The Russian Revolution

The Hammer and the Anvil: Dispatches from the Frontline of the Russian Civil War, 1918-1919 By Larissa Reisner, translator Jack Robertson.London: Bookmarks Publications, 2021

In depths of legend, heroine, you'll walk,

Along that path, your steps shall never fade.

Tower like a mighty peak above my thoughts;

For they are quite at home in your great shade.

In Memory of Reissner-by Boris Pasternak

"Larissa Mikhailovna Reissner's work on newspapers and her presence on the newspaper staff made us - newspaper labourers as compared with that great craftsman in style - somehow more wary and tense. How can you treat style and form with disdain when sketches like Reissner's are printed alongside your own? Even someone who never thinks especially much about form starts to reflect. For my part, let me say that none of the seekings of the Formalists (i.e. the advocates of formalism in literature) have made an impression on me. But the last articles of Larissa Mikhailovna Reissner made me learn a thing or two. I believe, too, that more than one generation of pupil-trainees at the State Institute of Journalism will learn the model of a good revolutionary style from her sketches".

In Memory of Reissner-by Lev Sosnovsky

"Having dazzled many, this beautiful young woman swept like a hot meteor against the backdrop of the Revolution. With the appearance of an Olympic goddess, she combined a subtle ironic mind and the courage of a warrior. After the capture of Kazan by the whites, under the guise of a peasant woman, she went to the enemy camp for reconnaissance. But her appearance was too unusual. She was arrested. A Japanese intelligence officer interrogated her. During the break, she slipped through the poorly guarded door and disappeared. Since then, she has worked in intelligence. She later sailed on warships and took part in battles. She devoted essays to the Civil War that will remain in literature. She wrote with the same vividness about the Ural industry and about the workers' uprising in the Ruhr. She wanted to see and know everything, to participate in everything. In a few short years, she grew up to be a first-class writer. Having passed unharmed through fire and water, this Pallas of the Revolution suddenly burned out from Typhus in the calm atmosphere of Moscow before reaching thirty".

My Life-Leon Trotsky

"Much better to die in open combat, among comrades, with weapons in their hands. That is how I want to die. That is how hundreds and thousands die for this republic every day."

Larissa Reisner

 

This new collection of work containing the writings of the outstanding Russian revolutionary Larissa Reisner was put together and published by Bookmarks which is the publishing arm of the British Socialist Workers Party. Despite having fundamental political differences with this group, the SWP and especially the translator Jack Robertson deserve significant recognition and commendation for this book.

Larissa Reisner was an extraordinary member of the Bolshevik Party. She was a leading revolutionary figure and the first woman to be a political Commissar in the revolutionary Red Army. She was also an author and journalist. Much of the work published in this collection will be unknown to the modern-day reader. Reisner is best known to English speaking readers through her book Hamburg at the Barricades.[1] Her literary output was huge. Unfortunately, little has been translated into English. Hence the significance of this new collection. This new translation by Jack Robertson is based on her collected works currently being held in the British Library. The book contains 100 pages of Larissa Reisner's on the spot reports from the Red Army front from 1918 to 1919.

One jewel in the British Library collection held at Boston Spa is the 1948 English language pamphlet Svyazhsk: An Epic of the Russian Civil War – 1918, produced by the then Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party, founded in 1935.[2][3]

This new book concentrates on battles fought by the Red Army against White armies supported by Western imperialist governments. Reisner shows what a bloody conflict it was. The White counter-revolutionaries committed mass murder against anyone suspected of Communist sympathies, including the elderly, women and children.

Reisner refers to many key Bolshevik leaders of the era. Many held her in high regard. None more so that Leon Trotsky, commander in chief of the Red Army. In his autobiography My Life, he wrote about Reisner, saying she "flashed across the revolutionary sky like a burning meteor, blinding many... Her sketches about the civil war are literature. With equal gusto, she would write about the Ural industries and the rising of the workers in the Ruhr. She was anxious to know and see all and participate in everything."

Amid the death and destruction of the Russian Civil War, this highly educated young woman managed to write in an informative, pulsating and almost poetic way. She writes, "It is a strange feeling to be moving about in an unfamiliar building with windows and doors slammed shut, knowing full well that a battle to the death is about to take place in this godforsaken hotel. It is a racing certainty that someone will be killed, some will survive, some will be taken, prisoner. At such moments, all the words and all the rationalisations that help preserve your presence of mind go out the window. All that remains is an acute, penetrating sorrow — and underneath it, barely perceptible, a disorienting question: whether to flee or stand your ground. In the name of what? Face screwed up, choking with tears, the heart reiterates: stay calm, do not panic, no humiliating exodus." (36-37)

Her description of a particular event in which she witnessed the brutal slaughter by White troops of innocent bystanders as being something out of a Goya painting will stay in mind for a long time. Her work compares favourably with another outstanding chronicler of the Russian Revolution, John Reed, whose book Ten Days That Shook The World is required reading for anybody interested in this period of history.

One of the most important things that come out of her portrayal of the events of the Civil War is that she believed that the Revolution was a mass event. People were prepared to fight and die for this Revolution because a great cause inspired them. This was not just some coup organised by a handful of conspirators.

Reisner writes "Of course, individuals do not make history. However, in Russia, we had so few people and characters of his calibre. It was so difficult for them to break through the undergrowth of old and new bureaucracy that they rarely found themselves in the real-life, life-and-death struggle. It is because the Revolution had men like this, men in the highest sense of the word, that Russia was able to rally and recover. At decisive movements, they stood out from the general mass, and all of them displayed an authority - a full, genuine authority. They were aware of their heroic task and by their actions were able to rouse the rest of the wavering and pliable masses".

Particularly striking are Reisner's comments about the importance of the Red Army leader Leon Trotsky. In addition to Reisner's writings, the book contains two pieces from Leon Trotsky's My Life, A Month in Sviyazhsk and The Train. Reisner attaches great importance to Trotsky's leadership in defence of Sviyazhsk, which turned out to be a turning point in the civil war.

One facet of her character that permeates the book is her bravery. She thought nothing of risking her own life in order to save others. One such example is when The Red Army, along with thousands of others in Kazan, fled to Sviyazhsk in 1918. Reisner believed that her husband, the Bolshevik Fyodor Fyodorovich Raskolnikov, had been taken prisoner by the Whites. She risked her neck by trying to rescue him by returning to Kazan. Her problem came when because she was such a high profile Bolshevik, she was easily recognised by a White officer. As she writes in the book, she managed to escape when a driver of a horse cab who was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks helped her, saying he "saved people like me, humbly and resolutely, just like they saved thousands of other comrades scattered all over the Russian highways." (62) 

Larissa Reissner died on 9 February 1926, in the Kremlin Hospital, Moscow, from typhoid; she was 30 years old. There is no small element of tragedy in this life cut so short. To produce such an important body of work at such a tender age is remarkable. No doubt, had she lived, she would have been able to add substantially to that work.

It is also clear that had she lived, that work would have taken on a much different character. Her close association with Leon Trotsky (she worked on Leon Trotsky's Commission for Improvement of Industrial Products) would have undoubtedly led to her arrest and possible execution at the hands of Joseph Stalin's counter-revolution. One thing is certain she would have defended not only herself but the Revolution from Stalinism.

It is perhaps fitting to end this review with a quote from a close associate of Leon Trotsky- Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky, who wrote, "she died at the height of her powers, intellect and beauty. She died in a clinic from an unexpected, absurd and accidental illness after long-suffering had worn her out. She should have lived, however, and she should have died somewhere on the Steppes, at sea, or in the mountains, clutching a rifle or Mauser in her hands, for she was renowned for her spirit of adventure, her unceasing restlessness, her courage, greed for life and strong will. This was a fighting spirit, and, without sparing herself, she gave herself completely to the revolution".[4]

  

Further Reading.

Trotsky, Leon, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (Harmondsworth, 1979). X.708/22026.



[1] www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/reissner/works/hamburg/ch02.htm[2] See Svyazhsk ... An epic of the Russian Civil War-1918. Maradana : Hashim Press, 1948.LLSP [Extracted from “The Front.” Translated by John G. Wright and Amy Jensen.Larissa Reisner- From Fourth International, vol.4 No.6, June 1943, pp.184-189. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol04/no06/reissner.htm[3] See also Trotsky, Sri Lanka and an ‘Olympian goddess-https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2016/10/trotsky-sri-lanka-and-an-olympian-goddess.html[4] Aleksandr Voronsky-Art as the Cognition of Life-$24.95-Mehring Books







A Reply To Ella Whelan’s The 21st century Bolshevik.

The subheading for Ella Whelan’s article is “Brexit showed the ruling elite is still terrified by Trotsky’s ideas of working-class upheaval”. At the same time, Whelan is correct in this assumption but off the mark on the rest of the article.[1]

Calling Trotsky a 21st Century Bolshevik while correct is only done so from the standpoint of negating his revolutionary ideas in order to align him with one or more faction of the British ruling elite. Whelan is not the first writer to link Trotskyism to one or more sections of the ruling elite.[2]

Whelan’s article contains a degree of flippancy and cynicism you would expect from a writer who writes for a magazine that makes the Spectator magazine look like the Communist Manifesto. She also seems to have a fixation with Leon Trotsky having written a previous article for the Critic entitled: Trotsky’s lesson for dealing with Covid-19.[3]

Whelan is not the only former radical to warn of the dangers to the ruling elite of Trotsky’s ideas. Another journalist who now writes for the Daily Telegraph Janet Daly warned a good while back that Trotsky and his ideas should not be allowed to save socialism.

Daly was a radical in the sixties but soon shed that cloak of radicalism and like a number of her generation shifted very far to the right. Daly writes “In the 1970s, as I clung to my Marxist convictions, I heard an interview with Sir Keith Joseph, one of the great architects of the Thatcherite revolution. He described the dangers of what he called “the pocket-money society.” If the state provided all of the basic human needs—housing, health care, education, care for the elderly—, it left nothing for people to provide for themselves, other than the more trivial recreational things. Their earnings became like children’s pocket money, to be spent on toys or self-indulgence. The state took all of the significant economic choices of adult life out of their hands, diminishing them as responsible, moral beings. Joseph’s words did not convert me on the spot, but they shook my beliefs to the roots because they chimed so convincingly with the evidence that I saw around me”.[4]This blind political stupidity does not need any comment to suffice to say if Whelan wants to know where she is going to end up politically, she should look no further than to Janet Daly.

Whelan has now assumed Daly’s mantle writing “And so it is unsurprising that 80 years after his assassination at the hands of a pick-axe-wielding Stalinist mole, Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronstein). Trotsky was killed by a Stalinist agent, not a mole and why the need to put his former Jewish name in brackets. A name that he has not been associated with for over ninety years.

The article shows the author’s laziness and political proclivities in this next quote when she writes that Trotsky “has somewhat fallen out of favour. While his revolutionary career and unwavering polemics against the Stalinist regime won him support among lefties from Birmingham to Bolivia during the twentieth century, the slow (and painful) death of the left has all but killed off Trotskyism”. 

I am afraid Trotsky ideas and influence are very much alive and kicking in the 21st century. Since its founding in 1940, the Fourth International has defended and then expanded the ideas and program that Trotsky fought for all his life. The modern-day form of this organisation is embodied in the form of the World Socialist Website (wsws.org).

Whelan seems to have been so distracted by her attempt to rubbish Trotsky’s legacy and that of his modern-day followers that she has not paid too much attention to the fact that the wsws.org has just undertaken a massive technological and political transformation of its website. It can safely be said that for the last 19 years this website has not only defended Leon Trotsky’s ideas but has expanded them to the degree that perhaps not even the Old Man could have envisaged.[5]

There is a degree of nervousness and silliness in her article that comes from the fact that Whelan who has read some of Trotsky’s writings but does not believe what she writes is true. She writes “For many of today’s wannabe revolutionaries, ideas such as the dictatorship of the proletariat or even the transformative power of the working class is not as attractive as jam-making socialists and knighted lawyers in the Labour Party or farting about in fancy dress for”the climate”.

