Trotsky as "Freelancer Brest-Litovsk

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Trotskyism or Leninism
By Harpal Brar


In 1918 the young Soviet Republic, bereft of any army with the will and ability to fight, was fighting for its very survival through signing the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty with German imperialism, thus gaining a much-needed respite for the exhausted population. At a crucial moment in these negotiations, Trotsky, as the head of the Soviet delegation to the peace talks, in violation of the instructions of the Party central committee and the Soviet government, declared the unilateral withdrawal of the Soviet Republic from the war, demobilisation of the Russian Army, and he then left Brest-Litovsk on the spurious ground that "we can only be saved in the true meaning of the word by a European Revolution" (Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the RCP(B)).

This gave the German Command the pretext it needed for ending the armistice, mounting an offensive and obliging the Soviet government to sign "a much more humiliating peace, and the blame for this rests on those who refused to accept the former peace." (Lenin, Political Report of the CC to the Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the RCP (B), 7 March 1918, Collected Works, Vol. 27).

Apropos the failure of the European revolution to come to maturity thus leaving the Bolshevik Revolution to solve its problems on its own, and forcing the Bolsheviks to face reality as it was rather than as they would wish it to be, Lenin admonished Trotsky and his ilk in the Party in the following terms:

"If you are unable to adapt yourself, if you are not inclined to crawl on your belly in the mud you are not a revolutionary but a chatterbox; and I propose this, not because I like it, but because we have no other road, because history has not been kind enough to bring the revolution to maturity everywhere simultaneously." (Ibid.)

Thus the young Soviet Republic paid a very heavy price for Trotsky's adventurism and phrase-mongering defeatism, which is the chief characteristic of his rotten theory of permanent revolution, according to which nothing good can ever come of any revolution unless it is accompanied by a world revolution.

Trade union debate

With the victorious conclusion of the Civil War of 1918-1920, as the Soviet Republic under Lenin's guidance, switched from war communism to the New Economic Policy (NEP) and embarked on a programme of economic revival and rejuvenation – of restoration of industry through an upsurge in agriculture and by drawing the workers and trade unions into active socialist construction through planned organisation and persuasion (and not coercion), Trotsky and his supporters forced on the Party a discussion on the question of trade unions (a luxury and a diversion from the work of economic construction, from the fight against famine and economic dislocation that the Party could ill afford at the time). Trotsky, the patriarch of bureaucrats, as Stalin rightly called him insisted on "tightening up the screws" and "shaking up" the trade unions, and turning the latter into state agencies, and on replacing persuasion by coercion.

The Party discussion on the trade unions resulted in the total rout of Trotsky and his supporters. When the Central Committee of the Party rejected Trotsky's Prussian sergeant's proposal, Trotsky went outside and gathered a group of his supporters with the aim of fighting against the Central Committee. So alarmed was Lenin by Trotsky's factionalism and flouting of Party discipline that he caused the 10th Party Congress (March 1921) to pass a resolution forbidding the formation of factions and disbanding existing factions forthwith. It was further stated that the "non-fulfilment of this decision of the Congress shall be followed by unconditional and immediate expulsion from the Party."

Trotsky's return to fully-fledged factionalism

This resolution was to arouse Trotsky's bitter hatred and opposition, for whenever he could not get his own way on any question, he rushed to form a Trotskyist faction within the Party, even if that meant threatening a split.

During 1921 Lenin's health began to decline. Cerebral arteriosclerosis was already blocking his blood circulation and taking its toll, with the result that this man of inexhaustible energy and drive was tiring easily, and spent most of the summer resting in the village of Gorki, not far from Moscow. The 11th Party Congress, meeting at the end of March 1922, created the new office of General Secretary, to which, one day after the conclusion of that Congress (i.e., on 3 April 1922), on Lenin's initiation and sponsorship, Stalin was appointed. On 26 May 1922, while resting in Gorki, Lenin suffered a severe stroke, which caused a partial paralysis of the right side of his body and loss of speech. He recovered from this stroke remarkably quickly and was back at his desk in early October 1922. After two further minor strokes on December 13 and 16, 1922, he suffered on March 10, 1923, a massive stroke, from which he never recovered and after which he took no further part in politics.

