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Leon Trotsky 19390610 Toward a Balance Sheet of the Purges

Leon Trotsky: Toward a Balance Sheet of the Purges

June 10, 1939

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 346 f.]

Walter Duranty, correspondent of the New York, Times, whom the Kremlin has always entrusted with its dirtiest journalistic tasks, considers it necessary now to report that the purge far exceeded in size everything known about it abroad. Half of the expelled Communists have returned to the ranks of the party again. But how many innocent nonparty people suffered, etc.!

Walter Duranty's indignation has been ordered from him by the Kremlin this time too. Stalin now has to have his own lackeys as indignant as possible over the outrages and crimes that have been committed. They thus lead public opinion to believe that Stalin himself is full of indignation, and that consequently the forgeries, provocations, arbitrary exiles, and shootings took place without his knowledge and against his will. Only inveterate fools, of course, are capable of believing this. But even people who are not stupid are inclined to go to meet Stalin, on this question, at least halfway; yes, they say, Stalin was doubtless the culprit of the last wave of terror; but he wanted to limit it within the framework of political expediency, i.e., exterminate those it was necessary for his regime to exterminate. Meanwhile, the unreasonable and demoralized executants, guided by interests of a lower order, gave the purge a completely monstrous dimension and thus produced general indignation. Stalin, of course, is not guilty of these exaggerations, this senseless, even from the viewpoint of the Kremlin, extermination of hundreds of thousands of "neutral" people.

However much this reasoning may win over the thinking of ordinary people, it is false from start to finish. It supposes, above all, that Stalin himself is more limited than he actually is. But he has available, especially in this field, sufficient experience to be able to say what size a purge has to be in the apparatus that he took the major part in creating and forming. The preparation, as is well known, took a long time. It started with the expulsion from the party, in 1935, of tens of thousands of long repentant oppositionists. Nobody understood these measures. Least of all, of course, those expelled themselves. Stalin's task was to kill the Fourth International. and exterminate in passing the old generation of Bolsheviks, and from the subsequent generations all those who were morally connected with the tradition of the Bolshevik Party. In order to carry out such a monstrous plan, the like of which cannot be found in the pages of human history, the apparatus itself had to be caught in pincers. It was necessary to make every GPU agent, every Soviet official, every member of the party, feel that the slightest deviation from this or that diabolic assignment would mean the death of the recalcitrant and the destruction of his family and friends. Any thought of resistance in the party or in the working masses had to be killed in advance. It was thus a matter not of chance "exaggerations," not of unreasonable zeal on the part of the executants, but of a necessary condition of the success of the basic plan. As executant was required a hysterical villain like Yezhov; Stalin saw his character and the spirit of his work in advance, and prepared to reject him when the basic aim was reached. In this field, the work went according to plan.

Even in the period of struggle with the Left Opposition, Stalin initiated the clique of his nearest co-thinkers into his greatest sociological and historical discovery: all regimes in the past fell as a result of the indecision and vacillation of the ruling class. If the state power has sufficient ruthlessness in struggle with its foes, not stopping at mass extermination, it will always manage to cope with all dangers. Already in autumn 1927 this wisdom was being repeated by Stalin's agents in all keys with the aim of preparing the public opinion of the party for the coming purges and trials. Today, it may seem to the Kremlin bosses — in any case it seemed so to them yesterday — that the great theorem of Stalin has been confirmed by facts. But history will destroy the police illusion, this time too. When a social or political regime reaches irreconcilable contradictions with the demands of the development of the country, repressions can certainly prolong its existence for a certain time, but in the long run the apparatus of repression itself will begin to break, grow dull, crumble. Stalin's police apparatus is entering just this stage. The fates of Yagoda and Yezhov foretell the coming fate not only of Beria, but also of the common boss of all three.