Her comment is just silly, hardly worth commenting on and is not true. The significant number of new members that are coalescing around the Fourth International are very serious people, and they are looking for answers to extremely pressing pollical and social problems faced by millions of people all over the world.

Whelan’s article is not without insight when she writes “Communism has been so warped by historical inaccuracy it is easy for people to project their prejudices onto it. But not so when she writes “But even so, if all hope of revolutionary Communism has been dead in the water for decades, and all that’s left is crass characterisations, why should we remember a man like Trotsky?”.

Whelan does say some correct things about Trotsky’s life such as this “perhaps the most important thing to know about Trotsky is that his real strength lay in his desire to inspire the masses to take control for themselves. In chapter 24 of My Life, he pays tribute to Nikolay Markin — a shy sailor” with the sullenness of a force-driven in dee” who became an important figure in the revolution and a close friend to Trotsky's own family. Trotsky describes how Markin quietly took charge of small things at first — such as the hostility Trotsky's family was facing in the”big bourgeois” house they were lodging in — and then larger tasks, including establishing printers to publish The Worker and the Soldier. Inspired by the revolutionary politics of the Bolshevik Party, and the rousing speeches given by Trotsky, workers like Markin realised they had the ability and the ambition to seize control of the means of production.

Trotsky describes how Markin became, for a time,” an unofficial minister of foreign affair”, writing pamphlets that Baron von Kühlmann and Count Czernin” read eagerly” at Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky writes that it did not matter that he” had no academic degree, and his writing was not free from grammatical error” or that” his comments were sometimes quite unexpected” because Markin” drove the diplomatic nails in firmly, and at the very points where they were most need”.

She is wrong however when she writes that Trotsky’s writing and aspirations were specific to the historical moment and says “some things have not changed so much. Capitalism might have evolved and transformed itself beyond anything Bolsheviks might recognise, but its inherent weaknesses and limits remain the same. What has changed is our unwillingness to mount a challenge to it.”

Trotsky’s writings are being looked at now because they still have a contemporary feel to them. The problems that Trotsky grappled with in his day are still ones we have to deal with today.

Whelan in her excitement to bury the influence of Leon Trotsky she repeats one of the old Stalinist slanders of Trotsky that has been repeated down the years and are used by modern-day charlatans to besmirch his revolutionary record.

She writes “But if Trotsky's strengths lay in his capacity to organise and defend the revolution, his failings in part contributed to its downfall. Unlike Lenin, who was so adept at managing internal party manoeuvring, Trotsky was incapable of working out what to do with the power struggle following Lenin's death. His refusal to take the deputy leadership of the party after 1924, and his blindness to the threat that Stalin posed, were disastrous for the Bolsheviks”.

On this occasion, Whelan is really out of depth and shows a simplistic understanding of the history of the Bolshevik revolution and Trotsky’s battle with Stalin. As an article in the wsws.org points out  “The conflict that emerged between Stalin and Trotsky was not a subjective fight between two individuals over personal power, but a fundamental battle waged between irreconcilable political programs. The consolidation of power by Stalin, and the bureaucratic dictatorship that he personified, was not the inevitable outcome of the Russian Revolution. It developed out of the conditions of an economically backward workers’ state that was surrounded by world imperialism and isolated by the delay of the international and European revolution. A series of revolutionary upheavals were defeated due to the political immaturity of the revolutionary leadership internationally.[6]

Whelan to a limited extent understands that the revolution needed to spread internationally which was at the heart of the battle between Trotsky and Stalin when she writes  “But ultimately it was the failure of the revolution to spread internationally that led to the collapse of the first working-class revolution in history. Where Stalin destroyed the gains of the revolution, enforcing socialism in one country, Trotsky was a firm believer in the need for workers of the world — not just Russia — to unite. So why repeat the slander.

To conclude, Whelan asks Why is Trotsky still relevant today? A question she is politically incapable of answering without slandering Trotsky and his modern-day supporters and attempting to tie him to one wing of the British bourgeoisie. She is correct in saying that Trotsky had an “unshakeable belief in a working-class revolution” and it is this that is inspiring millions today”.

It is also true as Whelan writes “Unlike other historical figures who live to regret their intervention in history, Trotsky remained resolute in his belief in working-class independence to the end. That is what made him such a threat”. So what better than to leave the final word to Trotsky when he wrote: “I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist . . . life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full”.[7]

________________________________________

[1] https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/october-2020/the-21st-century-bolshevik/

[2] See- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/07/misi-j31.html

[3] https://thecritic.co.uk/trotskys-lesson-for-dealing-with-covid-19/

[4] http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1350404/posts

[5] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/10/02/pers-o02.html

[6] https://www.wsws.org/en/topics/_beta/left-opposition-stalinism-1923-1933

[7] The Testaments of Trotsky-(February/March 1940)Fourth International, No. 7, Autumn 1959, p. 30. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi-is/no7/testaments.htm

Review: Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence translated and edited by Alan Woods, London: Wellred Books, 2016

 

“I can therefore state that I live on this earth not in accordance with the rule, but as an exception to the rule.”

Leon Trotsky

“In a reactionary epoch such as ours, a revolutionist is compelled to swim against the stream. I am doing this to the best of my ability. The pressure of world reaction has expressed itself perhaps most implacably in my personal fate and the fate of those close to me. I do not at all see in this any merit of mine: this is the result of the interlacing of historical circumstances”.[1]

“Stalin’s rise to power was bound up with the crystallisation of the bureaucratic apparatus and its growing awareness of its specific interests. “In this respect, Stalin presents a completely exceptional phenomenon. He is neither a thinker, nor a writer, nor an orator. He assumed power before the masses had learned to discern his figure from others at the celebratory marches on the Red Square. Stalin rose to power not thanks to personal qualities, but to an impersonal apparatus. And it was not he who created the apparatus, but the apparatus that created him.”

While Leon Trotsky’s place in history endures, his contemporary relevance grows by the day. Not only because he was a superb writer but because the basic currents and features of modern capitalism and imperialism that Trotsky wrote about in his day still need to be grappled with today.

As one writer put it “His writings—indispensable for an understanding of the contemporary world—remain as fresh as the day they were written. Trotsky’s life and struggles, his unyielding devotion to the liberation of mankind, will live on in history.[2]

The translator and editor of this new edition of Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence is Alan Woods. Woods is associated with the International Marxist Tendency. Despite having fundamental political differences with this group Woods’ efforts in producing this edition of Trotsky’s Stalin deserve significant and widespread recognition and commendation.

Woods has done important work to restore Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin to its rightful place in the pantheon of Marxist literature. The new edition of Leon Trotsky’s biography of Joseph Stalin, published in 2016 by Wellred Books, is a significant contribution to our understanding of Trotsky’s thinking in the last years before his assassination in August 1940.

In this revised English translation, woods correctly made the decision not to change the content of the first part of the book, Chapters 1 through 7. Trotsky had corrected and approved these chapters during his life.

The majority of new work concentrated on the second half of the book. A radical overhaul of the remaining chapters was needed and undertaken. Chapters 8 through 12 were replaced with new chapters 8 through 14. An extraordinary 86,000 words were added to the 106,000-word length of the original.

As Woods writes “If Trotsky had lived, it is very clear that he would have produced infinitely better work. He would have made a rigorous selection of the raw material. Like an accomplished sculptor, he would have polished it and then polished it again until it reached the dazzling heights of a work of art. We cannot hope to attain such heights. We do not know what material the great man would have selected or rejected. But we feel we are under a historic obligation at least to make available to the world all the material that is available to us.”

The well-known problems with this book began when the Russian manuscript was given to Charles Malamuth to translate and edit. Despite having political sympathy with Trotsky Malamuth was “incompetent”.

Malamuth not only created a mess of a book but altered and added political formulations that Trotsky did not agree with. Trotsky was unhappy with the choice of Malamuth saying “Malamuth seems to have at least three qualities: he does not know Russian; he does not know English, and he is tremendously pretentious”.[3]

Malamuth was exposed to the Trotskyist movement through his experience as a foreign correspondent in 1931, Malamuth considered himself a convinced admirer of Trotsky and his comrades. He was never a member of a Trotskyist party. There were many objections to Malamuth changes two of the most glaring severely contradicted Trotsky’s long-held political beliefs. These concepts were: (1) that Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of Bolshevism; and (2) that the Soviet Union under Stalin was no longer a workers’ state.

The finished book was due for publication in 1941. Due to the war and the fact that America did not want to disrupt the wartime alliance with Soviet Russia the book was only published after the war in 1946.

It is clear that Malmuth’s insertions and “necessary’ adjustments’ which were politically motivated suited US imperialisms struggle against Bolshevism. Malamuth’s commentary and misleading insertions of content, some of which stood in contradiction to Trotsky’s views, were severely criticised by Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s widow. Sedova charged that “unheard-of violence” had been “committed by the translator on the author’s rights” and declared that “everything written by the pen of Mr Malamuth must be expunged from the book.”

While it is hard to place this book amongst Trotsky’s other great work, this is no lesser book. For the modern reader, this “new” work shows his unparalleled genius for analysing political phenomena and political developments. 

Trotsky’s book is a classical example of how to place historical figures in the “grand scheme of things”. Unlike Issac Deutscher’s biography that tended to give Stalin a lot more credit than he was due to Trotsky’s estimation of Stalin is stunning and wholly accurate. As Trotsky explains  “In this respect, Stalin represents a phenomenon utterly exceptional. He is neither a thinker, a writer, nor an orator. He took possession of power before the masses had learned to distinguish his figure from others during the triumphal processions across Red Square. Stalin took possession of power, not with the aid of personal qualities, but with the aid of an impersonal machine. And it was not he who created the machine, but the machine that created him”.

He continues “that machine, with its force and its authority, was the product of the prolonged and heroic struggle of the Bolshevik Party, which itself grew out of ideas. The machine was the bearer of the idea before it became an end in itself. Stalin headed the machine from the moment he cut off the umbilical cord that bound it to the idea and it became a thing unto itself. Lenin created the machine through constant association with the masses, if not by oral word, then by the printed word, if not directly, then through the medium of his disciples. Stalin did not create the machine but took possession of it. For this, exceptional and special qualities were necessary. But they were not the qualities of the historic initiator, thinker, writer, or orator. The machine had grown out of ideas. Stalin’s first qualification was a contemptuous attitude toward ideas. “[4]

Trotsky’s Stalin along with his other major work on Stalinism such as The Revolution Betrayed attack the so-called “myth of Stalin” revealing the socioeconomic and class relations from which it emerged. This myth, Trotsky wrote, “is devoid of any artistic qualities. It is only capable of astonishing the imagination through the grandiose sweep of shamelessness that corresponds completely with the character of the greedy caste of upstarts, which wishes to hasten the day when it has become master in the house.” [5]

Trotsky’s description of Stalin’s relationship to his fellow bureaucrats is damning in the least bringing to mind the satires of Juvenal: Trotsky writes “ligula made his favourite horse a Senator. Stalin has no favourite horse, and so far, there is no equine deputy sitting in the Supreme Soviet. However, the members of the Supreme Soviet have as little influence on the course of affairs in the Soviet Union as did Caligula’s horse, or for that matter even the influence his Senators had on the affairs of Rome. The Praetorian Guard stood above the people and in a certain sense even above the state. It had to have an Emperor as the final arbiter. The Stalinist bureaucracy is a modern counterpart of the Praetorian Guard with Stalin as its Supreme Leader. Stalin’s power is a modern form of Caesarism. It is a monarchy without a crown, and so far, without an heir apparent. [6]

While Trotsky in the realm of politics was “the greatest mind of his age”. Stalin suffice to say was no political genius, but he knew that while Trotsky was alive and was exposing his treachery, he was a political threat to his regime. The regime could not allow him to live. Trotsky understood very well the forces aligned against him: “I can therefore state that I live on this earth not in accordance with the rule, but as an exception to the rule.”

