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A new 4-volume biography of Leon Trotsky has been published in Russian.

Yury Felshtinsky and Georgy Cherniavsky, “Leon Trotsky” in 4 volumes, published by Tsentrpoligraf, 2012-2013.

This review is of the original Russian-language biography. All references are to the Tsentrpoligraf edition.

Publication of a new biography of Leon Trotsky in the Russian language should have been an extraordinary event in the development of intellectual thought of Russian society. The publication of Volkogonov’s sympathetic portrayal of Trotsky in early 1991 was associated with a wholesale about-face of the political-ideological establishment. Trotsky, after all, was at the center of both the 1905 and the 1917 Russian revolutions, the establishment of Soviet power during the course of a three-year Civil War, the further evolution of the Lenin-Trotsky regime, and then its degeneration into the system of totalitarian pseudo-socialism. The rising wave of revolution and its victory brought him to the pinnacle of power in the Soviet Union. The halt in the revolutionary development and the counterrevolutionary reaction against October had brought about an almost complete turnover of the ruling strata and the mass extermination of communists within the USSR. For Trotsky personally it led to his exile in 1928, expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929, and to his eventual murder at the hands of Stalin’s spy in 1940.

Both authors of this monumental four-volume biography are professional historians, and well qualified to describe the life of their subject. Yury Felshtinsky studied in the most prestigious universities in the United States and in his early career did a great deal of archival research at the Trotsky Archive of the Houghton library at Harvard University. He published various books by Trotsky: “Stalin”, “The Communist International After Lenin”, “The Crimes of Stalin”, and others. Georgy Cherniavsky during his long career as a history professor at the Kharkov University specialized in the history of the Balkans, and of Bulgaria in particular. After the collapse of the USSR he began to assist Felshtinsky in the preparation of new publications by Trotsky, and under his own name published in 2010 a one-volume biography of Trotsky, in Russian, for the book series “Lives of Extraordinary Persons”.

The authors are acquainted with the work of other biographers of Trotsky: Isaac Deutscher, Pierre Broue, Dmitry Volkogonov, Robert Service and others. They accuse Broue of prejudice because he was a socialist, and “could not rid himself of his socialist passions”. They thoroughly dislike Deutscher and accuse him of a “careless attitude to sources” (p. 11) and a supposed mistake with respect to a Ukrainian revolutionary organization Spilka (p. 260). Unfortunately for their case against Deutscher, this is the only concrete example of his supposed mistakes that is cited. In this particular case, the mistake lies with the careless Russian translation of the Ukrainian word “spilka” (union), done many years after Deutscher’s death. The authors should have checked the English original before throwing accusations. The real reason these biographers dislike this outstanding British historian of Polish extraction is that on the pages of his three-volume study he graphically and realistically described the dramatic history or Russia, and Trotsky’s role in that history. It appears to me that the authors extended their own biography into four volumes in order to outstrip Deutscher and take first prize in the competition for “monumentality”.

The authors with a footnote dismiss as a dogmatic apology V.Z.Rogovin’s seven volume work “Was there an alternative”. They write over a page of criticism about the work of Robert Service, correctly criticizing him for his tendentious treatment of materials and continue: “In order to highlight the Jewish origin of Trotsky Service refers to him until the age of 23 by the official first name of Leyba, although his relatives from a very young age called him Lev, Liova” (p. 13).

Next they mention the work of a Trotskyist writer, David North. It is worth translating their evaluation:

“Alas, the American follower of Trotsky is not far wrong, for in his strictly apologetic book ‘In Defense of Leon Trotsky’, which contains a number of critiques of various publications about his idol, he does not hide his enchantment with Trotsky, and labels one of the chapters of his book ‘A contribution of Robert Service toward the falsification of history’” (p. 14).

It is not altogether clear how a “strict apology” could end up being “not far wrong”, but let us go on.

Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky, to be sure, are free of Trotskyist, leftist or, indeed, democratic, liberal or republican passions. As far as we can tell from the text, the authors support a constitutional monarchy. Let us see how successfully these writers describe the dramatic actions of the hero of their work.

 

 

обложка Volume 1. Leon Trotsky — revolutionary; 1879—1917

 

The first sentence of the first chapter gives us a flavor of the voluminous, yet short on content, style of the authors: “Early years in the life of outstanding personalities usually leave few traces, which might have been important in the shaping of their fates, for the simple reason that one cannot foretell the renown, fame or shame, which many years later will become associated with these persons” (p. 21). This is a mouthful, but can an intelligent reader discover what it means? Had the authors ended their sentence after the word “traces”, in other words, had they said: ““Early years in the life of outstanding personalities usually leave few traces”, nobody would have objected and their meaning would be crystal clear. Many biographers of outstanding historical personalities admit that until their hero had become important, history had recorded few facts about him (or her). But these two authors write that the early years “might have been important”. What does this mean? Are they important, or not? My second quandary has to do with the “shaping of their fate”. The hero’s fate depends on his actions, but also on a number of external factors, on the interaction of personal, family, economic, cultural, religious, geographic and other influences. What do the authors of this biography think on the subject?

The first sentence is thus quite mystifying and not overly intelligent. On the same page, the authors declare, this time, thank heaven, briefly and clearly: “Liova Bronstein was born on the 26th of October (7 of November, new style) of 1879”. Unfortunately, they follow this brief statement of fact with a page full of ruminations on the significance of the “mystical coincidence of his date of birth and the date of the government overthrow in Petrograd”, and compare the birth dates of Trotsky and Stalin. The authors quote Trotsky that for him this “curious coincidence” held no meaning, but they appear very interested to find such a meaning.

