The Third International after Lenin

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Trotsky on the 1918 model of "new Soviet bureaucrat"

1918. From Chapter 12 of Deutscher's The Prophet Armed.

....Trotsky spent the rest of the autumn and the beginning of the winter at the southern front. In the meantime, his opponents in Moscow, especially Stalin and Zinoviev, worked against him and tried, not without some success, to influence Lenin. Trotsky later recounted that, while he was at the front, Menzhinsky, the future chief of the G.P.U., warned him about the 'intrigue'. Menzhinsky said that Stalin tried to persuade Lenin that Trotsky was gathering around him elements hostile to Lenin. Trotsky frankly put the question to Lenin; and he relates that Lenin, embarrassed, did not deny the fact of the intrigue, but assured Trotsky of his complete confidence in Trotsky's loyalty. All the same, Lenin refused to become involved in the quarrel and exerted himself to compose it. Some time later he suggested that Okulov, the man whom Trotsky had left at Tsaritsyn to keep an eye on Voroshilov, should be recalled. Trotsky refused and this time brought matters to a head: he asked that Voroshilov be deposed from his command and transferred to the Ukraine, and that new commissars should be appointed to the Tenth Army. Lenin yielded, and Voroshilov had to go.

The Tsaritsyn group sought to revenge itself. It whispered that Trotsky was the friend of Tsarist generals and the persecutor of Bolsheviks in the army. The accusation found its way into the columns of Pravda , which was under Bukharin's editorship. On 25 December 1918 Pravda published a scathing attack on Trotsky by a member of Voroshilov's staff. 30 This coincided with a new attempt of the Left Communists to achieve a revision of military policy. Having failed in their opposition to the employment of officers, the Left Communists shifted their ground and demanded that the commissars should hold all commanding posts and that the officers should serve under them as mere consultants. The whispering campaign against Trotsky became even deadlier: it was said that he delivered Communists and commissars to the firing squad. The accusation was brought before the Politbureau and the Central Committee by Smilga and Lashevich, two members of the Committee, who held important political posts in the army. (Lashevich, it will be remembered, had been in conflict with Trotsky because of the speech about 'squeezing the officers like lemons'.) The cases of the commissar Panteleev, who had been court martialled and shot at Svyazhsk, and of two other commissars, Zalutsky and Bakaev, who were said to have narrowly escaped execution, were brought to the notice of the Central Committee.

Trotsky replied to these charges in a confidential letter to the Committee. 31 He made no apology for the shooting of Panteleev, who had been court martialled for plain desertion; but he added that as far as he knew t his was the only case of the sort which had occurred. More recently there was a misunderstanding in connexion with his order that the commissars should keep a register of officers' families in order that officers should know that if they committed treason their relatives might be victimized. On one occasion several officers went over to the White Guards; and it turned out that the commissars had not bothered to keep a register of their families. Trotsky then wrote that Communists guilty of such neglect deserved to be shot. Smilga and Lashevich apparently thought that it was at them that Trotsky had aimed his threat. Trotsky explained that this was preposterous. Smilga and Lashevich knew that he valued them as the best commissars in the army. He had uttered the threat 'as a general remark', aimed at nobody in particular.

On internal evidence, Trotsky's explanation seems to be true. His opponents did not support their charges by any specific instances, except the case of Panteleev. Nevertheless, Trotsky's orders were full of such blood-curdling threats; and although he may have uttered them merely to discipline his subordinates, they blotted his reputation; and the charges connected with them were levelled against him by Stalin's followers long after the civil war.

Trotsky asked the Central Committee to define its attitude towards his military policy and to remonstrate with Pravda for having printed the accusati on without prior investigation. He himself replied in Pravda with an attack on 'conceited, semi-educated party quacks', who spread distrust and hostility towards the officers. 'The general public knows almost every case of treason … but even in narrower party circles all too little is known about those professional officers who have honestly and willingly given their lives for the cause of the Russia of workers and peasants.' 32 The public should, of course, be informed about the instances of treason; but it should also know how often entire regiments perished because they were commanded by amateurs incapable of understanding an order or reading a map. He firmly rejected the new proposals that the officers should be mere consultants to the commissars. The idea was militarily worthless; and it was 'calculated to satisfy vindictive cravings'. The purpose of the Red Terror was not to exterminate or to degrade the intelligentsia, but at the most to intimidate it and so to induce it to serve the workers' state.

He took up this subject in a 'Letter to a Friend', which appeared in Voennoe Delo ( Military Affairs ) in February 1919. 33 The letter reveals the bitterness of the controversy. He wrote with scorn about the 'new Soviet bureaucrat', 'trembling over his job', who looked with envy and hatred at anybody superior to him in education or skill. Unwilling to learn, he would never see the cause of his failings in himself, but was always on the look-out for a scapegoat, and always ready to cry treason. Conservative, sluggish, and resenting any reminder that he ought to learn, this bureaucrat was already a baleful 'ballast' in the new state. 'This is the genuine menace to the cause of communist revolution. These are the genuine accomplices of counter-revolution, even though they are not guilty of any conspiracy.' The revolution would be an absurdity if its only result were to be that a few thousand workers should get government jobs and become rulers. 'Our revolution will fully justify itself only when every toiling man and woman feels that his or her life has become easier, freer, cleaner, and more dignified. This has not yet been achieved. A difficult road lies between us and this our essential and only goal.' 33 This in a nutshell is the leitmotif of Trotsky's later struggle against Stalin; and it first appears as early as one year after the October insurrection....

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