding board, the Bolsheviks had a majority, and Trotsky was elected Chairman. That election decided the outcome of the struggle for power. The great majority of the Petrograd workers and soldiers were with the Bolsheviks. They were tired of the War, and the Bolsheviks offered them peace. This argument was more convincing than any political program could be.
Lenin was still in hiding in Finland. Trotsky, constantly in communication with him, from the headquarters of the Petrograd Soviet, almost openly directed the preparations for the revolt. Not all the prominent Bolsheviks favored the undertaking: Zinoviev and Kamenev were against it. For years they had been the closest associates of Lenin, and later, after Lenin's death in 1924, they formed with Stalin the "triumvirate" which ruled the Soviet Republic until 1926. Likewise opposed to the uprising was Rykov, who for nearly eight years was Soviet Premier; so was Kalinin, who since 1919 has occupied a post corresponding to that of a President of the Republic. None of these thought that the party would be able to hold power. Stalin supported Lenin and Trotsky, but he was at that time still quite inconspicuous and unknown to the public at large. The coup was timed for November 7, the day when the Second All-Russia Soviet Congress was to convene. The Bolsheviks were sure that their action, aiming at transferring all power to the Soviets, would be endorsed by the Congress. Trotsky's leading role in these historical events was generally recognized at the time. The issue of the Pravda, published in 1918, on the first anniversary of the revolution, contains a statement by Joseph Stalin to the effect that "all the work of practical organization of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of the President of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It is possible to declare with certainty that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the bold execution of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party owes principally and above all to Comrade Trotsky."
But the official appreciation of Trotsky's merits has changed. All things are fleeting, as Heraclitus said. . . .
The New Regime
In the new cabinet, headed by Lenin, Trotsky assumed the post of Commissar of Foreign Affairs. It had not been the intention of the Bolsheviks to form a government alone, to the exclusion of all other parties. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionists, however, though they were offered participation, refused to join in a venture which they believed doomed to speedy failure. The only other party that finally rallied to the Bolsheviks was that of the "Left Socialist-Revolutionists," the romantic younger set of the great party of intellectuals and peasants. Though shunned by the two large socialist parties, the Bolsheviks had the support of the war-weary workers and soldiers. They had likewise the sympathies of the peasants, whose land-seizing activities were officially endorsed by the new regime.
That the Revolution, in order to survive, would have to make big steps towards satisfying the demands of the workers -- even though capitalist property rights were violated in the process -- had as early as 1905 been one of the chief contentions of Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution. Lenin's conception, in 1905, had not gone beyond that of a "democratic" (that is, bourgeois) revolution, with socialist measures rather far in the future. But in 1917, at the approach of the November revolution, his statements of the postulates of the party went somewhat beyond any purely political demand for complete democratization. Nationalization of the banks, and government control -- not ownership -- of industries, became a party cry: a step towards State Capitalism, but not yet a real challenge to the system of private capitalism. It was the general opinion in the Bolshevik party that the time for nationalizing the industries had not yet come -- at least not in a country as backward economically as Russia. The land was "nationalized" -- that is, it could not now be sold by those who held it -- but in reality the land decree took no forward step toward collective land tenure. It was rather an extension of private ownership, permitting all degrees of inequality -- from prosperous "kulaks" down to landless farm-hands, with only the great landlords eliminated. There was thus very little "Socialism" after the victory of the November revolution, except that the men at the helm, intellectuals and a few former workers, held socialist beliefs and were firmly determined to use their power in carrying out a gradual transition from private capitalism to government ownership, or State Capitalism. Under normal conditions that process would have taken decades, and in the meantime the revolutionary firebrands might have settled down to something like the respectable socialists of Western Europe.
Conditions in 1917 were, however, not "normal" and it took only ten months for that nationalization of industries which Trotsky had predicted in 1905. A multiplicity of causes led to this development. In many cases the workers were infuriated by the refusal of the manufacturers to comply with their demands, and simply chased out the owners and occupied the factories. The Soviet Government, based as it was upon the support of the laboring masses, could not restore these plants to the former owners, and the factories were taken over by the government. In other cases, enterprises were taken over, to protect them against sabotage by the owners, while the country was in the throes of civil war. There were also numerous cases where the plants were seized by the government in order to prevent their being sold to German capital after the Brest-Litovsk treaty.
Brest-Litovsk and the Civil War
Trotsky's Homeric struggle with the German statesmen and generals constitutes one of the most dramatic pages of contemporary history. Undaunted by the brutal threats of the German militarists and unhurried by the impatience of Lenin, who was rightly afraid lest the postponement of the signing might lead to stiffer peace terms, he persisted in his attempts to gain time, hoping against hope that the workers of Germany and Austria would rise and restrain the iron fist that was trying to crush the Russian revolution. Indeed, the workers of Central Europe made some attempts in this direction, only to be discouraged and thwarted by their socialist leaders.
The peace had to be signed at last, for it was obvious that all thought of resistance was futile. The Russian front had ceased to exist long before the Bolshevik rise to power. After signing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Trotsky gave up his post of Commissar for Eoreign Affairs and was entrusted with the organization of the Red Army. Writing of those years Maxim Gorki quotes Lenin as saying: "Well, show me another man who would be able, within a year, to organize an almost exemplary army and moreover to win the respect of the military specialists. We have such a man. We have everything. And miracles are still going to happen" ...
The organization of a Red Army had become an urgent necessity with counter-revolutionary armed forces threatening the young republic from all corners of its vast territory. There were times when attacks were being made on seventeen different fronts. During these three years of war against counter-revolutionary armies and foreign invaders, Trotsky had opportunity to display all his exceptional gifts. His sweeping energy, his fascinating oratory, the gripping force of his appeals, his dauntless physical courage, his cold mercilessness -- all combined to form a personality as exceptional and as indispensable for the survival of the new regime, as were Lenin's genius and statesmanship; and Lenin was the first to recognize the fact. It almost seems that the Revolution needed these two altogether different types: the impersonal idealist who, like Lenin, submerges his superhuman stature in the cause; and the ambitious egotist, who, like Trotsky, identifies the cause with his own super-human personality. During these three years he rose, with Lenin, to the stature of a demi-god; his pictures were featured everywhere and on every occasion, and his achievements were celebrated in flattering accounts by some of the most outstanding leaders and writers. But all this is forgotten now, and the rising generation knows little of his past glory.
It has been drowned in a sea of recriminations, called forth by the intra-party struggle.