All these confusing ruminations end up distracting the authors to such an extent that, when describing Lev Bronstein’s first arrest in January of 1898, they write that “the young man was entering his 21st year” (p. 61). In reality, in January of 1898 Lev Bronstein was eighteen years and three months old. I suspect that the authors add two years to Bronstein’s age to curtail any sympathy a reader might feel for the young man. Arithmetic seems to be these authors’ weak spot: on page 393 they dispute Lenin’s assertion in April 1917 that Trotsky had by then “spent decades in the revolutionary movement”. Trotsky had begun his revolutionary activity in late 1896, and Lenin in April 1917 correctly counted over twenty years of activity when defending his revolutionary reputation from calumny. In this case, I suspect the authors of trying to, on the one hand, contradict Lenin, and on the other hand, diminish the revolutionary contribution of Trotsky. I could be mistaken, of course, and both errors might simply be due to the authors’ difficulty with addition and subtraction.

As to the authors’ claim to “impassive judgement”, it, alas, does not last. The book is permeated with their hatred of leftist, radical and revolutionary tendencies. They describe the Russian politically active youth as “obsessed with politics”. A Czech gardener, Franz Shvigovsky, earns a contemptuous remark that the reason he invited students to come to his garden in Nikolayev for political discussion was “either from boredom, or because of some ideological considerations” (p. 41). Lest we forget, in 1897 the organization of such discussions could have led Shvigovsky into jail or Siberian exile.

The authors cannot understand the motivations of Shvigovsky, Lev Bronstein and their friends. Why did this talented boy from a well-to-do family of a Jewish landowner become a revolutionary? It is all the more puzzling, since on pages 69-70 the authors describe blackouts, which paralyzed Trotsky now and then throughout his life, and which were tied to overstress of his nervous system. The authors write: “These attacks, which began in the late 1890’s, were rare but sudden, and to a large extent made more difficult Trotsky’s political activity, full as it was of intrigues and hostility, sometimes growing into open hatred” (p. 70). So Trotsky’s political activity was full of unpleasant feelings, moreover, dangerous to his health. But then why did he get involved in politics?

And what can be said of “hostility, growing into hatred”??? We would hope that the authors might show us examples of such hatred. As to the feelings of the biographers themselves for their subject, the book is filled with examples of their malice. The authors write in the Preface: “While he was neither a sadist nor a killer (at least, we know of no evidence that Trotsky personally participated in killings), he never felt the least bit uncomfortable knowing that somewhere (one meter or ten thousand kilometers away) some people killed others (and often perished themselves)” (p. 7). Does it not seem to you that the biographers stand ready to believe the most awful things about their subject: sadism and murder, but, unfortunately, they have no evidence of such.

Here are a few more epithets applied to Trotsky by these biographers: “obsessed by the idea of world revolution”, “revolutionary dogmatic” (on frontispiece), “remote from real life revolutionary theoretician” (p. 77). One might ask: why write another hostile biography of Trotsky if he is so dogmatically remote from life? It would be much simpler to show the serious mistakes in his evaluation of the moving forces of Russian society, the prospects for a socialist revolution, etc. The trouble for the authors consists in their inability to disprove Trotsky’s judgement and ideas; hence the need to dig through the family and ethical problems confronting the young hero, and malign his morals.

Trotsky’s immorality.

As to Trotsky’s morals, Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky come to very different and mutually exclusive conclusions on different pages of their book. When describing Trotsky’s escape from his Siberian exile, when he was forced to leave behind a beloved wife and two infant daughters, they write that both Trotsky and his first wife Alexandra Sokolovskaia suffered from “spiritual blindness and an almost total disregard for the fates of their own children” (p. 90).

Yet a few pages later, when describing Trotsky’s second love for Natalia Sedova, and the couple’s decision to live together, they suddenly exclaim: “They could have, of course, entered into a civil marriage in France — this would have been a simple procedure — but this for Leon would have been a dishonest act with respect to Alexandra Sokolovskaia” (p. 108).

On page 222 the authors somewhat irrationally reproach Trotsky for not visiting his daughters during his escape from Siberian exile to Western Europe in 1907: “But Bronstein decided not to visit his daughters because he was Trotsky”. The daughters of his first marriage were at the time living with his parents in the village of Yanovka, and the biographers tell us that the police was keeping an eye on the house. What do these guys suggest Trotsky do, stick his head into a police noose?

So, does Trotsky suffer from moral blindness or not? It seems that the authors cannot make up their mind. And what did Alexandra Sokolovskaia do to deserve these writers’ ire? She gave her life for communism, was true to her ideals, brought up her daughters in the same spirit of sacrifice, remained an active Communist and Oppositionist and in the 1930’s refused to sell Trotsky out to save her life. She was murdered by the GPU along with the other Trotskyists. We should add that both daughters of Alexandra and Lev and both sons of Natalia and Lev dearly loved their parents and were loved in return.

Maxim Gorky once wrote: “Those born to crawl — will never fly!”

“Iskra” — Spark

The story of Trotsky’s work on the newspaper “Iskra” is hopelessly muddled. According to these “historians”, the authoritarian Lenin wants to coopt the talented Trotsky onto the editorial board, which at that moment consists of six persons: himself, Plekhanov, Martov, Axelrod, Zasulich and Potresov. What for? In order to enhance his own authority. Plekhanov protests because he “justifiably assumes that Lenin is trying to build a firm majority on the board opposed to himself” (p. 107).

