Saturday, October 27, 2018

On The 80th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Leon Trotsky-Led Fourth International (1938)- *"THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LEON TROTSKY" by Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova

Click on title to link to Victor Serge's Internet Archives. Serge was an important addition to the international communist movement coming over from the pre-World War I anarchist movement. His political fate at the end is murky, to say the least. What is not murky is his defense of the non-revolutionary actions of Andreas Nin and the POUM in Spain in the course of the revolution there in the 1930's. More later.



As far as I know Victor Serge’s biography of Leon Trotsky was the first comprehensive evaluation from a left-wing perspective of the Bolshevik leader’s life and work after his death. From that perspective it is valuable for two reasons. Serge himself was a secondary Communist leader after the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 and witnessed many of the events described in the book. Moreover, for a long period of time he was a member of the Trotsky-led Left Opposition to the rise of Stalinism that formed in the Russian Communist Party and the Communist International in the 1920’s.

Additionally, Serge wrote this book in collaboration with Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova who provides many of the personal insights into Trotsky’s life, work and behavior that round out Serge’s historical narrative. This is a task she also performed in Trotsky’s memoir My Life and there is some overlap of the material used. Most importantly this biography fills out the last ten years of Trotsky’s life not covered in his memoir. If a reader wants a rewarding insider’s view of the whirlwind of Trotsky’s life from prophetic rise to leadership to subsequent fall and isolation for his steadfast beliefs I would recommend reading both books.

The main task Serge sets himself here is to place the dramatic and ultimately fateful events of Trotsky’s life in the content of his role in the peaks and valleys of the Russian revolutionary movement from the turn of the 20th century until his assassination by a Stalinist agent in 1940. Those included his leadership of the defeated Revolution of 1905, his internationalist fight against World War I, his organizing the October Revolution, his creation of the Red Army in the Civil War against the Whites, his various positions as a Soviet official, the defeat of the Trotsky-led Left Opposition by Stalin and his henchmen and his failure to create a viable leftwing alternate to Stalinist rule in while in exile. Just to summarize these highlights of his career indicates that we are dealing with a very big task and a very big historical figure. Although Serge had broken politically with Trotsky several years before this biography was written he senses this and mainly lets Trotsky’s accomplishments and mistakes speak for themselves.

As I noted in my review of Trotsky’s My Life (see March 2006 archives) many of the events depicted in this biography such as the seemingly arcane disputes within the Russian revolutionary movement, the very real attempts of the Western Powers to overthrow the Bolsheviks by force of arms in the Civil War after the Bolshevik seizure of power and the struggle of the various tendencies inside the Russian Communist Party and in the Communist International in the 1920’s discussed in the book may not be familiar to today's audience. Nevertheless one can take the measure of the man from the strength of Trotsky's commitment to his cause and the fight to preserve his personal and political integrity against overwhelming odds. As the organizer of the October Revolution, creator of the Red Army in the Civil War, theorist, orator, writer and fighter Trotsky was one of the most feared men of the early 20th century to friend and foe alike. Today, the natural audience for the book, especially those trying to find a way out of the impasse that the international labor movement as the victim of a one-sided class war finds itself in, needs to critically assess Trotsky’s life and times. This book will help.


Victor Serge 1936

Letter to Leon Trotsky

Source: Victor Serge, La Lutte contre le stalinisme. Maspéro, Paris, 1977;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2005.


August 10, 1936

Dear Leon Davidovich

Excuse me for not yet having responded to your letter of July 30. I've twice started to and had to stop. I'm overwhelmed with work and don’t know what is what.

