Extract from “Turns of Destiny and Tyranny” , Book 1, chapter 5, p.498-502, 506-514
I entered Glavcontsesscom and reported Trotsky’s secretary of my coming. I came exactly at the time settled before. When I entered into Trotsky’s study I saw a man sitting at the table, who was wearing a white-snow suit. His grayish-green unwinking eyes looked at me through pince-nez glasses. What was striking in his face was a sharp vertical line on the lower lip. The face seemed a little puffy. Trotsky was holding in his hand a red paper case resembling very much the case with so-called “Lenin’s will”, which I read in 1924, when Ivanovo-Voznesensk regional secretary Simeon Zorin gave it to me in his office. Trotsky invited me to sit closer to his desk, switched on a fan, standing on his desk, and said: “The fan is meant not only for cooling the air, but for making noise because of the immense curiosity of the informants”. I was astonished: I could hardly imagine that in 1927 there was organized constant hearing of conversations of many Central Committee members.
I began my report of the situation in Leningrad with Zinoviev’s speech at the meeting of Putilov works, mentioning the funny position, in which the former Komintern chairman and the closest Lenin’s supporter got into. I mentioned the telegram from Central Committee sent to Zinoviev directly to Putilov Works. I added: “Zinoviev in Putilov works was as frightened, as before October”.
Trotsky smiled, he evidently thought of his “October Lessons”. Then he remarked: “Grigory Evseevitch now understands well his fatal mistake, when he in the year 1924 immediately after Vladimir Ilyich’s death invented his legend about trotskizm and menshevist wing in the Party.
I decided to make it more exact: “No, Lev Davydovich, not only he made mistakes, all the members of Politbureau made mistakes, including you, when in due time you could not fire Stalin from the General Secretary post.”
Further I tried to state my own opinion of Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s “mistake” before October. In a quiet manner I said that Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s mistakes, using Lenin’s words, “were not casual”. Trotsky stopped, looked at me with his unwinking eyes and asked:
“What does it mean?”
I resolutely blurted out:
“It means, Lev Davydovich, that Russia was not ready for social revolution in 1917.”
Trotsky was stunned with my answer. It seemed to me, that the organizer of October revolution would call me menshevik, supporter of Martov and Dan. But this did not happen. Trotsky did not answer and was silent for some time. Then he walked several tines to and fro in his study, sat in his arm-chair and began to develop his idea:
“I would like that comrades in Leningrad understand, that after Vladimir Ilyich’ s death the Party is suffering a crisis: it either will go by a new democratic way or degenerate and become a government party of state capitalism… Only façade of socialism will survive, but actually it will be state capitalism system. In the conditions of Russia it will lead to absolutism.”
I was listening to Trotsky very attentively, trying not to miss a single word. Trotsky continued:
“We have to be supported by an advanced, more conscious group of the Party and try to do our best in consolidation of all the supporters of the democratic way. I think, now Zinoviev and Kamenev, advanced workers of Leningrad, Moscow and Ural understand this… I suppose, soon Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky will also understand this. After that it will be possible to develop a new program, its essence I call democratic socialism.” Trotsky spoke in such a way, as if he addressed not one person, but a big audience, working class, people. At first I decided, that one of the leaders of Russian revolution and the main leader of October upheaval had got to a conclusion, that the dictatorship of one party became outdated, that it would inevitably lead to unlimited tyranny. But suddenly Trotsky began to speak that it was by all means necessary for the opposition to stay inside the Party with the aim to unite all the live forces of it against the forming oligarchy of Party bureaucracy. In this connection it was necessary to dismiss organized opposition groups.
