The life of Trotsky

Excellent post by Michael Ezra a propos of Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky, but mainly taking apart Isaac Deutscher’s hagiography of Trotsky. Extract:

In [Deutscher’s] account of the Kronstadt rebellion, there is no mention of Trotsky’s famous order, “shoot them like partridges.” He  was also not immune from errors of fact. For example, Deutscher claimed that the Kronstadt rebellion was “led by Anarchists.” In truth, as Robert Daniels had previously shown (American Slavic and East European Review, December 1951), it was “a strong opposition movement … in Communist Party organisations” that had been at the forefront of the rebellion. Despite the fact that thousands were killed by the Bolsheviks for this rebellion, Deutscher does not draw the logical conclusion that P.G. Maximoff had earlier drawn:

As in many other instances we have here a clear case of mass murder subject to criminal prosecution.

If anyone is any doubt as to the way Deutscher viewed Trotsky, his following sentence should give some clarification:

The passions of [Trotsky’s] intellect and heart, always uncommonly large and intense… swelled into a tragic energy as mighty and high as that which animates the prophets and the law-givers of Michelangelo’s vision.

Some interesting stuff too in the comments thread.

And from an opposite perspective, the Cedar Lounge Revolution on a review by Robert Harris of Service’s book. Also an interesting comment thread.

Or, for a totally different sort of Trotsky biog, check this out.

Bonus links: Trotsky on terrorism 1 & 2, Exile in Buyukada, Peter Taafe on Robert Service, Trotsky on factionalism, Sergei Essenin.

The image at the top comes from a wonderful photoset which goes with this nice post: The Trotsky Museum.

Click here for related posts, including Trotsky’s bad driving, Hitchens and Service chatting about Trotsky, Stalin’s nemesis, Trotsky’s ashes based into cookies.

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Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 11:10 am  Comments (7)  
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  1. Poumista,

    Thank you for this. I guess my view is in line with the following from quote from Michael Lynch, “Trotsky: Angel of Enlightenment or Frustrated Dictator?”History Review, March 1999:

    Lenin and Trotsky had worked together on a deliberate policy of terror that precisely foreshadowed the later Stalinist tyranny. Stalinism, therefore, was not a reversal of Leninism but a continuation of it. Trotsky’s enforced militarisation of labour, his crushing of the trade unions, the extreme methods he used to discipline the Red Army, his savagery against the Kronstadt rebels in 1921, and his ferocity towards the Russian peasantry undermine the romantic image of him as “the angel of enlightenment” in an otherwise cruel world.

    In exile, Trotsky denounced Stalinism not because it was brutal but because it was brutal for the wrong reasons. All the signs were that, had Trotsky had the opportunity to enforce his concept of revolution on the Bolshevik state, he would have used very similar means to those that Stalin employed. Absolute authority was the necessary requirement of Bolshevik rule. Long before Stalin imposed himself on the Party, Trotsky had supported Lenin in the creation of the one-party totalitarian state, with its secret police, show trials, and prison camps. Trotsky believed unashamedly in state terror.

    On Deutscher’s trilogy, I do not think I can quite match the following praise from Max Shachtman (Dissent, July 1964):

    As biography, it is an achievement unsurpassed by anything written in this century; as political biography, it is unequalled.

  2. FYI

    Organized Rage book review: Stalin’s Nemesis; The exile and murder of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand M. Patenaude.

    http://www.organizedrage.com/2009/10/organized-rage-book-review-stalins.html

  3. Thanks both. Re M.Ezra, that’s sort of my view, altho I wouldn’t go quite so far. I also think his leadership was a disaster for the left opposition to Stalinism after 1924. He did however have some sympathetic dimensions, and some brilliant insights.

    Re M.Hall: good review, thanks.

  4. I might be wrong but I think it was Zinoviev who is associated with the phrase “shoot them like peasants”.

    For an extensive review – a political critique but also a partial listing of some of the numerous factual inacurracies – of Service`s biography on Trotsky see David North`s ´In the service of historical falsification` http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/nov2009/serv-n11.shtml

  5. […] a recent post, I quoted Michael Ezra thus: In [Isaac Deutscher's] account of the Kronstadt rebellion, there is no […]

  6. It seems the quote is from the Petrograd Defence Committee, which was chaired by Zinoviev (I am not sure if Trotsky was a member of that committee). Berkman, who was in Petrograd at the time, attributes it to Trotsky, saying he was in charge of a leaflet drop of the order. Trotsky was the chair of the Revolutionary Military Soviet (or Council) of the Republic, Revvoyensoviet, which was also issuing ultimatums along similar lines, but not actually using the partridge line. See here: https://poumista.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/shoot-them-like-partridges/

  7. […] haven’t yet read this review by Tariq Ali of Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis and Robert Service’s Trotsky: A Biography. If anyone reads it, tell me if I should bother. In this 1934 Diego Rivera […]


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