Lev Davidovich Bronshtein (he assumed the name Leon Trotsky in 1902) was born in Yanovka, Russia, on 7th November, 1879. His parents were Jewish and owned a farm in the Ukraine. He later recalled: "My father and mother lived out their hard-working lives with some friction, but very happily on the whole. Of the eight children born of this marriage, four survived. I was the fifth in order of birth. Four died in infancy, of diphtheria and of scarlet fever, deaths almost as unnoticed as was the life of those who survived. The land, the cattle, the poultry, the mill, took all my parents' time; there was none left for us. We lived in a little mud house. The straw roof harboured countless sparrows' nests under the eaves. The walls on the outside were seamed with deep cracks which were a breeding place for adders. The low ceilings leaked during a heavy rain, especially in the hall, and pots and basins would be placed on the dirt floor to catch the water. The rooms were small, the windows dim; the floors in the two rooms and the nursery were of clay and bred fleas."
Leon Trotsky was very close to his younger sister, Olga Kamenev: "We usually sat in the dining-room in the evening until we fell asleep.... Sometimes a chance word of one of the elders would waken some special reminiscence in us. Then I would wink at my little sister, she would give a low giggle, and the grown-ups would look absent-mindedly at her. I would wink again, and she would try to stifle her laughter under the oilcloth and would hit her head against the table. This would infect me and sometimes my older sister too, who, with thirteen-year-old dignity, vacillated between the grown-ups and the children. If our laughter became too uncontrollable, I was obliged to slip under the table and crawl among the feet of the grown-ups, and, stepping on the cat's tail, rush out into the next room, which was the nursery. Once back in the dining-room, it all would begin over again. My fingers would grow so weak from laughing that I could not hold a glass. My head, my lips, my hands, my feet, every inch of me would be shaking with laughter."
When Trotsky was eight years old his father sent him to Odessa to be educated. Six years later he was transferred to Nikolayev where he was first introduced to the ideas of Karl Marx. Trotsky became friends with Grigori Sokolnikov in 1897 formed the underground South Russian Workers' Union. Trotsky later recalled: "I drafted our constitution along Social-Democratic lines. The mill authorities tried to offset our influence through speakers of their own. We would answer them the next day with new proclamations. This duel of words aroused not only the workers but a great many of the citizens as well. The whole town was alive with talk about revolutionaries who were flooding the mills with their handbills. Our names were on every tongue."
In 1899, Trotsky met Alexandra Sokolovskaya. She had previously been involved in revolutionary activity in the Ukraine. Trotsky recalled in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930) that "Alexandra... held one of the most important positions in the South Russian Workers' Union. Her utter loyalty to socialism and her complete lack of any personal ambition gave her an unquestioned moral authority. The work that we were doing bound us closely together, and so, to avoid being separated, we had been married in the transfter prison in Moscow."
Trotsky later explained "we firmly resolved not to hide in case of wholesale arrests, but to let ourselves be taken." He did this so that the police could not say to the workers: "Your leaders have deserted you." Trotsky and his wife were arrested and sent to Siberia after being arrested for revolutionary activity. Alexandra had two daughters, Zinaida Volkova (1901) and Nina Nevelson (1902). Trotsky managed to escape in the summer of 1902. His wife and children followed later.
After escaping Leon Trotsky met Natalia Sedova. He divorced Alexandra and married Natalia. They joined the Social Democratic Party and moved to Paris where they associated with Lenin, George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich and Julius Martov and became involved in producing the journal Iskra. Natalia recalled: "The autumn of 1902 was marked by frequent lectures in the Russian colony in Paris. The Iskra group, to which I belonged, saw first Martov, and then Lenin. A war was being fought against the "Economists" and the Socialist-Revolutionists."
At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Party held in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Lenin and Julius Martov. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists. Trotsky commented that "the split came unexpectedly for all the members of the congress. Lenin, the most active figure in the struggle, did not foresee it, nor had he ever desired it. Both sides were greatly upset by the course of events."
Martov won the vote 28-23 but Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks. Trotsky argued in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930): "How did I come to be with the 'softs' at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulitch and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable. Before the congress there were various shades of opinion on the editorial board, but no sharp differences. I stood farthest from Plekhanov, who, after the first really trivial encounters, had taken an intense dislike to me. Lenin's attitude towards me was unexceptionally kind. But now it was he who, in my eyes, was attacking the editorial board, a body which was, in my opinion, a single unit, and which bore the exciting name of Iskra. The idea of a split within the board seemed nothing short of sacrilegious to me."
A large number of the Social Democratic Party joined the Bolsheviks. This included Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, Kliment Voroshilov, Vatslav Vorovsky, Yan Berzin, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov. Trotsky felt he could not follow Lenin over this issue. "In 1903 the whole point at issue was nothing more than Lenin's desire to get Axelrod and Zasulitch off the editorial board. My attitude towards them was full of respect, and there was an element of personal affection as well. Lenin also thought highly of them for what they had done in the past. But he believed that they were becoming an impediment for the future. This led him to conclude that they must be removed from their position of leadership. I could not agree. My whole being seemed to protest against this merciless cutting off of the older ones when they were at last on the threshold of an organized party."
Trotsky supported Julius Martov. So also did George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Vera Zasulich, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan. Trotsky argued that "Lenin's behaviour seemed unpardonable to me, both horrible and outrageous. And yet, politically it was right and necessary, from the point of view of organization. The break with the older ones, who remained in the preparatory stages, was inevitable in any case. Lenin understood this before anyone else did. He made an attempt to keep Plekhanov by separating him from Zasulitch and Axelrod. But this, too, was quite futile, as subsequent events soon proved."
Although he joined the Mensheviks under the leadership of Martov he was aware of his limitations: "The leader of the Mensheviks, Martov, must be counted as one of the most tragic figures of the revolutionary movement. A gifted writer, an ingenious politician, a penetrating thinker, Martov stood far above the intellectual movement of which he became the leader. But his thought lacked courage; his insight was devoid of will. Sheer doggedness was no substitute. Martov's initial reaction to events always showed a revolutionary trend of thought. Immediately, however, his thought, which lacked the support of a live will, died down. My friendship with him did not survive the test of the first important events precipitated by the approaching revolution."
According to Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967): "Trotsky was a gifted writer and talker from boyhood, and as soon as he escaped abroad, he became a leading spokesman of Russian Social Democracy.... Trotsky always looked slightly sinister, and his abrasive temperament made it hard for him to work with equals... He argued brilliantly for the Menshevik view of the 1903 Congress in the polemics that followed."
1904 was a bad year for Russian workers. Prices of essential goods rose so quickly that real wages declined by 20 per cent. When four members of the Assembly of Russian Workers were dismissed at the Putilov Iron Works, Father Georgi Gapon, its leader, called for industrial action. Over the next few days over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg went out on strike. Tsar Nicholas II became concerned about these events and wrote in his diary: "Since yesterday all the factories and workshops in St. Petersburg have been on strike. Troops have been brought in from the surroundings to strengthen the garrison. The workers have conducted themselves calmly hitherto. Their number is estimated at 120,000. At the head of the workers' union some priest - socialist Gapon. Mirsky came in the evening with a report of the measures taken."
In an attempt to settle the dispute, Gapon decided to make a personal appeal to Nicholas II. He drew up a petition outlining the workers' sufferings and demands. This included calling for a reduction in the working day to eight hours, an increase in wages and an improvement in working conditions. Gapon also called for the establishment of universal suffrage and an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Gapon wrote: "We workers, our children, our wives and our old, helpless parents have come, Lord, to seek truth and protection from you. We are impoverished and oppressed, unbearable work is imposed on us, we are despised and not recognized as human beings. We are treated as slaves, who must bear their fate and be silent. We have suffered terrible things, but we are pressed ever deeper into the abyss of poverty, ignorance and lack of rights."
Over 150,000 people signed the petition and on 22nd January, 1905, Gapon led a large procession of workers to the Winter Palace in order to present the petition. Alexandra Kollontai was on the march and her biographer, Cathy Porter, has described what took place: "She described the hot sun on the snow that Sunday morning, as she joined hundreds of thousands of workers, dressed in their Sunday best and accompanied by elderly relatives and children. They moved off in respectful silence towards the Winter Palace, and stood in the snow for two hours, holding their banners, icons and portraits of the Tsar, waiting for him to appear."
Gapon later described what happened in his book The Story of My Life (1905): "The procession moved in a compact mass. In front of me were my two bodyguards and a yellow fellow with dark eyes from whose face his hard labouring life had not wiped away the light of youthful gaiety. On the flanks of the crowd ran the children. Some of the women insisted on walking in the first rows, in order, as they said, to protect me with their bodies, and force had to be used to remove them. Suddenly the company of Cossacks galloped rapidly towards us with drawn swords. So, then, it was to be a massacre after all! There was no time for consideration, for making plans, or giving orders. A cry of alarm arose as the Cossacks came down upon us. Our front ranks broke before them, opening to right and left, and down the lane the soldiers drove their horses, striking on both sides. I saw the swords lifted and falling, the men, women and children dropping to the earth like logs of wood, while moans, curses and shouts filled the air."
In the attack by the Cossacks over 100 workers were killed and some 300 wounded. Alexandra Kollontai observed the "trusting expectant faces, the fateful signal of the troops stationed around the Palace, the pools of blood on the snow, the bellowing of the gendarmes, the dead, the wounded, the children shot." She added that what the Tsar did not realise was that "on that day he had killed something even greater, he had killed superstition, and the workers' faith that they could ever achieve justice from him. From then on everything was different and new." The incident became known as Bloody Sunday.
Trotsky later recalled: "On the morning of 23 January 1905 I returned to Geneva from a lecture tour, exhausted after a sleepless night on the train. A newsboy sold me a paper of the day before. It referred in the future tense to the march of the workers to the Winter Palace. I decided that it had failed to take place. An hour or so later I called at the Iskra office. Martov was all excitement." Julius Martov told him what had happened. "I ran through the first ten lines of the telegraphed report of the Bloody Sunday. A dull, burning sensation seemed to overpower me. I could not stay abroad any longer. My connections with the Bolsheviks had ended with the congress. I broke away from the Mensheviks; I had to act at my own risk."
Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, decided to travel to St. Petersburg to take part in what later became known as the 1905 Russian Revolution. Strikes took place all over the country and the universities closed down when the whole student body complained about the lack of civil liberties by staging a walkout. Lawyers, doctor, engineers, and other middle-class workers established the Union of Unions and demanded a constituent assembly. However, in May, Natalia was arrested and sent to prison. Trotsky now decided to escape to Finland.
In June, 1905, sailors on the Potemkin battleship, protested against the serving of rotten meat. The captain ordered that the ringleaders to be shot. The firing-squad refused to carry out the order and joined with the rest of the crew in throwing the officers overboard. The Potemkin Mutiny spread to other units in the army and navy. Now industrial workers all over Russia went on strike and in October, 1905, the action of railwaymen paralyzed the whole Russian railway network.
Sergi Witte, the new Chief Minister, advised Nicholas II to make concessions. He eventually agreed and published the October Manifesto. This granted freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. He also promised that in future people would not be imprisoned without trial. Finally he announced that no law would become operative without the approval of a new organization called the Duma.
Leon Trotsky now decided to return to St. Petersburg. Natalia was released and the couple rented a room in the name of Vikentiyev. He joined the St. Petersburg Soviet and was eventually elected chairman. He wrote a regular column for the Menshevik newspaper, Nachalo (The Beginning) and wrote editorials for Izvestia (The News), the official Soviet organ. "I wrote articles as well as numerous appeals, manifestos and resolutions. The fifty-two days of the existence of the first Soviet were filled to the brim with work... How we managed to live in this whirlpool is still not clear, even to me... We not only whirled in the vortex, but we helped to create it. Everything was done in a hurry, but, after all, not so badly, and some things were even done very well." Over the next few weeks over 50 of these soviets were formed all over Russia.
Dmitrii Sverchkov wrote: "The intellectual leader of the Soviet was Leon Trotsky. The president of the Soviet, Nosar-Khrustalyov, was really a screen, for he was never able to solve a single question of principle himself. A man with an exaggerated vanity which was almost an illness with him, he came to hate Trotsky because of the very necessity of referring to him for advice and direction." Anatoli Lunacharsky agreed: "Trotsky's popularity among the St. Petersburg proletariat was very great by the time of his arrest, and this was increased still further by his strikingly effective and heroic behaviour at the trial. I must say that Trotsky, of all the Social Democratic leaders of 1905-06, undoubtedly showed himself, in spite of his youth, the best prepared; and he was the least stamped by the narrow emigre outlook which handicapped even Lenin. He realized better than the others what a state struggle is. He came out of the revolution, too, with the greatest gains in popularity; neither Lenin nor Martov gained much. Plekhanov lost a great deal because of the semi-liberal tendencies which he revealed. But from then on Trotsky was in the front rank."
On 2nd December 1905, Trotsky published its "financial manifesto, which proclaimed that the financial bankruptcy of Tsarism was inevitable, and issued a categorical warning that the debts incurred by the Romanovs would not be recognized by the victorious nation". The manifesto pointed out: "The autocracy never enjoyed the confidence of the people and was never granted any authority by the people. We have therefore decided not to allow the repayment of such loans as have been made by the Tsarist government when openly engaged in a war with the entire people."
With the failings of the Duma, the Soviets were seen as the legitimate workers' government. Trotsky and the Soviets challenged the power of Tsar Nicholas II and attempted to enforce promises made in the October Manifesto such as the freedom of the press, assembly and association. On 3rd December, 1905, the St. Petersburg Soviet was crushed and Trotsky was arrested and imprisoned.
In October, 1906 Trotsky was sentenced to internal exile and deprived of all civil rights. While in prison Trotsky wrote Permanent Revolution: Results and Prospects. In this book he developed what became known as the theory of permanent revolution. Trotsky argued that it would be impossible to create a socialist society in isolation from the rest of Europe. He hoped the example in Russia would inspire socialists in other countries: "The Russian workingman will issue to all his brothers the world over his old battle cry which will now become the call for the last attack: Proletarians of all the world, unite!... There is no doubt that a socialist revolution in the West would allow us to turn the temporary supremacy of the working class directly into a socialist dictatorship."
Trotsky escaped from Siberia in 1907. Natalia Sedova wrote: "When I received the telegram in Terioki, a Finnish village near St Petersburg where I was staying alone with my baby son, I was beside myself with joy and excitement. That same day I received a long letter from Leon written on his way to exile, in which, aside from its description of the journey, he asked me to take with me when I left for Obdorsk a number of aiticles necessary in the north, among them certain books."
The couple now moved to Vienna: "The house was better than we could usually get, as the villas here were usually rented in the spring, and we rented ours for the autumn and winter. From the windows we could see the mountains, all dark-red autumn colours. One could get into the open country through a back gate without going to the street. In the winter, on Sundays, the Viennese cane by on their way to the mountains, with sleds and skis, in little coloured caps and sweaters. In April, when we had to leave our house because of the doubling of the rent, the violets were already blooming in the garden and their fragrance filled the rooms from the open windows."
Sergei Sedov was born on 21st March, 1908. Both boys were educated in Vienna: "The children spoke Russian and German. In the kindergarten and school they spoke German, and for this reason they continued to talk German when they were playing at home. But if their father or I started talking to them, it was enough to make them change instantly to Russian. If we addressed them in German, they were embarrassed, and answered us in Russian. In later years they also acquired the Viennese dialect and spoke it excellently."
On the outbreak of the First World War Trotsky was forced to leave Vienna. He went to Zurich where he published a pamphlet attacking German socialists for supported the war. In November, 1914, Trotsky moved to Paris where he became one of the editors of Social Democratic Party newspaper, Nashe Slovo.
