Trotsky, a recent Netflix series produced by Russian state television, is a scandalous misrepresentation of both Trotsky’s life and the October Revolution. Alan Woods and Josh Holroyd respond to this insulting portrayal of Trotsky and the Bolsheviks’ legacy.
How not to celebrate the Russian Revolution (a personal note from Alan Woods)
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” – Josef Goebbels (Hitler’s minister of propaganda)
On 7 November 2017, I spoke at a meeting in the Trotsky Museum in Mexico City to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the October revolution, together with my old friend and comrade Esteban Volkov, the grandson of the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Also on the platform was the then-Russian ambassador to Mexico, Eduard Malayán. During my speech, I pointed out that it was a paradox that the October Revolution was being celebrated in every country in the world, except for Russia.
Sometimes silence can be more eloquent than words. The fact that the hundredth anniversary of October was passed over in the official media of the Russian Federation with a deafening silence tells us all we need to know about the attitude of the present ruling clique in the Kremlin towards the greatest single event in history. These people are the creatures of the capitalist counter-revolution and they look upon Russia’s revolutionary past with undisguised hatred and loathing, which ultimately is a reflection of their deep-seated fear.
In reply to my remarks, the ambassador stated that the Russian Revolution was not forgotten in his country, and that “there is nobody in Russia who does not know that Trotsky was a great revolutionary”. To support this statement, he explained that Russian television was preparing a series about Trotsky.
I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the ambassador’s comments. He struck me as an honest man who had very good relations with the Trotsky Museum and Esteban Volkov. But it was equally clear to me that, together with the great majority of the citizens of the Russian Federation, he had very little knowledge about the ideas and role of Trotsky. Even what he said about Lenin and the Bolshevik Party was not entirely accurate. But to be fair, the man was not a historian but a professional diplomat.
A few months earlier, Esteban Volkov had received a request from a Russian company to film inside the Trotsky Museum, which was originally the house where Trotsky had lived and the place where he was murdered by a Stalinist agent on 20 August 1940.
The aim of the filmmakers was described as follows (I quote from the correspondence): a “documentary about the 100 years of the October Revolution and its impact on a world scale.”
The justification for the filming was supposed to be that it was “part of the argument about the influence of the October Revolution in Latin America.” There was no mention of the real nature of the planned television series about Trotsky.
Esteban asked for a copy of the script, which was forwarded to him in Russian. Trotsky’s grandson has long ago forgotten the Russian language, which he cannot speak or read, but with the aid of Google Translate, it soon became obvious what the intention of the authors was. At that stage, he had no idea that this text was the first step in the launching of the most monstrous slander campaign to blacken the memory of his grandfather. But he already knew enough to refuse permission to film inside the museum.
On 3 February 2017, he wrote to the ambassador:
“Ambassador Eduard Malayán
“I need to consult with you, I have received two requests for filming, I am not sure of the seriousness of what they propose, [but] my moral obligation is to preserve the historical truth.
“I am sending the proposed script that they sent me. It has nothing to do with the historical truth.
A popular front of falsifiers
The mini-series Trotsky, directed by Alexander Kott and Konstantin Statsky first appeared on the popular television Channel One of the Russian Federation in November 2017. This state-controlled channel regularly churns out the Kremlin line. There can be no doubt whatsoever that the decision to launch a campaign against Trotsky was made with the full approval of Vladimir Putin and very likely on his personal initiative.
Putin makes no secret of his hatred for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who he has accused of having placed a “time bomb” under the Russian state. But he is obliged to tread carefully in his attacks on Lenin, who is revered by millions of people in Russia. Reluctantly, he had to deny that the government had any intention of taking Lenin’s body out of his Red Square tomb, warning against “any steps that would divide society”.
But when it comes to Trotsky, the man in the Kremlin has no such constraints. All his hatred and bile against the revolution can be given free rein. No insult is too coarse, no falsification too gross in this vicious hatchet job. But what is very obvious is that the real target is not just Trotsky, but Lenin, the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution itself.
Through his monopoly control of state television, Putin was able to deliver this poison into the homes of millions of unsuspecting Russian citizens. Having been fed for decades on a steady diet of lies about the role of Lenin’s chief ally and defender of the Russian Revolution, they have no means of checking the facts for themselves. The falsifiers rely heavily on this fact. They can repeat the most incredible lies with complete confidence. And they know that if you throw sufficient mud, some of it is bound to stick. And here there is enough filthy stuff to fill several large cartloads.
That was bad enough. But matters really became serious when it was announced that the giant US entertainment company Netflix decided to broadcast the series internationally in different languages. Now, this seems very strange. For some time now the mass media in the West has been involved in a noisy campaign that seeks to blame Russia for everything from the election of Donald Trump to bad weather and the common cold. They accuse the Russian state of interfering in their internal affairs (as if they do not meddle in anyone else’s affairs).
In particular, they accuse Russia of “spreading fake news” to mislead public opinion. Yet now, as if by magic, all doubts concerning the veracity of the Russian media vanish like soap bubbles in the air. Netflix hails the Kremlin-inspired Trotsky series like manna from heaven.
This was apparently not fake news, but on the contrary, a wonderful new insight into the twisted mind of a revolutionary monster. At a time when the ideas of socialism (and even Marxism) are making a most unwelcome comeback in US politics, this series is indeed a timely reminder of the evils of socialism and communism. In fact, it could not have come at a better time!