Following the latest stroke suffered by Lenin, Trotsky, with an eye on the leadership, stepped up his factional activity and intensified his vile and slanderous attacks on the Party leadership, its central institutions and its policy. On 8 October 1923 he sent a letter to the Central Committee, in which he asserted that the country was being inexorably led by the Party leadership to a catastrophe, to prevent which he demanded greater inner-Party democracy. Stripped of its Trotskyite verbiage, this meant the right to form factional groupings. A group of 46 followers of Trotsky also issued a manifesto – known as the Statement of 46 – to the same effect. Trotsky's letter and the Statement of 46 were discussed and condemned at a joint plenary meeting of the CC and the CCC with representatives of ten of the largest Party organisations in October 1923.

Trotsky followed his letter with a pamphlet entitled New Course, in which in addition to the demand for more Party democracy, he accused the old Bolsheviks – the Party leadership – of degeneration. He counterposed young people, especially students, to veteran Bolsheviks, declaring the former to be the barometer of the Party.

In talking about the degeneration of the 'old guard', Trotsky had used the expression "we, the old Bolsheviks," which provoked Stalin to make this observation, full of biting sarcasm:

"First, I must dispel a possible misunderstanding. As is evident..., Trotsky includes himself among the Bolshevik old guard, thereby showing readiness to take upon himself the charges that may be hurled at the old guard if it does indeed take the path of degeneration. It must be admitted that his readiness for self-sacrifice is undoubtedly a noble trait. But I must protect Trotsky from Trotsky, because, for obvious reasons, he cannot and should not bear responsibility for the possible degeneration of the principal cadres of the Bolshevik old guard..."

With more than a covert reference to Trotsky's long Menshevik past, Stalin, while admitting the possibility of degeneration of the Bolshevik old guard, goes on to add:

"Nevertheless, there are a number of elements within our Party who are capable of giving rise to a real danger of degeneration of certain ranks of our Party. I have in mind that section of the Mensheviks who joined our Party unwillingly and who have not yet got rid of their opportunist habits." (Collected Works, Vol. 5 p. 395).

The Thirteenth Conference of the RCP(B), held on 16-18 January 1924, strongly condemned the factionalism of Trotsky and his followers, stating that "the present opposition is not only an attempt to revise Bolshevism not only a flagrant departure from Leninism but patently a petty-bourgeois deviation .There is no doubt whatever that this opposition mirrors the pressure of the petty-bourgeoisie on the position of the proletarian party and its policy." (Resolution On the Results of the Discussion and on the Petty-Bourgeois Deviation in the Party – CPSU in Resolutions, etc. Vol. 2).

Lenin's death and Trotsky's attempt to substitute Trotskyism for Leninism

Lenin, after a further stroke on the morning of 21 January, 1924, died in the evening. Trotsky, although a newcomer to the Party, had convinced himself that he had a better claim to succeed Lenin than old, trusted and tried Bolsheviks such as Stalin. So in October 1924 Trotsky published an introduction to his collected works entitled Lessons of October, which purported to deal with the reasons for the Bolshevik victory in the October Revolution. Having made general ritual references in it to the necessity of a revolutionary party for the success of a revolution, Trotsky went on to belittle the role of the Bolshevik Party, extol his, own part in the revolution, hinting that Lenin had suddenly changed his previous position for that of Trotsky, to which fact alone was to be attributed the success of the October Revolution. He also dragged out of the cupboard his old and much-discredited theory of 'permanent revolution!, arguing that hostile collisions between the proletarian vanguard and the broad masses of the peasantry were inevitable. One gets the impression from reading his Lessons of October that it was Trotsky who organised the October victory.

In other words, the man who had fought against Bolshevism and Leninism for 14 long years, who had sided with the Mensheviks and liquidators to oppose the building by Lenin's Bolsheviks of the proletarian revolutionary party capable of leading the proletariat and the broad masses in seizing political power, who had spent his life opposing Lenin's theory of proletarian revolution with his absurd theory of 'permanent revolution', who had opposed the Bolshevik slogan of defeat of one's own government in the imperialist war (the first world war) with his chauvinistic slogan demanding Neither victory nor defeat, suddenly and providentially descended on the scene in Petersburg to rescue the revolution from the frightened and useless lot that constituted the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, the majority of whom, according to this fairy tale worthy of the Arabian Nights, were opposed to the October uprising!!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Trotsky's special role in October originated with John Reed, the author of Ten Days that Shook the World, who, being remote from the Bolshevik Party, had no knowledge of the secret meeting of its central committee on 23 October, 1917, and was therefore taken in by the gossip spread by people such as Sukhanov. These fairy tales about Trotsky's special role in October were later passed round and repeated in several pamphlets written by Trotskyites, including Syrkin's pamphlet on October. After Lenin's death Trotsky strongly supported these rumours in his literary pronouncements.

