[Book] Lenin and Trotsky - What they really stood for

3. From the History of Bolshevism (Part Two)

The tendency of Bolshevism grew and took shape on the basis of the experience of the 1905 Revolution, which Lenin described as “the dress rehearsal for October”. Yet Monty Johnstone has nothing to say on the entire period from the London Congress of 1903 to the period of 1910-12. Evidently nothing much happened in Russia! Johnstone’s silence is not accidental. By omitting the experience of 1905 and the attempts at reunification of the Russian Social Democracy which followed, he deepens the false impression, already created, that throughout the entire period (thirteen or fourteen years…) Bolshevism and Menshevism stood at opposite and immutable poles – Trotsky, of course, ever standing “outside the Party”.

Trotsky in 1905

What role did Trotsky play in the 1905 Revolution, and in what relation did he stand to Lenin, and the Bolsheviks? Lunacharsky, who at that time was one of Lenin’s right hand men, writes in his memoirs:

“I must say that of all the Social-Democratic leaders of 1905-6 Trotsky undoubtedly showed himself, despite his youth, to be the best prepared. Less than any of them did he bear the stamp of a certain kind of émigré narrowness of outlook. Trotsky understood better than all the others what it meant to conduct the political struggle on a broad national scale. He emerged from the revolution having acquired an enormous degree of popularity, whereas neither Lenin nor Martov had effectively gained any at all. Plekhanov had lost a great deal, thanks to his display of quasi-Cadet [i.e. liberal] tendencies. Trotsky stood then in the very front rank.” (Revolutionary Silhouettes, p. 61)

Trotsky was the chairman of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, the foremost of those bodies which Lenin described as “embryonic organs of revolutionary power”. Most of the manifestos and resolutions of the Soviet were the work of Trotsky, who also edited its journal Izvestia. The Bolsheviks, in Petersburg, had failed to appreciate the importance of the Soviet, and were weakly represented in it. Lenin, from exile in Sweden, wrote to the Bolshevik journal Novaya Zhizn, urging the Bolsheviks to take a more positive attitude to the Soviet, but the letter was not printed, and only saw the light of day, thirty-four years later.

This situation was to be reproduced at every major juncture in the history of the Russian revolution; the confusion and vacillation of the Party leaders inside Russia, when faced with the need for a bold initiative, without the guiding hand of Lenin.

The political position of Trotsky and its relation to the ideas of Lenin will be dealt with more fully in the section on the theory of the permanent revolution. The crux of the matter was the attitude of the revolutionary movement to the bourgeoisie and the so-called “liberal” parties. It was on this issue that Trotsky broke with the Mensheviks in 1904. Like Lenin, Trotsky poured scorn on the class collaborationism of Dan, Plekhanov and others, and pointed out to the proletariat and peasantry as the only forces capable of carrying through the revolution to the end.

In 1905, Trotsky used the journal Nachalo, which had a mass circulation, to put over his views on the revolution, which were close to those of the Bolsheviks and in direct opposition to Menshevism. It was natural that, in spite of the acrimonious dispute at the Second Congress, the work of the Bolsheviks and Trotsky in the revolution should coincide. Thus, Trotsky’s Nachalo and the Bolshevik Novaya Zhizn, edited by Lenin, worked in solidarity, supporting each other against the attacks of the reaction, without waging polemics against each other. The Bolshevik journal greeted the first number of Nachalo thus:

“The first number of the Nachalo has come out. We welcome a comrade in the struggle. The first issue is notable for the brilliant description of the October strike written by Comrade Trotsky.”

Lunacharsky recalls that when someone told Lenin about Trotsky’s success in the Soviet, Lenin’s face darkened for a moment. Then he said: “Well, Comrade Trotsky has earned it by his tireless and impressive work.”

The progress of the revolution had given a tremendous impulse to the movement for the reunification of the forces of Russian Marxism. Bolshevik and Menshevik workers fought shoulder to shoulder under the same slogans; rival Party committees merged spontaneously. Finally, at the suggestion of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which now once again included Lenin, moves were set afoot to bring about reunification. Trotsky had consistently advocated reunification in his journal Nachalo, and had attempted to remain apart from the factional struggle, but was arrested and imprisoned for his role in the Soviet before the Fourth (Unity) Congress took place in Stockholm.

The Congress convened in May 1906, but already by this time the revolutionary wave was ebbing, and with it, the fighting spirit and “Left” speeches of the Mensheviks. Already Plekhanov was bemoaning the “premature” action of the masses with his celebrated phrase: “They should not have taken up arms.” A conflict was inevitable between the consistent revolutionaries and those who were already abandoning the masses and accommodating themselves to the reaction.

The Stockholm Congress

The main points at issue between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks at the Stockholm Congress were:

  1. The agrarian question.
  2. The attitude to the bourgeois parties.
  3. The attitude to parliamentarianism.
  4. The question of armed insurrection.

Plekhanov, giving notice of the frightened opportunism of the Mensheviks, denounced Lenin’s plan to mobilise the peasants for the nationalisation of the land as “dangerous … in view of the possibility of restoration.” He summed up in a nutshell the Menshevik attitude to the seizure of power by the workers and peasants with these words:

“The seizure of power is compulsory for us when we are making a proletarian revolution. But since the revolution now impending can only be petty bourgeois, we are duty bound to refuse to seize power.” (our emphasis)


Such was the argument of the Mensheviks in 1907. The revolution was a bourgeois revolution; the tasks before it were bourgeois-democratic; the conditions for Socialism were absent in Russia. Therefore, any attempt by the workers to seize power was adventurism; the task of the workers was to seek alliance with the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, to assist them to carry through the bourgeois revolution.

What was Lenin’s reply to Plekhanov? He made no attempt to deny that the revolution was bourgeois-democratic, certainly not that it was possible to build Socialism in Russia alone. All the Russian Marxists, the Mensheviks, Lenin and Trotsky were agreed on these questions. It was ABC that the conditions for a Socialist transformation were absent in Russia, but had matured in the West. Replying to Plekhanov’s dark warnings of “the danger of restoration”, Lenin explained:

“If we mean a real, fully effective, economic guarantee against restoration, that is a guarantee that would create the economic conditions precluding restoration, then we shall have to say: the only guarantee against restoration is a Socialist revolution in the West. There can be no other guarantee in the full sense of the term. Without this condition, whichever other way the problem is solved (municipalisation, division of the land, etc) restoration will not only be possible but positively inevitable.” (Works, vol. 10, p. 280, our emphasis)

Thus, right from the start, Lenin conceived of the Russian revolution as the prelude to the Socialist revolution in the West. He tied the fate of the Russian revolution in an indissoluble link with that of the international Socialist revolution, without which it would inevitably succumb to internal reaction:

“I would formulate this proposition as follows: the Russian revolution can achieve victory by its own efforts, but it cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do this unless there is a Socialist revolution in the West. Without this condition restoration is inevitable, whether we have municipalisation, or nationalisation, or division of the land; for under each and every form of possession and property the small proprietor will always be a bulwark of restoration. After the complete victory of the democratic revolution the small proprietor will inevitably turn against the proletariat: and the sooner the common enemies of the proletariat and of the small proprietors, such as the capitalists, the landlords, the financial bourgeoisie, and so forth are overthrown, the sooner will this happen. Our democratic republic has no other reserve than the Socialist proletariat of the West.” (ibid., our emphasis)

We quote Lenin’s words in full, so that there can be no suspicion of misrepresentation, no accusation from Monty Johnstone that we are quoting from Trotsky, and not from Lenin. For the reader of Monty Johnstone’s article can come to no other conclusion than that Lenin here is talking pure “Trotskyism”. He denies the possibility, not only of “building Socialism” in Russia alone, but even of holding on to the gains of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, without the Socialist revolution in the West. He “underestimates the role of the peasantry” by explaining that the small-property owners constitute a bulwark of restoration, and will inevitably turn against the workers, once the democratic revolution is completed.