Yet those years likewise nurtured the forces which were finally to drive him from power and to strike his name from Russia's text-books. Trotsky knew his own importance and made those about him feel it. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he assumed the bearing and began to nourish the ambition of Cromwell, the Lord Protector, and Bonaparte, the First Consul. He would, of course, never have stretched out his hand to the symbolic insignia of the old world; but he might have outdone both Cromwell and Napoleon in absolute intolerance of wills or opinions other than his own. There was in him no spark of that human kindness which made great rebels, like Bakunin or Malatesta, Lenin or Liebknecht, not only admired but also beloved by their contemporaries. To Trotsky these human traits were childish, unworthy of a great man, obliged to assert his greatness by keeping all lesser mortals at a rigid distance. To be sure, he made an exception of Lenin -- to whom he gave such grudging reverence as Napoleon, for reasons of State, gave occasionally to the Supreme Being.
Unlike Lenin's, his ascendance was not accepted ungrudgingly. True, to the younger intellectuals, who, one day, as the new bureaucracy, were to rule the new State, he was the symbol of what every one of their group would have liked to be -- the military hero, the fascinating, virile personality, the great orator, the brilliant writer, the versatile erudite. They did not aspire to be treated as equals -- as one does not aspire to be God. It was different with the old militants of the Bolshevik Party, the Zinovievs, Kamenevs, Rykovs, Stalins, Frunzes, Voroshilovs, Bubnovs, Unshlikhts, who had witnessed all the acrimonious literary skirmishes between Lenin and Trotsky. They had always considered the brilliant free-lance as an arrogant mountebank, and they did not relish the idea of being his subordinates. After all, he was only a newcomer; he had been in the Bolshevik Party only since 1917, while they had been with it ever since the split in 1903. Seniority means a great deal in Russia's new upper crust. The years of one's party membership prior to 1917 count no less than a similar number of ancestors in the true-blue aristocratic families of England and Germany. Trotsky had, so to speak, no ancestors. Moreover, Napoleon-like, he plainly intended to be the first great ancestor himself, to set up a nobility of his own, a nobility of merit and daring, composed of young men devoted to him alone and unconcerned with the seniority rights of the old guard.
The danger of Bonapartism, as against, let us say, revolutionary legitimism, was staring the old guard right in the face, a Bonapartism all the more detestable as Trotsky's self-confidence was boundless and as human life meant nothing to him -- even the life of good old communist commissars and commanders. (Since 1918 Communist Party became the official name.) It was known that army commanders and commissars who disobeyed orders or showed cowardice were shot by his orders, and that on one occasion Bela Kun's life was saved only through Lenin's intervention : not to speak of decimations of rank and file communists, whenever this seemed necessary in order to bolster up the courage of the waverers. Perhaps the civil war could not have been won otherwise; and Lenin himself, in reply to complaints against the War Commissar's harshness, issued to him a special authorization giving him virtually power over life and death all along the fronts.
Yet Lenin, too, seems to have been worried by the meteor-like success of his invaluable assistant. It was not jealousy. He was as truly above jealousy as his own teacher, Marx, was subject to it with regard to Ferdinand Lassalle -- the Leon Trotsky of his time. But the suspicion of Bonapartism, of a possible ambition to establish a Cromwellian dictatorship, based upon the Army alone, with all its inevitable consequences, was not easily to be dismissed. Trotsky's own record of Stalin's and Voroshilov's activities at the front, and of Lenin's reaction to Trotsky's complaints, unwittingly points to Lenin's apprehensions on that score. Stalin and Voroshilov -- the latter since 1925 at the head of the War Department -- while in charge of certain sectors of the civil war front, had more than once openly defied Trotsky's orders in the most insulting manner. Lenin's only reaction to such breaches of discipline was never more than a suggestion for peace and better understanding between the War Commissar and his mutinous subordinates. All of which quite plainly points to the assumption that Stalin and Voroshilov must have had the backing of the grand old man himself -- in order to make his grand young man feel that his possible ambitions would not remain unopposed. . . .
The history of the train which carried Trotsky from front to front, in which he covered a distance about six times the circumference of the globe, is one of the few heroic epics of history. But it is an epic not of victory alone. The Red "War Lord" was not always infallible in his judgment, and in at least one very important case his opinion was superseded by the Council of People's Commissars.
This was the question whether the Kolchak front at the East or the Denikin front at the South was to be given more attention at a given moment. The reversal of his order was a rude shock to his great self-confidence, but the resignation which he offered was not accepted. Later he more than made up for his strategical misjudgment, for his personal urgency defeated Lenin's determination to give up Petrograd, then threatened by another White Army coming from the Northwest. He himself led a regiment to battle, as did young Bonaparte at the famous Bridge of Lodi, turned by his example a panicky retreat into a successful attack, and was wounded during the fight. He had indeed risked his life on many previous occasions, when he insisted on being very close to the actual fighting -- a heroic pastime in which the general-staff man of a civilized country never indulges.
His great achievement in saving Petrograd is gradually falling into oblivion. So is likewise the fact that on another occasion his judgment, if it had not been superseded by Lenin and the other powerful men in the Kremlin, would have saved the young Soviet regime one of the greatest setbacks in its history. This was his opposition to the forced march on Warsaw, which he knew was strategically inadmissible. The Polish war had been practically won by the Red Army, and Russia would have received satisfaction for Pilsudski's invasion and all the necessary guarantees, if the hope for a Polish revolution and a communication of the conflagration to Germany and perhaps to the rest of Europe had not tempted the civilian rulers of Moscow to send the army on a military venture which turned out disastrously.
Trotsky's last military achievement was an anti-climax. This was the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt of March, 1921, at a time when the civil and foreign wars had just come to a close. The sailors of the great Soviet naval base were not exactly "Whites," and Lenin, after it all was over, said of them that "they did not want the counter-revolutionists, but they did not want us either." They had once been "the pride and the glory of the Revolution," to use a compliment bestowed upon them by Trotsky.
The period of military, or war-time, communism, which set in after the nationalization of the industries in the middle of 1918, and which lasted all through the civil war, had called forth strong dissatisfaction in practically all classes of the population.
It was "communism" of a sort, with the whole country converted into a kind of a besieged camp, and every function of society under the control of the army command and of an immensely inflated bureaucratic apparatus. Food was requisitioned from the peasants, as it had been during the French Revolution -- for the cities had nothing to give them in exchange and must produce for army requirements alone. The peasants who had taken the land were loath to give away the fruit of their toil without any equivalent. They could not see the other side of the story: namely, that requisitions were only a simplified, barbaric form of taxation, and that the revolution must preserve itself, though at the price of those hated foraging expeditions.
Bureaucratization of the entire national life had reached incredible proportions. At one time there were more government officials in Moscow than there were industrial workers, though Moscow was an industrial city and not merely a bureaucratic capital, like Washington. The population at large suffered from a lack of commodities that might have been available had it not been for the fact that small-scale production by independent artisans had been practically stamped out, since it fostered a class of small capitalists who might become dangerous during the civil war.
