I have been saying for a long time on here that the Purges and Great Terror of the 1930’s, especially 1937-38, were in part a response to a plot within the party to kill Stalin and overthrow the leadership of the party. Trotskyites were involved in the plot. They had cut a deal with Nazi Germany. After the hoped-for invasion of the USSR, the Nazis would allow the Trots to take power in the rump USSR. In return, the Trots would give the Nazis the Ukraine and Belorussia, at the least.
People deride the existence of such a plot, and say there is no evidence for it. It’s true that the evidence is a bit sketchy. However, this recent article by top Soviet scholar J. Arch Getty shows that Trotsky was indeed involved with oppositionist circles in the USSR in the early 1930’s anyway, giving at least partial support to the Trotsky As Traitor theory outlined above. I have only given this a cursory look over. Feel free to check it out.
Trotsky in Exile: The Founding of the Fourth International
By J. Arch Getty*
Soviet Studies, vol. XXXVIII, no. 1, January 1986, 24-35
Leon Trotsky’s formal political break with the Bolshevik Party came in 1933 with his decision to renounce allegiance to the Third International (Comintern) and to form a Fourth International. The rupture had not come easily for him. Although the Bolshevik leadership had expelled him from the party in 1927 and exiled him from the Soviet Union in 1929, Trotsky, for his part, had never formally split from the party or the Comintern.
From the time of his exile to the 1933 break, pro-Trotsky communists (‘Bolshevik-Leninists’) had tried to work both within and outside the official parties of the Comintern in order to influence their policies in a Trotskyist direction and Trotsky had been reluctant to organise or sanction new Bolshevik-Leninist parties outside the framework of the Comintern.
He had consistently maintained his allegiance to the Third International and expressed his willingness to defend the Soviet state and Bolshevik monopoly of power against internal and external class enemies.
His four-year loyalty to the party that had exiled him was based in part on his fears of the dangers facing the Soviet government. Trotsky defined the Stalinist regime in this period not as a rightist or ‘Thermidorean’ counter-revolution but rather as a centrist political faction which ‘zig-zagged’ between left and right.
He believed and feared that the zig-zagging and incompetence of Stalinist leadership could, however, produce a crisis in which the real political right (kulaks, nepmen, Whites, or even a man on horseback) could take advantage of the chaos and mount a genuine counter-revolution. In such circumstances, Trotsky would feel bound to support and defend even the Stalinist centrists from an attack from the right that could topple the Soviet state.
He therefore resisted suggestions that he adopt the slogan ‘overthrow Stalin’ or organise a new political party which could split the Bolsheviks in a time of crisis.1
When studying political actors and theorists it is always difficult to separate the subjective from the objective. Does a politician adopt a particular policy or stance as a result of subjective personal motivations or objective analysis? Treatments of most Bolshevik (and especially Stalinist) politicians have routinely stressed personal ambition as a determinant of political or theoretical pronouncements.
But few of the hagiographical or scholarly works on Trotsky have questioned his intellectual integrity or asked critical questions about the personal motives behind his theoretical and political positions. Since Isaac Deutscher’s pioneering biography, Trotsky has been ‘the prophet outcast’, a tragic hero whose personal and political life was shaped—often disastrously—by his objective theoretical views more than vice versa.2
In particular, Trotsky’s 1933 decision to form the Fourth International has been explained as a function of an objective economic, social, and political analysis of the situations in the Comintern and the USSR. Yet Trotsky’s private writings and activities suggest that his changing theoretical evaluations of the USSR and the Bolshevik Party resulted at least in part from the vicissitudes of his tactical position and partisan hopes and not vice versa.
Trotsky was a politician as well as a political analyst and one should not be surprised to discover that his private political activities continued in exile or, as with most politicians, influenced his public theoretical pronouncements.
Formation of separate political organisations and renunciation of allegiance to the Comintern would have made Trotsky and his followers members of a separate, anti-Bolshevik political party and would have placed him and his partisans completely outside the pale of Bolshevik politics. Such a stance would doom any chance for him to return to the Moscow party leadership.
With hindsight, for Trotsky to have harboured such hope seems naive and quixotic, but the uncertainties of the dynamic political and social crisis of 1929-32 made many things seem possible. Indeed, Trotsky believed in and hoped for the possibility of a return to the Moscow leadership and worked tirelessly for it. The collapse of his last hope for a recall to Moscow coincided with his decision to form the Fourth International.
