Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Albert Glotzer, Trotsky: Memoir and Critique, Prometheus Books, New York, 1989, pp343, $24.95
This book is full of fascinating information. Albert Glotzer witnessed Trotsky at work on his famous History at Kadiköy (pp.38ff.), and defending himself before the Dewey commission in Coyoacan (pp.255-74); his own experiences took in the deliberations of the International Secretariat in Paris (pp.29-33, 181ff), including encounters with Maria Reese, Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow, the International Youth Conference in Brussels (pp.195ff.) and a visit to Germany shortly before Hitler assumed power (pp.75-8). Of especial interest to British readers is his account of his visit to Britain to make contact with oppositionists here (pp.80-2), his description of Trotsky’s correspondence with Ridley’s and Groves’ groups (pp.55-6), and his insider’s view of the negotiations between Ridley’s group and the International Secretariat (p.p30-1).
But for all the gems contained in it, this is an unsatisfying book. Glotzer’s descriptions of his childhood, and of his encounters with Trotsky and his movement in Kadiköy, France, Britain and Mexico are vivid, revealing and worthwhile. But these are used as a peg upon which to hang a vapid Cold War analysis. Five pages of embarrassing irrelevancy are devoted to an intemperate attack upon Gorbachev (pp.l37-41), and the supposed critique of Trotsky shows the political level of American Social Democracy to be surprisingly low, even by normal Social Democratic standards. Who, for example, among the labour intelligentsia of Western Europe, would base his view of Trotsky’s thought upon Knei Paz’s dull grey book (p.102), or describe that of Leonard Schapiro as “the now more frequently accepted view” (p.108), or a “celebrated study” (p.246)? The utilisation of such material, and even of better secondary works such as those of Medvedev and Bertram D. Wolfe, is inexcusable in one whose first-hand acquaintance with the primary sources goes back so far. Even the Second Congress of the RSDLP, whose deliberations are available in full in English translation, is dealt with exclusively by means of secondary reporting (pp.92ff.).
It is not entirely accurate. When we consider how deeply involved the leadership of the Bolsheviks had been in Western European Social Democracy before the war, such remarks as that Lenin “cared little about those traditions” (p.95), or that the Bolsheviks were “isolated from European or Western societies and reflected the backward culture of the Tsarist centuries” (p.148) can only strike the reader as absurd. It is simply not true to say that Our Political Tasks has “never been fully translated into other languages”, or that it has never been reprinted by Trotskyist organisations (p.102). Lenin did not call Trotsky “the best Bolshevik” (pp.124-5) but said that since he had joined them there had been “no better Bolshevik”. Nor is there any truth in the remark that Bruno Rizzi’s concept of bureaucratic collectivism “was unknown in the SWP” (p.305, n2).
The sheer polemical overkill not infrequently teeters on the absurd. Stalin, apparently “never changed a single principle of state and Party organisation as enunciated by Lenin” (p.133), and the book closes with the solemn affirmation that “Trotsky must share responsibility with Lenin for the rise of Stalin and Stalinism” (p.323). When we remember how democratic America refused him entry, democratic Britain both interned him and refused him entry, democratic France placed him under what amounted to house arrest, and democratic Norway put him under real arrest, we can only greet with hilarity the statement that “a man of Trotsky’s innate feelings of social justice and a utopian overview of mankind and its future could have thrived best only in democratic society” (p.322).
I much prefer the sort of careful first hand scholarship contributed by a ‘comrade Gates’ to Shirley Waller’s History of the International Marxist Youth Movement. What a shame that he did not write this book, instead of Albert Glotzer.
Updated by ETOL: 10.7.2003