Leon Trotsky – a revolutionary’s life
By Joshua Rubenstein
Pubs. Yale University Press
Trotsky was a man much traduced, and his reputation has not been enhanced by the ideas and actions of many of his devoted followers. This new biography, in the series Jewish Lives, is written neither by an admirer and follower like Deutscher nor by a denigrator like Robert Service. It is a view very much coloured, as the series indicates, by the idea of ‘Jewishness’ and a Jewish self-understanding, but manages to give a fairly objective and useful, if very brief, portrait.
Trotsky was a tragic figure of mythical proportions. A dedicated – one could say fanatical – devotee of the ideas of Marx and the Russian revolution, which consumed his whole life. He was persecuted unmercifully by Stalin, who had all his immediate family killed, alongside his many associates and former comrades.
Once expelled from the Soviet Union, Trotsky’s intransigence and unremitting calls for world revolution left him marooned in a no-mans-land without safe refuge.
Alongside Lenin, he was indisputably the most capable and influential figure of the Bolshevik revolution. He was broadly educated, an eloquent writer and magnetic speaker. Ironically Stalin, after Lenin’s death, was able to outmanoeuvre and sideline him because of his lack of ambition and refusal to conspire or join in political intrigues. While he undoubtedly had serious flaws in his character and could be just as callous as Stalin if he felt it furthered the ends of the revolution, he was a selfless and dedicated revolutionary.
In retrospect it beggars belief that such a key figure could have been reduced to a pathetic and isolated renegade in such a short space of time and that Stalin’s clever propaganda machine was able to convince not only communist parties throughout the world, but also many leading liberals and left-wingers that Trotsky was a malevolent cancer in the international communist movement. As this book reveals, this denigration was facilitated by a virulent and entrenched anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe as well as by its more genteel form in the West.