But no, Lenin did not take these ideas from Trotsky’s books on permanent revolution, which he never read, and Trotsky himself was in prison during the Congress. The ideas expressed by Lenin were the ABCs of Marxism, the fundamental principles of proletarian internationalism and the class struggle, which he defended against the opportunist distortions of the “erudite” Marxist, Plekhanov. “This is not Marxism, but Leninism” sneered the Mensheviks in 1906. This is not “Leninism”, but “Trotskyism”, writes Monty Johnstone in 1968. Call it what you will, gentlemen, for a Marxist, the essence of a thing is not changed merely by calling it by another name.

In reply to the argument that the Social Democracy must not frighten away its “progressive” bourgeois allies, Lenin said:

“This brought out all the more vividly the fundamental mistake of the Mensheviks. They do not see that the bourgeoisie is counter-revolutionary, that it is deliberately striving for a deal.” (ibid., p. 289, our emphasis)

This was the keynote of Lenin’s struggle against the Mensheviks throughout the coming period: the need to keep the revolutionary workers’ movement away from ensnarement in alliances with the bourgeoisie and its parties; the insistence on the working class as the only consistent revolutionary class in society, the only class capable of settling accounts with Tsarism, if need be against the bourgeoisie:

“The only conditional and relative guarantee against restoration is that the revolution should be effected in the most drastic manner possible, effected by the revolutionary class directly, with the least possible participation of go-betweens, compromisers and all sorts of conciliators: that this revolution should really be carried to the end ” (ibid., p. 281)

Lenin went on to criticise the Mensheviks for their parliamentary cretinism, their uncritical and over-optimistic view of the possibilities of Marxists utilising parliament. He sharply took Plekhanov to task for his cowardly repudiation of armed struggle. These were the issues which separated the Bolshevik and Menshevik wings of Social-Democracy; not the organisational question, not “centralism”, but reform or revolution, class collaborationism or reliance upon the revolutionary masses. Yet on all of this Monty Johnstone maintains a stubborn silence. The reader may wonder why! We shall be charitable and attribute it to Comrade Johnstone’s natural impatience to get on to the far more “interesting period” from 1910-1916. At any rate, “thirteen or fourteen years” is a long time; who will miss a matter of five years or so? – especially when that period provides so much material which is “irrelevant” to Monty Johnstone’s case against Trotsky.

The Period of Reaction

The Stolypin reaction, which began in 1907, created immense difficulties for the revolutionary movement in Russia and provoked further disagreements in the ranks of the Social Democracy. The legal activities of the Party were hamstrung by what Lenin called “the most reactionary election law in Europe”. The illegal methods of work, the so-called underground became increasingly important to offset the restrictions imposed by the regime. A section of the Menshevik wing of the Party, however, was inclined to meet the situation by increasingly accommodating itself to the demands of reaction, eschewing illegal work in favour of a comfortable parliamentary niche. This was the basis of the so-called Liquidationist dispute which led to a fresh split in the Party.

At the London Congress of 1907, Trotsky for the first time had an opportunity of expounding his views on the revolution before the Party. His speech in the debate on the attitude to the bourgeois parties, for which he was given only fifteen minutes, was twice commented on by Lenin, who emphatically agreed with the views expressed by Trotsky, especially his call for a Left Bloc against the liberal bourgeoisie:

“These facts are sufficient for me to acknowledge that Trotsky has come closer to our views. Quite apart from the question of ‘uninterrupted revolution’, we have solidarity on fundamental points in the attitude towards the bourgeois parties.” (Works, vol. 12, p. 470, our emphasis)

On Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, which will be discussed in the next section, Lenin was not prepared to commit himself. But on the fundamental question of the tasks of the revolutionary movement, there was complete agreement. The differences between the positions of Lenin and Trotsky will be dealt with later. That these differences were regarded by Lenin as secondary was again revealed at the Congress when Trotsky moved an amendment to the resolution on the attitude towards the bourgeois parties. Lenin spoke against the amendment on the grounds, not that it was wrong, but that it added nothing fundamental to the original:

“It must be agreed,” he said, “that Trotsky’s amendment is not Menshevik, that it expresses the ‘very same’, that is, Bolshevik, idea.”[1] (ibid., p. 479)

But despite the identity of views on the analysis of the tasks of the revolution, Trotsky still attempted to steer a course in between the rival factions in a vain attempt to prevent a fresh split.

“If you think,” he said at the Congress, “that a schism is unavoidable, wait at least until events, and not merely resolutions separate you. Do not run ahead of events.”

On the basis of the experience of 1905, Trotsky believed that a fresh revolutionary upheaval would have the effect of pushing the best elements among the Mensheviks, in particular, Martov, to the left. His main concern was to hold the forces of Marxism together in a difficult period, to prevent a split which would have a demoralising effect on the movement. This was the essence of Trotsky’s “conciliationism”, which prevented him from joining the Bolsheviks at this period. Commenting on this, Lenin wrote:

“A number of Social Democrats in that period sank into conciliationism, proceeding from the most varied motives. Most consistently of all was conciliationism expressed by Trotsky, about the only one who tried to provide a theoretical foundation for that policy.”

This was the crux of the dispute between Lenin and Trotsky before 1917; not the “underestimation of the peasantry”, not “socialism in one country”, but the question of conciliationism.

Trotsky’s mistake was to attach too much importance to the “centrist” (semi-revolutionary) currents in Menshevism. He imagined that the unity of the Marxist movement would be brought about by the coming together of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks and the purging of the party of the “right” and “left” extremes – i.e. the expulsion of the Menshevik liquidators and the ultra-left Bolsheviks, the “Boycotters” (otzovists). He did not understand, as Lenin clearly did, that unity could only be achieved by first ruthlessly breaking with all opportunist currents; that preservation of the forces of Marxism in a period of revolutionary retreat did not mean an abstract, formal “unity” but the systematic education of the cadres in the methods, and perspectives of the movement. The organisational flabbiness of the Mensheviks, and their political helplessness in the period of reaction was merely a reflection of their utter lack of perspective. On the other hand, Lenin’s struggle for a “stable, centralised and disciplined Marxist party” flowed from the absolute necessity of educating and training a vanguard, untainted with the demoralisation and cynicism of the opportunists.

Later, Trotsky understood his mistake and unreservedly admitted that Lenin had been right all along on this question. Yet the Stalinists continue to paint in lurid colours the factional struggle between Lenin and Trotsky, dragging up all the polemical rejoinders, made in the heat of controversy in order to drive a wedge between the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky in general. Trotsky was mistaken, but his mistake was an honest one, the mistake of a revolutionary, with the interests of the revolution at heart. Not accidentally did Lenin refer to conciliationism as flowing “from the most varied motives” – i.e. revolutionary as well as opportunist. Lenin himself occasionally “erred” in his estimation of possible allies among the Mensheviks. In 1909 he offered a bloc to Plekhanov and the “pro-Party” Mensheviks. According to Lunacharsky, as late as 1917, Lenin “dreamed of an alliance with Martov realising how valuable he could be.” In the event, Lenin was proved wrong. But how incomparably superior are the mistakes of a dedicated revolutionary to the smug scribblings of the Pharisees who, half a century later, in the comfort of their studies, fight all the old battles over again – and always on the winning side.

