(My review on goodreads)

This first volume in Deutcher´s biography of Trotsky takes us through 1921. Deutcher paints a picture of a man who is brilliant, courageous, determined, principled, and stubborn.

Trotsky was born to a family of soon-to-be well to do peasants. He did very well in school, and had begun a course in mathematics. But while at University he came under the influence of student radicals, and though he initially held a skeptical stance, he was eventually convinced of the need for radical change to the autocratic Tsarist government, and once convinced he threw himself into left politics with all his energy. This was to be a pattern that repeated many times in his career.

This is mostly a political / public biography, with scant attention paid to Trotsky´s personal life, other than some brief references to his leaving his first wife while in internal exile under the Tsar, and meeting and eventually marrying the woman (Sedova) who would remain with him until his death.

In the complex, dangerous, and violent aftermath of the October Revolution, during the civil war aided by foreign invasion, we are shown a tireless and effective Trotsky leading the Red Army against the forces of reaction and counter-revolution. He performed brilliantly, despite having no more than a brief academic acquaintance with the arts of war. His ability to assess a situation and take decisive action was remarkable. We also see that he was sometimes overruled by the Communist party leadership, to great disadvantage. But when overruled Trortsky nonetheless carried out his mission with dedication.

At the conclusion of the civil war, Trotsky urged a loosening of economic policy, as the only path to recovering the agricultural and industrial production that had been lost to the destruction of war. He was overruled, with the party leadership directing a continuation of ¨war communism¨: forced appropriations from the peasants, and labor production quotas. The loyal party member, Trotsky put that policy into place, despite his principles, and did so with his usual forceful determination. The result was disastrous, and a year later Lenin introduced the ¨New Economic Policy¨; too late to achieve what might have been achieved a year earlier. And in the intervening year, Trotsky had introduced a militarization of industrial production, leading to widespread dissent and even proto-revolutionary activity among the industrial workers.

This dissent eventually led to the Kronstadt uprising: the sailors at the Kronstadt base, who had been Trotsky´s loyal followers and instrumental in the overthrow of the provisional government in October 1917, rose again in defiance of the Soviet government. For good reason: the Communist party had suppressed opposition parties, even those that were socialist, and the Soviets were no longer the democratic bodies they had been. Power was being rapidly centralized into the hands of the party central committee.

As perhaps the biggest blot on Trotsky´s legacy, he was the most adamant about making an immediate counter-attack on Kronstadt. The revolt was violently suppressed.

Trotsky had much earlier predicted that a possible outcome of the ¨dictatorship of the proletariat¨ would be the concentration of power first into a single party, then into that party´s leadership, and finally into the hands of a single individual. And so it was. It need not have been so. The soviets had been truly democratic through the civil war, with only actually counter-revolutionary parties being suppressed - a necessity in time of war. But in the aftermath of the civil war, with peasants deeply resenting and resisting the forced food requisitions, and workers suffering from famine as a result, and the entire country exhausted by 7 years of war, revolution, and civil war, opposition to Communist party policy was widespread. The party saw that new soviet elections would sweep it from power, and they reacted by suppressing all political parties but their own.

It was a tragedy, and one that echoed through most of the 20th century. A tragedy not only for the Russian people, who were soon to have Stalinist terror inflicted on them, but also for the cause of socialism everywhere.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921
  • Author: Isaac Deutscher
  • Published: 2004
  • ISBN: 1859844413
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 5.0 stars