Trotsky was alive to the danger posed by Stalin but retained a staggering level of personal objectivity: writing “In a reactionary epoch such as ours, a revolutionist is compelled to swim against the stream. I am doing this to the best of my ability. The pressure of world reaction has expressed itself perhaps most implacably in my personal fate and the fate of those close to me. I do not at all see in this any merit of mine: this is the result of the interlacing of historical circumstances.”[7]

Isaac Deutscher

Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Stalin leaves a lot to be desired, and that is being very generous. I am afraid I have to disagree with Isaac Deutscher, who wrote “that the biography of Stalin—even if the author had lived to complete it—” would probably have remained his weakest work.” He continues that it did not contain the “ripeness and balance of Trotsky’s other works” and included “many tentative statements and overstatements.”

This criticism was not an aesthetic quibble but arose from Deutscher’s political objections to Trotsky’s clear assessment of Stalinism as counterrevolutionary.

According to the Marxist writer David North, “Trotsky’s Stalin is a masterpiece. Countless biographies of Stalin have been written, including one by Deutscher that presented Stalin as a political giant. None of these works comes close to matching Trotsky’s biography in terms of political depth, psychological insight and literary brilliance.[8]

Deutscher in one part of the book repeats a time-honoured attack on Trotsky by the Stalinists that he and other leading “elite” Bolsheviks did not understand the Peasantry and that Stalin who was close to this class was more adept at understanding their political needs.

Boris Souvarine.

To be truthful Boris Souvarine’ biography on Stalin is not unlike that of Deutschers. Numerous academic reviewers have placed both versions above that of Trotsky’s. Sourvarine who in his early career was relatively close to Trotsky and supported the Bolshevik revolution, unfortunately, ended his days a bitter opponent of both Lenin and Trotsky as this quote shows he repudiated the October revolution as well.

“Such was the actual result of the work of the man who, in The State and Revolution in 1917, had affirmed that the state must begin to wither away on the morrow of the socialist revolution. It had been created in stages to incorporate a refractory population and subject it to the new regime. For even the minority who had voted for the Bolsheviks in the elections to the Constituent Assembly had not voted for the Cheka and the terror, or even for Communism; they thought they were voting for peace, for the distribution of land, and for free soviets. To this monstrous etatist construction corresponded an aberrant ideology, a verbal pseudo-Marxism, simplistic and caricatural, of which Lenin was equally the theoretical and practical creator. Stalin only carried to extremes what Lenin had invented, though the latter was sincere in his socialist intentions, for which his epigones cared nothing.

As for Trotsky, anxious to obliterate his former disagreements with Lenin, recoiling in the face of the treacherous suspicion of “Bonapartism”, and haunted by the historical precedent of “Thermidor”, he had to rival the so-called “Bolshevik-Leninist” orthodoxy of his opponents, whilst denouncing to the utmost and quite rightly “the apparatus’s system of terror”, but in circumstances in which this apparatus, of which he was part, was now capable of stifling all dissident voices and mercilessly punishing any inclination towards dissidence. Along with Lenin, Trotsky had contributed to forging the baleful myth of the infallibility of the party, in defiance of the real ideas of Marx, which were invoked indiscriminately. Both of them, intoxicated by their doctrinal certainties, and perched at the top of the bureaucratic-soviet pyramid, were ignorant of what was being elaborated in the levels below, evincing a lack of awareness that handed over all the levers of command to Stalin.

Such are, in a hasty and necessarily bare outline, the why and the how of Stalin’s enigmatic career. It is a summary that does not allow us to identify, as all too many are inclined to do, the founder of the so-called soviet state with its inheritor, so different in their characters and motives, without mentioning the rest. When Victor Adler, teasing Plekhanov, said to him “Lenin is your son”, he replied tit for tat, “If he is my son, he is an illegitimate one”. Lenin could have said the same for Stalin. For the latter was not another Lenin. Those who think so are deceiving themselves. But that is another story.[9]

Jean van Heijenoort

Alan Woods is correct in his assessment of Jean van Heijenoort’s edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin saying “In 1948 an edition of Stalin was published in French, edited by Jean van Heijenoort, a former secretary of Trotsky’s, in conjunction with Trotsky’s friend Alfred Rosmer. Although believed by some to be a more authentic rendition of Trotsky’s words, a subsequent comparison of the published French edition to Trotsky’s original manuscript revealed the deletion of many pages of Trotsky’s writing, the addition of little of import, and a blurring of Malamuth’s commentary with the words of Trotsky through the editorial removal of square brackets from the English edition”.

Throughout his life and after his death, Trotsky was attacked for using the historical materialist method to analysed political phenomena. His biography of Stalin is no different.

Of his method, Trotsky wrote “numerous of my opponents have conceded that the latter book is made up of facts arranged in a scholarly way. True, a reviewer in the New York Times rejected that book as prejudiced. But every line of his essay showed that he was indignant with the Russian Revolution and was transferring his indignation to its historian. This is the usual aberration of all sorts of liberal subjectivists who carry on a perpetual quarrel with the course of the class struggle. Embittered by the results of some historical process, they vent their spleen on the scientific analysis that discloses the inevitability of those results. In the final reckoning, the judgment passed on the author’s method is far more pertinent than whether all or only a part of the author’s conclusions will be acknowledged to be objective. And on that score, this author has no fear of criticism.

This work is built of facts and is solidly grounded in documents. It stands to reason that here and there partial and minor errors or trivial offences in emphasis and misinterpretation may be found. But what no one will find in this work is an unconscientious attitude toward facts, the deliberate disregard of documentary evidence or arbitrary conclusions based only on personal prejudices. The author did not overlook a single fact, document, or bit of testimony redounding to the benefit of the hero of this book. If a painstaking, thoroughgoing and conscientious gathering of facts, even of minor episodes, the verification of the testimony of witnesses with the aid of the methods of historical and biographical criticism, and finally the inclusion of facts of personal life in their relation to our hero’s role in the historical process—if all of this is not objectivity, then, I ask, What is objectivity?

Political power, like morality, by no means, develops uninterruptedly toward a state of perfection, as was thought at the end of the last century and during the first decade of the present century. Politics and morals suffer and have to pass through a highly complex and paradoxical orbit. Politics, like morality, is directly dependent on the class struggle. As a general rule, it may be said that the sharper and more intense the class struggle, the deeper the social crisis, and the more intense the character acquired by politics, the more concentrated and more ruthless becomes the power of the state and the more frankly [does it cast off the garments of morality]”.[10]

To conclude, Trotsky’ biography of Stalin is a fine example of the historians and biographers craft. Not only was he able to place Stalin’s role within a cognisant account of the October Revolution, but he was also able to clarify the social basis of Stalin’s power. The book was not finished because Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent who murdered him with an ice pick to the head. Although his physical life ended as this edition proves not only does his legacy remain his work on Stalin and Stalinism is as relevant today as it was when he wrote this book. Again despite having political differences with the editor of this new edition, I would recommend and hope this book gets a wide readership it deserves and should be on the desk or tablet of every young revolutionary.

________________________________________

[1]https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/25/trot-a25.html- Trotsky’s Last Year-Part Three-By David North-25 August 2020

[2]https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/09/08/ann6-s08.html

[3] Wikipedia

[4][4] Stalin-By Leon Trotsky-2019

[5] Stalin-By Leon Trotsky-2019

[6] Stalin-By Leon Trotsky-2019

[7] Stalin Seeks My Death- The Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 7, August 1941, pages 201-207

[8] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/25/trot-a25.html

[9] Stalin: Why and How-1978-Boris souvarine-https://marxists.catbull.com/history/etol/writers/souvar/works/1978/stalin.htm

[10] Leon Trotsky-Stalin –An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/stalin/intro.htm

1937-Stalin’s Year of Terror-By Vadim Z Rogovin-Mehring Books, 1998- £25

 “Material from the Soviet archives which has become available in recent years, as well as the publication of many new memoirs, has helped the author accomplish the tasks set by this book: to investigate the mechanism of the origin and the relentless spread of the Great Terror, and to discover the reasons why this mass terrorist action became not only possible but also so successful”.

 

Vadim Rogovin

 

“The director is not appealing to reason or criticism. He wants to crush the rights of reason with the massive scale of the frame-up, reinforced with executions.”

Leon Trotsky

 

“Trotsky was a hero of the revolution. He fell when the heroic age was over.”

 

E. H Carr 

 

Vadim Zakharovich Rogovin’s 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror was one of a seven-volume study that set out to prove that there “Was An Alternative to Stalinism and that alternative came from Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition. 

If there was one figure, Stalin feared the most it was Leon Trotsky and the International Left Opposition. Trotsky without the resources of state power exposed the treachery of the Stalinist bureaucracy and advocated a political revolution to overthrow Stalinism. 

Stalin could not defeat Trotsky politically hence the need for the Moscow Trials which according to Rogovin the main goal “was to create the conditions for politically discrediting and physically exterminating the entire communist opposition in order to behead the population, to deprive it for many years of a political avant-garde and therefore of the ability to resist the totalitarian regime. The class struggle in the USSR assumed, essentially, its sharpest form – civil war. This civil war, unlike the civil war of 1918-20, took the specific form of state terror directed at precluding any political activity by the masses”.[1] 

In this book, Rogovin cites numerous myths that surround the events of 1937 that were regurgitated over the following decades. In a lecture given in the United States, he says “there were two basic forms. The first could be called the Stalinist school of falsification. 

A second school we could call the anti-communist school of falsification. It is quite curious that in many places the explanation of our history coincides when presented both by the Stalinists and by the anti-communists. For instance, one central thesis they agree upon is that Stalin was the natural continuation of Lenin’s cause. Earlier there was one slight difference when they said that Stalin was the good continuation of a good cause, the cause of Lenin. Now they say, on the contrary, that Stalin was the wretched continuation of an evil policy by the evil Lenin”.[2] 

With the development of “glasnost” [openness], Rogovin hoped that these myths would be vanquished. During Glasnost and Perestroika, millions of people in the USSR sought answers to complex historical questions. This led to a sharp increase in sales of mass-circulation newspapers, as well as literary and political journals. It soon became very clear to Rogovin that issues of the Great Terror and Stalinism were far from being clarified but were instead being used by many anti-communists to sully the name of socialism. 

As Rogovin points out the origins of many of the so-called new myths were peddled at the time of Khrushchev’s 1956 report at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. While many communists and socialists thought this action by Khruschev would open up the possibilities of a struggle against the bureaucracy prompting the poet and writer Bertolt Brecht to write  “The liquidation of Stalinism can take place only if the party mobilises the wisdom of the masses on a gigantic scale. Such a mobilisation lies along the road to communism”.[3] 

Brecht would be disappointed as any figure that was capable of opposing Stalinism had all but been wiped out in the purges. The 1956 speech was not a political break with Stalinism but a mechanism in which to deal with the raging political and economic crisis that washed world Stalinism. 

Khrushchev delivered his speech with blood dripping from his hands. He was as Rogovin points out implicated in all the major crimes committed by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Khrushchev said “We must affirm that the party fought a serious fight against the Trotskyists, rightists and bourgeois nationalists and that it disarmed ideologically all the enemies of Leninism. The ideological fight was carried on successfully … Here Stalin played a positive role.”[4] 

Rogovin’s book, while examining the political implications of the Great Terror also expands on the significant interest shown by many figures who stood aloof from socialist politics. In the novel Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak used his hero to express the following thoughts: “I think that collectivisation was a mistaken and unsuccessful measure, but it was impossible to admit the mistake. In order to hide the failure, it was necessary to use all means of terror to make people forget how to think and to force them to see what did not exist or to prove the opposite of what was obvious. Hence the unbridled cruelty of the Yezhov period, the declaration of a constitution never intended to be applied, and the introduction of elections not based on elective principles.” [5] 

Rogovin points out that Pasternak’s statements bear a significant resemblance to the ideas of Trotsky. Rogovin also points out that” Pasternak’s explanation of the tragedy during the “Yezhov period” also displays unmistakable proximity to Lenin’s prognoses made in 1921. In referring to the alternatives Soviet Russia faced at that time, Lenin saw two outcomes from the contradictions which had accumulated by then: “ten to twenty years of correct relations with the peasantry and victory is guaranteed on a world scale (even given delays in the proletarian revolutions which are growing).[6] 

Rogovin’s mention of writers like Pasternak is interesting in that it highlights the gap between people like Pasternak who were non-political but would stand up for a principle against a coterie of Soviet writers led by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who would not[7]. Solzhenitsyn’s work was hardly a bastion of objectivity on the matter of the Great Terror. His book ‘Gulag Archipelago’ fails even to mention the main defendants in the Moscow Trials 

Leon Trotsky and his son Leon Sedov. He writes next to nothing of the heroic struggle of the Left Opposition against Stalinism. Solzhenitsyn started as a radical critic of Stalinism but ended up being a virulent anti-communist and a Great Russian chauvinist. 

He vomited up all the old Stalinist lies that Stalinism was an ‘outgrowth’ of Bolshevism and was the true face of the Russian revolution. Rogovin’s book thoroughly shatters these lies and with it Solzhenitsyn’s thesis and reputation. 

Rogovin’s thoroughness stretches throughout the book. For the general reader, this might make reading a little daunting. The perseverance of the reader is rewarded with a detailed study of what happened after the Russian revolution. The book is hard sometimes going not because of Rogovin’s writing which is stunning and lucid but because he does not spare the reader any detail as to what happened to not only the old Bolsheviks but anyone who came into contact with them. 

Group shootings with almost daily tens of prisoners sent into the wilderness. According to Rogovin, “they shot not only the Trotskyists themselves, but any members of their families who were with them”. He goes on: “When a husband was shot, his imprisoned wife was automatically sent to be shot; with the most significant oppositionists, their children who had reached the age of 12 were also subject to shooting.” 

The New Stalin School of Falsification. 

At the same, this book was translated by Fred Choate on behalf of Mehring books there appeared a new Stalin school of falsification. As Rogovin correctly states: “These ideological operations served the same purpose as the historical falsifications produced by the Stalinist school: to cauterise, deceive, distort and poison the historical memory and social consciousness of the Soviet people.”[8] 

The release of the book happened to coincide with as one writer puts it with an  “orgy of capitalist propaganda which flooded the post-1989 Russia has for the time being crowded out those voices like Rogovin, demanding a real examination of the Moscow Trials. The bourgeois heirs of the Stalinist bureaucracy that led society to the impasse of the late 1980s cannot carry through this examination. Therefore, in the land of the October revolution and the giants which are produced, the real lessons of these events and its subsequent degeneration along the lines of Stalinism remain unknown by the majority. Trotsky is a slandered figure in modern-day Russia, particularly by the pro-capitalist parvenus who have arisen from the bureaucracy. In their enthusiastic embrace of capitalism, they wish to obliterate all of the real lessons of Stalinism and the heinous purge trials. Rogovin’s book provides us with the political ammunition to counter this”. 

Much of this orgy of Stalinist falsification came from academia and in particular from the pen of Ian Thatcher and Geoffrey Swain. The Marxist writer David North points out “The years since the fall of the USSR have seen the emergence of what can best be described as The Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification. The principal objective of this school is to discredit Leon Trotsky as a significant historical figure, to deny that he represented an alternative to Stalinism, or that his political legacy contains anything relevant in the present and valuable for the future. Every historian is entitled to his or her viewpoint. But these viewpoints must be grounded in a serious, honest and principled attitude toward the assembling of facts and the presentation of historical evidence. It is this essential quality; however, that is deplorably absent in two new biographies of Leon Trotsky, one by Professor Geoffrey Swain of the University of Glasgow and the other by Professor Ian D. Thatcher of Brunel University in West London. These works have been brought out by large and influential publishing houses. Swain’s biography has been published by Longman; Thatcher’s by Routledge. Their treatment of the life of Leon Trotsky is without the slightest scholarly merit. Both works make limited use of Trotsky’s writings, offering few substantial citations and even ignoring major books, essays and political statements.[9] 

After Swain and Thatcher, there came a veritable flood of books that sought to further The Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification. One particular is worth mentioning is Grover Furr’s Stalin Waiting For The Truth!. Furr believes that Stalin committed no crimes; the charges against him are a fabrication. Not a single accusation holds up. On the evidence, according to Furr, Stalin committed no- atrocities. One of Furr’s books if you could call them that was entitled “Khrushchev Lied”. 

It is hard to know where to start with Furr’s unhinged writings. The American professor of Medieval English literature at Montclair State University is an unrepentant Stalinist but the fact that Furr can even get a hearing is down to gentlemen like Swain, Thatcher and Robert Service. Furr is “only a pawn in their game”. A terrible price continues to be paid for the falsification of history and the denial of objective truth.To conclude, it is hoped that people will read Rogovin’s work in Russia and throughout the world, not just to honour but to fight for what he believed in.

 

 

[1] 1937-Stalin’s Year of Terror-By Vadim Z Rogovin-Mehring Books, 1998(page 145)

[2] lecture given by Professor Vadim Rogovin on February 27 at Michigan State University in East Lansing- http://www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/russ/rogov1.html

3]Inostrannaia literatura [Foreign Literature], no. 4 (1988), p. 170

[4] Murry Weiss-The Vindication Of Trotskyism

[5] 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror By Vadim Z. Rogovin-Mehring Books-1998

[6] 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror By Vadim Z. Rogovin-Mehring Books-1998

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn

[8] http://www.capitalh.org.uk/134/rogovin.html

[9] A review of two Trotsky biographies, by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/05/lec1-m09.html

 

Review: A People’s History of the Russian Revolution-Neil Faulkner-Pluto Press-£11.50-2017.

 Neil Faulkner’s book was one of many books released in time for the celebration of the centenary of the Russian revolution in 2017. A large number of new books broke no new ground and contained little new research. Unfortunately, Faulkner’s book was one of these. 

The book gives the reader only a basic account of the Russian revolution. Faulkner, a former member of the Psuedo Left, group SWP(Socialist Workers Party), maintains the SWP’s viewpoint that after the first workers’ state succumbed to Stalinism a state capitalist regime appeared. 

This viewpoint is not an orthodox Marxist one. Leon Trotsky wrote extensively on the betrayal of the Russian revolution by Stalin. In his most famous of works on Stalinism, he wrote:” We often seek salvation from unfamiliar phenomena in familiar terms. An attempt has been made to conceal the enigma of the Soviet regime by calling it “state capitalism.” This term has the advantage that nobody knows exactly what it means. The term “state capitalism” originally arose to designate all the phenomena which arise when a bourgeois state takes direct charge of the means of transport or industrial enterprises. The very necessity of such measures is one of the signs that the productive forces have outgrown capitalism and are bringing it to a partial self-negation in practice. But the outworn system, along with its elements of self-negation, continues to exist as a capitalist system. 

But if a socialist government is still necessary for the preservation and development of the planned economy, the question is all the more important, upon whom the present Soviet government relies on, and in what measure the socialist character of its policy is guaranteed. At the 11th Party Congress in March 1922, Lenin, in practically bidding farewell to the party, addressed these words to the commanding group: History knows transformations of all sorts. To rely upon conviction, devotion and other excellent spiritual qualities – that is not to be taken seriously in politics.” Being determines consciousness. During the last fifteen years, the government has changed its social composition even more deeply than its ideas. Since of all the strata of Soviet society, the bureaucracy has best solved its own social problem and is fully content with the existing situation, it has ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat. This saving fear is nourished and supported by the illegal party of Bolshevik-Leninists, which is the most conscious expression of the socialist tendencies opposing that bourgeois reaction with which the Thermidorian bureaucracy is completely saturated. 

As a conscious political force, the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.[1] 

While he debunks several myths and outright lies surrounding Vladimir Lenin, he opposes one of Lenin’s most important contributions to the success of the revolution that is the development of a revolutionary party. Like many radicals, Faulkner is hostile to the conception of such a party.

It was one of the reasons he broke with the SWP in 2010. He describes the revolutionary party as a “small organisation run by a self-appointed ‘vanguard’ that seeks to insert itself into a mass movement in order to grow parasitically like a tic”.[2] 

He then talks about when he left the SWP, since 2010, I have formed many new and rewarding political friendships, and these have contributed, I believe, to a richer, more nuanced understanding of the Russian Revolution. Not least, the degeneration of the British Left over the last two or three decades- which is a generic process, not something restricted to the SWP-has given me a clearer understanding that the masses build revolutionary parties themselves in a struggle; that is, they do not arise from voluntarism, from acts of will by self-appointed revolutionary ‘vanguards’; they do not arise from what has sometimes has been called ‘the primitive accumulation of cadre. Revolutionaries should organise, but they should never proclaim themselves to be the party”.[3] 

 I might add that the SWP only pays lip service to the concept of the revolutionary party and exhibits similar economism that Lenin fought against.[4] As mentioned earlier, there is no original research in Faulkner’s book. It does not offer any new significant interpretation of the revolution as it developed. Relying on Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution is not enough for an established historian. Given the size of the subject, it is extraordinary that the bibliography is only two and one-half pages, and most of that consists of books by and about Lenin and Trotsky. No letters, newspapers or interviews or personal accounts are cited. For a people’s history, it is light on people. 

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the book is that it contains no analysis of the rise of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification. Contained within this school is a sub-genre that seeks to bury the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky under a new set of lies and calumny. 

The representatives of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification—from the Stalinist military historian Dmitry Volkogonov to the British historians Ian Thatcher, Geoffrey Swain and Robert Service have through their books sought to lie, distort and produce the same Stalinist lies from previous anti-Marxist historiography. The purpose of these attacks is to deny the younger generation access to the views, analyses and perspectives of Leon Trotsky. 

One of the leading proponents of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification is Robert Service. Service in 2009 said, “There is life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick did not quite do its job-killing him off, I hope I have managed it.” 

Robert Service London, October 2009. 

Service has not accomplished his job, which is no thanks to Faulkner. Outside of the Marxists of the World Socialist Website, not a single political tendency calling itself Trotskyist has presented a consistent body of work that attacks Service and his friends in the Post Soviet School of Falsification. Given the crude political level of this “school”, it is not a difficult thing to do as the Marxist writer David North said of Service’s biogeography of Trotsky it “is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favourite devices is to refer to “rumours” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumour’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility.[5] 

To conclude, as I said before, Faulkner’s book is a basic history of the Russian revolution and contains nothing in it that would merit a recommendation. It is hoped that Faulkner’s next book on the Russian revolution is a better one that takes on the Post Soviet School of Falsification. I will not hold my breath. 

1]The Revolution Betrayed-Chapter 9-Social Relations-in the Soviet Union-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch09.htm#ch09-1

[2] http://socialistreview.org.uk/425/peoples-history-russian-revolution

[3]A Peoples History of the Russian Revolution. Neil Faulkner. Pluto 201 A[

4] See-What Is To Be Done?Burning Questions of Our Movement-https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iv.htm

[5] In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service’s Trotsky

By David North-11 November 2009- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/11/serv-n11.html

 

Review : The Girl From The Metropol Hotel-Growing Up in Communist Russia-By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya-Translated by Anna Summers-Illustrated. 149 pp. Penguin Books.

 Withhold publication—but don’t lose track of the author.”Novy Mir,

Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for a harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.

Leon Trotsky-Art and Politics in Our Epoch (1938)

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Girl from the Metropol Hotel is a powerful memoir of her childhood in Stalinist Russia. In an already overcrowded market of memoirs emanating from the Stalinist betrayal of the October revolution and the rise of a Stalinist totalitarian state, this is one of the better ones. Anna Summers excellently translates the book.

Petrushevskaya’s slim memoir is beautifully written, which is all the more surprising given the level of brutality she and her family suffered as“an enemy of the people to our neighbours, to the police, to the janitors, to the passers-by, to every resident of our courtyard of any age. We were not allowed to use the shared bathroom, to wash our clothes, and we didn’t have soap anyway. At the age of 9, I was unfamiliar with shoes, with handkerchiefs, with combs; I did not know what school or discipline was.”

