Hal Draper

A Timely Book:

Trotsky Exposes the Lie Machine

(October 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. I No. 11, 23 October 1937, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Stalin School of Falsification
by Leon Trotsky
368 Pages. $2.50 – Pioneer Publishers, New York.

ORDJONIKIDZE: Why did you dwell so long on your biography?

TROTSKY: ... I was not the one who first brought up the question of my biography. Nothing was further from my mind. There are enough questions as it is. But it is precisely the Stalinist faction that has substituted the question of my biography for all political questions. And I reply to fictions with irrefutable facts.

Therefore this book. There will be liberals who will see nothing in all this except more proof that the Trotsky-Stalin struggle is only a personal quarrel. But the left wing has learned through its own experiences in the Socialist Party, with the Altman and Clarity schools of falsification, that when mud is thrown instead of principled arguments, it is because the latter ammunition is lacking.

Trotsky goes at the task with a bitterly ironic pen and a mass of fact and evidence upon which to exercise it. In the Letter to the Bureau of Party History he marshals document after document to answer such questions as: Why didn’t Trotsky join the Bolsheviks immediately on returning to Russia? Who organized the insurrection? What is the truth about his alleged disagreements with Lenin? Thus he covers the main Stalinist slanders in the period 1917–1927. An interesting appendix by N. Markin takes up the latter-day tale that it was Stalin who won the civil war, practically single-handed , with a little help from Voroshilov.

Suppressed Documents

Two suppressed documents are reprinted: the report of the March 1917 Party Conference (just before Lenin returned) and of the November 1917 session of the Petrograd Committee. It was in March that Stalin took his first flyer at being the party boss; he took over control of Pravda and made the main report at the Conference. The result was: endorsement of a defensist attitude toward the war; political support of the Provisional Government; steps toward unity with the Mensheviks. The atmosphere of this conference which took place under the theoretical guidance of Stalin may be judged from what happened when a misguided delegate made so bold as to mention, timidly to be sure, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the question of power:

KRASSIKOV: ... If we think that the time has now come to realize the dictatorship of the proletariat, then we ought to pose the question that way. We unquestionably have the physical force for a seizure of power. I believe that we will have sufficient physical force both in Petrograd as well as in other cities. (Commotion in the hall. Shouts: “Not true.”) I was present ...

THE CHAIRMAN (interrupting): The question under the discussion involves the practical steps for today. The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not under discussion.

KRASSIKOV (continues): If we do not pose the question that way then we ought to take steps in relation to the Provisional Government which …

The Chairman deprives him of the floor.

The revolution was not on the agenda at any time during this first conference of the Party. And today too the program of the Comintern may be summed up in Chairman Nogin’s succinct way: The revolution is not on the agenda.

Stalin’s Biography

The section on the Political Biography of Stalin is rightly called only a “contribution.” Souvarine’s work, notably, has added greatly to our information, but the essential points that Trotsky makes, if in a sketchy form, are only more thoroughly proved by others’ researches: Stalin’s Menshevik deviations even before 1917, his record of constant intrigue and treachery, his failure to formulate a single independent idea or to develop a correct line a single time on his own hook, etc.

Souvarine has given further evidence for Trotsky’s deduction that Stalin began political life as a Menshevik; but on the other hand, he defends Stalin against Trotsky’s attack on his letter of 1911, in which he (Stalin) spoke of Lenin’s fight against Menshevism as a “tempest in a tea-pot,” worthy only of disdain by practical workers.

“Trotsky tries in vain,” writes Souvarine, “after the event, to describe this state of mind as indifference to theory or the myopia of a practician,” because, forsooth, this was the general condition of the radical workers, which Stalin merely reflected! In his On the Road of October, Stalin makes exactly the same defense for himself regarding his March 1917 line: the majority of the party held this position too, and he, Stalin, only reflected this. This way of evading responsibility is exactly the same, in turn, as that of the German Social Democratic leaders, who blamed the social-patriotism of the masses for their own betrayal in war-time.

Stalin’s Ethics

Much of the book, in effect, matches Trotsky’s political biography against Stalin’s. And from the mass of detail, one picks out the outlines of Stalin’s moral physiognomy. Lenin has already characterized him in his last Testament. Trotsky gives his own opinion as follows: “... a man in whom energy, will and resoluteness are combined with empiricism, myopia, an organic inclination to opportunist decisions in great questions, personal rudeness, disloyalty and a readiness to abuse power in order to suppress the party.” Souvarine sums him up: “... a will to power out of proportion to his will for knowledge ... an oriental dexterity in intrigue, absence of scruples, unfeelingness in personal relations, scorn for men and human life.”

Fellow Prisoner Testifies

A former prison companion, S. Verechtchak, has given a concrete picture of Stalin as a congenital and disloyal intriguer (in an article excerpts from which were reprinted by Pravda as a reliable tribute to Stalin!). Verechtchak had been president of the Soldiers Soviet of Tiflis, where Stalin had worked as a Bolshevik for many years (leaving it a Menshevik stronghold), and where he had been unanimously expelled from the party for intriguing against the leaders of the organization thru systematic spreading of calumnies. “This aptness at striking secretly, by other people’s hands, while himself going unperceived, made a shrewd combinationist of Koba (Stalin), one who drew the line at no methods, and evades all accounting, all responsibility. This character of Stalin is evident in the character of all his affairs.” And among Stalin’s “affairs”, Verechtchak gives details on several intrigues of Stalin involving his denunciation of other comrades to the authorities.

It is clear that the Stalin School of Falsification has not only a political raison d’etre but also a personal origin. The least one can say is: the Moscow trials of Stalin and his latest tool, Yezhov, and the unprecedented, systematic viciousness and calumniation which informed them, are of one piece with Stalin’s whole record. It is quite in order therefore that Comrade Shachtman should have devoted his Introduction to the question of the recent Trials, calling the roll with cumulative impressiveness of the Bolshevik Old Guard “liquidated” by Stalin. For the Stalin School lays bare both the political and personal contexts from which the Moscow nightmares appeared and exposes the organizational methods that made their execution possible.

Last updated on 31 July 2015