Trotsky’s defence. Response to Trotsky - Victor Serge
A short letter disputing Trotsky's attempts to shift the blame for the repression of the Kronstadt revolt.
In a note published in America at the end of July Leon Trotsky has finally spelled out his responsibilities in the Kronstadt episode. The political responsibility, as he has always affirmed, belongs to the Central Committee of the Russian CP, which took the decision to “reduce the rebellion by force of arms if the fortress couldn’t be brought to surrender first by peaceful negotiations, and later by an ultimatum.” Trotsky adds: “I never spoke of that question [Kronstadt 1921], not that I have anything to hide but, on the contrary, precisely because I have nothing to say...Personally I didn’t participate at all in the crushing of the rebellion, nor in the repression that followed.”
Trotsky recalls the differences that separated him from that time on with Zinoviev, the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. “I remained,” he writes, “completely and demonstrably apart from this affair.”
It would be only fair to stand by this explanation, after certain personal attacks aimed at Trotsky by bad faith, ignorance or sectarian spirit. For in history there is room to distinguish between general political responsibility and immediate personal responsibility.
“I don’t know,” Trotsky writes again, “if there were unnecessary victims. I believe Dzerzhinsky more than his after-the-fact critics...The conclusions of Victor Serge on this point — third hand ones- are stripped of all value in my eyes...” Those of Dzerzhinsky are, for their part, seventh or ninth hand, for the chief of the Cheka didn’t go to Petrograd at that time and was only informed through hierarchical channels, about which there would be much to say (and Trotsky knows this better than anyone.) As for myself, living in Petrograd I lived among the leaders of the city. I know through eyewitnesses what the repression was. I visited anarchist comrades at the Chpalernaya Prison, imprisoned, by the way, against all good sense, who every night watched leave for the polygon the defeated of Kronstadt. I repeat, the repression was atrocious. According to Soviet historians, insurgent Kronstadt had at its disposal around 16,000 combatants. A few thousand succeeded in reaching Finland over the ice. The others were massacred in the hundreds, and more likely in the thousands, at the end of the combat or later. Where are Dzerzhinsky’s statistics, and what are they worth if they exist? The sole fact that a Trotsky, at the height of power, didn’t feel the need to inform himself with precision on this repression of an insurrectionary workers movement, the sole fact that Trotsky didn’t know what all ranking communists knew: that they had just committed through inhumanity a pointless crime against the proletariat and the peasants — this sole fact, I say, is gravely significant. It is in fact in the domain of repression that the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party committed, from the very beginning of the revolution, the gravest errors, those which were to most dangerously contribute to on one hand to the bureaucratization of the party and the state, and on the other to disarming the masses and, more particularly, the revolutionaries. It is about time that we realized this.
1. Since certain of the attacks to which I allude have come from the anarchist press, permit me here to spell out my ideas with the help of a recent example. The comrades of POUM and the CNT having been persecuted and murdered with impunity in the Spanish Republic, at a time when the CNT participated in various ways in a bourgeois government, the CNT obviously bears a part of political responsibility for these crimes against the working class movement, for which it would nevertheless be unfair to hold its leaders personally responsible.