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January 2002 • Vol 2, No. 1 •

From the Arsenal of Marxism:

Their Morals and Ours

by Leon Trotsky

Frightened Stalinists and semi-Stalinists occupy not the last place among moralists. Eugene Lyons during several years cohabited nicely with the Thermidorian clique, considering himself almost a Bolshevik. Withdrawing from the Kremlin—for a reason that is to us a matter of indifference—he rose, of course, immediately into the clouds of idealism. Liston Oak until recently enjoyed such confidence from the Comintern that it entrusted him with conducting the English propaganda for Republican Spain. This did not, naturally, hinder him, once he had relinquished his post, from likewise relinquishing the Marxist alphabet. Expatriate Walter Krivitsky, having broken with the GPU, immediately joined the bourgeois democracy. Evidently this too is the metamorphosis of the very aged Charles Rappoport. Having tossed Stalinism overboard, people of such ilk—they are many—cannot help seeking indemnification in the postulates of abstract morality for the disillusionment and abasement of ideals they have experienced. Ask them: “Why have you switched from the Comintern or GPU ranks to the camp of the bourgeoisie?” They have a ready answer: “Trotskyism is no better than Stalinism.”

The disposition of political chessmen

“Trotskyism is revolutionary romanticism; Stalinism—practical politics.” Of this banal contraposition with which the average philistine until yesterday justified his friendship with Thermidor against the revolution, there remains not a trace today. Trotskyism and Stalinism are in general no longer counterposed but identified. They are identified, however, only in form, not in essence. Having recoiled to the meridian of the “categorical imperative,” the democrats actually continue to defend the GPU except with greater camouflage and perfidy. He who slanders the victim aids the executioner. In this case, as in others, morality serves politics.

The democratic philistine and Stalinist bureaucrat are, if not twins, brothers in spirit. In any case they belong politically to the same camp. The present governmental system of France and—if we add the anarchists—of Republican Spain is based on the collaboration of Stalinists, social-democrats, and liberals. If the British Independent Labor Party appears roughed up it is because for a number of years it has not withdrawn from the embrace of the Comintern. The French Socialist Party expelled the Trotskyists from their ranks exactly when it prepared to fuse with the Stalinists. If the fusion did not materialize, it was not because of principled divergences—what remains of them—but only because of the fear of the social-democratic careerists over their posts. Having returned from Spain, Norman Thomas declared that “objectively” the Trotskyists help Franco, and with this subjective absurdity he gave “objective” service to the GPU executioners. This righteous man expelled the American “Trotskyists” from his party precisely as the GPU shot down their co-thinkers in the USSR and in Spain.

In many democratic countries, the Stalinists in spite of their “amoralism” have penetrated into the government apparatus not without success. In the trade unions they cohabit nicely with bureaucrats of other hues. True, the Stalinists have an extremely light minded attitude toward the criminal code and in that way frighten away their “democratic” friends in peaceful times. But in exceptional circumstances, as indicated by the example of Spain, they more surely become the leaders of the petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat.

The Second and Amsterdam Internationals naturally did not take upon themselves the responsibility for the frame-ups; this work they left to the Comintern. They themselves kept quiet. Privately they explained that from a “moral” point of view they were against Stalin, but from a political point of view, for him. Only when the People’s Front in France cracked irreparably and forced the socialists to think about tomorrow did Leon Blum find at the bottom of his inkwell the necessary formulas for moral abhorrence.

If Otto Bauer mildly condemned Vyshinsky’s justice it was only in order to support Stalin’s politics with greater “impartiality.” The fate of socialism, according to Bauer’s recent declaration, is tied with the fate of the Soviet Union. “And the fate of the Soviet Union,” he continues, “is the fate of Stalinism so long as [!] the inner development of the Soviet Union itself does not overcome the Stalinist phase of development.” All of Bauer, all of Austro-Marxism, and the full mendacity and rot of Social Democracy are summed up in this remarkable sentence: “So long as” the Stalinist bureaucracy is sufficiently strong to murder the progressive representatives of the “inner development,” until then Bauer sticks with Stalin. When in spite of Bauer the revolutionary forces overthrow Stalin, then Bauer will generously recognize the “inner development”—with not more than ten years’ delay.

Behind the old Internationals, the London Bureau of the centrists trails along, happily combining in itself the characteristics of a kindergarten, a school for mentally arrested adolescents, and a home for invalids. The secretary of the Bureau, Fenner Brockway, began with the declaration that an inquiry into the Moscow trials could “harm the USSR.” and proposed instead an investigation into ... the political activity of Trotsky through an “impartial” Commission of five irreconcilable enemies of Trotsky. Brandler and Lovestone publicly solidarized with Yagoda; they retreated only from Yezhov. Jacob Walcher, upon an obviously false pretext, refused to give testimony which was unfavorable to Stalin before the International Commission headed by John Dewey. The putrid morals of these people is only a product of their putrid politics.