A few days ago, Esteban sent us the following email:
“Dear Alan and Ana:
“It was enough for me to see the first chapter of the insipid and vulgar caricature of Trotsky invented by Alexander Kott and Constantin Starsky to form a clear opinion of this wretched series.
“I can vouch for the fact that this portrayal is light years away from the man who my grandfather really was. I remember him very well as a person of exceptional intelligence whose entire life was characterised by an absolute total dedication to the struggle for socialism. And his entire personality was moulded in this struggle.
“As a person, he was generous, considerate, always prepared to patiently explain and educate the comrades politically, radiating a spirit of vitality, optimism and with his fine sense of humour, he created a jovial and warm atmosphere in his environment. An inexhaustible worker, he did not waste a minute of his existence.
“But what impressed me most was his absolute and unchanging conviction of the inevitable victory of socialism and the future of humanity.
“As for the last episode, which deals with the murder of my grandfather, Kott and Statsky stand exposed as the most shameless falsifiers of the historical record in the cinema. And Netflix shows total irresponsibility in disseminating fake history on a vast scale.
“The complete falsity of the version presented in the series was proven long ago in an accurate and irrefutable manner by the Mexican government, which, days after the assassination, carried out a painstaking reconstruction of the murder in the garden of the house of Leon Trotsky. The Mexican police detective, Jesús Vazquez, sat in a chair while the murderer Ramón Mercader (A.K.A. "Jacson") demonstrated with a rolled-up newspaper in his right hand how he had struck Leon Trotsky on the head from behind. There can therefore be no question about the facts of the case.
“Where did Kott and Statsky get the story of the alleged fight in which Jacson was supposed to have killed Trotsky ‘in self-defence’? That was an invention of Stalin, for whom it was necessary to hide the facts of this treacherous murder by a further infamous treachery. Through his agents, he painted the picture of a face-to-face struggle with a man supposed to be a disillusioned supporter of Trotsky.
“Konstantin Umansky, who was then the Russian ambassador in Mexico, was given the assignment, backed up with an unlimited sum of money to bribe the Mexican government to accept this version. But he obviously did not achieve his goal. Umansky was relieved of his position in Mexico and sent as ambassador to the tiny Republic of Costa Rica. But he never arrived. At dawn on January 25, 1945, the plane on which he was travelling together with his family exploded on take-off at the military airport of Mexico City. With such methods Stalin rewarded failure.
“These few facts (there are many more) can serve to expose the mendacity of this absurd and abominable series, which systematically ignores the facts to present the world with a criminal distortion of the life of a great revolutionary.
“Kott and Statsky not only cynically revive Stalin's long-discredited falsifications, but add to them, throwing in the most absurd and implausible fantasies into this poisonous brew. The final result can only be described as a veritable masterpiece in the black art of cinematographic historical falsification.
The Trotsky Museum,
Mexico City, 5 March 2019”
The International Marxist Tendency wholeheartedly supports the campaign to defend the personal honour and revolutionary integrity of Leon Trotsky, a cause to which Esteban Volkov has devoted his entire life. To him we dedicate our answer to the falsifiers and slanderers. In the words of the man who together with Lenin led the workers to victory in 1917, “The locomotive of history is truth, not lies.”
Alan Woods, 10 March 2019
How Putin and Netflix assassinated Trotsky
Every ruling class lives in fear of revolution. Even the memories of revolutions long passed fill them with a deep sense of foreboding. Reactionary French bourgeois historians curse the memory of Robespierre and Marat nearly two-and-a-half centuries after the storming of the Bastille. And Thomas Carlisle, the celebrated Scottish historian, said that before he could write about the great 17th century revolutionary, Oliver Cromwell, he first had to drag his body out from under a heap of dead dogs. When the English monarch Charles II returned from his French exile, he ordered the dead body of Oliver Cromwell to be dug up and hanged. Now the Russian oligarchs and their literary hacks are doing the same.
The fear of revolution is even greater for a relatively recent class of upstarts, like the one that has grown obscenely rich by stripping the dead body of the Russian Revolution. The depth of their fear is in direct proportion to the intensity of their hatred for the October Revolution and its leaders. That fear and hatred, and nothing else, is behind the vicious and spiteful portrayal of Leon Trotsky in this series.
The October Revolution brought together all that was progressive, honest and clean in Russian society. It put an end to a rotten, corrupt and decaying regime, and opened the way to a new and better world. The old regime was personified by Rasputin, the drunken, depraved monk who ruled over the Tsar and his family. Tsar Nicholas, who has now been made a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church, was known to his contemporaries as Nicholas the Bloody, the champion of the fascist Black Hundreds who specialised in the murder and torture of Jews.
There is a famous revolutionary poster entitled “Comrade Lenin sweeps the world clean of filth”. It depicts the leader of the Russian Revolution armed with a big broom, sweeping away priests, bankers and monarchs. This is a faithful and accurate description of what the Russian Revolution achieved over a hundred years ago. The October Revolution brought to the people of Russia progress, industrialisation, education, science, culture and hope for a better future. But with the restoration of capitalism, everything has been thrown into reverse.
