Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Letter to Richard Cavendish

While I cannot say I follow your articles for History Today on a regular basis but when an article catches my eye I tend to read it. One such article was called Trotsky Offered Asylum. As the title of your column suggests you write about events from the near or distance past.

If this particular article was nothing more than a straight factual account of Leon Trotsky’s exile from the former Soviet Union I would have had nothing to complain about but it was not. I am sorry to say your article was a little dark and had a strong hint of a very conservative bias to it to say the least. 

My first complaint is that while you mention the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin for students and people coming to this subject for the first time you would not garner from your article that this was little more than just a personality clash that Trotsky lost.

The life and death struggle was deeply political and to no small extent decided the course of the 20th century and not for the better. In fact mankind paid a very heavy price for Trotsky’s “fall” from power and subsequent murder. 

What I am trying to say that your article does not mention a single political difference between Trotsky and Stalin. I admit you have a lack of space but your article would have been strengthened by at least a cursory examination over the controversy over Stalin’s theory of building socialism in a single country versus Trotsky’s insistence on global revolution. 

This aside there are other things in the article that I would like to address. One of your turn of phrase left me a little cold and to say the least was a little sinister. To describe Trotsky’s murderer as a “charming Spanish Communist painter “is a little ridiculous. 

He was a murderer who pursued Trotsky and under Stalin’s personal order caved his skull with an ice pick, perhaps you could explain what was charming about this.

While we are on the subject of Trotsky’s murder to describe the act of murder as a “stab” of an ice pick is just plain bizarre. Trotsky’s skull was caved in why you downplay this horrendous assassination.
  
My last point is that while it is difficult for a historian to come out of their comfort zone and write on a subject they know little about I must take exception to your description of Robert Service as “Trotsky’s biographer”, given Service’s very right wing biography which is strewn with major errors it is simply not true. If readers new to the subject of Trotsky's life would like to view a more balance view then they should look no further that Isaac Deutcher’s three volume trilogy. The compliment you pay Service is not deserved.


Notes

  1.            Trotsky offered asylum in Mexico by Richard Cavendish | Published in History Today Volume: 61 Issue: 12 2011 http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/trotsky-offered-asylum-mexico

2.            Trotsky: A Biography  by Robert Service; In Defence of Leon Trotsky  by David North Review by: By Bertrand M. Patenaude The American Historical Review   Vol. 116, No. 3, June 2011 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.116.3.900