The man in the street had nothing to say about all this. True, there were Soviets, but the elections being open and not secret, many people, and these not only reactionaries or moderate Socialists, began to suggest that these were actually no elections but only confirmations of official lists. The Bolsheviks felt that, given secret elections, the dissatisfaction engendered by the miseries of the long civil war would lead to the victory of the Mensheviks, or Socialist-Revolutionists -- a victory which would have brought to naught all the sacrifices that had been made; for their adversaries openly advocated a full restoration of private capitalism. It was one of those undeniably ticklish situations, when the cause of general progress clashes with certain specific democratic demands. The Belgian Socialists once found themselves in such a situation, when they opposed woman suffrage advocated by the Catholic Party; for such an extension of the franchise at that time would have delivered the country into the hands of reaction.
The Bolsheviks might have found it simpler to dispense with elections altogether and to proclaim the dictatorship of their party; but this would have been an open admission that their opponents in the socialist camp were right in charging them with "Blanquism" -- that un-Marxian heresy which approved revolution and dictatorship by a socialist party without bothering about the support of the working masses. The imputation of exerting a Blanquist dictatorship over the proletariat rather than a Marxian dictatorship of the proletariat, the Bolsheviks indignantly resented. The Bolsheviks took pride in being the most faithful and consistent followers of Marxism -- the religion of the most advanced section of the Russian intelligentsia. True, a frankly Blanquist stand had been taken by Lenin in 1917, during the reign of Kerensky, when there seemed to be little hope of the Soviets (still under the sway of the Mensheviks and other Moderates) going over to the Bolsheviks. At that moment (it was shortly after the unsuccessful revolt of July 1917), Lenin published a pamphlet in which he virtually demanded all power for his party, and no longer "All Power to the Soviets," as the original slogan had run. But that episode was buried, and it had become rank heresy to speak of party dictatorship. Open Soviet elections, with their returns determined in advance, were thus a workable, face-saving hybrid between party dictatorship and proletarian democracy.
Early in 1921, the workers of Petrograd gave expression, in one strike after another, to their dissatisfaction with their difficult living conditions. The sailors of Kronstadt thought this was the proper moment to present their own demands, in the hope of winning over the support of the rest of Russia. They practically declared their independence and rejected Trotsky's command to surrender immediately and unconditionally. The suppression of the revolt was merciless and won Trotsky the undying hatred of the Anarchists, who sympathized with the uprising.
The revolt of Kronstadt, though suppressed, was victorious to a certain extent. Its political demands for a "secret vote and free Soviets" amounting indirectly to a renunciation of its dictatorship by the Communist Party, were rejected, of course; but the economic postulates of the rebels, expressing the dissatisfaction of the peasants and their demand to be permitted freely to dispose of their grain, were actually heeded. The New Economic Policy, which reestablished a certain modicum of private enterprise -- mainly in domestic retail trading and small home-crafts -- was inaugurated as a direct consequence of the Kronstadt rebellion, and of a local peasant revolt which occurred at the same time in Central Russia.
This New Economic Policy had been advocated by Trotsky as early as 1920 -- a year before the Kronstadt revolt. His proposal had been turned down then -- and it was he who had been obliged to crush the rebels who, so to speak, stood up for his demand. It was a cruel irony of fate. Eight years later, having seen his own faction within the party hopelessly crushed, as a result, he thought, of the open vote, Trotsky was to declare himself in favor of the secret ballot within the party, in the trade unions and even in the Soviets under certain circumstances; that same secret ballot whose advocates he had mowed down in 1921, when his power was still well established. When he came out with that demand, Karl Radek, his former oppositionist comrade in arms, having repented by 1928, harked back to the old argument by declaring that a demand for a secret ballot within the party was "counter-revolutionary." Which was rather peculiar reasoning, for it implied that the majority of the party membership was composed of counter-revolutionists. . . .
Trotsky versus Lenin
The year before the inauguration of the New Economic Policy found Trotsky involved in numerous disagreements and conflicts with Lenin and the majority of the party. One of these concerned the experiment of the "labor armies," which he had inaugurated against Lenin's advice. When the civil war ended in 1920, and the Soviet Government had on its hands an army of over five million soldiers, it had occurred to Trotsky that part of the men, instead of being sent home, should keep their uniforms and take up the task of reconstruction under military command.
The idea did not work. Trotsky's labor armies simply melted away. In their naivete the Russian doughboys did not believe that this was the freedom they had been fighting for. Lenin had his chuckle at the expense of his enterprising associate, to whom it never had occurred that projects of a similar kind had been proposed by a certain Louis Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, while he was still a political prisoner.
In the same year Trotsky experienced a serious setback -- this time in frank and open opposition to Lenin -- on the question of trade unions. He did not think they fitted into the new scheme of things. Once the capitalists had been eliminated, he argued, the proletariat, through the State, had become the owner and manager of all industries. Being owner and manager of the country, the working class could obviously no longer be exploited by anybody; for nobody exploits himself. Hence, Trotsky concluded, the trade unions, with their elected officials, and with the degree of independence which they enjoyed, were no longer needed for their old function of defending the workers' interests. Against whom were they to defend them? Against the State? But the State -- that meant the workers themselves! Therefore he suggested that the character of the trade unions be changed entirely. Let them be managed by appointed efficiency engineers, rather than by elected labor leaders, and concern themselves chiefly with stimulating the workers to greater effort and output.
Lenin saw the dangers of Trotsky's attitude. He, and with him the majority of the party leaders, understood that the workers, deprived of their trade union organizations through which they could voice their grievances against the directors, managers, engineers and other persons in authority -- who for all practical purposes had become their new bosses -- would soon join illegal trade unions. These the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionists from the Right, and the Anarchists and Syndicalists from the Left, would be only too glad to encourage as a weapon for fighting the Bolsheviks. He explained to Trotsky that this was not yet a workers' republic, but rather "a workers' republic with bureaucratic distortions" and that for this reason the workers still needed special bodies to protect them against the evils of "bureaucratic distortions."
Lenin understood quite well that his country was passing through a military form of State Capitalism, with the bureaucracy as the ruling class; he considered this necessary for the historical period through which Russia was passing, as he considered necessary the use of such expressions as "workers' republic." These were good in their place as propaganda, but were fraught with danger when less sophisticated men, like Trotsky, threatened to mess up affairs by taking or pretending to take these figures of speech literally. For, with all his brilliancy and occasional lack of candor, the great Tribune, from time to time, betrays a quite disconcerting naivete and lack of understanding of the more subtle moves of revolutionary strategy.