Trotsky continued to denounce the war and joined with the pacifists in urged workers not to participate in the conflict. This led to him being arrested by the French authorities and in September, 1916, he was deported to Spain. Hounded by the Spanish police, Trotsky decided to move to the United States.
Trotsky arrived in New York in January, 1917 and worked with Nikolai Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai in publishing the revolutionary newspaper Novy Mir . After the overthrow of Nicholas II in February, 1917, Trotsky set off for Russia. However, Okhrana had been monitoring Trotsky's activities and managed to persuade the British authorities to arrest him when his ship arrived in the Canadian port of Halifax. The police held Trotsky in detention for a month and he was only released after protests from the Provisional Government.
When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories. Leon Trotsky gave Lenin his full support: "I told Lenin that nothing separated me from his April Theses and from the whole course that the party had taken since his arrival." The two agreed, however, that Trotsky would not join the Bolshevik Party at once, but would wait until he could bring as many of the Mezhrayontsky group into the Bolshevik ranks. This included David Riazanov, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Moisei Uritsky, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Alexandra Kollontai. Trotsky officially joined the Bolsheviks in July.
Lev Kamenev led the opposition to Lenin's call for the overthrow of the government. In Pravda he disputed Lenin's assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended," and warned against utopianism that would transform the "party of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat" into "a group of communist propagandists." A meeting of the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee the day after the April Theses appeared voted 13 to 2 to reject Lenin's position. Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has argued that Lenin now set about changing the minds of the Bolsheviks. "He was distinctly a father-figure: at forty-eight, he was ten years or more the senior of the other Bolshevik leaders. And he had a few key helpers - Zinoviev, Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin (who was quick to sense the new direction of power in the party), and, most effective of all, Yakov Sverdlov."
Trotsky arrived back in Russia in May, 1917. He disapproved of the support that many leading Mensheviks were now giving to the Provisional Government and the war effort. Trotsky gave Lenin his full support: "I told Lenin that nothing separated me from his April Theses and from the whole course that the party had taken since his arrival." The two agreed, however, that Trotsky would not join the Bolshevik Party at once, but would wait until he could bring as many of the Mezhrayontsky group into the Bolshevik ranks. This included David Riazanov, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Moisei Uritsky, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Alexandra Kollontai. Trotsky officially joined the Bolsheviks in July. The new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, now realized that Trotsky was a major threat to his government and had him arrested.
On 7th September, 1917, General Lavr Kornilov demanded the resignation of the Cabinet and the surrender of all military and civil authority to the Russian Army. Kerensky responded by dismissing Kornilov from office and ordering him back to Petrograd. Kornilov now sent troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Kerensky was now in danger and so he called on the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but insisted on the release of their members from prison. Trotsky was released and on 23rd September, he was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He immediately helped to enlist 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd.
Later that month Lenin informed the Bolshevik Central Committee via Ivar Smilga. "Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater (i.e., the Democratic Conference); occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc."
Joseph Stalin read the message to the Central Committee. Nickolai Bukharin later recalled: "We gathered and - I remember as though it were just now - began the session. Our tactics at the time were comparatively clear: the development of mass agitation and propaganda, the course toward armed insurrection, which could be expected from one day to the next. The letter read as follows: 'You will be traitors and good-for-nothings if you don't send the whole (Democratic Conference Bolshevik) group to the factories and mills, surround the Democratic Conference and arrest all those disgusting people!' The letter was written very forcefully and threatened us with every punishment. We all gasped. No one had yet put the question so sharply. No one knew what to do. Everyone was at a loss for a while. Then we deliberated and came to a decision. Perhaps this was the only time in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter of Comrade Lenin's. This instance was not publicized at the time."
Leon Trotsky was the main figure to argue for an insurrection whereas Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Victor Nogin led the resistance to the idea. They argued that an early action was likely to result in the Bolsheviks being destroyed as a political force. As Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has explained why Zinoviev felt strongly about the need to wait: "The experience of the summer (the July Days) had brought him to the conclusion that any attempt at an uprising would end as disastrously as the Paris Commune of 1871; revolution was was inevitable, he wrote at the time of the Kornilov crisis, but the party's task for the time being was to restrain the masses from rising to the provocations of the bourgeoisie."
Morgan Philips Price, a journalist working for the Manchester Guardian, watched Trotsky and Lenin closely during this period: "Lenin struck me as being a man who, in spite of the revolutionary jargon that he used, was aware of the obstacles facing him and his party. There was no doubt that Lenin was the driving force behind the Bolshevik Party... He was the brains and the planner, but not the orator or the rabble-rouser. That function fell to Trotsky. I watched the latter, several times that evening, rouse the Congress delegates, who were becoming listless, probably through long hours of excitement and waiting. He was always the man who could say the right thing at the right moment. I could see that there was beginning now that fruitful partnership between him and Lenin that did so much to carry the Revolution through the critical periods that were coming."
On 12th September 1917, Ivar Smilga took a message from Lenin to Petrograd. It included the following orders: "Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater; occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc. Of course, this is all by way of an example, to illustrate the idea that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to the revolution without treating insurrection as an art."
Joseph Stalin read out the message. Nickolai Bukharin was one of those who attended the meeting: "We gathered and - I remember as though it were just now - began the session. Our tactics at the time were comparatively clear: the development of mass agitation and propaganda, the course toward armed insurrection, which could be expected from one day to the next.... The letter was written very forcefully and threatened us with every punishment. We all gasped. No one had yet put the question so sharply. No one knew what to do. Everyone was at a loss for a while. Then we deliberated and came to a decision. Perhaps this was the only time in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter of Comrade Lenin's. This instance was not publicized at the time."
Leon Trotsky was the main figure to argue for an insurrection whereas Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Victor Nogin led the resistance to the idea. They argued that an early action was likely to result in the Bolsheviks being destroyed as a political force. As Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has explained why Zinoviev felt strongly about the need to wait: "The experience of the summer (the July Days) had brought him to the conclusion that any attempt at an uprising would end as disastrously as the Paris Commune of 1871; revolution was was inevitable, he wrote at the time of the Kornilov crisis, but the party's task for the time being was to restrain the masses from rising to the provocations of the bourgeoisie."
Natalia Sedova later recalled: "During the last days of the preparation for October, we were staying in Taurid Street. Lev Davydovich lived for whole days at the Smolny. I was still working at the union of wood-workers, where the Bolsheviks were in charge, and the atmosphere was tense... The question of the uprising was discussed everywhere - in the streets, at meal-time, at casual meetings on the stairs of the Smolny. We ate little, slept little, and worked almost twenty-four hours a day. Most of the time we were separated from our boys, and during the October days I worried about them. Lev and Sergei were the only Bolsheviks in their school except for a third, a sympathizer, as they called him. Against them these three had a compact group of off-shoots of the ruling democracy - Kadets and Socialist-Revolutionists. And, as usually happens in such cases, criticism was supplemented by practical arguments. On more than one occasion the head master had to extricate my sons from under the piled-up democrats who were pummelling them. The boys, after all, were only following the example of their fathers. The head master was a Kadet, and consequently always punished my sons."
On 24th October 1917 Lenin wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already, putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested, the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for delay, when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything."
Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Lenin agreed and on the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Alexander Kerensky had managed to escape from the city.
Natalia Sedova later recalled: "I dropped into a room at the Smolny and found Vladimir Ilyich (Lenin) there with Lev Davydovich (Trotsky). With them, if I remember correctly, were Dzerzhinsky, Joffe, and a crowd of others. Their faces were a greyish-green from lack of sleep; their eyes were inflamed, their collars soiled, and the room was full of smoke... Someone was sitting at a table surrounded by people waiting for orders. Lenin and Trotsky were also in the midst of a waiting mob. It seemed to me that orders were being given as if by people who were asleep. There was something of the somnambulist in the way they talked and moved about. For a moment I felt as if I were seeing it all in a dream, and that the revolution was in danger of being lost if they didn't get a good sleep and put on clean collars."
While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops eventually decided to refuse to attack Petrograd. Trotsky also became a member of the Petrograd Revolutionary Committee and played an important role in organizing the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power.
In November, 1917, Lenin appointed Trotsky as the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The journalist, Louise Bryant, interviewed Trotsky soon after he took power. She commented in her book, Six Months in Russia (1918): "Trotsky is slight of build, wears thick glasses and has dark, stormy eyes. His forehead is high and his hair black and wary. He is a brilliant and fiery orator... During the first days of the Bolshevik revolt I used to go every morning to Smolny to get the latest news... Running a government was a new task and often puzzling to the people in Smolny. They had a certain awe of Lenin, so they left him pretty well alone, while every little difficulty under the sun was brought to Trotsky. He worked hard and was often on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he became irritable and flew into rages."
One of the first things that Trotsky did was to publish the secret treaties from the Tsar's imperial archives, signed by the Allies in 1915, carving up the territories which England, France and Russia had hoped to colonize when Germany was defeated. Trotsky told his comrades that diplomacy was a vastly overrated profession: "I shall issue a few revolutionary proclamations to the people of the world then shut up shop."
Arthur Ransome interviewed Leon Trotsky on 28th December 1917. Ransome's article on Leon Trotsky appeared in the Daily News on 31st December, 1917. "In an anteroom one of Mr Trotsky's secretaries, a young officer, told me Mr Trotsky was expecting me. Going into an inner room, unfurnished except for a writing table, two chairs and a telephone, I found the man who, in the name of the Proletariat, is practically the dictator of all Russia. He has a striking head, a very broad, high forehead above lively eyes, a fine cut nose and a small cavalier beard. Though I had heard him speak before, this was the first time I had seen him face to face. I got an impression of extreme efficiency and definite purpose. In spite of all that is said against him by his enemies, I do not think that he is a man to do anything except from a conviction that it is the best thing to be done for the revolutionary cause that is in his heart. He showed considerable knowledge of English politics."
The article quoted Trotsky as saying: "Russia is strong in that her Revolution was the starting point of a peace movement in Europe. A year ago it seemed that only militarism could end the war. It is now clear that the war will be decided by social rather than political pressure. It is to the Russian Revolution that German democracy looks, and it is the recognition of that fact that compels the German Government to accept the Russian principles as a basis for negotiation."
Ransome asked Trotsky if he considered Germany's peace offer as a joint victory of the Russian and German democracies. He replied, "Not of Russian and German democracy alone, but of the democratic movement generally. The movement is visible everywhere. Austria and Hungary are on the point of revolt, and not they alone. Every Government in Europe is feeling the pressure of democracy from below. The German attitude merely means that the German Government is wiser than most, and more realistic. It recognizes the real factors and is moved by them. The Germans have been forced by democratic pressure to throw aside their grandiose plans of conquest and to accept a peace in which there is neither conqueror nor conquered."
During the interview Arthur Ransome met Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Shelepina. Ransome fell in love with Shelepina and the two became lovers. Roland Chambers, the author of The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome (2009) has pointed out: "Over forty years later, Ransome remembered the decisive moment at which he realized he was in love: a mixture of terror and relief over which he had no power whatsoever."
Ransome was an agent for MI6. He persuaded Shelepina to pass to him secret information. Giles Milton, the author of Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot (2013) commented that: "Their relationship was to transform the information he received from the regime: it was Shelepina who typed up Trotsky's correspondence and planned all his meetings. Suddenly, Ransome found himself with access to highly secretive documents and telegraphic transmissions."
Trotsky led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. Trotsky had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he had to sign the treaty.
After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Lenin ordered Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.
After the October Revolution it was decided by Lenin that the old Russian Army would have to be turned into an instrument of the Communist Party. The old army was demobilized and in January 1918 the Soviet government ordered the formation of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants. Trotsky, as Commissar of War, was appointed its leader.
The Red Army had to be established quickly as it was needed to fight the White Army during the Civil War. Trotsky was forced to recruit a large number of officers from the old army. He was criticized for this but he argued that it would be impossible to fight the war without the employment of experienced army officers.
Initially a volunteer army, losses during the Civil War forced the Soviet government to introduce conscription in June, 1918. Lenin was impressed by Trotsky's achievements and in 1919 remarked to Maxim Gorky: "Show me another man who could have practically created a model army in a year and won respect of the military specialist as well."
On 17th August, 1918, Moisei Uritsky, chief of the Petrograd Secret Police was assassinated. Two weeks later Dora Kaplan shot and severely wounded Lenin. Joseph Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram to Yakov Sverdlov suggesting: "having learned about the wicked attempt of capitalist hirelings on the life of the greatest revolutionary, the tested leader and teacher of the proletariat, Comrade Lenin, answer this base attack from ambush with the organization of open and systematic mass terror against the bourgeoisie and its agents."
Trotsky agreed and argued in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930): "The Socialist-Revolutionaries had killed Volodarsky and Uritzky, had wounded Lenin seriously, and had made two attempts to blow up my train. We could not treat this lightly. Although we did not regard it from the idealistic point of view of our enemies, we appreciated the role of the individual in history. We could not close our eyes to the danger that threatened the revolution if we were to allow our enemies to shoot down, one by one, the whole leading group of our party."
The advice of Joseph Stalin, who had used these tactics successfully in Tsaritsyn, was accepted and in September, 1918, Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated the Red Terror. It is estimated that in the next few months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial. In the first year the official figure, almost certainly an underestimate, suggested 6,300 people were executed without trial.
On 22nd September, Clare Sheridan, the British artist, went to a political meeting that featured Trotsky, Clara Zetkin, and Alexandra Kollontai: "Clara Zetkin, the German Socialist, was speaking, spitting forth venom, as it sounded. The German language is not beautiful, and the ferocious old soul, mopping her plain face with a large handkerchief, was not inspiring. It sounded very hysterical and I only understood an outline of what she was saying. Then Trotsky got up, and translated her speech into Russian. He interested me very much. He is a man with a slim, good figure, splendid fighting countenance, and his whole personality is full of force. I look forward immensely to doing his head. There is something that ought to lend itself to a fine piece of work. The overcrowded house was as still as if it were empty, everyone was attentive and concentrated."
Trotsky began sitting for Clare Sheridan on 18th October. She was impressed with Trotsky: "At one time, in his youth, what was he? A Russian exile in a journalist's office. Even then I am told he was witty, but with the wit of bitterness. Now he has come into his own and has unconsciously developed a new individuality. He has the manner and ease of a man born to a great position; he has become a statesman, a ruler, a leader. But if Trotsky were not Trotsky, and the world had never heard of him, one would still appreciate his very brilliant mind. The reason I have found him so much more difficult to do than I expected is on account of his triple personality. He is the cultured, well-read man, he is the vituperative fiery politician, and he can be the mischievous laughing school-boy with a dimple in his cheek. All these three I have seen in turn, and have had to converge them into clay interpretation." According to Robert Service, the author of Trotsky: A Biography (2010), they became lovers during Sheridan's time in Moscow.
An outstanding military commander, Trotsky led his five million man army to victory and in doing so ensured the survival of the Bolshevik government. Trotsky was also elected a member of Communist Party Central Committee. Much to the dismay of his former supporters, Trotsky advocated the idea of the State control of trade unions and their merging with government bodies. This lost him the support of former Mensheviks such as Alexandra Kollontai.
The sailors at the Kronstadt naval base had long been a source of radical dissent. Mutinies had taken place during the 1905 Revolution and played an important role in persuading Nicholas II to issue his October Manifesto. The Kronstadt sailors were also active in the overthrow of Tsar in the February Revolution. A large number of the sailors were Bolsheviks and during the October Revolution they took control of the cruiser, Aurora, and sailed it up the River Neva and opened fire on the Winter Palace. According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "They jailed their officers without trial in the same hell holes that had been used to discipline them, and drowned or bloodily lynched many. Leon Trotsky later claimed: "The most hateful of the officers were shoved under the ice, of course while still alive... Bloody acts of retribution were as inevitable as the recoil of a gun."
