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The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929 Paperback – 25 Nov 2003
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"In the 1930s, Trotsky, with a handful of followers, attempted to block the path of Stalin's relentless hurricane of betrayal and murder. His epic defence of the soul of the Revolution against its bureaucratic executioners was a torchlight in the storm. In one of the very greatest modern biographies, Isaac Deutscher redeems the legacy of this astonishing revolutionary and humanist thinker." -- Mike Davis "This is the critical voice the velvet revolution faded out. The republication of Deutscher's classic trilogy is good news for a new generation who want to know what went wrong with communist-style socialism." -- Sheila Rowbotham ""He has told the story more accurately and with fuller detail than ever before. His book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in the history of Soviet Russia and of international communism."" -- A.J.P. Taylor ""Mr. Deutscher is an exceedingly vivid writer with a sense of style, and a warm understanding sympathy for his hero; this makes him a first rate biographer."" -- Times Literary Supplement ""The three volumes of Deutscher's life of Trotsky ... were for me the most exciting reading of the year. Surely this must be counted among the greatest biographies in the English language."" -- Graham Greene
Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused as much passion and controversy as the Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Trotsky's extraordinary life and extensive writings have left and indelible mark on revolutionary conscience; and yet there was at one time a danger that his name would disappear altogether from history. Isaac Deutscher's magisterial three-volume biography was the first major publication to counter the powerful Stalinist propaganda machine, and in this definitive work Trotsky emerges as the most heroic, and ultimately tragic, character of the Russian Revolution. This 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 Trotsky'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 the literary critic; and a new assessment of the causes of defeat which led to his expulsion from the part, his exile, and his 1929 banishment from Russia.See all Product description
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It's also a fairly searing critique of Trotsky and all his missed opportunities to halt the rise of Stalin, the "gravedigger of the Revolution".
Deutscher subtly weaves the internal political, social and economic issues in Russia, the international situation, especially the Chinese Revolution, with the politics internal to the Communist Party in the USSR and how these conflicts worked upon each other and on the power struggles within the party.
My only criticism would be that Deutscher, like Trotsky, believed that if property remained state owned then it was not capitalist and that the bureaucracy did not constitute a social class. This leads Deutscher to give the impression that he believes that Stalin was always striving for dictatorship rather than, like other protagonists, responding to events. But this is minor.
This is one of the best books, never mind one of the best history books, ever written.
I suppose it helps if you are sympathetic to the subject and unfortunately for Trotsky the book will probably only be read by sympathisers or the dwindling band of adherents to the ogre Stalin. The books provide a detailed study of one the greatest men of the 20th century from his early life, his inner struggle with his political direction before joining the Bolsheviks and his ultimate downfall and eventual murder. It speaks volumes that the assassin was rewarded by Khrushchev in 1961, when the Soviet government was apparently busily distancing itself from Stalin's crimes, though of course the paradox was that those then in power had been complicit in and were products of Stalin's regime. And there lies the problem for Trotsky the organiser of the revolution and the creator of the Red Army; in capitalist Russia, the descendants of the state created by Stalin such as Putin and the criminal oligarchs have no interest in restoring the reputation and publicising the role of the man who tore down the very system they now exploit for their own benefit. Few in the capitalist west have any desire to once again elevate the most brilliant and trenchant critic of capitalism, at a time when a figure like Trotsky is so desperately needed. And so he remains a figure unknown to hundreds of millions of his countrymen, and reviled and now a mere pejorative "Trot" used by the right wing capitalist press, most probably without any clue as to the derivation of the term.
This is no hagiography, it is a historical biography and Deutscher, whilst obviously sympathetic, provides many examples of the defects of character Trotsky evidently displayed; he is highly critical of his creation of the 4th International, indeed Deutscher drafted the condemnation for the Polish delegation opposing its creation as superfluous. Whilst Trotsky may have a charismatic speaker and genius of Marxist interpretation he was almost wilfully blind to the basic lust for power displayed by Stalin, and hamstrung himself until it was far too late by adhering to the party strictures on not criticising the Bolshevik party in public; he also had the opportunity to remove Stalin from power before he had accumulated the enormous panoply of state apparatus and created his legions of bureaucrats who owed their position to his patronage.
Deutscher describes in vivid, enlightening prose the terrible errors of Stalin in the 30's as his ludicrous policy against Social Fascism helped the Nazis to consolidate power and condemned Spain to decades of Fascist rule. One of the great ironies is that during their many wartime discussions Churchill that arch hypocrite and political opportunist sat with Stalin as he described forced collectivisation and the death of millions of peasants and kulaks, and Churchill had earlier described Trotsky as the ogre of Europe!
I can't recommend this trilogy more highly, 5 stars doesn't do this wonderful read justice; it's inspiring, thrilling but ultimately saddening. It is the crowning achievement by a masterful biographer.
This section chronicles the Decline and fall of Trotsky after his success in the Civil war, and in doing so charts the degeneration of the Soviet Socialist Revolution. For those willing to understand the tragedy of the Russian Revolution, here is definatly the place to start.
In this respect the volume stands alone quite well, but it is probably better to read it with the other two, (and Deutschers books on Stalin and Lenin) for a more rounded panoramic picture.