But perhaps the most lamentable role is that played by the anarchists. If Stalinism and Trotskyism are one and the same, as they affirm in every sentence, then why do the Spanish anarchists assist the Stalinists in revenging themselves upon the Trotskyists and at the same time upon the revolutionary anarchists? The more frank anarchist theoreticians respond: this is payment for armaments. In other words: the end justifies the means. But what is their end? Anarchism? Socialism? No, merely the salvaging of this very same bourgeois democracy which prepared fascism’s success. To base ends correspond base means.

That is the real disposition of the figures on the world political board!

Stalinism—a product of the old society

Russia took the greatest leap in history, a leap in which the most progressive forces of the country found their expression. Now in the current reaction, the sweep of which is proportionate to the sweep of the revolution, backwardness is taking its revenge. Stalinism embodies this reaction. The barbarism of old Russian history upon new social bases seems yet more disgusting since it is constrained to conceal itself in hypocrisy unprecedented in history.

The liberals and the social-democrats of the West, who were constrained by the Russian Revolution into doubt about their rotted ideas, now experienced a fresh influx of courage. The moral gangrene of the Soviet bureaucracy seemed to them the rehabilitation of liberalism. Stereotyped copybooks are drawn out into the light: “every dictatorship contains the seeds of its own degeneration”; “only democracy guarantees the development of personality”; and so forth. The contrasting of democracy and dictatorship, including in the given case a condemnation of socialism in favor of the bourgeois regime, stuns one from the point of view of theory by its illiterateness and unscrupulousness. The Stalinist pollution, a historical reality, is counterposed to democracy—a supra-historical abstraction. But democracy also possesses a history in which there is no lack of pollution.

In order to characterize Soviet bureaucracy we have borrowed the names of “Thermidor” and “Bonapartism” from the history of bourgeois democracy because—let this be known to the retarded liberal doctrinaires—democracy came into the world not at all through the democratic road. Only a vulgar mentality can satisfy itself by chewing on the theme that Bonapartism was the “natural offspring” of Jacobinism, the historical punishment for infringing upon democracy, and so on. Without the Jacobin retribution upon feudalism, bourgeois democracy would have been absolutely unthinkable. Contrasting the concrete historical stages of Jacobinism, Thermidor, Bonapartism to the idealized abstraction of “democracy,” is as vicious as contrasting the pains of childbirth to a living infant.

Stalinism in turn is not an abstraction of “dictatorship,” but an immense bureaucratic reaction against the proletarian dictatorship in a backward and isolated country. The October Revolution abolished privileges, waged war against social inequality, replaced the bureaucracy with self-government of the toilers, abolished secret diplomacy, and strove to render all social relationship completely transparent. Stalinism reestablished the most offensive forms of privileges, imbued inequality with a provocative character, strangled mass self-activity under police absolutism, transformed administration into a monopoly of the Kremlin oligarchy and regenerated the fetishism of power in forms that absolute monarchy dared not dream of.

Social reaction in all forms is constrained to mask its real aims. The sharper the transition from revolution to reaction, the more the reaction is dependent upon the traditions of revolution, that is, the greater its fear of the masses—the more is it forced to resort to mendacity and frame-up in the struggle against the representatives of the revolution. Stalinist frame-ups are not a fruit of Bolshevik “amoralism.” No, like all important events in history, they are a product of the concrete social struggle, and the most perfidious and severest of all at that; the struggle of a new aristocracy against the masses that raised it to power.

Verily, boundless intellectual and moral obtuseness is required to identify the reactionary police morality of Stalinism with the revolutionary morality of the Bolsheviks. Lenin’s party has long ceased to exist—it was shattered between inner difficulties and world imperialism. In its place rose the Stalinist bureaucracy, transmission mechanism of imperialism. The bureaucracy substituted class collaboration for the class struggle on the world arena, social-patriotism for internationalism. In order to adapt the ruling party to the tasks of reaction, the bureaucracy “renewed” its composition through executing revolutionists and recruiting careerists.