The Bolsheviks and Lenin

“The years between 1907 and 1914 form in his [Trotsky’s] life a chapter singularly devoid of political achievement … Trotsky does not claim any practical revolutionary achievement to his credit. In these years, however, Lenin, assisted by his followers, was forging his party, and men like Zinoviev and Kamenev, Bukharin and, later, Stalin were growing to a stature which enabled them to play leading parts within the party in 1917.” (Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 176)

This passage from Deutscher, quoted by Johnstone, serves only to reveal the utterly philistine mentality of its author. The “leading part” played by Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin in 1917 will be dealt with in a later chapter. Suffice it just to recall that Kamenev and Zinoviev voted against the insurrection in October 1917, and were denounced by Lenin as “strikebreakers” who should be expelled from the Party! But let us first deal with the period under consideration.

Deutscher’s point about the “lack of political achievements” is quite true, but refers not only to Trotsky but to the whole revolutionary movement in the period of reaction. How did things stand with the Bolsheviks at this time? The onset of reaction produced a serious split in the leadership, in which Lenin found himself in a minority of one. The predominant mood among the Bolsheviks was ultra-left – a refusal to recognise that the revolution was in retreat. This tendency, the polar opposite of Menshevik liquidationism, manifested itself in ”Boycottism”, i.e. the total rejection of participating in elections and working in parliament. Lenin’s closest colleagues, Krassin, Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, broke away to the “left”. The latter two fell under the sway of philosophical mysticism, a further reflection of the mood of despair fostered by the reaction.

The endless faction fights which rent the Social Democracy at this time provoked a reaction in the form of conciliationism, of which Trotsky became the main spokesman. Conciliationism had its adherents in all the groups, the Bolsheviks included. In 1910, Trotsky succeeded in securing a meeting of the leaders of all the factions in an attempt to expel both liquidators and the “Boycotters” to keep the Party together:

“The only successful result which he [Trotsky] achieved was the plenum at which he threw the ‘liquidators’ out of the party, nearly expelled the ‘Forwardists’ [i.e. the ‘Boycotters’] and even managed for a time to stitch up the gap – though with extremely weak thread – between the Leninists and the Martovites.” (Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes, p. 61)

Nor was Trotsky alone in his views on Party unity. In the summer of 1911, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

“The only way to save the unity is to bring about a general conference of people sent from Russia, for the people in Russia all want peace and unity, and they represent the only force that can bring the fighting-cocks abroad to their senses.” (our emphasis)

This reference to the mood of Party workers in Russia was not accidental. Throughout the whole period – the whole of the famous “thirteen or fourteen years” – the prevailing view of the Party activists inside Russia was that the whole Bolshevik-Menshevik split was an unnecessary inconvenience, the product of the poisonous atmosphere of émigré squabbles. The impression fostered by such people as Johnstone and Deutscher of a Bolshevik Party, united solidly behind the ideas of Lenin, marching steadfastly onwards to the October Revolution, is a mockery of history.

Lenin himself, even from the earliest period, complains in his letters of the narrow outlook of the so-called “committee men”, or Bolshevik agents in Russia. His complaints become a steady stream of angry protests in the period of 1910-14 against the conduct of his own “supporters” in Russia. Maxim Gorky, who spent this period shuffling around the periphery of Bolshevism, bemoaned in his correspondence with Lenin the “squabbles among the generals” which were “repelling the workers” in Russia. The attitude of the Bolshevik “committee men” to the controversies among the émigrés is clearly expressed in a letter which was sent by a Bolshevik supporter in the Caucasus to comrades in Moscow:

“about the ‘storm in a teacup’ abroad we have heard, of course: the blocs of Lenin-Plekhanov on the one hand and of Trotsky-Martov-Bogdanov on the other. The attitude of the workers to the first bloc, as far as I know is favourable. But in general the workers are beginning to look disdainfully at the emigration: let them crawl on the wall as much as their hearts desire, but as for us, whoever values the interests of the movement – work, the rest will take care of itself! That I think is for the best.”

These lines were intercepted by the Tsarist police, who identified the author as “The Caucasian Soso”, alias Djugashvili, alias Stalin!

This contemptuous attitude towards theory, towards the “émigré squabbles”, the “storm in a tea cup” was widespread among Bolshevik activists, and provoked heated protests from Lenin, as in the letter, dated April 1912, to Orjonikidze, Spandaryan and Stasova:

“Don’t be light-headed about the campaign of the liquidators abroad. It is a great mistake when people simply dismiss what goes on abroad and ‘send it to hell.’” (Works, vol. 35, p. 33)

The vulgar conciliationism of Stalin, Orjonikidze and other ‘practical’ Bolsheviks stands out in all its uncouthness, as motivated, neither by opportunism nor by a desire for revolutionary unity, but by a simple ignorance of, and indifference to, the broader questions involved.

The upsurge in the workers movement in Russia in 1912 gave fresh heart to the Marxists – and to conciliationist tendencies in the Party. The newly-founded Bolshevik paper Pravda reflected these moods.

At the very time when Lenin was waging an all-out battle to separate, once and for all, the revolutionary wing of the Party from the opportunist, the very word ‘liquidationism’ disappeared from the pages of Pravda. Lenin’s own articles were printed in a mutilated form, omitting all polemics against the liquidators; sometimes, they simply disappeared altogether. Lenin’s correspondence with Pravda graphically illustrates the state of affairs in Russia: once more the Party “committee men” found themselves without Lenin’s guidance, once more they were floundering hopelessly off course. In a letter, dated October 1912, burning with indignation at the failure of Pravda to expose the liquidators, Lenin wrote:

“Unless Pravda explains all this in good time it will be responsible for the confusion and disruption [i.e. of the workers’ movement] … At this hot time, Nevskaya Zvezda [Bolshevik paper] is closed down, without a single letter or explanation … political contributors are left in the dark … I am obliged hotly to protest against this and to decline any responsibility for this abnormal situation, which is pregnant with drawn-out conflicts.” (Works, vol. 36, p. 196)

During the election of 1912, Lenin wrote to the Pravda editorial board (of which Stalin was a member):

“…Pravda is carrying on now, at election time, like a sleepy old maid. Pravda doesn’t know how to fight. It does not attack, it does not persecute either the Cadet or the liquidator.” (ibid., p. 198)

Nor was the disease of conciliationism confined to Pravda. In the elections of 1912, six Bolshevik deputies were elected from the workers’ curiae. Lenin, from Poland, warned the six against falling under the influence of the Menshevik deputies:

“If all our six are from the workers’ curiae, they must not submit in silence to a lot of Siberians [i.e. intellectuals, Mensheviks]. The six must come out with a very clear-cut protest, if they are being lorded over…”

Instead the Bolshevik deputies formed a “united faction” with the “Siberians”, which issued a joint proclamation – printed in Pravda – calling for the unity of all Social-Democrats and the merging of Pravda with the liquidationist journal Luch. Together with Gorky, four of the Bolshevik deputies put their names forward as contributors to Luch.

Lenin was furious; but his protests went unheeded. In a final burst of exasperation Lenin wrote:

“We received a stupid and impudent letter from the editorial board [i.e. Pravda]. We will not reply. They must be got rid of … We are exceedingly disturbed by the absence of news about the plan for reorganising the editorial board … Reorganisation, but better still, the complete expulsion of all the old timers, is extremely necessary.” (our emphasis)


“…we must plant our own editorial staff in Pravda and kick the present one out. Things are now in a very bad way. The absence of a campaign for unity from below is stupid and despicable … Would you call such people editors? They are not men but pitiful dishrags and they are ruining the cause.”

Such was the language Lenin used when attacking, not Trotsky, not the Mensheviks, but the conciliators and Menshevik camp followers in his own organisation, the editorial board of his own paper! Truly, Lenin set about the task of the creation of a “stable, centralised and disciplined Marxist party” at this time. In order to build it, he was forced on more than one occasion to fight against the very apparatus he had struggled to build.

The “Old Bolsheviks” in 1917

For a whole historical period – even more than “thirteen or fourteen years” – Lenin had attempted to educate a leadership, to instil into the cadres of Bolshevism the basic ideas, method and programme of Marxism. Above all, he hammered home the need to keep the workers’ movement free from the ideological contamination of bourgeois and petty bourgeois democracy. He emphasised repeatedly the absolute necessity of the movement retaining complete organisational independence from the parties of bourgeois democracy and from the opportunists who attempted to bring the movement under the wing of the bourgeoisie. The absolute correctness of Lenin’s stand was revealed in 1917, when the Mensheviks passed over to the camp of bourgeois democracy.

What was the position of the “Old Bolsheviks” – of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Stalin and Lenin’s other “faithful followers” in 1917? Every single one of them advocated support for the Kerensky Government, unity with the Mensheviks, that is, abandonment of the camp of Marxism for that of vulgar bourgeois democracy. Of all the “Old Bolsheviks”, whom Lenin had struggled to educate in the previous period, not one of them stood up to the decisive test of events.

How was it possible for the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, the Party of Lenin, steeled in struggle, with a correct line from its inception in 1903, to break at the decisive moment and go over to the side of opportunism? From Monty Johnstone, the perplexed reader can expect no answer. Our “impartial”, “scientific” historiographer knows of no such events! The transition from February to October was evidently accomplished, quite painlessly, by the Bolsheviks “growing over” from the democratic revolution to the socialist:

“Now that the monarch was overthrown and ‘the bourgeois democratic revolution completed, inasmuch as Russia is now a democratic republic’, Lenin mobilised the Bolshevik Party for the second stage of the revolution, which had to transfer power into the hands of the proletariat and the poor peasantry and take Russia out of the imperialist war.” (Cogito, p. 11)

What was the position of the Bolshevik leaders in Russia prior to Lenin’s arrival in April 1917? In glaring contradiction to everything Lenin had taught throughout the war, Pravda, which was under the editorship of Kamenev and Stalin, advocated the defence of the Bourgeois-democratic republic:

“When army faces army,” wrote Kamenev, “it would be the most inane policy to suggest to one of the armies to lay down its arms and go home. This would not be a policy of peace, but a policy of slavery, which would be rejected with disgust by a free people.”

Lenin’s policy of revolutionary defeatism was now proclaimed, by the central organ of the Party on the eve of the Revolution, to be “the most inane policy” and “a policy of slavery”! Elsewhere Pravda editorials proclaimed:

“Our slogan is not the meaningless ‘down with war’. Our slogan is pressure on the Provisional Government with the aim of compelling it [!] to induce [!] all the warring countries to open immediate negotiations … And until then every man remains at his fighting post.”

The policy of Stalin and Kamenev was to take the line of least resistance, to support the Provisional Government “insofar as it struggles against reaction or counter-revolution”, while paying lip service to “the ultimate goal of socialism”. This relegation to the remote future of the socialist revolution, while posing as “the immediate task” capitulation to bourgeois liberalism and reformism, is, of course, nothing new to the Communist Party leaders of today, for whom it represents the very essence of “Leninism”, as enshrined in The British Road to Socialism and the policy of the Popular Front. It was essentially the same policy as that of the Mensheviks, with whom the “Old Bolsheviks” inevitably found themselves in alliance.

How did Lenin, on his return, manage to “mobilise the Bolsheviks for the second stage of the revolution” when all the leading members supported the Provisional Government? Comrade Johnstone, who passes over the entire episode in silence, is evidently loth to go into the mechanics of this wonderful “mobilisation”. It would, however, be extremely “unhistorical” on our part not to offer to fill in the details for him.

From abroad, Lenin watched the developments in the Party with alarm. He wrote repeatedly to Petrograd demanding a break with the bourgeoisie and the policy of defencism. On March 6th, he telegraphed through Stockholm:

“Our tactic: absolute lack of confidence; no support to the new government; suspect Kerensky especially; arming of the proletariat the sole guarantee; immediate elections to the Petrograd Duma; no rapprochement with other parties.” (our emphasis)

On March 17th, Lenin wrote:

“Our party would disgrace itself for ever, kill itself politically, if it took part in such deceit … I would choose an immediate split with no matter whom in our party rather than surrender to social patriotism.”

These words of Lenin were a clear warning to Kamenev and Stalin, who nevertheless persisted in their position, in spite of the hostility of rank-and-file worker militants, many of whom resigned from the party in disgust at the capitulation of the leaders. Immediately on his return from exile, Lenin opened up a sharp faction fight against the “Old Bolsheviks”. At a meeting of Bolshevik delegates to the Soviets in April 1917, Lenin spoke bitterly of the capitulationist moods that infected the leadership:

“The basic question is the attitude to the war. The main thing that comes to the fore when you read about Russia and see what goes on here is the victory of defencism, the victory of the traitors to socialism, the deception of the masses by the bourgeoisie…

“We cannot allow the slightest concession to defencism in our attitude to the war even under the new government which remains imperialist…

“Even our Bolsheviks show some trust in the government. This can be explained only by the intoxication of the revolution. It is the death of socialism. You comrades have a trusting attitude to the government. If that is so our paths diverge. I prefer to remain in a minority…

Pravda demands of the government that it should renounce annexations. To demand of a government of capitalists that it should renounce annexations is nonsense, a crying mockery of… [a break in the minutes]

“From the scientific standpoint this is such gross deception which all the international proletariat, all… [a break in the minutes] It is time to admit our mistakes. We’ve had enough of greetings and resolutions; it is time to act.” (Works, vol. 36, pp. 434-8)

Turning to the Menshevik Manifesto of the Soviet “To the Peoples of the Whole World”, which Pravda had heralded as a “conscious compromise between different tendencies represented in the Soviet”, and which had been voted for by the Bolshevik delegates under the influence of Stalin and Kamenev, Lenin remarked:

“The manifesto of the Soviet of Workers’ deputies contains not one word imbued with class-consciousness. It’s all talk! Talk, flattery of the revolutionary people, is the only thing that has ruined all revolutions. The whole of Marxism teaches us not to succumb to revolutionary phrases, particularly at a time when they have the greatest currency.” (ibid., p. 439)

Who was Lenin criticising for having succumbed to the “revolutionary phrase”, Comrade Johnstone? Was it Trotsky, who was not even in the country at the time? No, Comrade Johnstone, it was Stalin and Kamenev, those “hardened Bolsheviks”, those dedicated “Leninists” who played such an “important role within the Party” in 1917! Three days before this meeting, Stalin had pronounced in favour of accepting the proposal of the Menshevik Tseretelli for unification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. His ground for this was that, since both parties agreed on the position of the Manifesto of the Soviet, there were no fundamental differences of principle between the parties. Referring obliquely to this, Lenin issued a sharp warning:

“I have heard that there is a tendency in Russia towards unification, towards unity with the defencists. This is a betrayal of socialism. I think it is better to remain alone, like Liebknecht: one against 110.” (ibid., p. 443)

So here we have it: “betrayal of socialism”, “deception of the masses”, “nonsense”, “a crying mockery”, “gross deception”. This is the language Lenin had to resort to in order to “mobilise the Bolshevik Party” for the socialist revolution! After Lenin’s tirade, Stalin retired from the stage of public debate heavily compromised by his social-patriotic stand and quietly sidled over to Lenin’s position; Kamenev and Zinoviev persisted in their opposition right up to October, when they voted against insurrection and waged a campaign inside and outside the Party against it. Such was the “important role” played by these “Old Bolsheviks” that, on the eve of the October revolution, Lenin angrily demanded their expulsion from the Party.

