Trotsky’s ‘Exile’ and Social Democracy

Clara Zetkin

(17 February, 1928)

The Second International is openly mobilising against the Soviet Union, or more precisely: it is escalating once again its non-stop campaign of calumny and persecution against the State of Proletarian Dictatorship. In cahoots with Chamberlain and other leaders of global imperialism, it is trying to work in those very areas where the coercive, hounding voice of these arch-enemies of the working class is heard with mistrust and, in fact, under protest. The Second International is exhorting the international proletariat to oppose the Soviet Union. And in doing so, it is, quite in keeping with the standards of its capitalist lords and masters, clinging to the shadow of a pretext – a fiction that it has itself spun. The leaders of the Opposition in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have surely made it very easy for the Second International to paint such a shadow before the eyes of all believing and naive souls without so much as a cleverly contrived fresh proscription method to counter the threat of “Bolshevism”.

Its passionate oppositional struggles of two years against the leaders and politics of the majority were marked by a surfeit of distortions, falsifications, calumny and suspicion, which were received and further propagated abroad in the most gross, coarse and exaggerated form by the loyal band of followers of Trotsky and Zinoviev: a gift from heaven for all who hate and fear the world proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union, and are bent upon choking it to death. Actively taken up and exploited by them, the Opposition casts dirt to sully and discredit the “Stalinists” and their socialist construction, together with the party as a whole, as also the dictatorship of the proletariat, the first nation-state of workers in the world. The counterrevolutionary clan is unscrupulously pushing aside the fact that Zinoviev, Kamenev and most of the Russian Opposition leaders have fully capitulated before the resolutions of a crushing majority of the party and the verdict of the proletarian masses. They not only gave up their organisational factionalism, but also in substance retracted from all their programmatic demands, i.e. from their ideological stand vis-a-vis the political line and the socialist construction of the party leadership. Howsoever one might (eventually) judge the “lost sons” trying to return to the “father’s house” of the WKP (International Communist Party), objectively speaking, their repentant reversion is important, transcending the splitting, fissuring and disintegrating oppositional forces within the Soviet Union and the International. It is crystal clear on what brittle, unsound foundation were installed the thundering batteries of the Opposition against the party leadership and its politics. The arguments of the Opposition were and are not grounded in the social reality of a working class state in an agricultural country. Trotsky and his friends in the Opposition are the only witnesses that the leading lights of the Second International have in support of a pseudo-justification of their ignominious campaign against the theory and praxis of the proletarian revolution.

At the end of the 15th Party Congress it was undoubtedly clear that in order to transform the success of battle into a socialist revolution, the full force of the proletarian dictatorship would, and would have to, turn against all oppositional elements, who through their actions continue to jeopardise the organisational and ideological unity and cohesiveness of the party, and thus that of the Soviet State. The historical task of the proletarian dictatorship had to be fulfilled irrespective of individuals, and without spinelessly buckling before big names and their past. Incontrovertible facts have shown that a group of oppositional elements continued their struggle against the party under Trotsky’s leadership. Exploiting some momentary difficulties that obtained in the given situation, they systematically went about trying to drag the non-party working masses into this struggle, and to carry it beyond the (state) borders. Trotsky and his friends are very experienced and conscious politicians. They must have been fully aware of what they were putting at risk by their advances. In the desperado mentality of insolvents they risked everything on the last card – that of foolhardy adventure. Only, they were not up against the contingencies of a game of fortune, but rather the iron historical legitimacy of the first proletarian state in the world. This law had to rule against Trotsky and his friends and send them into exile.

In the poisoned atmosphere of the irreconcilable enmity against the State of the Proletarian Revolution and Socialist Construction, the Second International has usurped the case of “Trotsky and his friends” forming a counter-revolutionary united front with Baldwin, Chamberlain and company, in order to instigate the world proletariat against the Soviet Union. The world proletariat, whose solidarity of interests the Second International continues to crush under its feet to the gain and profit of the national bourgeoisie of the individual capitalist “fatherlands”! Against the Soviet Union, which is, as the first creation of the world proletarian revolution, the first historical manifestation of this solidarity of interests, and in truth and indeed its most loyal, ready-to-die protector and prize-fighter!

The “Commission of Inquiry into the situation of Political Prisoners” established by the Executive of the Socialist Workers’ International is the mouthpiece, the shrill horn being used for their hunt by MacDonald, Paul Boncour, Hilferding, Fritz Adler and all and sundry. The German member of the Reichstag Crispien and the Belgian senator de Brouckere, chair of the commission, have written to comrade Kalinin, the president of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union, spewing their burning outrage at the exile of Trotsky and his closest political friends. This is supposed to be a “test case for your system, which brooks no freedom of expression, which subordinates everything to the dictates of your absolutistic government” – so they screech into Kalinin’s ears.