By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were angry about the lack of democracy and the policy of War Communism. The Soviet historian, David Shub, has argued: "On 1 March 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt revolted against Lenin. Mass meetings of 15,000 men from various ships and garrisons passed resolutions demanding immediate new elections to the Soviet by secret ballot; freedom of speech and the press for all left-wing Socialist parties; freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations; abolition of Communist political agencies in the Army and Navy; immediate withdrawal of all grain requisitioning squads, and re-establishment of a free market for the peasants."
On 28th February, 1921, the crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political freedoms. On 4th March they issued the following statement: "Comrade workers, red soldiers and sailors. We stand for the power of the Soviets and not that of the parties. We are for free representation of all who toil. Comrades, you are being misled. At Kronstadt all power is in the hands of the revolutionary sailors, of red soldiers and of workers. It is not in the hands of White Guards, allegedly headed by a General Kozlovsky, as Moscow Radio tells you."
Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967), pointed out: "The hundreds of large and small uprisings throughout the country are too numerous to list, let alone describe here. The most dramatic of them, in Kronstadt, epitomizes most of them. What gave it a dimension of supreme drama was the fact that the sailors of Kronstadt, an island naval fortress near Petrograd, on the Gulf of Finland, had been one of the main supports of the putsch. Now Kronstadt became the symbol of the bankruptcy of the Revolution. The sailors on the battleships and in the naval garrisons were in the final analysis peasants and workers in uniform."
Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European supporters. On 6th March, Leon Trotsky issued a statement: "I order all those who have raised a hand against the Socialist Fatherland, immediately to lay down their weapons. Those who resist will be disarmed and put at the disposal of the Soviet Command. The arrested commissars and other representatives of the Government must be freed immediately. Only those who surrender unconditionally will be able to count on the clemency of the Soviet Republic."
Trotsky then ordered the Red Army to attack the Kronstadt sailors. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka, was also involved in putting down the uprising. Victor Serge pointed out: "Lacking any qualified officers, the Kronstadt sailors did not know how to employ their artillery; there was, it is true, a former officer named Kozlovsky among them, but he did little and exercised no authority. Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street.... Hundreds of prisoners were taken away to Petrograd and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony. Those defeated sailors belonged body and soul to the Revolution; they had voiced the suffering and the will of the Russian people. This protracted massacre was either supervised or permitted by Dzerzhinsky."
Some observers claimed that many of the victims would die shouting, "Long live the Communist International!" and "Long live the Constituent Assembly!" It was not until the 17th March that government forces were able to take control of Kronstadt. An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt and went to live in Finland. Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. Historians who have studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this.It is claimed that over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion.
Nikolai Sukhanov reminded Leon Trotsky that three years previously he had told the people of Petrograd: "We shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the minority." Trotsky lapsed into silence for a while, then said wistfully: "Those were good days." Walter Krivitsky later claimed that when Trotsky put down the Kronstadt Uprising the Bolshevik government lost contact with the revolution and from then on it would be a path of state terror and dictatorial rule.
Leon Trotsky later blamed Nestor Makhno and the anarchists for the uprising. "Makhno... was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt Uprising. Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism."
Trotsky also accused Felix Dzerzhinsky of being responsible for the massacre: "The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression. Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerhinsky could not tolerate anyone's interference with his functions (and properly so). Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics."
In 1921 Alexandra Kollontai published her pamphlet The Workers' Opposition, where she called for the trade unionists to be given more political freedom. She also argued that before the government attempts to "rid Soviet institutions of the bureaucracy that lurks within them, the Party must first rid itself of its own bureaucracy." Trotsky's prestige in the government was now very high and those who held these anti-bureaucratic views were either dismissed from office or were sent abroad as members of the diplomatic service.
Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. His health had been poor ever since Dora Kaplan had shot him in 1918. Severe headaches limited his sleep and understandably he began to suffer from fatigue. Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party. At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Joseph Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more than "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Joseph Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Lenin was immobilized, Joseph Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please Stalin they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's life, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of the phone-call, Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership. He wrote: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
On 4th January, 1923, Lenin added a postscript to his earlier testament: "Stalin is too rude, and this fault... becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man... more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may seem an insignificant trifle, but I think that from the point of view of preventing a split and from the point of view of the relations between Stalin and Trotsky... it is not a trifle, or it is such a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Three days after writing this testament Lenin had a third stroke. Lenin was no longer able to speak or write and although he lived for another ten months, he ceased to exist as a power within the Soviet Union.
The journalist, Walter Duranty, met Trotsky several times when he worked in Moscow: "A great man Trotsky, of that there is no doubt, a man of superlative mental ability, and a most competent executive withal; a man of proven courage, both physical and moral, a splendid writer and orator with the rare power of equal appeal to an intelligent and to a popular audience. In all history there are few careers so romantic as that of Trotsky: to have risen from so low to such a height, to have shone so bright in the sun, and have done brave deeds in a quaking world - and then to have fallen again to nothing, to spend his declining years in spiteful twilight. What a tragic fate for this man who was gifted with intelligence and force beyond his fellows, yet cursed by the folly of selfishness and pride."
It was assumed that Leon Trotsky would replace Lenin as leader. To stop this happening Joseph Stalin established a triumvirate composed of Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. The historian, Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has pointed out: "What made for the solidarity of the three men was their determination to prevent Trotsky from succeeding to the leadership of the party. Separately, neither could measure up to Trotsky. Jointly, they represented a powerful combination of talent and influence. Zinoviev was the politician, the orator, the demagogue with popular appeal. Kamenev was the strategist of the group, its solid brain, trained in matters of doctrine, which were to play a paramount part in the contest for power. Stalin was the tactician of the triumvirate and its organizing force. Between them, the three men virtually controlled the whole party and, through it, the Government."
At the Communist Party Congress in May, 1923, Stalin admitted that the triumvirate existed. In reply to a speech made by a delegate he argued: "Osinsky has praised Stalin and praised Kamenev, but he has attacked Zinoviev, thinking that for the time being it would be enough to remove one of them and that then would come the turn of the others. His aim is to break up that nucleus that has formed itself inside the Central Committee over years of toil... I ought to warn him that he will run into a wall, against which, I am afraid, he will smash his head." To another critic, who demanded more freedom of discussion in the party, Stalin replied that the party was no debating society. Russia was "surrounded by the wolves of imperialism; and to discuss all important matters in 20,000 party cells would mean to lay all one's cards before the enemy."
In October 1923, Yuri Piatakov drafted a statement that was published under the name Platform of the 46 which criticized the economic policies of the party leadership and accused it of stifling the inner-party debate. It echoed the call made by Leon Trotsky, a week earlier, calling for a sharp change of direction by the party. The statement was also signed by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Andrey Bubnov, Ivan Smirnov, Lazar Kaganovich, Evgenia Bosh and forty other leading Bolsheviks.
"The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations."
The document then went on to complain about the lack of debate in the Communist Party: "Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralyzing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing. We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads."
Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "Among the signatories were: Piatakov, one of the two ablest leaders of the young generation mentioned in Lenin's testament, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, former secretaries of the Central Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, the military leader of the October revolution, Srnirnov, Osinsky, Bubnov, Sapronov, Muralov, Drobnis, and others, distinguished leaders in the civil war, men of brain and character. Some of them had led previous oppositions against Lenin and Trotsky, expressing the malaise that made itself felt in the party as its leadership began to sacrifice first principles to expediency. Fundamentally, they were now voicing that same malaise which was growing in proportion to the party's continued departure from some of its first principles. It is not certain whether Trotsky directly instigated their demonstration." Lenin commented that Piatakov might be "very able but not to be relied upon in a serious political matter".
On 5th December, 1923, Leon Trotsky published an open letter where he called for more debate in the Communist Party concerning the way the country was being governed. He argued that members should exercise its right to criticism "without fear and without favour" and the first people to be removed from party positions are "those who at the first voice of criticism, of objection, of protest, are inclined to demand one's party ticket for the purpose of repression". Trotsky went on to suggest that anyone who "dares to terrorize the party" should be expelled.
Gregory Zinoviev was furious with Trotsky for making these comments and proposed that he should be immediately arrested. Joseph Stalin, aware of Trotsky's immense popularity, opposed the move as being too dangerous. He encouraged Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev to attack Trotsky whereas he wanted to give the impression that he was the most moderate, sensible, and conciliatory of the triumvirs. Stalin waited until the end of December before addressing the issue. Without mentioning Trotsky, he asked the question: "Did the opposition demand that Lenin's rules, which banned factions and groupings inside the party, believe they should be abolished?" In this way he suggested that Trotsky was arguing against Lenin.
Lenin died of a heart attack on 21st January, 1924. Stalin reacted to the news by announcing that Lenin was to be embalmed and put on permanent display in a mausoleum to be erected on Red Square. Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, immediately objected because she disliked the "quasi-religious" implications of this decision. Despite these objections, Stalin carried on with the arrangements.
The funeral took place on 27th January and Stalin was a pallbearer with Lev Kamenev , Gregory Zinoviev , Nickolai Bukharin , Vyacheslav Molotov , Felix Dzerzhinsky and Maihail Tomsky . Stalin gave a speech which ended with the words: "Leaving us, comrade Lenin left us a legacy of fidelity to the principles of the Communist International. We swear to you, comrade Lenin, that we will not spare our own lives in strengthening and broadening the union of labouring people of the whole world - the Communist International."
Trotsky's main hope of gaining power was for Lenin's last testament to be published. In May, 1924, Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, demanded that the Central Committee announce its contents to the rest of the party. Gregory Zinoviev argued strongly against its publication. He finished his speech with the words: "You have all witnessed our harmonious cooperation in the last few months, and, like myself, you will be happy to say that Lenin's fears have proved baseless." The new members of the Central Committee, who had been sponsored by Stalin, guaranteed that the vote went against Lenin's testament being made public.
In January 1925, Stalin was able to arrange for Trotsky to be removed from the government. One of his supporters, Evgenia Bosh, was devastated by the news that Trotsky had been removed from the leadership of the Red Army. Aware that Stalin was now in complete control of the Soviet Union, she decided to kill herself. Her friend, Evgeni Preobrazhensky wrote: "In her character she was made of that steel that is broken but not bent, but all these virtues were not cheap. She had to pay dearly, pay with her peace of mind, her health and her life."
Some of Trotsky's supporters pleaded with him to organize a military coup. As the former commissar of war Trotsky was in a good position to arrange this. However, Trotsky rejected the idea and instead resigned his post. Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "He left office without the slightest attempt at rallying in his defence the army he had created and led for seven years. He still regarded the party, no matter how or by whom it was led, as the legitimate spokesman of the working-class."
Trotsky and Stalin clashed over the future strategy of the country. Stalin favoured what he called "socialism in one country" whereas Trotsky still supported the idea of world revolution. He was later to argue: "The utopian hopes of the epoch of military communism came in later for a cruel, and in many respects just, criticism. The theoretical mistake of the ruling party remains inexplicable, however, only if you leave out of account the fact that all calculations at that time were based on the hope of an early victory of the revolution in the West."
In September 1926 Stalin threatened the expulsion of Trotsky, Yuri Piatakov, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Grigori Sokolnikov. On 4th October, these men signed a statement admitting that they were guilty of offences against the statutes of the party and pledged themselves to disband their party within the party. They also disavowed the extremists in their ranks who were led by Alexander Shlyapnikov. However, having admitted their offences against the rules of discipline, they "restated with dignified firmness their political criticisms of Stalin."
Stalin returned to the attack in October, 1927. Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev were accused campaigning against him. Stalin argued they were creating disunity in the party and managed to have them expelled from the Central Committee. The belief that the party would split into two opposing factions was a strong fear amongst communists in the country. They were convinced that if this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union.
Sergei Sedov was highly critical of his parents. Robert Service, the author of Trotsky (2009) has argued: "Only one of Trotsky's offspring, his younger son Sergei, failed to show him filial piety... Brought up on ideas of socialist equality, he took them seriously. He spurned all privileges. He refused to jump the queue for the doctor; he turned down the opportunity to wear smart clothes. When the Moscow Soviet sent a shiny new jacket for him, he announced that he would continue to wear his old one which was patched at the elbows. He rebuked Trotsky and Natalya for their bourgeois lifestyle and despised their cultural tastes.... At the age of sixteen he upped and left home: he had had enough." Leon Trotsky wrote: "We have made no protest, but it's too early - he is too young."
Sergei was fascinated with gymnastics and signed up with a circus. After two years doing this he fell in love with Olga Greber, a librarian. They set up home together in Moscow and trained as an engineer. Over the next few years he published articles on thermodynamics and diesel engines. He was eventually appointed as professor at the Moscow Institute of Technology.
The Russian historian, Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971): "The opposition's semi-legal and occasionally illegal activities were the main issue at the joint meeting of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission at the end of October, 1927... The Plenum decided that Trotsky and Zinoviev had broken their promise to cease factional activity. They were expelled from the Central Committee, and the forthcoming XVth Congress was directed to review the whole issue of factions and groups." Under pressure from the Central Committee, Kamenev and Zinoviev agreed to sign statements promising not to create conflict in the movement by making speeches attacking official policies. Trotsky refused to sign and was banished to the remote area of Kazhakstan.
In 1929 Trotsky was ordered to leave the Soviet Union. As Trotsky was still advocating world revolution, most countries refused to take him in. Trotsky, his wife, Natalia Sedova, and his son, Lev Sedov, eventually were allowed to settle in France, where they published Bulletin of the Opposition. His other son, Sergei Sedov, decided to stay in Moscow to continue his academic career.
Stalin gradually removed Trotsky's supporters from power. Then he offered them the chance to return as long as they denounced Trotsky. Yuri Piatakov told Nikolai Valentinov: "For the Party's sake you can and must at 24 hours' notice change all your convictions and force yourself to believe that white is black." According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "Professions of repentance came pouring in, and Stalin graciously allowed the repentant leftists to return from exile. Piatakov, Smilga, Rakovsky, Beloborodov and other notables condemned Trotsky and came back into the Party. Their prestige and their energy were very helpful to Stalin in what historians would call the Year of the Great Turn."
On 1st December, 1934, Sergy Kirov was shot dead by Leonid Nikolayev. He was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov. Soon afterwards Trotsky was implicated in the plot. Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent based in the Soviet Union, was willing to accept this story. "The details of Kirov's assassination at first pointed to a personal motive, which may indeed have existed, but investigation showed that, as commonly happens in such cases, the assassin Nikolaiev had been made the instrument of forces whose aims were treasonable and political. A widespread plot against the Kremlin was discovered, whose ramifications included not merely former oppositionists but agents of the Nazi Gestapo. As the investigation continued, the Kremlin's conviction deepened that Trotsky and his friends abroad had built up an anti-Stalinist organisation in close collaboration with their associates in Russia, who formed a nucleus or centre around which gradually rallied divers elements of discontent and disloyalty. The actual conspirators were comparatively few in number, but as the plot thickened they did not hesitate to seek the aid of foreign enemies in order to compensate for the lack of popular support at home."
Joseph Stalin was furious with the Trotsky family and ordered the arrest of Sergei Sedov. Natalia Sedova issued an open letter, published in Trotsky's Bulletin of the Opposition, in which she declared her son's innocence and appealed to George Bernard Shaw, Romain Rolland, Andre Gide and other European intellectuals sympathetic to the USSR to press Moscow for a commission of inquiry into the repressions following the Kirov murder. Trotsky recorded that: "Natalia is haunted by the thought of what a heavy heart Seryozha must have in prison (if he is in prison). Perhaps he may think that we have somehow forgotten about him, left him to his fate." Natalia remarked to her husband: "They will not deport him under any circumstances; they will torture him in order to get something out of him, and after that they will destroy him."
