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Leon Trotsky 19300610 The New Masses as "Defender" of the October Revolution

Leon Trotsky: The New Masses as "Defender" of the October Revolution

June 10, 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 2, 1930, New York 1975, p. 275-279]

Dear Friend:

I have received a copy of the New York magazine New Masses containing articles about my autobiography and about the suicide of Maïakovsky I do not regret the fifteen minutes I have spent getting acquainted with the American left intelligentsia. Magazines like this are to be found in several countries. One of their important tasks is said to be the "defense" of the Soviet Union. This is a wholly praiseworthy endeavor, regardless of whether Messrs. "Defenders" fulfill it from inward conviction or — as is sometimes the case — from less lofty motives. But it would be foolish to exaggerate the importance of this defense. These groups, sufficiently varied in their composition, busy themselves on one side with the fringes of the bourgeoisie, on the other with the fringes of the proletariat, and offer no guarantee whatever as to their own future. As the majority of pacifists struggle against war only in times of peace, so these radical "defenders" of the Soviet Union, its titular "friends" from the bohemian ranks, will fulfill their mission only as long as this does not demand real courage and genuine devotion to the revolution. These qualities they do not possess. And where indeed should they get them? Their radicalism needs a protective coloration. For that reason it finds its chief expression in the "defense" of the Soviet Union — defense of a state possessing power, wealth, authority. It is a question of defending what exists and is already achieved. For such defense it is not at all necessary to be a revolutionary. You can quite well remain a mixture of anarchist and conservative. But at the same time you can seem revolutionary, deceiving others and, to some extent, yourself. We have seen this in the example of Barbusse and the French paper Le Monde. From the standpoint of time, their radicalism is chiefly directed toward the past. From the standpoint of space, it is directly in proportion to the square of the distance from the scene of action. In relation to their own country, these bold ones always were and always will be infinitely more cautious and evasive than in relation to other countries — especially those in the East.

The best representative of this type, excelling the rest by many heads both in gifts and character, is undoubtedly Maxim Gorky. He sympathized for years with the Bolsheviks and considered their enemies his enemies. This did not prevent him from appearing in the camp of its enemies at the time of the proletarian revolution. After the victory of the revolution he long remained in the camp of its enemies. He reconciled himself to the Soviet republic when it became an unalterable fact for him — that is, when he could reconcile himself to it without departing from his essentially conservative outlook. There is irony in the fact that Gorky warred against Lenin at the greatest period of Lenin's creation but now, long afterward, gets along very peacefully with Stalin. What can we expect of the pencil-sized Gorkys?

The essence of these people from the left wing of bourgeois bohemia is that they are capable of defending the revolution only after it is accomplished and has demonstrated its permanence. In defending the yesterday of the revolution they adopt an attitude of conservative hostility to all those who are paving the road to its tomorrow. The future can only be prepared by revolutionary methods, methods as foreign to conservative bohemia as were the ideas and slogans of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the day before the October Revolution. These gentlemen remain, accordingly, true to themselves and to the social classes that created them and feed them. Furthermore, in spite of a formal veering to the left, to the "new masses" (!), their conservatism has really grown stronger, since they are leaning their backs against — not the October Revolution, no! — but against a great state as an "institution," independent of its guiding ideas and its policy. They were with Lenin and Trotsky — by no means all of them, by the way — after that they were with Zinoviev, after that with Bukharin and Rykov, now they are with Stalin. And tomorrow? Upon that they will express themselves when tomorrow has become yesterday. They have accepted every change in the governmental course as patriotic officials accept a change of uniform. There are always potential bureaucrats sitting around bohemia. These people are courtiers of the Soviet power, not soldiers of the proletarian revolution.

The workers' state, as a state, may have need of such characters for temporary goals, although I have always thought that the nearsighted epigones greatly exaggerated the weight of these groups — just as they exaggerated the value of the "defense" of Purcell or the "friendship" of Chiang Kai-shek. As for these characters themselves, I am ready to acknowledge that it is better to be a courtier of the Soviet power than of the oil kings or the British secret service. But the proletarian revolution would not be the proletarian revolution if it allowed its ranks to be confused with this problematical, unreliable, fickle, and vacillating crew.