Using Trotsky’s public writings of the 1930s, most writers have agreed that Hitler’s crushing of the German Communist Party (KPD) and workers’ movement in February-March, 1933 led Trotsky finally to question his allegiance first to the KPD and then to the Comintern and its member parties.3
Trotsky was angry with the KPD and its Comintern masters for not forming a ‘united front from above and below’ with the German socialists (SPD) to block Hitler’s victory. In March, he wrote a series of articles in which he called for the formation of a wholly new German Communist Party rather than the resuscitation of the KPD.4 Writing under the pseudonym ‘G. Gurov’, Trotsky suggested that the decision had been taken reluctantly:
‘Just as a doctor does not leave a patient who still has a breath of life, we had for our task the reform of the party as long as there was the least hope. But it would be criminal to tie oneself to a corpse.’5
Although Trotsky now sanctioned the formation of a new non-Comintern party in Germany, he stopped short of renouncing loyalty to the Third International or Soviet Communist Party and refused to approve the creation of new communist parties anywhere except Germany. In reply to a rhetorical question about giving up on the Comintern as a whole, ‘G. Gurov’ waffled: ‘In my opinion, it would be incorrect to give a rigid answer . . .’.
He then suggested that the German disaster could serve as an object lesson that could shock other communist parties into reforming Comintern policy. ‘The question has not been settled for the USSR, where proclamation of the slogan of the second party would be incorrect . . . It is not a question of the creation of the Fourth International but of salvaging the Third.’6
Again, on 9 April 1933, Trotsky maintained that ‘we do not break with the Third International’. In response to a question on whether it was not inconsistent to break with the Comintern in Germany and not elsewhere, Trotsky minimised the issue as a matter of ‘bookkeeping’. ‘If, however, the Stalinist bureaucracy should bring the USSR to ruin . . . it will be necessary to build a Fourth International.’7
For four months following a call for a new German communist party, Trotsky declined to extend his renunciation of the KPD to the Soviet or other communist parties. It was not until mid-July that he finally announced that one cannot remain ‘captive to one’s own formula’ and that hope for Comintern reform was dead.
In an article entitled It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew, he wrote that the Soviet Communist Party was no longer a party at all but merely ‘an apparatus of domination in the hands of an uncontrolled bureaucracy’. There was, therefore, no party with which to break.8 Five days later, he wrote that ‘the Bolshevik Party no longer exists’ and that accordingly it was time to ‘abandon the slogan of the reform of the CPSU’.9
Apprehensive that he would now be widely regarded as an anti-Soviet counter-revolutionary, Trotsky still refused to call for a revolution in the Soviet Union. In his view, Soviet Russia was still a workers’ state that ‘can be regenerated . . . without a revolution’.10 It was not until 1 October 1933 that he asserted: ‘No normal “constitutional” ways remain to remove the ruling clique. The bureaucracy can be compelled to yield power into the hands of the proletariat only by force’. (emphasis Trotsky’s).
Still queasy about the implications of this position, he argued that such force would not be ‘an armed insurrection against the dictatorship of the proletariat but the removal of a malignant growth upon it’. He was advocating not ‘measures of a civil war but rather the measures of a police character’.11
Trotsky’s October call for the use of force against the Soviet party regime was not qualitatively new. He was only dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s of his key July statements renouncing the Bolshevik party and denying its existence.12 If reform were impossible and if the Stalinist clique refused to abdicate power, then the July position already implied removing it by force.
Trotsky’s July renunciation of the Comintern and Bolshevik party and his simultaneous call for a new International comprise the chief watershed in the political activities of his exile.
Why, after the mid-March articles on Germany did it take Trotsky four months to follow the clear logic of his position and break with the Comintern? His admiring biographer Isaac Deutscher found the delay ‘illogical’ but explained simply that ‘the logic of his new venture soon got the better of Trotsky’ in the months that followed. Deutscher attributed Trotsky’s peculiar hesitation on the matter to his longtime loyalty to the Comintern and his fear of Russian counterrevolution.13
While these factors were pertinent to the 1929-32 period, an explanation based on them does not fully account for the illogical four-month pause between breaking with the KPD and renouncing its Moscow Comintern policymakers. Did either rightist danger or Trotsky’s loyalty to the Comintern decrease so dramatically after the March KPD disaster?
Trotsky himself anticipated questions about the delay. He had written in April that a Fourth International would not be necessary until the Stalinist clique brought the USSR to ruin. Since he never claimed that any action on Stalin’s part between March and July brought the USSR any closer to ruin than it already was, both the delay and the proposal of a Fourth International needed explaining. Indeed, on 27 July 1933, Trotsky admitted that logically the Comintern break should have come in April.
