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Leon Trotsky 19380912 The Totalitarian Defeatist in the Kremlin

Leon Trotsky: The Totalitarian Defeatist in the Kremlin

September 12, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 442-447]

Beginning with the year 1933 the international importance of the USSR began to rise rapidly. Often one could hear then from European journalists the opinion: "The Kremlin holds the fate of Europe in its hands," "Stalin has become a world arbiter," and so on. No matter how exaggerated these estimates may have been even at that time, they arose from two undeniable factors – the sharpening of world antagonisms and the growing strength of the Red Army. The relative success of the first five year plan, the tangible program of industrialization which created a material base for the army and navy, the halting of the progressive paralysis of the railways, the first favorable crops on the basis of the kolkhoz, the increase in the amount of livestock, the decrease in want and starvation – these were the internal prerequisites for the successes of Soviet diplomacy. Stalin's words – "life has become easier, life has become happier" – refer to this period. For the toiling masses life indeed became somewhat easier. For the bureaucracy life became a great deal happier.

Meanwhile a great part of the national income was being consumed for defense. The peacetime army of 800,000 men was raised to a million and a half. The navy began to revive. During the years of the Soviet regime a new commanding staff, from lieutenants to marshals, had time to form itself. To this must be added a political factor – the opposition, from the left as well as from the right, was routed. Victory over the opposition seemed to find its objective justification in economic achievements. Stalin's power appeared unshakable. All this taken together transformed the Soviet government if not into the arbiter of Europe, then at any rate into a significant international factor.

The last two years have left not a trace of this situation. The specific weight of Soviet diplomacy is lower at present than in the most critical months of the first five year plan. London has not only turned its face toward Rome and Berlin but even demands that Paris turn her back on Moscow. Thus Hitler, through Chamberlain, now has the opportunity to carry out his policy of isolating the USSR. Although France has not abrogated her agreement with the USSR, she has reduced it to a second-rate reserve. Having lost faith in assistance from Moscow, the Third Republic unfailingly trails on the heels of England. Conservative French patriots complain not without bitterness that France has become Great Britain's "last dominion." Italy and Germany, with the consent of the very same Chamberlain, intend to root themselves firmly in Spain, where only recently Stalin had seemed – and not only to himself – to be the master of fate. In the Far East, where Japan met unexpected difficulties of gigantic magnitude, Moscow proved incapable of anything more than frontier skirmishes, and these always on the initiative of Japan.

The cause for the decline in the international role of the Soviets within the last two years surely cannot be sought in the reconciliation or softening of international contradictions. No matter what the episodic oscillations may be, the imperialist countries are fatally approaching a world war. The conclusion is obvious: Stalin's weakness on the world arena is above all the result of the internal development of the USSR. What then has occurred in the Soviet Union during the last two years to turn strength into impotence? The economy seems to be growing; industry, despite so-called "sabotage," continues to laud its successes; crops improve; military supplies accumulate. Stalin successfully puts down internal enemies. What then is the matter?

Not so long ago the world judged the Soviet Union almost exclusively from the figures of Soviet statistics. These figures, although grossly exaggerated, nevertheless testified to undeniable achievements. It was taken for granted that behind the paper screen of figures existed an ever-growing prosperity of the people and of authority. But it has not turned out this way at all. In the final analysis, the processes of economics, of politics, and of culture are relations among living people, among groups and classes. The Moscow judicial tragedies revealed that these relations were wretched, or more correctly said, intolerable.

The army is the quintessence of a regime, not in the sense that it expresses only its "best" qualities, but in the sense that it imparts a most concentrated expression to its positive as well as negative tendencies. When the contradictions and antagonisms of a regime reach a certain acuteness, they begin to undermine the army from within. The opposite conclusion is that when the army – the most disciplined organ of the ruling class – begins to be torn by internal contradictions, this is an unmistakable sign of the intolerable crisis in society itself.

The economic successes of the Soviet Union, which at a certain time strengthened its army and its diplomacy, have above all raised up and strengthened the ruling bureaucratic layer. Historically, no class in society has ever concentrated in its hands in such a short period such wealth and power as the bureaucracy has concentrated during the two five year plans. But precisely through this it has placed itself in ever-growing contradiction to the people, who have passed through three revolutions and overthrown the czarist monarchy, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie. The Soviet bureaucracy now combines in itself, in a certain sense, the features of all the overthrown classes without either their social roots or their traditions. It can defend its monstrous privileges only by organized terror, and it can justify its terror only by judicial frame-ups. Having grown out of economic successes, the autocratic rule of the bureaucracy has become the chief obstacle on the future road of these achievements. Further growth of the country is impossible without the general growth of culture, that is, without the independence of each and all, without free criticism and free research. These elementary conditions of progress are necessary for the army, even to a greater degree than for the economy, because in the army the reality or sham of statistical data are tested in blood. But the political regime in the USSR has definitely approached that of a punitive battalion. All progressive and creative elements, genuinely devoted to the interests of the economy, public education, and national defense, invariably come into conflict with the ruling oligarchy. Thus it was in its time under czarism, thus it occurs at an incomparably higher tempo now under the regime of Stalin. Economy, culture, the army, need people with initiative, builders, creators. The Kremlin needs faithful executors, reliable and merciless agents. These human types – agent and creator – are irreconcilably hostile to one another.

