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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 second volume of the trilogy first published in 1959 is a self contained account of the great struggle between Stalin and Trotsky that followed the end of the civil war in Russia in 1921 and the death of Lenin From the narrative of Trostsky's uncompromising opposition to Stalin's policies emerge character studies of the important Soviet leaders; a brilliant portrait of Trotsky the man of ideas the Marxist philosopher and literary critic; and a new assessment of the causes of defeat which led to his expulsion from the party his exile and his banishment from Russia

10 thoughts on “The Prophet Unarmed Trotsky 1921 29

  1. says:

    I came away with five things from the second volume of Isaac Deutscher’s incomparable Trotsky biography The Prophet Unarmed Some of these thoughts are new to me some of them are solidifications of ideas or opinions I already had but they are what I leave this book with and I think worth sharing5 Stalin destroyed the promise of Engels Marx and Lenin He stained communism And he provided capitalism with the ugliness it needed to vilify communism in the minds of their own potentially dangerous proletarian ranks His need for power the way he achieved it his authoritarianism none of these things a feature of genuine communism all came to represent communism in the minds of the capitalist west Stalin’s very existence was capitalism’s best propaganda tool against communism And this man who was neither a Bolshevik nor a true Communist remains the best tool to this day with neo Stalinists Mao and Pol Pot a close second and third4 The US England and their European lackeys should be ashamed of themselves as usual because it would have been vastly difficult if not impossible for Stalin to have achieved power if it weren’t for their meddling in the earliest days of the Soviet Union Arms and advisors sent to the White Guard during the Civil War isolationist policies boycotts etc etc worsened already terrible conditions in post Tsarist Russia forcing the early Bolsheviks into compromising their principles to ensure survival and once those principles were compromised the situation became easier and easier for Stalin to manipulate While the west’s support of the counter revolution failed in the short term it certainly succeeded in condemning the Soviet Union to totalitarianism in the long term3 The methods tactics and controls of Stalinism are not all that different from contemporary North America Our right wing engages in fear mongering disinformation media manipulation vilification of dissenters purges and claims to moral superiority and historical loyalty; they’re tactics are so commonplace as to be almost unnoticeable to everyday citizens Worse still our left is as apathetic and conciliatory as most of the Left Opposition that Trotsky tried in vain to rally in his day Our liberals clamour on about how “nice and polite and correct” they are about how “stupid and racist and misogynistic” the right is but they’ve not learned the lesson that their “enlightenment” is a minority “enlightenment” that can only be turned into a majority “enlightenment” through hard work and a conscious effort to negate their tendency to condescension History repeating itself Again 2 Trotsky was a great man Some can be great revolutionaries Some can be great thinkers Some can be great leaders Some can be great diplomats Some can be great warriors Some can be great writers Some can be great winners Some can be great losers Some can live great lives Some can die great deaths But very few can be and do all of them in their lifetime Trotsky was great at every single one In the annals of socialism only Marx and Lenin can match him although Engels and Che surely deserve honourable mentions The hatchet to the brain was a great loss to us all1 Communism can’t succeed Not because of any bullshit about the superiority of capitalism Not because communism is “inherently evil” as ultra capitalists would have us believe Not even because it is “unworkable” Communism can’t succeed because it hard fucking work To be a communist to create a communist society everyone must be dedicated to selflessness to hard work to action to trust to reason to each other But most humans are too selfish too apathetic too untrusting too unreasonable too lazy to achieve the reuirements of communism and so communism must failBut I’ve a crappy lance a skinny horse and a world full of windmills so I’ll keep fighting

  2. says:

    This was as great as expected recommended from a generation of writers and thinkers who cut their teeth on this one It is not really a biography but historical drama with politics as its focus and Trotsky the main star It would be a mistake to avoid this feeling that you need to have a position on communism It is not necessary; at every step of the way Deutscher pitches his story at the level of monumental stakes where millions of lives are concerned and how one brilliant man came to terms trying to define those stakes to lead his people a certain way It is the thinking man who is the prophet not the one who may or may have not got things right about the 20th century Hitchens had a good line about why Trotsky survives as a figurehead whereas others were localized before they were defeated He credits Deutscher as a Talmudic scholar and a Marxist polymath On both Deutscher pauses halfway in to address Trotsky's JewishnessAs a rule the progressive or revolutionary Jew brought up on the border lines of various religions and national cultures whether Spinoza or Marx Heine or Freud Rosa Luxemburg or Trotsky was particularly apt to transcend in his mind religious and national limitations and to identify himself with a universal view of mankind He was therefore also peculiarly vulnerable whenever either religious fanaticisms or nationalist emotions ran high Spinoza and Marx Heine and Freud Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky all suffered excommunication exile and moral or physical assassination; and the writings of all were burned at the stake Excellent uote but you would think the revolutionary Jew from Nazareth should at least get a nod?There is way too much to even begin to summarize whether coming to terms with an absurdity like inner party democracy or in trying to imagine who you would favor the working class or the wealthy peasantry The bourgeoisie actually have their uses which was one of the pleasant surprises of this book What explains Trotsky's failure to seize power after Lenin died? The plot is exceptionally thick and what you won't get is Hamlet like explanations for why not By contrast I dipped into the Robert Service biography and in five minutes of browsing was told outright that Trotsky is a murderer and that one time in the early 1920s he looked the other way from his wife If you need to feel superior than your subject then Deutscher's is not the one for you But if you're into a person whose cultural and educational philosophy is against half knowledge and semi competence p 141 2 and who surprisingly didn't favor abusive language please give this one a go

  3. says:

    Reading The Prophet Unarmed is a bit like watching a horror movie in which the protagonist a man taking his family on vacation continues to drive down an ominous country road despite repeated warnings that a dangerous madman may be on the loose You want to scream at the screen What the fuck are you doing man? Don't you know he's going to kill you He's going to kill ALL of youWhile reading Deutscher's excellent biography it's important to keep in mind that the personal tragedy of Leon Trotsky is by no means a synecdoche for the much broader tragedy that befell the Soviet Union under Stalin Trotsky was expelled from the party and exiled over a series of fairly scholastic debates within Marxism Stalin would then adopt many of Trotksy's ideas as his own Throughout the twenties Trotsky not Stalin was the strongest advocate of rapid industrialization and class war against the kulaks These were the policies that would lead to genocide in the thirties Perhaps if he'd been the one in power Trotsky would have tried to carry them out in a less brutal fashion Still the policies themselves were inherently brutal It's not really possible to non violently destroy a society Deutscher is obviously sympathetic to Trotksy and the revolution to which he dedicated his life This puts him in a somewhat awkward position vis a vis Stalin While he laments the terror Deutscher is unable to condemn categorically the convulsions to which Stalin subjected his country in the '30s The rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union led to unspeakable horrors to millions and millions of people At the same time it also transformed it from a primitive backwater to a modern society with mass literacy and eventually a higher standard of living Moreover if it weren't for this transformation the Soviet Union very likely could not have defeated Hitler in the second World War Is it possible to separate these two aspects the terror and misery from eventual improvement? or were they indivisible parts of a single process? To ask these uestions is to enter into a morally ueasy position Nonetheless I fear that such ueasiness is what intellectual honesty demands

  4. says:

    As riveting as a biography can get Deutscher bests his effort in The Prophet Armed by sympathetically giving Trotsky his due without prostrating himself before the revolutionary's legacy He manages to frankly address Trotsky's inconsistencies and shortcomings both as a political theorist and as a man while also extolling his many virtues This balance allows the reader to comfortably come to their own conclusion about Trotsky's most turbulent period feeling that they are evaluating a three dimensional person not some biographer's slanted viewAs far as the 'narrative' goes it is detailed without bogging down involved in political theory without reading like a primer on Trotskyism and generally very well written This was a fascinating period of an incredible man's life and one can profoundly feel the gravitas of the spiraling situation as well as the ferociously powerful intellect of the book's subject through Deutscher's excellent writing styleMore than The Prophet Armed which was largely straightforward linear 'storytelling' this book called for incredible nuance and consideration from the author Deutscher pulls it off with aplomb Trotsky's fall from favor is without exaggeration the most tragic true story you will ever read simply because of what was at stake In The Prophet Unarmed the reader lives that tragedy in all its heart rending misery Highly highly recommended biography

  5. says:

    The Prophet Unarmed Trotsky 1921 1929This is the middle volume of Isaac Deautscher's magisterial political biography a fascinating account of ideology vs Realpolitik Trotsky was by my lights an evil genius considering the system he had a hand in creating who got creamed by an incomparably brutal evil genius –and thus becomes a sympathetic figure Stalin was no aberration; the revolution was not betrayed it just devoured its own Dated of course but for that very reason it remains trenchant nearly two decades after the downfall of the USSR

  6. says:

    In 1984 when I and Linda Harrington went to visit Mother and her new husband Egil we stayed for a while at their home on a mountain lake north of Oslo Hilly farm country she told me that there was still one farmer up there who remembered when Leon Trotsky lived briefly in the area during his exile from the Soviet Union after Turkey and before Mexico At my insistence she introduced me to the fellow their neighbor but his English and my Norwegian were so bad that not much was exchanged beyond a confirmation of her story and a lot of smiles

  7. says:

    I continue to be amazed at how well written and fascinating this biography of Trotsky isEven the relatively tedious details of variouspolitical differences are made interesting andimportant in this life I have to find other biographical works by the authorscholar when I've finished this trilogy

  8. says:

    This was harder to get through than The Prophet Armed which is to be expected given that the story of a revolution should probably have exciting set pieces than internal policy debates That being said it's still highly readable and I'm so glad that I'm taking the time needed to read a 3 volume biography of one man's life

  9. says:

    This was the really decisive period in the battle for the soul of socialism and Deutscher does a spendid job of navigating the changing alliances and balance of power that began in the year before Lenin's death and ended with Trotsky's final exile from the Soviet UnionWith hindsight it is hard to see how Trotsky could have permitted Stalin to take absolute power He was warned by Lenin and Lenin provided him with his testament which if Trotsky had revealed it to the Bolshevik Central Committee as Lenin had reuested would have put Stalin out of the picture permanently But Trotsky for reasons that are really unclear didn't reveal the testament and entered into compromises with Stalin; and failed to fight back when Stalin began to attack Trotsky and the left opposition even when it was clear that it had become a struggle for the future of the party and the socialist state It is just incomprehensibleIt is hard not to wonder whether socialism could have taken a different course had Trotsky forced Stalin's ouster I think it is possible and that it is possible that the course of 20th century history would have been very different if he had done soDespite the terrible outcomes and the bitter struggle described in this book it is a pleasure to read Deutscher knew many of the principals personally and shows a deep knowledge and understanding of the complex dynamics of that period Even so than in The Prophet Armed Deutscher carries you through all the complexities while never losing the main threadsThis is history as it should be written

  10. says:

    a lot of problems with the previous volume reassert themselves to a greater extent zinoviev and kamenev are referred to as thugs all members of the left opposition are metropolitan legends like our man this all would obviously be to its detriment if stalinism had loads to recommend it bits which suggests trotsky saw where theoretical physics or contemporary environmentalism was going are symptomatic