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  • Leon Trotsky's Family Romance
  • Michael Weisskopf
    Translated by Helena Tolstaia

In the foreword of My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography, written in 1929, soon after his exile from the U.S.S.R, Leon Trotsky writes:

By the time this book is published I shall have reached fifty. – My birthday coincides with the day of the October Revolution. Mystics and Pythagoreans may draw from this fact whatever conclusions they like. I myself noticed this odd coincidence only three years after the October [coup].

(1970: xxxv)1

One need not, however, be a mystic or a Pythagorean to doubt this intimation. It is hardly probable that such an "oddity" remained beyond Trotsky's awareness even on the very day of the coup —or, rather, next morning: the October coup took place in the late hours of October 25, old style (corresponding to November 7, new style —the main official Soviet holiday). Trotsky was born on October 26. He allegedly noticed the coincidence as late as 1920 ("three years after the coup"), the year when Lenin's 50th anniversary was celebrated with pomp.

The book itself was written on the eve of another no less pompous celebration, that of the 50th birthday of Stalin who was already preparing to become "the Lenin of today." Trotsky, Stalin's coeval, claimed this position for himself.2 His memoirs were a not unexpected but a highly efficacious declaration of his spiritual right of inheritance. [End Page 21] As part of the struggle with the usurper, they revived the old Bolshevik duumvirate formula "Lenin and Trotsky" that had by that time been replaced by the new formula, "Lenin and Stalin."

Numerical magic and fatidical magic seem to form the axis of Trotsky's book; in spite of the author's coy disclaimers, the spirit of ideological predestination pervades the narrative, albeit under the guise of Marxist determinism. "The life of a revolutionary would be quite impossible without a certain amount of 'fatalism,'" states Trotsky on the first page (xxix). This "amount" is, however, strikingly high3: My Life is composed in a religious tonality —if one understands religion, with William James (see 39-45), as a permanent metaphysical unrest, a preoccupation with the general content and purpose of life, and a resulting holistic world-view.

"Above the subjective there rises the objective, and in the final reckoning it is the objective that decides," writes Trotsky (xxxiii). The "objective," which in the original he calls "the necessary," is, for him, the universal, a kind of social abstraction that governs and suffuses individual existence. Indeed, time and again he correlates each fatidical landmark of his biography with some social or political vector of the epoch —he assesses his life by this abstraction:

I have grown accustomed to viewing the historical perspective not from the standpoint of my personal fate. To understand the causal sequence of events and to find somewhere in the sequence one's own place —that is the first duty of a revolutionary.


This place, however, not merely reflects the historical "causal sequence" but actually produces it. The revolutionary process as portrayed in the memoirs is telescoped in the author's own charismatic personality; history breathes through his lungs and speaks with his mouth. The revolution was born in him and together with him, on the same day, October 26, 1879. It had even been conceived together with him —the spirits of revolution had hovered over his cradle; the magi had brought him gifts of destruction:

The year of my birth was the year of a dynamite attack on Tsarism. The terrorist party of "People's Will" that had appeared a short [End Page 22] time before sentenced Alexander II to death on March 26, 1879, two months before I was born.


A broad picture of the historical perturbations of that time follows this remark; it does not, however, include a single word about the Jewish pogroms that raged in the south of Russia, including his native Kherson region, after the assassination of Alexander II.

At this early point the two planes of narrative, the historical and the personal, have not yet fused; they are merely collocated, and their synthesis is only...


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