October 17, 2011
INTELLECTUAL, NOT JEWISH:Trotsky the Jew: Joshua Rubenstein's new biography obscures the Russian revolutionary's violent extremism while overemphasizing his Jewishness (Richard Pipes, October 17, 2011, Tablet)
The book adds little that is new to the existing literature, and it has some strange omissions. Trotsky's role in the Civil War during which he commanded the Red Army--arguably his main contribution to the Bolshevik cause--is disposed of in a few cursory pages. I also found strange the author's offhand assertion that under the Bolsheviks "the proletariat had succeeded in gaining control of the government." Where and when? The workers had next to no influence on the policies of the Soviet government, which were managed by intellectuals.Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2011 4:36 PM
In view of the murderous paranoia of Stalin, it is tempting to gloss over Trotsky's own ruthlessness and to depict him as a humane counterpart to his rival. This is quite unwarranted. Without a question, Trotsky was better-educated than Stalin and was altogether a more cultivated human being. But his radicalism was not much different than Stalin's. Rubenstein cites a statement by Trotsky as the motto of his book: "Nothing great has been accomplished in history without fanaticism." Really? In art, in science, in economics? In fact, fanaticism, which is uncritical belief in something, has always obstructed true accomplishment.
Let us scrutinize briefly Trotsky's views on such key issues as forced labor, terror, and concentration camps--the outstanding features of the Stalinist regime. On forced labor, Trotsky had this to say in 1921:
It is said that compulsory labor is unproductive. This means that the whole socialist economy is doomed to be scrapped, because there is no other way of attaining socialism except through the command allocation of the entire labor force by the economic center, the allocation of that force in accord with the needs of a nation-wide economic plan.
I imagine that if Stalin was present at the Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, at which Trotsky made these remarks, he must have nodded in agreement. In view of Trotsky's own sentiments, it is likely that if he had succeeded Lenin, we would have witnessed in the Soviet Union much the same oppression of labor as he did under Stalin.
Trotsky had no qualms about introducing into Soviet Russia political terror. Barely two months after the Bolsheviks had seized power, he said:
There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class. This is its right. You are indignant ... at the petty terror which we direct at our class opponents. But be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms, on the model of the great revolutionaries of France. Our enemies will face not prison but the guillotine.
He defined the guillotine (plagiarizing the French revolutionary Jacques Hébert) as a device that "shortens a man by the length of a head." This grisly remark, incidentally, is cited by Rubenstein.
Trotsky demonstrated that this was not empty rhetoric during the rebellion at the Kronshtadt naval base in February 1921.