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Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused as much controversy as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky Trotsky’s extraordinary life and extensive writings have left an indelible mark on revolutionary conscience yet there was a danger that his name would disappear from history Originally published in 1954 Deutscher’s magisterial three volume biography was the first major publication to counter the powerful Stalinist propaganda machine In this definitive biography Trotsky emerges in his real stature as the most heroic and ultimately tragic character of the Russian RevolutionThis third volume of the trilogy first published in 1963 is a self contained narrative of Trotsky’s years in exile and of his murder in Mexico in 1940 Deutscher’s masterful account of the period and of the ideological controversies ranging throughout it forms a background against which as he says ‘the protagonist’s character reveals itself while he is moving towards catastrophe’

10 thoughts on “The Prophet Outcast Trotsky 1929 40

  1. says:

    wrapping up the Trotsky sagaThis last volume is easily the most moving in the trilogy For readers who don't share my pedantic desire for completion I'd almost recommend skipping straight to The Prophet Outcast Here I think we find Trotsky as he is most remembered today not man of power founder of the Red Army and apparent successor to Lenin but the tragic figure cast out and persecuted yet defiant til the end Though we live in cynical times many of us can still appreciate a heroic dissidentIn 2004 the great publishing house Verso reissued Deutscher's classic biography In the press many critics took this as an opportunity to pay tribute again to the legend of Trotsky See for example Chritopher Hitchens' piece in the Atlanitc Trotksy is commemorated almost as the conscience of Bolshevism the one who could have brought about a better humane communism and kept Stalin from permanently bloodying that wordIt's a stirring narrative but I actually think it does a disservice to Deutscher's great subtlety and rigor as a historian He's too much of a historical materialist to ever go in for hagiography His account of the birth and development of the Soviet Union is probably the most illuminating thing I've ever read on the subject His admiration for Trotsky does not prevent him from showing the ways in which Trotsky was complicit in his own downfall and that of his countrySo then was Trotsky a great man?It's all very complicated of course but my answer after reading this biography NO I have no doubt Trotsky was amazingly brilliant and courageous However it seems to me that he ultimately failed very badly at what ought to have been the central task of his life He couldn't stop Stalin A great orator and military strategist nonetheless his political judgment was often abysmal We see this especially in the second volume where he repeatedly underestimates his adversary It's not just hindsight that makes this clear Throughout the twenties other members of the politbureau including Lenin repeatedly tried to warn him of the danger posed by Stalin He never took the threat seriously enough Moreover the image of Trotsky as principled critic of Stalinism is a huge oversimplification It's much the case that Stalin was an extremely unprincipled opponent of Trotsky's physical and political existence The critiue Trotsky did develop lagged woefully behind the ungodly reality of Stalin's reign To euate Stalin with 'Thermidor' was precisely the wrong analogy If only that were true The historical Thermidor actually brought an end to the terror in France Stalin unleashed terror on an unprecedented scale Nor can it honestly be said that he represented the forces of reaction or counterrevolution Even at his most barbaric Stalin acted from a certain revolutionary logic A logic which Trotsky endorsedTrotsky was the first to speak up for 'primitive socialist accumulation' a planned economy and class war on the kulaks Stalin appropriated these ideas directly from his arch rival In the early thirties he applied them directly to the flesh of the peasantry creating enormous hecatombs This was Stalin's first genocide The second came a few years later with the terror Even though Trotsky and his followers were one of the explicit targets even in this case Stalin showed signs of a tacit ideological agreement Trotsky had constantly railed against the party bureaucracy turning into a new exploiting class By killing or imprisoning the vast majority of party members Stalin aimed in part to destroy this new class of bureaucrats This is not to say that Trotsky would have done exactly the same thing if he'd come to power He was not exactly a gentle lamb himself but still it's hard to imagine him being half as brutal as Stalin was What does seem fairly clear is that Trotsky helped create the conditions which made Stalinism possible This does not subtract from his tragic dignity at the end but it does seriously complicate his legacy'The Opposition wanted industrialization and collectivization to be carried out in the broad daylight of proletarian democracy with the consent of the masses and free initiative from below;whereas Stalin relied on the force of the decree and coercion from above' pp 70Hm well sometimes I think seriously about becoming an astronaut No doubt this was a nice sentiment on the part of the Opposition but as Deutscher's lucid historical analysis makes clear no such consent could be forthcoming Nor should it have been; why would the peasantry consent to be eradicated? Moreover by 1929 the term 'proletarian democracy' was an oxymoron in the Soviet Union; the industrial working class made up only a small fraction of the population The rural masses were increasingly hostile to the Bolshevik regime True democracy would almost certainly have meant its dissolution In that sense