During the course of the Second Congress Lenin tries to reduce the editorial board to just three: himself, Plekhanov and Martov. What for? In order to enhance his power within the board. Plekhanov agrees and firmly supports Lenin in all his organizational proposals. Why? Martov and other editors protest. What for? In order to enhance their own power within the board.

Within a couple of months Plekhanov switches to the side of Martov and other Mensheviks, coopts them onto the board, and Lenin resigns as editor. What for? In order to enhance his power within the board.

This primitive explanation explains nothing. It only underlines the ignorant hostility of the authors towards the attempts of revolutionary Marxists to work out the methods and organizational forms of their struggle under the difficult conditions of Tzarist Russia and work underground.

We should not forget that the first attempt to set up a socialist party in Russia in 1898 failed when the eight delegates to the first conference in Minsk were arrested. The organizers of the II Congress, i.e. the supporters of the political line promoted by “Iskra” since its first issue in December 1900, prior to the Congress had agreed to the main organizational principles enunciated by Lenin in his book “What Is To Be Done?”. These principles consisted of the need for a centralized and disciplined underground party. At the Congress itself, after the opponents of the “Iskra” line (members of the Jewish Bund and Economists) had left the Congress, there coalesced a majority around Plekhanov and Lenin, and a minority around Martov and other members of the old editorial board. But this minority declared a boycott of the majority, and, after the Congress delegates had dispersed, had attracted Plekhanov to their side, and declared their pretensions to lead the party. Here is how Trotsky remembers events in his Autobiography:

“How did I come to be with the “softs” at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulitch and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable. Before the congress there were various shades of opinion on the editorial board, but no sharp differences. I stood farthest from Plekhanov, who, after the first really trivial encounters, had taken an intense dislike to me. Lenin’s attitude toward me was unexceptionally kind. But now it was he who, in my eyes, was attacking the editorial board, a body which was, in my opinion, a single unit, and which bore the exciting name of Iskra. The idea of a split within the board seemed nothing short of sacrilegious to me.

“Revolutionary centralism is a harsh, imperative and exacting principle. It often takes the guise of absolute ruthlessness in its relation to individual members, to whole groups of former associates. It is not without significance that the words “irreconcilable” and “relentless” are among Lenin’s favorites. It is only the most impassioned, revolutionary striving for a definite end – a striving that is utterly free from anything base or personal – that can justify such a personal ruthlessness. In 1903, the whole point at issue was nothing more than Lenin’s desire to get Axelrod and Zasulitch off the editorial board. My attitude toward them was full of respect, and there was an element of personal affection as well. Lenin also thought highly of them for what they had done in the past. But he believed that they were becoming an impediment for the future. This led him to conclude that they must be removed from their position of leadership. I could not agree. My whole being seemed to protest against this merciless cutting off of the older ones when they were at last on the threshold of an organized party. It was my indignation at his attitude that really led to my parting with him at the second congress. His behavior seemed unpardonable to me, both horrible and outrageous. And yet, politically it was right and necessary, from the point of view of organization. The break with the older ones, who remained in the preparatory stages, was in evitable in any case. Lenin understood this before any one else did. He made an attempt to keep Plekhanov by separating him from Zasulitch and Axelrod. But this, too, was quite futile, as subsequent events soon proved”.

The 1905 revolution.

Messieurs Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky follow a general rule in writing this biography: to avoid describing the most important historical events, in the midst of which lives and acts their subject. Following this ahistorical principle they avoid writing about the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, Bloody Sunday, the 1905 Revolution, the Jewish and other minority Pogroms, by means of which the tsarist regime attempted to sidetrack the revolution, the punitive expeditions, hangings and other infamous actions of the doomed regime. These writers cannot, of course, totally avoid history, but let us see how they falsify it.

They write that, in addition to Plekhanov, many other Russian socialists spent 1905 in the safety of their European exile: “Other socialist activists also remained abroad, mainly for reasons of personal safety” (p. 151). This calumny is designed to convince the reader that all the revolutionists were cowards who remained in Switzerland to sit out the revolution in comfortable cafes instead of venturing into dangerous Russia. A few pages later the slanderers, however, notice that Trotsky worked on the Petersburg newspaper “Nachalo” together with Martov, Potresov, Dan and Martynov  (p. 164). He participated in the work of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers Deputies with “the Mensheviks D.F.Sverchkov and P.A.Zlydnev, the Bolsheviks A.A.Bogdanov, B.M.Knuniants and P.A.Krasikov, the SR’s V.M.Chernov and N.D.Avksentiev” (p. 169). Our hapless biographers do not mention the well-known Rosa Luxemburg, who had returned from Germany to direct the revolutionary work in Warsaw, and who was captured and almost executed by the Okhrana (Warsaw was then part of the Russian empire). Hundreds of less known revolutionists returned from their European and American places of exile, resumed their revolutionary activity and again risked their liberty and lives.

A leading American biographer of Plekhanov, Samuel Baron notes that Trotsky had returned to Russia early in 1905, and continues: “Every other leader of the party but Plekhanov returned to Russia sooner or later” (Plekhanov, the Father of Russian Marxism, Samuel H. Baron, 1963, p. 276). Plekhanov was a rare exception to this rule, and his non-return was one of the reasons for the decline of his authority within Russian socialism.