An historical regression
In his brilliant book The Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936, the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky predicted with astonishing prescience what the restoration of capitalism would mean for the Soviet Union:
“A collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus the abolition of state property… The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.” (Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 250-1)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the people of Russia were introduced to all the joys of capitalism: merciless exploitation, theft and swindling on a vast scale, rampant crime, the mafia, drug addiction, religion, mysticism and superstition. This was a return to the bad old days in which the rotten regime of Rasputin was reproduced in an even more vicious form.
Overnight, the entire wealth produced by the exertions of the Soviet working class over decades was plundered by a handful of greedy and parasitic oligarchs. Instead of democracy, the people of Russia found themselves in the iron grip of a voracious kleptocracy. At the apex of this vast pyramid of corruption there stands the new Tsar, one Vladimir Putin, who in his person unites all the malignant and repulsive features of capitalist counter-revolution.
Vladimir Putin was formerly an agent of the KGB, the hated secret police of the old Stalinist regime. Before the fall of the Soviet Union he faithfully served the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy, singing the praises of what used to be called Soviet “Socialism”. On 7 November, he would join the celebrations of the October Revolution – a revolution that was betrayed by the bureaucratic Stalinist cast whose interests he loyally served.
Nowadays, however, Mr Putin, like all of his cronies, is singing a different tune. He pours dirt over the memory of the October Revolution and its leaders, Lenin and Trotsky. This is no accident. From his humble origins, Putin has prospered by participating in the looting of the Soviet state. He now defends the interests of that bloated army of thieves, crooks and swindlers that make up the Russian oligarchy.
Like a traditional mafia godfather, Putin protects his clients, against the anger of the dispossessed masses. He defends their right to hold on to the billions of dollars of property which they have stolen from the people under the guides of “privatisation”. In return for his services, he has been rewarded with a huge amount of loot, which makes him one of the richest men on the planet Earth. The servant has become the master. While protecting the interests of the oligarchs he places his well-polished boot on their necks, disposing of those who do not serve his interests by the simple expedient of arrest and imprisonment.
Putin has assumed full power over the state. He regards himself as the personification of Russia. He is anointed by the Holy Orthodox Church, whose bishops are his faithful lapdogs, playing the role of spiritual police alongside the uniformed ones who keep the masses under control with guns and truncheons. In short, he is the new Tsar.
But despite all the external appearance of absolute power, the new Tsar does not sleep easy at night. In common with the oligarchs that he represents, he is uneasy about his new-found wealth and power. These usurpers and parvenus feel that their hold on their wealth is insecure. The Russian people have long memories, and a ghost is haunting the Kremlin – the ghost of 1917.
“Money does not smell”
When the Roman emperor Vespasian wished to raise money by imposing a tax on public toilets, his son Titus, who evidently had some scruples or at least an acute olfactory sensitivity, protested against the proposal. By way of reply, his father held up a silver coin with the words: Non olet – “this does not smell”.
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been an authentic tsunami of books, articles, and television documentaries which vie with each other to see who can produce the most blatant lies, the more stupid calumnies and the most grotesque insults directed against the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks. A large number of writers and historians who not so long ago were card-carrying members of the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union have now become the most fervent defenders of the capitalist market economy. The same people who spent all their lives writing the most sycophantic praises of the Party and its cheery haptic leaders are now writing numerous books condemning the Russian Revolution, socialism and all its works.
It is hard to know what is worse, more cynical and hypocritical: what they wrote then or what they are writing now. But what is transparently obvious is that many so-called intellectuals and respectable academics possess highly flexible consciences and highly disposable principles. All too many of these people regard their own personal well-being, careers and privileges as being far more important than any political beliefs that they may, or may not, have professed. They too are firmly convinced that money does not smell.
One might have imagined that this torrent of filth could not get any worse. But one would be wrong. The new series, Trotsky, originally produced for Russian television, and which purports to describe the life of Lev Davidovich Trotsky, marks a new low point in this fetid swamp of lies and distortions.
Trotsky’s life and achievements
Unfortunately, it would require a series of our own to reply to all the nonsensical garbage presented in this series as an “historical drama”. It would be no exaggeration to say that every one of its 400 minutes contains at least one lie and sometimes two, so we must limit ourselves to a rebuttal of only the most egregious and ridiculous slanders. Suffice to say for the rest that the only claim this series has to historical fact begins and ends with the names of the characters. Beyond this it is a work of purest fiction, and particularly crass fiction at that.
Leon Trotsky was a great Marxist and one of the outstanding figures of the 20th century. As a young man he played a leading role in the Russian Revolution of 1905, when at the age of 26 he was the president of the Petersburg Soviet. From his Marxist analysis of that great movement was able to draw his theory of permanent revolution, which was dramatically proved in practice in October 1917.
Together with Lenin he led the October Revolution. At that time the Bolshevik party was universally known as the party of Lenin-Trotsky. During the Civil War, when Trotsky was Commissar for War (a post he held until 1925) Soviet Russia was invaded by 21 armies of foreign intervention. From nothing, he succeeded in building a new Red Army capable of defending the Soviet republic against a bloody counter-revolution.
Trotsky played a leading role in the building of the Communist International, for the first five congresses of which Trotsky wrote the manifestos and many of the most important policy statements. He was active in the period of economic reconstruction in which he reorganised the shattered railway systems of the USSR. And he was the first to advocate the Five-Year Plans (which Stalin rejected at the time).
