‘The Life and Death of Trotsky’

‘The Life and Death of Trotsky’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, October 31, 2009

Tariq Ali on Trotsky by Robert Service and Stalin’s Nemesis by Bertrand M Patenaude

For over half a century, Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, a literary-historical masterpiece in its own right, was regarded as the last word on the subject. Many who were deeply hostile to the Russian revolution and all its leading actors nonetheless acclaimed these books: in 1997, asked to nominate his favourite book for National Book Day, the newly elected prime minister, Tony Blair, nominated the trilogy. Twelve years later the culture in this country has become so overwhelmingly conformist that any alternative to capitalism is considered outlandish.

The Service industry has now produced a stodgy volume on Trotsky to add to a collection that includes Lenin and Stalin. Unlike Deutscher, as he tells us, Service is hostile to the revolution and its leaders, but he is irritated by the fact that Trotsky has had such a good press in the west (news to me). He was just the same as the others except that he wrote very well and this appealed to New York intellectuals. The Service view can be summarised in a sentence: Trotsky was a ruthless and cold-blooded murderer and deserves to be exposed as such. read more

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