(My review on goodreads)
This was the really decisive period in the battle for the soul of socialism, and Deutscher does a spendid job of navigating the changing alliances and balance of power that began in the year before Lenin’s death and ended with Trotsky’s final exile from the Soviet Union.
With hindsight it is hard to see how Trotsky could have permitted Stalin to take absolute power. He was warned by Lenin, and Lenin provided him with his “testament” which, if Trotsky had revealed it to the Bolshevik Central Committee as Lenin had requested, would have put Stalin out of the picture, permanently. But Trotsky for reasons that are really unclear, didn’t reveal the testament, and entered into compromises with Stalin; and failed to fight back when Stalin began to attack Trotsky and the “left opposition”, even when it was clear that it had become a struggle for the future of the party and the socialist state. It is just incomprehensible.
It is hard not to wonder whether socialism could have taken a different course had Trotsky forced Stalin’s ouster. I think it is possible, and that it is possible that the course of 20th century history would have been very different if he had done so.
Despite the terrible outcomes and the bitter struggle described in this book, it is a pleasure to read. Deutscher knew many of the principals personally, and shows a deep knowledge and understanding of the complex dynamics of that period. Even more so than in The Prophet Armed, Deutscher carries you through all the complexities while never losing the main threads.
This is history as it should be written.