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Leon Trotsky 19350726 A Report in Arbeiderbladet

Leon Trotsky: A Report in Arbeiderbladet

Published July 26, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 53-57]

In the Russian Bolshevik revolution of 1917, in the civil war until 1920, and in the following decisive years for the Soviet regime, there were two great leaders, only two who could truly be called leaders: Lenin and Trotsky. There were many other leaders and staff officers, one of whom — Stalin — has now even risen to the level of personal dictator of the Soviet state (which Lenin never was and Trotsky never wanted to be), but Lenin and Trotsky were revolutionary leaders of a special kind.

Trotsky is currently convalescing at the home of editor Konrad Knudsen near Hønefoss, having recently arrived in Norway after he was given permission by the Labor government. A staff writer for Arbeiderbladet, along with a few other party members, visited the great former leader of the revolution.

Sick But Not Broken; Big Book About Lenin on the Way

Trotsky is still rather weak and last week he had a relapse in his illness. But he was not broken; his vitality was astonishing in view of all he has gone through; he is a man who is still far from having said his last word and who has gained new hope for his health through his stay in Norway. In a few weeks Trotsky’s personal doctor is coming to Norway from Paris, and he, together with a Norwegian doctor, will then thoroughly go over the patient and make further plans for his treatment. It is hoped that in time this will succeed in bringing back his health.

It is a memorable experience to speak with Trotsky. People may differ in their appraisal of his deeds and his views, but few whose knowledge entitles them to an opinion on the subject will deny that he is one of history’s truly great figures. He has been a great man of action, but he is also a notable thinker. His books are profound, yet at the same time written in a brilliant style. For some time Tiden Norsk Forlag has been negotiating with Trotsky’s representative about the publication of a few of his books in Norwegian, and this may be arranged. His three-volume work on the Russian revolution has already become a classic and has been published in large editions in a number of countries. Trotsky is currently working, whenever he is able to, on a big book about Lenin, and we discussed it.

In my manuscript Lenin has now reached the age of twenty-three,” says Trotsky. “About one-third is now completely finished, and I have organized but not yet begun working on the material for the remaining two-thirds. It will be one or two volumes and at least 600 pages long.”

Italo-Ethiopian Conflict Could Become Prologue to New World War

The conversation touches upon the historic world events, which Trotsky follows closely, but when it is a question of saying anything for publication he is very cautious, since he feels himself bound by the stipulations of his entry visa. Yet he can express his opinion on questions of a general historical or socialist nature, and in the course of the conversation we were able to obtain statements of the greatest interest.

First is the danger of war in connection with Italy’s campaign in Ethiopia. Is it heading toward a new world war?

It is very difficult to make any predictions,” says Trotsky, “but I would say yes, in the sense that I believe that the prospective war between Ethiopia and Italy stands in the same relation to a new world war as the Balkan War in 1912 did to the World War of 1914-18. Before there can be any new big war, the powers will have to declare themselves, and in this regard the Ethiopian-Italian war will define positions and indicate the coalitions. It is impossible to say whether it will then take three, four, or five years or more before the big war breaks out. We should be prepared for a short rather than a long time.”

War Between Japan and Soviet Union Soon?

What exactly is the position of the Soviet Union?”

The Soviet Union has its own danger in the Far East. The expansionist drive of Japanese militarism is very great. And the present policy in Tokyo is quite unpredictable. A war between Japan and the Soviet Union could — in spite of the latter’s genuine desire for peace — break out within even a year’s time. Japan will perhaps succeed for a time in the beginning of such a war. But Japan would inevitably lose, if only because of the internal situation in the country. Indirectly, the Soviet Union’s diplomacy is currently a means of support for Italy, which is leaning on France and the Soviet Union. In the international arena, the government of the Soviet Union has become a conservative power. It is for the status quo, against change. But it has not lifted a finger for the status quo in Ethiopia. That is an irony of history.”

Trotsky’s Work and Fate

Trotsky would not say any more about this subject, although it was clear that he had definite opinions about lots of things. We turn the conversation to the history of the Russian revolution and his work in the revolution, and mention among other things the myth, which some have attempted to give currency, that in reality the Red Army was victorious not because of Trotsky but in spite of Trotsky’s leadership. Trotsky smiles at that and says: “With some top circles in the Soviet Union it is just like with a man who strikes it rich in America — he has to get himself a family tree. When a new bureaucratic stratum comes to power it creates its own genealogy and prehistory. The past is distorted and all of its own advantages are put on display.”

I was a member of the Political Bureau from 1917 to 1927. At the beginning of 1928, I was exiled to Central Asia by an administrative measure; I was there for one year, and in the beginning of 1929 I was deported to Turkey. I remained there until 1933, when Daladier’s short-lived government gave me an entry visa to France, where I stayed for two years.”

The World Advances All the Same

We observe that most of the Old Bolsheviks are now either dead or in exile, and Trotsky says:

Those who made the revolution never benefited from it. But the world has made a little progress all the same. The difference is that formerly, as in the French Revolution, the heads were cut off the leaders of the revolution; now they are sent into exile in Siberia and elsewhere. The new bureaucracy in the Soviet Union is made up of new elements — in part old enemies of the October Revolution. It is difficult for me to express myself on this; but it was a truly Shakespearean scene that was acted out early this year in London, when representatives of the English labor movement went to the Soviet embassy in connection with the imprisonment of Zinoviev and Kamenev. There stood the Soviet ambassador, Maisky, who earlier had been a minister in Kolchak’s government, and explained that the two old Bolshevik leaders were really counterrevolutionaries!

On Socialism, Planning, and Control

Trotsky did not want to say anything at the moment about the current state of affairs in the Soviet Union, but some things of prime interest were touched upon.

The working people themselves must participate in the management of the economy if it is to really be socialism, that is, production and other economic activity for the benefit of the people,” says Trotsky. “It must not be that the bureaucrats unilaterally make decisions and the people simply obey — in that case the plans will not be corrected by those whom these plans ostensibly should be serving. Under capitalism the correction takes place — or more accurately, took place — through competition. Under socialism that can only happen through workers’ and farmers’ control. If that is not done, disproportions can develop which can lead to unfortunate results.”

Great Technical Results in Soviet Union, But Still Not a Classless Society

As far as the Soviet Union was concerned, he saw that it had achieved great technical results, but the people’s standard of living has not kept up with the technical achievements. There is still no classless society there, and lately it has taken certain steps away from the socialist goal. Social differentiation has increased rather than diminished. The role played by the bureaucracy continues to grow. It has formed a new nobility. Economically speaking it is a question of the productivity of labor. Socialism will ultimately triumph only when the productivity of labor is higher than it is under capitalism. That is how capitalism defeated feudalism. But the productivity of labor is still higher in America and Europe than in the Soviet Union.

Trotsky did not want to say any more about that subject and he refused to say anything about the present situation in the Soviet Union. But in conclusion he had many nice things to say about Norwegian nature and Norwegian hospitality, and not least of all the hospitality he is enjoying with the Knudsen family.

In the short time I have been in Norway,” says Trotsky, “I have been completely captivated by the landscape, nature’s beauty and the people. I don’t know if the so-called ‘Aryan’ race is directly descended from Norway, but I must say that the tall, strong figures and faces in which one reads such dignity make the best impression upon a person. Nature — at least in the small part of the country I have so far gotten to know — appears fascinating and soothing. To anyone who is looking for rest and recreation, who wants to engage in either intensive mental work or sports, I would warmly recommend Norway.”