- Lev Trotskii as the Mirror of the Russian Revolution
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According to Soviet school textbooks, the Russian writer Lev Tolstoi, in the light hand of Vladimir Lenin, was known as the “mirror of the Russian Revolution.” This metaphor was not entirely accurate, as Lenin was equally convinced that Tolstoi did not correctly reflect the revolution. In the same sense one may consider Lev Davidovich Trotskii (1879–1940) as an “inaccurate” mirror of the revolution, both an opponent of Lenin and his close associate. Attempts to write a biography of Trotskii that reflect the full complexity of his personality and political career have been undertaken since the 1920s. 1The beginning of “Trotskyana” occurred during the lifetime of the international Marxist revolutionary, when in 1925 the brilliant writer Max Eastman, who had sympathized for some time with the Bolsheviks, published the first serious biography of Trotskii’s youth. 2In his memoirs, Eastman left vivid characterizations of Trotskii. 3Together with the memoirs of Trotskii’s wife and other people close to him, Eastman’s portraits became one of the main sources of Trotskyana. 4The others are the multivolume publication of Trotskii’s documents from 1917 to 1922 preserved in the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam and the 14-volume collection of his essays, published by Trotskyists. 5Among research on Trotskii, the most influential work for many years was Isaac Deutscher’s trilogy about Trotskii the prophet. A supporter in the 1930s of the Fourth International, the Trotskyist alternative to communist and socialist internationalism, Deutscher later moved away from the Trotskyist movement. However, his trilogy demonstrated an interest in “Trotskyism” among societal and scholarly [End Page 182]circles. 6Deutscher’s book had a great resonance—to a large extent because the author was able to get access to documents in the “closed section” of Trotskii’s archive in Houghton Library (Harvard College Library), known as the Exile Papers. 7Among other biographers of Trotskii, it is worth mentioning the former Communist Bertram D. Wolfe, the French historian-Trotskyist Pierre Broue, and works representing the trend of psychological history. 8
For a long time, the interpretation of Trotskii put forward by Deutscher remained the most influential, especially given the rise of revisionist historians and proponents of the “linguistic turn” and new cultural history showing hardly any interest in Trotskii. 9The situation of Trotskii studies began to change only with the advent of a new stage of historiography, connected with the “archival revolution” in the USSR. 10
In Soviet historiography, Trotskii’s activity was studied only at the dawn of the 1920s and primarily in the context of the revolutionary struggle: for instance, in 1922 sketches about the organization’s prerevolutionary political work came out, a project in which Trotskii participated. 11However, after his political destruction in 1924–27 he was supposed to be written about exclusively as part of the history of the “struggle with Trotskyism.” 12The first biographical sketch about Trotskii was published only at the height of perestroika by the leading specialist on the 1917 revolution, Vitalii Startsev. 13 [End Page 183]Ideological bans became a thing of the past together with the...