Over 200 people packed the Workers' Museum in Copenhagen last night, leaving standing room only, in order to hear Esteban Volkov and Alan Woods speak on the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Esteban Volkov, the grandson of Leon Trotsky, and also last living witness to his assassination, spoke in the city where Trotsky made his final public speech in 1932.
This month celebrates 90 years since the October revolution, which swept away the old oppressive Tsarist dictatorship, brought Russia out of the First World War and capped off 9 months of struggle by the working class with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky.
In 1932, 8 years after the death of Lenin, Trotsky found himself in exile in Prinkipo, in Turkey, isolated from the entire world and deprived of any means of direct contact with the international labour movement. Therefore, when the youth of the Danish Social Democracy invited Trotsky to speak 15 years after the events of 1917, he accepted the invitation enthusiastically. This was the last time that Trotsky ever spoke at a public meeting. To read the transcript of this read In Defence of October.
The meeting on Wednesday night was the culmination of a year's planning by the comrades of Socialistisk Standpunkt, the Marxist voice of the Danish Labour movement. The event attracted the attention of the mainstream media, who were curious to find out what this peculiar spectacle was all about. The celebration of the October revolution and the ideas of Marxism attracted the Nyhedsavisen, a Danish paper with a circulation of 500,000, who conducted an interview with Volkov, of which you can read about here.
At 6 o'clock sharp a large number of young people, trade unionists and labour movement activists filed into the magnificent hall of the Workers' Museum, which has a long history in the Danish workers' movement dating back to the days of the Paris commune. The magnificent wood panels that surrounded the hall were adorned with wood cuttings depicting the different professions of the working class; carpenters, painters, engravers etc. The platform was decorated with a large banner with pictures of Lenin and Trotsky.
The meeting was opened by Marie Friederiksen, the editor of Socialistik Standpunkt, followed by the young worker Lasse Bertelsen, who introduced the main speakers, Esteban Volkov and Alan Woods.
In a moving speech, Esteban Volkov relayed the main events of his life and contacts with Leon Trotsky until the assassination of his grandfather in August 1940; "He (Trotsky) and a small group of followers faced the harshest dictatorship in history, and Stalin usurped the power of the workers for himself."
"I joined my grandfather in Prinpiko in the early 1930s. Even as a child I was taught to hate the oppressors and love the oppressed. But I gradually learnt to understand that there was also another: the Stalinist bureaucracy which was trampling the rights of the workers underfoot."
Volkov described how he learnt of the assassination of one after another of Trotsky's collaborators: Ignace Reiss, Erwin Wolff, Andreas Nin, and also Trotsky's sons Leon and Sergei Sedov.
He described how, after the assassination of Leon Sedov, his grandfather brought him to Mexico. He described in great detail the first attack on Trotsky in May 1940, when he was wounded in the foot by gunfire. Finally, he described the events leading to the assignation of Trotsky by the Stalinist agent Mercader, in August 1940.
"In my brief 80 years... I never in my life met someone as brave and intelligent as Leon Trotsky. Trotsky's confidence in the future of the working class and socialism was absolute, but it did not drop from the sky. He always defended the ideas of Marx, Lenin and the October revolution. In his last testament he says ‘life is beautiful, let us cleanse it of all injustice and oppression and live it to the full'".
Esteban Volkov's emotional speech was received by the audience with a standing ovation which lasted for several minutes.
The second speaker was Alan Woods, editor of Marxist.com, who spoke on the October revolution; "The October revolution was the greatest event in human history, because here for the first time, if we exclude the glorious episode of the Paris commune, the masses, that is the millions of ordinary working class men and women overthrew the old oppressive state and at least began the task of the socialist transformation of society."
Alan referred to the assertion which is frequently made that young people are not interested in politics. "Young people are not interested in politics! Yes, we are not interested in YOUR politics (applause)".
Alan explained that the ruling class and its ideologues have a spiteful attitude toward all revolutions, not just the Russian revolution but the French revolution of the 18th century and the English revolution of the 17th century. This spitefulness comes from fear. The ruling class does not fear revolutions of the past, but revolutions of the future. It is determined to poison the minds of the youth against revolution in general.
Alan questioned the idea that the Soviet Union never achieved anything. The nationalised planned economy transformed Russia, which was more backward than Pakistan today, into a modern developed economy. A formerly illiterate nation had more scientists than the USA, Germany, Britain and Japan together. Such a transformation has never been seen in the history of the world. The Soviet Union proved that it was possible to operate the economy of a vast subcontinent without landlords, private bankers and economists." What failed in the Soviet Union was not socialism, but a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism.
Alan's speech was received with an enthusiastic ovation and the singing of the Internationale. Among those present was a television crew from the most important Russian television service, NTV, who were visibly moved by the meeting, which will be shown on Russian television, in prime viewing time on the popular news programme Sevogdnya at 7 pm next Sunday.
See a video of the event: