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Trotsky on Freemasonry
Born on 26 October 1879 to Ukrainian farmers, Lev Davidovich Bronstein was a revolutionary student instrumental in founding the South Russia Workers Union and in 1898 the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Arrested for his political activities,it was in prison in Odessa in 1898 that he read, in the prison library, back issues of Orthodox Review: "The articles dealing with freemasonry in the theological magazines aroused my interest. Where did this strange movement come from? I asked myself. How would Marxism explain it? [1] In 1902 he escaped to London and adopted the name Leon Trotsky. in 1903 at the Second Congress of the RSDLP, the Bolsheviks were led by Lenin, while Trotsky was among the Menshevik leaders. Trotsky participated actively in the first Russian Revolution in 1905, and in December that year he was elected President of the St Petersburg Soviet. Arrested and sent to Siberia in 1907, he again escaped to London where, among other work, he published Pravda. Returning to Russia in 1917, Trotsky became a member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. In 1918 Trotsky was appointed People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs and was the Soviet Union’s first Foreign Minister. In 1927 Stalin had Trotsky expelled from the Executive Committe of Comintern and, the following year from the USSR. He eventually found asylum in Mexico. On 20 August 1940 Leon Trotsky was attacked with an ice-axe in his office in Mexico City by one of Stalin’s followers. He died the following day, survived by his wife Natal'ia Ivanovna Sedova (1882 - 1962). His children predeceased him: one daughter committed suicide, the other died of tuberculosis, both sons were killed by Stalin’s orders.
It was during that period that I became interested in freemasonry. For several months, I avidly studied books on its history, books given to me by relatives and friends in the town. Why had the merchants, artists, bankers, officials, and lawyers, from the first quarter of the seventeenth century on, begun to call themselves masons and tried to recreate the ritual of the mediaeval guilds? What was all this strange masquerade about? Gradually the picture grew clearer. The old guild was more than a producing organization; it regulated the ethics and mode of life of its members as well. It completely embraced the life of the urban population, especially the guilds of semi-artisans and semi-artists of the building trades. The break-up of the guild system brought a moral crisis in a society which had barely emerged from mediaevalism. The new morality was taking shape much more slowly than the old was being cut down. Hence, the attempt, so common in history, to preserve a form of moral discipline when its social foundations, which in this instance were those of the industrial guilds, had long since been undermined by the processes of history. Active masonry became theoretical masonry. But the old moral ways of living, which men were trying to keep just for the sake of keeping them, acquired a new meaning. In certain branches of freemasonry, elements of an obvious reactionary feudalism were prominent, as in the Scottish system. In the eighteenth century, freemasonry became expressive of a militant policy of enlightenment, as in the case of the Illuminati, who were the forerunners of revolution; on its left, it culminated in the Carbonari. Freemasons counted among their members both Louis XVI [false - ed.] and the Dr. Guillotin who invented the guillotine. In southern Germany, freemasonry assumed an openly revolutionary character, whereas at the court of Catherine the Great it was a masquerade reflecting the aristocratic and bureaucratic hierarchy. A freemason Novikov was exiled to Siberia by a freemason empress.
Although in our day of cheap and ready-made clothing hardly anybody is still wearing his grandfather’s surtout, in the world of ideas the surtout and the crinoline are still in fashion. Ideas are handed down from generation to generation, although, like grandmother’s pillows and covers, they reek of staleness. Even those who are obliged to change the substance of their opinions force them into ancient moulds. The revolution in industry has been much more far-reaching than it has in ideas, where piece-work is preferred to new structures. That is why the French parliamentarians of the petty bourgeoisie could find no better way of creating moral ties to hold the people together against the disruptiveness of modern relations than to put on white aprons and arm themselves with a pair of compasses or a plumb-line. They were really thinking less of erecting a new building than of finding their way back into the old one of parliament or ministry.
As the prison rules demanded that a prisoner give up his old exercise-book when he was given a new one, I got for my studies on freemasonry an exercise-book with a thousand numbered pages, and entered in it, in tiny characters, excerpts from many books, interspersed with my own reflections on freemasonry, as well as on the materialist conception of history. This took up the better part of a year. I edited each chapter carefully, copied it into a note-book which had been smuggled in to me, and then sent that out to friends in other cells to read. For contriving this, we had a complicated system which we called the "telephone." The person for whom the package was intended-that is, if his cell was not too far away-would attach a weight to a piece of string, and then, holding his hand as far as he could out of the window, would swing the weight in a circle. As previously arranged through tapping, I would stick my broom out so that the weight could swing around it. Then I would draw the broom in and tie the manuscript to the string. When the person to whom I wanted to send it was too far away, we managed it by a series of stages, which of course made things more complicated.
