An interview with the Communist Party’s leading Trotskyist.
On August 19 the delegation of American labor men and economic experts who recently visited the Soviet Union, interviewed Leon Trotzky, who answered a number of questions submitted to him by members of the delegation. A detailed account of the interview appeared in the Moscow Pravda of August 24 which accompanied Trotzky’s answers with some remarks of its own. Trotsky’s answers and the comments of the Pravda follow in part:
Q. Would it be correct to say that the Soviet state is a democracy, or should it be said that this is a dictatorship of one class or of a part of that class–the Communist Party?
A. It depends on what is understood by democracy. I agree that, from the point of view of the existing American democracy, the Soviet Union may be denied the right to call itself a democracy. But I reserve for myself the right to deny, from our point of view; that the United States constitutes a democracy …. The United States is ruled by the dictatorship of the most concentrated capital under the camouflage of the external forms of political democracy. … The Soviet system represents the dictatorship of the working class which has no interest in misleading anybody as to the character of its didtatorship. … Another essential difference … is in the fact that, while the feudal lords and capitalists strive to perpetuate their rule, the Communist Party looks upon the dictatorship of the proletariat only as upon a temporary passing phase. The object of the revolutionary dictatorship is to create a society wherein there will be no need of state authority since it will be based on the solidarity of the producers liberated from exploitation and with all class barriers removed.
Q. Why is there no freedom of the press and of speech?
A. In order to answer this question we again have to agree as to what is understood by freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. Everybody has the freedom to fly. But in order to exercise this freedom one must have an airplane. The worker in any democratic country may have the right to their own press, their meetings, etc. But for the press you must have printing plants and paper, and for meetings you must have halls and leisure time, and these things belong not to the workers but to the bourgeoisie. … For the workers of America freedom of the press means the freedom to buy for two cents one of those newspapers which are created by bourgeois journalists in the interests of the capitalists. … There is no such freedom in our country. … We have put these material instruments of the “freedom of the press” to serve the interests of educating the working classes and the people generally.
Q. Is it not a fact that, under the Soviet regime, there may be a possibility of the people being dissatisfied and not having any means for the expression of its dissatisfaction?
A. Of course, the possibility or the existence of dissatisfaction cannot be denied. As long as there is scarcity, as long as there are class differences–and all these things exist in our country–it is inevitable that there should be dissatisfaction, and this dissatisfaction is a force moving forward. Can it find expression? We maintain that, notwithstanding the shortcomings of the Soviet regime as it is at present, this system–through the agency of our Party –offers incomparably greater possibilities for the more complete and direct expression of the interests and feelings of the toiling masses than the thoroughly artificial and deceptive system of bouregois democracy. … The Soviet state system, as opposed to bourgeois democracy, offers the working masses incomparably greater possibilities of exerting their direct influence on the course of the national and social life.
Q. What are the causes preventing the recognition of the Soviet Union by the Government of the United States and what should be done for the elimination of these causes?
A. To this question, I should like to hear the answer of the esteemed guests. The basic obstacle, as I understand it, is rooted in the contradictory character of our social systems. The United States at present represents the most complete, the most perfected, and the most powerful expression of the capitalist system, and we represent the first experiment, the rough sketch, of a socialist system. … The basic obstacle cannot be removed since neither country is prepared to change its system voluntarily. However … much might be done to improve relations. In the first place, it is necessary to explain that we are not as bad as we are thought in America. … It is necessary, in particular, to explain that, although we are opposed to private ownership in principle, we heed existing facts, and when we conclude contracts with capitalists, we faithfully carry out our obligations. Why are we being accused of subversive propaganda? Because the capitalist governments cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that there exists a government which represents a non-capitalist mode of thinking.
Take, for example, our present conversation. We are sitting here in a government institution. I have before me a list of about twenty questions, and almost every one of these questions … might be construed as an attempt at the overthrow of the Soviet order. Nevertheless not one of our newspapers would think of accusing the esteemed guests of subversive propaganda against the Soviet regime. But imagine a delegation from the Soviet Union in one of the government institutions at Washington putting to one of the government officials of the United States similar queries and questioning the very bases of the American social and state order. You can see for yourself that it is impossible. I beg pardon if my words might be construed by somebody as a reproach for asking such questions. … I only want to show that if we should ask questions of this nature in regard to a capitalist state, they would invariably be pictured as an attempt at subversive propaganda.
