Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

July/August 2005 • Vol 5, No. 6 •

The Stalin School of Falsification

By Leon Trotsky

Foreword to the Russian Edition

There is hardly a gentle knight left among the world’s imperialist politicians or among their “democratic”—errand boys who has not expressed his indignation at the cynical attitude of the Bolsheviks toward the precepts of morality. British Tories who, without blinking an eyelash, put the “Zinoviev letter” in circulation, Russian liberals who sought to strangle the revolution by resorting to the most contemptible slander against the Bolsheviks, the ruling classes of France—with their Panama scandal, their Dreyfus affair, their Oustric affair, and their leading newspaper, Le Temp—all these gentlemen feel themselves called upon to indict the immorality of the Bolsheviks, contrasting it with lofty exemplars of loyalty and rectitude.

In point of fact, the lie in politics, as in daily life, serves as a function of the class structure of society. The oppressors erect the lie into a system of befuddling the masses in order to maintain their rule. On the part of the oppressed the lie is a defensive weapon of weakness. Revolution explodes the social lie. Revolution speaks the truth. Revolution begins by giving things and social relationships their real names.

In the eyes of the practitioners of the imperialist lie, the revolutionary Marxists appear as a party of “demagogues.” Yet Marx, who devoted his entire life to the study of profound social processes and who made a microscopic analysis of the cell of the social organism, abhorred demagogy as a medical scientist abhors the sideshow incantation of a medicine-man.

Lenin, with his profound revolutionary realism, exemplifies a political type which is the polar opposite of the demagogue. Indeed, what is demagogy? It is a deliberate play with sham values in politics, the dissemination of false promises and the solace of non-existent blessings. Is not the church then one of the fundamental institutions of demagogy—the church which, in exchange for a wax candle, offers eternal beatitude, all extras included? Meanwhile, the church, as Lloyd George has correctly and aptly said, is the central power plant, feeding all the parties of law and order. But even the purely political programs of capitalistic parties are permeated through and through with the spirit of deliberate deception. Whatever destroys their traditional lie is looked upon as demagogy by the champions of law and order. Revolution, which is the most ruthless exposure of the contradictions of society and all of its falsity, seems to the upholders of the existing order the very spawn of demagogy. Thus, in the conscious attitude of the minority which builds its welfare on the suppression and the spiritual enslavement of the majority, all relationships are stood on their heads.

But revolution itself is neither a single nor a harmonious process. Revolution is full of contradictions. It unfolds only by taking one step back after taking two steps forward. Revolution in its own turn sweeps into power a new ruling stratum which strives to secure its privileged position and is apt to view itself, not as the temporary historical vehicle of revolution, but rather as its completion and its crowning work. The epochs of ideological reaction which, more than once in history, have run parallel with economic successes, engender the need for revising revolutionary ideas and methods; and create their own conventional lie. Such is the content underlying the falsification of history against which this book is directed.

Powerless to conduct policies in the spirit of the party’s traditions, the epigones have busied themselves with altering the traditions to fit the requirements of their own policies.

The so-called struggle against “Trotskyism” grew out of the bureaucratic reaction against the October Revolution and out of the urge for national tranquillity. That the past was falsified and altered is not at all due to personal intrigue, nor is it an outgrowth of clique squabbles, as commonly depicted by the banal bourgeois historiographers. It is due to the workings of a profound political process, with social roots of its own. Members of the American bourgeoisie, many of whom are the descendants of British convicts, having acquired the requisite number of millions, feel the urge to equip themselves with a respectable genealogy, drawn preferably from the kings of Scotland.

The Soviet bureaucracy, likewise, after raising itself above the revolutionary class, could not help experiencing the need, in proportion as it entrenched its independent positions, for such an ideology as would justify its exceptional position and insure it against dissatisfaction from below. It is for this reason that such colossal sweep has been attained by the alteration, perversion and outright counterfeiting of the revolutionary past, still so recent. However, the contradictions of the economic process and of the world situation do not allow the bureaucracy to rest peace fully on the laurels of national socialism. The convulsions of the official policy obstruct the erection of a new theory as well as of a new tradition. With every major historical zigzag, they are compelled to revamp history all over again. Thus far we have had three large-scale alterations.

