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.
leading Bolsheviks, including those who had been brought up as Jews. The sole figure in the Central Committee who had leanings in the direction of singling out the Russian people for favour was Stalin.16 He did this only very cautiously in the 1920s; it was mainly in the following decade that he placed Russians on a pedestal as the primary nation in the USSR. Stalin, a Georgian, to some extent was trying to compensate politically for not being Russian. Trotsky remained a vigorous
firmament? That’s right, an author!’ And no longer able to restrain her tone, she burst out laughing. Uncle Moshe soothed his feelings and advised him in future to let the women write for themselves.21 This was a lesson about the power of words which Leiba never forgot. He had written something he knew to be exaggerated but it had impressed others and drawn favourable attention to him. Although he was attracted more to mathematics and science than to literature, it would not take much to
everyone he met with an attitude of ‘armed neutrality’. Yet Kaminski was not without his enthusiasms. Being a bit of an inventor he delighted in demonstrating Boyle’s law with an apparatus he had developed. The display always provoked a certain amount of hilarity and quiet insubordination among the pupils.24 Then there were Yurchenko and Zlotchanski who taught mathematics. Yurchenko was a gruff Odessan who was easy to bribe to get him to award higher marks. Zlotchanski was no more refined, being
justifiably, that Trotsky was a prime architect of the suppression of civil rights in the USSR which he now, as a victim, complained about.9 The Commission started its work on 10 April 1937. The defendant and his American inquisitors turned up in three-piece suits. Formality was observed in the interrogation. Verbatim testimony was copied down. This went on for a whole week until Dewey felt he could summarize an agreed verdict. Nobody had been in serious doubt about what it would be. Trotsky was
party programme. Lenin was the leading spirit behind the scenes and was far from impartial in how he made his preparations. Wherever and whenever possible, he gave mandates to Iskra’s supporters. He was packing the Congress with individuals who would provide him and his friends with a majority – and among those friends was Trotsky, who visited the Russian Marxist ‘colonies’ drumming up support for the Iskraites. He was travelling on a false passport in the name of a Bulgarian called Samokliev and