Toward the end of my stay in the Odessa prison, the fat exercise-book, protected by the signature of the senior police sergeant, Usov, had become a veritable well of historical erudition and philosophic thought. I don't know whether it could be printed to-day as I wrote it then. I was learning too much at a time, from too many different spheres, epochs, and countries, and I am afraid that I was too anxious to tell everything at once in my first work. But I think that its main ideas and conclusions were correct. I felt, even at that time, that I was standing firmly on my own feet, and as the work progressed, I had the feeling even more strongly. I would give a great deal to-day to find that manuscript. It went with me into exile, although there I discontinued my work on freemasonry to take up the study of Marxian economics. After my escape abroad, Alexandra Lvovna* forwarded the script to me from Siberia, through my parents, when they visited me in Paris in 1903. Later on, when I went on a secret mission to Russia, it was left in Geneva with the rest of my modest émigré archives, to become part of the Iskra’s archives and to find there an untimely grave. After my second escape from Siberia, I tried to recover it, but in vain. Apparently it had been used to light fires or some such thing by the Swiss landlady who had been intrusted with the custody of the archives. I can't refrain here from conveying my reproaches to that worthy woman.
The way in which my work on freemasonry had to be carried on, in prison, where literary resources at my disposal were of course very limited, served me in good stead. At that time I was still comparatively ignorant of the basic literature of the Marxists. The essays by Labriola were really philosophic pamphlets and presumed a knowledge that I didn't have, and for which I had to substitute guesswork. I finished them with a bunch of hypotheses in my head. The work on freemasonry acted as a test for these hypotheses. I made no new discoveries; all the methodological conclusions at which I had arrived had been made long ago and were being applied in practice. But I groped my way to them, and somewhat independently. I think this influenced the whole course of my subsequent intellectual development. In the writings of Marx, Engels, Plekhanov and Mehring, I later found confirmation for what in prison seemed to me only a guess needing verification and theoretical justification. I did not absorb historical materialism at once, dogmatically. The dialectic method revealed itself to me for the first time not-as abstract defiftitions but as a living spring which I had found in the historical process as I tried to understand it.
* Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya, who was exiled to Siberia with the author and became his wife.-Translator. [2]

1. Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), My life : an attempt at an autobiography. With an introd. by Joseph Hansen. New York : Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1970. xxxvii, 602 p ; 23 cm Seventh printing 1987 ISBN: 0-863480-143-7 [translated from the Russian MS.] Also see: My Life: The Rise and Fall of a Dictator, Leon Trotsky. London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd, 1930, London, 1930. Cloth. First Edition. Red cloth boards, gilt titles. MOIA ZHIZN' (Russian Transliteration MY LIFE) ; MOIA ZHIZN', Leon Trotsky. Berlin Izd-vo "Granit" 1930. 2 volumes. First edition. 8vo, beige wrappers, lettered in Russian in black on the spines and in black and red on the upper covers. Red morocco over cloth clamshell box, lettered in gilt on the spine between raised bands. 325 (contents), 338 (contents). Note: anti-masons will misquote and quote out of context from My Life: The Rise and Fall of a Dictator to imply that Freemasonry was Trotsky’s inspiration for revolution. pp. 119, 120-23.
2. [Aleksandra L'vovna Sokolovskaia, m. Bronshteina (1872 - 1938) arrested, banished, shot]. "She [Sedova] was to remain his companion for the rest of his life and to share with him to the full triumph and defeat. Sokolovskaya [Sokolovskaia], however, remained his legal wife and bore his name. To all three the legal niceties of their connexion did not matter at all - like other revolutionaries they disregarded on principle the canons of middle-class respectability. [...] As far as we know, the question of a reunion between Trotsky and his first wife never arose. When he and Sedova returned to Russia there was no suggestion of discord. Ties of respect and a high-minded friendship were to bind the three of them to the end; and eventually his political fortunes affected with equal tragedy both the women and the children of both" [Deutscher, I.: The prophet armed, London, 2003, p.59]

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