Having read a year or two ago Issac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, I decided a few weeks ago to get myself a copy of My Life – Trotsky’s autobiography up to 1930.
There are several important differences between Deutscher’s biography and My Life. The first is obviously that My Life doesn’t cover the last ten years of Trotsky’s life. The second and much more important for myself is the different purposes to which they are being written – Deutscher is trying to understand Trotsky’s life from his own position many years later, whilst My Life is an exposition in opposition to the Stalinist slanders that had seen him expelled from Soviet Russia. There are several ways this shows through. Firstly is the constant reference that is made to Lenin at many points, as it was necessary for Trotsky to explain his relationship with Lenin in opposition to accusations about his ‘non-Bolshevik’ past. Secondly are comments on the background of the Stalinist caste at the time of Trotsky’s expulsion, this is not done for the purpose of point scoring, but to contrast them to Trotsky and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.
I don’t know how much point there is in going into the details of Trotsky’s life – most famously he was the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet at points in both the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolution, the creator of the Red Army. This isn’t to mention the theoretical advances of the Permanent Revolution and the characterisation of the degeneration of Soviet Russia. It’s impossible to do justice to his life here, I’d much prefer to recommend people to read the book to understand for themselves.
But just one last point. In relation to the posts I’ve had on here in relation to human rights I think the last chapter of this book ‘A Planet Without a Visa’ is quite interesting. It tells us of how although the right to asylum formally existed in the countries of Western Europe, the chapter shows how every one of these countries found ways of denying him this ‘right’. I think this illustrates how although rights may exist on paper, the balance of class forces at any one time determines how ‘real’ these rights are.
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