Some Documents Relating to the Origin of the Legend of “Trotskyism”
In November 1927, Zinoviev and Kamenev, after spending nearly two years in the Opposition, found it necessary to return to the haven of the Stalinist bureaucracy.  For their credentials, they sought once again to present a declaration of their disagreement with “Trotskyism.” But the misfortune is that Zinoviev and Kamenev, while they were in the Opposition, had bestirred themselves to expose completely the workings of the machine in the preceding period from 1928 to 1926, when they together with Stalin had manufactured the legend of “Trotskyism” in their conspiratorial laboratory.
On the eve of my exile to Central Asia, I sent a letter to a number of comrades. The text of this letter together with the replies is printed below (with minor omissions).
Zinoviev and Kamenev and their closest associates – after a considerable interval – are again bringing up the legend of “Trotskyism.”
For this reason I should like to establish the following facts:
(1) When the so-called “literary discussion” was first kindled (in 1924), certain comrades closest to our group declared that the publication of The Lessons of October was tactical error because it provided the then majority of the Political Bureau with a pretext for launching a “literary discussion.”  On my part, I maintained that the “literary discussion” would have been launched in any case, on one pretext or another. The gist of the “literary discussion” consisted in piling up as many facts and quotations as possible against me, culling them from the entire past history of the party, and presenting them – in a distorted perspective and in actual violation of historical truth – to the uninformed party masses. In point of fact, the “literary discussion” had no bearing whatever upon my book, The Lessons of October. Any one of my books or speeches might have served as a formal pretext for burying the party underneath an avalanche – a drive against “Trotskyism.” That was my reply to those comrades who were inclined to view the publication of The Lessons of October as a tactical blunder.
After the formation of our bloc with the Leningrad Group, during one of the conferences, in the presence of several other comrades, I put substantially the following question to Zinoviev:
“Could you please tell me whether the so-called literary discussion against ‘Trotskyism’ would have taken place, if I had not published The Lessons of October?”
Without the slightest hesitation, Zinoviev replied:
“Yes, indeed. The Lessons of October served only as a pretext. Failing that, a different motive would have been found, and the discussion would have assumed somewhat different forms, nothing more.”
(2) In the declaration of July 1926, signed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, the following statement occurs:
“There can no longer be any doubt now that the main nucleus of the 1923 Opposition correctly warned against the dangers of the departure from the proletarian line and against the alarming growth of the apparatus regime. Nevertheless, scores and hundreds of the leaders of the 1928 Opposition, among them many old worker-Bolsheviks, tempered in the struggle and immune to careerism and toadyism, remain to this day removed from party work, despite their proven constancy and submission to discipline.”
(3) At the joint Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of July 14 to July 23, 1926, Zinoviev said:
“I have made many mistakes. But I consider two mistakes as my most important ones. My first mistake of 1917 is known to all of you ... The second mistake I consider more dangerous because the first one was made under Lenin. The mistake of 1917 was corrected by Lenin and made good by us within a few days with the help of Lenin, but my mistake of 1923 consisted in ...”
ORDJONIKIDZE (interrupting): “Then why did you dupe the entire party?”
ZINOVIEV: “We say, there can no longer be any doubt now that the main nucleus of the 1923 Opposition, as the development of the present ruling faction has shown, correctly warned against the dangers of the departure from the proletarian line, and against the alarming growth of the apparatus regime ... Yes, in the question of suppression by the bureaucratized apparatus, Trotsky proved to be right as against us.” (Minutes, 4th Issue, p.33)
In this manner, Zinoviev admitted his mistake of 1923 (in waging a struggle against “Trotskyism” and even characterized it as much more dangerous than that of 1917 – when he opposed the October insurrection!).
(4) This admission on the part of Zinoviev aroused considerable astonishment among many second-rank leaders of the Leningrad Opposition who were not initiated into the conspiracy and who honestly believed in the legend of “Trotskyism.”
Zinoviev told me repeatedly: “In Leningrad we hammered it into the minds of the comrades more deeply than anywhere else and it is, therefore, most difficult to re-educate them.”
I recall quite accurately the words that Lashevich shouted at two members of the Leningrad Group who came to Moscow to clarify themselves on the question of Trotskyism:
“Why do you keep standing the matter on its head! We invented ‘Trotskyism’ together with you in the struggle against Trotsky. Why won’t you understand this? You are only helping Stalin! etc.”