Seven years later, in his Opposition Platform, Trotsky somehow modified his original all-too-simple conception of the Soviet State. "We have a workers' state with bureaucratic distortions," he said, adding, "the swollen and privileged administrative apparatus devours a very considerable part of our surplus value." This was another way of stating that a considerable part of what prior to the Revolution constituted the profits of the capitalists was now being paid out in salaries to a privileged bureaucracy -- which in turn was unconsciously harking back to some of the long forgotten predictions of the Polish exile in Siberia with whose criticism he had become acquainted nearly a generation before. (In 1917, Waclaw Machajski had hailed the November Revolution of 1917 as the beginning of a world-wide working-class revolt which would sweep away all privilege. The expropriation of the capitalists in Russia was, in his opinion, a powerful revolutionary stimulus for the western workers. That stimulus, he thought, would have been accentuated, if the Russian Revolution had shown a tendency towards an equalization of incomes. [Machajski did not believe in the possibility of a "workers' government," maintaining that governing was a function of educated persons only -- whether intellectuals or self-taught ex-workers -- and that these would consciously or unconsciously defend the interests of the educated minority. In his opinion, the workers' demands, culminating in full equality of incomes with resulting equality of educational opportunities, could be satisfied only as a consequence of constant pressure from below. It could not be an outcome of governmental benevolence, however radical that government might be.] He believed that by arresting this tendency the Russian Revolution had become a purely national affair of the extreme left wing of the Russian intelligentsia, and he held this fact responsible for the abatement of the revolutionary wave in the West.)
The Beginning of the End
The Party Convention of 1921 was marked by two decisions which later were to prove fateful to Trotsky's career.
On their face they were harmless enough. One of them stipulated that a question, once thrashed out at a convention, should not be taken up again in party discussions. By this proposal Lenin hoped to avoid the creation of factions and the repetition of futile discussions at the party conventions. In that period of transition from civil war to reconstruction, and from military communism to the New Economic Policy, the party was torn by the criticism of various dissenting groups. There was the "Workers' Opposition," which was very close to the conception of French syndicalism, and demanded that the management of the industries should be transferred to the trade unions. There were also a number of other heretical communist groups. Some of these thought that once the civil war was over the restrictions directed against the various shades of unofficial opinion should be abolished and civil liberties restored. Others argued that by leveling the standard of living of all groups of the population and eliminating the inequalities in the rewards of mental workers, skilled mechanics and unskilled laborers, the Soviet Government would rally the enthusiastic support of the great mass of the poorest strata of the population. They thought that it was in the various inequalities still existing that hostile propaganda from the Right as well as from the Left found its most fertile soil. Many dissenters who, after being repudiated by the party conventions continued to conduct propaganda for what they considered a correct policy, were arrested or sent to distant parts of the country.
Trotsky and his personal following found nothing improper in this procedure. This was the period of reconstruction, and the party could have no patience with its obstreperous and quarrelsome members.
The other decision of the Convention was much more momentous. It created the post of General Secretary of the Party, and nominated Stalin to that post. Suggested by Zinoviev, it was obviously meant as a move against Trotsky; yet in the final reckoning, Zinoviev suffered from it as much as Trotsky, if not more. The position of General Secretary, in the hands of a strong personality, carried with it great possibilities. The Communist Party was not a democratically organized body. Since its very beginning it had been an army rather than a regular party, with extremely high power attached to the general staff. For the organization of a revolution and the conduct of a civil war, such military features appealed to many as indispensable. The Red Army, as soon as it was faced with a really serious situation, had to give up the principle of election of officers and other idyllic liberties at first enjoyed by its soldiers. Similarly, the Communist Party, to be more effective, had established the principle that the provincial, district or local secretaries did not necessarily have to be elected by their corresponding membership. More often than not, they were simply appointed from the party center of the State, province or district; at least they had to be so confirmed. This was intended to secure efficient local leadership. The result was a condition which some people sometimes likened to the administrative system established in France by the Empire and still existing in the Third Republic -- where all the prefects are appointed from the center. The local party secretaries, being directly or indirectly appointed by the General Secretary, were consequently sure to support his policy and to see to it that the elections of delegates to the conventions were satisfactory. With the open vote and the absence of the principle of proportional representation, this was easy. The Central Committee elected by the Party Convention was thus sure to support the policy of the General Secretary. This was not exactly an innovation introduced by Stalin, but his opponents charged that he utilized his position for the consolidation of his power.
As long as Lenin was in good health, Trotsky's position as first in the councils of the republic and of the party after the unquestioned Father of the Revolution, was not challenged. This, notwithstanding occasional disagreements between the two great leaders, and the scant popularity the great Tribune enjoyed among most of the members of the Old Guard. But things changed as soon as Lenin's illness gave rise to the worst forebodings.
The two years between Lenin's first stroke, early in 1922, and his death early in 1924, were years of underground warfare in anticipation of the struggle for succession to Lenin's power. Trotsky had on his side the flower of the younger intellectuals, the students and the "red professors." He was not exactly popular with the workers. His attitude with regard to the trade unions was known. He was an efficiency fanatic -- to whom the human element counted for nothing. In 1922 he had proposed the concentration of all industries -- a measure which, as Stalin asserts in his book About the Opposition would have thrown one-third of all the workers out of employment. The opposition to Trotsky was headed by Stalin, the General Secretary of the Party; Zinoviev, the President of the Communist International and head of the Leningrad party organization; and Kamenev, Chairman of the Moscow Soviet: a "triumvirate" of unequal merit, Stalin as the shrewd, fearless and energetic man of action, towering mountain-high in character over his associates who at bottom were only eloquent pamphleteers. That triumvirate had on its side what is called the "apparatus," the party machine of which all members were directly or indirectly nominated by the General Secretary. Against this actual accumulation of power, Trotsky could oppose only his past achievements, the sympathy of the younger generation, and Lenin's so-called "Testament." That document unmistakably pointed to Trotsky as the most competent man to take over the helm. His possible Bonapartist ambitions, now that the civil war was over, were no longer a cause for apprehension.
The struggle for power was of course conducted under the guise of a struggle for divergent policies. Trotsky's "permanent revolution" and his reputed hostility towards the peasantry, or at least his disregard and underestimation of them, were dug out of the pre-revolutionary past and presented to the public as timely issues.
Trotsky himself was not silent either. He too dug out old skeletons, reminding the Soviet public in a book which apparently was not meant to be one of purely historical reflections, that Zinoviev and Kamenev had not been altogether heroic during the November Revolution of 1917; and that they were certainly not called upon to be the leaders of a revolutionary nation.
