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The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929 Paperback – January 17, 2004
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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
“The three volumes of Isaac 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
“He has told the story more accurately and with fuller detail than ever before ... .compulsory reading for anyone interested in the history of Soviet Russia.”—A.J.P Taylor, New Statesman
“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
“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
“Deutscher is an exceedingly vivid writer with a sense of style, and a warm and understanding sympathy for his hero: this makes him a first rate biographer.”—Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Isaac Deutscher was born in 1907 near Krakow and joined the Polish Communist Party, from which he was expelled in 1932. He then moved to London where he died in 1967. His other books include Stalin and The Unfinished Revolution.
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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.
This is the second volume of Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky. This three-volume set has become the standard biography against which all other Trotsky biographies have been measured. The period of time covered in this book extends from 1921 until 1929. During this time, Trotsky was stripped of all his party and government offices and finally in 1929 was sent into exile. Thus, during this time much of Trotsky's time was taken up with writing critical assessment of the new Soviet state.
Deutscher tells it all in detail. I liked Prophet Armed better and kind of skimmed through this book but still enjoyed it.
I wanted to see just how the Trotsky elimination process happens. Did he get physically manhandled. Is he bounced off to a hard labor gulag. Is he dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by the security service? How does he react when he realizes it's all down hill from here.
Oh yes there is the contrast between "permanent revolution" and "socialism in one country". You will get all the details plus more.
See how the party bigwigs fear Trotsky in the succession process. See how they all underestimate the "grey mediocrity" (Stalin).
See how Trotsky's disobedience to Lenin's instruction to denounce Stalin at the critical party congress comes backs to haunt him.
See why Lenin "gets it" politically while Trotsky sometimes has his mind in the stratosphere.
Deutscher is easy to read. He explains the details clearly. Clearly a good book for the intellectual, the intellectual "wannabee" and just the average reader interested in the history of this revolution. You will be much better informed even if you have no prior knowledge of the Russian Revolution, etc.