Discussions with Trotsky VI – The Russian Question

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Trotsky: It is very difficult to say something in concrete form about the evolution of social relations in the Soviet Union, something new, because in the past years the data and statistics become more and more false, more fictitious, than ever before. We have absolutely the same frame-ups in the press as in the court. The press is absolutely false concerning the social line-up in the Soviet Union. The last census was ordered burned; I don't know if the news penetrated into the American press; it is of the greatest importance.

In Revolution Betrayed I criticized the statistics, the data which had the purpose of hiding the social stratification, the salary of a bureaucrat and of a worker, the salary of an agricultural worker and the manager of the kolkhoz [collective farm], or the number of house servants. I suppose there are no fewer than five million bureaucratic families and aristocrats in the kolkhozes who have domestic servants, and in the towns they have two or three more, including a chauffeur and a nurse for the children; it is a social class of servants in the service of the higher strata and all this is not included in the census report.

A census took place in January, and then the world learned of a special decree to burn it because it was gathered by "Trotskyites, falsifiers, enemies of the people," etc. And the most elementary thing, the most important measure of conditions in the USSR – the size of the population – was not published. Walter Krivitsky gave a full explanation of this in the French press and Miliukov's paper published it too. There was a decrease in the population [growth] to a very high degree. The population grows yearly by three million.

Shachtman: When was the last census?

Trotsky: In the 1920s, and then too it showed the same increase, and the population was then estimated at 117-18 million. But Krivitsky claims that last year's census showed that there were only 130 million. The result of this is a total catastrophe, because it is the best test of the living conditions of the people. This number indicates that the collectivization, deportation, assassination of tens of thousands of peasants, and then the famine and epidemics in 1931-32, ran into the millions. I believe that this is only part of the truth. This indicates that the normal conditions are very bad, that mortality is very high, that the population grows not by three million yearly but by one million, and this is the balance of the whole period of the "great happiness and prosperity" proclaimed by the five year plan.

In Revolution Betrayed I used the data in local papers that Sedov had secured for me – and that made it possible to partially establish the truth. Since that time you cannot find any concrete approximation to reality in the press. In Miliukov's paper in Paris I found a very interesting article, an interview with a semi-Trotskyite – he is not named, but I believe it is Walter Krivitsky, who inclines toward bourgeois democracy – which states that the situation of the peasant is becoming better but the situation of the worker is very bad; that the division of the national income, which is systematically in favor of the peasants, is against the workers. That is true if we mean by peasants the aristocracy in the collective farm – the situation of the administrator is close to the situation of a boss; he is a merchant because the collective farmer has the right to buy and sell at least a part of the material on the market. The administrator is a semi-functionary and a semi-boss His income is very important; and at the same time he is a representative of the GPU. You can imagine what power is concentrated by such an administrator. The situation of the worker on the farm, as in the factories, is totally different, and the relationship of economic forces is changing in favor of the higher stratum, the collective farmer. This signifies an aggravation of the social stratification of society. At the same time the bureaucracy concentrates economic power in its hands.

The Moscow trials are one of the expressions of this process and the political contradictions naturally reflect the social conditions. The bureaucracy has a tremendous fear of the population – a hatred, more than the czar had – because the population has the tradition of two revolutions and is not so illiterate. In the population too there are social antagonisms and political frictions. Very important are the internal antagonisms in the bureaucracy; the trials are a direct expression of that; part of the bureaucracy exterminated another part.

Shachtman: Why?

Trotsky: Because the discontent of the masses produces different currents even in the bureaucracy. One section says, "Let's make some concessions," and the other says, "No." As everywhere, the pressure of the masses produces disintegration in the ruling caste.

It is hard to give an account of the political differences in the bureaucracy, but there is a good hint of this in the Moscow trials. Some wish to restore capitalism; others are against it. The accusations have a symbolic significance.

