Denzil Dean Harber

“History of the Russian Revolution”, Review in Clare Market Review

TROTSKY, LEON, History of the Russian Revolution. Three vols. 18s. per vol.

This is certainty the most valuable contribution to the history of the Russian Revolution that has so far appeared in the English language—perhaps in any language. The reviewer of volumes 2 and 3 is hampered in the choice of appropriate expressions of appreciation by the fact that the publishers have printed on the dust covers extracts from the published reviews of volume I (which appeared last summer). It is easy to agree with the author of these reviews, but by no means so easy to avoid repeating their comments. One can only say that those who have read the first volume will find that the two completing volumes are in every way equal to it and in some respects even surpass it, while those who are still unacquainted with the work have a great pleasure in reserve. The appalling price will prevent most people from buying the three volumes themselves, but they should be available at most progressive libraries.

Trotsky’s book should be of great value not only to the student of Russia, but also to the student of history in general. It would be difficult to find a more brilliant example of the superiority of the Marxian historical method even in the works of Marx himself. After all Marx had never personally headed a successful revolution. One has only to turn to non-Marxist authors on the same subject to see at once all the superiority of the Marxian analysis. There can be no better answer to the accusations of the dominant Soviet clique that Trotsky has sold himself to the bourgeoisie than this book which he has written in exile and while in dire need of money—perhaps actually for the sake of money, and in which he nevertheless has not deviated one wit from the principles which he has always maintained. It is regrettable that the same thing cannot be said of his accusers.

Since the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and hence of necessity, also the Communist International, have been under Stalinist guidance the world has frequently witnessed a curious phenomenon which must have caused considerable anxiety to all Communists not completely blinded by official party propaganda. A prominent Communist suddenly comes into opposition with the Party leadership. He is expelled and his “errors” denounced. It might be thought that this would be enough, but the Party bureaucracy is still not satisfied. The whole past of the Communist in question is raked up and his former revolutionary services are at first disparaged and finally, when the campaign against him has reached a certain stage, absolutely denied and his whole political career depicted are merely a series of errors culminating in his expulsion. This process naturally finds its best expression in the calm atmosphere of the Soviet Union where all opposition is automatically suppressed and where the reading public can only wonder when the official Press one day praises a leader to the skies and the next finds nothing too bad to be said about him. Abroad, in the sections of the Communist International, it is not so easy but that the same holds good here also can be clearly seen from the campaign in the Daily Worker following the expulsion of Murphy from the British Communist Party last year.

In the case of Trotsky, the campaign of lies and suppression has been carried to its logical conclusion. In a recently produced Soviet historical film dealing with the October Revolution, all the other Bolshevist leaders are shown but Trotsky, the actual organiser of the insurrection is completely omitted. We even see meetings of the Petrograd Soviet with no Trotsky present, although he was at that time its president and its central figure.

In the face of facts like this one cannot be surprised that Trotsky devotes much space to rehabilitating himself by making clear the real part which he played in the seizure of power. If any confirmation of his statements is required it can be found in the speeches and writings of Lenin, or, indeed, in those of any other Soviet leader (including Stalin himself) prior to 1924. Thus in November 1918. Stalin wrote in Pravda “all the work of practical organisation of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of… Trotsky.” This, of course, did not prevent him from saying, in 1924, that “Trotsky played no special rôle in the October Revolution and could not have done so.”

This weapon of attack in the past is a two-edged one, as Stalin himself may find some day, if Voroshilov or some other rival ever succeeds from ousting him from his present position, all the more so, since, in his case, there really seems to be some ground for attack. It is not for nothing that publication of Stalin’s war-time speeches and writings have been forbidden in the Soviet Union. Nor do official historians of the October Revolution mention the fact that on the very eve of the struggle for power, Stalin, then editor of the Party organ, Pravda, allowed the publication of a letter from Zinoviev against any immediate revolutionary attempt, for which he, Stalin, was severely reprimanded by the Central Committee of the Party. It is a remarkable fact, when one takes into account the present position of Stalin, that despite all efforts made by official historians, no single fact has come to light indicating that he played any part whatever in the actual seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. The enemies of Stalin within the party have certainly plenty of material on which to base their attacks, should they ever get the opportunity.

In concluding, we may mention that the book has been translated by Max Eastman. Despite Trotsky’s praise in the introduction to vol. 2 the translation is by no means a good one. Russian expressions have frequently been translated too literally, and this is sometimes liable to mislead the English reader.

Last updated: 18 February 2009