Back in the Day

The Original Trotskyite 2.0

One of two new biographies of the influential Soviet revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

Book Cover Back in 1995 (or ‘96), Jon Lee Anderson’s definitive biography of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera was published, and within a short time two others joined the Che historiography. Since then there have been some additions but the focus has been on the Cuban revolutionary hero as an icon. And of course there’s Steven Soderbergh’s film.

Recently I noted with some pleasure a new biography on Leon Trotsky—that pleasure deriving from a long gap in refreshing the Trotsky informational well. Now comes another tome, Trotsky: A Biography (Harvard University Press), authored by the great Soviet history scholar, Robert Service (Lenin: A Biography, Stalin: A Biography), completing his trilogy on the patriarchs of the Soviet revolution.

Utilizing new archival material, including personal correspondence, party and military correspondence, confidential speeches, and medical records, Service forms a portrait of the great Soviet revolutionary prophet hitherto unfamiliar to casual readers. Stalin chronicler and biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore concludes:
Robert Service delivers an outstanding, fascinating biography of this dazzling titan. It is compelling as an adventure story—the ultimate rise and fall—but also revelatory as the scholarly revision of a historical reputation… The portrait of Trotsky’s forgotten world of Jewish farmers and poverty-stricken Russian aristocrats is eccentric and intriguing. Trotsky himself hid much of his background that Service reveals for the first time… At the end of Service’s revision, what remains of the Prophet? The intellectual, orator, manager of the Bolshevik coup and architect of the Civil War victory remain, but alongside them must be laid the mendacity of his memoirs, the ugly egotism and unpleasant, overweening arrogance, the belief in and enthusiastic practice of killing on a colossal scale, the political ineptitude, the limit of ambition. Apart from their famous row about “socialism in one country” versus international revolution, there was little politically between Stalin and Trotsky. It was personality that divided them and both personalities were highly unattractive. If Trotsky had become dictator, Service is clear that while Russia would have avoided Stalin’s personal sadism, the same millions would still have been killed.
But still no Trotsky bio pic.
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