Also highly reccomended for anyone who has read Trotsky's auto-biography and wants to fill in the gaps.
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Exactly because of that, I've to complain about the quality of this new Verso edition. Typos abound; the cover is good, but the paper used for the regular pages is of low quality - a highly absorbing, and I suppose perhaps of high acidity, variety of paper, something I discovered when my copy was exposed to humidity and became soaked like a sponge. Also, there lacks and introductory essay and a glossary. Frankly, I think Verso should value more having this work in its publishing list.
Also, what happened in America starting in 1776 was all about a recognition that every one should and must have rights for certain freedoms. These freedoms were addressed institutionally in very insightful ways in legal documents such as the Bill of Rights. However, other very profound human rights were also thouougly buried by the Ameican Revolution. The American revoution had less than nothing to say about any economic human rights. It may have taken firm measures against Monarchy and Aristocracy, but it savagely denied other fundamental human rights. For sure, our forefathers framed the rights of slave holders in our highest legal document, our Constitution, making certain that great numbers of our population would have no rights beyond being slave owners' property. In fact, the Constitution gave more power to slave holding states (the three-fifths provision, that made sure the slave holders would have power greater than their numbers, and would be granted, by state apportionment, for Presidential and Congressional elections would have increased power, including institutional power for the slave states as oppressors, directly over the people they oppressed (Gary Wills wrote an excellent book on the subject, The Negro President is). Also the Revolution did less than nothing to challenge great invisible legal institutions that kept ordinary working classes of people, women, and the native Americans at the very bottom, in many ways just a little above the slaves. To illustrate this great invisable but deep rooted customary law, no womean voted in America until almost 90 years after the Constitution was adopted, but the Constitution had no actual restiction against women voting. Also, there was no federally recognized labor law where workers had even the right to elect their own union representatives until the year Franlin Roosevelt was elected President, and there was no national labor law providing that employers had to recognize these labor unions, their right to collective bargaining, or the right to stike. This was after FDR became President, and well sfter the Russian Revolution. No wonder that so many workers wanted a workers revolution, and no wonder Marx exhorted workers to 'Unite' and 'You have nothing to lose but your chains'
I am not saying that the American Revolution was worthless, as some do. It gave us some starting point to work from, and so many of the words of the Revolution either implied or spoke directly about great universal rights. It gave great number of Americans in the next 200 years good causes to fight for. Not everything was inspired by the American Revolution. Some of it was inspired by Marx and Engles, some of it by their followers, by Anarchists, and also by the Russian Revolutionaries.
Starting after the first third of the 19th Century, other Revolutionaries started writing about planning movements for deeper universal rights, and Marx was of great leaders and the Communist Manifesto and Das Capital among the great documents. If we are to think about Marxism being deeply flawed,as some peple write in these book reviews, the American Revolution was deeply flawed as well. It seems to me that the Communist Revolutionary thinkers were less flawed, or at least flawed in a different way. The Communist flaw was it was such a vast revolution and tyrants or people who were for seizing their own power were able to take it over. There is one other great event, in particular, the ones who were to be the Russian Revolutionaries opposed, World War I. People who believed in the International working class gaining their rights through International solidarity should oppose the wars of Capitalist Counties. They should not allow themselves to be payed against each other. Too many other socialists abandoned this completely.
I am sympathetic to the orignial October 1917 Revolution. It certainly was not perfect, and if you read this book, you will see the circumstances were catastrophic. There was a great war and then a great civil war, and economic conditions became catastrophic. Russia's Industry, for many years was no more than 20% of what it was before war (under the Czar) and none of the Capitalist countries would do anything for Communist Russia, except let the Russians starve. Trotsky, in 1923 or 1924 cleverly initiated the Rappallo Treaty with Germany, that helped Russia make economic gains and Germany to get around the Versailles Treaty and make some military gains. I would guess this is the origin of Stalin's big lie about Trotsky having alliance with the Nazis. It was in fact Trotsky and his following who fought for a popular front against the Nazis in the early 1930's, who alone among Communists fought for an alliance with reform scialist parties to keep keep the Nazis from coming to power.