Monty Johnstone attacks Trotsky for his conciliationism before 1917, but forgets to mention that Stalin and Co. were so clear on the question of conciliationism that they advocated unification with the Mensheviks a matter of months before the October Revolution, at the very time when the differences between Bolshevism and Menshevism (i.e. revolution and counter-revolution) should have been posed in the sharpest, most implacable manner.

Having made the point, however, it is necessary to add that, for all their failings, the “Old Bolsheviks” were genuine revolutionaries. They made a mistake, a fundamental mistake, which, had it not been for the intervention of Lenin and Trotsky would have led to disaster. Without the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Russian Revolution would not have taken place in 1917. Either a workers’ dictatorship or Kornilovite reaction: that is the way in which Lenin posed the alternatives in 1917. Without the struggle waged, in particular by Lenin, with all his immense personal authority, the movement would undoubtedly have fallen beneath the mailed fist of reaction.

Nevertheless, despite their weaknesses and vacillations, Kamenev and Zinoviev were not put on trial, were not accused of being “agents of German imperialism”, were not tortured to extract false confessions, were not executed. In the traditions of Bolshevism, traditions of tolerance and sense of proportion, Kamenev and Zinoviev were not only not expelled but even elected to the Central Committee and Politburo, the highest positions of responsibility. Even after that, they did not always act unerringly, and sometimes made disastrous mistakes: but even the worst mistakes of the “Old Bolsheviks” cannot be equated with the treachery and outright betrayal of the revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy and its apologists internationally. The traditions of Stalinist totalitarianism and those of Bolshevik-Leninism were sundered by a river of blood.

Trotsky and the Bolsheviks in 1917

We have seen how Monty Johnstone utilises the services of Trotsky’s “highly sympathetic but also extremely objective biographer”, Isaac Deutscher. Johnstone frequently has recourse to Deutscher, who at once relieves him of the painful necessity of quoting from Trotsky’s own works, and obligingly provides him with the sort of trite, literary commonplaces about Trotsky’s psychological and moral attributes which serve him as a useful, if rather rusty, nail upon which to hang his own “thesis” on Trotsky, which now triumphantly emerges:

“The fact is … that although Trotsky was to join the Bolshevik Party in July, 1917, under the impetus [?] of the oncoming [?] October Revolution in which he was to play such an outstanding role [??], we find in these fourteen years of Trotsky’s life … the very inability to devote himself in a non-revolutionary period to the overriding task of building up a solid organisation, fitting himself into its ranks, and hence being prepared to submit himself to its collective discipline that was to reveal itself again after the storms of revolution had died down.” (Cogito, p. 7)

Johnstone wishes to paint a picture of Trotsky as a revolutionary firebrand, a “brilliant orator”, who derived inspiration from the “storms of revolution”, a good rabble-rouser, but essentially a petty-bourgeois individualist, whose morale flagged as soon as the revolutionary situation passed. His whole work is a fine piece of impressionist word-painting: and like all the works of the impressionists, it looks good, at a distance, if you keep your eyes half shut…

We would ask Comrade Johnstone, firstly, how was it possible for this “brilliant orator” to join the Bolshevik Party “under the impetus” of something which had not happened? Clearly, Monty Johnstone is itching to switch the date of Trotsky’s joining the Bolsheviks to sometime after the October Revolution (“by sleight of hand”, as they say). But no, such a distortion would be too much even for our Jesuit; reluctantly, Trotsky is made to join “under the impetus of the oncoming October Revolution!”

There is a further little difficulty, however, namely that Trotsky himself, in Monty Johnstone’s words played an “outstanding role” in bringing this “oncoming” revolution into being. In fact, Trotsky formally joined the Bolshevik Party, not when it was on the crest of a revolutionary wave, on the point of seizing power, as Johnstone implies, but, on the contrary, when its fortunes appeared to be at a low ebb in the period of reaction following the “July Days” when Lenin was in hiding and many Bolsheviks were in prison.

Why did Trotsky join the Bolsheviks in 1917? First and foremost, because there were no political disagreements. The article written by Trotsky in America in March 1917 coincided in their line of thought with Lenin’s Letters from Afar, written in Switzerland at the same time. Was this agreement accidental, Comrade Johnstone? To judge from your one-sided presentation of the past polemics between Lenin and Trotsky, no other conclusion is possible. But then, what about the lamentable role played by the “Old Bolsheviks” in this period? These were precisely the men who, in your own words, had “fitted themselves into the ranks” and “submitted to collective discipline” for the previous period; was this also “accidental”? Lenin, in his last letter to the Congress (1923), states that it was not. Nor was it accidental, Comrade Johnstone, that Lenin’s most consistent supporter in his fight against the vacillations of the “Old Bolsheviks” in 1917 was none other than Trotsky.

The whole purpose of revolutionary theory, of the building of the revolutionary party, is to carry through a revolution. It is precisely the “storms of revolution”, in which the revolutionary movement comes under acute pressure from alien class forces, which puts all theories, men and parties to the decisive test. The reason why the “Old Bolsheviks” failed this test, the reason why they found themselves hopelessly adrift in the storm of revolution, is precisely because, in the whole of the previous period they had failed to absorb and understand the methods and ideas of Lenin, which were the methods and ideas of revolutionary Marxism.

The “Old Bolsheviks” had been content, in the previous period, to “fit themselves into the ranks”, to follow lamely in the footsteps of Lenin, mechanically repeating his ideas, which in their hands turned into meaningless incantations. The result was that at the decisive moment, when a drastic turn was necessary, they hesitated, “lost their heads”, opposed Lenin … and landed in the camp of Menshevism. Trotsky, on the other hand, who had set out on a different course, arrived at the same conclusions which Lenin had reached by another route. From that moment, all the old disputes were consigned to the rubbish-bin of history … only to be grubbed out again by the Stalinists after Lenin’s death in an attempt to oust Trotsky from the leadership.