Hopelessly contradictory is the description of Lenin’s attitude to Trotsky in 1905. In the spring of that year Trotsky had convinced the Bolshevik Krasin to support the slogan of a provisional revolutionary government and to counterpoise it to a more conservative formulation of Lenin. At the III Congress “Lenin had agreed to Zimin’s (Krasin’s pseudonym) amendment, which was based, unknown to Lenin, on Trotsky’s theses, and even declared that certain formulations of Zimin are better than his own, and he accepts them willingly” (p. 156). On the next page the stumbling authors write that “Had Lenin known who was the real co-author of the resolution he would undoubtedly have rejected Krasin’s amendment, finding for this rejection numerous ideological, strategic and tactical reasons, since Lenin’s internal hostility to Trotsky at that time obviously predominated over his political sensibility” (p. 157). A few lines down the confused writers say: “Following the III Congress Lenin admitted the identity of his own and Trotsky’s positions and in a letter to P.A.Krasikov wrote that he sees nothing wrong with publishing Trotsky’s proclamations” (ibid.).

Equally false and confused is the description of the relations between Trotsky and the Mensheviks. In my Introduction to the Russian-language anthology “The Permanent Revolution” I note:

“The split of the Russian social-democrats during the 2nd Congress in the summer of 1903 into two almost equal factions at first appeared as an unexpected and curious misunderstanding. At the Congress the Lenin-Plekhanov partnership won a formal victory, while Trotsky joined Martov and the Mensheviks. Soon, Plekhanov switched to the side of the old “Iskra” editorial board and gave the Mensheviks an advantage in the higher party apparatus.

“Gradually, there grew a difference in the attitude of the two social-democratic factions towards the liberal revolutionary movement. Differences arose also within the Menshevik leadership. Trotsky began to sharply criticize the half-hearted and conciliatory actions of the liberal opposition. At the end of September of 1904 he left the editorial board of the Menshevik “Iskra”, although he continued writing signed articles in it. In the autumn of 1904 he wrote a brochure (later published under the title “Prior to January the Ninth”), which subjected Russian liberalism to withering criticism and defined the independent goals of the proletariat in the coming revolution”.

The editorial board of “Iskra” publicly dissociated itself from Trotsky and Parvus in issue #95 dated March 31, 1905, and published its criticism of their views. The Mensheviks accused Parvus and their “former colleague” Trotsky of extremist views, which tended to isolate the proletariat.

Our hapless biographers write that the “tolerant editorial board” published Trotsky’s essays because “he had changed his political views” (p. 153). In real life, the events of early 1905 — Bloody Sunday, strikes, mass demonstrations, peasant risings, naval mutinies — pushed the Mensheviks to the left, from their past support of the moribund liberal movement towards the mass revolutionary movement of the working class and the peasants.

In October 1905, the Mensheviks, on one side, Parvus and Trotsky, on the other, combined to publish a large daily newspaper “Nachalo” in St. Petersburg. The Mensheviks had temporarily abandoned their former hopes concerning a bourgeois revolutionary movement and returned to the Marxist position of the independent revolutionary role of the proletariat. It was on the basis of this position that all factions of Russian socialism, including even the SR’s and the anarchists, worked within the Petersburg Soviet and in the revolutionary movement sweeping Russia. Some years later the Mensheviks themselves admitted that in the period of revolution’s rising tide they turned sharply to the left, closer to Bolsheviks and to Trotsky.

Following the arrest of the Soviet on Dec. 3rd and the suppression of the barricade struggles in Moscow later that month, the revolutionary tide receded. The working class failed to defeat czarism in an open battle in the industrial centers, although revolutionary risings continued in the fleet, among the peasants and in the Caucasus. The Mensheviks turned right sharply, and Plekhanov, on the right of Menshevism, even condemned the December barricades in Moscow, famously declaring: “They should not have come out”.

It should be noted that these distortions of the actual positions of the various factions of social-democracy is accompanied by the concealment of important documents well-known to historians. The authors savor and describe in detail the quarrels among Martov, Trotsky, Lenin and Plekhanov, yet avoid mention of the real political disputes, which sparked these passions. One glaring example of this one-sided treatment: silence about an important essay by Trotsky, “Our Differences”, which he had published in 1908 in Rosa Luxemburg’s Polish language journal. In this essay, as throughout this period, Trotsky stood on the left flank of Russian social-democracy, defended his theory of “permanent revolution” and criticized the political line of the Bolsheviks from the left.

The authors’ reactionary outlook emerges most clearly when they evaluate the Revolution of 1905. Instead of a movement of millions of toilers they see a mob rioting and “willfully occupying” factories, streets and university auditoria. “Frenzied crowds of students and the workers they attracted out of the idle factories, generally, the refuse of society — beggars, criminals, prostitutes — reveled in their ‘liberty’” (p. 162).

Political convictions of the authors are defined a bit further: they support the “Progressists” and the “wise and clear formulations of this movement… directed at creation in Russia of a regime of constitutional monarchy, based on the separation of the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial)” (p. 167). The Progressists most directly expressed the class interests of the big capitalists and stood to the right of the Kadets and the Octobrists. In 1905-06 they were invisible, and gained some weight in the Duma only following the defeat of the revolution and the coup of June 3rd, 1907, when the majority of the people were deprived of their voting rights.