Zinoviev in his turn said:
“You must keep the circumstances in mind. You must understand it was a struggle for power. The trick was to string together old disagreements with new issues. For this purpose ‘Trotskyism’ was invented.”
This conversation made a deep impression upon us, the members of the 1923 Group, even though we had had previous knowledge of the mechanics of the struggle against “Trotskyism.”
Now that Zinoviev and Kamenev are again resorting to the same trick, that is to say, stringing together old disagreements with the rather current question of their capitulation, I am asking you to recall whether you participated in any of the above-mentioned conversations and what your own recollections are.
With communist greetings,
Letter from E. Preobrazhesky
I confirm everything brought out in the above document. Only Lashevich said: “We invented Trotskyism ourselves, etc.” without using the words “together with you.” Because, as I recall it, the two Leningrad comrades were quite honestly perturbed about “Trotskyism” and could hardly have been informed of the entire plan of the struggle against “neo-Trotskyism” from its inception. The meeting took place at Kamenev’s [home] somewhere around October 16 , perhaps a few days before or after – I cannot recall exactly.
Dec. 29, 1927
Letter from G. Piatakov
Dear Leon Davidovich:
You ask me to inform you what I am able to recall about the speeches of Lashevich and Zinoviev on the occasion of a discussion with Leningrad comrades on “Trotskyism” which took place at Kamenev’s home. I no longer remember all that was said. But since I have always been deeply disturbed by the question of so-called “Trotskyism,” and since the attitude of the Opposition of 1925-1926 towards this question was always of enormous political interest to me, I remember quite clearly what Zinoviev and Lashevich said to us. I do not recall the exact words but the sense of what they said I remember well, namely:
“Trotskyism” had been invented in order to replace the real differences of opinion with fictitious differences, that is, to utilize past differences which had no bearing upon the present but which were resurrected artificially for the definite purpose mentioned above. This was told to the comrades from Leningrad who were wavering on the question of “Trotskyism” and to whom it had to be explained how and why the legend of “Trotskyism” had been created.
Jan. 2, 1928.
[The date in the original is mistakenly given as 1927. – L.T.]
Letter from K. Radek
I was not present during the first conversation but heard of it later from L.D. [Trotsky].
But I was present at the conversation with Kamenev when L.B. [Kamenev] said he would openly declare at the Plenum of the Central Committee how they, that is, Kamenev and Zinoviev, together with Stalin, decided to utilize the old disagreements between L.D. [Trotsky] and Lenin so as to keep comrade Trotsky from the leadership of the party after Lenin’s death. Moreover, I have heard repeated from the lips of Zinoviev and Kamenev the tale of how they had “invented” Trotskyism as a topical slogan.
Dec. 25, 1927
[Radek here recalls a striking incident that is not mentioned in my letter. During the July Plenum in 1927, Zinoviev and Kamenev were subjected to a particularly heavy barrage of quotations out of their own writings against “Trotskyism.” Since Kamenev hoped to get the floor again on the question of the Opposition, he was preparing, as he put it, to take the bull by the horns and declare openly before the Plenum how and why the Trotskyist danger had been invented for the purpose of an organized struggle against Trotsky. But the speakers’ list was closed and Kamenev did not get the floor again. – L. Trotsky]
Letter from C.G. Rakovsky
Dear Leon Davidovich:
I was not present at the conversation to which you refer (I was not in Moscow, having left for Paris after the Plenum). However, on my return in the autumn I heard from you – as well as from Preobrazhensky in Paris – concerning both the conversation with Zinoviev and Lashevich’s remarks in particular (“Why do you keep standing the matter on its head?”). Both of them (i.e., Zinoviev and Lashevich) stated themselves that the argument from “Trotskyism” and the “permanent revolution” was dragged in by the hair for the sole purpose of discrediting the 1923 Opposition.
Dec. 28, 1927
Letter from V.B. Eltsin
Dear Leon Davidovich:
I have a very clear recollection of the episode relating to the “literary discussion” on The Lessons of October. It occurred during one of the conversations in Kamenev’s home on the eve of the Declaration of October 16. 
