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November 6, 2009

Sorry, but Trotsky was a Totalitarian too.

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 5:36 pm

521px-TrotskySlayingtheDragon1918So establishes the new biography by Robert Service (no, not the English-Canadian poet), reviewed here by John Gray. Trotsky, idol of the 20th-century western literati, favored repression of political dissidents and political correctness in culture. There is little evidence that he would have been less tyrannical than Stalin at the helm of the Soviet Union. Gray writes,

. . . along with Lenin he had created the system that Stalin inherited and used for ends with which Trotsky generally sympathised.

And of course he helped give us the neocons. The question is what this all says about the western literati that held him up as a paragon, a veritable secular saint. In my more cynical moments I fear intellectuals are inveterate worshipers of power. But this doesn’t explain why the exiled Trotsky is favored over Stalin. I think this is simply because Stalin was so obviously not an intellectual, whereas Trotsky

fitted the perception that dissenting intellectuals like to have of themselves. Highly cultured, locked in struggle with a repressive establishment, a gifted writer who was also a man of action, he seemed to embody the ideal of truth speaking to power. The manner of his death solidified this perception, which has shaped accounts of his life ever since.

But not forever hence.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] The Totalitarian Trotsky¬†by Ray Mangum […]

    Pingback by Attack the System » Blog Archive » Updated News Digest November 15, 2009 — November 12, 2009 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  2. There is some dissent over the common narrative about Trotsky and the neocons. It’s understandable that the idea arose, since Kristol not only was one of the few to really embrace the term “neoconservtive” and try to define it, but also seems somewhat proud to have been a former Trotskyite (though apparently for a brief time and with a somewhat heretical faction). Hitchens & Schwartz still pay Trotsky compliments, but their status as neocons is more arguable.

    Comment by teageegeepea — November 15, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Reply

  3. I think you’ve hit on an important aspect of Trotsky’s appeal. It fits in with the Western intelligentsia’s attitude toward the crimes of Stalin- the Moscow Show Trials and purges of his former comrades in the Party always loom much larger than horrors like the Ukrainian terror famine, even though the latter took far more lives. The famine killed millions of nobodies, peasants, whereas the Show Trials were directed at people Western intellectuals actually identified with and felt empathy for.

    There’s another reason I would place more emphasis on, however. The Western Left always seems to be looking for a left-wing despot to idolize, but as a given tyrant’s crimes become harder and harder to hide or ignore admiring him becomes increasingly awkward and a new, less tarnished idol needs to be found. Stalin gave way to Trotsky, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Min, and the like; now that Castro no longer seems cool Che Guevara has taken his place. The advantage Trotsky has is that – like Che Guevara- he was never a head of state, and thus provides almost unlimited scope for people who dream of a “good” communism to indulge their fantasies.

    Comment by John Markley — November 18, 2009 @ 5:01 am | Reply


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