The trial of Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Ivan Smirnov, and thirteen others opened on 19th August 1936. Five of the sixteen defendants (K.B. Berman-Yurin, Fritz David, Emel Lurie, N.D. Lurie and V. P. Olberg) were actually NKVD plants, whose confessional testimony was expected to solidify the state's case by exposing Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other defendants as their fellow conspirators. The presiding judge was Vasily Ulrikh, a member of the secret police. The prosecutor was Andrei Vyshinsky, who was to become well-known during the Show Trials over the next few years.
The men made confessions of their guilt. Lev Kamenev said: "I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party's - Stalin's policy - was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party; but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow. Stalin's leadership we were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power."
Gregory Zinoviev also confessed: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."
On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh entered the courtroom and began reading the long and dull summation leading up to the verdict. Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "Those in attendance fully expected the customary addendum which was used in political trials that stipulated that the sentence was commuted by reason of a defendant's contribution to the Revolution. These words never came, and it was apparent that the death sentence was final when Ulrikh placed the summation on his desk and left the court-room."
The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot.
Most journalists covering the trial were convinced that the confessions were statements of truth. The Observer reported: "It is futile to think the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The government's case against the defendants (Zinoviev and Kamenev) is genuine." The The New Statesman commented: "Very likely there was a plot. We complain because, in the absence of independent witnesses, there is no way of knowing. It is their (Zinoviev and Kamenev) confession and decision to demand the death sentence for themselves that constitutes the mystery. If they had a hope of acquittal, why confess? If they were guilty of trying to murder Stalin and knew they would be shot in any case, why cringe and crawl instead of defiantly justifying their plot on revolutionary grounds? We would be glad to hear the explanation."
Walter Duranty was the New York Times journalist based in Moscow. He wrote in the The New Republic that while watching the trial he came to the conclusion "that the confessions are true". Based on these comments the editor of the journal argued: "Some commentators, writing at a long distance from the scene, profess doubt that the executed men (Zinoviev and Kamenev) were guilty. It is suggested that they may have participated in a piece of stage play for the sake of friends or members of their families, held by the Soviet government as hostages and to be set free in exchange for this sacrifice. We see no reason to accept any of these laboured hypotheses, or to take the trial in other than its face value. Foreign correspondents present at the trial pointed out that the stories of these sixteen defendants, covering a series of complicated happenings over nearly five years, corroborated each other to an extent that would be quite impossible if they were not substantially true. The defendants gave no evidence of having been coached, parroting confessions painfully memorized in advance, or of being under any sort of duress."
The French government came under pressure from Fascists and Stalinists to expel Trotsky from the country. In April, 1934, the French government issued a decree ordering Trotsky's deportation. However, no other country would accept him and it was not until June, 1935, that Norway accepted him. However, they were soon encouraged to expel him. Under pressure from Joseph Stalin, the government placed him under house arrest before being deported to Mexico in December, 1936.
Trotsky's son, Lev Sedov, was allowed to stay in France and became the new leader in the Left Opposition. He also became editor of the Bulletin of the Opposition, the journal "which fought against Stalinist reaction for the continuity of Marxism in the Communist International". Sedov wrote several articles about the Show Trials in the journal. These were eventually published in the book, The Red Book (1936). Leon Trotsky commented: "At that time my wife and I were captives in Norway, bound hand and foot, targets of the most monstrous slander. There are certain forms of paralysis in which people see, hear, and understand everything but are unable to move a finger to ward off mortal danger. It was to such political paralysis that the Norwegian Socialist government subjected us. What a priceless gift to us, under these conditions, was Leon's book, the first crushing reply to the Kremlin falsifiers. The first few pages, I recall, seemed to me pale. That was because they only restated a political appraisal, which had already been made, of the general condition of the USSR. But from the moment the author undertook an independent analysis of the trial, I became completely engrossed. Each succeeding chapter seemed to me better than the last."
The book begins with an analysis of Stalinism. "The old petit-bourgeois family is being reestablished and idealized in the most middle-class way; despite the general protestations, abortions are prohibited, which, given the difficult material conditions and the primitive state of culture and hygiene, means the enslavement of women, that is, the return to pre-October times. The decree of the October revolution concerning new schools has been annulled. School has been reformed on the model of tsarist Russia: uniforms have been reintroduced for the students, not only to shackle their independence, but also to facilitate their surveillance outside of school. Students are evaluated according to their marks for behavior, and these favor the docile, servile student, not the lively and independent schoolboy.... A whole institute of inspectors has been created to look after the behavior and morality of the youth."
Sedov went onto argue that Joseph Stalin was sending a message to the world that he had abandoned the Marxist concept of Permanent Revolution: "Stalin not only bloodily breaks with Bolshevism, with all its traditions and its past, he is also trying to drag Bolshevism and the October revolution through the mud. And he is doing it in the interests of world and domestic reaction.... The corpses of the old Bolsheviks must prove to the world bourgeoisie that Stalin has in reality radically changed his politics, that the men who entered history as the leaders of revolutionary Bolshevism, the enemies of the bourgeoisie - are his enemies also.... They (the Bolsheviks) are being shot and the bourgeoisie of the world must see in this the symbol of a new period. This is the end of the revolution, says Stalin. The world bourgeoisie can and must reckon with Stalin as a serious ally, as the head of a nation-state. Such is the fundamental goal of the trials in the area of foreign policy. But this is not all, it is far from all. The German fascists who cry that the struggle against communism is their historic mission find themselves most recently in a manifestly difficult position. Stalin has abandoned long ago the course toward world revolution."
Sedov looked closely at the trial of Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev. and Ivan Smirnov. He wrote that he suspected that five of the sixteen defendants (K.B. Berman-Yurin, Fritz David, Emel Lurie, N.D. Lurie and V. P. Olberg) were NKVD plants: "The defendants are sharply divided into two groups. The basic nucleus of the first group consists of old Bolsheviks, known world-wide, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, and others. The second group are young unknowns, among whom are also some direct agents of the GPU; they were necessary at the trial to demonstrate that Trotsky had taken part in terrorist activity, to establish a link between Zinoviev and Trotsky, and to establish a link with the Gestapo. If after having fulfilled the tasks assigned to them by the GPU they were nonetheless shot, it is because Stalin could not leave any such well-informed witnesses alive.... The very conduct of the two groups at the trial is as different as their composition. The old men sit there absolutely broken, crushed, answer in a faint voice, even cry. Zinoviev is thin, stooped, grey, his cheeks hollow. Mrachkovsky spits blood, loses consciousness, they carry him away. They all look like people who have been run into the ground and completely exhausted. But the young rogues conduct themselves in an easy and carefree manner, they are fresh-faced, almost cheerful. They feel as though they are at a party. With unconcealed pleasure they tell about their ties with the Gestapo and all their other fables."
Sedov rejects the idea that Marxists like Trotsky would resort to assassination as a revolutionary act. He points out how followers of Karl Marx in Russia rejected the policy of the People's Will and the Socialist Revolutionaries who attempted to assassinate the Tsar and his ministers: "Individual terror sets as its task the murder of isolated individuals in order to provoke a political movement and even a political revolution. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the question of individual terror had importance not only as a general principle, but also had enormous political significance, since there existed in Russia the petit-bourgeois party of the Socialist Revolutionaries, who followed the tactic of individual terror with regard to tsarist ministers and governors. The Russian Marxists, including Trotsky during his earliest years, took part in the fight against the adventuristic tactic of individual terror and its illusions, which counted not upon the movement of the masses of workers, but on the terrorists' bomb to open the road to revolution. To individual terror, Marxism counterposes the proletarian revolution. From his youth, Trotsky adhered resolutely and forever to Marxism. If one were to publish everything which Trotsky wrote, it would make dozens of thick volumes. One would not be able to find in them a single line which betrayed an equivocal attitude toward individual terror."
Sedov quotes Leon Trotsky as saying in an article in 1911: "Whether or not a terrorist attack, even if successful, provokes disturbance in the ruling circles depends on the concrete political circumstances. In any case, this disturbance can only be short-lived; the capitalist state does not rest on ministers and cannot be destroyed together with them. The classes which it serves will always find new men; the mechanism remains intact and continues its work. But the disturbance which the terrorist attack brings to the ranks of the working masses themselves is much more profound. If it suffices to arm oneself with a revolver to arrive at the goal, why then the efforts of the class struggle? If one can intimidate high-ranking people with the thunder of an explosion, why then a party?"
In the The Red Book (1936) Sedov looks at the assassination of Sergy Kirov: "If we approach the question of individual terror in the USSR, not from a theoretical, but from a purely empirical point of view, from the point of view of so-called common sense, then it suffices to draw the following conclusion: the assassinated Kirov is immediately replaced by another Kirov-Zhdanov (Stalin has as many as he needs in reserve.) Meanwhile hundreds of people are shot, thousands, and very probably tens of thousands, are deported. The vise is tightened by several turns. If Kirov's assassination helped anyone, it is certainly the Stalinist bureaucracy. Under the cover of the struggle against terrorists, it has stifled the last manifestations of critical thought in the USSR. It has placed a heavy tombstone on all the living."
Walter Krivitsky was an NKVD agent who decided to leave the service of Joseph Stalin after the recall and execution of agents such as Theodore Maly and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko. He arranged to meet Sedov in the company of Fedor Dan and warned him that there was an informer within his group. Krivitsky suggested that it might be Mark Zborowski. According to Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004): "Krivitsky had no desire to join the Trotskyists, but was impressed by Sedov, admiring his revolutionary fervor, hard work and austere life style."
In January 1937, the Soviet press reported that Sergei Sedov had been arrested and charged with attempting, on the instructions of his father, a mass poisoning of workers. It is believed he was executed later that year. Lev Sedov was warned of a possible assassination attempt by Alexander Orlov, another former NKVD agent. Orlov was aware of the activities of Mikhail Shpiegelglass and his clandestine unit called the Mobile Group that had murdered former agent, Ignaz Reiss. Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.
Lev Sedov also was warned of a possible assassination attempt by Orlov, another former NKVD agent. Orlov was aware of the activities of Mikhail Shpiegelglass and his clandestine unit called the Mobile Group that had murdered former agent, Ignaz Reiss. Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.
Victor Serge has pointed out that towards the end of 1937 Lev Sedov suffered from ill health. "For several months Sedov had been complaining of various indispositions, in particular of a rather high temperature in the evenings. He wasn’t able to stand up to such ill-health. He had been leading a hard life, every hour taken up by resistance to the most extensive and sinister intrigues of contemporary history – those of a regime of foul terror born out of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was obvious that his physical strength was exhausted. His spirits were good, the indestructible spirits of a young revolutionary for whom socialist activity is not an optional extra but his very reason for living, and who has committed himself in an age of defeat and demoralisation, without illusions and like a man."
Lev Sedov had severe stomach pains. On 9th February, he was taken by Mark Zborowski to the Bergere Clinic, a small establishment run by Russian émigrés connected with the Union for Repatriation of Russians Abroad in Paris. Sedov had a operation for appendicitis that evening. It was claimed that the operation was successful and was making a good recovery. However, according to Bertrand M. Patenaude, the author of Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009): "The patient appeared to be recuperating well, until the night of 13-14 February, when he was seen wandering the unattended corridors, half-naked and raving in Russian. He was discovered in the morning lying on a bed in a nearby office, critically ill. His bed and his room were soiled with excrement. A second operation was performed on the evening of 15 February, but after enduring hours of agonizing pain, the patient died the following morning."
Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001) has argued that Alexander Orlov believed he was murdered: "What concerned Orlov greatly was the fact that the hospital Sedov had been taken to, and where he expired, was the small clinic of Professor Bergere in Paris. Exactly a year earlier, Orlov had been in the same clinic because of his car accident while at the front. He had been cared for at the Bergere Clinic because it was a hospital that was trusted by the KGB to take care of high-ranking Soviet officials. Professor Bergere and his staff were sympathetic towards the Communist cause and under the influence of the KGB. Orlov was in Spain at the time of Sedov's death and was unable to ascertain the complete facts, but speculated that at the moment the KGB Centre had been apprised of the circumstances by Mark, the decision had been made to take advantage of the situation and eliminate Sedov. The autopsy performed by the KGB hirelings had to have been bogus to conceal the true cause of death."
Leon Trotsky was devastated by the death of his eldest son. In a press release on 18th February he stated: "He was not only my son but my best friend." Trotsky received information from several sources that Mark Zborowski was an NKVD agent. He asked Rudolf Klement to carry out an investigation of Zborowski. According to Gary Kern "Klement put together a file and planned to take it to Brussels on July 14, where he would circulate it among various branches of the Opposition. But no one in Brussels ever saw him." Klement's headless corpse was washed ashore in August 1938. He was identified by a friend from peculiar scars and marks on the body. The death of her two sons had a dramatic impact on Natalia Sedova. The writer James T. Farrell, called Natalia's "one of the saddest faces I have ever seen".
While in exile Trotsky published My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930), History of the Russian Revolution (1932) and The Russian Revolution Betrayed (1937). George Bernard Shaw said of these books: "When Trotsky cuts off his opponent's head, he holds it up to show that there are no brains in it." After the publication of the three volumes on the Russian Revolution the critic, Bertram D. Wolfe, argued: "It is a history which no historian of Russia and no historian of revolution can afford to neglect. But let him be forewarned that Trotsky's is a pen that is frequently as persuasive as it is continuously one-sided... But particularly here must the reader come well equipped with an awareness of the truths of the defeated - the more so because somewhere concealed in this blinding flood of words which record the victory of Trotsky and his party, are also some of the secrets which explain why Trotsky, too, must in the end be reckoned as one of the defeated."
Cass Canfield, the head of Harper & Brothers, persuaded Trotsky to write a book about Joseph Stalin. He meet Trotsky for the first time in 1940: "The first impression Trotsky made was one of unusual vitality and health; he was rosy-cheeked and bouncy. I was struck with his fine brow and shock of white hair, his strong face and expressive mouth. He was neatly dressed in gray trousers and a white Russian smock.... Trotsky possessed a naturally inquisitive mind and, perhaps because of his confinement to one place, was eager to learn all he could about what was going on in the world. He asked countless questions and listened carefully to everything we said. This was a response I had never encountered before from a world figure, most of whom like to do all the talking."
Walter Krivitsky, a high-ranking intelligence officer, defected to the United States. Krivitsky was invited to appear before Martin Dies and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on 11th October, 1939. According to Joseph Brown Matthews, who was an investigator for the HUAC: "Krivitsky told me that the OGPU was determined to assassinate Trotsky and himself." Krivitsky added: "If I am ever found dead and it appears to be suicide, please don't accept that belief. It will just appear to be a suicide. But it really will be murder. Trotsky is to be murdered and I am too. Please go to Mexico City and warn Trotsky." Matthews later recalled: "I went to Mexico City soon after this conversation, and saw Trotsky... I told Trotsky what the General had said." Trotsky apparently replied: "General Krivitsky is right. We are the two men the OGPU is sworn to kill."
Joseph Stalin ordered his NKVD agents to eliminate Trotsky. Ramon Mercader became a regular visitor while he was living in Mexico City. Trotsky's wife, Natalia Sedova later recalled that he visited them on 20th August, 1940.: "He (Trotsky) brushed off his blue blouse and slowly, silently started walking towards the house accompanied by Jacson (Mercader) and myself. I came with them to the door of Lev Davidovich's study; the door closed, and I walked into the adjoining room.... Not more than three or four minutes had elapsed when I heard a terrible, soul-shaking cry and without so much as realizing who it was that uttered this cry, I rushed in the direction from which it came. Between the dining room and the balcony, on the threshold, beside the door post and leaning against it stood... Lev Davidovich. His face was covered with blood, his eyes, without glasses, were sharp blue, his hands were hanging." Stalin (1941) was published after his death.
My father and mother lived out their hard-working lives with some friction, but very happily on the whole. Of the eight children born of this marriage, four survived. I was the fifth in order of birth. Four died in infancy, of diphtheria and of scarlet fever, deaths almost as unnoticed as was the life of those who survived. The land, the cattle, the poultry, the mill, took all my parents' time; there was none left for us.