I was not only stunned with such unexpected conclusions, but simply deafened. Some time I could not collect my thoughts. I could hardly believe that in the year 1927 when Stalin clique during several years and especially after Lenin’s death actively and successfully acts for liquidation of all the opposition groups in the Party, Trotsky still did not realize uselessness of the struggle for a new democratic way in the Party. Couldn’t he see that first of all supporters of democratic methods of guidance are expelled from the Party? Support of which sections of the population and Party he counted on? I mentally planned my objections and asked his permission to give my account of situation. Trotsky offered me to speak out. I said the following:
“Lev Davydovitch, don’t you see that the moment is missed? It was possible to unite people against the usurper in the years 1923-24. But then the majority was busy with attacks against those, who criticized ”Lenin” Central Committee, with mutual squabbles and scholastic argues of possible socialism building in one country. At the same time Stalin, using his position of general secretary, changed the secretaries of regional committees and political workers in the army, selected people, loyal to him in the GPM (General Political Management) organs. Today such apparatus of suppression is built, that Central Committee can not only get rid of all criticizers in the Party, but oppress any different minding in the country. And what has become of Leningrad proletariat? The best part of it perished on the fields of Civil War, the worst hung on the Party and government stuff. The social basis of the working class has changed due to coming of great masses of peasants to towns, I can illustrate this fact with real figures for Leningrad. Absolutely unprincipled people with clearly petty-bourgeois psychology came to government and Party staff. All that is the basis of the regeneration of the Party and will promote unlimited dictatorship of a small group in the Party. The numerous new Party members and especially all ranks of bureaucracy do not need democratic socialism, they are panic-stricken and afraid of democracy. As to the leaders, that guided revolutionary movement of masses, they either died after the social upheaval, as Lenin did, or were executed as Danton and Robespier, or are exiled to the places, located not very far. Probably, this is natural for all the revolutions, both bourgeois and proletarian ones.”
I said all that spontaneously and rather excitedly, I became hot. Trotsky noted my excitement, put his hand on my shoulder and said: I see, you thought a lot about all what was happening in the Party and in the country and take it painfully. You think as a philosopher, it seems, you chose philosophy as a scientific school?
“Yes, I am very much interested in the history of philosophy, especially Spinosa attracts me.”
Trotsky asked me to compose myself. I noticed that my excited speech effected him. But I, using this rare possibility, decided to continue this conversation and asked:
‘Lev Davydovich, don’t you think, that Lenin in all his fundamental works accented his attention on the worker-peasant dictatorship, and not on a proletarian one, and that he secretly hardly believed in the revolutionary mission of the Russian proletariat, integrally connected with the peasantry?”
Further I asked Trotsky a psychological question:
“Don’t you think, that the execution of his brother Alexander Ilyich influenced very much on the psychical and mental condition of Lenin? Actually, Lenin in the course of his political struggle tried to connect Marxism with narodniks and Blankism.”
Trotsky smiled broadly and said:
“You are right, all the essence of Leninism is in that, actually in the peasant question… All those, who took up the peasant question, concealed their distrust not only in Russian proletariat, but in European proletariat too… Those, who criticized my notorious theory of permanent revolution, meant this fact, my theory was repeatedly misinterpreted not only by Bukharin school, but by my present-day friends – Zinoviev and Kamenev.” He added: “You as a scientist-marxist, should know, that the theory of permanent revolution was developed not by me, not by Parvus, but by Marx.”
Further Trotsky said, that neither Marx, nor Engels ever supposed that the socialism problem could be solved in the limits of one national state… If such attempts are done, such socialism will have little distinctions from Zubatov socialism, which is a police socialism.
Here our conversation interrupted: the secretary came in and told that there was an urgent affair. Trotsky went with me to the door, pressed my hand and said that he was glad to have such a sincere conversation.
Very excited and bewildered I left Glavkontsesscom.. I decided to walk, to calm down and think over the conversation with Trotsky. I understood that he called up all his supporters to stay in the Party and refuse from the organizational registration of the opposition. But I already saw in Leningrad that Stalin gang started open suppression of its enemies and it is quite logical, that the first step in this struggle was expelling all the differently minded persons from the Party. Thinking our conversation over, I began to understand, that he himself hardly believed in the possible unity of the democratic forces inside the ruling Bolshevik party.
