Today finishing my review of this piece from RIA, with a final polemic. Yesterday we met Russian historian Mikhail Diunov, and heard his opinions about the 13th Party Congress. According to Diunov, Trotsky eschewed the “Brumaire” tactic and chose to battle Stalin in the arena of faction fighting and ideological debate. In this arena, Trotsky, the master orator, lost fair and square to a better organized faction. Perhaps Trotsky should have remembered the key rule of politics everywhere: Never call for a vote if you don’t know how many votes you actually have!
Today we meet a second historian, Professor Yaroslav Leontiev, of Moscow State University, who also weighs in with his thoughts. But first a quick bio:
Leontiev, who resembles something like a Russian Doctor Who, was born in Moscow in 1966. His ancestors hailed from peasantry and village priests from the Tver and Vladimir regions. His immediate family were teachers and instructors.
Upon finishing middle school in 1983, Leontiev got a job as an archivist. This was interrupted by military service in 1984, but he returned to the archives in 1987. This was late Soviet period, of course; the government was about to collapse in a couple of years. Leontiev continued to work as an archivist and curator of historical exhibits; for example in the “Decembrist” museum, among others. In 1990 this stack-rat finished his degree in Archives. His mentor was Doctor Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt. Leontiev then moved on to even higher education, studying Political History at Moscow State University. In 1996 he completed his doctoral dissertation on the “Left wing intelligentsia in post-revolutionary Russia”. Since then he has climbed the ranks of academia, from Assistant to Full Professor (2013). Leontiev’s specialty continues to be the left-wing Russian political movements, starting with the Decembrists, and on up to the post-Revolutionary period (1917-21). But he has also delved into the “Time of Troubles” (my personal favorite time in Russian history, not because it was good, but because it was interesting!) and a study of the partisan heroes therein, such as Minin and Pozharsky. All in all, Leontiev is an impressive scholar whose opinions should be listened to.
When interviewed for his opinions on the 13th Party Congress, Leontiev felt that the Congress not so much marked a milestone, as recorded a milestone already crossed: “Trotsky’s problems arose [earlier] even when Lenin was still alive. Up until the fall of 1923 he still had a chance at staying in the government, but then certain irreversible processes took place in the Red Army. Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev had pushed out Trotsky’s people. They even replaced Trotsky’s Deputy on the Military Revolutionary Committee: Ephraim Sklyansky, he was replaced with Frunze. Up until, say, one year before the 13th Congress, Trotsky would still have been in a position to carry out a pretorian, or shall we say, Bonapartist, coup. But then the moment passed. The Congress merely fixed a point [in history] which was already a fait accompli.”
One wonders, though, if Trotsky would have taken such a course, even had he been able to see into the future. Probably not. Leontiev confirms that, in his opinion, Trotsky had no such ambition to become an autocrat, the single leader of both Party and State: “He preferred collegial methods of governing. He was also hampered by the ethnic issue. His opponents used his ethnic origins against him in their propaganda, and quite successfully.” Leontiev characterizes Trotsky, harshly, as a “talented loser”. Trotsky was so clueless, that he even missed the crucial date of Lenin’s funeral.
Strategy vs Tactics, Leontiev Style
Next Leontiev utters some opinions which I personally have to take issue with, even though I don’t have a Doctorate in Russian History. And this is the issue we alluded to in yesterday’s post, namely Strategy vs Tactics.
When asked if the further development of the USSR was a “corruption” of the Leninist principles (in the same way as, for example, the Spanish Inquisition was a “corruption” of Jesus’ teachings), Leontiev demurs, and even states that Lenin had no principles, when it came to politics: “Lenin, to put it kindly, was not a dogmatist. He would change his opinions and borrow positions from others, even from enemies, when he felt it was necessary, or the situation called for it. (For example), Ilyich butted heads with the SR’s [Socialist Revolutionaries] for many years, and then borrowed their platform for the land issue. He accused the Transitional Government of putting off elections to the Founding Convention, and then dispersed the Founding Convention. Initially he was a proponent of War Communism, and then proposed the New Economic Program [NEP]. In a word, Lenin was a wily maneuverer. In this respect Stalin was his ideological heir, and in this sense the so-called Leninist Course was maintained: The General Secretary would change his positions, would seamlessly borrow the opinions even of his enemies. Against this background, it is Trotsky who looks like the dogmatic one.”
Although there is more than a grain of truth is the Professor’s above utterance, I believe, as I have said before, there is a confusion here of Tactics vs Strategy. See, even Ivan Susanin had to cooperate with the Polish soldiers, at least at first. And as he led them off into the snowy forests, he still kept the main goal in sight, namely the defeat of the Polish army.
Similarly, Lenin’s strategy was always the same: To build a Communist government. It’s more than true that Lenin was a wily maneuverer, and a master politician. If the Party sometimes had to make tactical weaves and bobs, or wander through the snowy forests (the NEP, for example, Lenin always admitted was a temporary, tactical retreat), the final goal was always still the same. And this is the crucial difference, I think. Lenin and Trotsky both believed, and fought for, the final goal, not confusing tactics with strategy. As for Stalin, well, it seems pretty clear, for what he fought, and what was his ultimate goal, ’nuff said.