Back in the Day

The Original Trotskyite

A biography shines new light on the Bolshevik revolutionary's life after exile.

Book Cover While I have every confidence that all manner and mode of ideas and activities now labeled with the ungainly appellation "old school" will not suffer the fate of road apples (which is to dry up and become dust in the wind), I do fear that, for example, the study and profession (as an avowal of faith or belief) of history will be relegated to a cloistered sect of astigmatic priests, occupying the rarified heights of the ruins of some ivory edifice. In part this anxiety stems from the torrential shit-stream of what is generously labeled "information," clotting the collective memory and vision of all sentient beings living in this 365/7 world. While arguably not a necessary agent in the indisputable dumbing down of our species, this infoglut is a self-evident contributor to a pandemic of advanced stages of attention deficiencies. Which is why I am encouraged by the publication of books like Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary (HarperCollins) by Stanford mentor Bertrand M. Patenaude.

Given a decidedly irrational American purview of socialism, in all of its dramatic iterations (except maybe National Socialism) and actors, a study of Lev Davidovich Bronstein--better known as Leon Trotsky--shines useful and illuminating light on key episodes of the Soviet interregnum. In this instance, the more dramatic and colorful part of Trotsky's life as he becomes persona non grata to the Bolshevik movement and clique of which he, with Lenin, was a founder. As Stalin, the Great Terrorist, consolidated power in the 1930s (i.e., Moscow Trials, Great Terror) and eliminated any and all challenges to his authority (real or imagined), he drove Trotsky into exile to Mexico, where he ultimately was assassinated (via an icepick to the head) in August 1940.

Trotsky's story has the added frisson of his relationship with famed muralist Diego Rivera and his dalliance with artist and cult figure (and Rivera's wife) Frida Kahlo, who were both nominally--and occasionally active--Lefties. Patenaude has reportedly combed KGB archives, Trotsky's correspondence, and accounts by his American entourage (bodyguards and secretaries) to flash back through Trotsky's life from its poignant endgame.

One fascinating aspect of the flow and ebb of worldwide socialism is the virulence and antipathy attached to a movement or "ism" that included an interest in improving the material conditions of masses of the planet's disenfranchised (frequently referred to as "the people"). And most interesting to ponder: Though efforts to demonize Marxism/socialism/communism have succeeded spectacularly, there is the claim that while Karl Marx apparently got communism wrong, he had an acute grasp of capitalism.
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