Every reaction regenerates, nourishes and strengthens those elements of the historic past which the revolution struck but which it could not vanquish. The methods of Stalinism bring to the highest tension, to a culmination and at the same time to an absurdity, all those methods of untruth, brutality and baseness which constitute the mechanics of control in every class society, including also that of democracy. Stalinism is a single clot of all monstrosities of the historical State, its most malicious caricature, and disgusting grimace. When the representatives of old society puritanically counterpose a sterilized democratic abstraction to the gangrene of Stalinism, we can with full justice recommend to them, as to all of old society, that they fall enamored of themselves in the warped mirror of Soviet Thermidor. True, the GPU far surpasses all other regimes in the nakedness of its crimes. But this flows from the immense amplitude of events shaking Russia under the influence of world imperialist demoralization.

Morality and revolution

Among the liberals and radicals there are not a few individuals who have assimilated the methods of the materialist interpretation of events and who consider themselves Marxists. This does not hinder them, however, from remaining bourgeois journalists, professors, or politicians. A Bolshevik is inconceivable, of course, without the materialist method, in the sphere of morality too. But this method serves him not solely for the interpretation of events but rather for the creation of a revolutionary party of the proletariat. It is impossible to accomplish this task without complete independence from the bourgeoisie and their morality. Yet bourgeois public opinion actually now reigns in full sway over the official workers’ movement from William Green in the United States, Leon Blum and Maurice Thorez in France, to Garcia Oliver in Spain. In this fact the reactionary character of the present period reaches its sharpest expression.

A revolutionary Marxist cannot begin to approach his historical mission without having broken morally from bourgeois public opinion and its agencies in the proletariat. For this, moral courage of a different caliber is required than that of opening wide one’s mouth at meetings and yelling, “Down with Hitler!” “Down with Franco!” It is precisely this resolute, completely thought out, inflexible rupture of the Bolsheviks from conservative moral philosophy, not only of the big but of the petty bourgeoisie, which mortally terrorizes democratic phrase-mongers, drawing room prophets and lobbying heroes. From this is derived their complaints about the “amoralism” of the Bolsheviks.

Their identification of bourgeois morals with morals “in general” can best of all, perhaps, be verified at the extreme left wing of the petty bourgeoisie, precisely in the centrist parties of the so-called London Bureau. Since this organization “recognizes” the program of proletarian revolution, our disagreements with it seem, at first glance, secondary. Actually their “recognition” is valueless because it does not bind them to anything. They “recognize” the proletarian revolution as the Kantians recognized the categorical imperative, that is, as a holy principle but not applicable to daily life. In the sphere of practical politics they unite with the worst enemies of the revolution (reformists and Stalinists) for the struggle against us. All their thinking is permeated with duplicity and falsehood. If the centrists, according to a general rule, do not raise themselves to imposing crimes it is only because they forever remain in the byways of politics; they are, so to speak, petty pickpockets of history. For this reason they consider themselves called upon to regenerate the workers’ movement with a new morality.

At the extreme left wing of this “left” fraternity stands a small and politically completely insignificant grouping of German émigré’s who publish the paper Neuer Weg (The New Road). Let us bend down lower and listen to these “revolutionary” indicters of Bolshevik amoralism. In a tone of ambiguous pseudo-praise the Neuer Weg proclaims that the Bolsheviks are distinguished advantageously from other parties by their absence of hypocrisy—they openly declare what others quietly apply in fact, that is, the principle “the end justifies the means.” But according to the convictions of Neuer Weg such a “bourgeois” precept is incompatible with a “healthy socialist movement.” “Lying and worse are not permissible means of struggle, as Lenin still considered.” The word “still” evidently signifies that Lenin did not succeed in overcoming his delusions only because he failed to live until the discovery of The New Road.

In the formula, “lying and worse,” “worse” evidently signifies violence, murder, and so on, since under equal conditions violence is worse than lying, and murder the most extreme form of violence. We thus come to the conclusion that lying, violence, murder are incompatible with a “healthy socialist movement.” What, however, is our relation to revolution? Civil war is the most severe of all forms of war. It is unthinkable not only without violence against tertiary figures but, under contemporary technique, without murdering old men, old women and children. Must one be reminded of Spain? The only possible answer of the “friends” of Republican Spain sounds like this: civil war is better than fascist slavery. But this completely correct answer merely signifies that the end (democracy or socialism) justifies, under certain conditions, such means as violence and murder. Not to speak about lies! Without lies war would be as unimaginable as a machine without oil. In order to safeguard even the session of the Cortes (February 1, 1938) from Fascist bombs the Barcelona government several times deliberately deceived journalists and their own population. Could it have acted in any other way? Whoever accepts the end: victory over Franco, must accept the means, civil war with its wake of horrors and crimes.