We lived in a little mud house. The straw roof harboured countless sparrows' nests under the eaves. The walls on the outside were seamed with deep cracks which were a breeding place for adders. The low ceilings leaked during a heavy rain, especially in the hall, and pots and basins would be placed on the dirt floor to catch the water. The rooms were small, the windows dim; the floors in the two rooms and the nursery were of clay and bred fleas.
On the hill above the pond stood the mill - a wooden shed which sheltered a ten-horse-power steam-engine and two millstones. Here, during the first years of my childhood, my mother spent the greater part of her working hours. The mill worked not only for our own estate but for the whole neighbourhood as well. The peasants brought their grain in from ten and fifteen miles around and paid a tenth measure for the grinding.
Lenin has proposed to us that we admit Trotsky, whom you know, to the board of editors, with full rights. His literary work shows undeniable talent, he is quite "ours" in thought, he has wholly identified himself with the interests of Iskra, and here, abroad, he wields considerable influence, thanks to his exceptional eloquence. He speaks magnificently; he could not do better.
One can say of Lenin and Martov that, even before the split, even before the Congress, Lenin was 'hard' and Martov 'soft'. And they both knew it. Lenin would glance at Martov, whom he estimated highly, with a critical and somewhat suspicious look, and Martov, feeling his glance, would look down and move his thin shoulders nervously.
How did I come to be with the 'softs' at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulich and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable. The split came unexpectedly for all the members of the congress. Lenin, the most active figure in the struggle, did not foresee it, nor had he ever desired it. Both sides were greatly upset by the course of events. After the Congress Lenin was sick for several weeks with a nervous illness.
Trotsky's popularity among the St. Petersburg proletariat was very great by the time of his arrest, and this was increased still further by his strikingly effective and heroic behaviour at the trial. I must say that Trotsky, of all the Social Democratic leaders of 1905-06, undoubtedly showed himself, in spite of his youth, the best prepared; and he was the least stamped by the narrow émigré outlook which handicapped even Lenin. He realized better than the others what a state struggle is. He came out of the revolution, too, with the greatest gains in popularity; neither Lenin nor Martov gained much. Plekhanov lost a great deal because of the semi-liberal tendencies which he revealed. But from then on Trotsky was in the front rank.
On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the provisional government is no longer existent. Some ministers have been arrested. Others will be arrested in the course of a few days or hours. The revolutionary garrison, at the disposal of the Military-Revolutionary Committee, has dissolved the session of the Pre-Parliament. We have been on the watch here throughout the night and have followed the detachments of revolutionary soldiers and the workers' guards by telephone as they silently carried out their tasks. The citizen slept in peace, ignorant of the change from one power to another. Railway stations, the post-office, the telegraph, the Petrograd Telegraph Agency, the State Bank, have been occupied. The Winter Palace has not yet been taken, but its fate will be decided during the next few minutes.
I remember that on the morning of the second or third day after the uprising, I dropped into a room at the Smolny and found Lenin and Trotsky. With them were Dzerzhinsky, Joffe, and a crowd of others. Their faces were a greyish-green from lack of sleep; their eyes were inflamed, their collars soiled, and the room was full of smoke. It seemed to me that orders were being given as if by people who were asleep. For a moment I felt as if I were seeing it all in a dream, and that the revolution was in danger of being lost if "they" didn't get a good sleep and put on clean collars. I remember that next day I met Lenin's sister, Marya Ilinishna, and reminded her hurriedly that Lenin needed a clean collar.
Lenin and Trotsky and their followers already have been poisoned by the rotten venom of power. The proof of this is their attitude toward freedom of speech and... toward all the ideals for which democracy was fighting. Blind fanatics and conscienceless adventurers are rushing at full speed on the road on the road to a social revolution - in actuality, it is a road toward anarchy.
Lenin and Trotsky and all who follow them are dishonoring the Revolution, and the working-class. Imagining themselves Napoleons of socialism. The proletariat is for Lenin the same as iron ore is for a metallurgist. It is possible, taking into consideration the present conditions, to cast out of this ore a socialist state? Obviously this is impossible. Conscious workers who follow Lenin must understand that a pitiless experiment is being carried out with the Russian people which is going to destroy the best forces of the workers, and which will stop the normal growth of the Russian Revolution for a long time.
It was obvious that going on with the war was impossible. On this point there was not even a shadow of disagreement between Lenin and me. But there was another question. How had the February revolution, and, later on, the October revolution, affected the German army? How soon would any effect show itself? To these questions no answer could as yet be given. We had to try and find it in the course of the negotiations as long as we could. It was necessary to give the European workers time to absorb properly the very fact of the Soviet revolution.
German soldiers and workmen, the world is with you. If you do not compel your government to renounce the peace proposals which it had the audacity to announce to the Russian Revolution, your own blood will be spent to an infinite extent! Up proletariats, up soldiers of Germany, and join the revolutionary struggle against the continuation of the war, and against the Governments which are betraying the masses ... If you wish for a general peace, make the people listen to reason. Long live the international workers' and peasants' revolution!
My position was immediately behind and above the presidium, looking down on Trotsky's muscular shoulders and great head and the occasional gestures of his curiously small hands. Beyond him was that sea of men: soldiers in green and grey shirts, workers in collarless ones, or jerseys, others dressed very much like British workmen, peasants in belted red shirts and high top boots; all picked men, not elected for this assembly alone but proved. and tested in the local soviets that had chosen them as delegates. And as I watched that amazing crowd, that filled the huge hall and packed the galleries, following point by point Trotsky's exposition of the international and inter-class situation and the policy of the Revolution, I felt I would willingly give the rest of my life if it could be divided into minutes and given to men in England and France so that those of little faith who say that the Russian Revolution is discredited, could share for one minute each that wonderful experience.
We must change our policy. Military action on our part would not be able to save the revolution in Finland, but it would most certainly ruin us. We will help the Finnish workers in every way we can, but we must do it without abandoning peace. I am not sure that this will save us now. But at any rate it is the only way in which salvation is still possible.
On 21st February, we received new terms from Germany, framed, apparently, with the direct object of making the signing of peace impossible. By the time our delegation returned to Brest-Litovsk, these terms, as is well known, had been made even harsher. All of us, including Lenin, were of the impression that the Germans had come to an agreement with the Allies about crushing the Soviets, and that a peace on the western front was to be built on the bones of the Russian revolution.
On 3rd March our delegation signed the peace treaty without even reading it. Forestalling many of the ideas of Clemenceau, the Brest-Litovsk peace was like the hangman's noose. On 22nd March the treaty was ratified by the German Reichstag. The German Social Democrats gave their approval in advance to the future principles of Versailles.
I give warning that if any unit retreats without orders, the first to be shot down will be the commissary of the unit, and next the commander. Brave and gallant soldiers will be appointed in their places. Cowards, dastards and traitors will not escape the bullet. This I solemnly promise in the presence of the entire Red Army.
For what does America need? She needs to secure her profits at the expense of the European toiling masses and thus render stable the privileged position of the upper crust of the American working class.
The further this development unfolds along this road, all the more difficult will it be for the European Social Democracy to uphold the evangel of Americanism in the eyes of the European working masses. All the more centralised will become the resistance of European labour against the master of masters, against American capitalism. All the more urgent, all the more practical and warlike will the slogan of the all-European revolution and its state form - the Soviet United States of Europe - become for the European workers.
What is the Social Democracy using to benumb and poison the consciousness of the European workers? It tells them that we - the whole of Europe, dismembered and sliced-up by the Versailles Peace - cannot get along without America, but the European Communist Party will say: You lie, we could if we wanted to. Nothing compels us to remain in an atomised Europe. It is precisely the revolutionary proletariat that can unify Europe, by transforming it into the proletarian United States of Europe.
It is said Comrade Trotsky wanted democracy to come from below, and the Central Committee wanted to introduce it from above. For Comrade Trotsky or anyone else to speak of introducing the Resolutions of the Party Conference from “below,” that is to begin with the locals spreading upwards, is to again forget the first principles of Bolshevik Party organisation, and thereby strengthen the political position of the opponents of the Party. Of what use is it to elect an Executive Committee if the decisions of the Party Congress can be effectively carried through without the election of such a committee? And this is what the proposals amounts to. It finds its echo amongst many industrialists in this country and also amongst reformist Labour leaders. The industrialists plead for more ballots, more referendums, impervious to the fact that they are simply transferring the Parliamentarism of the Labour Party to the industrial arena. The union leaders respond, and the “coming from below” turns out to be more often than not the means for preventing action than securing it.
The industrialists grasp at forms of procedure when the real issue is the organisation of the struggle against reformism due to the fact that the trade unions have yet to be won to the class war line of working class interests. It is this control of working class organisation by leaders who are opposed to the class interests of the workers and refuse to lead the workers in the fight for those interests, that makes it necessary to organise the struggle “from below” in the unions and the Labour Party. But this cannot apply to a revolutionary party based upon the interests of the working class. To apply it to such a party is to utterly demoralise it by the introduction of the reformist forces it exists to destroy. To propose such a course at an important stage in the history of the revolution, when the Party was called upon to make a tremendous strategic move, to adjust itself to an entirely new mileu, as must be the case in the change from war Communism to the NEP, was to endanger the united action of the Party by separating the C.C. from the body of the Party. Obviously if the Party is to undertake an internal transformation at the moment it has to conduct a political manœuvre it must retain unity. Such unity could only be secured under the central direction of the Executive. The high-sounding phrase of “action from below” proves to be nothing more nor less than Menshevik phrase-mongering. It reminds us of the would-be English revolutionary leaders who hide their own weakness in accusing the masses of never being ready and declaim, “They who would be free must themselves strike the blow.” Again - petty bourgeois deviation. How shall we face our October if these things take root in our Party?
Food clothing and propaganda have made the army loyal. Trotsky's personality and his knowledge of military strategy were an important factor for years. Although he has spent most of his life as a red agitator and writer, he has always been a student of military strategy, has written a book on Napoleon's manoeuvres and has been given credit for building the keenest morale and using the keenest military strategy in the numerous campaigns in which Russia defeated her enemies in the civil wars.
I first saw Trotsky at a packed meeting of the Soviet. Trotsky was all tension and energy; he was, besides, an orator of unique quality, whose metallic voice projected a great distance, ejaculating its short sentences that were often sardonic and always infused with a truly spontaneous passion. The decision to fight to the death was taken enthusiastically, and the whole amphitheater raised a song of immense power.
He outshone Lenin through his great oratorical talent, through his organizing ability, first with the army, then on the railways, and by his brilliant gifts as a theoretician. His attitude was less homely than Lenin's, with something authoritarian about it. That, maybe, is how my friends and I saw him, we critical communists; we had much admiration for him, but no real love. His sternness, his insistence on punctuality in work and battle, the inflexible correctness of his demeanor in a period of general slackness, all imparted a certain demagogic malice to the insidious attacks that were made against him. I was hardly influenced by these considerations, but the political solutions prescribed by him for current difficulties struck me as proceeding from a character that was basically dictatorial. Had he not proposed the fusion of the trade unions with the State - while Lenin quite rightly wanted the unions to keep some of their independence?
I have never doubted the rightness of the road you pointed out, and as you know, I have gone with you for more than twenty years, since the days of 'permanent revolution'. But I have always believed that you lacked Lenin unbending will, his unwillingness to yield, his readiness even to remain alone on the path that he thought right in the anticipation of a future majority, of a future recognition by everyone of the rightness of his path. Politically, you were always right, beginning with 1905, and I told you repeatedly that with my own ears I had heard Lenin admit that even in 1905, you, and not he, were right. One does not lie before his death, and now I repeat this again to you. But you have often abandoned your rightness for the sake of an overvalued agreement or compromise. This is a mistake. I repeat: politically you have always been right, and now more right than ever. Some day the party will realize it, and history will not fail to accord recognition. Then don't lose your courage if someone leaves you know, or if not as many come to you, and not as soon, as we all would like. You are right, but the guarantee of the victory of your rightness lies in nothing but the extreme unwillingness to yield, the strictest straightforwardness, the absolute rejection of all compromise; in this very thing lay the secret of Lenin's victories. Many a time I have wanted to tell you this, but only now have I brought myself to do so, as a last farewell.
The Western attorneys of the GPU represent the confessions of Zinoviev and the others as spontaneous expressions of their sincere repentance. This is the most shameless deception of public opinion that can be imagined. For almost 10 years, Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others found themselves under almost insupportable moral pressure with the menace of death approaching ever closer and closer. If an inquisitor judge were to put questions to this victim and inspire the answers, his success would be guaranteed in advance. Human nerves, even the strongest, have a limited capacity to endure moral torture.
The charges in the present Moscow trial are framed with one object - that of exploiting international relations in order to suppress internal enemies. Stalin has invented nothing new. It is alleged, for instance, that in 1935 I wrote through Vladimir Romm, of whom I have never heard, to Karl Radek, with whom I have had no relations since 1928, telling him it was necessary to restore the capitalist system in the Soviet Union. But this is exactly what is being done by the new aristocracy of which Stalin is the head. Stalin is therefore merely trying to attribute to me through the person of Radek the very policy which I publicly accuse him of putting into practice. Only in the totalitarian state of Stalin, where the Soviets, the workers' organizations, the press and the Bolshevik Party are all stifled, only in that state where the bureaucracy alone can speak - a privilege that has been established as a monopoly of falsehood - only there could a trial so obviously staged as this one can take place. As a result of the defeat of the proletariat throughout the world, my views are represented only in a tiny minority in every country. The circumstances cannot now be changed, either by assassinating the Soviet bureaucracy or forming an alliance with Japan and Germany. In attributing such aims to me Stalin wishes, among other things, to compromise me before public opinion in democratic countries, and in this way deprive me of finding asylum anywhere. I reject all the statements concerning me made by the defendants. Not a single word is true. I consider that my political task is, before everything else, to destroy the control which the Soviet bureaucracy now has over an important section of the working class of the world. This political and theoretical work, which is not secret and which anyone may inspect and criticize, gives me every satisfaction because it is devoted to mankind of the future.
In 1924 a collection of Trotsky's articles appeared with a preface entitled 'The Lessons of October'. In it the whole Bolshevik concept of revolution underwent revision and the basis of the opposition platform became the hypothesis of permanent revolution, that is, Trotsky's fundamental error, his disparagement of the role of the peasantry in the revolution. This led to the formation of a Trotskyite party and a struggle with the Communist Central Committee. The latter could not reply to this in any other way than by expelling Trotsky and the opposition from its ranks.
Systematic efforts have been made by the reactionary capitalist press and elements within the Labour movement to create the opinion that the accused are convicted mainly upon testimony of their own confessions and a subtle attempt is made to create prejudice by printing the word “confession” within quotation marks.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all it should be noted that the detailed avowals of guilt are not confessions at all in the ordinary sense of the word, in the sense of “making a clean breast of it.” The prisoners talk about things which are already proved and which they cannot deny. Their statements concern mainly the question of the degree of guilt or their own share, large or small, in specific criminal activities. An interesting illustration of this was provided by the accused Krestinsky in connection with the letter which he claimed to have sent to Trotsky in 1927, severing his connection with the Trotskyist movement. During the first day of the trial, he insisted that the contents of this letter cleared him of all suspicions and demanded to know why it had not been produced. Two days later to his obvious discomfiture the very letter was produced in court by State Prosecutor Vyshinsky. After Rakovsky, who had read the letter in 1927, had identified it, and Krestinsky had agreed that the identification was correct, Vyshinsky read the contents only to disclose the fact that they were entirely different in meaning to that which Krestinsky had endeavoured to give them two days before.
