"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Note on Trotsky's Life on the Day of His Death

I claim no great expertise in Russian revolutionary history, and even less in the life of Trotsky. So take this for what it's worth: just a very simple note to say that, in this centenary year of the revolution, my bedtime reading has included Robert Service's fascinating Trotsky: A Biography (Belknap Press, 2011), 648pp. One of the virtues of this book is to disabuse people of the line one sometimes hears that Trotsky would have been far kinder than Stalin was, and was far less inclined to the use of mass violence. Conquest pours considerable doubt on this claim, and I am in no position to say otherwise.

It is interesting to see how, almost until the end, Trotsky seemed to expect that people would finally come around again to his views and welcome him back from, first, internal exile in Russia, and then in Turkey, France, and finally Mexico. For someone as clever as Trotsky was, and as ruthless as he could be in some circumstances, he seems in the end to be been done in repeatedly by--call it what you will--a naivete or an intellectual's overconfidence in the power of ideas combined with an over-great trust of people to put ideas before themselves, as Trotsky sometimes seems to have done. How else to explain how wantonly he would talk to just about anybody and everybody (not a few of whom were Soviet agents, as one must surely have expected), and how utterly careless he seems to have been about personal security, even after a very near-miss by assassins in Mexico before finally being done in by Ramón Mercader and his infamous ice ax in August 1940.

Robert Service has also authored biographies of the other two big men of the Russian triumvirate: Stalin: A Biography (2006); and Lenin: A Biography (2000).

I have not (yet) read either of those, and perhaps never will. Having read, about a decade ago, Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar I am not sure I have the desire to enter again into the catalogue of horrors which Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky did so much to usher in.

They ushered Soviet communism in at The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution, a book by Dominic Lieven I have just begun. It is very well done so far, linking the socioeconomic problems of the Romanov dynasty, the war, and the revolution together to show what a sprawling complex scene was to be found in the Russia of the first two decades of the twentieth century.

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