Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionaryís Life By Joshua Rubenstein, Yale, $25
Like Oedipus in Greece and Karna in India, Leon Trotsky was chased by destiny to his destruction. The revolution, which he made and to which he remained committed, even after the revolutionary regime under Joseph Stalin had expelled him from Russia, devastated his life and ultimately killed him.
Joshua Rubensteinís biography goes over familiar territory with great lucidity but his reconstruction of Trotskyís life and career is different from the two standard ways in which Trotskyís life has hitherto been viewed. Orthodox and party driven commentators, brainwashed by Stalinís lies and propaganda, have depicted Trotsky as the epitome of evil ó a renegade who was opposed to the Soviet regime. Such was the power of this orthodoxy that as good a historian as Christopher Hill, while a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, wrote an account of the Russian revolution completely omitting Trotskyís role in it.
This view was challenged by Isaac Deutscher in his monumental three-volume biography of his hero. Rich in detail and beautifully written, Deutscherís biography was justificatory in tone. Trotsky, as the title of Deutscherís three volumes suggested was the prophet ó first armed, then unarmed and finally outcast.
Rubenstein scrupulously avoids Stalinist denunciation and Deutscherís hero worship. The result is an even-handed book that brings out the role that Trotsky played in the making of the Russian revolution and in establishing the revolutionary regime. It also highlights how Trotsky was the victim of the instruments of terror that he helped create.
With Lenin, Trotsky was the architect of the revolution in Russia. He was also the voice of the revolution speaking at every crisis the new regime faced. Like Lenin and Stalin, he was ruthless in his use of terror against those he saw to be enemies of the revolution. This was the supreme irony of his life: the violent methods that he had used against enemies pursued him relentlessly when he was declared by Stalin to be an enemy of the Soviet state.
Trotsky was a fanatic and a proud one. He died as a victim of Stalin, a monster who made fanaticism into a violent art. Trotsky and Stalin were made from the same clay of fanaticism. They complemented each other.