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Albert Glotzer

A Sojourn With Comrade Leon Trotsky

Five Weeks in Kadikoy

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 1 (Whole No. 97), 2 January 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Kadikoy is an Anglo-American resident suburb of Constantinople, twenty minutes by boat from the Pera quarter of the city and located on the Asiatic side of Turkey, where the Bosphorous flows into the Marmora Sea. At the outskirts of this suburb, in the section called Moda, located on the bluffs overlooking the eastern shores of the Marmora, dotted here and there with many islands, is the home of comrade Leon Trotsky.

Comrade Trotsky has been living here for almost a year – since the lamentable fire destroyed his home of exile on the island of Prinkipo. The present house is a simple two-story, wooden-frame dwelling, that boasts of no historic pre-occupants. It is surrounded by a high picket fence, reinforced with barbed wire. In the garden running about the house is the abode where the two policemen, the cook and the fishermen live. It is here together with his wife, Natalia Ivanovna, his daughter’s son, his secretary comrade Frankel, and a stenographer, that Trotsky lives and works.

* * * *

We arrived at the house early in the morning and after making our identity known gained admittance into the house. In a few moments we found ourselves in the workroom face to face with the leader of the International Left Opposition. Comrade Trotsky pushed aside his manuscripts and greeted us warmly. Little time was wasted with formalities. We were too eager to question each other. We talked for over two hours, drifting from subject to subject and then proceeded to outline our discussions to cover the length of our stay.

* * * *

A subject of intense interest to ever revolutionist, one that came first to our lips and which our American readers undoubtedly are anxious to learn about is the state of comrade Trotsky’s health. In the past a variety of reports circulated regarding the numerous ailments with which he was afflicted. When we inquired as to his health comrade Trotsky replied:

“My two chief ailments are malaria and an ulcerated stomach. I suffer of these from time to time. The condition of my stomach forces me to adhere to a rigid diet and occasionally I have been laid low through this illness. Regarding my malaria I can add very little to what I have already told the comrades previously. There is very little that can be done for it in Turkey. The climate is extremely bad for malaria. Particularly in hot weather do I succumb to spells accompanied by terrific fevers which forbid me from continuing my work. If it were possible to live in a climate where the heat were not so in tense it would help considerably but, as things look now, I must consider Turkey my home for same time to come. My heart functions well and otherwise I feel well. If only for these two ailments I would consider myself a healthy man.”

We observed particularly, during our stay, the enormous energy of comrade Trotsky. While we were there he was completing the last chapters of the second volume of the History of the Russian Revolution. (The first volume will be out in February, published by Simon and Shuster Company.) Comrade Trotsky lives very methodically. He goes to bed early and rises early. He begins to work in the morning and continues until he is ready to go to sleep. All his energy is directed, toward the completion of his present work. In addition to the book, Trotsky maintains a correspondence with the leading sections of the International Left Opposition.

He reads the most important international periodicals of the Comintern, the organs of the various parties and the capitalist press of the leading countries. The only break in this program of immense work of the leader of the Opposition, comrade Trotsky finds in fishing occasionally and, on rare moments, to hunt. This is the only form of relaxation from the terrific pace with which he works.

* * * *

America absorbs a great deal of comrade Trotsky’s interest. To him the United States symbolizes capitalism at the height of its development. “This period sees America assuming the leadership of the capitalist world”, he told us. He continued:

“While it is not excluded that America can rise out of the present crisis and attain its former strength, she will have to do this at the expense of the rest of the world. The United States will turn its attention to the quest for a redivision of the world markets. And in this development she will exhibit her ruthlessness. One of the weaknesses in the present situation is the subjective factor. It is not enough to say that statistics point to the impossibility for America to rise out of the present difficulties. We must not forget that from the subjective point of view there does not exist a revolutionary working-class to harass America at home. She apparently feels free to proceed without much protest with wage-cuts on a national scale and repressions against the American working class.

“But in spite of this we have reason to be hopeful for the American working-class. The effects of the crisis have a tremendous influence in shattering their bourgeois and petty bourgeois longings, which came as a result of the stupendous rise of American capitalism during the almost uninterrupted growth of industry there. But America has passed that ‘golden era’. I think that it is correct to say that from now on her development will be a far more difficult one, made at the expense of the rest of the world and in particular through increased persecution of the working class at home. It is nowhere written that the United States must be last on the calendar of the revolution. The world character of economy, plus various combinations, can push the United States to the upper portion of the list. I have spoken on this same question to the American comrades before. The problem, however, assumes even more importance now.