The first was effected in the course of 1923-1926 by the so-called “Old Guard,” the immutable, unwavering and inflexible disciples of Lenin. Let us recall the staff of the basic kernel of the Old Guard: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Rykov, Tomsky, Bukharin, Kuibyshev. The history of the party was altered to suit the requirements of that period, principally by Zinoviev.

In 1926, a new opposition appeared on the scene: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Krupskaya, Sokolnikov. Once again history was reviewed, this time by the Stalin-Bukharin bloc, with the “review” so calculated as to maintain the principal course of annihilating “Trotskyism,” while demoting retroactively one section of the “Old Guard” headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, and at the same time exalting another section headed by Stalin and Bukharin. During that period, Bukharin functioned as the theoretician. Yaroslavsky made his debut as historian. But for the time being he remained the historian of the bloc between the Centrists and the Rights. Bukharin still remained the “best theoretician” after Lenin. Rykov was still maintained as an old and reliable Bolshevik.

In 1929, after the Stalinists broke with the Rights, theory and history underwent reconstruction for the third time. Stalin steps to the fore as a theoretician. Yaroslavsky becomes a specialist in the sphere of reviewing and correcting history. The theorem is within limits that are strictly confined. It must be proved that there existed no such thing in the past as the “Old Guard.” But Stalin did exist. In addition to Stalin there existed a number of mere opportunists and strikebreakers, who for some unknown reason directed the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party.

Every new variant of the past served not only to supplement but also to destroy the preceding variant. As a result, the official history of the party and of the revolution represents, at the present time, a scroll on which various scribes have written as the spirit moved them—each scribe very much unconcerned with what another had written or, in part, one and the same scribe very little concerned with his writings of yesterday.

To decipher the successively accumulated falsifications of party history is to undertake an instructive labor sui generis (of its own kind). The task we set ourselves is more modest. We propose to restore the most fundamental facts and documents which underlie the attempt to counterpoise Trotskyism to Leninism. Let us not forget that in all of its variations and permutations, the epigone ideology has always sought to maintain itself on this fundamental antithesis: Trotskyism versus Leninism.

• • •

The main document in the present volume is my so-called “Letter to the Istpart” [Bureau of Party History]. It was written in 1927 in reply to an Itspart questionnaire. It circulated from hand to hand in the U.S.S.R. in hundreds of copies, either re-typed or copied by hand. Single copies, often inexact, filtered abroad. Translations of them appeared in several languages. After the author’s expulsion from the U.S.S.R., a fuller text of the “Letter” was published in German, French, English, Spanish, Chinese and other languages, but until now it has not appeared in the original—that is, in the Russian language.

Contained in this volume are three speeches by the author, delivered before the highest bodies of the C.P.S.U. They relate to the same question of the distortion of the past for the purpose of justifying new political tendencies. These speeches are also printed for the first time in the Russian language. The necessary explanations are given in the text of this book.

Two chapters: “A Contribution to a Political Biography of Stalin” and “Stalin and the Red Army” have already appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition. The latter chapter (“Stalin and the Red Army”) was written by N. Markin, to whom I herewith express my gratitude.

The book includes, in addition, two documents of great historical significance: the minutes of the so-called “March Conference” of the Bolsheviks in the year 1917, and the recorded minutes of an exceptionally important session of the Petrograd Committee of the party, November 1, 1917, in which Lenin and other members of the Central Committee participated.

The March Conference was attended by Bolshevik delegates who arrived for the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets.

The political condition of the upper stratum of the Bolshevik party, especially of Stalin and Co., on the eve of Lenin’s arrival in Russia, is characterized with exceptional vividness by the minutes of that Conference. The minutes are vivid but far from flattering. That is precisely why they are hidden from the party to this very day. This document is printed here for the first time and is thereby preserved from certain destruction.

The history of the recorded minutes of the November 1 session of the Petrograd Committee is contained in the text of the book. Here again we have before us a document hidden from the party with deliberate malice. The galley proofs bear the notation: “Junk this.” By a fortunate accident, the galley proof with the corrections and notations came into our possession. Another precious portion of the history of the October Revolution was thereby saved from being “junked.”

Thus the book as a whole comprises a collection of historical documents. But from the recent past, which it encompasses, there run living threads to the present. In that sense the book is not at all a volume for the archives; it is rather a weapon in the political struggle for the theory of Marx, for the policies of Lenin—against the epigones.

Leon Trotsky, Kadikoi, September 13, 1931.

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