After Lenin’s death, Trotsky proved to be the only one capable of analysing the degeneration of the USSR and the nature of Stalinism. He led the struggle of the Left Opposition and defended the principles of the October revolution against the Stalinist counter-revolution. In the end, he gave his life in the struggle to preserve the ideas and banner of Bolshevism for the next generation.
Such a figure and such a life could provide ample material for many films and series, but anything approaching the real man, his ideas, and the events that shaped them is completely absent in this mockery of a “biopic”. Far from giving anything like a true account of Trotsky’s life and ideas, this series simply repeats all the old slanders thrown at the Bolsheviks, such as the tired myth of “German gold”, which has been debunked countless times. There is not a single word that is novel in this new, high-budget hatchet job.
But even by these low standards this series is a particularly crude and clumsy specimen. Time and again, the authors display their complete ignorance of the historical record. We will confine ourselves to two of the most glaring examples of this. With regard to the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, we are informed that days into the negotiations a mutiny takes place in the German port of Kiel, sparking the beginning of the German Revolution. In fact, the German Revolution took place in November 1918, almost a year after Brest-Litovsk.
Better yet, the head of the German delegation, Hoffman, announces that “an attempted revolution in Germany failed” to a crestfallen Trotsky, who is forced to accept all of the Kaiser’s demands. How General Hoffman could announce the failure of a revolution that had not yet taken place is a mystery that only the authors of this series can explain. And the statement that the German Revolution failed stands reality on its head. Far from failing, the victorious German Revolution of 1918, not only overthrew the Kaiser but ended the First World War. But why let the facts spoil a good story?
In another episode, we are told the anti-Bolshevik uprising in Kronstadt took place in March 1918 as a result of Trotsky’s actions. We are then astonished to learn from a revolutionary sailor that the Bolsheviks have been usurping power “for three and a half years”. According to this mathematics, the Bolsheviks had been in power since 1915!
The Kronstadt revolt against the Bolsheviks did not take place in 1918 but in March 1921. It was carried out not by the revolutionary sailors who helped the Bolsheviks take power in 1917-18, and who were mainly drawn from the working class, but by raw layers mainly from the Ukrainian peasantry, who were incited against the Bolsheviks by reactionary elements. Evidently, the only way the makers of this series could draw any link whatsoever between Trotsky, the Red Sailors of 1917, and the Kronstadt rebellion was to bring it forward more than three full years.
Misogyny and antisemitism
The authors display a truly despicable attitude to women. Their blatant misogyny can be seen in every one of the eight episodes. There is not a single female character who is not presented as some kind of helpless damsel, faithful servant, sex object, or some lurid combination of all three.
Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s comrade and partner for most of his life, is portrayed first as an apolitical bourgeois socialite, then as a long-suffering housewife, and at all times a passive object, never a revolutionary. This appalling attitude to women is further emphasised by the gratuitous nude shots and cringe-inducing sex scenes which are regularly thrown up in the viewer’s face.
Larissa Reissner was an outstanding female revolutionary and Bolshevik cadre. She had played an important role in the revolution and in the ranks of the Red Army, fighting in the Volga region in the Civil War. She also participated in the German revolution. Yet if this series is to be believed, the writer and revolutionary spent the bulk of the Russian Civil War in the nude. Later, Frida Kahlo gets the same treatment, with any visible evidence of her life-long disability erased, in case it should distract attention from the pornographic interest.
The most blatant expression of this prejudice is placed by these intellectual scoundrels in the mouth of Trotsky, who is supposed to have said to Sedova: “The masses have a female psychology (?). You are passive by nature (!). You wait for what a man offers you and choose the best. The people are the same… when they see a strong, confident man, they lie under him at once.”
Any relationship between this delirious nonsense and the ideas of Leon Trotsky is, of course, purely imaginary.
All this tells us absolutely nothing about the Bolsheviks and of revolutionary women in particular. But it says a great deal about the psychology of the parasitic oligarchs and the degenerate caste of intellectual prostitutes in their service who lord it over the people of Russia today. For men who can pass laws permitting husbands to physically abuse their wives (Tsarist laws that the Bolsheviks abolished immediately on taking power), the idea that a woman could have her own independent political thought is naturally beyond their comprehension.
When watching Putin’s Trotsky, we are also never very far away from the dark world of antisemitism. Trotsky hardly ever mentioned his Jewish background. When asked his nationality he was known to have answered “socialist”. But for the makers of this series this aspect of Trotsky’s background is all-important. In every episode, without fail, Trotsky is reminded of his Jewishness, either in the form of an anti-semitic slur, or with an explicit warning that the “god-loving” people of Russia will never “tolerate a Jew as their leader”.
Along with this is a constant and explicit portrayal of Trotsky as a “monster”, a “demon”, “not human”, etc. It does not take an expert to see the parallel with the anti-semitic White propaganda that abounded during the Civil War. In several scenes, the red star, which featured a great deal in Soviet imagery, is transformed into something closely resembling a Red Star of David. The fascist Black Hundreds depicted the October Revolution as a “Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy”. Now Putin’s pet directors are singing the same song.