First, he explained that a disagreement between himself and his ‘German comrades’ on the question of a new party had caused friction in the ‘Left Opposition’ and delayed the total break. Trotsky had had to convince his German followers of the necessity for a break. Second, he claimed that between March and July he had been waiting to see if the parties or leadership of the Comintern would ‘wake up’ and abruptly change their policies.14
It is hard to weigh the importance of either these factors for Trotsky’s unusual indecisiveness. It is true that the German Trotskyists with whom he corresponded resisted the notion of a new party, although Trotsky had not taken them seriously enough to consult with them beforehand and had never shown much reluctance to break with the small European leftist groups which defied him.15
The other explanation, that Trotsky waited four months for the Comintern quickly to admit the error of its ways, is even less convincing. No one had less reason than Trotsky to be optimistic about the Comintern and no one had so relentlessly documented its failures over the preceding decade.
Trotsky could not have been so naive or ignorant of Comintern politics as to expect either a mea culpa from the Comintern Executive Committee or an independent, defiant policy from the member parties. It seems therefore that the lack of Comintern reform cannot explain the timing of the call for a Fourth International.
Yet Trotsky’s typically polemical, assertive, and self-justifying writings have led scholars to accept his version of the Fourth International decision and to ask few questions about his procrastination. The issue is of more than simple antiquarian or psychological interest since both published and archival documents suggest another side to Trotsky’s life in the 1930s quite apart from his journalistic and editorial activities.
Behind the scenes of his public reflections on the Comintern, Trotsky was trying both to organise illegal opposition groups in the USSR and to negotiate with Moscow for his legal return.
Long before the 1933 disaster in Germany, Trotsky had tried to maintain contact with followers in the USSR. Since 1929 he had corresponded with those of his adherents who were in internal exile in Serbia or Central Asia.16 He had tried to smuggle copies of his Byullenten’ oppozitsii into the Soviet Union, and through his son Lev Sedov (who lived in Berlin) had maintained contacts with tourists and Soviet officials travelling to and from the USSR.
As it became clear that his letters to the Soviet Union were being screened and intercepted by the secret police, he switched to postcards, since he believed that they were scrutinised less carefully.17
At the time of the Moscow show trials, Trotsky denied that he had any communications with the defendants since his exile in 1929. Yet it is now clear that in 1932 he sent secret personal letters to former leading oppositionists Karl Radek, G. Sokol’nikov, E. Preobrazhensky, and others. While the contents of these letters are unknown, it seems reasonable to believe that they involved an attempt to persuade the addressees to return to opposition.18
We know considerably more, however, about another clandestine communication between Trotsky and his supporters in the USSR late in 1932. Sometime in October, E.S. Gol’tsman, a former Trotskyist and current Soviet official, met Sedov in Berlin and gave him a proposal from veteran Trotskyist Ivan Smirnov and other left oppositionists in the USSR for the formation of a united opposition bloc.
The proposed bloc was to include Trotskyists, Zinovievists, members of the Lominadze group, and others. Sedov wrote to Trotsky relaying the proposal and Trotsky approved. ‘The proposition of the bloc seems to me completely acceptable’, Trotsky wrote, ‘but it is a question of bloc, not merger’. ‘How will the bloc manifest itself? For the moment, principally through reciprocal information.
Our allies will keep us up to date on that which concerns the Soviet Union, and we will do the same thing on that which concerns the Comintern’.19 In his view, the bloc should exclude those who capitulated and recanted: capitulationist sentiment ‘will be inexorably and pitilessly combatted by us’.20
Gol’tsman had relayed the opinion of those in the Soviet Union that participation in the bloc by the Right Opposition was desirable, and that formation of the bloc should be delayed until their participation could be secured. Trotsky reacted against this suggestion: ‘The allies’ opinion that one must wait until the rights can easily join does not have my approval . . . .’
Trotsky was impatient with what he considered passivity on the part of the Right Opposition. ‘One struggles against repression by anonymity and conspiracy, not by silence’.21 Sedov then replied that the bloc had been organized. ‘It embraces the Zinovievists, the Sten-Lominadze group, and the Trotksyists (old “—”)’22 ‘The Safarov-Tarkhanov group has not yet formally entered—they have a very extreme position; they will enter soon.’
Ironically, back in the Soviet Union, the leaders of the bloc were being rounded up by the police at this precise moment. Ivan Smirnov and those around him (including the economist Preobrazhensky) had been arrested ‘by accident’. It seems that a provocateur in their midst had denounced them on a separate matter. Moreover, Zinoviev and Kamenev had been arrested and deported for knowing about the oppositional Ryutin platform and not reporting it to the authorities.
