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Joseph Carter

Moissaye Olgin as a “Historian”

On Some of His Recent “Criticism” on Trotsky’s History

(July 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 37, 29 July 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Lenin lives in an imaginary world in which he mistakes the creations of his mind for realities.”

“It would seem that Lenin’s ‘radicalism’ only blocks the road of the Russian Revolution by calling forth a reaction by adding to the disorganization of a country shaken to its foundations. Here, as ever, Lenin’s tactics, seemingly extreme, are in reality weakening the strength of democratic Russia.”

The Menshevik who penned the above lines (in Asia – Dec. 1917) is none other than the present Stalinist knight in the struggle against “Trotskyism”, Moissaye Olgin.

His latest miserable attempt to carry out the teachings and dictates of Stalin takes the shape of a review of the collection of Lenin’s writings from the July Days 1917 to the October revolution recently put out in two volumes, Towards the Seizure of Power, by International Publishers) in the theoretical organ of the American Communist Party, The Communist (May and June 1933.) The occasion is utilized for an attack on the views of the Left Opposition and comrade Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.

In typical Stalinist fashion Olgin confuses the relation between the democratic and the socialist revolution and the theory of the permanent revolution.

To appear objective, Olgin quotes a lengthy – and we may add, representative – section from Trotsky’s History and comments: “Every sentence of this declaration is just the opposite of historical truth and only reveals Trotsky as what he is – a falsifier of history”. No less! Let us requote the section.

“From the year 1905 the Bolshevik party had waged a struggle against the autocracy under the slogan ‘Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’. This slogan as well as its theoretician, Plekhanov, stubbornly opposed the ‘mistaken idea of the possibility of accomplishing a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie’. Lenin considered that the Russian bourgeoisie was already incapable of leading its own revolution. Only the proletariat and peasantry in close union could carry through a democratic revolution against the monarchy and the landlords. The victory of this union, according to Lenin, should inaugurate the democratic dictatorship, which was not only not identical with the dictatorship of the proletariat, but was in sharp contrast with it, for its problem was not the creation of a socialist society, nor even the creation of forms of transition to such a society, but merely a ruthless cleansing of the Augean stables of medievalism. The goal of the revolutionary struggles was fully described in three militant slogans: Democratic Repubic, Confiscation of the Landed Estates, Eight-Hour Working Day – colloquially called the three whales of Bolshevism”. Leon Trotsky – History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 1, page 314)

“Every sentence” a historical untruth? Olgin raised the question of Lenin’s view of the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois democratic revolution in order to prove that the latter saw in this the transition of the democratic into the Socialist revolution. He quotes a number of writings from Lenin to prove this contention. But the basic questions still remain: is it true that Lenin before 1917) considered the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” as the culmination of the bourgeois democratic revolution? Did he understand – as Trotsky in his theory of the permament revolution did – that the solution of the democratic tasks would be solved by the proletarian revolution, through the institution of a proletarian dictatorship? And lastly – how did life itself solve this dispute – in the form of the “democratic dictatorship” or the “proletarian dictatorship”?

Olgin in his polemic against Trotsky quotes Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in a Democratic Revolution written in 1906 to prove his contentions. But it is precisely this source that the same Olgin used to prove the exact opposite in 1917. We read:

“In his Two Tactics he (Lenin) said, ‘The stage of Russia’s economic development (forming an objective condition) and the stage of consciousness and progress of organization among the masses of the proletariat (forming a subjective condition intrinsically connected with the objective) makes an immediate complete emancipation of the working class (introduction of socialism) impossible.’ Even Lenin would have to admit that both objective and subjective conditions have not changed substantially since 1905. (Obvious Nonsense – J.C.). Yet here he is, preaching the establishment of socialism in war-ridden impoverished Russia.” (Asia – Dec. 1917 – page 783.)

The quotation from Lenin proves the converse of what Olgin now attempts! We may add that his comment is not above level of his present writings!