Nevertheless, lying and violence “in themselves” warrant condemnation? Of course, even as does the class society which generates them. A society without social contradictions will naturally be a society without lies and violence. However, there is no way of building a bridge to that society save by revolutionary, that is, violent means. The revolution itself is a product of class society and of necessity bears its traits. From the point of view of “eternal truths” revolution is of course “anti-moral.” But this merely means that idealist morality is counter-revolutionary, that is, in the service of the exploiters.

“Civil war,” will perhaps respond the philosopher caught unawares, “is, however, a sad exception. But in peaceful times a healthy socialist movement should manage without violence and lying.” Such an answer, however, represents nothing less than a pathetic evasion. There is no impervious demarcation between “peaceful” class struggle and revolution. Every strike embodies in an unexpanded form all the elements of civil war. Each side strives to impress the opponent with an exaggerated representation of its resoluteness to struggle and its material resources. Through their press, agents, and spies the capitalists labor to frighten and demoralize the strikers. From their side, the workers’ pickets, where persuasion does not avail, are compelled to resort to force. Thus “lying and worse” are an inseparable part of the class struggle even in its most elementary form. It remains to be added that the very conception of truth and lie was born of social contradictions.

Revolution and the institution of hostages

Stalin arrests and shoots the children of his opponents after these opponents have been themselves executed under false accusations. With the help of the institution of family hostages Stalin compels those Soviet diplomats to return from abroad who permitted themselves an expression of doubt upon the infallibility of Yagoda or Yezhov. The moralists of Neuer Weg consider it necessary and timely to remind us on this occasion of the fact that Trotsky in 1919 “also” introduced a law upon hostages. But here it becomes necessary to quote literally: “The detention of innocent relatives by Stalin is disgusting barbarism. But it remains a barbarism as well when it was dictated by Trotsky (1919).” Here is the idealistic moralist in all his beauty! His criteria are as false as the norms of bourgeois democracy—in both cases parity is supposed where in actuality there is not even a trace of it.

We will not insist here upon the fact that the Decree of 1919 led scarcely to even one execution of relatives of those commanders whose perfidy not only caused the loss of innumerable human lives but threatened the revolution itself with direct annihilation. The question in the end does not concern that. If the revolution had displayed less superfluous generosity from the very beginning, hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved. Thus or otherwise I carry full responsibility for the Decree of 1919. It was a necessary measure in the struggle against the oppressors. Only in the historical content of the struggle lies the justification of the decree as in general the justification of the whole civil war which, too, can be called, not without foundation, “disgusting barbarism.”

We leave to some Emil Ludwig or his ilk the drawing of Abraham Lincoln’s portrait with rosy little wings. Lincoln’s significance lies in his not hesitating before the most severe means once they were found to be necessary in achieving a great historic aim posed by the development of a young nation. The question lies not even in which of the warring camps caused or itself suffered the greatest number of victims. History has different yardsticks for the cruelty of the Northerners and the cruelty of the Southerners in the Civil War. A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains—let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!

After the Paris Commune had been drowned in blood and the reactionary knaves of the whole world dragged its banner in the filth of vilification and slander, there were not a few democratic Philistines who, adapting themselves to reaction, slandered the Communards for shooting 64 hostages headed by the Paris archbishop. Marx did not hesitate a moment in defending this bloody act of the Commune. In a circular issued by the General Council of the First International, in which seethes the fiery eruption of lava, Marx first reminds us of the bourgeoisie adopting the institution of hostages in the struggle against both colonial peoples and their own toiling masses and afterwards refers to the systematic execution of the Commune captives by the frenzied reactionaries, continuing, “… the Commune, to protect their [the captives’] lives, was obliged to resort to the Prussian practice of securing hostages. The lives of the hostages had been forfeited over and over again by the continued shooting of prisoners on the part of the Versailles. How could they be spared any longer after the carnage with which MacMahon’s Praetorians celebrated their entry into Paris? Was even the last check upon the unscrupulous ferocity of bourgeois governments—the taking of hostages to be made a mere sham of?” Thus Marx defended the execution of hostages although behind his back in the General Council sat not a few Fenner Brockways, Norman Thomases, and other Otto Bauers. But so fresh was the indignation of the world proletariat against the ferocity of the Versailles that the reactionary moralistic bunglers preferred to keep silent in expectation of times more favorable to them, which, alas, were not slow in appearing. Only after the definite triumph of reaction did the petty bourgeois moralists, together with the trade union bureaucrats and the anarchist phrasemongers destroy the First International.

When the October Revolution was defending itself against the united forces of imperialism on a 5,000-mile front, the workers of the whole world followed the course of the struggle with such ardent sympathy that in their forums it was extremely risky to indict the “disgusting barbarism” of the institution of hostages. Complete degeneration of the Soviet State and the triumph of reaction in a number of countries was necessary before the moralists crawled out of their crevices—to aid Stalin. If it is true that the repressions safeguarding the privileges of the new aristocracy have the same moral value as the revolutionary measures of the liberating struggle, then Stalin is completely justified, if … the proletarian revolution is not completely condemned.

Seeking examples of immorality in the events of the Russian Civil War, Messrs. Moralists find themselves at the same time constrained to close their eyes to the fact that the Spanish revolution also produced an institution of hostages, at least during that period when it was a genuine revolution of the masses. If the indicters dare not attack the Spanish workers for their “disgusting barbarism,” it is only because the ground of the Pyrennean peninsula is still too hot for them. It is considerably more convenient to return to 1919. This is already history, the old men have forgotten and the young ones have not yet learned. For the same reason pharisees of various hues return to Kronstadt and Makhno with such obstinacy—here exists a free outlet for moral effluvia!

“Morality of the kaffirs”

It is impossible not to agree with the moralists that history chooses grievous pathways. But what type of conclusion for practical activity is to be drawn from this? Leo Tolstoy recommended that we ignore the social conventions and perfect ourselves. Mahatma Ghandi advises that we drink goat’s milk. Alas, the “revolutionary” moralists of Neuer Weg did not drift far from these recipes. “We should free ourselves,” they preach, “from those morals of the Kaffirs to whom only what the enemy does is wrong.” Excellent advice! “We should free ourselves….” Tolstoy recommended in addition that we free ourselves from the sins of the flesh. However, statistics fail to confirm the success of his recommendation. Our centrist mannequins have succeeded in elevating themselves to supra-class morality in a class society. But almost 2,000 years have passed since it was stated, “Love your enemies.” “Offer also the other cheek....” However, even the holy Roman father so far has not “freed himself” from hatred against his enemies. Truly, Satan, the enemy of mankind, is powerful!

To apply different criteria to the actions of the exploiters and the exploited signifies, according to these pitiful mannequins, standing on the level of the “morals of the Kaffirs.” First of all such a contemptuous reference to the Kaffirs is hardly proper from the pen of “socialists.” Are the morals of the Kaffirs really so bad? Here is what the Encyclopedia Britannica says upon the subject:

“In their social and political relations they display great tact and intelligence; they are remarkably brave, warlike, and hospitable, and were honest and truthful until through contact with the whites they became suspicious, revengeful and thievish, besides acquiring most European vices.”

It is impossible not to arrive at the conclusion that white missionaries, preachers of eternal morals, participated in the corruption of the Kaffirs.

If we should tell the toiler-Kaffir how the workers arose in a part of our planet and caught their exploiters unawares, he would be very pleased. On the other hand, he would be chagrined to discover that the oppressors had succeeded in deceiving the oppressed. A Kaffir who has not been demoralized by missionaries to the marrow of his bones will never apply one and the same abstract moral norms to the oppressors and the oppressed. Yet he will easily comprehend an explanation that it is the function of these abstract norms to prevent the oppressed from arising against their oppressors.

What an instructive coincidence! In order to slander the Bolsheviks, the missionaries of Neuer Weg were compelled at the same time to slander the Kaffirs; moreover, in both cases the slander follows the line of the official bourgeois lie against revolutionists and against the colored races. No, we prefer the Kaffirs to all missionaries, both spiritual and secular!

It is not necessary in any case, however, to overestimate the conscientiousness of the moralists of Neuer Weg and other cul-de-sacs. The intentions of these people are not so bad. But despite these intentions they serve as levers in the mechanics of reaction. In such a period as the present when the petty bourgeois parties who cling to the liberal bourgeoisie or its shadow (the politics of the “Peoples’ Front”) paralyze the proletariat and pave the road for Fascism (Spain, France….), the Bolsheviks, that is, revolutionary Marxists, become especially odious figures in the eyes of bourgeois public opinion. The fundamental political pressure of our time shifts from right to left. In the final analysis the whole weight of reaction bears down upon the shoulders of a tiny revolutionary minority. This minority is called the Fourth International. Voila l’ennemi! There is the enemy!

In the mechanics of reaction Stalinism occupies many leading positions. All groupings of bourgeois society, including the anarchists, utilize its aid in the struggle against the proletarian revolution. At the same time the petty bourgeois democrats attempt, at least to the extent of fifty percent, to cast the repulsiveness of the crimes of its Moscow ally upon the indomitable revolutionary minority. Herein lies the sense of the now stylish dictum: “Trotskyism and Stalinism are one and the same.” The adversaries of the Bolsheviks and the Kaffirs thus aid reaction in slandering the party of revolution.

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