Since a systematic attempt was being made by Trotskyites to re- write the history of October and bring up Soviet youth on such legends, Stalin, in a speech delivered at the Plenum of the Communist Group of the AUCCTU,(3) refuted – by reference to hard facts – these Arabian Nights fairy tales in his characteristically devastating manner. Citing the minutes of the meeting of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party on 23 October 1917, he proved that the resolution on the uprising was adopted by a majority of 10 against 2; that the same meeting elected a political centre, called the Political Bureau, to direct the uprising, the members of the Centre being Lenin, Zinoviev, Stalin, Kamenev, Trotsky, Sokolnikov and Bubnov. Thus the Centre included even Zinoviev and Kamenev who were the only two to vote against the resolution on the uprising. This was possible in spite of the political disagreements between them because there was at that time a unity of views between these two (Zinoviev and Kamenev) and the rest of the Central Committee on such fundamental questions "as the character of the Russian revolution, the driving forces of the revolution, the role of the peasantry, the principles of Party leadership, and so forth." (Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 341). Thus the decision on the uprising was taken by the Central Committee and the Central Committee alone. Hence the political direction of the uprising was firmly in the hands of the Central Committee.

As to the legend that Trotsky played a 'special' role in that he 'inspired', and was the 'sole leader' of the October uprising – this legend was spread by Lentsner, and Stalin dealt with it as follows:

"The Trotskyites are vigorously spreading rumours that Trotsky inspired and was the sole leader of the October uprising. These rumours are being spread with exceptional zeal by the so- called editor of Trotsky's works, Lentsner. Trotsky himself, by consistently avoiding mention of the Party, the Central Committee and the Petrograd Committee of the Party, by saying nothing about the leading role of these organisations in the uprising and vigorously pushing himself forward as the central figure in the October uprising, voluntarily or involuntarily helps to spread the rumours about the special role he is supposed to have played in the uprising, I am far from denying Trotsky's undoubtedly important role in the uprising. I must say, however, that Trotsky did not play any special role in the October uprising, nor could he do so; being chairman of the Petrograd Soviet he merely carried out the will of the appropriate Party bodies, which directed every step that Trotsky took .To philistines like Sukhanov, all this may seem strange, but the facts, the true facts, wholly and fully confirm what I say." (Ibid, pp. 341- 342).

Stalin then passes on to an examination of the minutes of the next Central Committee meeting held on 29 October, 1917. Apart from the members of the Central Committee, there were present at this meeting representatives of the Petrograd Committee as well as representatives of military organisations, factory committees, trade unions and the railwaymen. At this meeting Lenin's resolution on the uprising was adopted by a majority of 20 against 2, with three abstentions. At this meeting too a practical centre was elected for the organisational leadership of the uprising. To this practical centre were elected the following five: Sverdlov, Stalin, Dzerzhinksy, Bubnov and Uritsky. Let Stalin speak:

"The functions of the practical centre: to direct all the practical organs of the uprising in conformity with the directives of the Central Committee. Thus, as you see, something terrible happened at this meeting of the Central Committee, i.e., 'strange to relate', the Inspirer, the 'chief figure', the 'sole leader' of the uprising, Trotsky, was not elected to the practical centre, which was called upon to direct the uprising. How is this to be reconciled with the current opinion about Trotsky's special role? Is not all this somewhat 'strange', as Sukhanov, or the Trotskyites, would say? And yet strictly speaking there is nothing strange about it for neither in the Party, nor in the October uprising did Trotsky play any special role, nor could he do so, for he was a relatively new man in our Party in the period of October. He, like all the responsible workers, merely carried out the will of the Central Committee and of its organs. Who-ever is familiar with the mechanics of Bolshevik Party leadership will have no difficulty in understanding that it could not be otherwise; it would have been enough for Trotsky to go against the will of the Central Committee to have been deprived of all influence on the course of events. This talk about Trotsky's special role is a legend that is being spread by obliging 'Party' gossips.(4)

"This, of course, does not mean that the October uprising did not have its inspirer. it did have its inspirer and leader, but this was Lenin, and none other than Lenin, that same Lenin whose resolution the Central Committee adopted when deciding the question of the uprising, that same Lenin who, in spite of what Trotsky says, was not prevented by being in hiding from being the actual inspirer of the uprising. It is foolish and ridiculous to attempt now, by gossip about Lenin having been in hiding to obscure the indubitable fact that the inspirer of the uprising was the leader of the Party, V.I. Lenin.

