Friday, October 9, 2009

On Trotsky and the Communist Dream

Trotsky: A Biography by Robert Service is scheduled to be released on November 15, 2009. Here is the description of the book:

A reader sent me this review: It was written for the Literary Review by John Gray and entitled “Behind the Myth.” And indeed Gray presents the biography as though it had demythologized or deconstructed Trotsky. Perhaps the most interesting argument, if Gray is to be believed, is that Trotsky was every bit as ruthless as Stalin.

I do object however to Gray’s (and perhaps Service’s) referring to Trotsky as “self-deceived.” That is a rather facile description of the Communistic experience. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were true believers. They believed in the Communist utopian dream. And to call Trotsky “self-deceived” is anachronistic. We know in retrospect what he believed was false, but he didn’t know it at the time. He believed in the Communist ideal. To call him “self-deceived” implies that at some level, perhaps at the Freudian “subconscious” level, he knew Communism wasn’t going to work. I don’t believe he knew that. I’m convinced that in the early days Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin all believed the Communistic revolution was going to sweep the world. It was only as time wore on and after the attempts to apply this dream in practice had failed that idealism turned to cynicism.

Trotsky in 1936 wrote The Revolution Betrayed in which he criticized Stalin’s leading. I wouldn’t be surprised if Service’s biography inspired a resurgence of interest in The Revolution Betrayed. I might believe that “Communism” was an experiment that failed and that the failure has been demonstrated beyond all doubt, but Leftists far and wide believe that if the Russians had gotten their Revolution right (they assume it was in their power to do so), the world might be embracing Communism today instead of Liberal Democracy.

I think of Bernadette Dohrn who bemoaned the failure of the Communist Revolution and hoped, and probably still hopes, that there will be another time and that this next time they might get “The Revolution” right. Marxism-Leninism is alive and well in the minds of many Leftists in the U.S. and Europe. One of the things Service’s biography of Trotsky assures us of (it seems to me) is that had Trotsky won out over Stalin, the Russian “Communist experiment” would still have failed.

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