Another incident, small in size but extremely instructive, gives us a hint of the differences: the people who broke with Moscow. We had Reiss, Barmin, a representative in Greece, Krivitsky, who was the chief of all military espionage in Germany – there were only four or five of such importance as Krivitsky – and then Butenko, who fled from Rumania to Italy. We know that the diplomatic staff was selected and purged at least ten times during the past few years, and you know how many they recalled and assassinated, and yet after the great purge we have four who have escaped. This percentage is very high; it shows that the centrifugal forces in the bureaucracy are tremendous. These aren't the first four people we met on the street: one was a minister in Greece, another chief of the secret service in Germany, Reiss was of the same level as Krivitsky, almost of the same importance. Now, the direction of these people: Reiss immediately declared for the Fourth International; Barmin remains friendly; Krivitsky is oriented toward bourgeois democracy (he is connected with the Mensheviks, liberals – he broke all connections with us, especially after our son's death – it was for him a pretext); Butenko became a fascist. Only four people, but extremely symptomatic – it is a rainbow of all political colors inside the bureaucracy itself. It explains why Stalin by and by passed from the party machine to the GPU. Now it is not the Political Bureau but Stalin-Yeshiva A member of the Politburo can be named by a defendant in the trial and brought to trial – we have had an example of that in Rudzutak: he was a candidate for the Political Bureau, which I am sure did not name him; he was named by Yezhov.

Then there is an important question for us, which was very widely discussed by the Russian White Guards: whether there are Trotskyists in Russia or not. Even Victor Serge affirmed that Stalin, with reason, terribly exaggerates the number of Trotskyites. The people coming from Russia affirm there are only right tendencies in the Soviet Union – no left tendencies – and Trotskyism is only a phantom. It is both true and not true: it is true that inside the bureaucracy the right tendencies are growing and even becoming fascist. The social basis is different in the masses. But if we take an isolated young bureaucrat – there is a totally fascist type: he has no tradition of the October Revolution. He is only disciplined, disciplined to shoot, disciplined to purge, and disciplined to proceed by trials – all for the glory of the fatherland. The personage of Butenko is very important in the ranks of the bureaucrats. The percentage of such comrades as Reiss is very small. In the masses the tendencies are more elementary but they are directed against the bureaucracy, against the new aristocracy; in this sense they are Trotskyist. They are not real Trotskyists but their attitude coincides in the essential general criticism. It is simply a matter of not being able to establish connections because of the totalitarian regime.

We can see the same thing in Spain very clearly. The working masses in July 1936 developed activity absolutely in our direction but our comrades were very few, and to the degree that the POUM reflected a little the movement in the masses, it was called Trotskyist. That is the reason for the terrible hatred against us.

I believe that individual terrorism is inevitable in Russia. By their trials they provoke terrorism even as the czar did. It is impossible to imagine that of all the thousands shot there will not be some brother or sister who will shoot a bureaucrat. The bureaucrats do everything to abolish the Marxist tradition against terrorism; the tendency of the individual toward terrorism is propagated by the trials. They will reap the harvest they have sown in the form of individual terrorism. That's absolutely possible because there is no party for the mass movement. Terrorist acts are numerous in the provinces. The personage of Nikolaev, who killed Kirov, is unknown – perhaps it was a general reason, a woman. Slutsky, who was chief of the GPU service abroad, told Krivitsky, who asked him for the reason Nikolaev did it, "Don't ask, it is so enigmatic; it's better not to ask." Then he told him that Stalin left for Leningrad and led the first investigation of the assassins in order to give the necessary direction to the investigation.

Shachtman: We have discussed it many times among ourselves: how is it that Stalin has not been assassinated in the past period?

Trotsky: Two reasons: (1) The honest and serious elements, who don't believe anything can be accomplished by that and say, "Who will replace him? Molotov? Is he any better?" (2) He is personally well guarded. Not one of the czars was so well guarded. But in spite of everything, the pressure from below and from above is so terrible that terrorist explosions must arise in the next period. It is very doubtful that they can change anything fundamentally; they can accelerate the overthrow of the Stalin clique, but in favor of more consciously bourgeois elements who are also not prepared. We can't expect that the revolutionary elements could utilize such an act as we did in the fight against the czar. We rejected the method of the SRs; but every time a terrorist act was committed we declared that we sympathized with the SRs, we explained the reasons, and mobilized the feeling against the czar. Now we have no organization which could do that propaganda.

A war would at first inevitably strengthen the position of Stalin in that the spirit of self-preservation by the bureaucracy and by the people will give new spirit to the Kremlin gang. But during the war it will be the same as in other countries. The disintegration of the regime, and the war, will signify the inevitable death of this regime. What regime will replace it is part of the general question. If the war produces a revolution in the capitalist countries, then the fall of the Stalinist clique will be only a secondary episode in the war – if it should not be immediately replaced by workers' organizations (soviets). If we admit for a moment this hypothesis, that the war should signify the end of our civilization, then naturally Russia will fall. But that's not very probable. The death agony of Stalinism, we wrote – and it is not an exaggeration – also signifies the death of the Comintern. It is not only possible but probable, almost sure, that the Comintern will end its career as a vigorous movement before the definite fall of the Kremlin clique in the Soviet Union. But it depends also to a certain extent on our own policy.

What is the Comintern? It is three streams: (1) the apparatus, which consists of rascals and limited fanatics; (2) then the petty-bourgeois intellectuals attracted during this period; (3) the workers, the most important part of whom were attracted to the party before. Now it is possible that from the first two streams – from the apparatus and the intellectuals – part will go to the Lovestoneites (it's too difficult for them to approach us, and we hope we will not be too hospitable to the functionaries and intellectuals – I can only repeat that we should establish very strict rules in relation to them, at least a year's probationary period).

As for the third stream, the worker in the Stalinist party, the worker who is not a functionary but a rank-and-file member. If such a worker has remained till today, it is not because he supported the Moscow trials but because a worker has a very profound feeling of devotion, gratitude, psychologically more stable. He remains in the party in spite of everything. In his modesty he says he did not understand. It is possible that the intellectual will separate from the party before the workers. But when the workers will break they will rush to us and not the Lovestoneites.

That's why it is important to have a nucleus in the Stalinist party, to explain and to prepare some elements, and to have information. I believe we don't have such information now, and it is absolutely necessary to establish a general staff to fight the Stalinists in the party, naturally under the direction of our party. To have some young comrades first get information, study the whole Stalinist press from this point of view: what's happening in the party, the conflicts, expulsions, etc. Then to have direct agents in the party, and agents in the good sense. I believe that in their staffs, in the offices, the differentiation between the technical personnel and the big leaders must be very sharp. Browder is a caricature of Stalin – the technical service consists of absolutely insignificant personalities. We can find elements beginning with the janitor. Possibly the janitor is an agent of the GPU; very well, then another of a less responsible post. Then the typists. There are very privileged typists who belong to the service of Browder and the GPU but there are others in completely technical jobs who are totally neglected; we must find our agents there, systematically look for these people, penetrate, find out, enter into friendly contact with the Communist worker, and then by and by create a service of information.

Cannon: What kind of comrade would you put as chief of such work? What characteristics should he possess?

Trotsky: A comrade like Abern would be good. I never met him, I don't know him, but that's my impression. A comrade who can do systematic work; he must have young collaborators. You can use devoted women with success, but women who are intelligent. They have other methods of entering into connection with Communist worker elements.

Shachtman: Do you mean to send people into the CP?

Trotsky: Yes, if possible. You know the example in France. The Russian youth came with the purpose of winning over the Socialist youth. They had a secret meeting, but the secretary of Fred Zeller was our comrade. We had discussion with this comrade and asked her to publish the stenogram immediately. She had some second thoughts, but then consented to publish. After we published that, we won all the youth. Zeller hesitated but the rank and file immediately had the warmest sympathy for us, and then Zeller came with them.

Cannon: The stenogram was published without authorization?

