Leon Trotsky‎ > ‎1938‎ > ‎

Leon Trotsky 19381220 A Political Dialogue

Leon Trotsky: A Political Dialogue

December 20, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 154-163]

(This conversation takes place in Paris. It could for that matter also take place in Brussels. A is one of those "socialists" who can only stand on their feet when they have some power to lean on. A is a "friend of the Soviet Union" and is naturally a supporter of the People's Front. The author finds it rather difficult to characterize B, for B is his friend and co-thinker.)

    A. But you cannot deny that the fascists use your criticisms. All the reactionaries shout for joy when you unmask the USSR. Obviously, I do not believe all these slanders about your friendship with the fascists, your collaboration with the Nazis, etc. That's only for fools. Subjectively no doubt you maintain a revolutionary point of view. It is not, however, the subjective intentions that matter in politics, but the objective consequences. The right uses your criticisms against your will. In that sense, then, one can say that you are in an objective bloc with the reactionaries.

    B. Thanks very much for your brilliant objectivity. But you have discovered, my friend, an America that was discovered long ago. Even the Communist Manifesto told us that feudal reaction tried to exploit for its own use the socialist criticisms directed against the liberal bourgeoisie. That is why the liberals and the "democrats" have always, and invariably, accused the socialists of an alliance with reaction. Honest, but –how shall we put it?–somehow limited gentlemen have spoken of an "objective" alliance, of "actual" collaboration. Real crooks, on the other hand, have accused the revolutionaries of having made a direct agreement with the reactionaries, spreading rumors that the socialists work with foreign money, etc. Truly, my friend, you have not invented gunpowder.

A. One can answer your analogy with two decisive objections. First, that so far as bourgeois democracy is concerned. . . .

B. You mean imperialist bourgeois democracy?

A. Yes, I mean bourgeois democracy, which – we cannot deny this – is at the moment in deadly danger. It is one thing to expose the imperfections of bourgeois democracy when it is strong and healthy, but to undermine it from the left at the very moment when the fascists want to overthrow it from the right, that means . . .

B. You don't have to go on; I know this tune only too well.

A. I beg your pardon, I haven't finished yet. My second objection comes down to this: It is not merely a question of bourgeois democracy this time. After all, there is the USSR, which you used to recognize as a workers' state and which you apparently still recognize as such. Complete isolation threatens this state. You reveal only the defects of the USSR, and consequently this lowers the prestige of the first workers' state in the eyes of the workers of the world, and thus objectively you are helping fascism.

B. Thanks again for your objectivity. In other words what you mean to say is that one must only criticize "democracy" when criticism constitutes no danger for it. According to you, socialists are to shut up precisely when decaying imperialist bourgeois democracy (not just "bourgeois democracy" in general!) has proven in practice its complete inability to cope with the tasks posed by history (and this inability is precisely the reason why "democracy" crumbles so easily under the blows of reaction). You are reducing socialism to the role of a "critical" ornament upon the architecture of bourgeois democracy. You will not acknowledge to socialism the role of heir to democracy. What it boils down to is that you are a very frightened conservative democrat, that's all. And your "socialist" phraseology is nothing but a cheap ornament upon your conservatism.

A. Well, what about the USSR, which undoubtedly is the heir of democracy and constitutes the embryo of the new society? Mind you, I do not deny that there are errors and deficiencies in the USSR. To err is human. Imperfections are inevitable. But it is not by accident that all of world reaction attacks the USSR. . . .

B. Aren't you at all uneasy repeating such banalities? Yes, in spite of the Kremlin's voluntary but useless crawling upon its belly, world reaction continues its struggle against the USSR. Why? Because the USSR has, up to the present, maintained the nationalization of the means of production and the monopoly of foreign trade. We revolutionaries attack the bureaucracy of the USSR precisely because its parasitic policy and suppression of the workers undermine the nationalization of the means of production and the monopoly of foreign trade, which are the basic components of socialist construction. Here you see the tiny, the very tiny difference between us and reaction. World imperialism calls upon the oligarchy of the Kremlin to carry its work to a conclusion and, having introduced military ranks (distinctions, decorations), privileges, domestic servants, prostitution, punishment for abortions, etc., to also introduce private property in the means of production. We, on the other hand, call on the workers of the USSR to overthrow the Kremlin oligarchy and to build a true Soviet democracy as the necessary prerequisite for building socialism.