Q. What are the tasks of the Soviet Government in the field of foreign policies?
A. Our primary task is to maintain and preserve the peace. We think that this task we have in common with the laboring masses of all the world. … Our efforts to preserve the peace are rooted in the very foundations of our order, which is a state of workers and peasants, and for us it is a law of social and cultural self-preservation.
Q. Will the Soviet Union be in a position to overtake the advanced capitalist countries, and how soon?
A. We are constantly advancing–that has been proven by facts. We have no doubt but that we can keep on advancing. That part of the national income which formerly had been diverted to the monarchy, the nobility, the bourgeoisie, can now be spent for the development of the productive forces and for raising the material and cultural level of the working masses. We have the great advantage of a centralized economic management. … The distance which separates us from the advanced capitalist countries is still very great. Our task is to lessen this distance systematically by the rational utilization of our own internal resources as well as of those additional resources which we may receive –of course, at the price of adequate compensation–from the world markets of capital and goods. But in order to answer the question as to when we may overtake the capitalist countries, it is also necessary to know what will happen to those countries in the meantime. … At present the capitalist countries of Europe have attained the pre-war economic level. Simultaneously we see the recurrence of the struggle for markets and for the sources of raw materials …, i.e., that same struggle which, thirteen years ago, led to an imperialist war. The further growth of the productive forces in capitalist countries will automatically lead toward a new war, and a new war will bring on a revolution, first of all in Europe (the United States will have a respite). On the whole the immediate future will be one of gigantic economic and social upheavals. It is hard to foresee what technical and cultural level will be maintained in the capitalist countries. This one thing is certain: a victorious revolution in, let us say, Germany or England, and, moreover, in all of Europe in conjunction with our Soviet system and our natural resources would stimulate immensely the development of the productive forces both in our country, and in Germany, England, or the whole of Europe–on new socialistic bases. Such a course of events would also, naturally, accelerate the coming of the revolution in the United States.
Q. What is the most important achievement of Communism in the Soviet Union since 1921?
A. We have reconstructed our industry and attained the pre-war volume of production. … For the first time in history socialism has proved by this that it is able to raise the productive forces of the country. … In connection with the question of the war danger I return to the question of the differences in our party. … First of all we would ask you to make this clear to yourself, that here we deal with differences within one party which has been welded together in all its previous history of struggle underground, by the battles during the November revolution, by the Civil War, by the socialist reconstruction, by internal iron discipline. It is hardly to be expected that these differences could lead toward such events as our enemies are counting or would like to count on. That which separates us is incomparably smaller than that which binds us. Some of the most hostile, most lying, and most muddled foreign newspapers have attempted to attach even war possibilities to the struggle within our party. Such calculations or hopes are basically false. … We have remained the same revolutionists as at the time when we raised the banner of revolt against the autocracy of the czars, against the bourgeoisie, against the war; and if our enemies think that since then we have become fat and lazy on our government positions they will be sorely disappointed.
Q. Is not the day near when Soviet Russia will permit freedom of opinion in social life both for the workers and for all those who are not in agreement with the policies of the Government?
A. We would immediately sign an obligation of this kind, if those present would sign a parallel obligation that our world enemies with the enormous material means at their disposal would not intervene in our internal life with the aim of aiding the exploiting classes to overthrow the Soviet regime and turn the country back upon the road to capitalism. … Humanity is divided into two main camps: the revolutionary proletariat and the imperialistic bourgeoisie. Everything that occupies a position in between these two joins in critical moments the one camp or the other. The struggle does not cease for a single day. It is not a matter of the abstract freedom of abstract opinions. The question is whether this country is to be a socialist or a capitalist country. … Humanity divided by class antagonisms is not a debating society. In their struggle the classes resort to all means of persuasion and coercion. We are the pioneers of a new social order. Our enemies are incomparably more numerous. They are wealthier, better armed than we. They are watching every step we make. … For the aims of their struggle against us our enemies need the so-called “democratic liberties.” We will not concede it. As before, we will defend by all means of persuasion and coercion at our disposal the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the only road toward a new actually free human society. If, however, the present or absent friends will promise to eliminate the rule of the banks, trusts, armies, dreadnaughts, airplanes on land, on sea, and in the air, we will promise that same day to give full and unlimited freedom to all parties and all factions.