Although these events certainly disrupted the bloc, Sedov was not despondent. He was sure that the police had found no documents or ‘Trotskyist literature’ on Smirnov, and while ‘the arrest of the “ancients is a great blow, the lower workers are safe’.23
At about this time, Trotsky attempted to contact his ‘lower workers’ directly. During a brief stay in Copenhagen, he handed a letter to an English supporter named Harry Wicks who was to convey it to oppositionists in Russia. The letter began: ‘I am not sure that you know my handwriting. If not, you will probably find someone who dies’.
Trotsky went on to call upon loyal oppositionists to become active: ‘The comrades who sympathize with the Left Opposition are obliged to come out of their passive state at this time, maintaining, of course, all precautions’. (emphasis Trotsky’s) He went on to give names and addresses of safe contacts in Berlin, Prague, and Istanbul to whom communications for Trotsky could be sent, and then concluded, ‘I am certain that the menacing situation in which the Party finds itself will force all the comrades devoted to the revolution to gather actively about the Left Opposition’.24
It is clear, then, that a united left oppositional bloc was formed in 1932. In Trotsky’s opinion, the bloc existed only for the purposes of communication and exchange of information, and from the evidence, it is clear that Trotsky envisioned no secret ‘terrorist’ role for the bloc, as Moscow would charge four years later.
There is also reason to believe that after the decapitation of the bloc (through the removal of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, and others), the organisation included mainly lower level, less prominent oppositionists: followers of Zinoviev, but not Zinoviev himself.
Finally, it seems that Trotsky attempted to maintain direct contact with the allies’. The seize and strength of the 1932 bloc cannot be determined and one does not know how threatening it was to the regime. In any case, events would show that both Trotskyists and Stalinists took it seriously.
Aside from the bloc, Trotsky was pursuing another strategy in these months. During the autumn of 1932 he had written to his son Sedov that it would be strategically important to offer to ‘cooperate with the regime in power’ in order not to alienate potential supporters within the Stalin apparatus.25 In March 1933 Trotsky made a final attempt to ‘cooperate’ with Moscow by magnanimously offering to return to the Moscow leadership.
Three days after his ‘G. Gurov’ article breaking with the KPD, Trotsky made his formal offer to return to the Politbureau leadership under certain conditions. He made his proposition in a remarkable secret letter sent to the Politbureau on 15 March.26Trotsky’s letter was based on his perception that economic catastrophe was overwhelming the party leadership which now needed the support and participation of all factions in order to rebuild the party and maintain power.
‘I consider it my duty to make one more attempt to appeal to the sense of responsibility of those who presently lead the Soviet state. You know conditions better than I. If the internal development [of the country] proceeds further on its present course, catastrophe is inevitable’.
Trotsky referred to the Politbureau to his recent articles in his Byulleten’ oppozitsii for his analysis. He cited Hitler’s recent victory in Germany as evidence of the bankruptcy of Comintern policy and asserted that disasters like that had led to a ‘loss of confidence in the leadership’. ‘Chto nado sdelat’?’ What was needed was a ‘rebirth of the party organisation’ in order to reestablish confidence, and the Left Opposition was willing to cooperate.
Some of you will say, Trotsky mused, that the Left Opposition merely wants a path to power and is offering to cooperate only to get back inside the leadership. However, the question, Trotsky replied, is not power [!] for this or that faction but rather the survival of the workers’ state and international revolution for many years:
Only open and honest cooperation between the historically produced fractions, fully transforming them into tendencies in the party and eventually dissolving into it, can in concrete conditions restore confidence in the leadership and resurrect the party.
Trotsky then promised that a returning Left Opposition would not persecute any party members who had opposed it in the past.
After describing the conditions which demanded the return of the opposition, Trotsky made the remarkable offer. Alluding to the platform of the Left Opposition, he insisted:
Renunciation of this programme is of course out of the question . . . But concerning the manner of presenting and defending this programme before the Central Committee and the party, not to mention the manner of putting it into effect, there can and must be achieved a preliminary agreement with the goal of preventing shocks or splitting.
Trotsky thus proposed that the Left Opposition be allowed to return to the leadership as a ‘tendency’ within the party, and insisted that his group would not publicly renounce its critique and programme. He was, however, leaving the door open for a deal under which agitation for this programme could be held in abeyance for an indefinite period.
Trotsky was willing to re-enter the leadership without the usual recantation but with the suggestion that for the sake of party unity he would refrain from criticism. This was a new proposal. Previously, he had demanded unlimited freedom of criticism for the opposition within the party, but now he was making oppositional criticism conditional on an ‘agreement’ to be worked out.
The contradiction with Trotsky’s previous conditions and demands explains the secrecy of the letter.28 Unlike his previous open letters to the Soviet leadership, this epistle was never released or published by Trotsky.29 He concluded the letter by informing the Politbureau that they were receiving the only copy of the document. This would leave the Politbureau ‘free to choose the means’ to begin discussions.