To a question put by Leon Davidovich as to whether the discussion against “Trotskyism” would have taken place if The Lessons of October had not appeared, Zinoviev replied:
“Certainly, it would have taken place,” for the plan to begin this discussion was already decided upon in advance, and they were only looking for a pretext. None of the supporters of the 1925 Group (the Zinovievists) who were present raised any objections to this. Everyone received this information of Zinoviev’s as a generally known fact.
Jan 2, 1928
I succeeded in obtaining these written testimonials in Moscow prior to my exile. These testimonials serve only to illustrate what is clear enough to those comrades who are better informed. They cast a rather glaring light upon the repulsive ideological jugglery on the question of “Trotskyism.” In the years from 1917 to 1923, there was no mention ever made of Trotskyism. That was the period, apart from other things, of the October insurrection, the Civil War, the construction of the Soviet state and of the Red Army, the elaboration of our party program, the founding of the Communist International, the formation of its cadres, the drafting of its fundamental documents, including the programmatic theses and the manifestoes of the CI. In 1923, after Lenin’s withdrawal from work, serious differences broke out in the main nucleus of the Central Committee. In the course of the next four years, these differences were to develop into two irreconcilable political lines. In 1924, the phantom of Trotskyism was brought into the arena after meticulous preparations behind the scenes. The guiding spirits in the campaign were Zinoviev and Kamenev. They stood at the head of the “Bolshevik Old Guard” – in the terminology of that period. On the opposing side as – “Trotskyism.” But the “Old Guard” group suffered a split in 1925. Within a few months, Zinoviev and Kamenev found themselves compelled to admit that the main nucleus of the 1923 Opposition – the so-called “Trotskyists” – proved to be right on the fundamental controversial questions. This admission was the harsh penalty they paid for abuses in the sphere of party theory. But that was not all. Zinoviev and Kamenev soon found themselves enrolled among the “Trotskyists.” One could hardly conceive a fate more ruthless in its irony!
The Fifteenth Party Congress brought no change in the political line of the majority. On the contrary, the Congress set its seal of approval upon this line. It condemned the Opposition and banished the latter from the party. So far as Zinoviev and Kamenev were concerned, this provided them with sufficient cause to hide the danger of Thermidor. Instead they sought to resurrect the phantom of Trotskyism. It would not surprise us at all if Zinoviev were to undertake writing a brochure against the Trotskyist danger, while Kamenev begins quoting from his articles and speeches of 1923-1924.
Unprincipled politics carries with it its own punishment. It disintegrates when confronted with facts; it undermines confidence in itself and it ultimately becomes a laughing stock.
Individuals, even such outstanding men as Zinoviev and Kamenev, come and go, but the political line remains.
* * *
Since the above lines were written, more than two years have elapsed. Piatakov and Radek, the chief witnesses against the falsifiers who had created the legend of Trotskyism, failed to foresee that a few months after signing their eloquent depositions (reproduced here in facsimile) they themselves would take a different road. The paths of ideological back sliding are truly incalculable! The undertow of a revolutionary ebb-tide is so powerful that people flounder in it, and heads and feet become so mixed up in the foam as to be indistinguishable.
Despite its tragi-comic aspects, the fate of the capitulators has a very weighty meaning: The frailty of men serves only to underscore the power of ideas.
It is not the author of this book but rather his adversaries who have built and appraised all party groupings, with their attitude toward “Trotskyism” as a measuring rod. In the struggle against “Trotskyism,” Stalin turned “theoretician” and Molotov, leader. Zinoviev and Kamenev marched hand in hand with Stalin, broke with Stalin and returned to Stalin – and each time “Trotskyism” served as the touchstone. The Right wing (Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky) broke with Stalin, accusing him of “Trotskyism.” Stalin, in his wisdom, turned the self-same accusation against the Rights. Piatakov, Radek and other second-draft capitulators were compelled to drink from the self-same fountain.
What does it all mean? First of all, it means that all these individuals and groups possess nothing they can call their own. All of them are repelled by something; they all temporarily gravitate toward something only in order to be repelled again. They call this “something” “Trotskyism” and they use this pseudonym to settle their accounts with the doctrine of Marx and Lenin.
Revolution is a harsh school. It is unsparing of spines, whether physical or moral. An entire generation has spent itself, becoming drained physically and spiritually. Only a few have survived. The overwhelming majority of the Stalinist tops consists of men drained to the core. The appurtenances of the apparatus invest them with an imposing appearance, serving them as a parade uniform serves a senile general. Historical events will continue to expose and to confirm the hollowness of the Stalinist “Guard” at each new trial. The capitulations on the question of Trotskyism have served thousands and tens of thousands as training in the art of capitulation as such.