“A great deal depends upon the preparations made by the Communists for the struggles of the future. The Comintern heretofore refused to recognize the role of American Imperialism and only after a criticism by the Opposition made a belated turn about face. But it is absolutely necessary for the Communist, to realize the role of American capitalism, to see its development and prepare for the future.’’

Jokingly we asked comrade Trotsky whether he would like to come to the United States to live. He expressed a real desire to be here, but replied: “I think it is best to wait until the revolution and I trust that you comrades will push a little faster to accomplish this.”

* * * *

Comrade Trotsky is deeply interested in the Youth movement. Repeatedly he asked us questions regarding the youth in the States. “Have you any youth in the Opposition?” “What kind of youth activity have you been carrying on?” “What are the possibilities of organizing a youth movement supporting the Opposition and training, educating and preparing the cadres of youth for the future?” He expressed himself as follows:

“It is absolutely necessary that the Opposition concentrate on winning the youth to its support. Unlike the thoroughly corrupted bureaucrats, it is quite possible to win large sections of the youth to the Opposition. They are less corrupted and are more susceptible to the ideas of the Left Opposition. We must concentrate especially upon winning them to our banner. They will become a tremendous reserve for us. I should really like to see efforts made in this field of work.”

The steps already taken by the National Executive Committee in promulgating youth work through the issuance of Young Spartacus and helping to create the Youth Clubs will find a favorable support from comrade Trotsky. He is especially interested in our efforts in this field of work.

* * * *

America is not altogether strange to him. He asked about the role of the Socialist Party in the present crisis.

“Does the Socialist Party take an active part in the struggles of the workers in the present crisis? Are they really making efforts to build their organization? Do the workers support the anti-working class activity of the Hillquits and liberal mutterings of the Thomases? American Socialism has not changed its reformist approach to the problems confronting the proletariat. It remains a constant danger to the working class.”

In connection with the Socialist Party, comrade Trotsky asked about the role of the Jewish workers in this country. He told us that it was quite possible to win their support. But for this it would be necessary to publish our literature in the Jewish language in order to make it accessible to them. “Yes, you should not neglect the Jewish worker. He will be a great help to you and the American comrades should try to attract them to the Opposition and win them to the support of the our ideas.”

* * * *

Comrade Trotsky takes a deep interest in the minutest tasks of the Opposition. He asked many questions about the Militant, which he regards very highly. “The Militant must be maintained as a weekly at all costs. It is a powerful weapon and no doubt is your strongest phase of work”. He questioned us regarding its sales, whether it was read by the members of the Party, what our financial condition is, and numerous other questions regarding the existence of the Lovestone group and the activity of the Party. He often repeated the absolute necessity to win the Party members.

“They are most important”, he told us, “and for this you must organize your Party factions. They must be active bodies, participating in the life of the Party. We must not lose sight. of the fact that we are a Party faction, and our future depends directly upon the whole future of Communism and the Party.”

* * * *

We found comrade Trotsky in good spirits despite the extreme hardships of his exile. He must write in order to live and this in a sense is a handicap in that it does not allow him to concentrate all his thoughts and energies on the International Opposition. We talked about life in Turkey, and often its humorous though tragic sides would come in for discussion. The fire that broke out almost a year ago destroyed his library and a box of valuable clippings that were collected over a period of years. Comrade Trotsky is planning a book on the International Situation following the completion of his present work. It was for this that he had been collecting material.

“When we first arrived, I made inquiries regarding a library in Turkey, which I might be able to use in my work. But unfortunately, I learned that such an institution was not to be found in Turkey. After the fire, I sent comrade Frankel to the National University of Stamboul requesting the use of the school library. They were anxious to help, hut found that impossible because the university did not have a library which I could use. So you see that I am really handicapped in this sense.”

We learned from the comrades there that the fire destroyed almost everything. It broke out late at night and before much could be done, it spread through the entire house. All that was saved from the ruins were the archives, Lenin’s letters and documents. His library consisting of 2,000 read and annotated volumes and clippings were burned. The clothes belonging to the entire family were destroyed and $l50.00 in cash was burned. “But even so,” comrade Trotsky said smilingly, “it could have been very much worse.”