From the moment of Trotsky’s arrival in Petrograd in May 1917, he spoke and acted in solidarity with the Bolsheviks. Commenting on this, the Bolshevik Raskolnikov recalled that:

“Leon Davidovich [Trotsky] was not at that time formally a member of our party, but as a matter of fact he worked within it continually from the day of his arrival from America. At any rate, immediately after his first speech in the Soviet, we all looked upon him as one of our party leaders.” (Proletarskaya Revolutsia, 1923, p. 71)

On the controversies of the past, the same writer remarked:

“The echoes of the past disagreements during the pre-war period had completely disappeared. No differences existed between the tactical line of Lenin and Trotsky. That fusion, already observable during the war, was completely and definitely achieved from the moment of Trotsky’s return to Russia. From his first public speech all of us old Leninists felt that he was ours.” (ibid., p. 150)

If Trotsky did not immediately formally join the Bolshevik Party, it was not out of any political disagreements (he had announced his willingness to join immediately in discussion with Lenin and his colleagues), but because Trotsky wished to win over the organisation of the Mezhrayontsi (“Inter-District group”) which comprised about 4,000 Petrograd workers and many prominent Left figures such as Uritsky, Joffe, Lunacharsky, Ryazanov, Volodarsky and others who later played prominent roles in the Bolshevik Party leadership. On this group, a note to the works of Lenin published in Russia after the revolution states:

“On the war question the Mezhrayontsi occupied an internationalist position, and in their tactics were close to the Bolsheviks.” (Works, vol. 14, p. 448)

On the all-Russian Congress of Soviets held in the beginning of June, which was still dominated by Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, E. H. Carr observes that:

“Trotsky and Lunacharsky were among the ten delegates of the ‘united social-democrats’ who solidly supported the Bolsheviks throughout the three weeks of the congress.” (The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, p. 89)

In order to speed up the accession of the Mezhrayontsi to the Bolsheviks, which was being opposed by some of the leadership, Trotsky wrote in Pravda the following statement:

“There are in my opinion at the present time [i.e. July] no differences either in principle or in tactics between the Inter-District and the Bolshevik organisations. Accordingly there are no motives which justify the separate existence of these organisations.” (our emphasis)

At this difficult and dangerous time, Trotsky wrote a letter to the Provisional Government, which it is worth quoting in full, in view of the light it sheds on the relations between Trotsky and the Bolsheviks in 1917. The letter is dated 23rd July, 1917:

“Citizen Ministers:

“I have learned that in connection with the events of July 16-17[2], a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, but not for me. I should like, therefore, to call your attention to the following:

(1) I agree with the main thesis of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and have advocated it in the journal Vpered and in my public speeches.

(2) My attitude toward the events of July 16-17 was the same as theirs.

(a) Kamenev, Zinoviev, and I first learned of the proposed plans of the Machine-Gun and other regiments at the joint meeting of the Bureaus [Executive Committees] on July 16th. We took immediate steps to stop the soldiers from coming out. Zinoviev and Kamenev put themselves in touch with the Bolsheviks, and I with the ‘interward’ organisation [i.e. Mezhrayontsi] to which I belong.

(b) When however, notwithstanding our efforts, the demonstration did take place, my comrade Bolsheviks and I made numerous speeches in front of the Tauride Palace, in which we came out in favour of the main slogan of the crowd: “All Power to the Soviets”, but we, at the same time, called on those demonstrating, both the soldiers and civilians to return to their homes and barracks in a peaceful and orderly manner.

(c) At a conference which took place at the Tauride Palace late in the night of July 16-17 between some Bolsheviks and ward organisations, I supported the motion of Kamenev that everything should be done to prevent a recurrence of the demonstration on July 17th. When, however, it was learned from the agitators, who arrived from the different wards, that the regiments and factory workers had already decided to come out, and that it was impossible to hold back the crowd until the government crisis was over, all those present agreed that the best thing to do was to direct the demonstration along peaceful lines and to ask the masses to leave their guns at home.

(d) In the course of the day of July 17, which I spent in the Tauride Palace, I and the Bolshevik comrades more than once urged this course on the crowd.

(3) The fact that I am not connected with Pravda and am not a member of the Bolshevik Party is not due to political differences, but to certain circumstances in our party history which have now lost all significance.

(4) The attempt of the newspapers to convey the impression that I have ‘nothing to do’ with the Bolsheviks has about as much truth in it as the report that I have asked the authorities to protect me from the ‘violence of the mob’, of the hundreds of other false rumours of that same press.

“From all that I have said, it is clear that you cannot logically exclude me from the warrant of arrest which you have made out for Lenin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev.[3] There can also be no doubt in your minds that I am just as uncompromising a political opponent as the above-named comrades. Leaving me out merely emphasises the counter-revolutionary highhandedness that lies behind the attack on Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.”

(From The Age of the Permanent Revolution, pp. 98-9, our emphasis)

Throughout this whole period, Trotsky, on dozens of occasions, expressed his agreement with the position of the Bolsheviks. In the most difficult days, when the Party was driven underground, when Lenin and Zinoviev were forced to leave for Finland, when Kamenev was in jail and the Bolsheviks subjected to shameless calumnies as “German agents”, Trotsky spoke out publicly in their defence, and identified his position with theirs. Monty Johnstone knows all this. He knows it and, he passes it over in silence. All he has to say on this is that:

“In his ‘colossal arrogance’ Trotsky appears genuinely to have believed that the Bolshevik Party had become ‘de-bolshevised’ and, on this basis, he moved towards joining it.” (Cogito, p. 14)

The phrase “de-bolshevised” comes, not from Trotsky, but from the “impartial” Isaac Deutscher, “colossal arrogance” comes from Lunacharsky’s Revolutionary Silhouettes, where we read the following:

“Trotsky as a man is prickly and overbearing. However, after Trotsky’s merger with the Bolsheviks, it was only in his attitude to Lenin that Trotsky always showed a touching and tender yieldingness. With the modesty of all truly great men he acknowledges Lenin’s primacy.”

And on page 43 of the same work:

“When Lenin lay wounded – mortally, we feared, no one expressed our feelings about him better than Trotsky. Amid the appalling turmoil of world events it was Trotsky, the other leader of the Russian revolution, a man by no means inclined to sentimentality who said: ‘when you realise that Lenin might die it seems that all our lives are useless and you lose the will to live.’”

We leave it to the reader of these lines to decide on whose part “colossal arrogance” is shown in the portrayal of the relationship between the two greatest revolutionaries of our time.

Two years later, Lenin pointed out that in 1917 “Bolshevism drew to itself all the best elements in the currents of socialist thought that were closest to it.” To whom do these lines refer, Comrade Johnstone? To the Left Mensheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries? But most of those elements had already broken with Bolshevism by 1918. These lines clearly refer to Trotsky and the Mezhrayontsi. The special attitude of Lenin towards the Mezhrayontsi is revealed by the fact that, at a time when he was urging the toughening-up of the conditions of membership to guard against the influx of unreliable elements, the probationary period was waived for the Mezhrayontsi, who were allowed to count the period of their membership of the Bolsheviks from the time they joined their own group.

This action was tantamount to the agreement of the Bolsheviks with the statement of Trotsky that there were no tactical or political differences between the two groups. The very same Congress at which the Mezhrayontsi joined the Bolshevik Party, the “colossally arrogant” Trotsky was elected to the Central Committee, and he was one of the four names (with Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev) which were announced as having polled the highest number of votes (131 out of 134).

The Stalin School of Falsification

“It would be unhistorical indeed if, in evaluating Trotsky, we were to ignore his struggle against Bolshevism during the first fourteen years of its existence – or consider the matter closed by quoting a remark that Lenin is alleged on Trotsky’s authority – to have made in 1917 (in the midst of the Revolution and after the latter had been in the Party less than four months) to the effect that after he had understood that unity with the Mensheviks was impossible, ‘there was no better Bolshevik than Trotsky.’” (Cogito, p. 8)

Such is the genuflexion, to the Muse of History with which Monty Johnstone ends the first part of his “far-reaching, complicated but profoundly instructive” history of Bolshevism. Being himself so particular in his use of sources, he refuses to admit as evidence a remark “allegedly” made by Lenin “on Trotsky’s authority”. What was this remark and why was it made?

