How Trotsky saw himself

Submitted by cathy n on 15 August, 2007 - 10:15

Anatoly V. Lunacharsky

I first met Trotsky in 1905, after the event of January [when the Tsar’s soldiers opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in St Petersburg]. He came to Geneva, I have forgotten whence, and was to speak with me at a big meeting called to discuss that tragedy.

I met him very little in the revolution of 1905. He held himself apart not only from us, but from the Mensheviks. His work was mainly in the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. . . .

I remember how somebody said in the presence of Lenin:

“Khristalev’s [first President of the St Petersburg soviet] star has fallen, and the strong man in the Soviet now is Trotsky.” Lenin sort of darkened for a minute, and then said: “Well, Trotsky won that with his tireless and fine work…”

Trotsky’s popularity among the Petersburg proletariat up to the time of his arrest [December 1905] was very great, and it increased as a result of his extraordinarily picturesque and heroic conduct in court. I ought to say that Trotsky, of all the Social Democratic leaders of 1905 and 1906, undoubtedly showed himself, in spite of his youth, the most thoroughly prepared; least of all he wore the imprint of a certain emigrant narrowness, which, as I have said, impeded even Lenin at that time; he more than any other realised what a broad struggle for sovereignty really is. And he came out of the revolution with the greatest gain in popularity. Neither Lenin nor Martov made any essential gain. Plekhanov lost much in consequence of his half-cadet tendencies. Trotsky from that time stood in the front rank…

At the Stuttgart Congress of the International, Trotsky carried himself modestly, and advised us to, considering us all knocked out of the saddle by the reaction of 1906, and therefore unable to impose ourselves on the Congress.

Afterward Trotsky was allured by the conciliatory line, and the idea of the unity of the party. He occupied himself with this at various plenary sessions, and he dedicated his Vienna journal, Pravda, three-fourths to that perfectly hopeless idea…

I will say here immediately that Trotsky succeeded very badly in organising, not only a party, but even a little group…

For work in political groups Trotsky seemed little fitted, but in the ocean of historic events, where such personal features lose their importance, only his favourable side came to the front…

The chief external endowments of Trotsky are his oratorical gift and his talent as a writer. I consider Trotsky probably the greatest orator of our times. I have heard in my day all the great parliamentary and popular orators of socialism, and very many of the famous orators of the bourgeois world, and I should have difficulty in naming any of them, except Jaures, whom I might place beside Trotsky.

Effective presence, beautiful broad gesture, mighty rhythm of speech, loud, absolutely tireless voice, wonderful compactness, literariness of phrase, wealth of imagery, scorching irony, flowing pathos, and an absolutely extraordinary logic, really steel-like in its clarity— those are the qualities of Trotsky’s speech. He can speak epigrammatically, shoot a few remarkably well-aimed arrows, and he can pronounce such majestic political discourses as I have heard elsewhere only from Jaures.

I have seen Trotsky talk for two and a half to three hours to an absolutely silent audience, standing on their feet, and listening as though bewitched to an enormous political treatise…
Trotsky is prickly, imperative. Only in his relations with Lenin after their union, he showed always a touching and tender yieldness. With the modesty characteristic of truly great men, he recognised Lenin’s priority.

As a political man of wisdom, Trotsky stands on the same height that he does as an orator. And how could it be otherwise? The most skillful orator whose speech is not illuminated with thought is nothing but an idle virtuoso, and all his oratory is a tinkling cymbal… thought is absolutely necessary...

It is often said of Trotsky that he is personally ambitious. That is of course pure nonsense. I remember one very significant phrase spoken by Trotsky at the time when Chernov accepted a place in the Government: “”What contemptible ambitiousness — to abandon his historic position for a portfolio!” In that you have the whole of Trotsky. There is not a drop of vanity in him…

Lenin also is not the least bit ambitious. I believe that Lenin never looks at himself, never glances in the mirror of history, never even thinks of what posterity will say of him, simply does his work. He does his work imperiously, not because power is sweet to him, but because he is sure that he is right, and cannot endure to have anybody spoil his work. His love of power grows out of his tremendous sureness and the correctness of his principles, and, if you please, out of an inability (very useful in a political leader) to see from the point of view of his opponent…

In distinction from him, Trotsky often looks at himself. Trotsky treasures his historic role, and would undoubtedly be ready to make any personal sacrifice, not by any means excluding the sacrifice of his life, in order to remain in the memory of mankind with the halo of a genuine revolutionary leader. His love of power has the same character as Lenin’s, with the difference that he is often capable of making mistakes, not possessing the almost infallible instinct of Lenin, and that, being a man of choleric temperament, he is capable, although only temporarily, of being blinded by passion, while Lenin. equable and always master of himself, hardly ever even gets into a fit of irritation.

You must not think, however, that the second great leader of the Russian revolution yields in all respects to his colleague; there are points in which Trotsky indubitably excels him: he is more brilliant, he is more clear, he is more motile. Lenin is perfectly fitted for sitting in the president’s chair of the Soviet of People’s Commissars, and guiding with genius the world revolution, but obviously he could not handle the titanic task which Trotsky took upon his shoulders, those lightning trips from place to place, those magnificent speeches, fanfares of instantaneous commands, that role of continual electrifier now at one point and now another of the weakening army. There is not a man on the earth who could replace Trotsky there.

When a really great revolution comes, a great people always find for every part a suitable actor, and one of the signs of the greatness of our revolution is that the Communist Party advanced from its midst, or adopted from other parties and strongly implanted in its body, so many able people suited to this and that governmental function.

Most of all suited to their parts are the two strongest of the strong — Lenin and Trotsky.
From Since Lenin Died 1925

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