I Wanna Be Literated #215

I Wanna Be Literated #215

Monday, 06 April 2020

Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy
Thomas M. Twiss

Leon Trotsky should be known for a lot of things, but especially for having one of the greatest rises and falls in history. Rising to revered leader of the Soviet state to globally ostracized and being brutally murdered. The man’s life can never be analyzed enough. In fact, it has been time and time again, which is what makes Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Biography such an interesting book. It’s a very specific angle into the choices the man made during a very specific time in his life. And while many consider Trotsky to be an infallible prophet (like Isaac Deutscher), Thomas Twiss takes a much more tempered and realistic approach, and I like that. One has to remember that Trotsky’s choices and predictions ended with him being disgraced (somewhat) in Mexico City with a pickaxe in his head. Something must have led to that.

I know I’m not supposed to be enjoying reading a book that’s this dry, but I just can’t help myself. I find Trotsky to be endlessly fascinating and Twiss’ book is very informative. In it, he gives Trotsky his due having correctly analyzed and predicted many events in the history of Soviet Russia, but when it comes to bureaucracy, Stalin’s forte, he really didn’t have a clue. Of course the struggle after Lenin’s death ended with Stalin on top! It’s evident that one thing that prevented Trotsky from understanding certain concepts so clearly was that he saw everything through the eyes of Marxism. Everything had to adhere to Marxist orthodoxy so he could only analyze things from a very narrow perspective. The other thing that didn’t help Trotsky much was that he was a proud man, who believe that everything could be spun into a theory, and that people would be interested in his theories. And when the one man who had your back was Lenin, you’re in deep trouble when he’s not around anymore. When his predictions didn’t come true, he would backpedal and modify his original theory to make it fit with what was happening in the Soviet Union, and the clarity in his writing suffered from that. Trotsky tried hard to comprehend what Soviet Bureaucracy meant and how it could have happened while ignoring the fact that he was responsible for it. He also obsessed over a forthcoming Thermidor that would restore Capitalism and whether the Stalinist were first rightists or ultra-leftists, and would often change his mind and adjust his theory. One can imagine how frustrating it must have been to understand what the man was getting at, and being too proud to admit his mistakes made Trotsky few friends as he fell more and more to the background.

Of course another way to look at things would be that Trotsky himself is responsible for the bureaucracy that caused his ruin, that his enforcement of the one-party system backfired when he had dissenting opinions, and that there is no real communist party or adherence to protocol, just the ideas of one man: Stalin. And that man outsmarted Trotsky. Trotsky himself couldn’t see that, and it caused his own downfall in the end, and a damn fascinating one.

Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy is certainly not for everyone, as it’s maybe too specific for most people, but if this is your cup of tea, it’s full of interesting and insightful analyses and helps give clarity into the life of a very interesting man.

Get it from Haymarket Books.

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