Similarly the police spy Zubarev, confronted with the Tsarist police inspector under whose direction he had worked in Kotelnich during 1908-09 looked for all the world as though he had suddenly seen a ghost from his own past. The confrontation of Bukharin with the “Left” Social-Revolutionaries Karelin and Kamkov with whom he had been in conspiratorial alliance in 1918 to overthrow the Soviet Government, arrest and kill Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov and form a new government of Bukharinites and “Left” Social-Revolutionaries was as conclusive as it was dramatic, and was backed up by the production of three of the people who had been members of Bukharin’s own group of “Left” Communists at that time and who had participated in the plot.
Expert testimony from authoritative medical men in the Soviet Union in connection with the murder of Gorky, Kuibyshev, Menshinsky and Pashkov-Gorky, documentary evidence and the evidence of facts: train wrecks, slaughter of large numbers of livestock, attempts at bandit insurrections, etc., combined to build a cast-iron case for the prosecution out of which, despite all their wriggling, attempts at evasion and efforts to shift responsibility from their own shoulders to others, not one of the accused could escape. But in the case of no individual or crime did Vyshinsky depend solely upon the testimony of the accused.
In this connection it is interesting to note that if the propaganda of the pro-fascist section of the capitalist press, and the confused Liberal and Socialist journals were based upon fact, the whole assortment of counter-revolutionary traitors united in these blocs would have been arrested and disposed of 20 months before, immediately following the much-vaunted “confessions” (as hostile newspapers print it) of the prisoners convicted during the trial of the Trotskyist-Zinoviev group. It is obvious that the prisoners convicted in the Zinoviev, trial, held back what they certainly knew, and only admitted their guilt in those crimes of which the proof was already so overwhelming that denial was futile. By discussing these proofs of crimes with the prosecutor in court, by questioning witnesses, cross-examinations, and energetic defence, each of the prisoners tried to the best of his ability or the ability of the lawyers defending him, to evade some measure of responsibility and to lighten the punishment to be meted out to him. The actions of the prisoners themselves during the trial, their final speeches and their last minute appeals for clemency, all showed very clearly that from beginning to end their fight was carried on to evade full punishment for crimes of which the State Prosecutor already had such overwhelming proof as to secure conviction from any court.
The interpreter-guide attached to our party was a woman who had lived for some time in the Middle West of the U.S.A. and spoke English with a strong Chicago accent. On a tour of the Revolutionary War Museum in Leningrad she was anxious to show us old history while I was more interested in relics of the 1917 revolution.
I was immediately struck by the fact that there was no trace whatever of Trotsky's contribution to the revolution. I asked the lady why this was and she replied:
"He had nothing to do with the military side of the revolution."
I protested that I had read about his activities from day to day in the newspapers at the time and that he had been very active indeed. "Trotsky was chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee according to the bulletins issued by Lenin himself," I added.
She denied this categorically, and when I said that it was ridiculous not to accept facts which were on record she snapped angrily: "That's what we are taught at the school of interpreters and that's the end of it."
Much was said in the Moscow trial about my alleged "hatred" for Stalin. Much was said in the Moscow trial about it, as one of the motives of my politics. Toward the greedy caste of upstarts which oppresses the people "in the name of socialism" I have nothing but irreducible hostility, hatred if you like. But in this feeling there is nothing personal. I have followed too closely all the stages of the degeneration of the revolution and the almost automatic usurpation of its conquests; I have sought too stubbornly and meticulously the explanation for these phenomena in objective conditions for me to concentrate my thoughts and feelings on one specific person. My standing does not allow me to identity the real stature of the man with the giant shadow it casts on the screen of the bureaucracy. I believe I am right in saying I have never rated Stalin so highly as to be able to hate him.
How could these old Bolsheviks who went through the jails and exiles of Czarism, who were the heroes of the civil war, the leaders of industry, the builders of the party, diplomats, turn out at the moment of "the complete victory of socialism" to be saboteurs, allies of fascism, organizer of espionage, agents of capitalist restoration? Who can believe such accusations? How can anyone be made to believe them. And why is Stalin compelled to tie up the fate of his personal rule with these monstrous, impossible, nightmarish juridical trials?First and foremost, I must reaffirm the conclusion I had previously drawn that the ruling tops feel themselves more and more shaky. The degree of repression is always in proportion to the magnitude of the danger. The omnipotence of the soviet bureaucracy, its privileges, its lavish mode of life, are not cloaked by any tradition, any ideology, any legal norms. The ruling caste is unable, however, to punish the opposition for its real thoughts and actions. The unremitting repressions are precisely for the purpose of preventing the masses from the real program of Trotskyism, which demands first of all more equality and more freedom for the masses.
Stalin and Trotsky were antagonists by character and circumstances. Trotsky was brilliant, proud, and independent. He did not join the Communist Party until 1917, whereas Stalin had nailed his flag to Lenin's mast as early as 1902, and had never wavered in allegiance. After my first interview with him in the autumn of 1929 I wrote that he was "the inheritor of Lenin's mantle". He changed the phrase to "Lenin's faithful disciple and the prolonger of his work". There is a parallel which suggests itself. I mean the story in the New Testament about the labourers in the vineyard when some of them were hired in the early morning to work all day for a penny. At noon others were hired, for the same wage, and late in the evening a group was brought in to rush the work to completion, who still received the full penny, although they were only working for an hour or so in the cool of twilight. I have forgotten the moral of this parable, but quite naturally the morning-hired workers objected bitterly to the fact that the latest comers received the same pay as they who had sweated and laboured throughout the heat of the day.
That was Stalin's position with regard to Trotsky. When most of the Bolshevik leaders fled abroad after the abortive revolution of 1905-06, Stalin stuck it out in Russia to continue the seemingly hopeless task of organising the remnants of the Bolshevik cause under one of the most bloody and pitiless repressions in history. More than any other he "sweated in the heat of the day", tireless and persistent, always being arrested yet always escaping somehow, until at last they caught him in 1914, and exiled him to the far north of the Ural Mountains within the Arctic Circle, whence escape was impossible. Even there he never lost heart. He made friends with his guards and went hunting with them and outshot them. While other exiles sat and moped or died of cold and hunger Stalin shot bears and wolves and ptarmigan, caught fish through ice, ate well and kept himself fit and strong and warm with thick skins and fur. Because there was an indomitable purpose in his heart. He was not brilliant like Trotsky nor clever in the use of words; nor had he the humanity of Lenin, who ordered a Christmas-tree for the children on the country estate where he was living in the year before he died. Stalin would never have done that.
It is not too much to say that Stalin held together the Bolshevik Party in Russia during the bitter years which followed Igo6. In those years a Bolshevik who did not weaken was a real man, and it was Stalin who picked these men, who saw them stand up or break under pressure and judged them by results. Intellectually Stalin is more limited than Trotsky, but one of the dangers of intellectual unlimitedness is that its possessor cannot believe wholeheartedly in anything except himself. Thus Trotsky believed in Trotsky, but Stalin believed in Lenin and in the Bolshevik cause and thought of himself as no more than an instrument or "chosen vessel". In this last phrase is implied all the resistless power of fanaticism when its exponent is, like Stalin, a man of inflexible will and great political adroitness. It is probable that Trotsky and Stalin are equally ambitious, but whereas Trotsky's ambition was personal, Stalin had sublimated his ambition to service of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, which gave him added strength.
Unlike most of the Bolshevik leaders, Stalin never raised his voice in opposition to Lenin on any point at any time. It was impossible, therefore, for him to forgive Trotsky's continuous criticism, which was further damned by his natural exasperation against this labourer who had been hired at the eleventh hour. He possessed, moreover, a strong weapon against Trotsky's brilliance - his Oriental patience and vindictive willingness to bide his time. Raymond Robbins once told me that he knew Stalin in the first winter of 1917-8. "He sat outside the door of Lenin's office like a sentry," said Robbins, "watching everyone who went in and out, no less faithful than a sentry and, as far as we then knew, not much more important.' In March, 1922, Stalin received the reward of his faithful watching. He was made General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which gave him, as he well knew, control of the Party machine. One month later Lenin was stricken, and Stalin and the others in the know must have guessed what we foreigners only learned later, that Lenin's sickness was mortal. While Lenin lived and had his strength, the Party Secretariat was no more than an important cog in the machine which Lenin had created and controlled, but with Lenin weakened and dying the cog became the keystone of the Soviet arch.
There is a tragic symbolism in the fact that the Moscow trial is ending under the fanfare announcing the entry of Hitler into Austria. The coincidence is not accidental. Berlin is of course perfectly informed about the demoralization which the Kremlin clique in its struggle for self-preservation carried into army and the population of the country. Stalin did not move a finger last year when Japan seized two Russian islands on the Amur river: he was then busy executing the best Red generals. With all the more assurance during the new trial could Hitler send his troops into Austria. No matter what one's attitude toward the defendants at the Moscow trials, no matter how one judges their conduct in the clutches of the G.P.U., all of them - Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Piatakov, Radek, Rykov, Bukharin, and many others. - have by the whole course of their lives proved their disinterested devotion to the Russian people and their struggle for liberation.
Your evaluation of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 is basically incorrect. The best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the grey mass with big pretensions, but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations.
No less erroneous is your estimate of Makhno. In himself he was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt Uprising. Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had.
The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism.
That disaffected elements existed apart from the small devoted group of Trotsky's adherents, particularly among senior (in length of membership) ranks of the Bolshevik Party, is obvious and natural enough. There were those who grumbled that the growing tendency to regard Stalin as a superman had destroyed Party Democracy as they had known it in the old days. Others as professional revolutionaries, or breakers-down, failed to readjust themselves as builders and executives, and rationalised their failure in terms of jealousy of the earlier labourers in the vineyard towards those who were called at the eleventh hour. Others again objected to the Stalinist theory of greater reward for greater service, to the new patriotism and to the conception of the U.S.S.R. as a world Power dealing with other Powers on terms of equality and friendship rather than as a disruptive force of permanent revolution. The number of malcontents was increased by personal grievance or disappointment no less than by ideological causes. All this provided fertile soil in which the Trotskyists could sow the seeds of disintegration and corruption.
It is further true that in totalitarian states no opposition can be permitted, because the idea of the state has been deified and opposition is therefore a Deadly Sin, which forces oppositionists to work underground and not only to become conspirators but to gravitate towards each other and towards a common centre, if there is one. The Trotskyists offered such a centre and in consequence, as in the case of the abortive revolt against Hitler in 1934, an odd lot of the most divers elements became associated in common hostility towards the regime. Furthermore, the nature of conspiracies is such that those engaged in them move almost imperceptively from step to step. They begin as malcontents for one reason or another, they associate with other malcontents and gradually pass from grumbling to thoughts of action. Their aims become more definite, or more definite aims are suggested to them by others, until at last they find themselves committed to a line of conduct which they would never have contemplated at the outset. And to the question, `How could a man like Tukhachevsky betray his country's secrets to a potential enemy?', the answer is that he did not change at one fell swoop from a loyal soldier to a traitor, but was subjected to a creeping malady of disintegration and ultimate self-justification for a deed he might earlier have abhorred.
Thus one reaches a final synthesis, as follows:
(a) Trotsky was fanatically determined to overthrow the Stalinist regime.
(b) Hitler was fanatically determined to "expand eastwards" at the expense of the U.S.S.R.
(c) Both Hitler and Trotsky had at their disposal efficient organisations to develop conspirative action, sabotage and espionage within the U.S.S.R. and to conduct propaganda abroad.
(d) Opportunities for contact between Germany (and Japan) and the anti-Stalinist conspirators both inside and outside the U.S.S.R. were not lacking.
The conclusion is inevitable.
It cannot be negatived by foreign bewilderment over the "mystery" of the trials and of the confessions made by the accused, or by foreign belief that the morale of the Red Army has been gravely impaired and that the whole U.S.S.R. is engulfed in a flood of hysterical witch-hunting. The Kremlin's enemies have used this belief and bewilderment to weaken, at a most critical period, the international prestige of the U.S.S.R., but that does not alter the fact that their Trojan horse is broken and its occupants destroyed.
The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression. Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerhinsky could not tolerate anyone's interference with his functions (and property so). Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics. Victor Serge's conclusions on this score - from third hand - have no value in my eyes. But I am ready to recognize that civil war is no school of humanism. Idealists and pacifists always accused the revolution of "excesses". But the main point is that "excesses" flow from the very nature of the revolution which in itself is but an "excess" of history.
We may lay this down as a law: Revolutionary governments are the more liberal, the more tolerant, the more "magnanimous" to the reaction, the shallower their program, the more they are bound up with the past, the more conservative their role. And the converse: the more gigantic their tasks and the greater the number of vested rights and interests they are to destroy, the more concentrated will be the revolutionary power, the more naked its dictatorship.
I cannot close this all too brief analysis of these three stout volumes (on The Russian Revolution) without at least a word on what the historian will find in them.
First, there is a powerful and eloquent statement of the doctrines and dogmas that guided Lenin and Trotsky in 1917.
Second, there are brilliant word pictures of scenes of revolution and masses in action.
Third, there are remarkable profiles, one-sided and unfair to the point of caricature, but always vivid and revealing, of all the principle actors.
Fourth, there is an account, unparalleled in historical literature, of the strategy and tactics, the military moves, in the preparation of the deceptive conspiracy of October to seize power under the guise of merely defending the revolution. Trotsky exults in his skill in disguising every step in the offensive as a defensive action, and enjoys now his recollection and meticulous exposition after the events of all the details which he knew better than any other man, even Lenin; for it was he, as Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee and Petrograd Soviet, who plotted every step, wrapped each maneuver in the brazen impudence of his eloquence, and personally directed the fulfillment of each measure. The chapters on the "Military Revolutionary Committee" and on the "Conquest of the Capital" are not equaled by all the other literature on the event put together.
Fifth, this history lays bare, both where it intends and where it does not intend, the soul of one of the principal actors in the October seizure of power - at the brief moment of consummation, the most important actor.
Finally, it is a history which no historian of Russia and no historian of revolution can afford to neglect. But let him be forewarned that Trotsky's is a pen that is frequently as persuasive as it is continuously one-sided. It is always the historian's duty, too often neglected out of worship of the bitch-goddess Success, to seek out the truths of the defeated along with the truths that get published by the victors. But particularly here must the reader come well equipped with an awareness of the truths of the defeated - the more so because somewhere concealed in this blinding flood of words which record the victory of Trotsky and his party, are also some of the secrets which explain why Trotsky, too, must in the end be reckoned as one of the defeated.
Comrade Trotsky's entire conscious life, from the time he entered the workers' movement in the provincial Russian town of Nikolayev at the age of eighteen up till the moment of his death in Mexico City forty-two years later, was completely dedicated to work and struggle for one central idea. He stood for the emancipation of the workers and all the oppressed people of the world, and the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism by means of a social revolution. In his conception, this liberating social revolution requires for success the leadership of a revolutionary political party of the workers' vanguard.
In his entire conscious life Comrade Trotsky never once diverged from that idea. He never doubted it, and never ceased to struggle for its realization. On his deathbed, in his last message to us, his disciples-his last testament-he proclaimed his confidence in his life-idea: "Tell our friends I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International - go forward!"
Trotsky himself believed that ideas are the greatest power in the world. Their authors may be killed, but ideas, once promulgated, live their own life. If they are correct ideas, they make their way through all obstacles. This was the central, dominating concept of Comrade Trotsky's philosophy. He explained it to us many, many times. He once wrote: "It is not the party that makes the program [the idea]; it is the program that makes the party." In a personal letter to me, he once wrote: "We work with the most correct and powerful ideas in the world, with inadequate numerical forces and material means. But correct ideas, in the long run, always conquer and make available for themselves the necessary material means and forces."
Trotsky, a disciple of Marx, believed with Marx that "an idea, when it permeates the mass, becomes a material force." Believing that, Comrade Trotsky never doubted that his work would live after him. Believing that, he could proclaim on his deathbed his confidence in the future victory of the Fourth International which embodies his ideas. Those who doubt it do not know Trotsky.