The succession of political generations presents a major and a very complex problem which is posed in its own peculiar manner before each class and each party. But all must face it.
Lenin often castigated the so-called “Old Bolsheviks,” even remarking on occasion that revolutionists on reaching the age of 50 should be consigned to the Hereafter. This grim jest contains a serious political thought. Each revolutionary generation becomes, after attaining certain limits, an obstacle to the further development of those ideas which it had served. Generally speaking, men are quickly drained by politics and all the more so by revolution. Exceptions are rare. But there are exceptions. Otherwise there would be no such thing as ideological continuity.
Today the theoretical education of the younger generation is our supreme task. This is the meaning of the struggle we are waging against the epigones who despite their seeming strength have already been drained ideologically.
33. When the entire Left Opposition was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union by the Fifteenth Party Congress at the end of 1927, the Zinovievist section of the Opposition (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Yevdokimov, Bakayev, etc.), faced with the demand by Stalin’s congress that they not only renounce their right to disseminate their political views, but even their right to entertain such views, ended by presenting a statement of complete capitulation. Shortly thereafter, they were re-admitted into the party. Their submission availed them little, for at the end of 1932 they were once more expelled for having had “guilty knowledge” of a secret faction organized by Syrtsov, Lominadze, Shatskin and Sten, and for having failed to inform the party authorities. Once more, Zinoviev and Kamenev presented a statement of recantation, even more humiliating than the first; they were again readmitted in 1933. From then on, their self-debasing statements continued periodically, until January 1935 when they admitted “moral complicity” in the assassination of S.M. Kirov in Leningrad, for which they were sentenced, along with a number of their real and alleged political associates, to prison sentences ranging from five to ten years. In August 1936 they were once more accused of complicity in the assassination of Kirov, but this time of direct responsibility. Less than two weeks after the opening of the tragically farcical trial, they were executed along with fourteen other defendants.
34. The “literary discussion” was launched in 1924 in the Russian party on the pretext of the publication of The Lessons of October (Eng. trans. New York, 1937), which examined the problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics in the German Revolution of October 1923 in the light of the instructive internal disputes which developed in the Bolshevik Party during the year 1917 over the question of the insurrection which finally occurred in Novem ber. Trotsky’s work, an introduction to his volume 1917, was almost universally condemned by the various Communist parties on command from Moscow, but not one person in a hundred called upon to condemn it, ever laid eyes on it. In fact, in the American Communist Party, the press was called upon, at one and the same time, to condemn Trotsky’s work and to refrain from publishing it! The Central Executive Committee of the party issued the following decision to all part; editors: “You will find attached hereto an English translation of a review of comrade Trotsky’s Book 1917 entitled How One Should Not Write the History of October. By decision of the Central Executive Committee all party papers are instructed to reprint this Pravda review within ten days time. It is the further instruction of the Central Executive Committee that no party paper shall reprint the book 1917 or any chapter thereof in the party press. It is the view of the Central Executive Committee of the Workers [Communist] Party of America that the publication of Trotsky’s book in this country would be a detriment to the work of Bolshevizing the Workers Party which is the most important task before our party. The Central Executive Committee regrets to note that the Volkszeitung [the party organ in German at that time] has already begun publication of the book serially. It has instructed the Volkszeitung to discontinue the publication and further instructs all other party papers that neither the book as a whole nor any chapter thereof is to be reprinted in the party press ... Central Executive Committee, WP of A, Wm.Z. Foster, Chairman, C.E. Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary.” (Daily Worker, December 18, 1924) It was therefore a “detriment to the work of Boishevizing” the American Communist movement to make available to the membership Trotsky’s essay so that they might at least know the contents of what they were instructed to condemn as counter-revolutionary.
35. On October 16, 1926, the recently formed Opposition, faced with the threat of expulsion which would prematurely cut them off from contact with the party membership, issued a statement to the party in which the pledge is made to cease advocating their views in the intensely sharp factional form which the struggle had assumed by that time. The increasingly repressive and bureaucratic measures taken by the Stalinist leadership, plus the decisive importance of the events in England and especially in China, made it impossible to conduct the struggle against the decadent bureaucracy in the form pledged by the statement.