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This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Paperback)
An even-handed biography on Trotsky was always going to be difficult and a long-time coming, and I think Robert Service does very well here.
Being exiled from the Soviet Union before the horrors of Stalin's rule, plus the fact that Trotsky was then free to criticize the approach taken by the leaders after he left (without having to deal with the practicalities himself) as well as being an excellent writer himself, means that Trotsky has definitely been viewed with rose-tinted spectacles in the West (while demonised in the USSR, which only added to his reputation elsewhere).
This biography brings out his strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side were the way he ran the Red Army during the civil war and his key role (equal in many ways with Lenin) in making the revolution happen. This was all done with a selfless commitment which mean that it never seems to have occurred to him to shape the Red Army to be an instrument to allow him to take personal control, or to build a serious faction in the party. The flip side was that he was careless in the way he dealt with others, making cutting criticisms without realising that he was creating enemies. Also he was every bit as ruthless as Stalin and Lenin, e.g. during the Civil War Trotsky was willing to use savage repression to consolidate Bolshevik rule.
The difference this book shows between him and Stalin is that Stalin was very much the organizational player, patiently building up a network of support against Trotsky until he could be edged out, then doing the same with Bukharin, until eventually Stalin was unchallenged as ruler.
So this book left me feeling I had a much better overall understanding of Trotsky, and why he was able to achieve his successes but then suffered his downfall.
It's also fascinating to read some of the negative reviews here and to see that there are still some who find any criticism of Trotsky unacceptable. Ignore them and if you have an open mind and are interested in the Russian Revolution, this is well worth reading.
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Initial post: 11 Feb 2012 22:28:03 GMT
Martin J. White says:
XTR - contrary to your opinion, Robert Service's book, which is being more and more widely discredited in the very academic circles from which Service derives his authority, is by no means an 'even-handed' biography. Indeed, the growing criticism of the book amongst Service's fellow academics derives precisely from the fact that his book is a biased, malicious piece of hack work, poorly-researched and poorly edited. The issue is NOT that any criticism of Trotsky is unacceptable, but why Service makes so many assertions that he cannot support with credible references - why the book contains so many simple errors of fact - and why such a slovenly piece of work was published, without proper peer-review, by two of the world's leading academic publishers.
Posted on 9 Nov 2013 07:35:48 GMT
Baraniecki Mark Stuart says:
Basically I agree with you but have to question you statement that a positive side of Trotsky was his "making the revolution happen".
There is an undercurrent in many of these reviews that the Bolshevik revolution was somehow a good thing. In reality the non-Bolshevik revolutionaries were preparing a national Constitutional Convention with a free vote and all Russians represented. This was a truly democratic project that was violently hijacked by the Bolsheviks when they saw that they were going to lose (only 17% supported them).
Trotsky and Zinoviev were at the heart of the street violence against anyone who opposed them. In a book that almost no one has read, Russia from the American Embassy April, 1916 November 1918 the American ambassador gave a day by day account of the Bolshevik coup and the foul nature of both of these anti-democratic gangsters. Along with Lenin they were shouting that all opponents must immediately be killed.
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