When a group of Red Professors edited a History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under the guidance of the Trotsky killer, Yaroslavsky, several years [ago] they recorded Lenin’s change of strategical line between 1905 and 1917 only to bring on their heads the charges of “Trotskyism”! Yaroslavsky was forced to indulge in “self criticism”. This “Leninist now formulates the question in a new way: “ – the completion of

the bourgeois democratic revolution was a by-product of the socialist proletarian revolution of 1917.” (Communist – Feb. 1932 – his emphasis). This formulation is in direct contradiction to the official Stalinist position on the colonial question.

To get back to Olgin. Many years ago, this gentleman translated a number of Trotsky’s writings from 1905 to 1917 particularly treating with the theory of the permanent revolution. In his preface to Prospects of a Labor Dictatorship in Our Revolution Olgin wrote:

“Whatever our attitude towards the course of events in the 1917 revolution may be, (his are revealed in the quotations from AsiaJ.C.) we must admit that in the main, this course has taken the direction predicted in Trotsky’s essays. There is a labor dictatorship now in Russia. It is a labor dictatorship not a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ ... All this had been outlined by Trotsky twelve years ago. When one reads this series of essays, one has the feeling that they were written not in the course of the first Russian upheaval (The essays appeared in 1906 as part of a book by Trotsky, entitled, Our Revolution, Petersburg, W. Glagoleff, publisher) but as if they were discussing problems of the present situation. This more than anything else shows the continuity of the revolution ... Twelve years ago those essays seemed to picture an imaginary world. Today they seem to tell the history of the Russian revolution. We may agree or disagree with Trotsky, the leader, nobody can deny the power and clarity of his political vision.”

The present day fulminations against the theory of the permanent revolution cannot change the essential accuracy of the comments made above!

Olgin however does not reach his real heights until he treats tbe question of the origin of the November insurrection. Here the gentleman finds Trotsky once again guilty of falsifying history. He quotes Trotsky as saying that the idea of an insurrection took form from the moment the order was given for the removal of the troops from Petrograd and the Petrograd Soviet decided to organize a military revolutionary committee. The meeting Trotsky refers to was held on October 22. “The idea did not take form before, because it was not advanced by Trotsky. The father of the idea was, most naturally, Trotsky”. With this attempt at sarcasism, Olgin continues to cite quotations from Lenin where the latter called for insurrection before October 22nd.

Is it possible that Trotsky was unaware of this or tried to hide it? Is it true that even Trotsky first conceived of insurrection on October 22nd? One need but turn to volume III of the History and find a complete chapter on Lenin’s continual proposals for insurrection from July upward! Olgin read this chapter. But he assumes that the readers of the Communist have not and will not do so! Even Olgin can easily understand that what Trotsky means in the quoted paragraph is that the idea of insurrection first took form at that moment among the masses in the Soviets rather than in the minds of Lenin and Trotsky. Further that the idea was then concretized that the Soviet rather than the Bolshevik party directly or a new organ, would be the official instrument of the insurrection – a question not definitely decided up to then. Olgin’s purpose is not the review of history. It is rather that of discrediting and slandering the present day Marxists.

Finally Olgin disputes Trotsky’s statement that the official Stalinist historians present the question of the voting of the Bolshevik Central Committee (on October 23) for insurrection as though the entire party leadership except Zinoviev and Kamenev stood for insurrection. The constant re-writings of the history of the Bolshevik party for the factional purposes of the Stalinists are notorious. Olgin however finds a quotation to serve his purpose. We assume that he picked the strongest available.

“The course on insurrection taken by Lenin, however, met with resistance on the part of some members of the Central Committee, in the first place on the part of Kamenev and Zinoviev.” This reads a history of the Russian party by Bubnov, present Commissar of Education. Who are these others? Not a word. They are revealed when the individuals fall in the bad graces of the present ruling regime, as Kamenev and Zinoviev have on a number of occasions!

For the Stalinist historians to literally confine the disputes (on insurrection and other questions) to Zinoviev and Kamenev alone would require the suppression of about nine-tenths of Lenin’s writings between July and November 1917. This has been found impossible even by the expert Stalinist censors. So they resort to anonymity with regard to the other personages.

The world revolutionary movement will have to purge itself of the falsifiers and revisionists of Marxism, the extensive staff of official “historians” and “theoreticians” exemplified by Moissaye Olgin.

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