Worse still, the peddlers of these disgusting prejudices seek to foist the blame of their own antisemitism onto the shoulders of the Bolsheviks and revolutionary workers. Almost every anti-semitic slur in the series is put into the mouth of a Bolshevik or a revolutionary worker. The clear inference being made is that the Bolsheviks whipped up the most backward and prejudiced layers of society and unleashed them on innocent Jews for the sake of power. This is an outrageous lie and the exact opposite of the facts.
The Bolsheviks always fought against antisemitism both before and after the seizure of power. In fact, Bolsheviks set up armed defence groups to defend Jews against anti-semitic pogroms, carried out by the fascist Black Hundreds and reactionary Whites who shouted the slogan: “Beat the Jews and save Russia!” So close was the link between antisemitism and the Tsar’s base of support that Pravda published the front-page headline: “To be against the Jews is to be for the Tsar!”.
The Bolshevik Party fought consistently to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism, which had a long and bloody tradition under the Tsars. It wasn’t until the Stalinist counter-revolution that this reactionary poison began to re-emerge as the bureaucracy began to lean on the most backward layers. This fact is, of course, passed over in silence by the series, perhaps for the simple reason that even under Stalinism, antisemitism did not attain the monstrous and explicit proportions that it has been given in Putin’s Russia.
Contempt for the masses
This series is not only a slander against Leon Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. It is a contemptible attack on the Russian masses as a whole, particularly the workers, who overthrew the centuries-old Tsarist monster and created the first workers’ state in history (if we exclude the heroic but tragically short-lived Paris Commune).
The authors of this series display their complete contempt not only for women but for the working class. Both are depicted as passive, ignorant and unthinking elements, only fit to be dominated and oppressed. At no time are the workers depicted as anything other than a semi-criminal mass, whose only stake in the revolution is the potential for pogroms and plunder.
The danger of Russia’s “dark masses” is a constant refrain throughout the series. What this reflects is the mortal fear of the masses that was felt by the rulers of Russia before 1917, and which still obsesses them today. The Tsarist prison guard from whom Trotsky took his pseudonym expresses this perfectly when he is made to say: “The Russians can only be controlled, for their own good.”
Even Trotsky’s father is recruited to this anti-working-class chorus. The actor who plays him chips in: “You can’t imagine what an ugly beast you’re setting free… It’s hellfire! It’s from the devil!” Needless to say, these words were never spoken, but they accurately convey the real attitude of Russia’s ruling clique towards the mass of Russian people.
Following this line of argument, the relationship between the masses and the revolutionary leaders is, of course, depicted as a herd of beasts being corralled into action by the slogans of a few intellectual conspirators. This reminds us of the reaction of the Tsarist secret police, who when faced with revolutionary mutinies in the fleet, could think of no other explanation than it being the work of “revolutionary agitators”.
The attitude of both Trotsky and Lenin towards the masses and their role in the revolution is equally falsified. Lenin is quoted as saying, “I want to change the world. What do people have to do with it? People are a tool.” In ancient Rome the only productive class, the slaves, were described as instrumentum vocale – tools with voices. For the ruling class, the workers have always been regarded as tools, mere passive depositaries of surplus value. That remains the case in Russia today.
The whole point of the Russian revolution was that the working class became conscious of its power as the motor force of social progress. The “tools” moved to take power into their own hands through the Soviets. This, however, was only made possible by the presence of the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The ruling class has never forgiven them for this.
In his History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky wrote: “The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” On the role of the party too, he was crystal clear: “To be able to take the power firmly and surely into its hands the proletariat needs a Party, which far surpasses other parties in the clarity of its thought and in its revolutionary determination” (In Defence of October). It is these elements that ultimately determine the course of revolutions, not the “strong, confident man” so beloved of bourgeois historians.
If all that is required for a revolution is to “unleash” the masses with calls to arms, why did the revolutionaries not take power in February 1917, or better yet, 1914? The truth is that their power came not from their ability to “unleash” the masses, but by their ability to win the confidence of large sections of the working class and the soldiers. This required a party of dedicated, Marxist workers, “the flower of the progressive class”, without which the pivotal role played by Lenin and Trotsky in the revolution would have been impossible, a fact well understood and explained by Trotsky many times.
The October Revolution
The authors of this cinematographic masterpiece can be accused of many things, but artistic creativity is not among them. They are not even creative in their falsifications, merely repeating old slanders that were debunked long ago. So it comes as no surprise that, rummaging around in the dustbin, they have fished out the old accusation that the October Revolution was a “coup”.
Trotsky, we are told, arranged the entire seizure of power on his own, much to the surprise of the rest of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, who, in a surprising attack of amnesia, seems to have forgotten the fact that he had been insistently calling for the party to take power ever since September. And how these people love to play with dates! The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets is even moved back by the best part of a day, with all debate and voting erased. Why? Merely to give the (false) impression that the Congress served merely as a victory rally after the insurrection had been completed.
The allegation that the October Revolution was a coup does not stand up to the slightest critical examination. It must be asked, if Trotsky single-handedly decided to seize power by a conspiracy in October 1917, why did he not do so in May, June, or any other month, or year, come to that? Furthermore, we would like to learn this magic formula whereby a small minority of conspirators – or even, as in this case, one individual, can seize power in a country of 150 million people. Then we could maybe take power next Monday at nine o’clock in the morning. The argument is so stupid that a child of six of average intelligence could see through it. However, the “intellectual” critics of Bolshevism lack even that level of understanding.
