Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2


Trotsky and the First World War

Dear Editor

I was very pleased to note that Revolutionary History considered my book Leon Trotsky and World War One to be worthy of a review. I am also grateful to Al Richardson for pointing out sources that I and other readers may wish to consult, and for highlighting the mistakes in the rendering of several names.

I would also like to add a few comments by way of reply to Al. First, more could have been said on how incorporating the sources that I did not make reference to would have fundamentally altered the account of Trotsky’s thought and activities as outlined in my book. Second, in making use of Trotsky’s vast journalistic output of this period, I do not think that I produced a ‘one-dimensional’ Trotsky. After all, I make clear the connections between Trotsky’s journalism and the debates and activities of the European and American socialist movements of the time. In this context I conclude: ‘It was this scope and depth of involvement that marked Trotsky off from other Russian socialists, and which gave him the confidence to pronounce with such certainty upon pan-European revolutionary developments in the interwar period … Trotsky was, if nothing else, a man of war.’ (p. 212) Third, Al Richardson claims that Hal Draper’s work ‘cuts the ground beneath the whole argument’ of my fourth chapter in which I examine Trotsky’s relations with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. This is surely unfair, partly because the chapter focuses upon so much more than the issue of revolutionary defeatism, and partly because Trotsky himself wrote that this was one of the issues that divided himself from Lenin when Trotsky wrote the introduction to his collected works dealing with the First World War. A term that has no basis in Lenin’s writings for Draper clearly did for Trotsky, and it is Trotsky, not Draper, that was my main concern.

Finally, I reject the label of ‘neo-Stalinist’. I made an honest attempt to illustrate the full range of Trotsky’s thought at a particular point in history. It was in the first instance a work of exposition, as set out clearly in the Preface (p. vi). My conclusions are modest, but I do try to bring out the suddenness of Trotsky joining the Bolsheviks in 1917, a merger that was never comfortable for either side. I will go into this in more detail in the book I am currently writing. I also suggest that Trotsky’s work of World War One is also of contemporary relevance for developments in Europe and in the Balkans, indeed that ‘it is a great achievement that Trotsky’s writings of 1914–17 can still have so much to say to us’ (p. 214). Does this look like a ‘neo-Stalinist’, ‘Zinoviev’ and ‘Kamenev’ ‘technique’? In using these labels I think that it is Al Richardson, not I, who is more guilty of not moving on.

Ian Thatcher

Al Richardson replies:

I would like to draw the attention of readers to the first article, An Argument with Lenin, in the new Socialist Platform book What Became of the Revolution: Selected Writings of Boris Souvarine, which reproduces Souvarine’s letter to Lenin. I hope that the other questions that Ian Thatcher raises will come out in the discussion.

Updated by ETOL: 17.10.2011