Letter to Ivan Nikitich Smirnov, March 10, 1928

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A Pair of Sancho Panzas

Dear Ivan Nikitich:

At last I received your letter from Novo-Bayazet. And here I thought the climate was tropical there, with bananas growing right up to the table, tame leopards in the garden, etc. Alas, alas. The pleasant-sounding appellation Novo-Bayazet turns out to be a cover name for a backwoods hole-in-the-wall.

What you write about the grain collections and forced loans from the peasantry sounds indisputable to me – a drastic effort to get out of the difficulties they blundered into with their eyes closed. I have written to Sosnovsky about this in some detail. I enclose a copy of my letter to him. …

Today there came from Moscow – as part of the first package of letters – the first reaction to the letter of the two knights, who through the bitter irony of fate both turn out to be Sancho Panzas. Politically it is as though they had merged into a single figure. One person has made a witty reference to Zinoviev's "epidermal leftism." This was meant to suggest that while Zinoviev totally lacks any serious baggage, as far as a capacity for generalized thinking goes, he makes up for it with an instinctive inclination, lodged in his epidermis, as it were, to twitch to the left on every new occasion. But it is the very "skin deep" quality of his leftism, similar to an itch, that makes him so limited. In cases where some solid musculature is needed to back up one's leftism, Zinoviev fades out. But what kind of serious historical action is possible without solid muscle?

That is why Zinoviev fades out every time his erstwhile leftism is tested in action. In July 1923 he wrote some high-flown theses, insubstantial as ever, about the German revolution and concluded with this proposal: "to mark the anniversary of the [German] revolution – November 9 (1918) – with an antifascist demonstration." He was organically opposed to having the question of armed insurrection posed pointblank ("setting the date"), although things were made easier for him by the fact that the revolution was happening in a far-off place, "many forests and fields away." He wrote some no less high-flown theses on the question of the General Strike in Britain, ending with the words: "It goes without saying that the Anglo-Russian Committee must be maintained in the future as well." As in the case of the German revolution, he surrendered only after a fight. His theses on the Chinese revolution – not only before Chiang's coup but after it as well – ended with the conclusion that the "Communist Party must, of course, remain within the Kuomintang." Here he would make no concessions, and the result was to render his position on the Chinese question valueless. He then advanced the slogan of support to the Wuhan government "insofar as …" In the fall of last year, when the counterrevolutionary role of the Kuomintang in all its shadings had become crystal clear, he continued to defend the slogan of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China, viewing the slogan of the proletarian dictatorship as – "Trotskyism." (At my very first meeting with Kamenev in May 1917, in reply to my words that I had no differences with Lenin, I remember he said, "I should think not – in view of the April Theses …" Of course not only Kamenev but dozens of others, leaving the Lyadovs aside for the moment, considered Lenin's position "Trotskyist" and not Bolshevik at all …)

Zinoviev's position on the new stage of the Chinese revolution was not "accidental," as we can see. Zinoviev is aware of this Achilles' heel of his, and therefore all his left-sounding resolutions and articles are preceded by qualifications which allow him to jump back when he has to face action. His entire tactical concoction at the Fifth Comintern Congress, with its thoroughly ambiguous resolutions, was based on this approach. The special Zinovievist interpretation of party unity was the same kind of qualification, allowing him to jump back in case of need. As you surely remember quite well, we all had a very clear realization of this. But we added: this time it will be rather difficult for him to jump back, because this time it will mean jumping down into nothingness. As it turns out, however, even that didn't stop him.

As for Kamenev, the opposite is true. His inclinations were always instinctively to the right, toward restraint, conciliation, avoidance, etc. The prayer he feels most affinity for, of all churchly prayers, is the one that says, "Let this cup pass from me." But unlike Zinoviev, he has a certain theoretical schooling. True, the scraps or trimmings cut from Lenin float to the surface with too much fat on them; nevertheless, the Leninist content is not totally distorted. He understood sooner than Zinoviev the need to dissolve the Anglo-Russian Committee. He seemed to recognize the need for the Communist Party to withdraw from the Kuomintang, but held his tongue. I think that if he had not been in Italy, he would have understood better than Zinoviev that for China after May 1927 the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was just as obsolete as it had been for Russia after February 1917. In the present situation too Kamenev understands better and more clearly what "capitulation" means. But political nature has had its way. Zinoviev jumps back from his leftist conclusions. Kamenev fears he will end up the victim of his own rightward inclinations. But on important questions they converge along the same line. What can we call this line? Neither whoa nor giddy-ap.

I have told many comrades, and probably you too, the brief conversation I had with Vladimir Ilyich shortly after the October Revolution. I said something like this to him: "What surprises me is Zinoviev. As for Kamenev, I know him well enough to be able to predict where the revolutionary in him will end and the opportunist begin. Zinoviev I don't know personally at all, but from descriptions of him and a few of his speeches it seemed to me that he was a man who would be stopped by nothing and who feared nothing." To this V.I. [Vladimir Ilyich] replied: "He fears nothing when there's nothing to fear." With that the conversation ended.

Of course one can ask the "nasty" question: If all this was known in advance, how in the world could the bloc have been possible? But that is not a serious approach. The bloc was not a matter of personalities. In the case of the Anglo-Russian Committee, we were lectured: What counts is not the leaders but the masses. That approach of course is false and opportunist, because what is involved is not only the masses but also the political line. One cannot abandon the correct political line for the sake of being with the masses. But the struggle for the masses, given the correct political line, may include a bloc not only with the devil or the devil's grandmother but also with a pair of Sancho Panzas.