But the opponents of October have a small problem here. The actual insurrection in Petrograd was practically a bloodless affair. The reason for this was that, by months of patient revolutionary work, the Bolsheviks succeeded in winning a decisive majority in the soviets all over Russia. This was not done in the shadows but openly, before the masses of workers in the factories and soldiers in the trenches. Tens of thousands of workers were armed and organised in the Red Guards; and the tireless agitation of Trotsky was a key factor in winning entire garrisons away from the Provisional Government to the side of the Petrograd Soviet.
What occurred in October 1917 was not a coup but the greatest popular revolution in history. In a period of just nine months, the masses learned from experience that the party of Lenin and Trotsky offered the only way to carry the revolution out to the end. Of course, the very idea that ordinary working men and women should arm and organise themselves in order to consciously overthrow a state that had already lost all authority, is incomprehensible to the authors of Trotsky and all the other enemies of socialism. But that is exactly what occurred on 25 October 1917 – the culmination of a process that had begun in February.
The mass movement of the workers and soldiers under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party constituted the key element in the October Revolution. But none of this is shown here. The entire Revolution is thus reduced to a kind of circus or melodrama with villains painted in the blackest colours. In place of historical explanations, we have the black arts of conspiracy. In place of real persons, we have marionettes whose jerky movements are dictated by the strings pulled by unscrupulous puppeteers. Instead of revolutionary heroes we have ridiculous cardboard devils. But circuses and cardboard devils are for the entertainment of little children and have nothing to do with historical truth.
Trotsky and the Red Army
The makers of Trotsky would have us believe that Trotsky won the Civil War by using violence and repression “of biblical proportions”. The image of his enormous armoured train, belching pitch-black smoke, is an oft-repeated refrain throughout the series, during which the viewer is treated to a number of hair-raising and entirely fictional examples of Trotsky’s ruthlessness. In one episode we see Trotsky issue an order for all fleeing units to be decimated in the style of a Roman general; in another we watch as his troops gun down an entire village so that they may chop down the peasants’ wooden graves for fuel. These and other feverish fantasies are used to promote the satanic image of revolutionaries which has been the stock-in-trade of reactionaries since long before the Russian Revolution.
The workers’ state that came into being in October 1917 was met by a united front of reaction, which brought together all the forces hostile to the revolution both in Russia, along with 21 foreign armies. The old Russian army, which had rotted away even before October, no longer existed. And yet, within the space of a year, Trotsky had been able to build a new army out of nothing and turn it into a fighting force capable to winning stunning victories against a vicious and well-funded enemy. As Lenin once said to Maxim Gorky, “Show me another man who could have practically created a model army in a year and won the respect of the military specialists as well.”
It is an elementary truth that all wars involve violence. That is even truer in the case of a civil war in which a small minority of exploiters are faced with the rebellion of the exploited masses. Such wars are characterised by extreme violence. The Russian Civil War was no exception. But in reality, repression alone would never have been enough to win the Civil War. If that were the case, the Whites would have won it 10 times over. Mass executions, bloody anti-semitic pogroms and the vicious oppression of national minorities were all well-reported characteristics of the Whites’ defence of “civilisation”.
The bloodthirstiness of the Whites was well known even to their allies:
“The American ambassador to Japan, Rowland Morris, reported that all over Siberia under Kolchak’s rule, there was an ‘orgy of arrests without charges; of executions without even the pretense of a trial; and of confiscations without the color of authority. Panic and fear has seized everyone. Men support each other and live in constant terror that some spy or enemy will cry ‘Bolshevik’ and condemn them to instant death.’ Among those killed were former members of the constituent assembly, and railroad workers who had struck for higher wages. In Ekaterinburg, where the Bolsheviks executed Czar Nicholas II and his family, Kolchak allowed Cossacks to massacre at least two thousand Jews, part of a larger wave of pogroms.” (Quoted in The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce, by Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano)
What would have been the fate of Russia if the Whites had succeeded in strangling the Revolution? That question is never posed by the authors of Trotsky, let alone answered. But it most certainly would not have been a peace-loving, liberal democracy. On the contrary! We would have had Russian fascism, a horrific regime that, in the conditions of backward Russia at that time, would have been an even more vicious monster than the regime of Mussolini.
Trotsky and the Red Army won the war not because they were more violent than the other side, but because they were armed with ideas and revolutionary propaganda. They fought with rifles and bayonets, but also with ideas. In the countryside, the Bolsheviks offered land to the peasants, in contrast to the Whites who represented the landlords first and foremost. In short, the Red Army carried the class struggle to its conclusion. The Red Army even carried out agitation in the ranks of the enemy, distributing leaflets in English and other foreign languages, with the result that there were mutinies in every one of the armies of foreign intervention, which had to be withdrawn.
Throughout history there have been many examples of slave revolts, which have always been put down with the greatest brutality. After the defeat of Spartacus, the Romans crucified thousands of slaves all along the Via Appia. That kind of violence is acceptable to the ruling class and its apologists. But in the Russian Revolution, for once, the slaves armed themselves, fought back, and won against tremendous odds. That’s why the Bolsheviks can never be forgiven by the ruling class. That is why the ruling class demonises the Red Army more than any other army in history. And this is why Trotsky, the man who built the Red Army and led it to victory, is particularly reviled by Putin and the oligarchy – the lineal descendants of the counterrevolutionary White bandits.
