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Natalia Sedova Trotsky

Natalia Sedova Trotsky

Statement of Trotsky’s Widow
on His Biography of Stalin

(24 April 1946)

Written: 24 April 1946.
Source: The Militant, Vol. X No. 21, 25 May 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Online Version: Natalia Sedova Internet Archive, December 2018.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Editorial Note: The Mexico City correspondent of Time magazine recently addressed a number of questions to Natalia Trotsky, the widow of Leon Trotsky, concerning the latter’s biography of Stalin which has just been released by Harper & Brothers. The correspondent wished to know first of all the attitude of Natalia Trotsky on the injection of the translator’s political views into the text of the book. He asked her if she recalled anecdotes connected with the author’s work on the biography, his purpose in writing it, and also inquired about her life in Coyoacan.

The text of her reply to these questions is as follows:

In general a translator cannot replace the author. A translator who exceeds the limits of a faithful translation violates the rights of the author. Since the publishers have not yet sent me a copy of the book I have not had the opportunity to read Malamuth’s interpolations or the final chapter of the book which, I understand, is almost entirely his. The publication of the interpolations without the author’s consent or review is in itself a crying violation of the author’s rights. In view of this unheard of license we resorted to court action against the translator and the publishers in 1940.

At present my co-thinkers and I considered it unwise to delay the appearance of the book by court action. Upon the release of the book we shall publish an article in our press and, if possible, in the capitalist press as well dealing thoroughly with this question. In other countries the book will appear without the translator’s interpolations and last chapter.

As to your question whether the “book, as completed by the translator, is not true to the author’s original conception” I can say on the basis of the Russian manuscript that the author’s text conveys his conception sufficiently. The translator’s interpolations represent not merely a violation of the author’s rights in the abstract, but constitute a distortion of his viewpoint. It is well-known that the author and the translator were in political disagreement.

The author had in mind several books he wished to write. The biography of Stalin was not included in his original plans. For example he planned a work on the Red Army, based on careful research and analysis. He was also absorbed with plans for a book on the friendship between Marx and Engels. He considered it a great historical gap that the friendship between these two men had never been properly described. He was disturbed by this as if by an unpaid debt. He had a great personal interest in this friendship. He was also disturbed by the fact that he had not yet finished his biography of Lenin.

Trotsky had other works in mind that were of greater interest to him than the Stalin biography. He considered a study of the relationship between Anglo-American thought and the development of the dialectic method to be of importance to modem thinkers. The way in which the best representatives of Anglo-American thought had in practice often departed from their own avowed methods and unconsciously followed the dialectic method was, in Trotsky’s opinion, very instructive.

Other Projects

Another project was a comparative study of the American Civil War and the Russian Civil War. The founder of the Red Army and leader of the military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist intervention at the end of the First World War considered that the civil wars in America and Russia had many striking resemblances. If permission had been granted him to visit the United States he hoped to utilize part of the time for a first-hand examination of the Civil War battle fields.

On the eve of the Second World War, Trotsky wished to push all other work aside in order to make a survey of world politics. The publishers, however, insisted he complete the Stalin biography.

The publisher’s proposal that he write a biography of Stalin came unexpectedly in the first place. This theme was never in his mind. Consequently he refused. The publishers, however, persisted, promising to consider his book on the Red Army after publishing one on Stalin. The stubborn insistence of the publishers on this biography coupled with the straitened financial position of the author, finally forced him to accept the publisher’s proposal.

Many Interruptions

Even though the agreement with the publishers was drawn up in 1938, the actual work on the book did not start until several months later. He forced himself to read all the published biographies of Stalin. The contradictions, distortions and lies he found in them, the need for verification of facts and their critical appraisal absorbed him. He worked slowly and with interruptions. Current political questions distracted him from work on the book. Early in 1940 he promised the publishers the work would be ready in May, but the outbreak of the war and the role of the Soviet Union in the war made it necessary for him to deal with these questions. His writings in this connection were printed by Pioneer Publishers as a book, In Defense of Marxism.

Then on May 24, 1940, a GPU gang headed by Siqueiros made an attempt on his life. This interrupted his work once more. The analysis of the GPU attack produced another book, The Gangsters of Stalin. Thus the biography was not completed. What followed is well known. The biography of Stalin was left unfinished.

* * *

The purpose of the book was to tell the truth about Stalin, his role in the revolution and counter-revolution. The fact that the book was withheld from the public for some six years during the military alliance between the Soviet Union and the United States is sufficient proof of the international significance of the book. I will end here, limiting myself only to those questions connected with the book.

April 24, 1946

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Last updated on: 26 December 2018