He also set up an interesting theory which was intended to hit the Old Guard a knock-out blow. He spoke of the "degeneration" that had overtaken the old leadership of all the European socialist parties. He pointed to the indisputable fact that practically all the Marxian veteran leaders had turned either pink or yellow during the War, and even before it -- and concluded that a similar danger was threatening the "Old Guard" of the party in the Soviet Union. The conclusion was that the party needed fresh blood -- an obvious and unmistakable bid for the favor of the younger generation of intellectuals, the "outs" or "not-yet-quite-ins," who were only too anxious to step into the shoes of the older men. As a theory this was rather poor; for the pinkness and yellowness of the old socialist leaders was a result not of their age but of the natural development of every political party which achieves power and influence; and barring some honorable exceptions, the younger leaders of those socialist parties were not better than their elders. If they occasionally rebelled, it was only to crowd out the old leaders and then to continue their policies. But the argument was effective -- the younger set hailed Trotsky as their leader.
In the party discussions Trotsky and his followers now kept insisting upon "democracy in the party." Stalin was so heartless as to remind them that as managers of the various sections of Soviet economic life, all of Trotsky's cronies had used the most undemocratic methods; and he concluded with his usual bluntness that the party was faced now by the "democratism" of dissatisfied party-aristocrats, who saw the essence of democratism in substituting one set of men for another.
Still, that statement did not dispose of the fact that the "democracy" practiced by the existing party regime was, to say the least, somewhat curious. Trotsky, in a pamphlet that aroused very much bitterness in the ruling Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev group, had said: "The Party lives on two floors. Upstairs' decisions are made; those who live downstairs merely hear about the decisions." His gibe had been borne out by a stanch supporter of his opponents -- the party's outstanding theorist, Bukharin. In a since famous speech Bukharin had inadvertently admitted that the party elections were elections in name only; that the party meetings were simply asked, "Who is opposed?" to the candidates suggested by the higher authorities, and that "since the members are more or less afraid to declare themselves opposed, it is understood that the suitable person has been elected secretary of the group." [ Quoted from Louis Fischer's Moscow correspondence, dated June 1, 1924, in the New York Nation.] In fact, not a single member of Trotsky's following -- and it was very large at that time -- could get a nomination as a delegate to the Party Convention; Trotsky himself appeared there not as a delegate but as member of the Central Committee.
At that time the number of workers actually working at their benches were a minority in the party, and the influence of the younger generation of intellectuals could in time have become dangerous to the Old Guard. The Old Guard countered the danger by organizing a mass campaign to admit 200,000 manual workers into the party "for the purpose" as Molotov, premier since 1930, declared "of training them for government work." These 200,000 potential officeholders were to be an effectual counter-weight against the college-trained intellectuals. Some people saw in this enrollment an assertion of the working-class character of the party, as against the bourgeois-intellectual onslaught of the Trotsky crowd. Others saw in it simply the pitting of upstarts from the working class against ambitious younger intellectuals in a struggle for power between two groups of leaders, in which the theoretical issues were only a blind for personal and group ambitions. Certainly these former-workers-raised-to-office have ever since been the chief mainstay of Stalin's power. The grumbling "man in the street" of middle-class origin, sympathized with the Opposition, as he would have sided with any other group opposed to the official regime, and as four or five years later he sided with the Right-Wing opposition headed by Bukharin and Rykov. The workers as a mass seemed to be rather indifferent to the outcome of this struggle in higher spheres. Moreover, it was understood that the quarrel should remain en famille and that the non-party mass should not be dragged into that contest. (It was only during the intraparty struggle of 1926-27 that the Opposition began to appeal to the outsiders as well.)
Before long Trotsky and his friends began to be treated as if they were enemies of the Revolution. His adherents were removed from positions of importance; a thorough "cleansing" was effected in the universities, and students were expelled in large numbers as "undesirable elements." The procedure was fraught with many personal tragedies.
At last Trotsky had to resign his post as Commissar for War -- that vantage point from which his adversaries were afraid he might be able to strike back more effectively than by outworn recriminations and the platonic sympathies of the "red" students and younger professors.
The game was now practically up -- at least for the time being. Moments of bitter humiliation came to Trotsky. The obliteration of his name had already begun while he was still a member of the Political Bureau of the Party -- the highest council of the country. During the celebrations of the seventh anniversary of the organization of the armed forces of the Republic, only a few weeks after his resignation as War-Commissar, the Red Army daily did not print a single word about the man who more than anybody else had contributed to the victorious conclusion of the civil war.
In 1925 an American admirer of his, Max Eastman, published a book, Since Lenin Died, in which he attacked the Old Guard, on account of the methods used by them in their struggle against the great Tribune after Lenin fell ill. Trotsky wrote two statements in which he damned the book as "counter-revolutionary." He had no choice; a refusal would have meant expulsion from the party and political death. He still had hopes for a better day, and in the meantime he worked at his modest post of Chairman of the Concessions Committee and a few other assignments in the organization of national economy.
The campaign designed to undermine his authority in the party and in the masses at large went on unabated. Zinoviev, whom Lenin had called a "deserter" and a "strikebreaker" in 1917, went so far as to ask for Trotsky's expulsion from the Central Committee and even from the party itself. But Stalin was satisfied with his removal from actual power. It was supposed by many that he expected to use the fallen demigod as a potential ally in his forthcoming struggle against the other two triumvirs. When the Central Committee, backing Stalin, opposed the demand for Trotsky's expulsion, Zinoviev was indignant at the spirit of "semi-Trotskyism" prevailing in that body, and protested against too much intra-party democracy. A year later he was one of the loudest champions of democracy in the party!
This struggle had become inevitable. Stalin was not the man to share power with anybody, and Zinoviev and Kamenev as well as their personal following among the party dignitaries, began gradually to realize that their hate and jealousy had duped them into setting up the rule of one as firm and unbending as the fallen giant. Finally, what must have seemed almost incredible to those who had read their studied attacks and learned insults against Trotsky, actually happened. Zinoviev and Kamenev made a complete volte-face and offered their alliance to their erstwhile enemy against the inexorable master of the party machine.
Trotsky accepted. He was not very proud of his bargain. His opposition, which so far had been carried on in the name of a principle, such as "democracy in the party" and a more planned economy, was unmistakably becoming a struggle for power, a contest of personal grudges and ambitions. It seemed, however, his only chance of ever getting back. Zinoviev, moreover, the chief culprit in all the attacks of the past year or two, showed a spirit of contrition which was almost convincing. He declared humbly that he had committed two great mistakes in his life -- the first in opposing the November insurrection of 1917, and the other in fighting Trotsky in 1923-24. On the other hand, Trotsky had to make a statement "that in all those questions of principle upon which he disputed with Lenin, Lenin was right -- and particularly upon the question of the permanent revolution and the peasantry." Stalin called the affair "an undisguised business transaction" -- and he was not altogether wrong. For, later on, particularly after the capitulation of Zinoviev and Kamenev, and his own arrest and deportation, Trotsky again began to parade his "permanent revolution," which he had repudiated for the sake of the alliance of 1926.