Deutscher's three part biography of Trotsky tells the story of the Revolution and the Bolshevik leaders, Trotsky especially, very well. It tells the story of the working people's Revolution very well, and it gives an exceptional description of many of the leading actors. It also tells of Trotsky, who becomes the great Communist opponent of the the great tyranny that overtook the revolution. Trotsky is an outstanding leader in so many ways, a great intellectual,possesed of tremendous energy, and a man who respected the arts as a great human accomplishment, that has its own life, that revolutionaries should not command over or suppress. he was also the leader who doesn't have some of the manipulative leadership skills and who loses even though he is deeply respected by so many and therefore feared by others. However he loses without losing his character. At least in Deutscher's telling of the story, he is a heroic figure who understands what is happening, advises his followers not to surrender their their own convictions, never to falsely recant them to gain some sort of reinstatment. He is a prophet, against tryanny and totalitarianism. He is a prophet about former leaders who would later recant so much that they finally would be so reduced to confess to anything they are asked to, leading to their executions as traitors. He is all of this as well as a Communist Revolutionary to the end of his life. In this book and the earlier Deutscher book on Trotsky, we get good pictues of leaders like Lenin, Zinoviev and Bhukarin. These were certainly not perfect men, and the early Russian Revolution was not perfect. It was bloody, but there were also good intentions and strong leadership, but it was clear that Lenin, in many respects authoritarian, was never going to be a totalitarian. He was forever valuing different points of view and looking for leaders who could add to the dialog and could help work problems out. Trotsky, when he got together with Zinoviev and Kamenev, his former accusers, who had wanted to remove him from the Party when Stalin did not yet want to, to form the last major opposition, in 1926, based his oppostion on three major elements. He wanted to open up the country so that ordinary people could have the respect and right to independent input to policy. He wanted the broad Communist party and not the tens or hundreds of leaders at the top to be brought into the decision making process (he did not want the broad population just to be obedient, and certainly not to surrender their own convictions), and he wanted the Communist International to not serve Russia's national purposes but to work internationally,to help build and protect Communist parties around the world, and to have much of the decision making decentralized to serve actual international purposes, especially to keep foreign Communist parties from being sacrificed to treacherous non communist parties, such as what happened in China in 1927.
To give the reader an idea about the larger picure, and about Trotsky, there never can be real Socialism in one backwards country, especially one that is in horrible condition economically. It takes a great and powerful economy for everybody to have enough to have the sort of equality the socialism requires to exist. Otherwise you have all the inequalities that come with an impovershed country. Trotsky was for heavy industrial develpment and the public sector economy and against doing this with great violent purges. Stalin changed course and toward the oppositions ideas on the economy, but not how to do it, in a ruthless violent way. Bukharin got word out to the opposition that Stalin was tyrant who would murder them all, and Trotsky urged his followers to side with Bukharin first for what Bukharin at least for what Bukharin was appealing. By this time it was too late. It was established that Trosky, he would have not been the great murderous tyrant. It does not appear the others who were acting with him would have been either, but it was too late for all of them. What other than this seems to be true. if trotsky and his allies had succeeded, I suspect that the Capitalist rest of the world likely would have hated, feared and demonized him much more that it did the living Stalin because Trotsky was the real revolutionary. By supporting revolutinary activity in the industrialized capitalist countries, while he would have likely been the the precursor to Socialism with a human face, he would have certainly caused a much greater reaction from our part of the World.
I confess that so far have only read The first two of the books by Deutscher and Trotsky's own book, 'the Revolution betrayed', and I have much to read to know as much as I would like to.
One other thing, the binding on the newer paperback Deutscher books is terrible. I am fortunate someone is publishing it,but the pages fall out from the binding as you read them. The only partial protection is to protect pages you have read the by extending heavy outside flaps that can wrap around the sections you have read and can wrap aound the last part of the book, that also begins to fall apart before you read it. One other thing: I also have some doubt of the source of the two books I have read. Trotsky was a very prolific writer who also kept detailed jounals of his life and of party meetings, included executive sessions. There are a number of important events where we only have Trotsky's account. A large part if what happened during the 1905 St.Peterburg revolution (the Prophet Armed), for instance especially of the trial afterward may be from Trotsky alone. Much of the story is crossed sourced, and much is Trotsky's own personal account. Much of the story Duetscher presents is shared and known history. Deutscher is an excellent story teller, and there was no way I could have abandoned these two books in the middle.
While not under Trotsky's rule, a good study for academics is the Holodomor, the Soviet State's completely engineered and executed mass starvation of millions of Ukrainians when they were standing up to the Communists in that great "countryside". The Petty Bourgeoisie didn't know who they were messing with! It is claimed on the web that Trotsky joked that people would know when they were starving when they were eating their own children's dead bodies to survive. This is precisely what occurred during the forced starvation of the Holomodor, though, again, under Stalin's rule, not Trotsky's. Nonetheless, similar horrors and wholesale butchery and torture of civilian men, woman and children went on just as much under Lenin and Trotsky's post revolution watch. Under Trotsky, tens of millions of Russians lost their lives. The "Revolution of the People" turned into a bloodbath of the people, -the people the revolutionaries hated. Communism in the 20th century has caused the deaths of roughly 100 million of the people living within the countries that Communist governments ruled. It's called "democide". The number 100,000,000 can be daunting to grasp, (a bit like the U.S. "National Debt"), so some have used the sports stadium metaphor: Yankee Stadium holds roughly 50,000 people, so Communism has put (at least) roughly 2000 fully packed Yankee Stadiums of human beings "six feet under" in the last century, the murder victims of their own Communist governments! Whatever Russia would have become under Trotsky, had he beaten Stalin, it wouldn't have been good for the Russian people, unless they were those "blessed" by the Party. And yes, after everyone has been bludgeoned into submission over the decades, things become less atrocious. But it's still never able to survive in it's "pure" form, which is a fairy tale for the masses, Communism doesn't deliver on its goals. For more info on Trotsky and the truth about the very roots of Communism, check out "Under the Sign of The Scorpion", -available here on Amazon!