LEON TROTSKY by Irving Howe
Kirkus Star


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A brief, searching examination of the constant revolutionary who was Lenin's accomplice and the arch-foe of Stalin. Howe, deeply admiring and sternly critical, traces Trotsky's intellectual development from his youthful distress at the mistreatment of peasants and his cultural awakening in cosmopolitan Odessa (which made him, atypically, ""a man of the West"") to--in Trotsky's words--""my first political test,"" a demonstration against injustice to a classmate. Recalling the incident, Trotsky makes use, Howe notes, of ""moral criteria by no means simply derived from or reducible to class distinctions""--the beginning, perhaps, of a lifelong inner struggle between ""the stern clamorings of authoritarian command"" and a softer, more compassionate and idealistic self. We see him later, as an emigrÉ, denouncing Lenin's model of a conspiratorial party of elite intellectuals--a view that, as an orthodox Bolshevik, he was subsequently to renounce and then, faced with Stalinist bureaucracy, to re-embrace. We see him develop, for backward Russia, his theory of a one-step ""permanent revolution,"" bourgeois-democratic and socialist, spearheaded by the working class in the absence of an aroused, reformist bourgeoisie (a theory partly borne out in Russia but not, Howe is at pains to establish, in the ""underdeveloped"" world). During the revolution, an intransigent Trotsky condemns an opponent to ""the dustbin of history"" (""sad and terrible words,"" Howe remarks, looking forward). As the new government's minister of war, he creates and leads (without military experience) a victorious army--and, by his arrogance, makes enemies-in-waiting. Howe takes up in turn the economic policy disputes, the Kronstadt rebellion tragedy, Stalin's rise and the shortcomings of both Left and Right Opposition. He sees Trotsky, unyielding in exile, as ""a towering example of what a man can be""--and subjects his writings to stringent, wide-ranging analysis. A rich introduction for students and a boon, equally, to anyone who has wondered about that mysterious, malevolent force called ""Trotskyism"" or debated whether, under any circumstances, ""the end justifies the means.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1978
Publisher: Viking