Soon I was expelled from the Party, and it was impossible for me to work in the education sphere. I came to Moscow, where I hoped to receive some work, connected with edition and translation of the materials on history of philosophy. I was staying at my old friend Nikolay Vikhirev, who was a colleague of Evgeny Preobrazhensky in Glavprofobr (Professional education department). Evgeny settled my second meeting with Trotsky…
I approached Sheremetyev lane, which connects Nikitsky street with Vozdvizhenka. It is adjoined from one side by buildings of Moscow University, from the other side – by government houses, where Molotov, Voroshilov and other high-ranking persons were living. In a large apartment of one of these houses lived practically former people’s commissar of Interior Beloborodov. When Trotsky was offered to leave the apartment in the Kremlin, Beloborodov invited him to settle with his wife Sedova in his apartment. He was that Alexander Beloborodov, who being the chairman of the Ural Soviet, signed the decision of the Soviet of tsar Nikolay the Second and his family execution…
With a dim feeling I entered into Beloborodov’s apartment. In a small room to the right lied Beloborodov, he suffered from angina pectoris… Next to this room there was a rather large room with a long table, covered with oil-cloth. Several young men were sitting around the table, they were copying a new big article by Trotsky: “At a new stage”. I promptly began to read it. It was a brilliant from the literature point of view pamphlet with a profound philosophic analysis of our reality after Lenin’s death. The article substantiated the necessity of transfer of the Party and country to wide democracy, sharply criticized the bureaucratic management in the Party and government apparatus. Profoundly analyzing the process of the Party degeneration, Trotsky confirmed his former theory of Thermidor.
When I was copying the article, Trotsky entered. He recognized me at once, shook my hand and invited me to his room. I entered. The room was long, but narrow. A lot of books, journals and newspapers were on the shelves and on the floor. On a small table there was a manuscript. Trotsky offered me a chair, walked about the room several times, readjusted pince-nez , through which almost unwinking eyes twinkled.
I was looking closely at the features of the greatest tribune and revolutionary of our epoch. He was the leader of revolution in 1905 at tsarist regime, was at the head of Petrograd Soviet at Provisional Government, carried out practical guidance of October upheaval in 1917, and at last, at the most hard period of the Civil war he was at the head of Revvoensoviet of the republic.
Trotsky always was in the most difficult sectors, where often the fate of not only a military operation was being solved, but of the Soviet government itself. 1918. Red army was created of mobilized peasants, former soldiers of tsarist army, of partisan detachments, of refugees, running away from White armies, and only of the small part of reliable workers detachments, Latvian gunners and Baltic sailors. Besides, there were anarchic attitudes of some Party members, taking up high posts in the Red army. They did not want to submit the central military command, objected to enlisting in the army of military specialists from former tsarist army, and already then began to group about Stalin. In the country there was dislocation, hunger, cold, typhus, cholera.
It was necessary to have very special qualities, to guide successfully the creation of efficient army in those enormously complicated conditions, the army that resisted regular, well equipped white armies, and at the same time to be in the most critical sectors of military operations. When Trotsky arrived, the situation changed dramatically It was in the summer of 1918 near Kazan, in the summer of 1919 in the South-West front near Ekaterinoslav, in the autumn of the same year near Petrograd. Thanks to rare courage, extraordinary energy, organization and speaker talent and personal bravery he managed literally save the army or front from as it seemed inevitable defeat. Ten years of Soviet power, which owed to L.D.Trotsky more, than to anybody else by its existence, passed. And now he becomes the main object of attacks from the Party and Soviet authorities. Stalin gang is afraid of his popularity in the masses, Party and army, and feverishly prepares to his arrest and exile.
