Robert Service completes his masterful trilogy on the founding figures of the Soviet Union in an eagerly anticipated, authoritative biography of Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky is perhaps the most intriguing and, given his prominence, the most understudied of the Soviet revolutionaries. Using new archival sources including family letters, party and military correspondence, confidential speeches, and medical records, Service offers new insights into Trotsky. He discusses Trotsky’s fractious relations with the leaders he was trying to bring into a unified party before 1914; his attempt to disguise his political closeness to Stalin; and his role in the early 1920s as the progenitor of political and cultural Stalinism. Trotsky evinced a surprisingly glacial and schematic approach to making revolution. Service recounts Trotsky’s role in the botched German revolution of 1923; his willingness to subject Europe to a Red Army invasion in the 1920s; and his assumption that peasants could easily be pushed onto collective farms. Service also sheds light on Trotsky’s character and personality: his difficulties with his Jewish background, the development of his oratorical skills and his preference for writing over politicking, his inept handling of political factions and coldness toward associates, and his aversion to assuming personal power.
Although Trotsky’s followers clung to the stubborn view of him as a pure revolutionary and a powerful intellect unjustly hounded into exile by Stalin, the reality is very different. This illuminating portrait of the man and his legacy sets the record straight.
From start to finish I was engrossed, finishing with a strong feeling of a vital contributor to the intellectual and political life of the last century. This is a person with whom I could never have agreed on either goals or methods, and yet I felt I had gained insight into him as a person and into his motivation. I am thinking I should explore futher the biographies of Lenin and Stalin by Robert Service.
More than 1 year ago
This biography of Leon Trotsky is a useful corrective to Isaac Deutscher's hagiography.
Service points out just how hostile Trotsky was to Lenin over the years. In 1912, Trotsky called Lenin an 'intriguer', a 'disorganiser' and an 'exploiter of Russian backwardness'. Trotsky wrote in 1913, "the entire edifice of Leninism at the present time is built on lies and falsification and carries within itself the poisonous inception of its own dissolution."
Service shows how Trotsky betrayed the Revolution and the Soviet Union. Just to take one example of Trotsky's treachery: in April 1939, he called for an independent Ukraine, separated from the Soviet Union. As Service pointed out, "Any Ukrainian political revolution would inevitably have weakened the USSR's defensive capacity." At the same time, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was also proposing an independent Ukraine.
Why? Both Trotsky and Chamberlain sought to use the Ukraine as bait to encourage Hitler to attack the Soviet Union, just as Chamberlain at the Munich conference had used the Sudetenland to help Hitler to destroy Czechoslovakia.
More than 1 year ago
Without doubt, Leon Trotsky holds the distinction of being the most slandered individual of modern history. His leading role in the 1917 Russian Revolution made him an object of calumny for western opinion makers, and from the late 1920s until his assassination in 1940, he was the primary target of a relentless falsification campaign by Stalin's propaganda machine.
Yet Trotsky's stature as one of the most important and inspiring figures of the 20th century survived, thanks in part to biographical treatments at once sympathetic and accurate, the best known of these Isaac Deutscher's three-volume The Prophet series.
Robert Service's new Trotsky: A Biography, published by Harvard University Press, stands shamelessly in the earlier tradition of slander and falsification.
Service spares no effort to defame Trotsky. The book is laced with gratuitous and unsubstantiated personal insults. Service's Trotsky is an "untrustworthy" and "arrogant," individual who "treated his first wife shabbily." And so it goes throughout.
Dismissing Trotsky's voluminous writings--astonishing still today in their prescience and elegance-- as so much "scribbling," Service explains Trotsky's expulsion from the Soviet Union and ultimate murder at the hands of the GPU as the mere failure of a man who "lost" to Stalin and who himself harbored an unstated "lust for dictatorship and terror."
The author's bizarrely obsessive interest in Trotsky's Jewish background verges on the anti-Semitic, a line of attack on Trotsky that Service shares with the former's contemporary Czarist opponents and Stalin. For example, Service asserts of the Bolsheviks-without a single citation-that its "leadership was widely identified as a Jewish gang," and "Jews indeed were widely alleged to dominate the Bolshevik party." He even takes time to discuss the shape of Trotsky's nose!
I highly recommend an exhaustive and devastating review of Service's biography by David North can be found on the World Socialist Web Site. (The review also lists a number of basic factual errors. Quite an embarrassment for Harvard University Press!)
Those interested in learning about Trotsky should consult his autobiography, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography and Isaac Deutscher's The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast.
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