At a meeting of the Petrograd Committee on November 14th, 1917, Lenin spoke on the danger of conciliationist tendencies in the Party leadership which constituted a threat even after the October Revolution. On November 14th, eleven days after the successful insurrection, three members of the Central Committee (Kamenev, Zinoviev, Nogin) resigned in protest against the policies of the Party, and issued an ultimatum demanding the formation of a coalition government including the Mensheviks and the SRs “otherwise the only course that remains is to maintain a purely Bolshevik Government by means of political terror.” They ended their statement with an appeal to the workers for “immediate conciliation” on the basis of their slogan “Long live the government of all Soviet parties!” This crisis in the ranks seemed likely to destroy the whole of the gains made by October. In response to a dangerous situation, Lenin advocated the expulsion of the leading miscreants. It was in this situation that Lenin delivered the speech which ends with the words: “No compromise! A homogeneous Bolshevik government.” In the original text of Lenin’s speech the following words occur:

“As for coalition, I cannot speak about that seriously. Trotsky long ago said that a union was impossible. Trotsky understood this, and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik.”

After Lenin’s death, the ruling clique: Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev began a systematic campaign of falsification, designed to belittle Trotsky’s role in the revolution and to boost their own. To do this, they had to invent the legend of “Trotskyism”, to drive a wedge between the position of Trotsky and that of Lenin and the “Leninists” (i.e. themselves). The hack historians burrowed through the accumulated rubbish of old polemics which had long been forgotten by those who participated in them: forgotten, because all the questions which had been raised then were resolved by the experience of October and therefore could have nothing but an abstract, historical interest. But a serious obstacle in the path of the falsifiers was the October Revolution itself. This obstacle was removed by gradually deleting Trotsky’s name from the history books, by re-writing history, and finally by the outright suppression of all, even the most innocuous mention, of Trotsky’s role.

Monty Johnstone himself cites a good example of this: in the 1934 edition of Stalin’s The October Revolution we find the following statement:

“All practical work in connection with the organisation of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee was organised.”

“This passage”, writes Monty Johnstone, “has been inexcusably expunged from the text of the article published in Stalin’s Works, Moscow, 1953, IV, p. 157.” (our emphasis)

“Inexcusably expunged” is the language of a man who is surprised and irritated by some minor and unexpected detail. But there is nothing surprising about it, and Comrade Johnstone’s astonishment is entirely feigned. He is well aware that all the writing of Soviet history up to the present time has consisted of nothing but an utterly false and lying account of the Russian Revolution and especially of Trotsky’s role. The distortions of 1924, crass though they were, merely paved the way for the time when Stalin in the place of the above, could write:

“Comrade Trotsky played no particular role either in the party or the October insurrection, and could not do so being a man comparatively new to our party in the October period.” (Stalin’s Works, Moscow, 1953 edition)

This, in turn, was only another step towards the complete degeneration of the Stalinist bureaucracy which accused not only Trotsky, but the entire “Old Bolshevik” leadership of collaborating with German fascism for the overthrow of the Soviet Union. Among other charges made at the time of the infamous Purge Trials of the 30s, Bukharin, whom Lenin described in the suppressed testament as “the Party’s favourite” was accused of plotting to assassinate Lenin in 1918!

The remark which Lenin is “alleged on Trotsky’s authority” to have made was published in the original edition of the minutes of the Petrograd Committee, but subsequently suppressed on the grounds that the speech of Lenin had been copied out incorrectly by the minutes secretary. Undoubtedly, the whole text, as is the case with many of Lenin’s speeches is badly edited, full of gaps and incomplete sentences. But only one page was deleted – the page that contains Lenin’s remark on Trotsky. In his book, The Stalin School of Falsification, Trotsky reproduces a photo-copy of the page in question. The original is in the Trotsky Archives, together with a great deal of other material which has been suppressed in the Soviet Union. Monty Johnstone does not question the authority of the material. He dare not: it has been attested to, not only by every serious historian of the Russian Revolution, but also by the material published by the Soviet bureaucracy after the Twentieth Congress, including Lenin’s suppressed Testament, which was published by the Left Opposition in Russia and by Trotskyists abroad thirty years before the text was made public by the Soviet ruling clique. Naturally, they only published a fraction of the material, which shows Lenin’s opposition to Stalin. But a still greater amount remains under lock and key, in the “closed” section of the Lenin Library, available for the scrutiny only of the Party’s hack “historians”.

The authenticity of Lenin’s remark can be seen from the context in which he was speaking. On the question of conciliationism, no one had been so outspoken as Trotsky before the War. Trotsky had believed, on the basis of 1905, that a new revolutionary upheaval would push the best elements among the Mensheviks to the left, enabling unification with the Bolsheviks to come about. Events themselves demonstrated the incorrectness of this position. Trotsky, in 1917, unhesitatingly admitted his mistake and once and for all put out of his mind any idea of reunification with the Mensheviks. The “Old Bolshevik” faction, on the other hand, clung relentlessly to their conciliationist illusions even after the seizure of power. What they were asking for in November 1917 amounted to a restoration, or counter-revolution in a democratic guise. We would ask Monty Johnstone a straight question: who acted more like a Bolshevik in 1917, Trotsky or the self-styled “Old Bolsheviks?” He will not answer. That is of no moment. Lenin gave the answer at the meeting of the Petrograd Committee in November, 1917.

On page 21 of his work, Johnstone quotes from Lenin’s last letter to Congress – the famous Suppressed Testament, which was only made available to the rank-and-file of the Communist Parties by the Soviet leaders after the 20th Congress. Johnstone quoted what Lenin has to say about Trotsky’s personal characteristics, but omits one sentence which is very relevant to his own work. Lenin, in his last word to the Russian Communist Party, warned that Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past should not be held against him.

Monty Johnstone has spent over half his work digging up all the refuse he can lay his hands upon from the most obscure polemics of the pre-1917 period. But not accidentally he fails to quote Lenin’s last word on Trotsky and his relation to the Bolshevik Party, before 1917.

For Lenin, as for Trotsky, the year 1917 marked the decisive turning-point, which rendered all the old polemics with Trotsky irrelevant. That is why Lenin never had occasion to refer to them after 1917. That is also why Trotsky, in 1921, advised Olminsky that the publication of his letter to Chkheidze would be inopportune. Monty Johnstone insinuates, on these grounds that Trotsky was guilty of the same methods of falsification as Stalin!

“When Olminsky, the President of the Commission of Party History, asked him whether it [the letter to Chkheidze] should be published, he replied that this would be ‘inopportune’ adding paternalistically: ‘The reader of today will not understand, will not apply the necessary historical correctives and will simply be confused.’ This was precisely the Stalinist motivation for the suppression and falsification of historical documents that was in later years to be so soundly and correctly denounced by Trotsky himself.” (Cogito, p. 7, our emphasis)

Since Monty Johnstone has also made not the slightest attempt to explain the historical context of this letter – or any other – his motivation for using it is quite clear. We hope that we have given some idea as to the real “motivation” of Trotsky at this period (1913), his desire for the unity of the Marxist movement. In his book, In Defence of Marxism, Trotsky explains fully the reasons for his stand. Johnstone quotes from this work – but, in the usual “highly selective, potted” manner, only reproduced one phrase, viz: “I had not freed myself at that period especially in the organisational sphere from the traits of a petty bourgeois revolutionist.” Let us reproduce Trotsky’s words without “convenient” abridgements:

“I have in mind the so-called August bloc of 1912. I participated actively in this bloc. In a sense I created it. Politically I differed with the Mensheviks on all fundamental questions. I also differed with the ultra-left Bolsheviks, the Vperyodists. In the general tendency of politics I stood far more closely with the Bolsheviks. But I was against the Leninist ‘regime’ because I had not yet learned to understand that in order to realise the revolutionary goal a firmly welded centralised party is indispensable. And so I formed this episodic bloc consisting of heterogeneous elements which was directed against the proletarian wing of the party.

