I picked this book up second hand as it gave me the opportunity to study the Russian ‘civl war’ just after the Russian revolution. It also gave me the opportunity to compare the repression meted out by both sides during this time too.
The book itself is a defence of the Bolshevik’s attitude towards Georgia. The country had seceded from the Russian Federation in early 1918 (it ceded as part of Trans-Caucasia, which then split apart) under the leadership of the Menshevik who retained there a capitalist state. Subsequently, the Menshevik rulers sought support from the West and ended up supporting indirectly the war of intervention against Russia. Eventually after trying to live side by side, Russia was forced to invade to stop the continual attacks on itself. Throughout this whole period the remnants of the 2nd International supported Georgia as a ‘true’ socialist state against Bolshevik Russia – glossing over a whole load of unsavoury facts, which Trotsky exposes skilfully using the Menshevik’s own documents.
In interesting thing for me from a criminological perspective however is how Trotsky defends Russian actions in this situation. Unlike many human rights activists today, he acknowledges that rights depend on material factors; the conditions already existing somewhere limit them. In this instance, it is not a question of declaring universal rights for all time, but in trying to act in a manner that upholds the rights of as many people as possible. It is no good just having rights for one individual or small group when this means that the rights of many more are quashed.
To give an example from the book, discussing the famine on the Volga, Trotsky says, “In its present form of unprecedented calamity, this famine, at least half of it, is a result of the civil war raised on the Volga by the Czechoslovaks and Kolchak, that is, by the Anglo-American anf French capital which organised and sustained it. This drought fell upon a soil that had been already exhausted and ruined, denuded of working cattle, machinery and other stock. We, on the other hand, have cast into gaol some officers and lawyers (which we by no means hold up as an example of humanitarianism), and bourgeois Europe and America attempted then to picture the whole of Russia, with its hundred million inhabitants, as a vast hunger-prison. They encircled us with a wall of blockade, while their hired White Guard agents applied the bomb and torch to the destruction of our scanty supplies. If there is anyone who handles scales of pure morality, let him weigh up the severe measures that we are compelled to adopt in our life and death struggle against the whole world…”
And this is not the only example Trotsky gives like this. All in all, this book is well worth the read, even 85 years after it was written.