The 12 March article KPD or New Party? and the 15 March secret letter were interrelated. First, Trotsky may have thought that his call for a new party in Germany would put pressure on the Moscow leadership, which would conceivably opt to take Trotsky back rather than face a split in the Comintern. Second, the secret letter to the Politbureau also helps to explain why he wrote the 12 March article under a pseudonym.
Pending a reply to his 15 March offer, Trotsky was not yet committed to the Fourth International and the pseudonym would allow him later to deny that he had broken with the Comintern parties. Such ‘deniability’ would have been important to him if Moscow had responded favourably to his offer to return. In such a case, Trotsky’s restored position in the Moscow leadership would have been inconsistent with a call to break with the KPD and it would have been necessary to disavow ‘G. Gurov’.
Trotsky’s delay in breaking with the other parties of the Comintern (including the Bolsheviks) can thus be partially explained. After March, he was waiting for Moscow to answer his secret letter before committing himself publicly to a Fourth International. As much as waiting for the Comintern to admit its mistakes and reform itself, Trotsky delayed his break with Moscow in order to keep his personal options open.
A month and a half later, Trotsky despaired of receiving a reply from the Politbureau. On 10 May 1933 he set the Politbureau an angry coda to the March letter, which he entitled Explanation.30 This short statement began by noting that the Politbureau had only replied to him with silence.
He stressed again the danger facing the Bolshevik regime and pointedly warned that the regime could fall because of the mistakes committed by the Stalin faction. He then ominously served notice on the Politbureau that he now felt free to agitate among the lower ranks of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
‘We are sending this document [the March letter plus the May explanation] to responsible workers in the belief that among the blind, the careerists, and the cowards, there are honest revolutionaries from whose eyes one cannot hide the real state of things . . . We call upon these honest revolutionaries to make contact with us. Seek and ye shall find’.
The 10 May Explanation marked the end of Trotsky’s attempts to return ‘legally’ to the Moscow leadership. The disaster in Germany, the clumsy economic policy of the apparatus, and finally Stalin’s refusal to negotiate with him convinced Trotsky that any kind of cooperation with the Stalinist faction was impossible.
But his 15 July article It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew was still two months in the future. Why did he further delay his total break with the Bolsheviks and the Comintern?
While simple indecision was certainly part of the answer, it may well have been that Trotsky felt that the 1932 bloc still offered possibilities short of a total break with the Comintern. As we have seen, Zinoviev and Kamenev had been expelled from the party and exiled in October 1932 for their knowledge of the Ryutin platform.
In an article on their expulsion dated 19 October 1932, Trotsky had taken a generally soft, sympathetic, and conciliatory attitude toward the two leaders. (They were, after all, still members of the ephemeral bloc.) Their expulsion from the party and their lack of recantation still put them in Trotsky’s camp, as he saw it.31
Any hopes that Trotsky entertained about the viability of the bloc were shattered in May 1933. Fewer than 10 days after Trotsky appended his May ‘Explanation‘ to the secret letter, he learned that Zinoviev and Kamenev had capitulated to Stalin, recanted their sins and repledged their loyalty to the Stalinist faction. Their departure from the opposition embittered Trotsky.
In a 23 May article he described the two as pitiful, tragic, and subservient.32 On 6 July he rallied against them once again and denounced their capitulation in strong terms.33 The leaders (if not the lower workers) of the bloc were gone.
Both of Trotsky’s non-public strategies were now in ruins. The Politbureau had ignored his offer to return and the recantations of Zinoviev and Kamenev had decapitated the 1932 bloc. The options which Trotsky had sought to keep open were now closed and he could no longer hope for a return to Moscow in the near future. Nine days after his bitter article against Zinoviev, he penned the fateful 15 July article breaking with the mainstream Communist parties and the Comintern.
There was no longer any point in remaining ‘captive to one’s own formula’. The party which one month before Trotsky had sought to rejoin ‘no longer exists’ and was now incapable of reform. It is almost as if Trotsky equated reform of the party with his return to it.
There was more to Trotsky’s life in exile than theorising and publishing. Taking the formation of the Fourth International as a case study, one can see that his partisan activities affected the nature and timing of his theoretical assertions. Indeed, the failure of Trotsky’s secret political strategies was a major component in his decision to break with the Comintern and to go it alone.
His conspiratorial machinations were not only factors in the decision, but they were important and perhaps better account for the four-month delay in breaking with Moscow than do his public explanations.