Trotsky: Of course. Then Fred Zeller said, "My secretary was more intelligent than I." A very important question in the fight against the Stalinists is the war question. Here I believe that the Ludlow amendment is very important; it is a touchstone, naturally, not sufficient. And the Ludlow amendment receives ten times greater importance than if the Stalinists favored it. Our first approach was a bit doctrinaire and sectarian, but the best way is to announce openly that we changed our line. The best is to say what is. You can say we changed our program and you can give the example of Lenin on the agrarian question. We play no tricks with the workers. We proposed a more revolutionary fight but we are a small minority. You believe in the Ludlow amendment as a check to big business and the administration; we will go along with you. But the last resolution of the National Committee is equivocal and McKinney's statement that we haven't changed anything is untrue, not frank. You can't make a turn and not tell the masses – then it is no turn. We have to say: "Yes, we made this turn because we wish to be with you." You underline this in such a manner that the Lovestoneites lose the courage to reproach you. And the Lovestoneites are of no importance. It concerns our relationship to the working class – that is of importance.

[Here there was a discussion of what our position should be if the Ludlow amendment is brought back (to Congress) in a revised and watered-down form. Trotsky stated that he would have to see the new one but that in any case we should now agitate for the bill as is and point out that already the initiators are incapable of fighting for it.]

Shachtman: And you distinguish between our support of the Ludlow amendment and disarmament?

Trotsky: Disarmament is absolutely different. That is absolutely false; the proposal for disarmament is fictitious. But with the Ludlow amendment it is different; the workers wish to check the administration. That has nothing to do with the League of Nations, arbitration courts, the talk about disarmament. I propose that we connect the amendment with the demand that the youth have right to vote at the age of eighteen.

Dunne: The boys of eighteen will be twenty-one tomorrow when war comes.

Trotsky: Yes, yes, that's another argument.

Cannon: Do you think that the Stalinist movement has any prospects for further growth in the U.S. – for further expansion? During the past few years they have grown tremendously not only in membership but in ramifications. I'm inclined to think that they have reached their apex in the U.S. unless, in connection with a war, they receive government blessings, as professional patriots and influential police agents against us. But in general the terrible reception the Moscow trials have received and the collapse of the People's Front policy and their foreign policy in general have dealt serious blows to the Stalinist movement in the U.S. There is a much broader attack against Stalinism now. Then also in many trade unions where they have had control a powerful opposition has developed. Now our comrades tell us that the hatred against the Stalinists, in the painters' union for example, where they combine with the worst gangster elements, is growing.

Shachtman: There are a few other important symptoms. Two liberal papers in New York, the World Telegram and the Evening Post, edited by Stern, who is a strong Roosevelt man. But up to yesterday the Post especially was very tolerant of the Stalinists, very friendly.

Trotsky: I read the dispute between Mayer and the editor on the question of Russia; it was very interesting.

Shachtman: Yes, and now the Post opened a campaign against the Moscow trials. And the World Telegram published the articles of Stolberg and it hurt the Stalinists in the trade unions.

Trotsky: I believe the defeat in Spain which is approaching now – the desertion of the government will occur in the coming weeks – will produce the greatest impression and will be directed against the Stalinists. After the defeat the component parts will accuse one another. The hatred in Spain from the Socialists is terrible. Then the volunteers will come back and we will have hundreds of Beattys because the civil war is a great school. Then the People's Front in France, it's a total collapse. Today the cables show that the American stock exchange is again nervous, that it dropped. That signifies the last convulsions of the New Deal policy with all illusions. These three factors – the defeat in Spain, the defeat of the People's Front in France, and, with your permission, the bankruptcy of the New Deal – signify the mortal blow for the democrats. Naturally it depends also on our activity. After the World War the Second International seemed to be totally dead and during the first years the Third International grew and grew. And I hope now . . .

Karsner: The Third International grew when there was victory. But wherever the workers look now there are defeats. The workers are disillusioned not only with Stalinism but with Communism. I wonder whether these hundreds of people from Spain will come to us or leave the movement.

Trotsky: That's absolutely correct. It gives us great difficulties. The selection of our cadres is different, occurs in a different period. Then the cadres adhered to a victorious state, now they adhere only to a revolutionary program; our development is much slower than the Comintern. On the other hand, we will have a new generation. We must not forget the new generation, which didn't pass through the Stalinists. The whole question for us is to find the connection between our cadres and the workers. The young generation is not exhausted, not tired, that's why it's symptomatic that we won the young from the CP and the Communist youth is beginning to turn to us. That is the first important move toward us and we will grow.