Trotsky meets the ghost of Freud
The character of Trotsky as presented in the series is a tedious cliché of a fanatical, power-hungry, psychopathic “revolutionary”. To provide some kind of “scientific” justification for these accusations, it was necessary to call an authoritative witness for the prosecution. And who better to issue a certificate of criminal insanity than the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud? In one scene, Freud’s ghost (yes, they actually aroused the poor man from his grave to testify) informs Trotsky that he is much worse than even a serial killer or a “religious fanatic”.
This idiotic scene really passes all bounds of intellectual dishonesty. It is hard to say who comes off worse here: Trotsky or the unfortunate Freud whose ghost is not allowed to rest in peace but is pulled out of his coffin to make the founder of psychoanalysis into a complete buffoon.
In reality, it is not Freud who was a buffoon. Whatever is said, he was a scrupulous and conscientious investigator of the human psyche. No, that epithet must be reserved for the men who put this nonsense into the mouth of a man who is long dead and therefore unable to reply. But since neither Sigmund Freud nor his ghost ever met Trotsky, they would hardly be in a position to make any pronouncements concerning his mental condition, good, bad or indifferent.
What is true is that Trotsky was perhaps the only great Marxist theoretician who showed an interest in Freud’s theories and wrote about them. In one interesting article, he compares Freud to the great Russian psychologist Pavlov. He says that Pavlov resembles a man looking down into a deep well from above, whereas Freud is looking upwards from the depths of the well of human consciousness. It is an interesting thought. As for the men who conjured up Freud’s ghost for their own purposes, we can only say that they are neither on top of the well nor beneath it, but sunk deep in a bottomless pit of ignorance and stupidity.
A particularly distasteful element in all this is the cynical attempt to make use of Trotsky’s children to assassinate their father’s character. Throughout, Trotsky is depicted as an utterly uncaring and negligent husband and father, saying that he felt nothing at the deaths of his four children. He is even accused of being responsible for their deaths.
What are the facts? Stalin was a monster who systematically murdered, not only his opponents and rivals but also their wives, children, relatives and friends. He had the Old Bolsheviks subjected to inhuman tortures to force them to admit to heinous crimes of which they were entirely innocent. He made them pour dirt over themselves and then had them killed. But one man escaped him, and that man was Leon Trotsky, the man he feared most and was determined to silence.
In pursuit of this thirst for revenge, he remorselessly tracked down, tortured and exterminated anyone who had ever had any connection with Trotsky, so great was his paranoid fear of the man and his ideas. One by one, he had Trotsky’s children murdered. Leon Sedov was murdered in a Paris hospital where he was recovering from an operation.
Trotsky’s first wife, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, who had introduced him to the ideas of Marxism and had shared his first exile to Siberia, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp where she perished. Her first daughter died of tuberculosis in the 1920s. The second, Zinaida (the mother of Esteban Volkov) was driven to suicide by Stalin.
Perhaps the most tragic case was Trotsky’s youngest son, Sergei, who was not active in politics and therefore remained in the USSR when his father went into exile. Stalin had him arrested and tried to get him to denounce his father. He refused and was sent to a concentration camp, where he was shot.
To claim that Trotsky and his wife were indifferent to the fate of their children is the most monstrous and disgusting of all the lies that fill every chapter of this abomination. So devastated was Trotsky at this news that he actually considered suicide, in the hope that Stalin would release his son. But he knew that this was impossible. Once Sergei had fallen into the claws of the monster, his fate was sealed.
This is not the only attempt to place the blame for the atrocious crimes of Stalin on Trotsky’s shoulders. Perhaps worse is the astonishing claim that Trotsky strengthened his powers with “mass executions of distinguished Communists”.
The so-called “Red Terror” refers to the measures taken by the Bolsheviks in response to the assassination of prominent Bolshevik leaders and the attempted murder of Lenin by terrorists. These measures were of a defensive character and aimed exclusively at the enemies of the revolution in the midst of a bloody Civil War. The unscrupulous attempt to link this to Stalin’s show trials and mass executions is beneath contempt.
This outrageous lie is intended to cover Stalin’s bloody purges of the 1930s. In these purges, thousands upon thousands of dedicated Communists were sent to their deaths for defending the real ideas and traditions of Bolshevism. They were, as Trotsky pointed out at the time, victims of a one-sided civil war against the Bolshevik Party carried out by the Stalinist bureaucracy that rose to power over the dead bodies of Lenin’s party.
The authors of this slander wish to show that Stalinism and Bolshevism were really the same, because both used violent methods. To answer this calumny, one need only ask, if Stalin’s totalitarian regime was simply the continuation of Bolshevism, why was it necessary for Stalin to physically exterminate all the Bolshevik leaders who took power in 1917? The plain fact is that Bolshevism and Stalinism, far from being equal, are mutually exclusive.
Stalin, the creature of the counter-revolution, instituted a reign of terror, not against the counter-revolutionaries but against Communists and workers, millions of whom were consigned to prisons of the GPU or the gulag, where they perished. The criminal stopped at nothing to have the last living trace of October wiped out. He wished to obliterate the memory of October. It was none other than Trotsky who fought back courageously to defend the clean banner of Bolshevism. That is why Stalin had to have him assassinated at all costs.