And given the fact that despite it all there are no essential disagreements between us (our appreciation of the personal qualities and work capacities of the comrades of RP[1] can’t be considered essential) we can put these subjects off for later. It’s not you that I accuse of sectarianism, but our entire movement. Alas, I think I can prove this very convincingly. But work now permits us to escape from sectarianism! What a shame and even how disgusting it is to see how much paper is blackened concerning the personal chicanery of Molinier, when we haven’t found the means to publish even one pamphlet on our comrades thrown into Stalinist prisons! What! Hundreds of French proletarian comrades know of the disputes about Molinier, but they don’t know the names of Iakovin and Pankratov! This is truly monstrous. But the rising wave of the revolutionary movement will sweep away these monstrosities. Right now something very comforting is occurring. Everyone is rushing to Spain. I just received a desperate letter from Ver[eeken]: all his young people are leaving, they're all en route! He asks that I intervene so that some remain here. I'll try. In Paris it’s the same thing. Two Italian comrades from Marseilles were killed near Saragossa. (And it is again impossible to work; what a filthy article La Lutte Ouvrière dedicated to them.) Rosmer has left. And among the Socialists close to us Collinet. Louzon, too. Anarchists from all over are going there en masse.

It was only after long conversations that I was able to hold back my son (sixteen, he’s quite young). I sent a proposal to the International Secretariat on the subject of the anarchists and the syndicalists. We must ward off the serious conflict which those Spanish Stalinist canaille are mixed up in. Here’s the declaration Hernandez [2] made to the press: “This revolution will be a bourgeois revolution. In no way will it be a social revolution (sic). We'll manage to have done with the anarchists.” (sic, newspaper of August 8). In Barcelona the anarchists killed the Socialist bureaucrat Trillas. Among them those who say: “We're not going to let the Stalinists do whatever they want, we'll kill them first,” are very strong. It’s possible that a civil war will break out in the proletarian ranks! The Spanish anarchists are uncontestably in the majority in Catalonia, an industrial region of decisive importance. Here is the line I propose to choose and the appeal I propose to make:

1. We revolutionary Marxists, considering the reinforcement of the revolution’s rear indispensable, proclaim that the dictatorship of the proletariat must and will mean true freedom for the workers. We will fight along with you in order to assure the freedom of thought and tendencies within the revolution, and solemnly vow to do everything to ensure that no bureaucrat of any color transforms the revolution into a prison of the Stalinist type for the workers.

2. We are partisans of total democracy, and at the same time of total discipline in combat and in production.

3. We consider you anarchists and syndicalists class brothers and devoted revolutionaries and propose to you the maximum collaboration, and at the same time implacable criticism and an ideological struggle in a fraternal atmosphere.

In the name of the IVth International we are the only ones able to speak in this way to the anarchists and the syndicalists. Neither the Socialists like Caballero nor the Stalinists can act in this way. In this we have an immense superiority, which could play a salutary role.

Our press must adopt this line. (The anarchist Ascaso met an exemplary death. Why was our press silent on this! I tried to the best of my ability to repair this error.)

Your last letter leads me to believe that you didn’t receive one of my letters, written by hand in Russian, in which I announced to you that my Soviet citizenship (as well as that of my family) was taken from me, which for the moment prevents me from going to Paris. It would be quite “strange” if this letter were to not reach you. Keep me up to date on this.

I'll go to Paris when I receive the papers allowing me to move around. And I'll come to see you without delay. I'll write you expressly on this subject.

In connection with the events in Spain I proposed to the comrades that they energetically launch the slogan of worker’s control of the army:

1. As a propaganda slogan instituting the duality of powers in the heat of events;

2. And most of all as a propaganda slogan which will permit the unmasking of the adversary and will have the following practical application: every worker will consider himself in the army as a representative of worker’s control and demonstrate a maximum amount of vigilance.

The editor wants me to send him the translation[3] little by little. (I'm pleased by the completely novel way with which you pose the problem of the state. This is a great contribution on the theoretical plain.) I'll wait for your remarks before sending my first batch to the editor.

I strongly and cordially shake your hands, you and N.I.[4]


1. La Révolution Prolétarienne, revue founded and Pierre Monatte and edited by Robert Louzon.

2. Jesus Hernandez, leader of the Spanish Communist Party.

3. Translation of the revolution betrayed.

4. Natalia Trotsky.

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