Friday, 24 October 2014

Louise Bryant: Leon Trotsky - Soviet War Lord

MINISTER OF WAR, Leon Trotsky, has no prototype in history. Therefore, he cannot be compared, he can only be contrasted. He is without question the most dramatic character produced during the whole sweep of the Russian revolution and its only great organizer. No man will overshadow his eminence in the history of the revolution except Lenin. They will remain the two most distinguished personalities. They are complementary figures. Lenin represents thought; Trotsky represents action. Trotsky's genius might have burned itself out in some wild enthusiasm or some consuming rage if it had not been for the cooling influence of Lenin. On the other hand, Lenin's plans, no matter how carefully thought out, could not have materialized withouts a Labor Army better than a fighting army because it makes him happier to build than to destroy.

But all his organizing genius goes for nothing if he cannot have order and discipline. About three years ago Lenin appointed Trotsky Minister of Railways in addition to his post as War Minister. Trotsky took a trip over the country and found transportation generally smashed and the railway employees as lacking in morale as he had once found the Russian soldiers. He immediately began to re-build transportation with every atom of his strength. If a train was not on time, there had to be a reason given, which had ceased to be done in those days. In fact, no one was ever deeply concerned about exact arrivals and departures of trains under any regime. The Trans-Siberian Railway was the only efficient road which ever operated in Russia. But Trotsky began to make such an everlasting row about these matters that the railway men were aghast. There had always been graft and laziness and indifference, they had no doubt that there always would be, even under government control. Trotsky hauled them up, threatened them with imprisonment and even with death. The result was that the unions were so roused that they threatened a general strike. The situation grew worse and worse. Finally Lenin, to avert a national crisis, dismissed Trotsky and wrote an open letter to the unions about it and Trotsky showed his real fineness of character by accepting his defeat in silence. And yet if he had been in charge of the roads they would certainly not be in the condition that they now are and many thousands of lives in the famine area would have been saved.

Trotsky cannot bear Russian slothfulness and he is constantly irritated by Russian indifference to sanitation. He insists on the utmost fastidiousness and neatness for all who work with him. An amusing scandal took place in Moscow at the time of one of the International Conventions. Trotsky had instructed a Red Army physician to inspect the hotel in which the foreign delegates were to stay and report if it was in order. The physician merely went down to the building and finding a fine grand piano there, whiled his time away playing and let the inspection go. In due course of time the delegates arrived and the first night they were all routed out of bed by insects. This came to the ears of Trotsky and he was so furiously angry that he had the doctor arrested and announced that he would have him shot. The delegates flew around in a fine state of excitement with a petition which they all signed begging Trotsky to spare the physician's life. As a matter of fact Trotsky would not have shot him, but his threats are reminiscent of the day of Tsar Peter who found it necessary to shoot a number of nobles before the others would shorten their long coats as he had ordered by royal decree.

Trotsky is a student of the French Revolution. He lived a long time in France and he loves France, in spite of its hostility to Soviet Russia. Some of his closest friends are Frenchmen who knew him in Paris and who followed him to Russia and work with him there. He never forgets his friends and has a real capacity for permanent friendships. Russians are, as a rule, very changeable in their personal relationships but one can depend on Trotsky.

As an orator he reminds one much more of the French revolutionary orators. Russians speak more slowly and more logically and with less fire. Trotsky Stirs his audiences by his own force and by striking phrases. There were times when these splendid literary phrases infuriated Lenin; from the public platform he once called Trotsky a “phrase-maker.” But this was way back in the Smolny days when Trotsky was more untamed than he is now, and before Lenin realized that Trotsky would be his most able assistant. While Trotsky was in America he was the editor of a Russian newspaper and apparently caught the American feeling for on-the-minute news. He is the easiest official to interview in Moscow and entirely the most satisfactory, because he is free from the general reticence and distrust of the press which most of the Commissars have. I once wrote him a note saying that I was writing a story about the Red Army and would like some material. The very same day he sent me down a great sack of copy. There were many Red Army magazines and newspapers that I had never heard of. There were handbooks and statistics and maps and, besides all that, there was a permission to go to. any of the fronts and to attend any of the lectures at the various schools.

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