During the last fifteen months the Red Army has lost almost its entire commanding staff, originally recruited in the years of civil war (1918-20), then educated, trained, and replenished in the following fifteen years. The thoroughly renewed and constantly changed officers' corps Stalin subjected to the open police surveillance of new commissars. Tukhachevsky, and with him the flower of the commanding staff, fell in struggle against the police dictatorship over the Red Army officers' corps. In the navy, where the strong and the weak sides of the armed forces assume an especially concentrated character, the annihilation of the highest officers has had an even more wholesale character than in the land forces. One must repeat again and again: the armed forces of the USSR are beheaded. The arrests and executions continue. A protracted duel is being waged between the Kremlin and the officers' corps, in which the right to shoot belongs to the Kremlin alone. The causes for this tragic duel are not of a temporary or accidental but of an organic nature. The totalitarian bureaucracy concentrates in its hands two functions – power and administration. These two functions have now come into sharp conflict. In order to assure good administration it is necessary to abolish totalitarian power. To uphold Stalin's power it is necessary to smash independent and capable administrators, military as well as civil.

The system of commissars, first introduced in the period when the Red Army was built out of nothing, signified, of necessity, a regime of dual command. The inconveniences and dangers of such an arrangement were absolutely clear even then, but they were considered a lesser and moreover a temporary evil. The very necessity of dual command in the army grew out of the collapse of the czarist army and out of the conditions of civil war. What does the new dual command signify? The first stage in the collapse of the Red Army and the beginning of a new civil war in the country?

Commissars of the first conscription expressed the control of the working class over alien and mostly hostile military specialists. Commissars of the new formation signify the control of the Bonapartist clique over military and civil administration and through it over the people.

Commissars of the first epoch were enlisted from the most earnest and sincere revolutionists, genuinely devoted to the cause of socialism. The commanders, who came in their majority from the ranks of old officers and sergeants, oriented themselves poorly under the new conditions, and the best of them themselves sought counsel and support from the commissars. Though not without friction and conflicts, dual command at that time led to friendly collaboration.

The matter is altogether different now. The present commanders grew out of the Red Army, are indissolubly connected with it, and enjoy an authority gained through the years. The commissars on the contrary are drafted from sons of bureaucrats, with neither revolutionary experience, military knowledge, nor moral endowment. They are purely a type of careerist of the new school. They are given commands only because they represent "vigilance," that is, Stalin's police supervision over the army. Commanders view them with merited contempt. The regime of dual command turns itself into a struggle between the political police and the army, with the central power on the side of the police.

The historic film unwinds in reverse, and what was a progressive measure of the revolution is revived as a revolting reactionary caricature. The new dual command permeates the government apparatus from top to bottom. At the head of the army nominally stands Voroshilov, the people's commissar, marshal, cavalier of many orders, and so on, and so on. But actual power is concentrated in the hands of a nonentity, Mekhlis,393 who on direct instructions from Stalin is turning the army topsy-turvy. This occurs in every military district, in every division, in every regiment. The same is true in the navy and air force. Every place has its own Mekhlis, who is instilling "vigilance" instead of knowledge, order, and discipline. All relations in the army assume a fluctuating, unsteady, floating character. Nobody knows where patriotism ends and betrayal begins. Nobody is certain of what one may or may not do. In case of discrepancy in the orders of the commander and the commissar, everybody must guess which of the two roads leads to reward and which to prison. Everybody waits expectantly and anxiously looks about himself. Honest workers lose all ambition. Rogues, thieves, and careerists do their work under cover of patriotic denunciations. The army foundations are loosened. In big things and small devastation reigns. Weapons are not cleaned and not inspected. Barracks take on a filthy uninhabited air. Roofs leak, there is a lack of bathhouses, the Red Army soldiers have no clean linen. Food becomes worse in quality and is not served at the appointed hours. The commander responds to complaints by passing them on to the commissar; real offenders cover themselves up by denouncing "wreckers." Drunkenness is on the increase among the commanders. The commissars vie with them in this respect also. The regime of anarchy cloaked by police despotism now saps all sides of Soviet life. It is particularly disastrous in the army, which can exist only under a sound regime and complete transparency of all relations. This is the reason, among others, why the big army maneuvers were canceled this year.

The diagnosis is clear. The growth of the country, especially the growth of its new wants, is incompatible with the totalitarian abomination. It therefore shows a tendency to eject, expel, cast out the bureaucracy from all spheres. When Stalin accuses this or that section of the apparatus of lack of "vigilance" he says by this: "You are concerned about the interests of the economy, science, or the army, but you are not concerned about my personal interests!" Stalinists in all parts of the country and in all strata of the bureaucratic pyramid find themselves in the same position. The bureaucracy can no longer uphold its position in any other way than by undermining the foundations of economic and cultural progress. The struggle for totalitarian power resulted in the annihilation of the best men of the country by its most degraded scoundrels.

Fortunately for the USSR, the internal situation of its potential enemies – already tense now – will become ever more critical in the coming period. But this does not change the analysis of the internal situation in the USSR. Stalin's totalitarian system has become a true breeding place for cultural sabotage and military defeatism. To say this bluntly is an elementary duty to the peoples of the USSR and to world public opinion. Politics, military politics in particular, cannot reconcile itself to fictions. The enemies know only too well what goes on in Stalin's realm. There exists a category of "friends" who prefer blindly to believe the Kremlin's agents. We write not for them but for those who choose to face the approaching stormy epoch squarely.