Robert James [1*]

Trotsky: a documentary


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 54, January 1973, p. 25.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Trotsky: a documentary
Francis Wyndham and David King
Penguin. £1.50

This book is probably as complete a pictorial record of Trotsky’s life as we are likely to get. It contains all the well-known pictures together with a number that 1, for one, have not seen before.

We find pictures of the nine-year old Trotsky tastefully posed against a chair with a background of ferns; of his mother and father, of Alexandra Sokolovskaya – his first wife – Trotsky in a Tsarist jail after the crushing of the Soviet in 1905.

Through the heroic triumphs of 1917 and the creation and direction of the Red Army, to exile and murder in Mexico.

Of almost equal interest are the pictures that include members of Trotsky’s staff and his co-thinkers. Max Shachtman, Yvan Craipeau, Van Heijinoort, the Rosmers, Albert Goldman, Joseph Hansen and many others. All looking, with the exception of the Rosmers, incredibly youthful. A stark reminder that so very few of Trotsky’s own generation remained alive, or endowed with the stamina to carry on the revolutionary struggle.

As with all books on Trotsky this moves with horrific inevitability to the assassination. The gruesome fact of violent death does not cease to shock even if the pictures are among the most publicised. Mercader (Jacson-Mornard) looking miserable, as well he might, preparatory to 20 years in a Mexican jail. A sentence mitigated by a well-appointed suite of cells, together with female companionship and radio equipment. All financed by a grateful CPU. It is an interesting sidelight on the small change of history that the Socialist Workers Party, who financed and staffed Trotsky’s Coyoacan fortress, should be so fond of Castro’s Cuba. The country in which Mercader found temporary refuge on his release. His stay lasting long enough for Czech citizenship to be conferred. You cannot say the CPU does not pay its debts.

The text that accompanies the pictures is flat, pedestrian and at no time rises above the level of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement. Those who want to see the pictures should read the original works from which Francis Wyndham freely and often inappropriately quotes.


1*. Robert James is a pseudonym used occasionally by Jim Higgins.

Last updated on 23.9.2013