A. But you cannot deny that the USSR, despite all its imperfections, constitutes progress?

B. Only the superficial tourist, whom the hosts of Moscow have favored with their hospitality, can regard the USSR as a single unit. There are in the USSR, besides extremely progressive tendencies, also malignantly reactionary ones. One must know how to differentiate between the two and to defend one against the other. The never-ending purges show, even to the blind, the power and tension of the new antagonisms. The most fundamental of these social contradictions is the one between the betrayed masses and the new aristocratic caste which is preparing the restoration of a class society. That is why I cannot be "for the USSR" in general. I am for the working masses who created the USSR and against the bureaucracy which has usurped the gains of the revolution.

A. But do you mean to say that you demand the immediate introduction of complete equality in the USSR? But even Marx. . . .

B. For goodness sake, don't use these worn-out phrases of Stalin's hirelings. I assure you, I too have read that in the first stage of socialism there cannot yet be complete equality and that that is the task of communism. But that is not the question at all. The point is that during the last several years, as the bureaucracy has become more and more omnipotent, inequality has grown by enormous dimensions. It is not the static situation, but the dynamics, the general direction of development, that is of decisive importance. The inequality in the USSR, far from adjusting itself, sharpens and grows daily and hourly. The growth of this social inequality can only be stopped by revolutionary measures against the new aristocracy. That alone determines our position.

A. Yes, but the imperialist reactionaries use your criticisms as a whole. Therefore it follows, doesn't it, that they also use them against the gains of the revolution?

B. Of course they try to make use of them. In political struggle every class tries to make use of the contradictions in the ranks of its opponents. Two examples: Lenin, who, as you might have heard, was never for unity just for the sake of unity, tried to separate the Bolsheviks from Mensheviks. As we have since found out from czarist archives, the police department, with the help of its provocateurs, further deepened the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. After the February revolution of 1917 the Mensheviks continually insisted that the aims and methods of Lenin coincided with those of the czarist police. What a cheap argument! The police hoped that the splitting of the Social Democrats would weaken them. Lenin, on the other hand, was convinced that the split with the Mensheviks would enable the Bolsheviks to develop a truly revolutionary policy and to capture the masses. Who was right?

Second example: Wilhelm II and his General Ludendorff tried during the war to use Lenin for their own purposes and put a train at his disposal for his return to Russia.167 The Russian Cadets and Kerensky called Lenin nothing else but an agent of German imperialism. And it can be said for them that they certainly used more convincing, or at least less stupid, arguments in their favor than their imitators of today are employing. And what was the result? After the defeat of Germany, Ludendorff admitted–read his memoirs –that in his estimation of Lenin he had made the biggest mistake of his life. The German army, according to Ludendorff's admission, was destroyed, not by the armies of the Entente, but by the Bolsheviks through the October Revolution.

A. Well, what about the military security of the USSR? What about the danger of weakening its defenses?

B. You'd better keep quiet about that! Stalin, having broken with the earlier Spartan simplicity of the Red Army, had crowned the officer corps with five marshals. But he could not bribe the commanding staff that way. So he decided to destroy it. Four of the five marshals– precisely the ones who had some ability–were shot, and with them the flower of the military command. A hierarchy of personal spies of Stalin was created over the army. It has been shaken to its very core. The USSR has been weakened. This weakening of the army goes on. Parasitic tourists can sit back and enjoy the military displays on the Red Square. It remains the duty of a serious revolutionary to state quite frankly and openly: Stalin is preparing the defeat of the USSR.

    A. And what are your conclusions then?

    B. It is very simple. The petty pickpockets of politics believe that a great historical problem can be solved by cheap claptrap, cunning, intrigue behind the scenes, deception of the masses. The ranks of the international labor bureaucracy are teeming with such pickpockets. I believe, however, that social problems can only be solved by a working class that knows the truth. Socialist education means to tell the masses the truth. Truth most often has a bitter taste and the "friends of the Soviet Union" like sweets. But those who like sweets represent the element of reaction and not of progress. We shall continue to tell the masses the truth. We have got to prepare for the future, and revolutionary politics is farsighted politics.