1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 21

Trotsky: A Romantic Version

The Prophet Outcast : Trotsky 1929-1940. By Isaac Deutscher. (O.U.P., 45s.)

TROTSKYISM has had a modest revival lately. The master's name has figured prominently in the Sino-Soviet exchanges, selections from his works have been republished by the Italian Communists, and his latter-day followers have gained positions of some influence in several un- likely countries outside Europe. Mr. Deutscher's third and final volume is, therefore, of topical interest. It describes the last, tragic phase of Trotsky's life from 1929, when he was deported from Russia to Turkey, to 1940, when one of Stalin's killers succeeded finally in—to use the official jargon—liquidating the enemy of the people' in his Mexican exile.

As a literary work, Mr. Deutscher's bio- graphy is a considerable achievement and de- serves high praise; the broad sweep, the easy and elegant style, the vivid and often moving descriptions make it a biography in the grand manner such as seldom emerges from the groves of Academe today. Literary merits apart, there is also an element of historical justice in the publication of the biography of a man more maligned than any other contemporary, and all too often, as Mr. Deutscher shows in convincing detail, unable to strike back at his detractors. For Mr. Deutscher this was clearly an act of piety and a labour of love; this is the strength of the book and, at the same time, the source of its weaknesses. A Trotskyite fellow traveller himself, Mr. Deutscher was far too closely in- volved, both politically and emotionally, in many of the events he describes—such as the foundation of the Fourth International and its activities—to write-with detachment about them. In fact, time and again, he finds it easier to produce extenuating circumstances for the follies and crimes of the late Joseph Stalin than for his own former comrades who now happen to disagree with him.

But these are quarrels only of interest to a small faction. A more serious flaw is the author's uncritical approach; in fact, on more than one occasion he oversteps the borderline between historiography and hagiography. The late Leo Trotsky was undoubtedly a man of extraordin- ary gifts in various fields, but in this book he appears titanic, superhuman, 'almost omni- present, almost omniscient'; these were the words used by Mr. Deutscher with regard to Stalin fourteen years ago. Tempora tnutantur. I would like to give but one example. Much of Trotsky's activity in exile was devoted to the political analysis of the situation in various European countries. In these pamphlets there were often profound insights and brilliant formu- lations—but equally often elementary mistakes and basic miscalculations. Trotsky's 'magnifi- cently far-sighted' writings on German affairs between 1930 and 1933 are called by Deutscher his most important contribution in exile; he is described as the one man who developed a realistic assessment of Nazism—and the one who knew how to stem, the rising Nazi tide, if only his advice had been heeded. There is no doubt that Trotsky's views on the subject were infinitely more realistic than Stalin's, but since official - Communist policy on Germany was absolutely insane, this does not mean much. The reader is not told, however, that Trotsky was very often mistaken in his judgment; for in- stance, in his belief that the objective conditions for a proletarian revolution existed in Germany, or in his prediction that Hitler, after his victory, would become the tool of the French bourgeoisie. About this the unsuspecting reader of Mr. Deutscher's biography who does not refer back to Trotsky's original writings will learn nothing at all. Even if Trotsky realised much more clearly than Stalin the menace of Nazism, he was unable to find an answer to it on the basis of Leninist doctrine, now. thirty years later the reader has the right to be told the truth about it rather • than presented with a new myth. Trotsky was in many ways a• genius, yet his ideological equipment, the specific radical East European brand of Marxism which had been so helpful in Russia in 1917, was a great handi- cap in understanding events in Europe in the Thirties. Neither Fascism nor Stalinism could be fully explained in the traditional Leninist terms. On the Stalin-Trotsky conflict Mr. Deutscher equivocates. He deeply sympathises with Trotsky yet feels that Stalin somehow ful- filled a progressive role after all; 'objectively,' 'unwittingly,' ma/gre tui' are some of the ex- pressions used. Stalin's crimes on the other hand were not the product of Bolshevism, Mr. Deutscher argues, but the consequences of the old Russian society. In his opinion there is no connection at all between Trotsky's justification of terror against political opponents in 1920 and Stalin's terrorism fifteen years later. Such . in- consistencies weaken Mr. Deutscher's argument.

In the last section of the book, 'Victory in Defeat,' Mr. Deutscher expresses his conviction that since the tradition of Marxism and the October Revolution have survived 'in a state of hibernation as it were' in Russia (and else- where?) the Communist countries will re- embrace the classical Marxism that (he maintains) was banished with Trotsky. Mr. Deutscher's hopes are bound to be disappointed;,, hopes for a better world survive, but not political doctrines. Trotsky as a historical figure will. presumably be rehabilitated in Russia one of these days, yet his political ideas have ceased to be of relevance for the developed countries of the world (including the Soviet Union).

That Mr. Deutscher assumes political doc- trines can be kept on ice in a rapidly changing world suggests that despite the tough talk about the progressive role of Stalin and all that, he is, not unlike his hero, a romantic at heart; by temperament he certainly has more of the littdrateur than the historian. This is not to dis- parage Mr. Deutscher's book; Trotsky's bio- graphy should have been written by a like-minded soul. But, it is a pity that Mr. Deutscher has apparently not devoted much thought to the interesting fact that the gospel of Trotskyism finds an echo in our time in places like Algiers, Colombo and La Paz. This then is its historical destiny; for the problems of the industrial societies of Europe and North America, Eastern European Marxism has no answer. In Russia and China, too, a return to pristine Marxism is no more likely than a switch-over from tractors to horses in agriculture. I am not at all certain that the new systems will be any better or more advanced and I sympathise with the Marxists of the Eastern school who find this difficult to accept. Yet facts, as the late Vladimir Ilyich Lenin taught us, are stubborn things, and I have not entirely given up the hope that Mr. Deutscher will eventually stop rhapsodising like a nineteenth-century romantic about the lost glory and the splendour of the Middle Ages.