Petrushevskaya’s family was no ordinary family for it contained many leading Bolsheviks who were either murdered or left to rot in prison, six of her family were convicted and given 10-year sentences at hard labour, on the order of Joseph Stalin. Petrushevskaya’s grandfather, Nikolai Yakovlev, was a world-renowned linguistics scholar. Her grandmother married Yakolev after turning away the romantic assignations of the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Petrushevskaya’s great-uncle was a leading organiser of the 1905 revolution a curtain-raiser to the 1917 October Revolution. Her great-grandfather, Dedya, joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party in 1898.

Yakolev is of particular interest because he crossed swords with Stalin over linguistics. Yakolev was an early advocate of Marrism. What should have been a comradely discussion over their differences ended when Stalin sent Yakolev to the Gulag. Stalin justified his differences with the Marrist’s in a Pravda article entitled Marxism and questions. He denounced Marrism and accused its adherents of being anti-Marxists. Yakovlev was one of the lucky ones in the sense that he could have been shot straight away.

It is clear from Petrushevskaya work that she is not overtly political and never really understood the political nature of Stalin’s purges. Petrushevskaya is fortunate that she lives in a country that produced one of the greatest Marxists scholars who wrote extensively on Stalin’s purges. The great Russian historian Vadim Rogovin described why “in the struggle for power and income, the bureaucracy (was) forced to chop off and crush those groups who (were) connected with the past, who know and remember the program of the October Revolution, who are sincerely devoted to the tasks of socialism. The extermination of the Old Bolsheviks and the socialist elements of the middle and younger generations is an important link in the anti-October reaction” [1]

Petrushevskaya survived the Stalin period but found it impossible to get published during the Brezhnev years. Petrushevskaya had described this as a time when truth was in general forbidden.”Her books which tackled crime, domestic violence, alcoholism, and illness were way too radical for a government whose very anti-working policies caused so much social inequality. Even Novy Mir, the supposed liberal journal refused to publish her stories, saying Withhold publication—but don’t lose track of the author” During the era of Gorbachev’s perestroika, she had a measure of success in that her books were being published. She continued to write about issues that highlighted social inequality in Soviet society. As Sophie Pinkham put it “Her characters were preoccupied, as were citizens under Stalin, with food, housing, and violent death”.[2]

Her exposure of social inequality angered the bureaucracy. Her phone was tapped, and she was under constant surveillance. She was indicted for six months after criticizing Gorbachev’s military actions in Latvia and Lithuania.

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is still alive and long may she continue writing her books. They are worth reading and deserve a wide readership. The issues emanating from her difficult childhood and issues surrounding her family especially the debate over Soviet linguists should provoke further study. It is for that reason that I have added a recommendation for further reading.

Further Reading

N. Ia. Marr and the National Origins of Soviet Ethnogenetics Author(s): Yuri Slezkine Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 826-862

Marr, Marrism, and Stalinism-V. M. Alpatov- Russian Studies in History- Volume 34, 1995 – Issue 2

________________________________________

[1] Vadim Z. Rogovin: Stalin’s Terror of 1937-1938. Political Genocide in the USSR, Mehring Books 2009, p. 186[2] https://www.bookforum.com/print/2305/a-fiction-writer-sprinkles-her-deprived-soviet-childhood-with-fairy-dust-17198

Just Send Me Word, a True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, By Orlando Figes- – Allen Lane- 352 pages -24 May 2012

 “How many times have I wanted to nestle in your arms but could only turn to the empty wall in front of me? I felt I could not breathe. Yet time would pass, and I would pull myself together. We will get through this, Lev.” 

Svetlana Ivanov 

No, I do not see any grounds for pessimism. One must take history as she is. Mankind moves like some pilgrims: two steps forward, one step back. During the movement back, it seems to sceptics and pessimists that all is lost. Nothing is lost. Mankind has risen from the ape to the Comintern. It will rise from the Comintern to genuine socialism. The sentence of the commission shows once again that a correct idea is stronger than the most powerful police. In this conviction lies the indestructible foundation of revolutionary optimism. 

Leon Trotsky 

“We wanted nothing for ourselves, we all wanted just one thing: the world revolution and happiness for all. And if it were necessary to give up our lives to achieve this, then we would have done so without hesitating.” 

Nadezhda Joffe 

There is a strong cultural tradition in Russia of recording memoirs as a form of political protest. Unfortunately, the memoirs of Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanov recorded by Orlando Figes’s 2012 book Just Send Me Word does not fall into this category. 

Memoirs from this time can in the words of J.J. Plant “serve many purposes, personal, political and literary. For the survivors of the Stalin terror, it has been particularly important to set the record straight, to rescue and preserve the memories and knowledge which Stalin and his regime set out to expunge and to name the criminals and collaborators who thought the Stalinist regime would last forever”.[1] 

Just Send Me Word is a narrative-based study that has become one of many of the “‘survivors of Stalinism memoirs” that they have in the words of the Marxist writer David North become a “literary genre”. 

This is not to say that Just Send Me Word has no merit. The book is well written and researched. The archive of Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanov should contain a goldmine if a historian mines it well. Figes appears to found what he looked for in that the book is mainly absent of any politics. 

What kind of enemy was Lev Mishchenko? Mishchenko studied physics and was heavily influenced by quantum physics. Ordinarily would have been a death sentence straight away given Joseph Stalin’s ignorant hostility to bourgeois physics. Lev survived and served in the army during the war and was captured by the Nazis. 

After the war he offered work in the US as a nuclear physicist He turned this down preferring to be with his girlfriend, Svetlana. It was a wrong decision given that he was arrested for “betraying his homeland”. 

During his time in the gulag, he exchanged more than 1,200 letters with Svetlana. These letters quite unbelievably have been preserved thus creating “the only known Gulag correspondence collection of such size and scope”. 

Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanov were part of the nightmare years of the late 1930s, during which Stalin oversaw the physical extermination of socialist intellectuals and workers in the USSR. The flower of the October revolution, Left Oppositionists, intellectuals, workers and peasants died by the hundreds of thousands in conditions of back-breaking labour and deprivation. The political nature of the opposition to Stalinism is a problem for Figes. In the book this struggle is absent. 

Why is this a problem for Figes? Is it because the scale of the crimes are so big that they are difficult to comprehend. The key to understanding Figes position appears on page 18 when Figes laments that “no one ever knew what this calculated policy of mass murder was about “. This is not true as there was an opposition to Stalin in the form of the Left Opposition. 

Figes blames Stalin’s “Paranoic killing of potential enemies”. This is very vague and is not a satisfactory answer. If Figes elaborated he would be forced to explain that there was a socialist alternative to Stalinism in the form of the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky. 

A point elaborated by Russian Marxist historian Vadim Rogovin who states ” Stalin’s repressive campaigns flowed from his fear not only of the peasantry but of the working class and above all, its revolutionary vanguard—the Left Opposition. The ever-growing wave of mass violence was directed not against enemies of the October Revolution, but against enemies that the Stalinist regime itself created: the peasantry resisting forced collectivisation and participants in the communist oppositions.[2] 

Conclusion 

Both Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanov lives are a triumph of principle and human decency over repression caused by Stalinism. As Helen Halyard states “The memoirs of survivors of the Stalin terror are central in shedding personal light on the process of the long civil war which Stalin waged against the revolution. They illuminate and add force to the historical research of writers such as Conquest and Rogovin. However, they do more than this. They can, at their best, demonstrate the survival of some tiny kernel of humanity in the face of the most immeasurable oppression”.Both Lev Mishchenko and Svetlana Ivanov had spirits they did not have a revolutionary spirit.

  

[1] https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/backiss/vol6/no4/plant2.html

[2] Author’s introduction to Bolsheviks Against Stalinism 1928-1933: Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition

By Vadim Z. Rogovin-30 August 2019- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/08/30/intr-a30.html

 

Lenin, Machiavelli and History Today Magazine

“Some medieval courts not only condemned their worst opponents to death, but they also prescribed a series of extremely cruel and bloody forms of execution to be carried out one after the other. The thirst for revenge and urge to deter others mixed with the fear that those subjected to torture could return and take revenge. The Russian Revolution and its best-known leader, Vladimir Illyich Lenin, have suffered a similar fate over the past 90 years. Up to this day, propagandistic efforts have not ceased to strike dead this most important revolution of the twentieth century”.

While this quote from Peter Schwarz is taken from his article on the German Magazine Der Spiegel[1] the same could be said of the History Today Magazine. It would appear that not a month goes by without an article attacking in some form Marxist conceptions or leading Marxist figures. It would appear that History Today has a particular grievance against Vladimir Lenin.

A simple search of the History Today archive would bring to the attention of the reader over thirty articles, and one must say very few of these are worth the paper they are printed on. The latest one in the November issue is no exception. Its title Lenin: The Machiavellian Marxist by Graeme Garrard gives its intentions away. It also follows a similar pattern; it is almost like History Today has a template for these kind of articles.

One problem that arises with these type of articles is the choice of writer. Graeme Garrard who is a reader at Cardiff University and is an established historian but like many who write on revolutionary politics has little or no grasp of what life in a revolutionary party today or yesterday was like. It was not always like this.

While Lenin studies are not in a very good place at the moment as the Marxist writer David North points out the situation in Trotsky studies is worse and has “deteriorated in the 1990s. American and British scholarship produced nothing substantial in this field during the entire decade. The only published work that perhaps stands out as an exception, though a minor one, is a single volume of essays, produced by the Edinburgh University Press in 1992 under the title The Trotsky Reappraisal. During this decade, a disturbing trend emerged in Britain, which consisted of recycling and legitimising old anti-Trotsky slanders. This trend was exemplified by the so-called Journal of Trotsky Studies, which was produced at the University of Glasgow. The favourite theme of this journal was that Trotsky’s writings were full of self-serving distortions”.[2]

In many ways, Garrads is characteristic of the approach to historical and political issues taken by other writers. Comparing revolutionary figures such as Lenin and Trotsky to religious fanatics is not new.

Another distortion peddled is that the October revolution was a coup. First, the establishment of the first worker’s state was not a coup carried out by a small group of supporters of Lenin. “The October revolution was the product of the struggle of millions of workers, impoverished peasants and war-weary soldiers, who joined the Bolsheviks because they regarded the party as the most consistent defender of their interests.”

A further point which again is not new is that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were only able to live as revolutionaries off the backs of Russian Peasants and English workers. This is a cheap and very right-wing approach to historical questions. , Lenin and Marx lived under capitalism, not socialism.

Garrards use of only one other historian is a little strange. Ullam is a gifted historian but has certain baggage regarding the Russian revolution, and Garrard should have drawn on other sources.

The reference Garrard makes to Lenin being Machiavellian is absurd and would take too long to expose the stupidity of such a comment. Again he is not alone in making this remark, and the company he keeps is not very pleasant.

The last point the author makes is perhaps the most perplexing. Much of the article is given over to what happens to the state under Socialism. Lenin’s and Trotsky position was clear as day it would wither away mankind would live under a society based on need, not profit. His last sentence is strange given that what happened to the Soviet Union after Lenin died is common knowledge. Why did Garrard not mention the betrayal of the Russian Revolution by Stalinism?

Why are these articles being written? After all, we have had the “Death of Marxism, “The End of History”, why to bother with figures such as Lenin, Marx, Trotsky. The reason being is that many workers and young people are looking for a socialist alternative. Many are now turning to a systematic study of the October Revolution.

They are being met with a web of lies and distortions left by bourgeois and Stalinist propaganda. It explains why 90 years on History Today continues to vilify the Russian Revolution and its revolutionaries

[1]Der Spiegel churns out old lies on the October Revolution- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/12/spie-d15.html

[2] Leon Trotsky, Soviet Historiography, and the Fate of Classical Marxism

By David North1 December 2008

Lenin and the Russian Revolution -Christopher Hill-English Universities Press-248 pp. 1947

 During the current celebrations of the Centenary of the 1917 October Revolution, the attack on Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Revolution, in general, has been particularly severe even by common media standards. According to them, Lenin was a brutal dictator, and the revolution was a disaster. 