As to the final judgement on the events of 1905: a riot or a popular revolution, let us accept the testimony of the ideological leader of the liberal bourgeoisie, Paul Miliukov. In his three-volume “History of Russia” published in France in 1932, describing the events of 1905 this historian writes: “The new phenomenon that dominated the entire year of 1905 was the emergence of the popular masses into the political arena” (“History of Russia”, New York, 1969, vol. 3, p. 202). We accept this evidence of the Kadet leader and learned historian all the more readily in that it is quite unselfish: the movement of popular masses shoved Miliukov’s party into the background.

Arrest of the Petersburg Soviet and its trial.

In his Autobiography Trotsky describes the arrest of the Soviet:

The arrest took place a day after we had published our so-called financial manifesto, which proclaimed that the financial bankruptcy of Czarism was inevitable, and issued a categorical warning that the debts incurred by the Romanovs would not be recognized by the victorious nation. “The autocracy never enjoyed the confidence of the people,” said the manifesto of the Soviet of Workers’ Delegates, “and was never granted any authority by the people. We have therefore decided not to allow the repayment of such loans as have been made by the Czarist government when openly engaged in a war with the entire people.”

The French Bourse answered our manifesto a few months later with a new loan of three-quarters of a million francs. The liberal and reactionary press poured sarcasm over the important threat of the Soviet against the Czar’s finances and the European bankers. In later years, the manifesto was successfully forgotten but it recalled itself to mind. The financial bankruptcy of Czarism, prepared for by its whole past history, coincided with the military debacle. And later, after the victories of the revolution, the decree of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries, issued on February 10, 1918, declared all the Czarist debts annulled. This decree remains in force even to this day. It is wrong to say, as some do, that the October revolution does not recognize any obligations: its own obligations the revolution recognizes to the full. The obligation that it took upon itself on December 2, 1905, it carried out on February 10, 1917. The revolution is fully entitled to remind the creditors of Czarism: “Gentlemen, you were warned in ample time.”

In this respect, as in others, the year 1905 was a preparation for the year 1917.

CHAPTER XV

TRIAL, EXILE, ESCAPE

The second prison cycle began. It was much easier to bear than the first, and the conditions were infinitely more tolerable than those of eight years before. I was in the “Kresty” prison for a short time, then in the Peter-Paul fortress, and finally in the House of Preliminary Detention. Before we were sent to Siberia we were moved to a transfer-prison.

Altogether, I was in prison for fifteen months. Each prison had its peculiar features to which one had to adapt oneself. But it would be too dull to dwell on them, for, different as they were, prisons are really all alike. Again I entered on a period of systematic scientific and literary work. I studied the theory of rent and the history of social relations in Russia. The big work on rent, though still unfinished, was lost during the first years after the October revolution. To me this was a most tragic loss, next to that of my work on freemasonry. My studies of the social history of Russia were embodied in an article, "The Results of the Revolution and Its Prospects" ("Itogi i Perspectivi"), which represents, for that period, the most finished statement in proof of the theory of permanent revolution.

After our transfer to the House of Preliminary Detention, lawyers were allowed to visit us. The first Duma brought with it a stimulation of political life. The newspapers again grew daring. Marxist publishing enterprises took a new lease on life. The new conditions made it possible to return to militant political writing. I wrote a great deal in prison; the lawyers would carry my manuscripts out in their briefcases. My pamphlet, "Peter Struve in Politics", belongs to this period. I worked over it with such zeal that the walks in the prison yard seemed an annoying duty to me. The pamphlet, which was directed against liberalism, was essentially a defense of the St. Petersburg Soviet, of the December armed uprising in Moscow, and of the revolutionary policy in general, as opposed to the criticism by the opportunists. The Bolshevik press received the pamphlet in a decidedly friendly manner; the Menshevik press was silent. Tens of thousands of copies of the pamphlet were sold within a few weeks.

D. Sverchkov, who shared my imprisonment with me, later described the prison period in his book "At the Dawn of the Revolution". He wrote: “L. D. Trotsky, working under great pressure, wrote and handed in for printing parts of his book, ’Russia and the Revolution,’ a book in which he definitely advanced for the first time the idea that the revolution which had started in Russia could not end until the Socialist regime was fulfilled. His theory of ‘permanent revolution,’ as it was called, was accepted by few, but he held firmly to his position, and even then discerned in the state of the world all the symptoms of decomposition of the bourgeois-capitalist economy, and the relative nearness of the Socialist Revolution…”

“Trotsky’s prison cell,” continued Sverchkov, “soon became transformed into a sort of library. He was supplied with all the new books that deserved attention; he read them all, and the entire day, from morning until late at night, he was occupied with his literary work. ‘I feel splendid,’ he would say to us. ‘I sit and work and feel perfectly sure that I can’t be arrested. You will agree that under the conditions in Czarist Russia, that is rather an unusual sensation.’”

For relaxation, I read the European classics. As I lay in my prison bunk I absorbed them with the same sense of physical delight that the gourmet has in sipping choice wines or in inhaling the fragrant smoke of a fine cigar. These were my best hours. The traces of my classical studies, in the shape of epigraphs and quotations, were evident in all of my political writings at that time. It was then for the first time that I really acquainted myself with the “grands seigneurs” of the French novel in their original French. The art of storytelling is primarily French. Although I know German perhaps somewhat better than French, especially as regards scientific terminology. I read French fiction more easily than German. To this day I have retained my love for the French novel. Even in a railway-car during the civil war, I found time to read the latest ones.