It seems reasonable to suppose further that Trotsky’s activities were grist to the mill of those hard-line Moscow politicians who favoured repression of the opposition. His activities could not but have provided political ammunition for those in the Kremlin who demanded stern measures.
Trotsky’s secret letters to followers in the Soviet Union, his organisation of the 1932 bloc, his formation of the Fourth International, his call for the overthrow of the party leadership by force, and his continued opposition to Comintern policies (particularly to the Popular Front) later made it easy for hard-liners to portray Trotsky as a devious and ‘unprincipled’ plotter who was scheming to return, forming conspiracies, and opposing communist parties both politically and organisationally.
In looking back over Soviet history since 1933, Trotsky’s activities and writings’ might at first seem pointless and irrelevant. Indeed, there is considerable pathos in his actions and writings. After years in exile, he still wrote as if he were part of the leadership. In criticizing the first Five-Year Plan he often used the first person:
. . .we have not entered socialism. We have far from attained mastery of the methods of planned regulation. We are fulfilling only the first rough hypotheses, fulfilling them poorly, and with our headlights not yet on.34
With hindsight, his attempts to organise secret blocs and his offers to return to Moscow seem sad. Following Deutscher and others, Alec Nove observed ‘how few were his followers, how politically ineffective, even meaningless, were his eloquent, if sometimes dogmatic words’.35
But hindsight can be misleading. Bolshevik party history showed how quickly political fortunes could change. At the end of 1916 Lenin and his circle of expatriates must certainly have seemed dubious candidates to rule the Russian Empire, but war, social conflict, and political paralysis quickly changed the situation.
The social and political upheavals of the 1930s combined with the fascist threat of war offered the possibility of a similarly fluid and dynamic situation. Stalin’s removal and Trotsky’s return did not seem so far-fetched to either of them.
It seems that the Stalinists took the possibility quite seriously and never relaxed their pressure on Trotsky and Trotskyism. The Stalinist press constantly vilified Trotskyism as the ‘vanguard of counterrevolution’. Trotsky’s mail to the USSR was intercepted and his entourage was infiltrated by Stalinist agents.36 Secret police officer Yakov Blyumkin was shot simply for meeting Trotsky abroad.37
Later, in 1936, the 1932 bloc became the evidential base for the Moscow show trials and the massacre of Trotskyists in the Ezhov Terror which accompanied them.38 In the Spanish Civil War, hard-pressed Spanish and Russian communists took the trouble to round up and shoot Trotskyists. The Soviet government put continuous pressure on the governments of Norway, Belgium, France, and Mexico in an attempt to deny Trotsky an exile sanctuary or base of operations.
Finally, in 1940, with war on the horizon, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico. Stalin thus made sure that history would not repeat itself. In whatever crisis that might follow, there would be no brilliant exiled revolutionary personality to return home in a sealed train as Lenin had done in 1917.
University of California, Riverside
* The author is grateful for a research grant from the University of California, Riverside’s Academic Senate Committee on Research.
- 1 The Trotsky Papers (Exile Correspondence), Houghton Library, Harvard University, 10248, 4777 show Trotksy’s discussions with his son on such questions. Robert H. McNeal, ‘Trotskyist Interpretations of Stalinism’ in Robert C. Tucker, ed., Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, (New York, 1977) pp. 30-52, analyses Trotsky’s changing theoretical evaluation of Stalinism.
See also the summary in Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast. Trotsky: 1929-1940, (New York, 1963) pp. 172-5.2 Most writers on Trotsky in exile have concentrated on his writings rather than his political activities.
See Alec Nove, ‘A Note on Trotsky and the “Left Opposition” 1929-31’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 29, No 4, (October, 1977) pp. 576-89; Richard B. Day, ‘Leon Trotsky on the Problems of the Smychka and Forced Collectivisation’, Critique, No. 13, 1981, pp. 55-68; Warren Lerner, ‘”The Caged Lion”; Trotsky’s Writings in Exile’, Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. 10, (1977), pp. 198-203; Samuel Kassow, ‘Trotsky and the Bulletin of the Opposition’, Ibid., pp. 184-97; Siegfried Bahne, ‘Trotsky on Stalin’s Russia’, Survey, No. 41, (1962), pp. 27-42.
Exceptions include Jean van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile: From Prinkipo to Coyoacan, Cambridge, Mass., 1978 and Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast. op. cit.
3 Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, op. cit. pp. 198-200; Michel Dreyfus, ‘Trockij dall’ opposizione di sinestra ai fondamenti di una nuova internazionale (1930-1935)’, Ponte, Vol. 36, No. 11-12 (1980), pp. 1316-31; Jean van Heijenoort, ‘How the Fourth International Was Conceived’, in Joseph Hansen, et. al, Leon Trotsky: The Man and His Work, (New York, 1969), p. 62; George Breitman and Bev Scott, eds., Writings of Leon Trotsky [1933-34], (New York, 1975), p. 10 (hereafter WLT [1933-34]).