And now I found myself in his home beside this man, who asked in a weak voice to tell about situation in Leningrad. Somehow I could not concentrate, my attention was drawn to very sad face and grayish hair of Trotsky. I had to make an effort to begin. I told something like that: “The workers of Leningrad are indignant with the decisions of XY-th Party Congress, there are many oppositionists in Leningrad, they are expelled from the Party, fired from work, they are being shadowed.” I also expressed my own opinion: “At this stage the opposition is weak, it cannot address people, as it has no press organ and has no access to radio. And even if an attempt was done to address the Party and people, any actions of this kind would be immediately stopped. The whole huge oppression machine is in the hands of Stalin gang.”
After such sad information I asked Lev Davydovich to answer several questions, to which I wanted to know exactly his opinion. I added that these questions interest a lot of people. Trotsky sat at one side of the small table, I sat at another side, and a sincere dialogue began, when I asked questions, and he answered. At last I could concentrate, I remember our conversation very well.
- Trotsky: It is necessary to inform working class and Party members of a new stage of our revolution.
I: What is the essence of this new stage?
Trotsky: This is the combination of state capitalism with Thermidor. We come out against both, we stand up for democratic development of socialism.
I: Is there always a connection between the degradation of the ruling party and social revolution?
Trotsky: Yes, Thermidor expresses those processes in the society, which began from the beginning of NEP (New Economic Policy) that is from the moment of formation of new bourgeoisie in the country, especially kulaks.
I: Don’t you think that the leaders of the Party may degrade on the reason that is laid in the human psychics, in the tendency by all means to keep the power and privileged position?
Trotsky: I don’t exclude psychological factor, politicians’ striving for power, for ruling over subordinates. But such people also depend on the social surroundings, in which their character is formed.
I: As we know from the history, tyrants and despots were at all times, but their social essence was different, though the bureaucratic clique always was the basis of the tyranny. Don’t you think, Lev Davydovich, that the dictatorship of proletariat and one party system inevitably create such bureaucratic clique, oligarchy?
Trotsky: When we made upheaval in October, we counted on the dictatorship of proletariat, but not on the dictatorship over proletariat.
I: How could you rely on this principle, if you knew well, that Russian proletariat was not numerous and its consciousness and culture did not reach the necessary level. When Marx and Engels brought forward the idea of the dictatorship of proletariat, they proceeded from the experience of English industry and historical tradition of English proletariat. You also knew Marx’s answer to Vera Zasulich on this question.
Trotsky: Yes, Lenin and I knew all that. But in October we had two aims: to abolish absolutism, to put an end to Romanovs’ House, to take away the land from the landlords and give it to working peasantry. We did it. The second problem was more complicated – we supposed to give impulse to socialist movement in European countries. The second problem was not solved, and this was the main reason to disagreement in the Party… The forced concession to Russian petty bourgeoisie, comprising the majority of population in Russia, was the result of our hopes failure to social revolution in Europe.
I: Do you stick now to the theory of permanent revolution?
Trotsky: This theory was first suggested by Marx and Engels and developed by Lenin.
Socialism can win only in the whole world scale, the revolution in one country has to raise revolution process in other countries – this is a peculiar chain reaction. But this does not mean at all that the victory of socialism inevitably leads to the dictatorship of proletariat… Socialism may win also in the parliament state, if the majority in the parliament are working class representatives.
I: Fridrich Engels came to this conclusion before his death – I know that. But is the socialism compatible with one-party system and absence of democracy? Today is practically impossible for different groups in the Party to express their point of view.
Trotsky: The political and historical experience, especially after Lenin’s death demonstrates that without wide democracy, without workers’ right to form groups with their platforms the socialism remains a myth and Utopia.
I: Do you acknowledge now, that your position and Zinoviev and Kamenev’s position about groupings at the tenth Party congress was not right? As you know, Zinoviev, Kamenev and you then fought frantically against working opposition, democratic centralists, and did not acknowledge the legitimation of the fractions and groupings?
Trotsky: It was the greatest error. Party without free discussion of economical, political and ideological issues is not a political party, but Jesuit order.
I: Lev Davydovich! Tell me, what do you think will be the situation in the Party and country after the fifteenth Congress?
Trotsky arranged his pince-nez, knitted his brow, walked with long strides along his narrow room, then stopped in front of me and began to speak. I remembered almost all his arguments.