"Such are the facts." (Collected Works, Vol. 6, pp 342-344.)

Continues Stalin:

"Granted, we are told but it cannot be denied that Trotsky fought well in the period of October. Yes, that is true, Trotsky did, indeed, fight well in October, but Trotsky was not the only one who fought well in the period of October. Even people like the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who then stood side by side with the Bolsheviks, also fought well, In general I "must say that in the period of a victorious uprising when the enemy is isolated and the uprising is growing; it is not difficult to fight well. At such moments even backward people become heroes.

"The proletarian struggle is not however, an uninterrupted advance, an unbroken chain of victories. The proletarian struggle also has its trials, its defeats. The genuine revolutionary is not one who displays courage in the period of a victorious uprising; but one who, while fighting well during the victorious advance of the revolution, also displays courage when the revolution is in retreat when the proletariat suffers defeat, who does not lose his head and does not funk when the revolution suffers reverses, when the enemy "achieves success; who does not become panic-stricken or give way to despair when the revolution is in a period of retreat The Left Socialist- Revolutionaries did not fight badly in the period of October, and they supported the Bolsheviks. But who does not know that those 'brave' fighters became panic-stricken in the period of Brest when the advance of German imperialism drove them to despair and hysteria. It is a very sad but indubitable fact that Trotsky, who fought well in the period of October, did not in the period of Brest in the period when the revolution suffered temporary reverses, possess the courage to display sufficient staunchness at that difficult moment and to refrain from following in the footsteps of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. Beyond question; that moment was a difficult one; one had to display exceptional courage and imperturbable coolness not to be dismayed, to retreat in good time, to accept peace in good time, to withdraw the proletarian army out of range of the blows of German imperialism; to preserve the peasant reserves and, after obtaining a respite in this way, to strike at the enemy with renewed force. Unfortunately, Trotsky was found to lack this courage and revolutionary staunchness at that difficult moment.

"In Trotsky's opinion, the principal lesson of the proletarian revolution is 'not to funk' during October. That is wrong; for Trotsky's assertion contains only a particle of the truth about the lessons of the revolution. The whole truth about the lessons of the proletarian revolution is not to funk, not only when the revolution is advancing but also when it is retreat when the enemy is gaining the upper hand and the revolution is suffering reverses. The revolution did not end with October. October was only the beginning of the proletarian revolution. It is bad to funk when the tide of insurrection is rising but it is worse to funk when the revolution is passing through severe trials after power has been captured. To retain power on the morrow of the revolution is no less important that to capture power." (Ibid. pp. 344-345).

Stalin asked the question: "For what purpose did Trotsky need all these legends about October and the preparation for October, about Lenin and the Party of Lenin? What is the purpose of Trotsky's new literary pronouncements against the Party?..." (Ibid. p.363)

By way of an answer, Stalin continues:

"Trotsky asserts that all this is needed for the purpose of 'studying' October. But is it not possible to study October without giving another kick at the Party and its leader Lenin? What sort of a 'history' of October is it that begins and ends with attempts to discredit the chief leader of the October uprising to discredit the Party, which organised and carried through the uprising?... That is not the way to study October. That is not the way to write the history of October. Obviously, there is a different 'design' here, and everything goes to show that this 'design' is that Trotsky by his literary pronouncements is making another (yet another!) attempt to create the conditions for substituting Trotskyism for Leninism. Trotsky needs 'desperately' to discredit the Party, and its cadres who carried through the uprising in order, after discrediting the Party, to proceed to discredit Leninism. And it is necessary for him to discredit Leninism in order to drag in Trotskyism as the 'sole' 'proletarian' (don't laugh!) ideology. All this, of course (oh, of course!) under the flag of Leninism, so that the dragging operation may be performed 'as painlessly as possible'.

"That is the essence of Trotsky's latest literary pronouncements." (Ibid. pp. 363-364).

Trotskyism or Leninism ; Trotskyism – a rallying point for counter-revolution