In his article, [1]The denunciation of the Russian Revolution in Germany the Marxist writer Peter Schwarz makes this point “In Germany’s criminal code there is a paragraph declaring the slandering of the memory of the dead to be a criminal offence. Punishment for such crime ranges from a fine to two years imprisonment. This appears not to apply to historical figures. If one reviews the articles, contributions on radio and television, and films to mark the centenary of the October Revolution in Russia, the principal rule that applies is: “anything goes.” 

This brief review of Christopher Hill’s book on Lenin and the Russian Revolution is my contribution to the celebration of such a seminal event in world history. The October revolution despite what the highly paid lackeys in the media say is an essential lesson for working people to study and learn from, as Schwarz says “that one of the most significant transformations in world history, which influenced the 20th century more than any other event, could not be dismissed with a tirade of insults against Lenin and the Bolsheviks but required a serious study of its social and political driving forces”. 

So when writing on such a controversial subject, a serious historian must make an objective assessment of both the revolution and one of its leaders. Hill despite being hampered by his membership of a Stalinist party attempted to make just that. He did not always make it. After all writing about the Russian Revolution in the middle part of the 20th century was a dangerous exercise for any of the historians in the Communist Party Historians Group(CPHG) To insulate himself from attack Hill states that he took advantage of the collaboration between Britain and the USSR during wartime to write the book. 

“I wrote Lenin and the Russian Revolution in 1945-46, during the brief period when it appears the wartime friendship between England and the Soviet Union would continue to prosper, painful though it is to think so today”.Despite not being his best work the book nonetheless laid down some markers that would be examined in later works of a much higher standard. Hill makes this point “In writing the book I made a point of drawing parallels between the 17th-century English Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. In England after 1660, and in France after 1815, there was a severe reaction against the preceding revolutions; but 1688 in England and 1830 in France showed that there was to be no restoration of the old regimes”.[2] 

The book was part of a series called “Teach Yourself History” with the historian AL Rowse the general editor. Apparently, Hill became a bête noir of A L Rowse who states “When it arrived, I was taken aback – a work of stone-walling Stalinist orthodoxy, not a whit human.”While being friends with Hill, Rowse’s vituperation towards Hill’s research on the radical groups of the English Revolution shows a man hostile to the genre of “History from below”.This quote is taken from Historians I have Known “ As if the thinking of people who don’t know how to think has any value Hobbes, Milton, Selden, Clarendon, Halifax, Locke ! Yes; but not of the people at Large”.shows a level of class hatred that would not look out of place in the most right-wing academic circles. 

While it was bought in large quantities by the general public, the book was attacked both inside and outside of academia. John Gollan in his short review manages to attack Hill from the right by heavily criticising him for his relatively light-minded treatment of Leon Trotsky. He accused Hil of “utterly insufficient attention was paid to the history of the Communist Party and the struggle around policy in the period immediately before and during Lenin’s illness and death. Hence the role of Stalin as Lenin’s successor, his struggle against Trotskyism is not brought out. In his references to Trotsky, Comrade Hill correctly presents Lenin’s criticism of Trotsky’s role at specific periods of the revolution. However, Lenin did not and could not know that Trotsky and his confederates, already in those days were wreckers and plotters criminally associated with foreign powers. 

He continues “Stalin succeeded to Lenin’s leadership, not only because of his mastery of Lenin’s teachings, but because of his record in the pre-revolutionary days, his editorship of Pravda, his work on the national question, his leadership in the insurrection, the decisive role entrusted to him by Lenin in the Civil War, and above all, his leadership of the Party in the critical tense period of Lenin’s illness and death. If this had been done Trotsky’s “History” could never have been included in the bibliography”.[3]Gollan was not the only person to attack Hill’s contribution to our understanding of Lenin and the Russian Revolution. A Particularly nasty one came from the pen of Adam B. Ulam, in the pages of the New York Review of Books. Ullam wrote “ I have hitherto never sought to reply to or to polemicize with reviewers of my books. However, the review article on Stalin which appeared in your magazine on January 24 raises an issue of such importance that I am forced for the first, and I hope the last, time to break this rule. The issue is: how legitimate is it for a magazine of your standing to commission a review from a person, and for him to write it, on a subject in which he has demonstrated his utter disregard or ignorance of facts? I could adduce several examples to support this judgment, but one, I trust, will be enough. Mr Hill is ironic about my assessment of the Mensheviks. Yet, let me put it to you, your readers, and the Master of Balliol whether one should take seriously any judgment about the Mensheviks or any other facet of Soviet and Russian history coming from a man who can write: “[after January 1918] …the leaders of the Menshevik party disappeared from history as the coadjutors of the White Guards trying with the aid of foreign bayonets to demonstrate the impossibility of the socialist experiments of the Bolsheviks.” 

Anybody with a superficial acquaintance with modern Russian history will recognize the outrageous untruthfulness of this statement, but let me rehearse the facts. “In mid-1918 when the Soviet government was locked in military combat against the counterrevolutionaries and the interventionist armies… [the Mensheviks] moved closer to the Bolsheviks by pledging ‘unqualified support’ to the government and calling on their followers to join the Red Army…. Apparently, in return for this loyalty, the Bolsheviks legalized the Menshevik party in November 1918.” The Mensheviks’ most prestigious leaders, Martov and Dan, called for “unconditional support of Bolshevism in its resistance to international imperialism and its internal and counterrevolutionary allies.” 

Were I to write and then maintain in print for over twenty years that the Levellers were agents of the French government, would Mr Hill grant that I was a suitable reviewer for his books on English history?”In the interest of fairness, it is worth noting Christopher Hill’s reply “I agree with some of Professor Cameron’s points. In my review I noted as an interesting fact that the authors of two serious books on Stalin, written from very different viewpoints, agreed in rejecting the Trotskyist myth without accepting the Stalinist myth; and I observed that freedom to reject one of these myths without having to rely on the other gave the historian writing now about the Russian Revolution an advantage over even so great a historian as Isaac Deutscher. Professor Cameron, I gather, prefers the Trotskyite myth. This is fair enough, but one does not have to choose, and if one did have to choose literary merit would not necessarily be the best criterion. Any myth with the survival power of Stalinism must surely bear some relation to reality, which the historian should investigate: this has nothing to do with whether one likes it or not. I agree about the literary power and distinction of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, as of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion; but the literary power of the latter is no reason for preferring his myth to—say—Oldmixon’s. 

With reference to Mr Ulam’s letter, it is not for me to defend your choice of a reviewer. I willingly admit to being no expert on the Russian Revolution. Mr Ulam has to go back twenty-seven years to find anything written by me on the subject. For this reason, I tried to concentrate on methodological questions raised by the two interesting books I was asked to review. The reductio ad absurdum argument of Mr Ulam’s last sentence, however, suggests an ironical addition to what I called the “recurrent situations” of revolutions: after their defeat, some of the Leveller leaders did in fact attempt to overthrow the Cromwellian régime in agreement with the Spanish government[4]. 

From an orthodox Marxist perspective, there are many more important and better criticisms of this book and Hill’s outlook. Like I said earlier the Russian revolution was dangerous territory not only for Hill but the other distinguished historians in the Communist Party.Before 1956 these historians were lightly policed by the Communist Party Cultural Committee this not to say they could write anything they wanted. As Edward Thompson explained the CPHG largely policed their own work. As John McIlroy explains they “ by and large, knew and respected the rules of the game. The CP leadership’s unspoken interdict on researching into recent history, particularly the history of their own party, was on the whole accepted by the group. Allegiance to Stalinism moulded their Marxism, and, if it did not entirely stifle good scholarship, it undeniably constrained their history. As Hobsbawm remarked, ‘in the years 1946-56 the relations between the Group and the Party had been almost entirely unclouded. [The Historians]… were as loyal, active and committed a group of Communists as any…’[5] 

Hill continues the Stalinist tradition of attacking Trotsky’s role and political outlook during the Revolution. As Ann Talbot relates “Hill’s sole attempt at modern history, his study of Lenin is undoubtedly his weakest book. It is marred by repeated attacks on Trotsky, who is dismissed as one of the “Westernising theoreticians” of the revolutionary movement. Discussing whether Trotsky could ever have become the leader of the Bolshevik Party after Lenin’s death, Hill concludes, “Such a view exaggerates, I think, the importance of Trotsky in the party.” 

As Hill should have known, the British government were well aware of Trotsky’s importance since they would not allow him into the country when he requested asylum. However, still, Hill’s historical faculties would not let him deny that Trotsky was a great orator, that he organised the insurrection which brought the Bolsheviks to power, and nor does he avoid giving Trotsky more references in the index than Stalin. At no point does Hill repeat the false charges that the Stalinists made against Trotsky and his followers at the Moscow trials. Even in this book, which certainly hacks work, Hill did not make himself fully a Stalinist hack. His criticisms of Trotsky are ill-judged and betray an ignorance of his subject, rather than being malicious and dishonest. He retained a core of intellectual honesty in a work that was written in 1947 as the lines were being drawn for the Cold War, which was designed to defend the Russian Revolution and not to win him friends in high places at home or in the Kremlin.[6] 

Like any Christopher Hill book, I would recommend the book. Unlike Hill’s other work I would say the reader sometimes needs to hold their nose. As Talbot says, it is a hack work but is a decent read and worth reading to see how far Hill as a historian moved away from the book. 

[1] http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/11/revo-n11.html

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/books-second-thoughts-dont-blame-lenin-for-stalin-christopher-hill-looks-back-on-his-study-of-the-5431224.html

[3] A Historian on the Russian Revolution- https://www.marxists.org/archive/gollan/1948/02/historian.htm

[4] Stalin, Trotsky, & Cromwell-Adam B. Ulam, reply by Christopher Hill March 21 1974- http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1974/03/21/stalin-trotsky-cromwell-2/

[5] http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php/187-articles/articles-of-rh0903/8299-mclroy

[6] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html

A Critical Review of Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude’s -New York HarperCollins, 2009

 “There’s life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick didn’t quite do its job-killing him off, I hope I’ve managed it.” Robert Service London, October 2009, 

“Everyone has the right to be stupid on occasion, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege”. Leon Trotsky 

Over the last decade or so we have seen a relentless campaign to promote the death of Marxism. It is perhaps then a little surprising that over the corresponding period we have seen a plethora of biographies on the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Over the past ten years, we have seen four English-language novels and four English-language academic books. This is not counting books produced in other languages. Bertrand M. Patenaude’s book is one of the better ones. The book, published in Britain as Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky and in the United States as Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary has been widely reviewed in both the capitalist press and various pseudo-left publications. One has sympathies with any historian who attempts a biography of Trotsky since he or she will have to with apologies to Thomas Carlyle “drag him out from under a mountain of dead dogs, a huge load of calumny and oblivion”. 

Patenaude a fellow at the Hoover Institution had unprecedented access to Trotsky’s personal papers at Harvard and of course to papers held at the Hoover archives. Even this privileged access has not prevented him from repeating a number of distortions and fabrications about Trotsky and the Russian revolution. It is unfortunate but Patenaude’s book is not the only one to give an inaccurate and politically driven portrait of Leon Trotsky. Many of these recent books do not have even the most basic academic integrity. 

Recent Historiography 

The current low standard of books on Leon Trotsky has not always been the case. A significant number of historians who while not being close to Trotsky’s politics have written very good and in most cases objective books. It is not possible to examine all of them but perhaps the historian worth reading the most is E H Carr. Carr was one of the first major historian to attempt a rehabilitation of Trotsky. His publications on the history of Soviet Russia are “monumental”. According to the Marxist writer David North, “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky, but he brilliantly summarized and analyzed the complex issues of program, policy and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a difficult and critical period of Soviet history”. 

