Wednesday, November 4, 2009

book(s) review: Isaac Deutscher Trotsky biography

the prophet armed 1879-1921
the prophet unarmed 1921-1929
the prophet outcast 1929-1940

I am not yet quite finished with the third book, but these/ this is certainly the best biography I have ever read. Few people are aware today the extent to which Trotsky was isolated and marginalized during his own life. People on the right had no interest in one of the two most prominent living Bolsheviks. And the vast majority of the left sympathetic to socialism/ communism was taken in by Stalin's lies that Trotsky was an enemy of the people (or if not convinced if this impossible-to-believe notion, ambivalent about whether or not they should criticize the USSR).

Deutscher, a Polish Trotskyist active in the 1930's was one of the first public figures to successfully rehabilitate his Trotsky's character (it didn't hurt that the books came out around the same time of Stalin's death, when Kruschev gave his "cult of personality' speech about the Soviet Leadership of the past 28 years.

Trotsky did not shy away from brutality when he found it necessary, but I have a hard time agreeing with recent re-revisionists like Robert Service who wrote, "the only thing Trotsky didn't like about Stalin was that he was shooting the wrong people".

Trotsky was an unwavering Bolshevik, but as early as 1923 was deeply critical of the monolithic aspect of party politics, desiring a more free exchange of ideas. He was in favor of repression, but not liquidation, of censure, but not of censoring.

He was the first writer (of any political leaning), to understand the dangers of Hitler's National Socialism, protesting as early as 1930 (Hitler took power in 1933-34) that if Hitler tried to take control, the USSR should provide troops and arms to communists dissidents – for this, he was labeled a fear-monger.

He spent the last ten years of his life exiled from the country he had helped to found, using all his energy to write in favor of permanent revolution, and to pick apart the lunacy of Stalin's purges.

The following, taken from Deutscher's second book was written about Trotsky's banishment in 1929, sums up the differences between Stalin and Trotsky

"Here indeed the film of revolution ran backwards, at least in the sense that Stalin represented an amalgamation of Marxism with all that was primitive and archaically semi-Asiatic in Russia: with the illiteracy and barbarism of the muzhik on the one hand, and the absolutist traditions of the old ruling groups on the other. Against this, Trotsky stood for undiluted classical Marxism, in all its intellectual and moral strength and also in all its political weakness– a weakness which resulted from its own incompatibility with Russian backwardness and from the failures of socialism in the West. In banish Trotsky, Stalin banished classical Marxism from Russia."

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