Trotsky again

Almost by chance I stumbled across a year-old article at NRO by Stephen Schwartz (is this the Sufi Schwartz or a same-name?)–a somewhat confusing piece that ends in an unequivocal apologia of the author’s idol:

To my last breath I will defend the Trotsky who alone, and pursued from country to country, and finally laid low in his own blood in a hideously hot little house in Mexico City, said no to Soviet coddling of Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state, as well as about the fate of the Jewish people. To my last breath, and without apology.

So Hitchensian. Here we go again, for we must. Perhaps Trotsky was not so villainous and mean-spirited as Stalin. I feel he wasn’t. Now what are those terrible crimes that he said no to? The “show trials” of the late 1930s? A large number of old Bolsheviks who played a major part in the 1917 Revolution and the ensuing Civil War confessed publicly to unspeakable acts against the Revolution and the country and were shot or imprisoned. Sounds bad and shows how cruel and perverted Stalin and his regime were. But in the big picture, the show trials were poetic justice: almost all of the (falsely) accused had very real blood on their hands. True, they had shed it twenty years before they got purged, yet there should be no statute of limitation for murder.

The “Soviet coddling” of Hitlerism? Remember Munich 1938: everybody was doing it. “Betrayal of the Spanish Republic?” What country didn’t betray it, and was it worth clinging to? [July 2019: this paragraph should be deleted.]

If Schwartz is to be believed, Trotsky limited his invective to Stalin’s lesser transgressions. Did he condemn the mass executions and arrests that (re)started in 1934–as opposed to the Moscow trials that destroyed a segment of the Bolshevik elite? How about the physical destruction of the Russian and Ukrainian peasantry during the Collectivization? The decimation of ethnic, “nationalist” intelligentsias? And those priests and mullahs–they deserved to die, didn’t they, comrade Trotsky?

The problem with Trotsky is that much of what Stalin did, Trotsky would have done in his place anyway. Both men were complicit in the Revolution–an all-Russian meatgrinder. At some point they vyed for power over Russia. One man toppled the other and went on murdering; the other had to turn to vegetarianism.

Trotsky may have been courageous. Hitler wasn’t a coward either. Both felt no remorse (I hope they actually did–but facts are against the hope) but persisted in their self-righteousness. Throw in Robespierre and Marat for full measure, and you have a selection of idols to choose from.

Shame on you, Stephen.

One comment

  1. Trotsky was just as villainous and mean-spirited as Stalin, but in a messier way. In Catalonia that meant that, whereas the Stalinists and the Falangists generally were fairly selective about who they took away, tortured, subjected to a show trial, and shot, the Trotskyites operated in a barbaric chaos which is still remembered with horror today, although it is politically incorrect to say so publicly.

    Orwell’s great achievement was to glamourise a movement remembered for amputating noses and ears as trophies, and it is only now that histories are emerging that explain why the public were relatively content with the return to comparative order brought by the Stalinist coup in 37 and with the stability–however revolting many of its manifestations–that came with Franco’s arrival in 39.

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