4 ‘Tragediya nemetskogo proletariata’, Byullenten’ oppozitsii, (hereafter, BO) No. 34, pp. 7-11 (dated 14 March 1933); ‘KPG ili novaya partiya?’, Ibid., pp. 12-13 (dated 29 March 1933); ‘Krushenie germanskoi kompartii i zadachi oppozitsii’ Ibid., pp. 13-17 (dated 9 April 1933); ‘KPD or New York? (I)’, Writings of Leon Trotsky [1932-1933], New York, 1972 (hereafter WLT [1932-1933], pp. 137-9 (dated 12 March 1933: not the same article as ‘KPG ili novaya partiya?’ cited above).
5 ‘KPD or New Party? (I)’, WLT [1932-33], p. 137.
6 Ibid., p. 138.
7 BO, No. 34, p. 15.
8 ‘Nuzhno stroit’ zanovo kommunistcheskie partii i International’, BO, No. 36-37, p. 21. (dated 15 July 1933).
9 ‘Nel’zya bol’she ostavat’ sya v odnom “Internationale” so Stalinym, Manuil’skim, Lozovskim, i Ko’, BO, No. 36-37, p. 24. (dated 20 July 1933).
11 ‘Klassovaya priroda sovetskogo gosudarstava’, BO, No. 36-37, pp. 1-12 (dated 1 October 1933) In the Moscow purge trials of 1936-38, Prosecutor Vyshinsky would quote from this article as evidence that Trotsky advocated the violent overthrow of the Soviet government.
12 The editors of the Writings of Leon Trotsky see the 1 October article as a qualitative evolution in Trotsky’s thinking, see WLT [1933-34], p. 10, Jean van Heijenoort, however, correctly notes that the ‘perspective of reform was definitely abandoned’ in July. (‘How the Fourth International Was Conceived‘, op. cit. p. 62.)
13 Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, op. cit. pp. 205-7.
14 ‘For New Communist Parties and the New International’, WLT [1933-34], pp. 26-27 (dated 27 July 1933).
15 See ‘The German Decision Against a New Party’, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement (1929-1933), (New York, 1979). pp. 218-9 (dated 19 March 1933); ‘We Must Have a Decision on Germany’, Ibid., pp. 223-5 (dated 3 April 1933).
16 Sedov’s address book contained the exile addresses of Trotskyists in the USSR. Trotsky Papers, 15741. The Exile Correspondence section of the Trotsky Papers contains copies of such letters.
17 See Trotksy’s account of these difficult communications in The Dewey Commission, The Case of Leon Trotsky, (New York, 1937), pp. 128-32, 261-6, 271-3. This volume is the transcript of the 1937 Commission of Inquiry chaired by John Dewey which investigated the charges made against Trotsky at the 1933-37 Moscow show trials. Trotsky participated willingly in the inquiry.
18 Trotsky Papers, 15821. Unlike virtually all Trotsky’s other letters (including even the most sensitive) no copies of these remain in the Trotsky Papers. It seems likely that they have been removed from the Papers at some time.
Only the certified mail receipts remain. At his 1937 trial, Karl Radek testified that he had received a letter from Trotsky containing ‘terrorist instructions’, but we do not know whether this was the letter in question.
19 Trotsky Papers, 13095 and 10107. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library. See also Pierre Broue, ‘Trotsky et le bloc des oppositions de 1932’, Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 5, Jan.-Mar. 1980), pp. 5-37 for background on the bloc.
Included in file 13095 is a 1937 note from Trotsky’s secretary van Heijenoort which shows that Trotsky and Sedov were reminded of the bloc at the time of the 1937 Dewey Commission but withheld the matter from the inquiry.
20 Trotsky was always bitterly opposed to those who capitulated to Stalin or who recanted their opposition. He wrote such persons off completely.
21 Trotsky Papers, 13095. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library. Alec Nove has shown that while there were some differences, Trotsky’s critique of Stalin’s industrialisation and collectivisation plans resembled that of Bukharin and the right. (Nove, A Note on Trotsky and the “Left Opposition“, op. cit. pp. 576-84).
Indeed, Trotsky’s spirited defence of the smychka and rural market relations, his criticism of the ultra-leftist campaign against the kulaks, and his advocacy of planning on the basis of ‘real potentials’ were similar to the strictures of Bukharin’s ‘Notes of an Economist‘.