The Hamburg “Echo” of 5th February has published this outpouring of noble souls under the sensational-headline: “Political Terror in Russia – A Manifesto of the Workers’ International”. One does not have to be a prophet in Israel to predict that it will be published under this or similar titles in the entire reformist press in Germany and other countries governed by (so- called) “democracy”. A discussion of this “Declaration” has to be preceded by a few statements of fact, for they will convey the correct estimation of this wretched, pitiable botch-up. They will answer the question: Are the parties of the Second International fundamentally opposed to political terror? Does this blazing outrage over Trotsky’s and his friends’ exile and the alleged terror in the Soviet Union express genuine conviction or is it shrill propaganda for dirty political business?


The Socialist Workers’ International is rightly and unhesitatingly referred to as the Second International. The parties of the Second International, torn asunder in the World War, were coming together again and the blood transfusion they received at the World Congress in Hamburg by uniting with the two-and-a-half International did not – apart from the firmer organisational structure and name – change in the least the substance of the core structure. The Socialist Workers’ International is the legitimate child of the Second International in flesh as well as in spirit. But not from the time when the Second International wanted to unite, in the spirit of the “Communist Manifesto”, the proletariat of all countries to battle for the revolution, to win victory for the revolution. In fact, it is not even a child of the following period during which the followers of revolutionary Marxism threw themselves with great passion into battle against the creeping reformism. No, the Socialist Workers’ International is the true child of the Second International from the epoch of its decay and betrayal. It is a child begotten by lowly, meek and opportunistically bargaining brotherhood of the reformist socialist parties and trade unions with the bourgeoisie; begotten in a state of horror and blind hatred of the gigantic spectre of the proletarian revolution.

This is irrefutably confirmed by the attitude of the parties of the Second International towards revolutionary uprisings of exploited classes, oppressed nations and peoples trying to shake off the yoke of plunder and slavery. The parties allowed it to happen, that in Finland, in the countries along the Baltic rim, in Ukraine, the machine guns and the rifles of German troops drove back into the old yoke of slavery those workers and who wanted to free themselves by creating a Soviet order; that an unparalleled terror regiment set free again the exploitative power of the ruling classes. With folded arms they stood on the side, indeed followed with a sense of complacency, as the Czechoslovakian mercenaries of the counterrevolution, as the English, French, American and Japanese troops, in league with czarist generals, enlisted and supported by all kinds of bourgeois democrats and gentrified anti- Soviet socialists, laid waste the young Soviet state, raised the fear of civil war, and tried to force the revolutionary workers and peasants into subjugation through the cruellest of terrorising measures. Rivers of blood and dirt characterise the position taken by the Second International vis-a-vis the courageous advances of the avant-garde of the proletariat in Central Europe to overthrow capitalism and realise socialism. The choking of the Soviet republic in Hungary accompanied by white terror running riot, the bloody suppression of the revolutionary uprisings of workers in Germany – these are pages of irredeemable ignominy in the history of social democracy in these countries.

Leaders of German Social Democracy – on the right and left – are particularly happy in their role as global judges denouncing the “lack of democratic rights and freedoms”, “the incarceration and exiling of the best socialists”, “the unspeakable Bolshevistic terror” in the Soviet Union. By doing so they are denouncing themselves, only they don’t know how. There is not a single act of terror that they blame the Bolsheviks for, which they are not guilty of themselves. Only, as opposed to the Bolsheviks, not in order to smash the class rule of the owners, to open up the way for the realisation of socialism, but to give back to and maintain with the bourgeoisie in Germany its exploitative and suppressive force. The terror of Ebert- Scheidemann was targeted exclusively at the “Spartacists”, the communists and the struggling revolutionary proletarians, who, following the glowing example of the proletariat in Russia, dedicated their lives to drive forward the working class to overthrow capitalism. Haase-Dittmann-Crispien did not offer even the smallest resistance to the ravages of this terror, just impotent tears and pacifistic verbiage.

