Nicola Krassó replies to Tamara Deutscher (see NLR 50)

Tamara Deutscher’s letter concerning my reply to Ernest Mandel (NLR 48) contains both what she calls ‘more serious criticisms’ and also comments on some ‘pardonable simplifications’.

I ‘More serious criticisms’:

1. Tamara Deutscher is right to question my claim that Issac Deutscher ‘makes clear that the quotation from Lenin “There was not Bolshevik than Trotsky” is mere hearsay’. Originally there was a longer passage in my article where I discussed three kinds of references to Trotsky made by Lenin. First of all, substantial ones like the ‘Will’, the Trade Union discussion, etc., where he criticizes Trotsky’s administrative-hc)tatistic outlook. Secondly, oblique ones: according to Gorky, Lenin, when asked about his relationship with Trotsky, avoided the answer by praising Trotsky’s unique talent and achievement as organizer of the Red Army. Thirdly, there are statements which Lenin made in order to stress his confidence in, and comradeship with, Trotsky’ in order to defend him against demagogic attacks concerning his non-Bolshevik past. To this last category belongs the one made in November 1917, in which Lenin said that ‘since Trotsky understood that there could be no union between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, there has been no better Bolshevik’. This is clearly a general statement, generous, politic and polite, made en passant but with an important and specific purpose. Trotsky’s use of it in The Stalin School of Falsification was fully justified, but this does not mean that it is to be taken quite literally, or given serious theoretical status. The words ‘mere hearsay’ got into the text when, for reasons of space, this part of my article was abridged.

2. I phrased Bukharin’s words (not Kamenev’s as Tamara Deutscher believes, and as The Prophet Unarmed leaves ambiguous) differently from the wording given in Isaac Deutscher’s book. This is due to the fact that I originally quoted it from Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary (oup 1963, p. 258; Peter Sedgwick’s translation). As these words are very well-known, I did not originally give my source; in the editing of the article, a footnote was added which inadvertently gave Isaac Deutscher as the reference for the quoted conversation, and slightly modified the Serge/Sedgwick version to align it with Deutscher’s, the result being a hybrid of the two. This is regrettable, but I think the difference in the two versions is very slight indeed.

II ‘Pardonable simplifications’:

‘Isaac disagreed, of course, with Krassó’s premiss that “the necessary point of departure to assess Trotsky and Stalin is Lenin”’. Tamara Deutscher says that, having this premiss, I seem ‘to drag Trotsky onto the ground of the Leninist cult’ which (as Isaac Deutscher wrote) ‘Trotsky was forced to accept . . . though his rational mind and European tastes were outraged by it’. The tastes of all Marxists’ whether European or belonging to any other continent—ought to be outraged by it, and I do not think that I have anything to do with it, or could ever be forced to accept it. But I think that the only real way of fighting the Lenin cult—both in its Stalinist and its Trotskyist forms—is to oppose to it Lenin. I was trying to show that to present Trotskyism as ‘the Leninism of our age’ is as absurd as to present Stalinism as being that. I fully agree that ‘The uniform of Lenin’s disciple was, anyhow, too tight for him’ (for Trotsky: Tamara Deutscher quoting Isaac Deutscher). In my view, not just the Lenin cult but also authentic Leninism was a battleground upon which Trotsky was ‘most vulnerable’. In a sense, it is on this that both my articles centre.