- The situation in the country and in the Party is now finally determined. The country won’t take the way of socialism, but the way of state capitalism, profit and wages, these typical features of any capitalist society, will be kept in the Soviet state too. The category of surplus value, i.e. exploitation of the working class also will be kept. This surplus value from one side will be the economical basis of the capitalist accumulation and the expansion of the production, from the other side it will be a huge fund for paying the enormous mass of privileged bureaucracy, for keeping the army and GPM, and also for maintenance of a huge gang of political adventurers abroad... Instead of social-economical classes the castes will be formed, their position will differ both in incomes and conditions of life and in their rights. Trade Unions in our country are deprived of possibility to defend working class interests, of the right to strike. A small group of people will rule the country, from which group inevitably one person will be promoted, who will do away with all the different minded persons… Creative work will take place only in techniques, as it is necessary first of all for self-defence of the caste system… The Party will rely on the Army and punitive structures… Court, prosecutor office will not use law or constitution, but will base on caprices and tyranny of a tyrant or oligarchy… In politics not international interests of the proletariat, but national aspirations will prevail. Patriotism will inevitably grow into nationalism. In the nearest years the country will take the fascist way, the fascist methods of ruling the country will take place as if to keep the unity in the Party… The suppression of the elementary democracy in our country will compromise the idea of the proletariat dictatorship in the whole world, the advanced workers of England, USA, France, Italy, Scandinavian countries, Japan will turn away from us. Instead of these all kinds of political plotters from East countries and Africa will drag behind us. All the backward members of the world society will group about us.
Is it possible to come to the conclusion, that social-democrats, mensheviks and social revolutionaries were right in their forecasts?
We have to acknowledge, that we made a lot of political errors, when we pushed away true revolutionaries, who gave their lives to working class…All the democratic forces have to unite to save the working movement from fascism. Fascism is not only typical German or Italian phenomenon – it is capable to infect the whole world’s working movement… Russia won’t stay away from so-called national-socialism… Russian chauvinism can rise again on the historical scene.
I: Practically the question is: what has to be done? How can we save the working movement from fascist influence? What is the tactics for the nearest future?
Trotsky: Now it is necessary to disarm organizationally, to dismiss all the groups and fractions to save the advanced forces of the Party. It may seem strange to you, but the circumstances oblige us to do it. Soon new forces will join us, those ones that as yet struggled against us…Already now a blow is being prepared at those, who helped Stalin to crush the opposition in the fifteenth Congress, who in spite of the Lenin’s instructions supported Stalin at the critical period. Neither in Politbureau, nor in the Central Committee of the Party there is no unity, there is also three groups there: open Stalinists, Bukharin supporters and always hesitating marsh. We are strong theoretically, but we let go the State machinery – this is the heel of Achilles of all our politics – we have to own this sincerely. The new stage in the working movement has to involve all the live forces of the advanced countries of the world. It is necessary to unite these forces and to oppose fascism, including the fascism of Stalin type.
Lev Davydovich spoke with such animation, as if he had the former audience of thousands in front of him, his eyes flashed, there was metal in his voice. I saw and heard again Trotsky of the old days. Our conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. Trotsky’s wife Sedova came in. She asked us to eat something, she told Trotsky: “Today you have only drunk a cup of tea.” She was a very nice woman, there was nobleness in her voice and manners, soft features and crow’s feet about eyes told of her kindness and selflessness. I mentally compared her with Alexandra Lvovna Bronshtain and told to myself: “They are both good.” I refused from dinner, thanked Lev Davydovich for his answers to my questions. He pressed my hand, smiled and said: “We have to hope for better future.”
In spite of these words, I was in low spirits. I went to say good- bye to Beloborodov. I could not suppose then, that I would never see neither Trotsky, nor Sedova, nor Beloborodov again. In the middle of April 1928 Trotsky will be arrested and exiled first to Alma-Ata and later abroad.