Trotsky himself believed that his greatest significance, his greatest value, consisted not in his physical life, not in his epic deeds, which overshadow those of all heroic figures in history in their sweep and their grandeur-but in what he would leave behind him after the assassins had done their work. He knew that his doom was sealed, and he worked against time in order to leave everything possible to us, and through us to mankind. Throughout the eleven years of his last exile he chained himself to his desk like a galley slave and labored, as none of us knows how to labor, with such energy, such persistence and self-discipline, as only men of genius can labor. He worked against time to pour out through his pen the whole rich content of his mighty brain and preserve it in permanent written form for us, and for those who will come after us.
In the Testament, Lenin, as superior to his contemporaries in grasp of men as of politics, had warned the party of a probable split between Trotsky and Stalin. It was, he said, a trifle, but "a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Lenin believed in historical materialism but he did not underestimate the significance of individuals, and the full immensity of the consequences are visible today.
Yet, as Lenin, quite obviously saw, the immediate origin of the danger was personal. Lenin did not say so in so many words. The Testament is very carefully phrased, but all through the civil war there had been clashes between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who supported him at first, hated Trotsky, but Stalin hated him with a hatred which saw in him the chief obstacle to his power; Zinoviev and Kamenev Stalin knew he could manage. Zinoviev on his part feared Trotsky, but feared Stalin also. He had the idea of balancing one against the other. But he went with Stalin for the time being. What manner of man was this who was so soon to usurp Lenin's position and attempt to play Lenin's part? No man of this generation, few men of any other, could have done this adequately.
Lenin, first and foremost, knew political economy as few professors in a university did. He was-absolute master of political theory and practice. He knew the international working class movement of the great countries of Europe, not only their history theoretically interpreted by historical materialism, but from years of personal experience in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. He spoke almost faultless German and wrote the language like a second tongue. He was at home in French and English and could read other European languages with ease. Intellectual honesty was with him a fanatical passion, and to his basic conception of allying the highest results of his theoretical and practical knowledge in the party to the instinctive movements of millions, honesty before the party and before the masses was for him essential. The range and honesty of his intellect, his power of will, the singular selflessness and devotion of his personal character, added to a great knowledge and understanding of men, enabled him to use all types of intellect and character in a way that helped to lift the Bolshevik party between 1917 and 1923 to the full height of the stupendous role it was called upon to fulfill. No body of men ever did so much, and how small most of them really were we can realise only by looking at what they became the moment their master left them. Lenin made them what they were. He was sly and manoeuvred as all who have to manage men must manoeuvre. But through all the disagreements of those years which often reached breaking-point he never calumniated, exiled, imprisoned or murdered any leaders of his party. He was bitter in denunciation, often unfair, but never personally malicious. He was merciless to political enemies, but he called them enemies, and proclaimed aloud that if they opposed the Soviet regime he would shoot them and keep on shooting them. But Trotsky tells us how careful he was of the health of his colleagues; hard as he was it is easy to feel in his speeches, on occasions when the party was being torn by disputes, a man of strong emotions and sensitiveness to human personality. In his private life he set an unassuming example of personal incorruptibility and austere living. No man could ever fill his place, but it was not impossible that someone able and willing to act in his tradition could have carried on where he left off, and all knew that Trotsky was best fitted for that difficult post. Lenin had designated him as such in the Testament. But the irony, the cruellest tragedy of the post-war world is, that without a break the leadership of the over-centralised and politically dominant Bolshevik party passed from one of the highest representatives of European culture to another who, in every respect except singlemindedness of purpose, was the very antithesis of his predecessor.
Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.
19th October, 1920: Trotsky's car came at 6.30. Nicholas Andrev had been having tea with me, and I offered to give him a lift, as he lives somewhere near the War Ministry. It was snowing hard and there was a driving wind, which lifted up the frozen snow and blew it about like white smoke. The car had a hood, but no sides. In the Red Square we punctured. For some time we sat patiently watching the passers-by falling down on the slippery pavement, and the horse-carts struggling up the hill. Winter has come very suddenly and one month too soon. The horses have not yet been shod for the slippery roads, consequently they can hardly stand up. This morning I counted four down all at the same moment. In London a fallen horse attracts a good deal of attention, and a crowd collects, but here no one even turns his head to look. I have been much laughed at because I stop to watch, but the method of getting the horse up amuses me. The driver (man or woman, as the case may be) gets behind and pushes the cart. The horse, so weak that he has no resisting power, impelled forward by the shafts, struggles to his feet in spite of himself. No unharnessing is necessary. This evening, when I became too cold to be interested any longer by the passers-by falling in the square, I asked the chauffeur if he had nearly finished. He answered 'Sichas' which literally translated is "immediately", but in practice means tomorrow, or next week! So I pulled up the fur collar of my inadequate cloth coat, put my feet up lengthways on the seat, and let Andrew sit on them to keep them warm. I arrived at Trotsky's at 7.30. He looked at me and then at the clock. I explained what had happened. "So that is the reason of your inexactitude," he said; an inexactitude which could not in the least inconvenience him as he did not have to wait for me. He kissed my frozen hand, and put two chairs for me by the fire, one for me and one for my feet. When I had melted and turned on all the lights of the crystal candelabra he said: "We will have an agreement, quite businesslike; I shall come and stand by the side of your work for five minutes every half hour." Of course the five minutes got very enlarged, and we talked and worked and lost all track of time. When the telephone rang he asked: "Have I your permission?" His manners are charming. I said to him: "I cannot get over it, how amiable and courteous you are. I understood you were a very disagreeable man. What am I to say to people in England when they ask me: What sort of a monster is Trotsky?" With a mischievous look he said: "Tell them in England, tell them" (but I cannot tell them!). I said to him: "You are not a bit like your sister." The shadow of a smile crossed his face, but he did not answer.
I showed him photographs of my work and he kept the ones of the "Victory". Among the portraits he liked "Asquith" best, and said that that one was worked with more feeling and care than any of the others. He took for granted that Asquith must like me, which is not necessarily the case, and said half-laughingly: "You have given me an idea - if Asquith comes back into office soon (there is a rumour that he might bring in a Coalition with Labour, and recognise Russia) I will hold you as a hostage until England makes peace with us." I laughed: `What you are saying humorously is what a British official told me seriously, only he said it a propos of Winston. As a matter of fact, I'd be proud if I could be of any use in the cause of peace. But if you said you would shoot me, Winston would only say "shoot"' - which is, to my mind, the right spirit, and exactly the spirit that prevails among the Bolsheviks. They would not hesitate to shoot me (some of them have told me so) if it were necessary, even if they liked me as a woman. Winston is the only man I know in England who is made of the stuff that Bolsheviks are made of. Ile has fight, force and fanaticism.
Towards the end of the evening, as Trotsky said nothing more about the project of my going to the front, I asked him if he had decided to take me or not. He said: "It is for you to decide if you wish to come - but I shall not start for three or four days." It was getting late and he looked very tired. He was standing in front of the clay with his back to it, so that I had the two profiles exactly in line. His eyes were shut and he swayed. For a moment I feared he was going to faint. One does not think of Trotsky as a man who faints, but anything may happen to a man who works as he does. My thought was of my work, and I said to him: "Do not fall backward, or you fall on my work." He answered quickly: Je tombe toujours en avant! I asked him to order the motor, having realised that unless he sends for it I have to wait outside in the cold or look for it in the garage. While the car was coming round he sent for a reproduction of a portrait of himself by an artist friend of his, to show me that the same difficulties that I am having with his jaw and chin were experienced also by the draughtsman who only succeeded in this, the last of a great many sketches. It is evidently one that Trotsky likes, for it is reproduced in colour in almost every office one goes into. I told him I wanted it and he wrote upon it "Tovarisch (which means Comrade) Clare Sheridan", and signed it. This has its effect on the Bolsheviks who have been into my room and seen it.
20th October, 1920: At one time, in his youth, what was he? A Russian exile in a journalist's office. Even then I am told he was witty, but with the wit of bitterness. Now he has come into his own and has unconsciously developed a new individuality. He has the manner and ease of a man born to a great position; he has become a statesman, a ruler, a leader. But if Trotsky were not Trotsky, and the world had never heard of him, one would still appreciate his very brilliant mind. The reason I have found him so much more difficult to do than I expected is on account of his triple personality. He is the cultured, well-read man, he is the vituperative fiery politician, and he can be the mischievous laughing school-boy with a dimple in his cheek. All these three I have seen in turn, and have had to converge them into clay interpretation.
Trotsky, like Mao and to some extent Lenin, has long been one of those Communist titans who, for some, achieved the status of fashionable radical saints, even in the democracies that they would have destroyed in an orgy of bloodletting. Trotsky’s glamour derives from his role as Stalin’s greatest enemy, but he was also wonderfully equipped for his role as revolutionary statesman – and to be a hero to misguided Westerners and schoolboys.
He possessed the necessary looks and style – the blue eyes, the shock of hair, the round glasses, the fine suits – to go with the wizardly oratory and flamboyant writing. He was the coiner of many a felicitous sentence – Stalin was the 'most eminent mediocrity in the Party’ while the enemies of the Bolsheviks in 1917 were destined for the 'dustbin of history’. His memoirs dominate subsequent histories not only of his own life but of Stalin’s, too.
While Lenin and Mao have been recast as brutal monsters not unlike Stalin himself, the best biography of Trotsky remained, until recently, Isaac Deutscher’s reverent trilogy with its revealing titles The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast. Now, in the last of his triptych of Bolshevik leaders (Lenin and Stalin already published), Robert Service delivers an outstanding, fascinating biography of this dazzling titan. It is compelling as an adventure story – the ultimate rise and fall – but also revelatory as the scholarly revision of a historical reputation.
The most dramatic revelations come in the early part of the book. Service, often using discarded archival drafts of his subject’s own writings, shows how Trotsky was born Lev Bronstein, the son of an extremely rich Jewish entrepreneur farmer in the New Russia around the Black Sea, a man who was, in his way, as exceptional as his son. The portrait of Trotsky’s forgotten world of Jewish farmers and poverty-stricken Russian aristocrats is eccentric and intriguing. Trotsky himself hid much of his background that Service reveals for the first time.
On the Jewish question, Trotsky regarded his Jewishness as irrelevant – he saw himself as an internationalist. As a young revolutionary, his life contained the same escapes and exiles as young Stalin’s, although he never pulled off the bank robberies and assassinations of his nemesis. Service shows how, while Trotsky (surprisingly) lacked Lenin’s burning, furious will to power, he was nevertheless the true star of 1905. He only joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, but it was he who was the real organiser of the October 1917 Revolution.
There is no doubt that Trotsky was the greatest orator of the Revolution. But his real importance only lasted for about five years. As People’s Commissar for War, he was indispensable and remarkable as a warlord – the creator of the Red Army – despite having no military training, Service shows. He was as ruthless in the killing of class enemies as Lenin or Stalin, but in politics, Stalin outplayed him at every turn.
Although Lenin regarded Trotsky and Stalin as his two most able henchmen, Trotsky diffidently rejected Lenin’s attempts to play him against Stalin. Lenin appealed to his ambition but somehow Trotsky lacked the killer instinct. He failed to push for power because he expected to be granted it for his genius. His arrogance, intellect, flashiness and his Jewishness certainly offended ordinary Bolsheviks. And because he would not canvass support, Stalin easily united Lenin’s heirs, Zinoviev and Kamenev, then Bukharin, against him, removing him from the War Commissariat in 1925 and driving him into exile in 1929.The exile was a tragic slow decline as his children were killed one by one by Stalin and the father was hunted down to Mexico.
While Service clearly enjoys revealing Trotsky’s career as a ladies’ man in the glory days – including an early affair with the English sculptress Clare Sheridan and in exile with the artist Frida Kahlo – nothing quite prepares one for his strange letter to console his wife Natalya for his adultery: "I’m thinking with tenderness about your sweet, old - I’m going to.... you with my tongue and my...."
In some ways, Mexican bohemians suited him better than Kremlin Bolsheviks. Here Service’s countdown to Trotsky’s assassination complements the excellent, exciting Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand M Patenaude, which charts, with novelistic flair and in archival detail, the progress of the plot that culminated in Trotsky being killed with an ice axe in 1940.
The defeat of Trotsky was complicated by personal antagonisms, theoretical disputes, and a struggle for sheer power. In essence, however, it was a repudiation of Leftism. The Russian people, including the communists, were in a mood for truce. The failure of revolutionary efforts in Germany, Hungary, and China had bankrupted the hope for world revolution and foreign allies. Millionfold classes, not the least of them being the vast bureaucratic apparatus and entrenched police machine, had developed a sizable stake in the status quo of Nep. The existing system, like any system ever devised, had developed a robust will to survive-to make a permanent abode of the historical half-way house. In attacking the talk about "permanent revolution" and more vigorous struggle against Nep, Stalin had voiced the weariness and the despair of a people surfeited with struggle and sacrifice.
The Party membership itself was in the main content to let things be. It had been considerably watered in the last years by the admission of hundreds of thousands of new members without personal memory or intimate relation to the old revolutionary struggle. The admixture was largely from the factories. The diluted Party may have become much more "proletarian," but its cultural average was lowered and its contempt for intellectuals raised. Never much enamored of democratic rights, unable indeed to grasp the meaning of such rights, the newcomers were not impressed with efforts to safeguard the relative internal Party democracy that had existed under Lenin. The strong-arm methods of less finicky men were closer to their inherited tastes. As long as they held their jobs and their privileged status, they were content to shift the responsibility of thinking upon "practical," down-to-earth professional leaders.
Stripped of all secondary factors, the defeat of Trotsky expressed a genuine and growing annoyance with intellectuals and idealistic "dreamers," with world revolution and with new revolutions at home. It reflected a natural yearning to settle down and bite into the fruits of the revolution.
It was a reaction, when all is said and done, against internationalists and Westernizers (a large portion of them Jews, it happened) and a straining back to folk ways and national self-sufficiency. Though not consciously anti-Semitic, the movement had distinct anti-Semitic undercurrents, in that it reacted against the Jewish type of mind: idealistic, missionary, and without tough roots in the Russian soil. To the extent that the reaction turned inward along national lines, threw off its "duty to the world revolution," repudiated intellectualism and handed over all power to divinely inspired leaders, it was distinctly "fascist."
Stalin's rough ways may have aroused misgivings in the heart of the dying Lenin; they aroused a comforting confidence in the people trained by a thousand years of history to expect and respect naked power, a people distrustful of democratic gadgets. Stalin might be a swarthy Georgian, but his methods - cunning, patient, brutal - were Russian compared with the loose idealistic talk of Westernized alien minded Lefts.
In adopting the main features of Trotsky's program, except for its international implications, Stalin was therefore thumbing his Caucasian nose at the tides on which he had ridden to the dictatorial apex. Confident that his political machine was now invulnerable, he pitted his will against his closest advisers, against the mass of the population, and against the majority of his Party.
No estimate of popular sentiment, naturally, can ever be made. I can only record my own certainty at the time that the country and the Party were overwhelmingly Right and accepted Stalin's unexpected course in a sullen and frightened spirit. Every time the Kremlin in a speech or decree hinted a let-up in socialization, greater leeway for the abler peasants, more immediate comforts for the workers, wider private trade-in short, a tendency toward the Right-the feeling of relief in Moscow was unmistakable.
On the eleventh birthday of the revolution, November 7, 1928, the course was still uncertain. The Congress of the Comintern (Communist International) which had ended the month before had been violent in its language but vague in its practical commitments to action; there was little enough clew to future policy in its fulminations. After the November holidays, however, things moved swiftly. The Right point of view, until then tolerated, suddenly blossomed into the blackest of heresies. It became, in the official jargon, the "chief danger."