One of the chief arguments advanced during the struggle by the new opposition was that under Stalin's regime the bourgeois elements were taking the upper hand. The party was accused of falling under the influence of hostile class elements -- the "Nepmen," or new capitalists of the cities, the "Kulaks," or more prosperous farmers, and the bureaucrats. In this growing influence the opposition saw a threat to the proletarian character of the revolution. They used, in this connection, the phrase "impending Thermidor," harking back to that momentous day in the Great French Revolution, when, on July 27th, 1794, the ninth Thermidor of the revolutionary calendar, Robespierre was overthrown by another faction within his party -- an event which inaugurated the rule of the big bourgeoisie. The Opposition demanded a decisive struggle against this development. They demanded greater democracy in the party, in order to counteract bureaucratism, and a quicker tempo in the development of the country's industries, in order to strengthen the working-class elements and to make possible the collectivization of agriculture. To get the necessary means, they insisted upon taxing the peasantry -- they usually spoke only of the "Kulaks" -- to the limit of their resources. One of the chief protagonists of the Opposition, Preobrazhensky, a celebrated Soviet economist, was rather candid in one of his statements concerning the peasantry. Other countries, he said, used their colonies to get the necessary means for building up their industries. We have no colonies, but we have the peasantry. So simple!
At the same time, the Opposition insisted that Stalin's idea of building socialism in one country, while the rest of the world remained capitalist, was un-Marxian, notwithstanding the fact that Stalin tried hard to use some quotations from Lenin to such purpose. The oppositionists had at their disposal a large crop of quotations to the contrary.
In reply to demands for a more militant policy of the Communist International (the body directing the activities of all communist parties) with the world revolution as its goal, Stalin spoke of the stabilization of capitalism in the West, as precluding an early revolution in other countries. Many revolutionary non-conformists, however, were heard to imply that this "stabilization-of-capitalism" argument was only another way of saying that the ruling group, having consolidated its power, had abandoned the idea of world revolution in order to avoid military complications with other countries.
When Stalin pointed to the development of socialist elements in Russia's national economy, Trotsky and his associates incautiously asserted that what was being built in Russia was not Socialism but State Capitalism. To which Stalin again replied that if what was being built in Russia was State Capitalism, then the government was not a workers' government but a capitalist government -- and dared them to draw that conclusion. . . .
The Opposition, with an eye to the dissatisfied elements among the workers as well as the minor intellectuals, pointed to the inequalities of income existing among the various categories of government officials and workers. (There was no economic equality in the Soviet Republic, even during the period of "military communism." The more important one was in the hierarchical scale, the more one got; not in money, it is true, for money had almost lost its meaning, but in actual comforts.) Joseph Stalin, in his book About the Opposition (p. 220) retorted that "there can be no equality as long as there are classes and as long as there is skilled and unskilled labor [It should be borne in mind that in "skilled labor" the Marxists usually include mental work as well.] (see Lenin's The State and the Revolution) ; we must talk not of an indefinite equality but of the elimination of classes -- of socialism"; and, further, on the same page: "one must not play with phrases about equality, for this is playing with fire." The Opposition could have replied that "socialism" without equality was State Capitalism; that no "elimination of classes" was thinkable while there was inequality; and that the lower reward paid to manual labor perpetuated its lower social status. Yet the spokesmen of the Opposition were not insistent on that point, [In his criticism of the program submitted to the Gotha Congress of the German Socialists of 1875, Marx said that in the "first phase of communism," after the elimination of the private capitalists there would be "no class differences because each [would be] but a worker like the other" -- even though there were quite substantial differences in the rewards. Modern socialism, as the ideology of the intellectual worker, protests against the privilege and inequality involved in private capitalist profits; the privileged rewards for "unequal individual endowment" (Marx) it accepts as a matter of course.] for at bottom they agreed with their adversaries.
The last few weeks before Trotsky's expulsion from the party were crowded with highly dramatic incidents. His speech at the Central Committee on October 23, 1927, when his expulsion from that body was proposed, if read, as spoken, along with the interruptions and insults hurled at him from well-nigh the entire assembly, sounds like the record of one of those stormy sessions of the French Convention of 1794 which ended by abruptly concluding the career of Danton, or Hebert, or Robespierre. Trotsky was cornered and knew it. He spoke out all his bitterness at the persecution on the part of the secret police, which after all had been set up to fight the enemies of the Soviet system and not dissenters within the party; at the harsh methods used against the Opposition, including the expulsion of some of the most glorious figures of the Revolution and the civil war. He recalled that Lenin had demanded Stalin's removal from the General Secretaryship of the Party; he attacked what he called "falsification of party history" consisting in "fabrications, distortions, hiding of facts and documents, and perversions of Lenin" committed by the Bureau of Party History; he taunted the majority with the famous "enrich yourself" slogan with which Bukharin had encouraged the well-to-do farmers, and which he had dropped later under the onslaught of the Opposition. He attacked, as insincere and demagogical, the sudden announcement of the seven-hour working day, which was to win over the sympathies of the workers on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. He pointed to the "well-established bureaucrats, including the trade union officials, the administrators, the industrial managers, the new private capitalists, the privileged intellectuals in city and country, all those elements which are beginning to show their fist to the working man, telling him 'this is no longer 1918!' " -- implying that the time when the worker was paramount in the councils of the Republic, has passed for good. . . .
The struggle had been full of unworthy moments. Hand in hand with serious quotations from Lenin, which were supposed to discomfit Trotsky on the intellectual plane, special reprints were made of all the out-dated morsels of abuse which, prior to the revolution, Lenin had written against Trotsky and the latter against Lenin -- both to be taken as proof of Trotsky's moral depravity. Special squads of whistlers and noise-makers were organized and put in action whenever a speaker of the Opposition tried to present his point of view -- at least so the Opposition charged. The Opposition resorted to secret meetings and to a secret printing of their platform, its publication having been forbidden as an anti-party -- that is, counter-revolutionary -- document. The Party retaliated with the help of the secret police, and the Opposition complained that "frame-up" methods were used to compromise them as allies of the monarchists. It was all in the good old style of the French Revolution, when the various revolutionary factions were striving for power and accusing each other of connivance with the foreign invaders.
Worst of all, a very ugly turn was given to the conflict with the introduction into it of the racial element. In an item, published in the Pravda, the central organ of the party, the Communists were enjoined not to use as an argument against the Opposition the fact that some of its most prominent leaders, such as Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek and others, were Jews. This was interpreted by some as a subtle way of putting things in order to play up racial jealousies and prejudices, both within and without the communist ranks. It was done, no doubt, in the heat of the struggle, for the ruling faction was entirely exempt from any anti-Jewish sentiments and tendencies.
The high point of the struggle came on November 7, 1927, the tenth, anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power. On that day the Opposition participated in the official parades in Leningrad and Moscow, but carried banners and placards of its own, with its slogans directed against the Kulaks, Nepmen and Bureaucrats. Trotsky's automobile was attacked and a policeman fired a shot at it. "Somebody guided his hand," Trotsky insinuates in his autobiography . . .