Stalin could accurately claim to be acting in defense of the revolution with his strong arm tacticsWhich is not meant as a defense of Stalin of course; it merely shows the limits of those who sought to dissent from him while remaining within the framework of BolshevismDuring the height of the Ukranian genocide it was a staple of Stalinist propaganda that the kulaks' hatred of the revolution was so intense that they elected to destroy their food supplies and starve rather than feed the Soviet Union Was there any basis in reality to this outrageous claim? Deutscher writesWhile the peasants were being rapidly reduced to this state in 1929 they still took a fiercely insane plunge into dissipation In the first months of collectivization they slaughtered over 15000000 cows and oxen nearly 40000000 goats and sheep 7000000 pigs and 4000000 horses; the slaughter went on until the nation's cattle stock was brought down to less than half of what it had been pp 118For the most part even though he writes mainly from the view of party official rather than the peasant victims Deutscher has done an admirable job avoiding euphemism or excuse when discussing the violence of collectivization However the passage above makes me a bit nervous and suspicious Deutscher does not actually cite his source for this information It's uite possible something like this did actually occur but any official Bolshevik sources would have every reason to exploit the episode for propaganda purposes Bukharin our great mistake was in identifying the party with the stateTrying to make sense of Stalin's insane consolidation of power in the thirties Maybe what's surprising is that it took as long as it did for a one man autocracy rise From the start the Bolshevik regime could only survive through political repression First all other parties were banned; then throughout the twenties it became increasingly that even within the Party there was no way to handle dissent Competing factions were banned Power became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands By the late '20's the Stalinist faction was effectively the ruling party; then by the '30's it became narrower still Stalin had to head off a tendency to factionalize within his own faction So the party and by extension the state came to be identified wholly with his own person Seen from this angle perhaps even the most bizarre slanders of the terror may have had a certain logic to them There's a sense in which as he gained power he became vulnerable His power was legitimized solely by power and so just to maintain it he had to exert it ever extensively Also from this perspective Trotsky's reputation as a dissident intellectual is somewhat ironic In the aftermath of '17 he helped set the repressive political machine in motion The fact that he would eventually be one of its victims is perhaps a sign of how out of control it became than of any dissident spirit on his part Even after he was exiled the terms in which he denounced Stalin can seem surprisingly tepid For instance he still refused the idea of forming another party He was completely sincere in his commitment to the revolution and the one party system he helped create; he ended up painting himself in a corner with this commitmentOne thought by the early '30's the Soviet Union was basically in an undeclared civil war of the party or urban population against the peasantry if one hesitates at all to use the word 'war' here it's only because the use of force was so extremely one sided; to what extent can Stalin's consolidation be understood as him decreeing special 'war powers' for himself? Stalin had timed the trial to be staged just after Hitler's march into the Rhineland and shortly after the Popular Front had formed its government in France In doing so he blackmailed the labor movement and the leftist intelligentsia of the west who looked to him as their ally against Hitler pp 335One of the most mystifying episodes in xxth century intellectual history is the indulgence so many intellectuals gave to Stalin Perhaps you could say this was somewhat excusable in the early thirties when Stalin did everything possible to suppress information about the horrors of collectivization and the Ukranian genocide Yet this indulgence continued after the show trials which were of course public events No outside observer with even a mildly critical intelligence could possibly believe that the accusations at the trials were true Thus we find the unedifying spectacle of truly great minds resorting to grotesue casuistry to come up with some justification to keep supporting Stalin for instance Malraux Brecht it pains me to say this Merleau Ponty At the same time while it's easy now to excoriate this sort of thing we shouldn't forget that Europe was in a truly desperate situation by the late '30s Unfortunately it did prove to be true that Hitler could only be defeated through an alliance with Stalin The most inane statement encountered in these pages may come from George Bernard Shaw; in '37 he explained his reluctance to publicly defend Trotsky from Stalin's baseless slanderThe strength of Trotsky's case was the incredibility of the accusations against him But Trotsky spoils it all by making exactly the same sort of attacks on Stalin Now I have spent nearly three hours in Stalin's presence and have observed him with keen curiosity and I find it just as hard to believe that he is a vulgar gangster as that Trotsky is an assassin Oh yes If only both sides could acknowledge their share of the blame then we could all move forward together And note the nauseating appeal from personal experience Having once spent a few hours in Stalin's company Shaw now considers himself an expert Because of course Stalin would level with an elite cultural emissary from the west Shaw doesn't seem to consider the possibility that his visit was a highly staged propaganda coup for the Soviet Union

  2. says:

    After some searching I've actually been able to find the actual covers of the edition of Isaac Deutscher's three volume biography of Leon Trotsky I read in high school These his history of the Russian revolution and a collection of his literary essays led me by age sixteen to assert in some companies that I was a TrotskyistNow that seems naive I really didn't know much of what I was talking about and what I did know was all written from a sympathetic perspectiveTrotsky had the advantage of being exiled before the revolution entirely revolved revealing a dark underbelly of repression and coercion Deutscher definitely a sympathizer who would claim that things would have been much better had Lenin not had his strokes and had Trotsky politically defeated Stalin to his credit does not paint an entirely positive picture of his subject most notably in his treatment of Trotsky's behavior as military commander during the time of the Kronstadt mutiny Still his biography is as sympathetic as the facts which he respects allowThis criticism notwithstanding Deutscher's biography of Trotsky is an outstanding piece of work well researched and well written

  3. says:

    Wow finally finished this trilogy after investing a serious amount of time in it This last volume is the most depressing not only knowing how it ends but also seeing the Sisyphean tasks Trotsky finds himself up against Still totally worth the read so many lessons for today

  4. says:

    So far it's just about as astounding as the first two Trotsky warns Europe about the Nazis founds the fourth international Although here comes the first major disagreement I have with Mr Deutscher He didn't seem to think Trotsky should have attempted to found the fourth international It's true that the fourth international did not rise out of the same type of favorable circumanstances that the first three came out of Nonetheless it did preserve a revolutionary tradition now isn't that a funny phrase revolutionary tradition? that had died in both the second and third internationals What other option was there?

  5. says:

    The harrowing saga of an evil genius martyred by an incomparably brutal one

  6. says:

    Finally finished the book and the series Based upon it I can say Trotsky was one of the smartest people ever lived His genius was on the social side and extended from politics to arts to literature One thing that baffles me though is how Turkey and Ataturk are treated in the book Having given refuge by the Turkish government Trotsky came to Istanbul after he was expelled from Russia by Stalin As per Deutscher Trotsky was given his best accommodation arrangements in exile and was kept safe while he was in Turkey Nobody interfered with his visitors communication or affairs however Deutscher was not satisfied with all this Maybe Ataturk should have invited Trotsky to run the country? Would it make Deutscher happy?Another ingratitude comes directly from Trotsky He says Stalin should not even be compared to Hitler but to Ataturk who he considers to be at the lowest status among contemporary leaders then To this I can only say fuck you Trotsky Stalin was right to treat you how he did

  7. says:

    Before World War II Deutscher opposed Zionism as economically retrograde and harmful to the cause of international socialism but in the aftermath of the Holocaust he regretted his pre war views He argued the case for establishing Israel as a historic necessity to provide a home for the surviving Jews of Europe In the 1960s he became critical of Israel for its failure to recognise the dispossession of the Palestinians and after the Six Day War of 1967 he demanded that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories This six day wonder he commented this latest all too easy triumph of Israeli arms will be seen one day to have been a disaster for Israel itself

  8. says:

    This was Deutcher's last volume of his Trotsky trilogy Although this is the volume where his soft position towards the Stalinist Beuracracy comes to the forehis call for political reform as opposed to the Trotskyist call for political Revolution in the degenerateddeformed worker's states It is in my opinion the most interest of the three volumes Deutcher writes of the last period of Trotsky's life with incredible verve He shows Trotsky faced with exile persecution and even death fought to last second of his life and how he with the degeneration of the movement which inspired the october revolution became a symbol of that same bolshevism that led it There were many times when reading this book that one couldn't help being caught with emotion Especially how when during the great purge the Trotskyist oppositionists one after another before their execution would defiantly yell at their executioners LONG LIVE TROTSKY

  9. says:

    AWESOME BOOK AND AWESOME TRILOGY I am amazed at the research and writing style of Deutscher which is only surpassed by Trotsky himself Trotsky's insight and predictions as to what would happen in terms of Germany and Stalinism were right on Just as feudalism was followed not by Euality Liberty Fraternity but by capitalism so capitalism was being followed not by socialism but by bureaucratic collectivism Trotsky argued the USSR was still a workers state for there was no individual property and individual profit He argued against Stalin's betrayal of the revolution over his collectivization from the top down which should have been done from the bottom up It is amazing how similiar the Bolsheviks were to the Jacobins Damn Stalinthe grave digger of the revolution and his purges Long live the ideas of Lev Davidovich Trotsky

  10. says:

    Wow What an adventure It took a long while for me to finish Deutscher's epic His scholarship is indeed impressive It is dwarfed however by Trotsky's An absolutely brilliant man of genius That genius is matched by his passion his energy and his dedicationI felt a sense of overwhelming sadness as I read about his exile his isolation and his marginalization I was bewildered by the storm of ironies that dismantled his hope aspirations and dreams Revolution Counter revolution Thesis Antithesis Synthesis Power Greed Corruption Mindless bureaucracy Unintended conseuences Alas