The former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin, points an accusing finger at Lenin and Trotsky, but he has no reservations about using violence against his own political opponents. His regime is based on the organised violence of the state. The only difference is that the state of which he is the head is no longer the state of a corrupt Stalinist bureaucracy, but of an infinitely more corrupt and degenerate oligarchy of bankers and capitalists. And this state is based upon lies, swindling and falsifications more than that of Stalin ever was.
Having cynically falsified the life of Leon Trotsky, Kott and Statsky go on to present an even more grotesque falsification of his death. In the grand finale, Trotsky’s murderer, Frank Jacson (the Catalan Stalinist whose real name was Ramón Mercader) is presented to us in the most favourable light, as an honest journalist with communist sympathies who enters into a close relationship with Trotsky, allegedly in order to write his biography.
This is false from start to finish. Mercader was a Stalinist agent who cynically seduced a young American Trotskyist who he used in order to penetrate the Trotsky household for the purpose of perpetrating a cold-blooded murder. To this end he showered the guards with presents and offered to perform all kinds of services, such as using his car to drive Alfred and Margarite Rosmer to Veracruz and so on. By such means he gradually gained the confidence of the guards, while pretending all along to have no interest in politics.
The idea that Jacson-Mercader had a close relationship with Trotsky is entirely false. There was no such relationship. There were no discussions between them, such as the entirely fictitious ones that feature in the series. In fact, Trotsky regarded him as a well-meaning but politically ignorant dilettante. He only reluctantly agreed to read an article that he handed him out of consideration for the favours he had been doing for his friends and family. In fact, he was beginning to get suspicious of the man and told his wife, Natalya Sedova, that he would not see him again. That was on the day of the assassination, 20 August 1940.
Through the carelessness of the guards, who were young and inexperienced Trotskyists (not the Mexican police as is falsely presented in the series), on that fateful day Mercader was allowed to enter the house and was left alone with Trotsky. If we are to believe the version of Kott and Statsky, this pleasant assassin (for reasons that are a mystery) then suddenly develops a guilty conscience and decides to be merciful, making to leave Trotsky’s compound.
At this point, he comes under a furious attack by Trotsky, who repeatedly beats him over the head with his cane. Mercader, acting purely in self-defence, grabs a pick-axe which is mysteriously hanging on the wall, and strikes Trotsky with it, killing him. As usual in this absurd pantomime, the truth is stood on its head. The victim becomes the aggressor and the murderer becomes the innocent victim!
What are the facts? Having gained access to Trotsky under the pretext of correcting an article he had written, the assassin stood behind his defenceless victim, who was reading the article he had been given. When Trotsky was sufficiently distracted, Mercader struck him on the head with all his force with an ice-axe with a shortened handle.
The facts of the case cannot be in any doubt. As pointed out by Esteban Volkov (see the above email), the Mexican police conducted a thorough investigation at the time, including a detailed reconstruction of the murder in the presence of the assassin. Mercader was not acting in self-defence, but committing a cold-blooded murder that he had planned months in advance.
The murder-weapon was not hanging on the wall. He was carrying it concealed under his gaberdine (he also had a knife and a pistol). There was indeed a struggle, but that was after, not before the fatal blow.
Whether from nervousness or whatever reason, the killer did not quite succeed in his objective. Trotsky did not die instantly. He fought back courageously, despite his terrible injury, while summoning the guards to his aid. He retained consciousness long enough to identify his assailant and order that he not be killed: demanding that he must talk.
One day later, the great Marxist and leader of the Russian Revolution was dead. With Trotsky’s murder, Stalin had completed his campaign of extermination against the Bolshevik Party. He had fulfilled his role of the gravedigger of the revolution, just as Trotsky predicted. By this action, the usurpation of power from the Russian working class by the bureaucracy was complete. The power of the Stalinist bureaucracy seemed unassailable.
But history has taken its revenge on the Stalinists. The bureaucracy undermined the planned economy through bungling, corruption and mismanagement on a vast scale. In the end, they destroyed the Soviet Union and prepared the way for the restoration of capitalism and the liquidation of all the gains of the October Revolution.
Nowadays, the grandchildren of the old Stalinist bureaucracy have transformed themselves into capitalist biznizmyeny. They dress in smart suits, their wives are bedecked with jewels, they live in palaces and they ride around in expensive cars and private aeroplanes. This gang of wealthy upstarts have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian working class. They fervently wish to liquidate all memories of the October Revolution. The infamous calumnies levelled against Trotsky are only the ugly tip of a vast iceberg of lies and falsification that has been fabricated to this end.
But the crisis of capitalism is bringing a new generation of workers to their feet. All over the world, the early tremors of revolution can be felt. Leon Trotsky, that great revolutionary fighter, leader of October and martyr of the working class dedicated his entire life to the cause of the working class, to the struggle for socialism, for a new and better world.
We turn our backs with contempt on the slanders of our enemies. They represent a decrepit and senile social order that is destined to be overthrown. Our faith is in the future and our vision is that which inspired Lev Davidovich Trotsky to write his final message to the world:
“Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.” – Leon Trotsky, Mexico City, 27 February 1940