Shortly after November 7 Trotsky and the other leaders of the Opposition were expelled from the Party and banished to various far-away places within the Republic.
Stalin's Great Campaign
The suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion had marked the beginning of the New Economic Policy, which at bottom had been the economic platform of the mutineers. In a similar way, the elimination of Trotsky and the other leaders of the Opposition was followed by the adoption of most of the economic measures which they had proposed during their struggle for power.
At the time of his expulsion from the party, Trotsky's following extended far beyond the university students and the young "red professors." In one of his speeches, Bu-kharin, then the main theorist of the ruling group, inadvertently threw some light upon the real situation. He pointed to the fact that the success of Trotsky's propaganda had its roots in the great distress then prevailing (1926-28) among a large section of the intellectual workers of the country. In fact, two or three hundred thousands of them were unemployed.
Thus it was once more, the old, old story of the "outs" turning on the "ins." Trotsky's victory would have meant to them not merely the vindication of a more deserving leader over the unworthy "epigones," nor even the triumph of a more practical and correct economic program -- for Stalin was only too ready to learn from the Opposition. The victory of the Opposition meant to them chiefly the creation of two or three hundred thousand new office jobs, or, at least, their own accession to already existing jobs, as supporters of the Stalin regime were eliminated . . .
Stalin understood that the arrest and banishment of the Opposition leaders would not solve the question. The unemployed and starving intelligentsia had led and organized the revolutions of the past, including those against the Tsar and against Kerensky. Those two or three hundred thousand unemployed intellectuals were a potential menace. In fact, danger signals were already appearing. The Opposition had delved deep into the masses; they had begun to stir up the workers; strikes, which had become a rarity since the establishment of the Soviet regime, began to pop up again. The unemployed manual workers, not all of whom were receiving insurance benefits, were beginning to show an ugly temper. A net of secret connections, more dangerous than those of the Whites and the Mensheviks, was beginning to spread in the cities with the "old man" -- as Trotsky was called by his followers -- directing and encouraging these activities from his exile on the Chinese border. If, on top of this dissatisfaction in the cities, should come a foreign invasion, the situation might become really desperate for the Stalin regime . . .
Stalin met the situation in a heroic way. The questions of national defense and unemployment must be solved in the shortest possible time. He not only borrowed Trotsky's thunder, he let it roar ten times as loud. Stalin, who had formerly sneered at the billion rubles which the Opposition demanded for accelerating the industrialization of the country, and who had defended the poor peasant lamb which Trotsky was ready to shear so close, was now going to spend many times that amount. The agricultural population, not only prosperous "Kulaks," but middle peasants as well, were now taxed to desperation. A tremendous, unheard-of campaign of industrialization and rural collectivization was begun. With a courage in which he has no equal, Stalin actually ran counter to the will of the great majority of the rural population. At the same time it was declared officially, in a speech delivered by Molotov (Soviet premier since 1930), in July, 1929, that "Trotsky's super-industrialization policy was and remains pernicious and anti-proletarian, because this policy did not hesitate at rending apart the bond with the middle peasant." . . .
The collective farms were to provide the Treasury with the exportable grain needed to purchase machinery. To carry out these two campaigns of industrialization and collectivization, millions of additional workers and hundreds of thousands of new clerks, organizers, bookkeepers, agronomists, in short, intellectuals and semi-intellectuals, were necessary. Soon not a single white-collar man was out of employment. Trotsky's army of malcontents was absorbed in the State machinery and forgot about its exiled leader. A large section of his general staff deserted even before that time. Kamenev and Zinoviev were of course the first to capitulate and to be readmitted to the party. Others followed suit, some by claiming that there was no longer any real reason to hold out, since the party had now come round to their point of view; but most of them by humbly bowing their heads and admitting they had been wrong. An undignified scramble set in, each anxious to be first to deny his leader and get the best available higher job. However, not all the oppositionists deserted the old leader. Christian Rakovsky, former Soviet Ambassador to France, and a few unbending men bound to Trotsky by ties of personal friendship or by romantic devotion, remained in exile. The Trotskyist publications are full of reports of persecutions, suicides, and even occasional executions of the followers of the great Tribune. In his autobiography, Trotsky speaks of "violence, beatings, physical and mental torture applied against the best Bolshevik workers for remaining faithful to the November Revolution." The official press ignores these accusations and it is hard to establish the facts. . . .
Russia without Trotsky
It was not given to Trotsky personally to behold all these developments. Late in 1928 he was requested by the authorities to discontinue his propaganda activities once and for all. When he indignantly refused to give any assurances to this effect, he was expelled from his country for "counterrevolutionary activities, consisting in the organizing of an illegal anti-Soviet party, whose activity was lately directed towards the provoking of anti-Soviet uprisings and the preparation of an armed struggle against the Soviet power."
It was a foregone conclusion that no other country, except Turkey, would admit him. One after one, all his applications for asylum in the various countries were turned down. He has remained on the shores of the Bosporus ever since.
Trotsky is a lonely man now. He derives little joy from the fact that Stalin has adopted many of his suggestions. For, as he wrote to one of his friends "what is decisive in politics is not only the what but also the how and the who." But the defeated giant has likewise his consolations. His former enemies in the Stalin camp, have fallen, one by one, into disgrace -- Bukharin, the chief theorist of the party; Rykov the Soviet Premier; Tomsky, the head of the trade unions. Of a less audacious temperament than Stalin, they became frightened by, and opposed, the excessive tempo of industrialization, extreme rural taxation and collectivization which the new master had initiated.
They had really plenty of reasons to be frightened. Bukharin, as an economist, and Rykov as a practical politician, each of them with a finger on the pulse of village life, foresaw a catastrophe. Bukharin coined the famous expression, "military-feudal exploitation of the peasantry," which Stalin never forgave him. It was even worse than the "Ther-midor" and "Bonaparte" accusation coming from the Left. Rykov and Bukharin, of the so-called Right Wing of the Communist Party, speaking in behalf of the middle and prosperous farmers, dreaded a peasant uprising that might spread all over the country, overthrow Soviet rule and bring about some sort of Fascist or Bonapartist reaction. Many commanders of the Red Army, which after all is composed mostly of peasants, were alarmed, and protested. The leaders of the trade unions, headed by Tomsky, likewise balked. True, unemployment had been done away with, but the standard of living of the average worker had been reduced considerably. Fats, eggs, wool, everything, was sent abroad to obtain new machinery. The workers were grumbling, and the authority of the trade union leaders who could not remedy the situation, was declining. In the end the resistance of the peasantry forced Stalin to relent and to heed the warnings of the "Rights."