One name is synonymous with the social democratic disgrace of that time: Noske, who in his book “Von Kiel bis Kapp” (“From Kiel to Kapp”) registers his appointment as the military chief against the fiercely revolutionary proletariat of Berlin with the declaration: “For all I care! One person has to become the bloodhound. I won’t shy away from the responsibility.” Heaps of dead bodies of assassinated, murdered, fallen in battle proletarians in Berlin, Central Germany, Bremen and its surroundings, in the Ruhr region and in Munich; several thousand prisoners and victims of persecution testify to the fact that Noske kept his word, which he had given in this declaration to his party and the bourgeoisie. He became the Cavaignac, the Gallifet of the German proletariat. However, the Cavaignacs und Gallifets were much smaller criminals in comparison for they belonged to the propertied classes and did not have, unlike him, a political conviction, the socialist ideal, the working class to betray which had elevated Noske in the hope that he would fight for their freedom against the capitalist state of coercion and bondage. One event characterises the unspeakable hypocrisy as well as the intention of leading reformists in Germany that lies at the basis of this hypocrisy, when they call upon the world proletariat to see Trotsky as a martyr for freedom of opinion and curse the Bolshevist terror. It is being seriously considered in the social democratic party to put up Noske as a candidate for the upcoming elections to the Reichstag; Noske who gave himself the task of being the “blood hound”. The entire new-old Second International is silent about it; apparently it considers this horrible international scandal as a minor domestic affair of German reformism!

Thus, it is not a fundamental rejection of terror as such that is unleashing the ear-splitting clamour of the Socialist Workers International against the “new absolutistic regime” in the Soviet Union. The real cause is the bigoted counter-revolutionary attitude towards the creation of Red October, namely the state of proletarian dictatorship, and that is also the reason for their attitude towards all revolutionary struggles of exploited oppressed classes and peoples as such. Clear enough. Face to face with the misery and slavery spreading consequences of capitalistic stabilisation and rationalisation, the decade- long survival of the Soviet order and progress in socialist construction indicate the revolutionary path to the proletariat, the working people...

Facts upon facts tear to shreds the reformist recipes regarding the emancipatory effects of economic and political democracy. The industrious and fruitful existence of the Soviet Union shows the exploited classes the unambiguously clear lessons of the Russian Revolution. The revolutionary movements and rebellions flaring up everywhere remind us of how decayed and fragmented the capitalist world order is, how incapable of securing freedom and culture for the productive masses. In this context the international proletariat must understand and appreciate that in our times of bloody fascism and white terror, the advocates of the Second International, while forgetting the past of their parties, are able to see political persecution and political prisoners in only one single country: in the Soviet Union. And they are trying to goad the conscience of the international working class into helpful action in this matter.

When at the time of Whitsun in 1923 the Second International rose to new life in the Socialist Workers’ International – in full throated ease they sang in advance of the life of highest activity for the proletariat – history had already unmistakably moved on into the era of the rule of bloody fascism, of white terror. The fascism of Mussolini, legitimised as the principle and authority of the state, was running amok through Italy, dwarfing even those horrible crimes through which he had prepared his grab of power in the preceding months. The beastly misdeeds of the Ku-Klux-Klan organisations against known communists and working class leaders in the United States were as heinous as the infamous Negro lynchings and the murderous practices of Pinkerton against striking proletarians. Not long thereafter the white terror in Bulgaria chock-full of atrocities unleashed all the horrors and agonies of hell against the workers and peasants who had lost in their struggle – and this with the most active and passive connivance of the social democracy, which accepted and supported the laws and provisions that lent a veneer of legality to the terror of the ruling clique of exploiters.

The social democratic minister Kazussoff in the cabinet of Zankoff worked out in August 1923 the first draft of the law “for the defence of the state”, i.e. an anti-communist law. The draft provided liberally for the death penalty and was not passed on the grounds that it was too draconian. The final draft of the law bore the signature of the social democratic minister and was supported in the chamber of deputies by the social democratic faction. The leader of the Social Democratic Party – Sakazoff – spoke in the party organ in August 1923 in support of excluding the communists from the law.

When the bloodsucking exploitation of the ruling classes and the most dastardly of suppressive measures of the government drove the workers and peasants to rebel in the month of September of that year, the social democrats participated wonderfully in the horrifying violent crushing of the struggling masses. In Philippopel they organised for this purpose a special company; leading social democrats belonged to the “citizens’ committees” that denounced and revealed to the executioners of the white terror the “suspicious” workers, peasants and communists. The party organ of the social democrats expressed its satisfaction about the fact that the war court condemned Friedmann and other revolutionaries to death, and that the sentence was carried out. In April 1925 the Bulgarian social democrats supported in parliament the proclamation of martial law, which repeatedly fanned the raging fire of white terror. The social democratic press covered up the murdering and scorching with total silence. Even in Bulgaria the history of the terror and fascism is a book of treachery, of the disgracefulness of social democracy. Fascism and unchecked judicial terror will surely keep the exploited classes and peoples totally suppressed in Rumania, Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the Balkans.

