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George Stern

Capitalist Press Muddies Trotsky in Death,
as It Fought Him in Life

(7 September 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 36, 7 September 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In life Leon Trotsky was always a feared and fearful figure to the capitalist press of the world. In death he is still the hated symbol of the workers’ revolution. Upon his still and silenced figure the newspapers continue their vituperative assaults.

They know that while Trotsky is dead, Trotskyism is still the specter that haunts their halls of power. They tried to splatter his name while he lived. They still have the job of muddying his memory now that he is dead.

From their obituary biographies emerges a fantastic caricature of a man with a “checkered career”, as the saying goes, an adventurer, a fallen Napoleon, a would-be Genghiz Khan, a wandering Jew on the face of a planet he defiled. From the limited bounds of their vision they could not, after all, be expected to perceive the figure of Trotsky, the revolutionary titan. The venom of their final curses over his dead body revealed only their instinctive sense of Trotsky as an enemy, a powerful and fearful enemy of the social order they themselves defend.

Where more serious biographical attempts were made, as in the New York Times, a combination of Stalinist and bourgeois distortions were arbitrarily grafted upon a slim framework of the actual physical facts of his life. The Times, intent up reducing this gigantic historical figure to the puny dimensions of the men it better understands, resurrected the charge that Trotsky was “jealous of Lenin’s power and discontented with the fact that he did not have an equal share in controlling Russia’s destinies.” Also out of its grab bag of handy lies, the Times pulled the assertion that in 1926 Trotsky “capitulated unconditionally (to Stalin) and publicly repudiated his action.”

The New York Daily News saw Trotsky as “the greatest, slyest plotter of the Russian pre-revolution, a devious thinker who outwitted everyone save Stalin after the Revolution.”

The Deliberate Line of Their Editorials

Editorial comment on the murder of Trotsky varied on two themes: first, Trotsky was a victim of a system he himself helped to create; second, Trotsky’s life work flowered in Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.

The American workers are to be persuaded, you see, that the murderous regime of Stalin is the natural outgrowth – and not the debased and twisted degeneration – of the workers’ revolution which Lenin and Trotsky led to victory. The world revolution for which they fought, our master newspapers tell us, is now actually being realized ... by Hitler and Mussolini.

On the first of these two themes, both the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune, played. The Tribune (Aug. 23) said that Trotsky “trampled ruthlessly over millions ... and was trampled as ruthlessly himself ... meeting an end only too characteristic of the age which he had done so much to produce.”

Said the Times (Aug. 23:

“The long arm of Stalin’s Ogpu ... finally completed the job with a blow into Trotsky’s skull. Brutal? Of course it was; but it was no more brutal than the Stalin tyranny as a whole, no more ruthless than the Russian revolution which this consummate firebrand in exile had himself set alight and kept aflame a generation ago ... The victims of his cold cruelty, and of Lenin’s, can be numbered in the millions; the wastes of Siberia are bleached with their bones. It was not enough for him that Russia should be drenched in blood and suffering; the whole world had to wade through a sea of violence so that the triumph of the proletariat could be assured.”

They Dare to Speak of Violence!

How calmly and easily these newspaper hacks indict the Russian revolution and its leaders for the violence that, shook the world after 1914! The reprehensible violence was not the violence of the First World War, outcome of capitalist greed and rivalry, which took the lives of 20 million men, women and children, and twisted the lives of scores of millions more! Oh no, it was the force wielded by workers who rose in revolt against this senseless slaughter and established their own power as the forerunners of a world socialist order. This was their crime. This was Trotsky’s crime.

The armed support giving by France, Britain, and the United States to the White Russian armies after 1918, the invasion of Russia by French, British, American and Japanese troops did not constitute anything resembling “cold cruelty.” That term the newspaper hacks reserve for the defense of the Russian workers, led by Lenin and Trotsky.

The capitalist order then, as now, is indeed forcing the peoples of the world to “wade through a sea of violence.” It was the effort of Lenin and Trotsky then and it is our effort today to lead them out of that bloodied sea onto a far shore of a new kind of peace, a socialist peace. These capitalist choir boys who write these bland editorials in their newspapers are quite content to see these millions drown in their own blood as long as their deaths can keep the worm-eaten hull of the capitalist order afloat. Is it not the Tribune which has openly called upon the United States to declare war on Germany? Is it not the Times today that is in the forefront of that band of boss warmongers dragging the American people closer every day into the present-day “sea of violence”?

Evils of Capitalism Laid at Trotsky’s Door!

But they have a way of making Lenin and Trotsky responsible for today’s slaughters as well as two decades ago. Isn’t it part of the threshing agonies of a dying capitalist order festering with a sore call[ed] Fascism? Nothing of the kind, according to the N.Y. Herald-Tribune. It’s all due to ... Trotsky.

“For his monument (said the Tribune editorial), one need only look about one ... Trotsky is dead and Trotskyism rules in Berlin and Moscow and Rome; it roars through the propaganda ministries’ loudspeakers, loads the bomb racks, fuels the tank columns, infuses the ‘fifth columns’ with their heartless fanatism ...”

Trotsky was often in his life the victim of amalgams – false couplings with his enemies and opponents, unscrupulously manufactured in attempts to destroy his influence over the workers. He and Lenin together were smeared in 1917 as “agents of the Kaiser.” Trotsky was smeared by Stalin as an agent first of the British, then of Hitler, then of the British again and now of the United States! The Tribune simply adopts this mechanism for the benefit of its own purposes, and seeks to bracket Trotsky simultaneously in the minds of the American people with Stalin, with Hitler, and with Mussolini.

Abyss Between Stalinism and Trotskyism

But between Trotsky and Stalin, history itself has dug an abyss. Stalin embodied in his person and his regime the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. This degeneration flowed from the isolation of the Soviet Union and its backwardness in the midst of a hostile capitalist world. Trotsky was the living embodiment of the revolution itself, who fought to make it and then fought to extend it because he understood that socialism could triumph only as a world order. This brought him into irreconcilable struggle against Stalinism as well as against the whole of the capitalist world. Of the. disorders of this capitalist world, Hitler and Mussolini are only two additional and especially virulent manifestations. They represent the hypodermic injection of Fascism with which capitalism is trying to prolong its last hours. In the revolution that will again raise Trotsky’s banner aloft, Hitler and Mussolini will be among the first to fall.

Trotsky’s life as a man of action, as a revolutionist, was indeed a life filled with violence – but it was violence employed against those who make violence the very basis of their whole system of society, employed against the capitalist rulers of the world who govern by gun and club and bomb. Our masters and their journalistic acolytes glorify the violence that bolsters their own way of life. They shudder – and rightly – at the violence which challenges that way of life. Of that challenge Trotsky was a mighty symbol. That is why they hated him so while he lived. That is why they still fear and hate him even now that he is dead.

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