TROTSKY: Fate of a Revolutionary by Robert Wistrich

TROTSKY: Fate of a Revolutionary

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Leon Trotsky had the great good fortune of having Isaac Deutscher for a biographer, and Deutscher's three-volume opus will forever be the literary bench-mark against which all comers will be judged; except, that is, for Trotsky's own My Life. Wistrich, editor of the Journal of Contemporary History, can only offer a less biased view than admirer Deutscher's in this short biography, but less biased is not always better. Wistrich plays up two recognized themes in Trotksy's life: his ambivalent attitude toward authority and his considerable literary talents. Both are easy to document. Notorious as a lone wolf among Russian revolutionaries and resistant to efforts to drag him in tow--he was, after all, a greater intellect than Lenin, as well as a formidable political leader in his own right--Trotsky nevertheless acted the part of the commissar to the hilt and was as responsible as anyone for the regimentation of the Soviet work force that followed the Revolution. After reorganizing the army, he introduced military discipline into industry, oversaw the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising, and treated the Russian peasants like pawns. On top of that, he showed himself inept at party politics in losing out to Stalin. His literary feats included the great History of the Russian Revolution and an important work in literary theory, Literature and Revolution. His power of the pen also sparked scores of Trotskyist organizations, among them the ill-fated Fourth International. In the end, Wistrich thinks, Trotsky never got beyond his mistaken view that Stalinism represented a bureaucratic overlay on a genuine workers' revolution; his failure to recognize the ""new class"" reality of power in the USSR contributed to his defeat in politics and marred his exilic theoretical works. Wistrich is good on Trotsky's thinking, and the precis of his life is sensible, but there's nothing new here. As a short biographical study, Irving Howe's 1978 Leon Trotsky combines balance with fervor, while Ronald Segal's 1979 biography is superior at mid-length.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Stein & Day