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Fourth International, Autumn 1959


Jacques Sadoul

From Notes On The Bolshevik Revolution


From Fourth International, No. 7, Autumn 1959, pp. 26–27.
The copy of the magazine from which this was transcribed is damaged – the missing passages are indicated by (...).
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Jacques Sadoul’s Notes on the Bolshevik Revolution are full of eulogistic remarks about Leon Trotsky. Sometimes, they are so eulogistic that one hesitates to quote them – from fear of falling into the “personality cult.” What makes them outstanding, however, is the fact that at a later date, Jacques Sadoul became a faithful servitor of Stalinism, and did not hesitate even to place his prestige in the service of defending the infamous Moscow Trials – where Trotsky and Lenin’s Central Committee were accused of having been “imperialist agents” as early as 1917! That is why we quote some passages from the work of Jacques Sadoul, to give readers an idea of the manner in which all communists spoke of Trotsky before 1924 ...

It will be said that my reasoning would be justified only if Lenin and Trotsky were sincere. For a fortnight, I spent a good deal of my time with both men. I knew all their anxieties, their hopes, their plans. There are some feelings which cannot be questioned, and I can testify more assuredly than ever to the depth of conviction of the Bolshevik leaders. More than ever, they seem to me to be visionaries, if this description can fit thinkers like these men, who march inexorably on a path which they have previously mapped out; sustained and surrounded by the enthusiasm of their followers. They are men remarkable for intelligence and determination. [...]

Knowing Lenin and Trotsky as I do today, I am ashamed to have to defend, against such ignoble attacks, men whose intellectual honesty and moral stature is admitted even by their opponents: I speak of those who fought with them in the past and divided from them during the war. Anyone who knows a little of what they have done – the struggles for the ideal of Socialism in which they have been engaged for over 20 years, the harsh sacrifices which they have endured, the absolute contempt in which they hold material well being, the extremely frugal Me which they have always led and which they are content to go on leading in power as in exile – must reject these slanders. [...]

Trotsky is at Brest-[Litovsk], Lenin has gone to Finland to rest a few days. Russia does not appear to have suffered thus far from their absences. These two are really the whole soul of the Revolution. They are remarkable men of action, mass leaders of a type I have never seen before. They have been able to acquire and maintain, (...) all the slanders and under the most difficult conditions (...) astonishing prestige. They have in supreme (...) the qualities and the failings of the great religious and political leaders: iron will, incredible tenacity, (...) conviction, the faith which moves mountains (...) every obstacle.

Of an exceptionally lively and supple intelligence, Trotsky is or knows how to be inflexible when it is necessary, when he feels that discussion cannot be allowed because discussion means doubt, and doubt in the leader causes demoralization in the ranks. I imagine that the disciples of Luther, the followers of Robespierre, the veterans of Napoleon, could not have had a more blind confidence in their leader or shown more veneration to him than the Red guards, the sailors, and the workers – who form the essential and basic nucleus of the Bolshevik forces – do to Lenin and Trotsky.

Trotsky often repeats to me how greatly he is impressed by the disinterestedness and utter devotion which these modest supporters lavish on their leader, and how he feels strengthened by their affection; when he speaks about his troops, ardent and devoted to the death, his voice, usually caustic and bitter, softens. He is moved by tenderness which his highly-strung, austere, and bitter nature rarely displays. Sometimes his satanic smile has sent chills through me, for the mind of Trotsky overflows with bitterness, contempt, and – well I know it – hatred, for the ruling class. I am truly convinced that these two exceptional and indeed great men (success alone will permit that bourgeois courtesan called history to classify them as such) are moved in their present action by the highest motives. [...]

The government of the Soviets wanted to devote all its available resources and manpower to the problem of production which had fallen to a low level. Peace had been signed at Brest[-Litovsk], Demobilization, that colossal enterprise which all the experts had declared impossible, had been accomplished in some six weeks. What need was there for an army?

The counter-revolutionaries of the entire world judged otherwise. Their manoeuvres obliged Russia to create, from nothing and in haste, a new military organization – a Herculean task after three years or war, after a revolution made precisely against war. My letters have given day by day, the story of the difficulties of this army’s formation, beset by difficulties. This story is that of the will of one man. As Carnot was the organizer of the armies of the French Revolution, Trotsky is the founder of the Red army. Starting out from the system of voluntary recruitment, he rapidly won acceptance for the great principle of compulsory service for all workers. Officers were lacking: Trotsky forced officers of the Czarist army to hire out their services to the army of the Social Revolution. There were many betrayals. Trotsky had foreseen that. But at first, he could not do without making use of the collaboration of these ci-devants. He was neither surprised nor discouraged by betrayals. Gradually, he was able to get rid of the traitors and secure loyal officers. At the same time, he opened military schools throughout Russia where the proletariat could train officers from its own ranks.

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