“In the end the fear of Trotsky is the fear of that very revolution which the rulers of the Soviet Union have abandoned in all but name. And Trotsky speaks to them in its threatening voice. He speaks for the power of people against those who speak for the power of the state. He speaks against privilege to those who speak for the subservience of others. He speaks for the liberation of ideas, to those who speak only for the confinements of their own. He speaks for the will to resist, regardless of cost, to those who know only how to speak for the intimidation of dissent”.
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)
Leon Trotsky: proletarian revolutionary, Marxist theorist, ruthless military leader, exile, prolific writer and force for opposition. Left and right wing historians have long debated Trotsky’s role in the Soviet Union in the period 1917-1940. Isaac Deutscher praises Trotsky as a pragmatic revolutionary prophet and committed Marxist theorist whose leadership was usurped by the manipulations of Stalin. Conversely, Richard Pipes condemns Trotsky as a brutal fanatic, an inept politician and an ineffectual exile.
The reliability of both these historians is limited by their political perspectives. Pipes has a strong anti-Communist bias, and as delegates attending a Socialist Scholars Conference wrote: “No one familiar with Professor Pipes’s career and opus could have expected of him anything but a diatribe against Trotsky”. Similarly, there is little doubt that Deutscher’s opinion is clouded by his Marxist ideals and his past as an active Trotskyist.
Trotsky’s career may be divided into four key phases: revolutionary, military leader, politician and exile.
Between 1917 and 1922, Trotsky played a revolutionary role. After becoming a Bolshevik in July 1917, Trotsky was arrested for organising the ‘July Days’, a premature Bolshevik attempt to seize power. When released to...