See, for example, Trotksy’s ‘Problemy razvitiya SSSR’, BO, No. 22, pp. 1-15 and ‘Sovetskoe khozyaistvo v opasnosti’, BO, No. 31, pp. 2-13. (For another view which sees continuity in Trotsky’s critique from the 1920s to the 1930s see Day, Trotsky on the Problems of the Smychka.)
In the light of the apparent similarities between his and Bukharin’s critiques, Trotsky was anxious to maintain the separate identity of the Left Opposition. He wrote in 1932 that although ‘practical disagreements with the Right will hardly be revealed . . . it is intolerable to mix up the ranks and blunt the distinctions’. (WLT Supplement (1929-1933), p. 174).
In a secret letter to his son about the 1932 bloc, he warned Sedov not to ‘leave the field to the rights’ (Trotsky Papers, 13095). Despite Trotsky’s efforts, Moscow hard-liners were able to portray Trotsky as a scheming ‘unprincipled’ oppositionist and to denounce ‘Left-Right’ conspirators at the Moscow show trials.
22 Trotsky Papers, 13095 (excision of word in original document). Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library. Shortly thereafter, Trotsky wrote cryptically that ‘As far as the illegal organisation of the Bolshevik-Leninists is concerned, only the first steps have been taken toward its reorganisation.’ WLT [1932-33], p. 34.
23 Trotsky Papers, 4782. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library.
24 Trotsky Papers, 8114. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library. See also The Case of Leon Trotsky, pp. 274-5.
The editors of WLT claim that the letter was intended to help Wocks’ credibility among Russian Trotskyists in London, Writings of Leon Trotsky , (New York, 1973), p. 328 but the archival copy contains a notation which shows that the letter’s intended destination was the USSR.
25 Trotsky Papers, 10248 and T-3485. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library.
26 Trotsky Papers, T-3522. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library. See also WLT [1932-33] p. 141-3.
27 Hard-liners in the Moscow leadership must have noted and argued that Trotsky’s proposal that his “fraction” retain is distinctive programme after readmission to the party ran counter to Lenin’s famous 1921 ban on factions and factional platforms. (On Party Unity, adopted at the X Congress in 1921).
28 Without revealing his offer to Moscow, Trotsky wrote that ‘mutual criticism . . . may have a different character depending on the extent to which it is consciously prepared by both sides and in what organisational framework it takes place’. (‘Nuzhno chestnoe vnutripartiinoe soglashenie’, BO, No. 34, p. 31, dated 30 March 1933).
These cryptic remarks may have been published in order to prepare his followers for Moscow’s possible acceptance of Trotsky’s proposal to make criticism by the opposition conditional and restricted.
29 For an example of the more common ‘Open Letter’, see Trotsky Papers, T-3423.
30 Trotsky Papers, T-3522. Quoted by permission by the Houghton Library. On the last page of the July issue of Byullenten’ oppozitsii, Trotsky referred vaguely to the 15 March letter to the Politbureau.
While mentioning neither his offer to defer the opposition programme nor his May ‘Explanation’, Trotsky claimed somewhat inaccurately that the March letter simply repeated his long-standing offer to return to the Bolshevik party ‘under conditions guaranteeing us the right to defend our views’, see ‘Pochtovyi yashchik’, BO, No. 35, p. 22.
31 ‘Stalintsky prinimayut mery’, BO, No. 31, pp. 13-18 (dated 19 October 1932).
32 ‘Zino’ev i Kamenev’, BO, No. 35, pp. 23-24 (dated 23 May 1933).
33 ‘Zinoviev on the Party Regime’, WLT [1932-33]. p. 286 (dated 6 July 1933).
34 ‘Sovetskoe khozyaistvo v opasnosti!’, BO, No. 31, pp. 2-13 (dated 22 October 1932).
35 Nove, A Note on Trotsky, op. cit., p. 589.
36 Van Heijenoort (With Trotsky in Exile, pp. 93-102) maintains that Sedov’s close assistant Mark Zborowski (alias ‘Etienne’) was a Stalinist agent. NKVD defector Alexander Orlov in testimony before a US Senate hearing, also denounced Zborowski and provided detailed information.
See US Senate, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act, Testimony of Alexander Orlov, Washington, D.C., 1962. Trotsky Papers, 15765 is a file on the suspected Stalinist agents in Trotsky’s entourage.
37 See Rex Winsbury, ‘Jacob Blumkin in Russia, 1892-1929’, History Today, Vol. 27, No. 11, 1977, pp. 712-18, and Deustcher, The Prophet Outcast, op. cit., pp. 84-8.
38 See J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938, (New York, 1985), Chapter 5 for a discussion of how the 1932 bloc might have influenced Soviet party politics in 1936.
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