Written: November 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 49, 3 December 1932, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
The Stalinist press has developed a furious rage over the speech on the Russian revolution delivered by comrade Trotsky over the radio network arranged by an American company. The stream of calumny and abuse which are constantly on tap in the Stalinist editorial rooms for the special purpose of slandering the Opposition, were unloosed this time also. An identic editorial in the Daily Worker and the Freiheit is filled with this stereotyped calumniation. According to the hired scribblers of the apparatus, Trotsky’s speech was delivered in collaboration with British imperialism, which controls the Danish government and is making good use of the “counter-revolutionist” to “poison the workers” against the U.S.S.R. Just how much credence can be put in the maliciously deliberate lies of the Stalinists, will be seen by reading the transcript of Trotsky’s speech which we print below. But aside from that, the Stalinists have still failed to answer the embarrassing questions we have not ceased to put to them. Why has every important government in Europe consistently refused to grant comrade Trotsky a visa which would enable him to take up residence in the country? Why have bourgeois republicans, yellow social democrats of all wings, reactionary and “enlightened” monarchists – in a word, all the governments to which application was made – met the request for asylum with such a united front of NO! Why has only one country permitted him to stay within its borders – reactionary Turkey, and that only by secret agreement with Stalin? Why did Czechoslovakia, where the latest attempt was made (and gave the Stalinists the occasion for their somewhat “premature” cries about the “united front between the Skoda works, French imperialism and Trotsky”), finally refuse the visa which it “promised” – if Trotsky would refrain from revolutionary action.
To answer these questions would indicate where the real united front lies. It consists in the tacit agreement arrived at between the Stalinist apparatus in the U.S.S.R. on the one hand, and the bourgeois governments of the entire world on the other, to keep comrade Trotsky a prisoner in Turkey for the rest of his life. The visit to Denmark is a purely episodic interruption of this imprisonment, “generously” granted by the Danish social democracy because of the insignificance of the Communist movement and as a demagogic display of adherence to the principle of the right of political asylum ... for three months.
The speech delivered over the radio for fifteen minutes by comrade Trotsky, is reprinted here as it was received. In some parts, unfortunately, we were unable to establish the text with complete accuracy and the doubtful sections are indicated by three periods. While it is essentially correct, it should be read with that reservation in mind. Its condensed nature was, of course, conditioned by the briefness of the time allotted for the speech.
I will make an attempt to give the American radio audience a short exposé of my lecture on the Russian revolution. This, in two senses, is a daring enterprise. The limits of time are too narrow, and my English – my poor English – is in no proportion to my admiration for Anglo-Saxon culture. I beg your indulgence all the more since it is the first time I am addressing an audience in English.
What question does the Russian revolution raise in the mind of thinking man? First, why at all did this revolution take place? And, second, has the revolution stood the test? The fact that the proletariat reached power for the first time in such a backward country as czarist Russia seems mysterious only at first glance. In reality it is wholly in accord with its historical background. It could have been predicted, and it was predicted. Still more, on the basis of that prediction the revolutionists built up the strategy long before the deciding event.
Permit me to quote here a passage from a work of mine in 1905. I quote:
“in an economically backward country, the proletariat can come to power sooner than in the economically advanced countries. The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding,”
I quote this passage to show that the theory of the Russian revolution which we advocated, preceded the October revolution by a long time.
Let me sum up the events which date from 1905. In accordance with its immediate task, the Russian revolution was a bourgeois revolution but the Russian bourgeoisie was already entirely reactionary. The victory of the Russian revolution was, therefore, possible only as the victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not atop at the program of the bourgeoisie; it will go on to a program of socialism.
This was the theory of the permanent revolution formulated by me in 1905, and since then exposed to severest criticism under the name of “Trotskyism”. It is clear, therefore, that the general causes of the revolution were visible to the Marxists long before it occurred.
The first and most general explanation is that Russia was a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system ...
In this lies the real reason for the Russian revolution; it occurred because the chain broke at its weakest link. The deplorable condition of the futile monarchic system, aggravated by capitalism’s exploitation, created a terrific force which found its realization in the proletariat.
A fundamental factor was the existence of great revolutionary resources in the oppressed nationalities within the borders of the empire, constituting 57 per cent of the total population. To these must be added the experiences of the revolution of 1905, which Lenin called the dress rehearsal of the revolution of 1917 and which witnessed the first creation of the Soviets, and the imperialist war ...
Last, but far from least, was the existence of a powerful Bolshevist party, the most revolutionary party in the history of mankind. It was the living condensation of the modern history of Russia ... It learned to recognize the weaknesses of society as typified in the great events of the twelve years from 1905 to 1917. It educated cadres equally capable of initiative and subordination to discipline. Its revolutionary activities were based on the unity of its doctrines, on the tradition of the common struggles, and confidence in its trusted leadership. Thus stood the party in the year 1917.
In September Lenin, who was compelled to keep in hiding, gave the signal – “The crisis is ripe: the hour of the insurrection has approached.” He was right. The bourgeoisie finally lost its head. The democratic parties wasted the remains of the confidence of the masses. The Russian army no longer wanted to fight for the foreign aims of imperialism ... The oppressed nationalists rose up against the bureaucracy of Petrograd; in the most important sections of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviki were dominant. The Soviets demanded action. The time was ripe to strike ...
Only under such social and political conditions was the insurrection possible, and thus it also became inevitable The party carried through the October insurrection with cold calculation ... For this reason, it brought to victory the Bolsheviki in a country occupying one-sixth of the surface of the globe.
The question now comes up: What was achieved at the high cost of the revolution? Many critics take malicious joy over the fact that the land of the Soviets bears but little resemblance to a realm of general well-being. What did the revolution do and why did the sacrifices justify themselves?
Permit me to think that the difficulties and the mistakes, as well as the achievements of the Soviets, are no less familiar to me than to any one else But in criticism as well as in acclamation, dispassion is needed. Fifteen years! Fifteen years is a long period in the life of a man. But fifteen years in the life of a people is just a minute on the clock of history. In the course of the Civil War in the United States, 50,000 men were killed.
Can such sacrifices be justified from the standpoint of the progressive forces of American society ... Absolutely! And from the standpoint of the development of humanity as a whole, there can be no doubt whatever.
Out of the Civil War came the present United States, with its unbounded practical initiative, its technology and its economic life ... The deepest, the most objective and most indisputable criterion of social progress is the growth of the Russian revolution from this point of view is already gained by experience. The principle of planned economy has for the first time in history shown its ability in recording unheard-of results in production in a short space of time ...
Thus we have an explanation of the extraordinary persistence of the masses of the people as shown through all the years of the revolution ... The Russian masses of today endure privations, but not passively. With their own hands they are creating a better future. They want to create it at any cost. But let any enemy attempt to impose its. will from the outside on the patient masses, and you will see whether they are passive or not.
I am sure that the great American people have the highest interest, moral as well as material, and are in sympathy with the effort of the great Russian people to reorganize their social life on a higher level.
If my short talk can help a few thousand, or even a hundred, Americans to understand the internal inevitability in the development of the Russian revolution, my efforts will have been well rewarded.
Last updated on: 9 December 2014