In Germany the social democratic president of the Reich, Ebert, destroyed by means of the absolutistic § 48 of the Weimar Constitution all so-called democratic guarantees and let the Reichswehr (imperial army) march into Saxony against the legal parliamentary government, which then went on – in a revival of the Noske tradition – to deal mercilessly with the unarmed and unresisting proletarians. Court ordered assassinations, murder of workers by members of nationalistic organisations, armed attacks on gatherings and demonstrations by workers had preceded this exercise of gruesome violence “for reasons of law”; and they went on and are still going on till date. The Horthy Regiment continued to torture and choke to death communists and class-conscious proletarians. The terror of court rulings, prisons and fascist horror defined and controlled political life in Poland.

French imperialism trampled upon native peoples in Morocco and Syria, the Dutch colonial rulers vented their wrath on the rebellious peasants and workers of South-East Asia. In the Far East the imperialists of all countries, including Japan, were united by a “cultural task” – that of forcefully convincing the aspiring agrarian and proletarian masses of each country about the superiority of modern methods of murder and arson with the help of militarists, feudal lords, China’s capitalists and the naturalised czarist White Guards.

How did the leaders of the Second International react to the cries of the martyred and tortured hundreds of thousands? With trivial humanitarian declamations decorated with Marxist sounding words that were supposed to gloss over the hard fact that the Marxist content in their behaviour was missing: namely, the dissection and characterisation of the daily intensifying white terror and fascism as typical forms of bourgeois class rule in the period of the proletarian world revolution. The Hilferdings of different nationalities make it their business to exonerate as far as possible the oh-so worker-friendly, so democratically inclined bourgeoisie of the capitalist states and their similarly tuned governments of the responsibility for the rampant ravages of fascism and the white terror. The phony reformist arguments are well known, with which they accuse the communists of having directly or indirectly driven the emaciated, enslaved masses into movements and struggles, and thereby having provoked the rule of terror. For those trodden under the exploitation of the owners may not make themselves guilty of the crime of struggling to stand upright on their own feet under the sun. With bent backs they must drudge in obscurity until democracy considers them to be mature enough to live as human beings.

The number of the fascist and judicial crimes against workers is swelling in the capitalist countries. Never, but never have the leading men of the Second International stood up to the Mussolinis, the Zankoffs, Pilsudskis, Eberts, Hindenburgs and their kind to protest against the terror system being run by these men. And even farther from their thoughts has been the awareness of their duty to call upon the world proletariat to fight these terror systems. How these gentlemen could have brought charges, acted, fought! In the very governments ruling on the basis of judicial treachery and fascism their comrades sat – and are still sitting – here and there, while their patrons and fraternal colleagues are present almost everywhere. For years on end nobody even thought of mitigating the horrible destiny of the victims of fascism and the white terror. Nay, it’s worse, even more shameful! The neutral International Red Aid, which is helping these victims in brotherly solidarity, has been labelled a communist party organisation and is being tirelessly denounced to the authorities and defamed and abused before the workers by the press of the Second International. The victims of the terror and fascism still have about them that “stench of revolution”, and the delicate nerves of the MacDonalds, the Vanderveldes and Wels are especially sensitive to it.


Only a good four years after it was founded did the Socialist Workers’ International discover its compassionate heart for the politically persecuted and imprisoned. In September 1927 its executive appointed a “Commission for an Inquiry into the Material on Political Persecutions and the Condition of Political Prisoners” at the congress in Brussels. The radicalisation of the proletarian masses and the growing sympathy they had for the International Red Aid led to the establishment of the commission. It was like the basic principle of the old medical wisdom: “so that something happens,” prescribe aqua distillata – distilled water with something sweet mixed in it. Apart from that, such a commission could be cleansed of all unpleasant revolutionary aftertastes and be nicely perfumed with a good middle-class ethical fragrance. This was done by also assigning to the commission the task of “promoting the Matteotti Fund”, thereby presenting its action as a one-time fascist crime. While this terrible crime was certainly not any more ghastly than hundreds of other similar ones committed by the fascist forces before it, nevertheless it had briefly stirred up into a rage like none other the feelings of respectable democracy.

