Main ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Fall 1959


Michael Foot

Trotsky’s Diary – A Poignant Document


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.4, Fall 1959, p.122.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This review first appeared in the British left-wing Laborite weekly, Tribune, June 17 issue. Michael Foot is editor of the Tribune.

* * *

Trotsky’s Diary in Exile: 1935
Translated from the Russian by Elena Zarudnaya
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1958. 218 pp. $4.

“Only a participant can be a profound spectator,” wrote Leon Trotsky.

He was contrasting the novels of Jules Romains with those of Emile Zola. Romains himself had referred to his distance from the scenes he described, and Trotsky points out that this distance was not only optical but also moral. Zola, the participant, was “deeper, warmer, and more human” and, therefore, the greater writer.

Trotsky himself, of course, is the foremost example of his own aphorism. He is, probably in all history, the greatest man of action who was also a very great literary genius.

Everything he wrote bears the individual stamp of the man; it has a pulse and urgency which is absent from the writings of those political writers, even the most perceptive, who were only spectators.

This applies to the latest Trotsky “discovery,” the fragments of a diary he wrote during his exile in France and Norway in 1935, even though he obviously found the diary form awkward and distasteful.

By comparison with his finest writings, Trotsky’s Diary in Exile is slight and rambling. But it still wins a considerable place in socialist literature.

At first, its chief interest is contained in the numerous side-glancing insights into casual occurrences. For example:

Trotsky and his wife go to Lourdes:

“What crudeness, insolence, nastiness! A shop for miracles, a business office for trafficking in Grace. The Grotto itself makes a miserable impression. That, of course, is a psychological calculation of the clerics; not to frighten the little people away by the grandeur of their commercial enterprise; little people are afraid of shop windows that are too resplendent. At the same time they are the most faithful and profitable customers. But best of all is the papal blessing broadcast to Lourdes by – radio. The paltry miracles of the Gospels side by side with the radio-telephone! And what could be more absurd and disgusting than the union of proud technology with the sorcery of the Roman chief druid. Indeed the thinking of mankind is bogged down in its own excrement.”

Or his recalled conversation with Kamenev about Stalin:

“‘Do you think that Stalin is now considering how to reply to your arguments?’ This was approximately what Kamenev said, in reference to my criticism of the Stalin-Bukharin-Molotov policies in China, England, etc. ‘You are mistaken. He is thinking of how to destroy you.’”

Or his foresight about the fall of France:

“March 21. It’s spring, the sun is hot, the violets have been in bloom for about ten days, the peasants are puttering around in the vineyards. Last night we listened to Die Walkür from Bourdeaux until midnight. Military service extended to two years. Rearmament of Germany. Preparations for a new ‘final’ war. The peasants peacefully prune their vines and fertilize the furrows between them. Everything is in order.

“The Socialists and the Communists write articles against the two-year term, and for the sake of greater impressiveness trot out their largest type. Deep in their hearts the ‘leaders’ hope things will work out somehow. Here also everything is in order.

“And yet this order has hopelessly undermined itself. It will collapse with a stench ...”

Or his comments on Marx and Engels:

“When you have had enough of the prose of the Blums, the Cachins, and the Thorezes, when you have swallowed your fill of the microbes of pettiness and insolence, obsequiousness and ignorance, there is no better way of clearing your lungs than by reading the correspondence of Marx and Engels, both to each other and to other people. In their epigrammatic allusions and characterizations, sometimes parodoxical, but always well thought out and to the point, there is so much instruction, so much mental freshness and mountain air! They always lived on the heights.”

Such quotations could be endlessly multiplied. But there is also a recurring theme running through the diary which makes it a document of excruciating poignancy.

In his autobiography Trotsky wrote one of the most moving accounts of a man’s childhood which has ever been written. Here, in the diary, he has painted an incomparable picture of his wife, Natasha.

The hunt of Trotsky’s children and his friends by Stalin is surely one of the most appalling stories of sustained barbaric revenge of which history has any record. The full brunt of the horror fell on the heart of the dignified and dauntless Natasha.

Quotation would mar this immortal tribute of a man to his wife. Read it for yourself.

Top of page

Main ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 2 May 2009