Carr was followed by the writer and historian Isaac Deutscher who had close links with Trotsky’s Fourth International. He published three biographical trilogies: The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast. Unlike Carr Deutscher was sympathetic to Trotsky and his ideas. Deutscher was expelled from the Polish Communist Party for Trotskyism in the 1930s. He was a delegate to the first conference of the Fourth International. However, he disagreed with Trotsky over the founding of the Fourth International in a period of defeats and believed that the new group was too weak. His books are still standard reading for anyone interested in the topic. This cannot be said of the current spate of biographies? These books are in many ways a useful barometer to the growing shift to the right in academia. After all, academics do not live not in a vacuum and are subject to the many ideological pressures that rage throughout society. It is churlish to say that every writer who produces work on the figures of the Russian Revolution should adhere to Marxism but is it too much to ask for some objectivity or even good serious history. It is hard not to notice that most history departments have become little more than production lines for anti-Marxist books. 

Many of these books are as Oscar Wilde said “hitting below the intellect”. By far the worst of these books is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky[1] In the preface of his book Service makes the boast that he is “the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside of Russia who is not a Trotskyist.” This is simply not true. It is hard to believe that the editor of this book would have let this comment pass without checking it. 

Leon Trotsky 

Patenaude correctly criticizes Service’s book for its level of factual inaccuracies. Writing in the American Historical Review he says “I have counted more than four dozen [mistakes],”. he continues, “Service mixes up the names of Trotsky’s sons, misidentifies the largest political group in the first Duma in 1906, botches the name of the Austrian archduke assassinated at Sarajevo, misrepresents the circumstances of Nicholas II’s abdication, gets backwards Trotsky’s position in 1940 on the United States’ entry into World War II, and gives the wrong year of death of Trotsky’s widow. Service’s book is completely unreliable as a reference…. At times the errors are jaw-dropping. Service believes that Bertram Wolfe was one of Trotsky’s ‘acolytes’ living with him in Mexico (pp. 441, 473), that André Breton was a ‘surrealist painter’ whose ‘pictures exhibited sympathy with the plight of the working people’ (p. 453), and that Mikhail Gorbachev rehabilitated Trotsky in 1988, when in fact Trotsky was never posthumously rehabilitated by the Soviet government.”[2] 

Patenaude goes on to explain how he came to review the book saying he was “initially inclined to turn down the review request”. He felt that working on the review would lead him away from other work. “Nonetheless, after checking to make sure that David North’s book did not mention my own recent book on Trotsky, I accepted the invitation, fully expecting that I would add my voice to the chorus of praise for Service’s biography.”“I wrote the review at the request of the editors of the AHR,” They asked me to review both Service’s book and North’s book. I did find this a little curious because Service is a major figure in the field of Soviet history and his Trotsky has been hailed by several reviewers as the definitive biography — so why dilute the effect by combining it with a slender, essentially self-published volume written by an avowed Trotskyist who devotes most of his pages to criticism of Service and his book?” 

Bertrand M. Patenaude 

Patenaude would later retract his sharp opinion of North who after all is a leading authority on Leon Trotsky and has written extensively on him. Patenaude wrote “Enter David North. David North is an American Trotskyist whose book collects his review essays of Service’s volume and of earlier biographies of Trotsky by Ian Thatcher and Geoffrey Swain. (He does not mention my 2009 book, Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary.) Given North’s Trotskyism, he might reasonably be suspected of hyperbole in his brief against Service. But a careful examination of North’s book shows his criticism of Service to be exactly what Trotsky scholar Baruch Knei-Paz, in a blurb on the back cover, says it is: ‘detailed, meticulous, well-argued and devastating.’” 

North has his own deep-seated criticism of Service’s work on Trotsky. In his review, he writes that Service’s book “is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favourite devices is to refer to “rumours” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumour’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility” 

Swain and Thatcher 

North has also been heavily critical of other biographies of Trotsky by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher. Thatcher from Leicester university produced his Trotsky in 2003 published by Routledge. In his opinion “Thatcher and Swain belittled Deutscher for creating the “myth” of Trotsky. The Thatcher-Swain biographies set out to create a new anti-Trotsky narrative, utilizing slanders and fabrications of old Stalinist vintage in the interest of contemporary anti-communism”.

Thatcher’s Trotsky as North says is little more than character assassination. The book is also heavily pregnant with undocumented assertions. Like Service’s book both make it exceedingly difficult for the average reader to trace articles and evaluate for themselves Thatcher’s and Swain’ comments. Even something basic as footnotes are not very accurate and sometimes misleading. 

Patenaude is not immune to this right-wing shift in academia. His book despite being better than some others does sufferer from repeating the same myths and mistakes of previous books. Patenaude’s use of sources close to Trotsky who were either hostile or had broken with his politics is not really useful and Patenaude is far too uncritical of them.

Patenaude relies a great deal on the testimonies of Trotsky’s bodyguards. These are mainly from the American Trotskyist movement. Many of these people had broken with Trotskyism and should have been treated with caution.

It is clear that Patenaude is not fully acquainted with Trotsky’s writings and politics and still less so with the major political ‘social and cultural subjects tackled by Trotsky. 

This limitation on his part could have been rectified by quoting from writers that did. Patenaude does portray a certain amount of sympathy for his subject which is done so from a liberal, not Marxist standpoint. He also has the annoying habit of using throw away lines such as Trotsky attempted to “cloak the Bolshevik coup” and that Trotsky “helped create the first totalitarian state”. Aside from not being true Patenaude does little to back up such a serious charge. His viewpoint on other struggles inside the Bolshevik party is predominantly impressionistic. 

‘Warts and all’ 

On the plus side, Patenaude’s account is important because it brings together a wide range of sources on Trotsky’s murder. Some of these sources have not been available in English before. He also makes use of the personal papers of Alexander Buchman, Albert Glotzer and the FBI and the GPU agent Joseph Hansen. Patenaude employs a novelist type writing style. It is a shame that this style does not work when he tries to employ this method when encountering Trotsky’s revolutionary past. The main focus of the book centres on the last decade of Trotsky’s life and work. Patenaude portrayal of Trotsky’s life while ‘imprisoned’ in Blue House would in some instances not look out of place in cheap adult books and sometimes borders on the salacious. Having said that he does manage to show the element of tragedy in Trotsky’s life. Barely a member of Trotsky’s family and close friends survived Stalin’s murderous clutches. Despite having unpatrolled access to Trotsky’s archive Patenaude has nothing to say politically that has not been saying before. Very little is said about Trotsky’s followers around the world. Next to nothing is written in the preparation and discussion following the publication of the Transitional Programme. 

Conclusion 

It is clear that Patenaude has no sympathy for the Trotskyist movement. He believes it is full of “sects” and is riddled with “splits and mergers”. Trotskyist’s will need a strong stomach if they read this book. The book is likely to gain a wide readership, but young people and workers and the general reader interested in the life and ideas of Leon Trotsky who struggled against Stalinism, fascism and capitalism, should read as much as possible of the great man himself and, at least, a few biographies from a much earlier period these should be read in conjunction with this book. 

 

[1] Robert Service, Trotsky, A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)

[2] The American Historical Review (2011) 116 (3): 900-902

1917: Before and After by Edward Hallett Carr, Macmillan,1969

Trotsky was a hero of the revolution; He fell when the heroic age was over.” E H Carr.

This collection of articles, reviews and lectures deal predominantly with Carr’s assessment of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and its revolutionaries. To say that Carr had a contradictory attitude to the Revolution and for that matter, Marxism, in general, would be an understatement.

The items that make up this slim volume were written before 1950 and give me a welcome opportunity for a limited survey of his work and the place it occupies in the field of Soviet studies.

The themes of the lectures are broad in scope. Ranging from figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and literary figures such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Like all Carr’s work, his style of writing is clear and straightforward and explains complex historical and political events in a language untainted by jargon.

However, one major criticism of Carr’s work and perhaps the biggest charge against him is that he was only interested in writing about the victors in history. This is simply not true while he did not deal with the defeat suffered by Leon Trotsky and others on the scale of say Isaac Deutscher he did nonetheless deal with the defeated in a precise and not unsympathetic manner.

The first chapter The Russian Revolution; its place in History is a well-written attempt to place the revolution in its historical context. This is a solid piece of writing which is free of the usual cynicism that permeates Soviet historiography today. Carr correctly observes that the Russian revolutionaries learned the lessons from previous revolutions including the French and English bourgeois revolutions.

The second chapter is a preface to a translation of the novel What Is to Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The novel was highly thought of by Vladimir Lenin. One of Lenin great works What is to be Done, written in 1902 took the name of this book. He called the author a “great Russian socialist”. This a very sympathetic portrait of Chernyshevsky. The novel is highly thought of in academic circles. Joseph Frank wrote “No work in modern literature, with the possible exception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, can compete with What Is to Be Done? in its effect on human lives and its power to make history. For Chernyshevsky novel, far more than Marx’s Capital, supplied the emotional dynamic that eventually went to make the Russian Revolution.”[1]

Carr’s third chapter is called Red Rosa. As Carr admits it is very difficult to do justice to Luxemburg in the space of eleven pages of text. A full-length biography and then some is needed. It is clear that Luxemburg was held in high esteem amongst the Bolsheviks leaders. Lenin especially commented that “Although the eagles do swoop down and beneath the chickens fly, chickens with outspread wings never will soar amid clouds in the sky”.[2]

Carr properly designates Luxemburg as an equal of any leading Marxists of the time. She played a crucial role in the attack on Eduard Bernstein’s revision of Marxism. Her Accumulation of Capital written in 1915 was among other things an attack on Bernstein’s revisionism. Luxemburg, it is true did not hold back any criticism especially of the Bolsheviks if she felt it was warranted.

The paragraph below quoted in Carr’s book has been interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on the Bolsheviks but I am not sure Carr’s reads it that way.

“The essence of socialist society consists in the fact that the great labouring mass ceases to be a dominated mass, but rather, makes the entire political and economic life its own life and gives that life a conscious, free, and autonomous direction. The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing. It does not need these weapons because it does not combat individuals but institutions because it does not enter the arena with naïve illusions whose disappointment it would seek to revenge. It is not the desperate attempt of a minority to mould the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfil a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality.[3]“

Carr’s fourth chapter is called The Bolshevik Utopia. This is a very misleading piece of writing, in that it gives the impression that Marxism has utopian content. Given that Carr is usually very precise in his writing this is not a mistake or slip of the pen. Carr really did identify with this characterization of the Bolsheviks. It is a little strange given that Carr would have been familiar with the decades-long struggle the Marxist movement carried out in opposing the utopian socialists.

The Tragedy of Trotsky is by far the most interesting piece of this collection. The chapter is a multi-layer review of Isaac Deutscher’s biography of the Russian revolutionary. Carr it must be said was one of the first historians to carry out a major attempt at restoring Trotsky to his rightful place in Soviet and international history. Using sources from the soviet archives he was one of the first historians to write a detailed account of the political struggles inside the leadership of the Communist Party of the USSR 1923-24.

Carr clearly thought that there was an alternative to Stalinism in the form of Leon Trotsky and his Left Opposition. According to the Marxist writer David North, “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky. But he brilliantly summarized and analyzed the complex issues of program, policy and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a difficult and critical period of Soviet history. Carr’s account made clear that Trotsky became the target of an unprincipled attack that was, in its initial stages, motivated by his rivals’ subjective considerations of personal power. While Carr found much to criticize in Trotsky’s response to the provocations of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, the historian left no doubt that he viewed Trotsky as, alongside of Lenin, the towering figure of the Bolshevik Revolution”. [4]

Carr’s Place in Soviet Historiography

Carr was part of that generation of historians although not Marxist who sought to make an objective evaluation of the October revolution and its aftermath. As one writer commented, “not exactly a Marxist, but strongly impregnated with Marxist ways of thinking, applied to international affairs”.