Last but not least, what led to the appointment of the commission were the need and the resolve, morally and politically, to support the planned assault by the world imperialists on the state of the proletarian dictatorship by instigating the wider masses against the “absolutistic regime of the small Bolshevik party clique, which was mocking all basic tenets of democracy”. The “material to be investigated” towards this end is being delivered to the commission by emigrants who fanatically hate the dictatorship of the proletariat and ardently yearn for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie masked as democracy. For example by “authorities” such as the social revolutionary Steinberg, eternal ministerial aspirant for a “purely democratic” government in Russia; by Abramovich, the Menshevist travelling businessman dealing in the dirtiest of anti-Soviet defamatory goods; and particularly also by Georgian Mensheviks, who with Kautsky’s blessings surrendered the independence of their country to German, English or French generals – depending on who was winning the war. They were soon hounded out by the peasants and workers, but attempted unsuccessfully in 1924 to again establish through a foolhardy putsch the rule of noblemen, bankers, industrialists and traders, helped with the gold and support of the oil barons and imperialist governments. The very innermost, gentrified “essence” of the Second International – its commitment to and disposition of servitude vis-a-vis the bourgeoisie – drove it towards fulfilling this task. The action of its newly created work organ (the commission) was supposed to be limited to countries “without democracy”.

These words are printed with emphasis in the published version of the resolution on the establishment of the commission in the Viennese “Workers’ Daily” (Arbeiter-Zeitung) of 31 December 1927. Their intentions have been quite clearly demonstrated by the activity of the commission since then.

Recent events have brought before the commission some new important material to be investigated. The Viennese proletariat reacted to the impunity of the terror of the militia through the uprising of 15 July 1927. The powerless, servile position of the social democrats in this country with relation to democracy, allowed the Seipel government consisting of rabid capitalists and big banks to heap the hardest of criminal charges upon the workers, particularly the ones suspected of communist, revolutionary leanings. As a consequence of Pilsudski’s coup, bloody fascist and terror acts had become routine in Poland. Like outlaws, communists and class-conscious workers became their victims, and trade unions and worker associations of all kinds were smashed. Woldemaras’s terror-regime in Lithuania provoked the desperate rebellion of the populists and social democrats in Taurogger, which is choking in blood, and which has been used to beat to death the already persecuted workers’ organisations. And add to all this and other things that are going on, the heart- rending groans of pain emanating from the hundreds of bourgeois fortresses in capitalist countries, of all those being tortured – physically and mentally.

Besides, the two study- and action-thirsty chairpersons of the reformist commission might find in their immediate vicinity rich material to be investigated. The Belgian senator de Brouckere cannot have forgotten that in the time when the social democrat Vandervelde was presiding as the Law and Justice Minister of the king of the Belgians, the prisons were filled with around 1500 Flemish autonomists, revolutionary socialists and other such sinners against the bourgeois class state. Many of them were shot dead; many were condemned to very long or lifelong terms in prison, to the loss of their civil rights, the confiscation of their assets. Hundreds of those condemned then are still languishing behind prison walls – and this despite the resolutions of numerous Flemish local and provincial councils urgently pleading for amnesty, and likewise the resolutions of the Flanders Federation of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Belgium. Jef van Exterprem, the former secretary of the Young Socialists’ Guard of Antwerp, who is still suffering in solitary confinement, states this in an open letter (published in the Drapeau Rouge of 16th December last year) to senator de Brouckere- the passionate champion of full amnesty for the political prisoners in the Soviet Union.

His valiant knight, the German Member of Parliament Crispien could well similarly remain in his own country to learn about political persecutions and about the torturous situation of political prisoners. The reactionary Hindenburg-Ersatz-Amnesty keeps hundreds of brave, devoted revolutionary fighters wasting away in prisons and in fortress casemates, while setting free murderers of workers. In spite of the availability of precise material that could exonerate the brave revolutionary Max Holz, who has been wrongly condemned as a murderer, the case has not yet been reopened. Unambiguously clear are the lessons of the false murder trials and the bloody violence of the steel helmeted heroes against demonstrating proletarians – in fact, even against the good people faithful to the flag of the Reich, in their wash-proof black-red-gold colours. The authorities are even trying to close the children’s home, Barkenhof, donated by Heinrich Vogeler to the International Red Aid because this true artist has decked the entrance hall with frescos reflecting his communist view of the world and of history. It was not Mr Crispien and the other German ornaments of the Second International who thwarted this bid, but the angry protests of artists and academicians; and that reactionary act can always be attempted anew. The trial of the poet Johannes Becher speaks volumes. The leaders of social democracy refused to support the protest of the International Red Aid against the terror in Lithuania even though it either murdered or forced into exile their own party comrades. Mr Crispien could get more material for the chapter on political persecution from his party friend and colleague in the workers’ committee of the commission, Otto Wels, who as the social democratic police chief of Berlin allowed troops to open fire on demonstrating workers and disabled war veterans in December 1918.