Stalin achieved a bloodless victory. Never again was his decision on any matter, large or small, to be questioned. The "monolithic" Party, a Soviet equivalent for the "totalitarian" parties in fascist countries, was in absolute control. The Russia which it created in the next few years was as different from the one bequeathed by Lenin as it was from the tsarist Russia.
Just as a blacksmith cannot seize the red hot iron in his naked hand, so the proletariat cannot directly seize the power; it has to have an organisation accommodated to this task. The co-ordination of the mass insurrection with the conspiracy, the subordination of the conspiracy to the insurrection, the organisation of the insurrection through the conspiracy, constitutes that complex and responsible department of revolutionary politics which Marx and Engels called “the art of insurrection.” It presupposes a correct general leadership of the masses, a flexible orientation in changing conditions, a thought-out plan of attack, cautiousness in technical preparation, and a daring blow.
A great man Trotsky, of that there is no doubt, a man of superlative mental ability, and a most competent executive withal; a man of proven courage, both physical and moral, a splendid writer and orator with the rare power of equal appeal to an intelligent and to a popular audience. In all history there are few careers so romantic as that of Trotsky: to have risen from so low to such a height, to have shone so bright in the sun, and have done brave deeds in a quaking world - and then to have fallen again to nothing, to spend his declining years in spiteful twilight. What a tragic fate for this man who was gifted with intelligence and force beyond his fellows, yet cursed by the folly of selfishness and pride.
The first impression Trotsky made was one of unusual vitality and health; he was rosy-cheeked and bouncy. I was struck with his fine brow and shock of white hair, his strong face and expressive mouth. He was neatly dressed in gray trousers and a white Russian smock. When asked how he managed to keep in such fine physical condition, he surprised me by replying in perfect English, "Oh, I go to the neighboring mountains and hunt game," which conjured up a picture of an Austrian nobleman shooting ; chamois in Franz Josef's time. In the course of talking to this highly intelligent, engaging but thoroughly dangerous character, I noticed a line of hooks on the wall behind his desk from which were hung our galley proofs of the first half of his biography of Stalin.
Trotsky was affable and provocative. The biography would be completed before many months, he assured us. He said that he had been hampered by the difficulty of obtaining reliable source material in Mexico on Stalin's life and that he got most of the information he required from friends all over the world, some of them in the Soviet Union; I had the impression of a kind of political Voltaire, conducting a vast correspondence.
One question I forgot to ask Trotsky: Just how did Lenin meet his end? I had heard from Louis Fischer, an expert on Soviet affairs, that when Lenin had fallen seriously ill, he had asked various of his political colleagues to give him poison so that lie could die quickly. One by one they refused, shocked and unbelieving. How could the Soviet Union survive without its founder, who already enjoyed a saint like status?
Commenting on Stalin's Russia, Trotsky said that lie felt that the Communist Party no longer ruled, that party officials were really rubber stamps for the bureaucracy, as under the Nazi regime. As for the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, which was still going on at that time and puzzling most observers because the Soviet forces weren't making much progress, Trotsky did not doubt the outcome - it was just a matter of time before the Finns would be overwhelmed. The slowness of the Russian advance was explainable, he said, because Stalin had purged the army of many of its best commanders; and the political commissars had such power, the officers being so fearful of them, that military movements were hampered. Also, the Soviet troops, sent to Finland from the Ukraine and southern parts of Russia, were totally unused to the conditions of winter warfare in Finland.
We talked about the world political situation. This was after the Stalin-Hitler pact, which, in Trotsky's view, Stalin had signed because he did not expect Hitler to win the war he knew was coming. Trotsky further believed that Stalin, having secured his front for a period of time, would desert Hitler at the moment of his choice. As we know, the Stalin-Hitler pact failed to achieve its purpose because Hitler attacked before Stalin could desert his Nazi ally. It is amazing how accurately Trotsky had the Nazi-Soviet situation sized up. He pictured Hitler as a master strategist, more formidable than Stalin. Nevertheless, he was confident that Germany would lose the war after a great struggle and that the United States would have to join in and save the Allies. Hitler had successfully invaded Poland when this interview took place, so Trotsky was making these observations at a time when the Nazis were looking very strong.
I asked him what he foresaw at the end of the war. "A ruined planet under American hegemony," he replied. "There will be revolution in the United States, and presumably elsewhere, coming at a time of profound economic dislocation." The British Empire was dying, in his opinion, and he prophesied that her colonies would split off as a consequence of England's lack of vitality, as shown by her policy of appeasement and the Munich reverse.
Not all of Trotsky's predictions were right, but many were; for me the visit was a telling revelation. Trotsky possessed a naturally inquisitive mind and, perhaps because of his confinement to one place, was eager to learn all he could about what was going on in the world. He asked countless questions and listened carefully to everything we said. This was a response I had never encountered before from a world figure, most of whom like to do all the talking. Trotsky spoke frankly and showed a sense of humor, as when I asked whether he would like to visit the United States. "Indeed I would," he replied promptly, "and I'd be there now if it weren't for `That Man in the White House.' Mr. Roosevelt knows enough about me so that lie wouldn't consider letting me into the country. If you had a Republican President, he would have been less well informed and I would have been able to cross your border."
I inquired what he would be doing if he were in the United States; this was like asking a safecracker what he'd do when he got out of jail. "Start a revolution, of course!" Trotsky answered.
Within a few months of this interview Trotsky was assassinated in his study by Ratnon del Rio. In the struggle with his assailant, he was pinned up against the large hooks where the proofs were hung. These proofs, spattered with Trotsky's blood, are now kept in the Houghton Library at Harvard.
With Trotsky dead, it was necessary to find a qualified person to finish the book from his voluminous notes. We chose Charles Malamuth, a Russian scholar, for this assignment, and he performed it well. In a preface he explained exactly how the biography had been prepared. So finally, after years of work, the book was finished. We sent out advance copies on a Friday morning and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The final chapter of this story is concerned with what happened forty-eight hours later, on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941- On that day the terrible news of Pearl Harbor came over the radio. After the first shock I began to think about the publishing problems presented by Trotsky's Stalin. It was obvious that, within a few days, Stalin would be America's ally and that he would deeply resent the appearance of this biography by his arch rival. On the other hand, we had an obligation to the author - in this case to his estate.
After a brief siesta, I saw him (Trotsky) sitting at his desk, which was already covered with items relating to the El Popular case. He continued to be in good spirits. And it made me feel more cheerful. Lev Davidovich had of late been complaining of enervation to which he succumbed occasionally. He knew that it was a passing condition, but lately he seemed to be in greater doubt about it than ever before; today seemed to us to mark the beginning of improvement in his physical condition. He looked well too. Every now and then I opened the door to his room just a trifle, so as not to disturb him, and saw him in his usual position, bent over his desk, pen in hand. I recalled the line, "One more and final story and my scroll is at an end." Thus speaks the ancient monk-scribe Pimen in Pushkin's drama "Boris Godounov," as he recorded the evil deeds of Czar Boris.
Lev Davidovich led a life close in semblance to that of a prisoner or a hermit, with this difference that in his solitude he not only kept a chronological record of events but waged an indomitably passionate struggle against his ideological enemies...
At five, the two of us had tea, as usual. At twenty minutes past five, perhaps at half past, I stepped out on the balcony and saw L. D. in the patio near an open rabbit hutch. He was feeding the animals. Beside him was an unfamiliar figure. Only when he removed his hat and started to approach the balcony did I recognize him. It was "Jacson."
"He's here again," it flashed through my mind. "Why has he begun to come so often?" I asked myself.
"I'm frightfully thirsty, may I have a glass of water?" he asked, upon greeting me.
"Perhaps you would like a cup of tea?"
"No no. I dined too late and feel that the food is up here," he answered, pointing at his throat. "it's choking me." The color of his face was gray-green. His general appearance was that of a very nervous man.
"Why are you wearing your hat and topcoat?" (His topcoat was hanging over his left arm, pressed against his body.) "It's so sunny today."
"Yes, but you know it won't last long, it might rain." I wanted to argue that "today it won't rain" and of his always boasting that he never wore a hat or coat, even in the wont weather, but somehow I became depressed and let the subject drop. Instead I asked:
"And how is Sylvia feeling?"
He did not appear to understand me. I had upset him by my previous question about his topcoat and hat. And he was completely lost in his own thoughts, and very nervous. Finally, as if rousing himself from a deep sleep, he answered me: "Sylvia?... Sylvia?..." And catching himself, he added casually: "She's always well."
He began to retrace his steps towards Lev Davidovich and the rabbit hutches. I asked him as he walked away: "Is your article ready?"
"Yes, it's ready."
"Is it typed?"
With an awkward movement of his hand, while he continued to press against his body his topcoat in the lining of which were sewn in, as it was later revealed, a pickaxe and a dagger, he produced several typewritten pages to show me.
"It's good that your manuscript is not written by hand. Lev Davidovich dislikes illegible manuscripts."
Two days earlier he had called on us, also wearing a topcoat and a hat. I did not see him then as, unfortunately, I was not at home. But Lev Davidovich told me that "Jacson" had called and had somewhat surprised him by his conduct Lev Davidovich mentioned it in a way which indicated that he had no desire to elaborate upon the matter, but at the same time he felt that he had to mention it to me, sensing some new feature about the man.
"He brought an outline of his article, in reality a few phrases - muddled stuff. I made some suggestions to him. We shall see." And Lev Davidovich added, "Yesterday he did not resemble a Frenchman at all. Suddenly he sat down on my desk and kept his hat on all the while."
"Yes, it's strange" I said in wonderment. "He never wears a hat."
"This time he wore a hat," answered Lev Davidovich and pursued this subject no further. He spoke casually. But I was taken aback: it seemed to me that on this occasion he had perceived something new about "Jacson" but had not yet reached, or rather was in no hurry to draw conclusions. This brief conversation of ours occurred on the eve of the crime.
Wearing a hat.. topcoat on his arm... sat himself down on the table - wasn't this a rehearsal on his part? This was done so that he would be more certain and precise in his movements on the morrow.
Who could have suspected it then? It stirred us to embarrassment, nothing more. Who could have foretold that the day of August 20, so ordinary, would be so fateful? Nothing bespoke its ominousness. From dawn the sun was shining, as always here, the whole day brightly. Flowers were blooming, and grass seemed polished with lacquer... We went about our tasks each in his own way, all of us trying in whatever we did to facilitate Lev Davidovich's work. How many times in the course of that day did he mount the little steps of this same balcony, and walk into this, his room, and sit down on this very same chair beside the desk... All this used to hem ordinary and is now by its very ordinariness so terrible and tragic. No one, none among us, not he himself was able to sense the impending disaster. And in this inability a kind of abyss yawns. On the contrary, the whole day was one of the most tranquil. When L. D. stepped out at noon into the patio and I perceived him standing there bareheaded beneath the scorching sun, I hastened to bring him his white cap to protect his head against the merciless hot rays. To protect from the sun... but even at that very moment he was already threatened with a terrible death. At that hour we did not sense his doom, an outburst of despair did not convulse our hearts.
I recall that when the alarm system in the house, the garden and the patio was being installed by our friends and guard posts were being assigned, I drew L. D.'s attention to the fact that a guard should also be posted at his window. This seemed to me at the time so palpably indispensable. But L. D. objected that to do so it would be necessary to expand the guard, increase it to ten which was beyond our resources both in point of money and of available people at the disposal of our organization. A guard outside the window could not have saved him in this particular instance. But the absence of one worried me. L. D. was likewise very touched by a present given him by our American friends after the attack of May 24. It was a bullet proof vest, something like an ancient shirt of mail. As I examined it one day, I happened to remark that it would be good to get something for the head. L. D. insisted that the comrade assigned to the most responsible post wear the vest each time. After the failure suffered by our enemies in the May 24 attack, we were absolutely certain that Stalin would not halt, and we were making preparations. We also knew that a different form of attack would be used by the G.P.U. Nor did we exclude a blow on the part of a "solitary individual" sent secretly and paid by the G.P.U. But neither the bullet-proof vest nor a helmet could have served as safeguards. To apply these methods of defense from day to day was impossible. It was impossible to convert one's life solely into self-defense--for in that case life loses all its value.
As "Jacson" and I approached Lev Davidovich the latter addressed me in Russian, "You know, he is expecting Sylvia to call on us. They are leaving tomorrow." It was a suggestion on his part that I should invite them to tea, if not supper.
"I didn't know that you intend leaving tomorrow and are expecting Sylvia here."
"Yes...yes... I forgot to mention it to you."
"It's too bad that I didn't know, I might have sent a few things to New York."
"I could call tomorrow at one."
"No, no, thank you. It would inconvenience both of us."
And turning to Lev Davidovich, I explained in Russian that I had already asked "Jacson" to tea but that he refused, complaining about not feeling well, being terribly thirsty and asked me only for a glass of water. Lev Davidovich glanced at him attentively, and said in a tone of light reproach, "Your health is poor again, you look ill... That's not good."
There was a pause. Lev Davidovich was loath to tear himself away from the rabbits and in no mood to listen to an article. However, he controlled himself and said, "Well, what do you say, shall we go over your article?"
He fastened the hutches methodically, and removed his working gloves. He took good care of his hands, or rather his fingers inasmuch as the slightest scratch irritated him, interfered with his writing. He always kept his pen like his fingers in order. He brushed off his blue blouse and slowly, silently started walking towards the house accompanied by "Jacson" and myself. I came with them to the door of Lev Davidovich's study; the door closed, and I walked into the adjoining room....
Not more than three or four minutes had elapsed when I heard a terrible, soul-shaking cry and without so much as realizing who it was that uttered this cry, I rushed in the direction from which it came. Between the dining room and the balcony, on the threshold, beside the door post and leaning against it stood... Lev Davidovich. His face was covered with blood, his eyes, without glasses, were sharp blue, his hands were hanging.
"What happened? What happened?"
I flung my arms about him, but he did not immediately answer. It flashed through my mind. Perhaps something had fallen from the ceiling - some repair work was being done there - but why was he here?
And he said to me calmly, without any indignation, bitterness or irritation, "Jacson." L.D. said it as if he wished to say, "It has happened." We took a few steps and Lev Davidovich, with my help, slumped to the floor on the little carpet there.
"Natasha, I love you.'" He said this so unexpectedly, so gravely, almost severely that, weak from inner shock, I swayed toward him.
"0...0... no one, no one must be allowed to see you without being searched."
Carefully placing a pillow under his broken head, I held a piece of ice to his wound and wiped the blood from his face with cotton...
"Seva must be taken away from all this..."
He spoke with difficulty, unclearly, but was - so it seemed to me - unaware of it.
"You know, in there... " his eyes moved towards the door of his room... "I sensed... understood what he wanted to do.... He wanted to strike me... once more... but I didn't let him," he spoke calmly, quietly, his voice breaking.
"But I didn't let him." There was a note of satisfaction in these words. At the same time Lev Davidovich turned to Joe, and spoke to him in English. Joe was kneeling on the floor as I was, on the other side, just opposite me. I strained to catch the words, but couldn't make them out. At that moment I saw Charlie, his face chalk-white, revolver in hand, rush into Lev Davidovich's room.
"What about that one" I asked Lev Davidovich. "They will kill him."
"No... impermissible to kill, he must be forced to talk," Lev Davidovich replied, still uttering the words with difficulty, slowly.
A kind of pathetic whining suddenly broke upon our ears. I glanced in a quandary at Lev Davidovich. With a barely noticeable movement of his eyes, he indicated the door of his room and said condescendingly, "It's he"... "Has the doctor arrived yet?"
"He'll be here any minute now... Charlie has gone in a car to fetch him."
The doctor arrived, examined the wound and agitatedly stated that it was "not dangerous." Lev Davidovich accepted this calmly, almost indifferently as though one could not expect any other pronouncement from a physician in such a situation. But, turning to Joe and indicating his heart, he said in English, "I feel it here... This time they have succeeded." He was sparing me.