* * * *

Comrade Frankel related the following incident to us:

“Shortly after the fire we engaged a room in a nearby hotel. All of us felt dejected and were very much disturbed by the irreparable losses of the fire – all except comrade Trotsky. No sooner were we settled, when he laid his manuscripts out on the table, called the stenographer over and began to dictate chapters of his book as though nothing at all had happened during the night.”

Upon news of this loss, books were sent to Trotsky from different parts of the world. These help to rebuild the library that he lost. Books on economics, history, politics and labor movement are especially needed and welcomed by him. In this article we appeal to our comrades, sympathizers and anybody who is interested, to communicate with us in regard to rebuilding the library of comrade Trotsky.

* * * *

Comrade Trotsky is much troubled by the situation in Germany. He regards the situation there to be decisive in its influence on the whole trend of events internationally.

“A victory of Fascism in Germany would have disastrous effects everywhere”, he told us. “The Party does not realise that should Hitler come to power he would destroy the Party and the Labor movement. But instead of that it plays with the situation in a most criminal manner. It recalls to my mind the period of 1923 when Brandler and Company capitulated. Then the Party followed behind events instead of leading the proletariat in the struggle for power. From all appearances the Party is continuing the very same course today. The Opposition must do all in its power to prevent this attitude of the Party from continuing. This is one of our chief tasks. We must make the Party realize that its task at present is to organize the working class resistance to Fascism and prepare for the revolutionary struggle.”

From Germany we went on to a discussion on the situation in the Soviet Union. We asked comrade Trotsky just what effects the world crisis would have on the Soviet Union. Comrade Trotsky was of the opinion that “the world crisis will have severe repercussions there. It appears now that the five year plan is experiencing a number of difficulties about, which we warned long ago, but the relation of economy on a world scale to national economy will cause a crisis of the five year plan and only increase the economic difficulties of the proletarian dictatorship.” Even now, while Stalin and Litvinov speak of the possibilities of the peaceful development side by side of Socialism and Capitalism, the capitalist powers only work to make matters more difficult for Soviet Economy. For the Opposition it means more determined efforts than ever.

“The capitulators find things more difficult than ever. Those who were influenced by the step of Radek and the other older comrades, and who sincerely felt that a change was taking place in the policy of the Party, found themselves returned to exile shortly after they were taken back info the Party. Radek tries to establish himself in the Party by continuously denouncing the Opposition and renouncing every principled idea that he ever held. He has become the must vicious of them all. Most of the capitulators do not exist politically. They have sold their ideas for the right to return to the centers to enjoy the existence of ‘marked men’. The genuine Oppositionists remain steadfast. There are many thousands in exile. It is hard to estimate how many. Official figures will tell nothing. Those in exile are forced to go through terrific persecution and in spite of the extremely unfavorable conditions of work (lack of writing materials, lack of books, periodicals, relations with other Opposition colonies, or with the Party itself) exhibit a fearlessness that should encourage every Oppositionist. There are in exile today between three and five thousand young Oppositionists as well as a few thousand old Bolsheviks. In the Party ranks there are currents of Oppositionists everywhere. Stalin thinks that by his severe repressions he can stamp out the Opposition. But he can never do this in spite of everything that he does. The Opposition lives because its ideas are the ideas of Marx and Lenin. Because their ideas are the ideas of the October Revolution”.

* * * *

It was not easy to part when the time came to leave. But there was no other choice and we made ready to go. The thought came often to us: What a horrible crime Stalinism has committed to the revolutionary movement. The exile of comrade Trotsky is a terrible blow to the Russian Revolution and to the Communist International. Trotsky in Turkey is Trotsky endangered. The nest of white-guardists in Constantinople and in the Balkan countries always loom up as a constant threat to the life of our leader. The great handicaps in the work, his health made more aggravated in this country, his general separation from the centers of the movement, are not easy to overcome. Comrade Trotsky keeps on fighting. The greatest tribute to him is to build the International Left Opposition and to carry on the historic fight against Stalinism – that virus which has brought these conditions upon the Communist movement – and thereby to regenerate the International Communist movement for the conquest of proletarian power.

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Last updated: 23.3.2013