Preening with pride, the members of the workers’ committee of the reformist commission glossed over evidence that throws light on the state of freedom of opinion, political witch-hunts and the misery of political prisoners in two countries, which are highly praised for their democracy. Their ambition was fixated on a distant goal. After the commission had silently existed in a time of unending atrocities and terror, – “like the small violet that blooms unnoticed “- – it came out with a “big” action before the public with the results of its “research” and “study”.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the existence of the Soviet state, it made a demand in an open letter to Comrade Kalinin that their “India rubber like” amnesty be applied to the many socialists “suffering in the prisons and exile locations in the Soviet Union.” In order to give this unjustified demand at least the appearance of legitimacy, the commission is acting as if all these questionably “like-minded comrades” are merely pitiable victims of the despotism of the political police, whose task apparently is to secure the “monopoly of the Communist Party”. As if the innocents are only silently praying the rosary of their Menshevist or social-revolutionary programme in their chamber. In the material gathered by the commission there would, of course, be nothing about the fact that Mensheviks, populists and social revolutionaries are pursuing with great passion and perseverance the goal of overthrowing the Soviet Union.

This seemingly so harmless, so legitimate demand is, by the way, of a piece with the hysterical wailing that rose in reformist as well as bourgeois circles last summer, as the sword of the proletarian dictatorship came down destructively on 20 convicted and self-confessed terror and espionage mercenaries of English imperialists and Russian grand dukes. It truly characterises the essence, the intent behind the letter written to the chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union. In reformist enmity against the creation of Red October the conditions in the first workers’ state in the world are being pilloried, just in order to provoke the working masses against it. This is given away by one sentence in the document, which deliberately misrepresents facts in the evening issue of “Vorwarts” of 5th December 1927. According to this disgraceful fraud, “The same ignominy is being committed as in Horthy-Hungary,” that in the Soviet Union too the working class lacks the right “to speak and elect freely”. “Vorwarts” is really not bothered about one lie more or less in its campaign against the proletarian revolution and for bourgeois democracy. But its chief editor Stampfer is still politically cleverer, like the Belgian senator and the German member of parliament – the spokespersons of the commission. He refrains from amplifying a lie, which is (anyway) so obvious that it points to the dishonesty of the entire letter and raises distrust and objections against its content.

Of course, the letter went unanswered. And despite the sensationalising headlines with which “Vorwarts” and other papers publicised it – such as “The Dungeons for Socialists in the Soviet Union” – it did not create the storm among the millions of proletarians, which the publishers had hoped it would. With all the more wild gestures the Second International is now pleading on behalf of Trotsky, Rakovsky, Radek and other Russian Opposition leaders banished from Moscow. It obviously believes it can fan the fire of mass outrage by its actions, like the one sparked by the judicial murder of Sacco and Vanzetti.

The flurry of activity of the commission in investigating cases of political persecution and the situation of political prisoners had to be challenged using available objective data. In the era of the white terror and fascism, for the 3 years 1925, 1926 and 1927, in all the capitalist countries together, the number of those arrested stands at 303,624, persons wounded numbered 92,810, and 86,591 were killed, murdered. Denial of rights and inhuman treatment and barbaric torture led 12,603 political prisoners to 261 hunger strikes, which together lasted for a total of 102,007 days. 9,165 organisations, 3632 newspapers and other literature were banned. 10,472 trials led to 64,758 sentences, among them 12,504 death sentences.

These numbers that would make any human heart shudder come from very reliable sources and most probably stay hidden behind the ghastly reality. They have been compiled from things reported in good bourgeois newspapers. They thunder at the Second International and its commission: hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here is the overwhelming evidence, now come out and fight against fascism and white terror! But the commission does not hear nor see what these numbers reveal. It only has eyes and ears for the fate of Trotsky and his exiled Opposition friends. Through the protest letter addressed to Comrade Kalinin the reformist leaders want to stir up a protest storm of millions, which is supposed to reverse this fate. Perhaps out of compassion, out of a deep understanding for the tragedy of their fall from the height of the revolution? No way! Much more out of lowly scheming calculation, to use the glow of deserving names, especially the past achievements of a strong personality, to cover up the fact that the Second International is leading the anti-revolutionary battle against the state of the proletarian dictatorship using the most pathetic material, and above all from a thoroughly wrong, indeed from a deceitful position.