Taking it all in all, I can hardly complain about my life in prison. It was a good school for me. I left the hermetically sealed cell of solitary confinement in the Peter-Paul fortress with a tinge of regret; it was so quiet there, so eventless, so perfect for intellectual work. The House of Preliminary Detention was, on the contrary, filled with people and bustle. Not a few there were sentenced to death; terrorist acts and so-called armed “expropriations” were sweeping the country. The prison regime, on account of the first Duma, was very liberal; the cells were not locked during the day, and we could take our walks all together. For hours at a time we would go into raptures over playing leapfrog. The men condemned to death would leap and offer their backs as well as the rest of us. My wife came to visit me twice a week. The officials on duty winked at our exchange of letters and manuscripts. One of them, a middle-aged man, was especially well disposed toward us. At his request, I presented him with a copy of my book and my photograph with an inscription. “My daughters are all college students,” he whispered delightedly, as he winked mysteriously at me. I met him later under the Soviet, and did what I could for him in those years of famine.

Parvus walked with old Deutsch in the prison yard. I joined them occasionally. There is a photograph showing all three of us in the prison kitchen. The indefatigable Deutsch was planning a wholesale escape for us and easily won Parvus over, insisting that I join them too. I resisted because I was attracted by the political importance of the trial ahead. Too many people were included in the plans, however. In the prison library where they conspired, one of the guards discovered a set of tools. The prison administration hushed the affair up, because the secret police were suspected of planting the tools there to bring about a change in the prison regime. And, after all, Deutsch had to effect his fourth escape not from the prison but from Siberia.

The factional disagreements in the party were sharply renewed after the defeat in December. The high-handed dissolution of the Duma raised all the problems of the revolution anew. I made them the subject of a pamphlet on tactics, which Lenin published through a Bolshevik publishing house. The Mensheviks were already beating a retreat along the entire front. In prison, however, the factional relations had not yet reached the acute stage, which they had in the world outside, and we were able to publish a collective work dealing with the St. Petersburg Soviet, in which some of the Mensheviks still appeared as contributors.

The trial of the Soviet of Workers’ Delegates opened on September 19, 1906, in the early days of Stolypin’s court-martial justice. The yard of the court building and the adjoining streets were turned into a military camp. All the police of St. Petersburg were mobilized. But the trial itself was carried on with a certain amount of freedom; the reactionary government was out to disgrace Witte by exposing his “liberalism,” his weakness in dealing with the revolution. About four hundred witnesses were called; and more than two hundred witnesses came and offered evidence. Workers, manufacturers, members of the secret police, engineers, servants, citizens, journalists, post-office officials, police chiefs, gymnasium students, municipal counselors, janitors, senators, hooligans, deputies, professors, soldiers, all passed in file during the month of the trial, and, under the crossfire of the judges’ bench, of the prosecution, of the attorneys for the defense, and of the defendants especially the latter reconstructed, line by line, and stroke by stroke, the activity of the workers’ Soviet. The defendants gave their explanations. I spoke of the importance in the revolution of an armed uprising. The chief objective was therefore obtained, and when the court refused our demand to call to the witness stand Senator Lopukhin, who in the autumn of 1905 had opened a printing-press in the Police Department to disseminate pogrom literature, we broke up the trial by forcing the court to take us back to prison. The counsel for the defense, the witnesses and the public all left the courtroom after us; the judges remained alone with the prosecutor. They passed the verdict in our absence. The stenographic report of this unique trial, which lasted for a month, has not been published, and it seems that to this day it has not even been located. The most essential facts about the trial I related in my book "1905".

My father and mother were at the trial. Their thoughts and emotions were divided. It was now impossible to explain away my conduct as a boy’s foolishness, as they had in my Nikolayev days when I lived in Shvigovsky’s garden. I was an editor of newspapers, the chairman of the Soviet, and I had a name as a writer. The old couple was impressed by all this. My mother tried to talk with the lawyers for the defense, hoping to hear further complimentary remarks about me from them. During my speech, which she could scarcely understand, she wept silently. She wept more when a score of attorneys for the defense came up to shake my hand. One of the lawyers for the defense had demanded a temporary adjournment before that, because of the general excitement caused by my speech. This was A.Z. Zarudny; in Kerensky’s government, he was the Minister of Justice and kept me in prison on a charge of state treason. But that happened ten years later.

During the intervals of the trial the old folks looked at me happily. My mother was sure that I would not only be acquitted, but even given some mark of distinction. I tried to persuade her to prepare for a sentence to hard labour. Somewhat frightened and puzzled by all this, she kept looking from me to the lawyers as if trying to understand how such a thing could be possible. My father was pale, silent, happy and distressed, all in one.

 

We provided you, our reader, with this lengthy passage from Trotsky’s “My Life” to allow both your brain and mine a respite from the poisonous and indigestible scribblings of the two falsifiers: Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky.

It is interesting to note that these two defenders of the rule of czarist law are incensed by the widespread sympathy of broad layers of the Petersburg intelligentsia for the Workers’ Soviet and for Trotsky personally. They condemn the principled democratic behavior of the Petersburg defense attorneys, in particular, a pro-Kadet lawyer O.O.Gruzenberg. You see, this person “directly contravened his trust” and “transmitted Trotsky’s letters and manuscripts to Petersburg social-democrats”. Gruzenberg “openly violated the imperial laws, which it was his sacred duty to uphold” (pp. 196, 197). We note here that our law-abiding historians’ “sacred duty” consists in upholding the rule of law of Nicholas II, Alexander Kerensky and, perhaps, later on the rule of Stalin’s regime against the revolutionary challenge of the Left Opposition headed by Trotsky. This last point will be addressed when we examine the later volumes of this series.