“In the August bloc the liquidators had their own faction, the Vperyodists also had something resembling a faction. Most of the documents were written by me and through avoiding principled differences had as their aim the creation of a semblance of unanimity upon ‘concrete political questions’. Not a word about the past! Lenin subjected the August bloc to merciless criticism and the harshest blows fell to my lot. Lenin proved that inasmuch as I did not agree politically with either the Mensheviks or the Vperyodists my policy was adventurism. This was severe but it was true.

“As ‘mitigating circumstances’ let me mention the fact that I had set as my task not to support the right or the ultra-left factions against the Bolsheviks but to unite the party as a whole. The Bolsheviks too were invited to the August conference. But since Lenin flatly refused to unite with the Mensheviks (in which-he was completely correct) I was left in an unnatural bloc with the Mensheviks and the Vperyodists. The second mitigating circumstance is this, that the very phenomenon of Bolshevism as the genuine revolutionary party was then developing for the first time – in the practice of the Second International there were no precedents. But I do not thereby seek in the least to absolve myself from guilt. Notwithstanding the conception of permanent revolution which undoubtedly disclosed the correct perspective, I had not freed myself at that period especially in the organisational sphere from the traits of a petty-bourgeois revolutionist. I was sick with the disease of conciliationism towards Menshevism and with a distrustful attitude toward Leninist centralism. Immediately after the August conference the bloc began to disintegrate into its component parts. Within a few months I was not only in principle but organisationally outside the bloc.” (In Defence of Marxism, p. 141)

Thus, straightforwardly, honestly, Trotsky reveals, and explains his own mistakes. Johnstone, of course, has no interest in letting Trotsky speak for himself, but merely seizes upon isolated phrases (“disease of conciliationism”, “petit-bourgeois revolutionist”) which he uses in a thoroughly unscrupulous, thoroughly Stalinist manner. He attempts an amalgam (the favourite device of Stalinist falsification) between Stalin and Trotsky which is beneath contempt. His “motivation” is twofold: on the one hand to blacken Trotsky’s name as a liar and a falsifier who deliberately concealed his past differences with Lenin[!]; on the other, an even more dastardly attempt to prettify the bloody horrors of the Stalinist frame-ups, built out of the bones and nervous systems of human beings, by placing them on the same level as Trotsky’s letter to Olminsky!

Monty Johnstone seizes upon this letter in order to underline his arguments about Trotsky’s “violent opposition” to Lenin. And some of the expressions Trotsky uses appear to bear him out. Yet the use to which Johnstone puts this letter completely bears out what Trotsky wrote to Olminsky – that the reader would not understand the circumstances under which the letter was written, that he would draw the wrong conclusions – precisely the false conclusions which Monty Johnstone invites his reader to draw today.

When did Trotsky write this letter and why? Trotsky himself explains in My Life:

“My letter to Chkheidze against Lenin was published during this period. This episode, dating back to April, 1913, grew out of the fact that the official Bolshevik newspaper then published in St. Petersburg had appropriated the title of my Viennese publication, “The Pravda – a Labour Paper”. This led to one of those sharp conflicts so frequent in the lives of the foreign exiles. In a letter written to Chkheidze, who at one time stood between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, I gave vent to my indignation at the Bolshevik centre and Lenin. Two or three weeks later, I would undoubtedly have subjected my letter to a strict censor’s revision, a year or two later still it would have seemed a curiosity in my own eyes. But that letter was to have a peculiar destiny. It was intercepted on its way by the Police Department. It rested in the police archives until the October revolution, when it went to the Institute of History of the Communist Party. Lenin was well aware of this letter; in his eyes, as in mine, it was simply “the snows of yesteryear” and nothing more. A good many letters of various kinds had been written during the years of foreign exile! In 1924, the epigones disinterred the letter from the archives and flung it at the party, three-quarters of which at that time consisted of new members. It was no accident that the time chosen for this was the months immediately following Lenin’s death. This condition was doubly essential. In the first place, Lenin could no longer rise to call these gentlemen by their right names, and in the second place, the masses of the people were torn with grief over the death of their leader. With no idea of the yesterdays of the party, the people read Trotsky’s hostile remarks about Lenin and were stunned. It is true that the remarks had been made twelve years before, but chronology was disregarded in the face of the naked quotations. The use that the epigones made of my letter to Chkheidze is one of the greatest frauds in the world’s history. The forged documents of the French reactionaries in the Dreyfus case are nothing compared to the political forgery perpetrated by Stalin and his associates.” (My Life, pp. 515-6)

The use to which the Stalinists put this letter is just one of countless examples of the vile method of the frame-up which they have developed to a fine art. We can say that many of the expressions used in that letter, and which Monty Johnstone eagerly seizes upon, were hot-headed and wrong. But there is all the difference in the world between words uttered in a sudden moment of anger or in the heat of a polemic, and the cold-blooded, deliberate and malicious smears of the Stalinists. Monty Johnstone throws up his hands in pious indignation at the frame-up methods of Stalin’s purges. But he does not hesitate to fall back upon the earlier falsifications cooked up by the Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin clique after Lenin’s death. In repeating these malicious lies and falsification, Monty Johnstone, far from breaking with the methods of Stalin, resurrects them in a new and more “respectable” guise. They do not smell any sweeter for that.

Monty Johnstone’s “case” against Trotsky is neither new nor original. It makes a return from the utterly discredited, “Trotsky-fascist” filth of the thirties, to the more “subtle” pseudo-political arguments of the first period of the rise of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, in 1924-29. At that time the events of October 1917 were still too fresh in people’s minds to immediately accuse Trotsky of being an agent of German imperialism and Bukharin of attempting to assassinate Lenin in 1918. Instead, the Soviet literary hacks were encouraged to rummage around in the archives, to dig up precisely the same arguments about Trotsky’s “violent opposition” to the Bolshevik Party which Monty Johnstone now parades as his unique contribution to historical science. Since Monty Johnstone has added nothing to these clapped-out hypocritical distortions of forty years ago it is fitting to allow Trotsky to answer his own defence, exactly as he did in his letter to the Bureau of Party History in 1924:

“As I have many times stated, in my disagreements with Bolshevism upon a series of fundamental questions, the error was on my side. In order to outline, approximately in a few words, the nature and extent of those former disagreements of mine with Bolshevism, I will say this: During the time when I stood outside the Bolshevik party, during that period when my differences with Bolshevism reached their highest point, the distance separating me from the views of Lenin was never as great as the distance which separates the present position of Stalin-Bukharin from the very foundations of Marxism and Leninism.”


[1] The notes of the Russian edition of the minutes of this Congress, published in 1959, state that: “In fact, Trotsky supported the Mensheviks on every basic question.” (Pyatji S’yezd RSDRP Protokoly, p. 812)

[2] “The events of July 16-17”: The reference is to the armed demonstration organised by anti-Kerensky units of the army, notably the Machine-Gun regiment. The Bolsheviks tried to persuade the soldiers that their action was premature but failed to prevent the demonstration from taking place. The action of the soldiers is used by Kerensky and Co. to prepare to suppress the Bolsheviks, in the reaction of the July Days.

[3] The authorities drew the necessary conclusion and arrested Trotsky shortly afterwards.

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