The protest of the commission is trying to exploit the punishment imposed on Trotsky and his friends to dismiss from above the important reasons for imprisonment and exile of “committed, honest socialists” by saying it is “all mere fable,” that “it is about counter-revolutionaries.” It would indeed be a very polite assumption to say that these good people who make such assertions without batting an eyelid, must have completely lost from their memory many decisive things about this question. During the big trial of the social revolutionaries in the summer of 1922 the public revolutionary court had before it literally wagon loads of documents, which confirmed beyond doubt the terrorist assassinations, the alliances of social revolutionaries, populists and Mensheviks with the military, with czarist generals, with agents and representatives of the imperialist powers. The documents did not contain “fables” of the political state police, they came from the archives of the accused men and women, who had been once among the most courageous, committed fighters against czarism and who now conspired irreconcilably and organised attacks against the proletarian dictatorship. Fenner Brockway, the secretary of the Independent Workers’ Party of Great Britain, might also want to bear that in mind. He forsook a visit to the Soviet Union because he could not comprehend it as political innocence of the country that “revolutionary socialists, who were once his idols”, are now in prison or in exile as counterrevolutionaries. More factual material has been brought to light by the failed uprising of the Georgian Mensheviks in 1924, likewise also the factually supported conclusions of the big trial in Kiev last year against Georgian Mensheviks, who were supposed to organise coups and terror acts sponsored by foreign imperialists. All this and plenty of other documents expose the babble of the commission itself about “all possible fables” as a totally phantasy-less fable. And yet, what does it matter? The Second International will continue its defamatory campaign under the slogan: Against the Bolshevist Terror! For: “the Jew must be reduced to ashes.”

Of course! However, for the Second International, exploiting the name Trotsky for its shenanigans brings a very embarrassing side effect. The international popularity of Trotsky is inseparably rooted in his unforgettable achievements as an organiser in the revolutionary struggles of Red October and especially as the organiser and leader of the victorious Red Army. The commission cannot get past the fatal fact that “Trotsky having been a committed revolutionary” is the only support for their fable that “all possible fables” have been responsible for getting the socialists into prison and exile. Only, the Belgian senator and the German member of parliament would not be what they are had they not turned their backs on Trotsky’s revolutionary past, like evangelical pastors delivering a funeral eulogy for a not entirely blameless member of their community. They raise the reformist oath-taking fingers and assure, “how far removed they are from considering the views and deeds of Leon Trotsky over the last 10 years as being beneficial for the working class.” Going by the opinion of these gentlemen it might well be “beneficial for the working class,” if the counterrevolution were to triumph over politically and militarily unorganised proletarians and peasants who are not capable of mounting a strong resistance! What shamelessness!

One almost wants to blurt out: Poor Trotsky! In what disgraceful company you have fallen! But one is held back by knowledge of how far the churnings of the oppositional struggle have driven Trotsky from his revolutionary past, from his old revolutionary self. So far, that the hero of mighty, decisive historical moments, the man of the great gesture did not leave the political stage in the beauty of pride and honour. He let himself be reduced to becoming an object of sensationalism for the bourgeois and reformist press – the most tragic turn of his life, a turn that is a tragic event also for the Bolshevik party, to which he was bound not so much by statutes and programme points, but by the revolution itself! A tragic event also for the State of proletarian dictatorship, which was forged together by the man who was now blind to it. It became a reality that Trotsky ended his historical role with an appeal against the law and authority of the workers’ State, an appeal to the so-called public opinion, i.e. to the bourgeois opinion of the capitalist countries.

Indeed! The fact that the leaders of the Second International are today laying claim to Trotsky and his oppositional comrades in misfortune does not come solely from the need of the reformists to cover up with hypocritical slogans the mischief and ignominy of their malicious campaign against the first State of socialist construction, so that the betrayed proletarian masses take part in it. It also shows that the Trotskyites no longer fight in the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat. They have crossed over to the right flank of the workers’ movement, they are standing on the other side of the barricade erected for the world revolution. The invocation of Lenin’s words and basic Marxist principles might perhaps fool the moulted ones themselves, but no one else. The position of Trotsky and his group vis-a- vis the problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of socialist construction, of the world proletarian revolution, has come very close to that of the reformists and particularly that of their Russian incarnation, the Mensheviks; in fact, in decisive lines of thought they coincide.