However, even at this early stage our two counterrevolutionary biographers find cause to defend the revolutionary reputation of Stalin against Trotsky’s critical pen. On page 213 Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky condemn Trotsky for criticizing in his “Stalin” biography young Koba’s cowardly behavior during the latter’s arrest and trial in 1902.

The messy junk in the heads of the two biographers permeates their judgment. They are slipshod in describing the attitude of Trotsky towards the German social-democracy: Trotsky, unlike “all other factions of the Russian socialist movement” was mistrustful of the German party (p. 232); however, at the Stuttgart Congress of the 2nd International in 1907 he “together with Martov, Lenin and R. Luxemburg” moved an amendment to the resolution on war (p. 233); but “loud words were combined with cautious political attitude” (ibid.). In this last statement the authors carefully obfuscate the question of who specifically was too cautious: Trotsky, or the leadership of the International. On page 255 the biographers write that the “feeling of romantic admiration, which Trotsky had felt for the German Social-Democratic party” dissipated only in September of 1911. One statement contradicts the preceding and the succeeding one. Can anyone make sense of this mess?

We shall briefly state for the record that Trotsky in the immediate years before the outbreak of the First World War was active in the left wing of the 2nd International. Theoretically, he was especially close to Rosa Luxemburg, but he also contributed to the newspapers of Karl Kautsky and August Bebel, and cooperated with both Lenin and Martov to counter the drift of the leadership of the International towards conforming to bourgeois reality and to reformism.

The First World War.

As a rule, our so-called historians have no time to describe the wars, revolutions and other major historical events that take place around Trotsky. On the other hand, they spend a page and a half describing the left-liberal newspaper “Kievan thought” for which Trotsky wrote in order to earn his living. They spend a whole chapter describing the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 (Cherniavsky during his career as a Soviet professor of history specialized on the Balkans and Bulgaria specifically, and he highly valued Trotsky’s writings on the Balkan question). However, in assembling a four-volume biography they cannot find room to even briefly outline the outbreak of the First World War and the cataclysmic quakes, which would now overstress Russia’s organism.

The War was started by crowned and republican scoundrels for purely predatory interests. Czar Nicholas II, Emperor Franz Josef, Kaiser Wilhelm, the ministers of the French republic and of Great Britain were equally responsible for the deaths of nine million soldiers and the maiming of millions more, for the use of poison gases, for the destruction of cities and the bombardment of churches, museums, libraries and other cultural treasures, for the hordes of refugees fleeing the fighting, for the economic havoc engulfing the whole European continent, for the privations overwhelming Europe’s population, for the myriad ills and suffering, which this war had brought about.

Our biographer-duo is silent about the causes, strategic interests and conduct of the war. They avoid any mention of the privations of the masses during the four years. Instead, they smirk at Trotsky who, in August of 1914, while observing inhabitants of Vienna “intoxicated by the fumes of patriotism” saw not only the present moment of popular elation but also the future “revolutionary masses”, which these same people will have become in four years under the stress of war (p. 346). Without even realizing their own foolishness our biographers reproach Trotsky for his ability to foresee the logic of events.

The War immediately knocked down the official structures of the 2nd International and within all workers’ parties there appeared cracks and processes of new alignments. All the parties split along new lines: for or against the War; for or against their own government. Lenin and Trotsky drew closer as both played leading roles in organizing a new internationalist leadership and participated in the 1915 Zimmerwald conference, where Trotsky wrote the main manifesto. He was not permitted by the French regime to attend the next conference in Kienthal; the biographers lie about this episode (p. 360).

Stupidity ought to have some limits. Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky are both educated persons, well acquainted with historical facts. They are, however, blinded by malice and hatred, which Trotsky many times condemned as harmful and dangerous in politics. Here is a minor example of such blindness. On pages 377-379 they describe the expulsion of Trotsky from France to Spain and his arrest in Madrid in November 1916. “On the 21st of November Trotsky wrote… an article “Impressions of Spain. (Almost an Arabian tale)”, in which he in a lively and witty manner described his adventures in the jail of Spain’s capital city. Much in this essay appears in a caricature form. We may assume that the Spanish officials were not quite so dumb as Trotsky paints them, quoting one prison administrator as saying: ‘Your views are far too advanced for Spain’. We should rather assume that Trotsky had no time for laughter, that he had lost his sense of humor” (p. 378).

Messieurs Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky in one and the same paragraph describe Trotsky’s tale as “lively and humorous”, then accuse him of “losing his sense of humor”. It appears to me that the Spanish jail official is not the only half-wit in this episode.

Here is a more serious example. The two authors describe the two-month sojourn of the Trotsky family in New York City and their departure for Russia on March 27, 1917 on a neutral Norwegian ship soon after the February Revolution broke out. They write: “Returning to their homeland, the Russian revolutionists were greeted with farewell speeches and bouquets of flowers and sent off as heroes by German prisoners of war influenced by anti-war propaganda” (p. 378). This fanciful tale of German POWs in New York is repeated on page 422. As everyone knows, the United States declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917 and there were not and could not have been any German POWs in New York on March 27th. Trotsky and five other Russian revolutionists were sent off in triumph by a crowd of the multi-ethnic proletarian New York: Finnish, Latvian, Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian and German socialist workers.

