LEON TROTSKY by Joshua Rubenstein


A Revolutionary Life
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Brilliant, charismatic, fatally idealistic and dogmatic—Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was all this and more, according to this fine biography, the latest in the publisher's Jewish Lives series.

Rubenstein (Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, 1996, etc.) locates a key period in Trotsky’s intellectual development in his time spent as a child and adolescent in Odessa, where he lived with relations, acquired cultural awareness and social graces and, most importantly, gained insight into the hardships faced by the working classes. It was in Odessa that he first encountered a systematic, officially sanctioned anti-Semitism that barred him from admittance to select schools. Yet Trotsky’s self-awareness of his Jewish identity was ambivalent throughout his life and always took a backseat to his identity as a communist. Developing into a public voice for change, he was launched on to the international stage after an escape from Siberian exile (where he left his first wife and daughters) to Vienna, where he met Lenin for the first time. During this period, Trotsky traveled extensively throughout Europe, honing ideas and stirring his listeners. Through these experiences, he formulated his notion of a “permanent revolution” necessary to sweep through all of Europe, one of the pillars of his political theory that is, in hindsight, understood to be both deeply flawed and destructive. Afeter 1905, with the exception of a few years, he shuttled between Vienna, London, Finland, Paris, a brief stint in New York and Mexico, where Stalin’s long arm finally reached him. Trotsky proves to be a fascinating subject, a deeply flawed man whose charisma occasionally shines through the many excerpts of his speeches and texts. In the central chapter, “The Revolution of 1917,” Rubenstein not only details the chronological events that led to the Bolshevik party’s consolidation of power, he also presents these in the larger context of Russian and German war strategy. The author explores the battle of personalities between Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, as well as the gamesmanship of succession, with particular attention to Trotsky’s puzzling failure of political acumen in not recognizing or responding to Stalin’s threat to his role as Lenin’s successor.

An accessible scholarly account of a man whose life spanned continents, whose charisma was legendary and whose ideas sparked a revolution and its backlash.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-300-13724-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2011


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