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Suppressed Testament of Lenin - pt. 13

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Suppressed Testament of Lenin - pt. 13

Radek as a Source of Information

Still, where did that fantastic tale come from about how I leapt from my seat during the reading of the testament, or rather of the "six words" which are not in the testament, with the question: "What does it say there?" Of this I can only offer a hypothetical explanation. How correct it may be, let the reader judge.

Radek belongs to the tribe of professional wits and storytellers. By this I do not mean that he does not possess other qualities. Suffice it to say that at the Seventh Congress of the party on March 8, 1918, Lenin, who was in general very restrained in personal comments, considered it possible to say:

I return to Comrade Radek, and here I want to remark that he has accidentally succeeded in uttering a serious remark....

And once again later on:

This time it did happen that we got a perfectly serious remark from Radek....

People who speak seriously only by way of exception have an organic tendency to improve reality, for in its raw form reality is not always appropriate to their stories. My personal experience has taught me to adopt a very cautious attitude to Radek's testimonies. His custom is not to recount events, but to take them as the occasion for a witty discourse. Since every art, including the anecdotal, aspires toward a synthesis, Radek is inclined to unite together various facts, or the brighter features of various episodes, even though they took place at different times and places. There is no malice in this. It is the manner of his calling.

And so it happened, apparently, this time. Radek, according to all the evidence, has combined a session of the Council of Elders at the Thirteenth Congress with a session of the Plenum of the Central Committee of 1926, in spite of the fact that an interval of more than two years lay between the two. At that Plenum also, secret manuscripts were read, among them the testament. This time Stalin did actually read them, and not Kamenev, who was then already sitting beside me in the Opposition benches. The reading was provoked by the fact that during those days copies of the testament, Lenin's letter on the national question, and other documents kept under lock and key were already circulating rather broadly in the party. The party apparatus was getting nervous and wanted to find out what it was that Lenin actually said. "The Opposition knows and we don't know," they were saying. After prolonged resistance Stalin found himself compelled to read the forbidden documents at a session of the Central Committee -- thus automatically bringing them into the stenographic record, printed in secret notebooks for the heads of the party apparatus.

This time also, there were no exclamations during the reading of the testament, for the document was long ago too well known to the members of the Central Committee. But I did actually interrupt Stalin during the reading of the correspondence on the national question. The episode in itself is not so important, but maybe it will be of use to the psychologists for certain inferences.

Lenin was extremely economical in his literary means and methods. He carried on his business correspondence with close colleagues in telegraphic language. The form of address was always the last name of the addressee with the letter "T' ( Tovarich : comrade), and the signature was "Lenin." Complicated explanations were replaced by a double or triple underlining of separate words, extra exclamation points, etc. We all well knew the peculiarities of Lenin's manner, and therefore even a slight departure from his laconic custom attracted attention.

In sending his letter on the national question Lenin wrote me on March 5:

Esteemed Comrade Trotsky,

I earnestly ask you to undertake the defense of the Georgian affair at the Central Committee of the party. That affair is now under "prosecution" at the hands of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky and I cannot rely on their impartiality. Indeed, quite the contrary! If you would agree to undertake its defense, I could be at rest. If for some reason you do not agree, send me back all the papers. I will consider that a sign of your disagreement.

With the very best comradely greetings,


March 5, 1923

Both the content and the tone of this slight note, dictated by Lenin during the last day of his political life, were no less painful to Stalin than the testament. A lack of "impartiality"—does not this imply, indeed, that same lack of loyalty? The last thing to be felt in this note is any confidence in Stalin—"indeed, quite the contrary"—the thing emphasized is confidence in me. A confirmation of the tacit union between Lenin and me against Stalin and his faction was at hand. Stalin controlled himself badly during the reading. When he arrived at the signature he hesitated: "With the very best comradely greetings"—that was too demonstrative from Lenin's pen. Stalin read: "With communist greetings." That sounded more dry and official. At that moment I did rise in my seat and ask: "What is written there?" Stalin was obliged, not without embarrassment, to read the authentic text of Lenin. Someone of his close friends shouted at me that I was quibbling over details, although I had only sought to verify a text. That slight incident made an impression. There was talk about it among the heads of the party. Radek, who at that time was no longer a member of the Central Committee, learned of it at the Plenum from others, and perhaps from me. Five years later when he was already with Stalin and no longer with me, his flexible memory evidently helped him to compose this synthetic episode which stimulated Ludwig to so effective and so mistaken an inference.

Although Lenin, as we have seen, found no reason to declare in his testament that my non-Bolshevik past was "not accidental," still I am ready to adopt that formula on my own authority. In the spiritual world the law of causation is as inflexible as in the physical world. In that general sense my political orbit was, of course, "not accidental," but the fact that I became a Bolshevik was also not accidental. The question how seriously and permanently I came over to; Bolshevism is not to be decided either by a bare chronological record or by the guesses of literary psychology. A theoretical and political analysis is necessary. This, of course, is too big a theme and lies wholly outside the frame of the present article. For our purpose it suffices that Lenin, in describing the conduct of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917 as "not accidental," was not making a philosophical reference to the laws of determinism, but a political warning for the future. It is exactly for this reason that Radek found it necessary, through Ludwig, to transfer this warning from Zinoviev and Kamenev to me.

The Legend of "Trotskyism"