The Trotskyites have disrupted the unorganised party unity because they have lost their main, direction giving foundation: the ideological unity with the party of the proletarian dictatorship and socialist construction. They no longer support but try to shake and destabilise the power of the proletarian dictatorship, of the Soviet state. From driving forces of socialist construction they have become impediments to it. This situation has become unbearable for the revolutionary class party of workers, which as authorised representative of the proletariat leads the dictatorship and is responsible for the success of the revolutionary change to socialism. But realising socialism up to the limit of the possible is the historical justification for the existence of the Soviet state and the goal of the proletarian dictatorship. It is stronger than the formal justification for Trotsky’s exile and that of his friends; it is the actual compelling necessity. It is laughable – and wishful thinking is the father of such ridiculousness – to see in it the proof of the fear, the weakness, of doubt about whether the Soviet state has really taken roots in Russian soil. The fall of the system of Soviet republics could only have been the end of a series of developments, not its beginning. Those who bear the responsibility for the Communist Party, for the proletarian dictatorship, must defend its beginnings with a sharp eye and good foresight. It was about time to do that. Proof of that are the fragmentation and weakening that have come about as a result of the two- year long factional conflicts and the final steps taken by the group around

Trotsky. These steps and consequences tend to increase the difficulties for and dangers to the socialist construction, they lower the prestige of the Soviet state and the sympathy that the proletariat has for its state, and further tremendously incite aggression from its enemies. Trotsky’s much reputed revolutionary past cannot be a ground for exoneration, not even a “mitigating circumstance” for his criminal acts against the revolution. On the contrary, it only aggravates his guilt, for such a past would bind him to the highest, unwavering loyalty to the party and the Soviet state.

The Second International is pushing Trotsky’s case in order to fight the alleged Red Terror of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union: in the name of freedom of opinion, of democratic rights and other nice sounding abstract ideas, which in fact gain real substance only through the character of the state. It is the height of shameless hypocrisy. The parties of the Second International themselves are guilty of extensive political terror, or they have allowed it to happen; they do almost nothing at all to defend these so called “holiest assets of humanity” against the real fascism and white terror that exist in the capitalist countries. This glaring contradiction in their behaviour throws much light on the basic position of the Second International on the question, which is today, in its most mature state, on the agenda of history: reform of the bourgeois order through democracy or rather a complete demolition of the bourgeois order through the proletarian revolution. It also illuminates the irreconcilable contradiction between the Second and the Third International, between reformism – even in its most modern Austro-Marxist costume – and scientific Marxism, which has become revolutionary praxis in the form of Leninism. In a deeply subservient manner the Second International recognises the right of the class state of the bourgeoisie to protect its existence with all possible violent means, even though this right is nothing other than the power of the propertied minorities to continue to enslave and exploit the toiling masses. It vociferously curses the power of the workers’ state to use all the forceful means available to the proletarian dictatorship to defend itself, even though this power flows from the right of the overwhelming majority to liberate itself from exploitation and enslavement by the propertied minority and to continue to live in liberty. White terror for use by the bourgeois state in the name of democracy: a holy duty! Red terror of the proletarian state for realising socialism: a crime against humanity!

In the present emergency situation the Soviet state could not allow itself to be inhibited in any manner from exercising its powers – neither by the treacherously seductive glamour of earlier revolutionary achievements nor by any consideration towards the uniqueness, the talents, the value of a blinding personality. It not only had the right, but it was its bounden duty to use the sword of the proletarian dictatorship against Trotsky and his friends. It might seem harsh, unfeeling, painful, but the past of the revolution cannot be allowed to harm its present. By coming out in support of Trotsky and his group the leaders of the Second International are speculating on the naive and uncritical sentimentality of the proletariat being greater than its class instinct, the maturity and clarity of its class consciousness, its training in and knowledge of politics. In the hope that this gamble might succeed they call upon the toiling masses, whose political activity they otherwise fear and try to shackle in every way. Now then! Let the masses decide! Their judgment has to be a crushing defeat for the hypocrites of the Second International. The socialist workers’ state which is being constructed, speaks its own convincing language for the exploited masses, in spite of all kinds of calumny and suspicion. In this hour this language will surely pierce through to the ear, to the very spirit of the productive forces that are sick and tired of the wage slavery of the capitalists. The millions of proletarians must firmly and with all contempt reject as the most shameless hypocrisy the reformist accusations against the “terror in the Soviet Union”. The workers’ battalion will not march behind Trotsky and the Second International, rather it will do so against all counterrevolutionaries, irrespective of any deceitful uniform in which they might appear. Class interest and class duty require the working masses to stand on the side of the much maligned country of the proletarian dictatorship, which is being attacked by the counterrevolutionary Second International in collaboration with the bourgeois states. All communist parties to the front to enlighten, assemble and organise these millions! To the front to lead this nascent red march and the imminent great revolutionary battles!


Klara Zetkin, ‘Trotzkis verbannung und die sozialdemokratie’, Berlin, Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag GMBH, 1928.

With acknowledgements to George Gruenthal and Pranjali Bandhu.

Translated from the German by Milind Brahme.

Click here to return to the Archive on Trotskyism.

Click here to return to the Clara Zetkin Archive.