Stalin had actually so outdone all the proposals ever made by the Left Opposition in the matter of industrialization and collectivization that even Trotsky was moved to protest against what one might almost call "Super-Trotskyism." In Trotsky's opinion the attempt to execute the Five-Year-Plan in four years was a false step. It was too great a strain upon the endurance as well as upon the loyalty of the workers whose standards of living were considerably lowered. With an eye to the progress of revolutionary communist sentiment abroad, he wrote that "what would immediately impress the broad circles of foreign workers is not the abstract figures of statistics, but the actual and substantial improvement in the condition of the workers in the Soviet Union." He had been less interested in the human element when he himself was in power.
In his opposition to Stalin's rapid tempo, though on different grounds, he found himself in unexpected harmony with his opposites on the Right Wing. In fact there were efforts towards a rapprochement between Bukharin's Right-Wingers and Trotsky sympathizers -- "semi-Trotsky-ists" in high position and repentant Trotskyists who at heart had remained opposed to Stalin. (Moreover, during the polemics raging in the American communist camp in 1929, it was revealed that the real cause of Trotsky's deportation to Turkey was "the danger that Bukharin might conclude an alliance with him.") Stalin, however, succeeded in foiling every attempt to bring about a joint attack directed against his administration.
Trotsky, seeing that what he dreamed of is now being carried out by his rival, denies the alleged socialist character of the country's achievements. "We were told," he wrote in 1931, taking exception to a much heralded speech by Joseph Stalin, "that at the third year of the Five-Year-Plan the Soviet Union has entered into socialism. If that were true, we should have witnessed a tendency toward the gradual equalization of wages." In pointing to various other features concerning the workers' situation in the Soviet Republic, he seems to imply that under Stalin's regime Russia is moving towards State Capitalism rather than towards equalitarian socialism, or communism, as conceived or aspired to by the workers.
Stalin's momentous speech before mentioned, dealt not only with methods of stimulating the workers' zeal but also with the Government's new attitude with regard to members of a heretofore openly hostile group -- the technical intelligentsia. The long struggle of the high-class "specialists" and engineers against the political intelligentsia and semi-intelligentsia which runs the government machine, has ended with concessions on both sides. The inequality, inherent in State Capitalism is still more to be emphasized by granting to the technicians incomes considerably exceeding those of the ordinary bureaucracy -- not, to mention the manual workers, of course. In return, the technicians will give up their sabotaging activities, with which they had hoped to bring about the economic breakdown of the system, and the restoration of private capitalism, with its generous rewards to high-class technical talent. They will do it the more readily, as by now the idea of government control or ownership of industries, i.e. State Capitalism, [The Russian Communists dislike to have the designation of State Capitalism applied to the present economic system of their country. That term, however, has now been adopted not only by the various "right" and "left" critics of the system. It is likewise being used by the growing number of warmly sympathetic radical and liberal intellectuals the world over who, by pointing to the Soviet Union, have familiarized the public mind with the great advantages of government ownership and planning. The term expresses the combination of the socialist principle of State ownership with the capitalist feature of inequality. The Communists prefer to call that system "Socialism," reserving the term "Communism" for the reign of equality that is to come in a distant future. . . .] is opening out more and more, the world over, as capitalism's only escape from the dilemma of slow disintegration or violent revolution. . . .
In Kemal's Cage
In the meantime Trotsky in his Turkish exile is engaging in the entertaining pastime of issuing encyclical after encyclical and thesis after thesis to his scant number of faithful followers in Russia and in the rest of the world. The situation in Russia, the crisis in Germany, the revolution in Spain, the civil war in China, and the mistakes committed in all these questions by the Russian Communist Party and the Communist International -- all these come in for a merciless analysis under his trenchant pen. As in former years, his articles, pamphlets and books are translated into, and read in all languages, but it is no longer the Communist International or the parties affiliated with it, that cover the expenses. He has become a, kind of International all his own, a highly centralized one-man-affair, with himself as the chief inspiration, the only theorist, the principal "angel," and the sole Inquisitor. It is not his intention, so he avers, to create a new Communist International and new communist parties in competition with the official bodies, as it is not his intention to overthrow the existing Soviet regime by force. By boring from within and from without he expects, sooner or later, to see the triumph of his cause in Russia and in the Communist International.
But he has a rather hard time of it, and this hope of his seems much like a willful self-deception, enabling him to keep up his spirits under the weight of his own personal crushing defeat.
Far from making headway in Russia, against his openly hostile rivals, he is not even able to assert his authority among his followers either at home or abroad. Defections and desertions of his Russian followers are complemented by distressing heresies of his admirers elsewhere. In their bitterness against the official communist parties, many of the communist dissenters in Germany, France and other countries, went much further than their champion was ever prepared to go. They not only doubted the revolutionary judgment of the Stalin group, but even began to question the proletarian character of the Soviet regime, as it is at present. They adopted the criticism of some earlier dissenters who declared that "Thermidor," that is, a reactionary overturn, had already taken place, and that the Stalin regime expressed the rule of "classes hostile to the workers." Once Russia was no longer regarded as a workers' republic, the energetic steps taken in 1929 on account of the Chinese-Eastern Railway, became in their eyes an ordinary imperialist enterprise. As a result of this stand of theirs, Trotsky broke with some of his most faithful supporters abroad. With the capitalists removed, he argues, workers' rule has been definitely established, and Stalin's regime is not "Thermidor" -- but is only, by its mistaken policy, unconsciously preparing the way for it. If the Russian Revolution had reached its Thermidor, he said, a new revolution would be necessary; all that is actually needed, in Trotsky's opinion, is a readjustment in the party apparatus; to be accomplished, one may suppose, either by substituting Trotsky for Stalin, or by readmitting Trotsky to the party under not-too-humiliating conditions.
Trotsky's hope for readmission to the party has so far been vain and will probably remain so. His last attempt -- late in 1929 he endorsed an appeal of his friend Rakovsky -- was useless. The appeal was not humble enough and Stalin was adamant. Nothing less than full repentance and submission would do.
Will Trotsky ever take that last step? He predicted to Zinoviev and Kamenev that their abject capitulation meant their political death, and he was not mistaken. Stalin forgives his repentant foes, but he never readmits them to any position of real power. Trotsky will not kowtow for a mere living. He prefers to stay in his lion's cage, the unbending head of a little, insignificant sect, but fully conscious of his role in history and expectant of his inevitable vindication in his own country as well.
Whether or not Trotsky lives to witness that vindication himself, his name, as the inspired advocate of State Capitalism with its super-industrialization and collectivization, will hold a place in history along with that of Stalin, the fearless executor of his ideas, and that of Lenin -- the leader of a Revolution that, by destroying all vestiges of Russian feudalism, paved the way for that momentous development.