A couple of days later this Norwegian ship moored in Halifax, Canada and the passengers were subjected to an examination by the British naval police. Trotsky and the other five Russian revolutionists were forcibly taken off the ship and interned in a local POW camp for German sailors. Natalia and Trotsky’s two sons were placed under a house arrest.

This incident sparked off a storm of international protests: in the American and international press, in revolutionary Russia, in Britain. The Russian foreign affairs minister Paul Miliukov made a number of misleading statements, the British ambassador Buchanan followed with more lies. Lenin and other Bolsheviks thundered in support of Trotsky; mass demonstrations were held. Finally, the Petersburg Soviet ordered the Provisional Government to demand Trotsky’s release, the British navy caved in and released the prisoners at the end of April and the six prisoners of international class war plus Trotsky’s wife and sons were placed on another ship sailing to Russia. During the month of their internment in the POW camp among Garman sailors Trotsky and the other revolutionists conducted successful propaganda of revolutionary socialism.

This is what Trotsky had to say about that farewell in his Autobiography:

“As we were being taken away from the camp, our fellow prisoners gave us a most impressive send-off. Although the officers shut themselves up in their compartment, and only a few poked their noses through the chinks, the sailors and workers lined the passage on both sides, an improvised band played the revolutionary march, and friendly hands were extended to us from every quarter. One of the prisoners delivered a short speech acclaiming the Russian revolution and cursing the German monarchy. Even now it makes me happy to remember that in the very midst of the war, we were fraternizing with German sailors in Amherst. In later years I received friendly letters from many of them, sent from Germany”.

Now we realize where the German POWs came from. The sick imagination of Felshtinsky and Cherniavsky conflated the two farewells, the first in New York, the second, a month later in Canada.

A few pages later the same sick imagination of the two biographers leads them to present us with another foolish tale about the arrest of Trotsky and other Bolsheviks in July of 1917 and their release in early September during Kornilov’s mutiny:

“Those arrested were saved not through the protests of the left-leaning public. According to the unwritten laws of revolution they were saved by the combined efforts of the head of the government Alexander Kerensky and the Commander in chief General Kornilov” (p. 427).

Everything is thrown topsy turvy in this absurd presentation.

Relations between Lenin and Trotsky.

It would be difficult to answer: whom do the authors hate more, Lenin or Trotsky? They, of course, devote more attention to Trotsky. They label Lenin in passing as a “classic factional brawler” (p. 299), “traitor” (p. 347), “taking German money” (p. 392). Here is an example: “Lenin often stumbled in his discussion, was unable to complete a logical argument, broke his argument in the middle and moved to another subject. He would easily go into hysterics and instead of arguments resort to crude abuse directed at his opponents” (p. 127). “amorality, thirst for power and rudeness of Lenin” (ibid.). “By the time of the 2nd Congress Lenin had fully realized that his path to party leadership was possible only by utilizing any and all means, including lies, slandering his opponents and enemies, falsification of their statements, and so on” (ibid.). We find dozens of such statements about Lenin scattered throughout the book.

It is typical that the authors refer to Stalin as an “inheritor of Lenin’s sectarian pseudologic of extreme inwardness” (p. 299). We shall examine the later volumes of this series for signs of which other traits Stalin supposedly inherited from Lenin, but in this book we were struck by the following statement: “During this period (1911-1913) Lenin would only assist Trotsky to be buried. In any other matter, except getting put into a grave, Lenin would not have assisted Trotsky” (p. 311). Does it not seem to you that the authors are manufacturing a myth about Lenin preparing to kill Trotsky, a plan that would be carried to completion by the supposed descendant of Lenin, i.e. Stalin.

In actual fact, beginning with the early years of the Petersburg socialist circle, which he established together with Martov in 1895, Lenin pursued one overriding goal: the construction of a revolutionary socialist party to lead the Russian and world working class to power. There were many steps on this difficult path, some taken together with Trotsky, others in argument and struggle against him: the founding of “Iskra” in 1900, the struggle for a responsible editorial board at the 2nd Congress, ideological and organizational splits and arguments after the 1905 Revolution receded and all factions of socialists underwent a period of ideological confusion and retreated from Marxism, the fight against social-patriotism within the 2nd International and at the height of the War, the April Theses and his struggle against conciliation with the reformists within his own party, when Lenin was almost alone among the other Bolshevik leaders, the joint struggle with Trotsky to carry out another revolution and set up Soviet power, their joint management of the young Soviet Republic during the Civil War, their work hand in hand to build the Communist International.

In conclusion.

There is so much muddle in the description of the events of 1917 that it is impossible to set the account straight within the framework of a book review. There is simply no coherent story, as is the case whenever the authors deal with a large historical event. The monarchist authors repeat their malicious slander against the revolutionary nation, seeing only “disorganized crowds of soldiers, sailors and city lumpen” (p. 419). We must say clearly: it is impossible to trust any statement by these writers. They lie unconsciously, because of the confusion in their heads; they lie on purpose to diminish and harm Marxists; they lie out of habit, which they both learned in the Stalinist school of falsification; they lie to fulfill the social requirement of the decaying bourgeois society, which is mortally frightened of the critical Marxist thought represented with such vitality by the literary and political heritage of Trotsky.