Their moral triviality assumes cynical and sometimes insufferable form when they, in the character of "friends of the family," interfere in the internal problems of communism. The aforementioned issue of the New Masses (a paradoxical name, by the way, for a bohemian publication!) is a case in point. These people, you see, think that my autobiography will serve the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, while the New Masses, Le Monde, and other publications of this kind are obviously necessary to the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. This aberration is easily explained. Playing around the fringes of two hostile classes and revolving continually on their own axes, the Barbusses of all countries naturally get mixed up as to where the bourgeoisie is and where the proletariat. Their criteria are simple. Since the work of the Left Opposition decisively criticizes the domestic policy of the Soviet Union and the world policy of the Comintern, and since the bourgeois newspapers exult in this criticism and try to make use of it — why, the conclusion is perfectly obvious: the courtiers are in the camp of the revolution, and we, the Communist Left, in the camp of its enemies! This is the usual depth of the political thinking to be found in bohemia.

The bourgeoisie would be stupid if it did not try to use the internal disagreements in the revolutionary camp. But were these questions first raised in my autobiography? Wasn't the expulsion from the party of the president of the Comintern, Zinoviev, and one of the presidents of the Soviet government, Kamenev, a gift to the bourgeoisie? Did not the deportation and subsequently the banishment of Trotsky give the bourgeois press of the whole world a welcome theme for agitation against the October Revolution? Was not the denunciation of the head of the government, Rykov, and the head of the Comintern, Bukharin, as "bourgeois liberals" used by the bourgeoisie and the social democracy? These facts, brought to the attention of the whole world, were far more helpful to the bourgeoisie than the theoretical reflections or historical explanations of Trotsky. But what interest has anarcho-conservative bohemia in all this? It takes all the foregoing events, because they are stamped with the official stamp, as given and eternal once and for all. Criticism of the Stalin regime is impossible to them, not because the Stalinists are right, but because the Stalinists are today the government. I repeat: these are courtiers of the Soviet power, not revolutionaries.

For revolutionaries, the question is decided by the class line, the content of ideas, the theoretical position, the historical prognosis, and the political methods of each of the opposing sides. If you think, as we think — and as we have proven on a world scale through the experiences of the last six years — that the policies of the Stalinist faction are weakening the October Revolution, that they destroyed the Chinese revolution, that they are preparing the defeat of the Indian revolution, and that they are undermining the Comintern, then, and only then, our policy is justified. The bourgeoisie will pick up the fragments of our true and necessary criticism, of course! But does that change in the slightest degree the essence of a great historical problem? Hasn't revolutionary thought always developed by the road of ruthless internal struggle, at whose fire reaction always tried to warm its fingers?

I remark parenthetically, however, that all the bourgeois press, from the New York Times to the Austro-Marxist Arbeiter Zeitung, in its political estimate of the struggle of the Left Opposition with Stalinist centrism, stands incomparably closer to the centrists and never conceals it. You could publish a whole anthology of press clippings to prove this. Thus, in addition to all the rest, the "friends" and "defenders" of the revolution, having nothing in common either with the old or the new masses, crudely distort the genuine picture of the distribution of political sympathy and antipathy among the bourgeoisie and the social democrats.

Lying, by the way, is a necessary attribute of a courtier. In the article about Maïakovsky, I hit upon the name of Rakovsky as I turned the pages. I read eight or ten sentences, and although I am accustomed to almost anything, nevertheless what I read made me gasp. It is related here how Maïakovsky "hated war" ("hated war" — what a vulgar formulation of a revolutionary's relation to war!) and how, in contrast to that, Rakovsky at Zimmerwald "was going to take off his coat and punch Lenin and Zinoviev … in the jaw” for their revolutionary struggle against war. Rakovsky is named here for no purpose other than to spread this scandalous lie. It is necessary to spread it because Rakovsky is in exile and it is necessary to justify his being there. And so the courtier becomes a contemptible slanderer. He spreads this stupid scandal instead of stating — once he has named Rakovsky in connection with the war — with what revolutionary courage Rakovsky struggled against war under a storm of persecution, slander, assault, and police prosecution. Precisely for that struggle, Rakovsky was thrown into prison by the Rumanian oligarchy and was saved from the fate of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg only by the Red Army.

That is enough. If the October Revolution had depended upon its future courtiers, it would never have appeared in the world. And if its fate depended upon their "defense," the revolution would be condemned to ruin. The proletarian vanguard can guarantee the future of the land of the Soviets and continuation along the road of world revolution only by a correct policy. We must work out that policy, establish it theoretically, and defend it tooth and nail against the whole world and, if necessary, against the very "highest" institutions that have raised themselves up (or rather have slid down) on the back of the October Revolution. But of those questions we need not speak in connection with the pseudo-revolutionary courtiers from the ranks of petty-bourgeois bohemia. Of them enough has been said.


L.D. Trotsky