Trotsky: A Biography
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Robert Service completes his masterful trilogy on the founding figures of the Soviet Union in an eagerly anticipated, authoritative biography of Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky is perhaps the most intriguing and, given his prominence, the most understudied of the Soviet revolutionaries. Using new archival sources including family letters, party and military correspondence, confidential speeches, and medical records, Service offers new insights into Trotsky. He discusses Trotsky’s fractious relations with the leaders he was trying to bring into a unified party before 1914; his attempt to disguise his political closeness to Stalin; and his role in the early 1920s as the progenitor of political and cultural Stalinism. Trotsky evinced a surprisingly glacial and schematic approach to making revolution. Service recounts Trotsky’s role in the botched German revolution of 1923; his willingness to subject Europe to a Red Army invasion in the 1920s; and his assumption that peasants could easily be pushed onto collective farms. Service also sheds light on Trotsky’s character and personality: his difficulties with his Jewish background, the development of his oratorical skills and his preference for writing over politicking, his inept handling of political factions and coldness toward associates, and his aversion to assuming personal power.
Although Trotsky’s followers clung to the stubborn view of him as a pure revolutionary and a powerful intellect unjustly hounded into exile by Stalin, the reality is very different. This illuminating portrait of the man and his legacy sets the record straight.
socialists to undertake a socialist insurrection in Berlin.6 The standpoint he took lay midway between Lenin and the Bolshevik left. Bukharin favoured all-out war against Imperial Germany. He and the so-called Left Communists would rather go down fighting than abandon their internationalist commitment – and they were unhappy that Lenin, the leader who had cajoled them into seizing power in Petrograd, was proposing an intolerable compromise. Trotsky’s tactic of playing for time was the next most
unreal question. The army must be disbanded but disbanding the army is not the same as signing a peace.10 For those with ears to hear this was not as hostile to Lenin’s standpoint as was widely assumed (and as continues to be assumed). Trotsky was arguing a hard-headed case. While demanding an ‘internationalist’ perspective, he refused to accept that it was wrong in principle to fight or not fight. His careful argument was that the Bolsheviks would be unintentionally aiding one side or
Sokolovski, Alexandra Sokolovskaya and Grigori Ziv – were Jews; but they did not talk, read or write in Yiddish. Moreover, they had Russian first names and liked to be called by very Russian diminutives: Ilya as Ilyusha, Alexandra as Sasha, Shura or Shurochka and Grigori as Grisha. Leiba, wanting to be like them, decided that he wanted to be known as Lëva.5 Pronounced ‘Lyova’, this was the Russian diminutive of Lev. Semantically it had nothing to do with the Yiddish name Leiba; but it was a
Pale of Settlement, ref1, ref2, ref3, ref4, ref5; Zionism, ref1, ref2, ref3, ref4; religious observance, ref1, ref2; poverty, ref1, ref2; settlement in New Russia, ref1, ref2; legal restrictions, ref1; languages, ref1, ref2; anti-Semitic jibes, ref1; Bund, ref1, ref2, ref3; pogroms, ref1, ref2; status in Russia, ref1; Trotsky’s identity, ref1; in revolutionary parties, ref1; in soviets and Cheka, ref1; in Red Army, ref1; Trotsky’s opinions, ref1, ref2, ref3, ref4, ref5, ref6, ref7, ref8, ref9;
British were on the point of signing a separate peace, had not changed a lot since August. Lenin demanded an instant insurrection. The Central Committee disagreed and Kamenev called for the unconditional rejection of Lenin’s proposal. This was going too far for the Central Committee majority; instead they simply resolved to prevent sudden disturbances in the garrisons and factories.11 Trotsky was helped by the pressure exerted by Lenin. The declaration to the Democratic Conference, read out by