Carr, who worked under difficult circumstances throughout his career had to come to terms with the debilitating effect of Stalinism had on his field of historical study. According to Deutscher “The Stalinist state intimidated the historian and dictated to him first the pattern into which he was expected to force events and then the ever new versions of the events themselves. At the outset, the historian was subjected to this pressure mainly when he dealt with the Soviet revolution, the party strife which had preceded and which had followed it, and especially the struggles inside the Bolshevik Party. All these had to be treated in a manner justifying Stalin as the Leader of monolithic Bolshevism”. [5]

Since Carr’s time, there has been a distinct and traceable decline in the historical study of the Russian revolution. The failure of today’s historians to produce an objective and intelligent account of the revolution has more to do with current politics than it does with just bad academic standards and this is despite having access to archives that Carr could have only dreamed of. In fact, outside the confines of the International Committee of the Fourth International, there has been no historian that has bettered Carr’s work.

It is not within the realm of this review to examine the current state of soviet historiography suffice to say it is at a very low ebb. Far from being objective historical studies, many of the books appearing lately have been hagiographies and very right-wing ones at that. Many of them do not even retain minimal academic standards.

One such book is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky according to David North “Trotsky: A Biography is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favourite devices is to refer to “rumours” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumour’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility”.[6]

In conclusion, I am not saying Carr is without flaws and limitations. His work however will “remain a great and enduring landmark in historical writing devoted to the Bolshevik revolution. “It will take a very great historian to better his work. In today’s climate, I for one am not holding my breath.

Notes

1.       Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays, Isaac Deutscher, Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955).

2.       EH Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1921 (three volumes, London, 1950, 1952, 1953); The Interregnum, 1923-1924 (London, 1954).

[1] Joseph Frank, The Southern Review

[2] Leon Trotsky- Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg! (June 1932)

[3] Rosa Luxemburg-What Does the Spartacus League Want? (December 1918)

[4] North, David, In defence of Leon Trotsky, Mehring Books, Detroit,2015

[5] Isaac Deutscher’s, Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays (Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

[6] In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service’s Trotsky-David North

The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky-Bertrand M. Patenaude

 There is life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick did not quite do its job-killing him off, I hope I have managed it.” 

Robert Service London, October 2009, 

“Everyone has the right to be stupid on occasion, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.” Leon Trotsky 

The last few years have seen a spate of biographies examining the life of the co-leader of the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky. Over the past ten years, we have seen four English-language novels and four English-language academic books. This is not counting books produced in other languages. Robert Service’s book on Trotsky as can be seen from the quote above is one of many disgraceful examples. 

Patenaude’s book is not quite the same as Service’s hatchet job, but it does not measure up to others from previous decades. The former Stanford lecturer doors attempt to set the record straight, and opposes Service’s attempt to assassinate Trotsky all over again but he does retain a political hostility to Trotsky and his supporters. The book appears at the end of a decade of which has seen a relentless campaign to promote the death of Marxism. It is perhaps then a little surprising that over the corresponding period we saw a plethora of biographies on the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. 

Bertrand M. Patenaude’s book is one of the better ones. The book, published in Britain as Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky and in the United States as Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary has been widely reviewed in both the capitalist press and various pseudo-left publications. One has sympathies with any historian who attempts a biography of Trotsky since he or she will have to “drag him out from under a mountain of dead dogs, a huge load of calumny and oblivion.” 

Patenaude, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, had unprecedented access to Trotsky’s papers at Harvard and of course to documents held at the Hoover archives. Even this privileged access has not prevented him from repeating some distortions and fabrications about Trotsky and the Russian Revolution.It is unfortunate, but Patenaude’s book is not the only one to give an inaccurate and politically driven portrait of Leon Trotsky. Many of these recent books do not have even the most basic academic integrity. 

Recent Historiography 

The current low standard of books on Leon Trotsky has not always been the case. A significant number of historians who while not being close to Trotsky’s politics have written excellent and in most cases, objective books. It is not possible to examine all of them, E.H. Carr is one of those historians. Carr was one of the first major historians to attempt a rehabilitation of Trotsky. His publications on the history of Soviet Russia are “monumental.” According to the Marxist writer David North, “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky, but he brilliantly summarised and analysed the complex issues of program, policy, and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a challenging and critical period of Soviet history.”[1]Carr was followed by the writer and historian Isaac Deutscher who had close links with Trotsky’s Fourth International. He published three biographical trilogies: The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast. Unlike Carr, Deutscher was sympathetic to Trotsky and his ideas. Deutscher was expelled from the Polish Communist Party for Trotskyism in the 1930s.  

He was a delegate to the first conference of the Fourth International. However, he disagreed with Trotsky over the founding of the Fourth International in a period of defeats and believed that the new group was too weak. His books are still standard reading for anyone interested in the topic. While this cannot be said of the current spate of biographies? These books are, in many ways, a useful barometer to the growing shift to the right in academia. After all, academics do not live not in a vacuum and are subject to the many ideological pressures that rage throughout society. 

It is churlish to say that every writer who produces work on the figures of the Russian Revolution should adhere to Marxism but is it too much to ask for some objectivity or even real serious history. Most history departments have become little more than production lines for anti-Marxist books.Many of these books are as Oscar Wilde said “hitting below the intellect.” By far the worst of these books is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky. In the preface of his book Service boasts that he is “the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside of Russia who is not a Trotskyist.”[2] This is simply not true. It is hard to believe that the editor of this book would have let this comment pass without checking it. 

Patenaude correctly criticises Service’s book for its level of factual inaccuracies. Writing in the American Historical Review, he says “I have counted more than four dozen [mistakes],.” He continues, “Service mixes up the names of Trotsky’s sons, misidentifies the largest political group in the first Duma in 1906, botches the name of the Austrian archduke assassinated at Sarajevo, misrepresents the circumstances of Nicholas II’s abdication, gets backward Trotsky’s position in 1940 on the United States’ entry into World War II, and gives the wrong year of death of Trotsky’s widow. Service’s book is entirely unreliable as a reference…. At times the errors are jaw-dropping. Service believes that Bertram Wolfe was one of Trotsky’s ‘acolytes’ living with him in Mexico (pp. 441, 473), that André Breton was a ‘surrealist painter’ whose ‘pictures exhibited sympathy with the plight of the working people’ (p. 453), and that Mikhail Gorbachev rehabilitated Trotsky in 1988, when in fact, Trotsky was never posthumously rehabilitated by the Soviet government.”[3] 

Patenaude goes on to explain how he came to review the book saying he was “initially inclined to turn down the review request.” He felt that working on the study would lead him away from other tasks. “Nonetheless, after checking to make sure that David North’s book did not mention my own recent book on Trotsky, I accepted the invitation, fully expecting that I would add my voice to the chorus of praise for Service’s biography.”“I wrote the review at the request of the editors of the AHR,” They asked me to review both Service’s book and North’s book. I did find this a little curious because Service is a major figure in the field of Soviet history and his Trotsky has been hailed by several reviewers as the definitive biography — so why dilute the effect by combining it with a slender, essentially self-published volume written by an avowed Trotskyist who devotes most of his pages to criticism of Service and his book? 

Patenaude would later retract his sharp opinion of North who after all is a leading authority on Leon Trotsky. Patenaude wrote “Enter David North. David North is an American Trotskyist whose book collects his review essays of Service’s volume and of earlier biographies of Trotsky by Ian Thatcher and Geoffrey Swain. (He does not mention my 2009 book, Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary.) Given North’s Trotskyism, he might reasonably be suspected of hyperbole in his brief against Service. But a careful examination of North’s book shows his criticism of Service to be exactly what Trotsky scholar Baruch Knei-Paz, in a blurb on the back cover, says it is: ‘detailed, meticulous, well-argued and devastating.’ 

North has his criticism of Service’s book on Trotsky. In his review, he writes that Service’s book “is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favourite devices is to refer to “rumours” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumour’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility.”[4] 

Swain and Thatcher 

North has also been heavily critical of other biographies of Trotsky by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher. Thatcher from Leicester University produced his Trotsky in 2003 published by Routledge.In his opinion “Thatcher and Swain belittled Deutscher for creating the “myth” of Trotsky. The Thatcher-Swain biographies set out to create a new anti-Trotsky narrative, utilising slanders and fabrications of old Stalinist vintage in the interest of contemporary anti-communism”.[5] 

Thatcher’s Trotsky North says is little more than character assassination. The book is also heavily pregnant with undocumented assertions. Like Service’s book both make it exceedingly difficult for the average reader to trace articles and evaluate for themselves Thatcher’s and Swain’ comments. Even something basic as footnotes are not very accurate and sometimes misleading. 

Patenaude 

Patenaude is not immune to the right-wing shift in academia. His book, despite being better than some others, does sufferer by repeating the same myths and mistakes of previous books. Patenaude’s use of sources close to Trotsky who were either hostile or had broken with his politics is not useful, and Patenaude is far too uncritical of them. Patenaude relies a great deal on the testimonies of Trotsky’s bodyguards. These are mainly from the American Trotskyist movement. Many of these people had broken with Trotskyism and should have been treated with caution. 

It is clear that Patenaude is not entirely acquainted with Trotsky’s writings and politics and still less so with the major political ‘social and cultural subjects tackled by Trotsky. This limitation on his part could have been rectified by quoting from writers that did. Patenaude does portray a certain amount of sympathy for his subject, which is done so from a liberal, not Marxist standpoint. He also has the annoying habit of using throwaway lines such as Trotsky attempted to “cloak the Bolshevik coup” and that Trotsky “helped create the first totalitarian state.” Aside from not being true, Patenaude does little to back up such a serious charge. His viewpoint on other struggles inside the Bolshevik party is predominantly impressionistic. 

‘Warts and all.’ 

On the plus side, Patenaude’s account is important because it brings together a wide range of sources on Trotsky’s murder. Some of these sources have not been available in English before. He also makes use of the personal papers of Alexander Buchman, Albert Glotzer and the FBI and the GPU agent Joseph Hansen. Patenaude employs a novelist type writing style. It is a shame that this style does not work when he tries to use this method when encountering Trotsky’s revolutionary past. 

The primary focus of the book centres on the last decade of Trotsky’s life and work. Patenaude portrayal of Trotsky’s life while ‘imprisoned’ in Blue House would in some instances not look out of place in cheap adult books and sometimes borders on the salacious.  Having said that he does manage to show the element of tragedy in Trotsky’s life. Barely a member of Trotsky’s family and close friends survived Stalin’s murderous clutches. Despite having unpatrolled access to Trotsky’s archive, Patenaude has nothing to say politically that has not been saying before. Not much is said about Trotsky’s followers around the world. Next, nothing is written in the preparation and discussion following the publication of the Transitional Programme. 

Patenaude also tends to repeat a lot of the salacious gossip surrounding Trotsky which there is no reason to do other than to sell books his description of |trotysk’s affair with Freida Kahlo being one example Writes Patenaude: “It is no mystery why Trotsky was attracted to Frida Kahlo. The daughter of a German-Jewish immigrant father and a Mexican mother, at 29 she was a striking and exotic beauty with black hair, audacious almond eyes beneath batwing eyebrows, and sensuous lips.” Or this piece of irrelevance “Dressed in a tweed suit and knickerbockers, carrying a cane and a briefcase, he projected an image of civilised respectability, looking not at all like a defiant revolutionary. And at five feet eleven inches tall, he hardly resembled the Soviet cartoon image of him as ‘the little Napoleon,'” Patenaude notes. 

Conclusion 

Patenaude has no sympathy for the Trotskyist movement. He believes it is full of “sects” and is riddled with “splits and mergers.” Trotskyist’s will need a strong stomach if they read this book. The book is likely to gain a wide readership, but young people and workers and the general reader interested in the life and ideas of Leon Trotsky who struggled against Stalinism, fascism, and capitalism, should read as much as possible of the great man himself and, at least, a few biographies from a much earlier period these should be read in conjunction with this book. 

 

[1] Leon Trotsky & the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification

By David North

[2] Robert Service, Trotsky, A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)

[3] The American Historical Review (2011) 116 (3): 900-902

[4] In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service’s Trotsky

By David North-11 November 2009- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/11/serv-n11.html

[5] In Defense of Leon Trotsky-By David North-Mehring Books