North, David. In Defense of Leon Trotsky.

Author:Cox, John K.
Position:Book review
 
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North, David. In Defense of Leon Trotsky. Oak Park, MI: Mehring Books, 2010. xi + 194 pages. Paper, $15.95.

"While the Stalin industry is a going concern in the growing field of Soviet scholarship," David North writes, "the protracted depression in Trotsky studies continues" (p. 32). With this volume comprised of review essays and lectures, North, chair of the international editorial board of the World Socialist Web site, aims to shore up Leon Trotsky's reputation in recent historical discourse while also militating against new interpretations, some of which are slightly positive, of Stalin. His audience is, interestingly enough for the historian, not the world beyond academe and it is not the non-Marxist critic of Soviet thought and practice. Ultimately it becomes apparent that the defense North has in mind is not an assertion of the value of Trotsky's ideas in intellectual or political terms. Nor is it a well-developed reassessment of the importance of Trotsky's role as an alternative to Stalin who might have led the Soviet Union down a different and ultimately more humane and successful path. Rather, it is a passionate, and, at times, nearly embittered, historiographical argument over the contours of the Stalin-Trotsky feud.

Obviously, Trotsky was an important historical figure: he wrote many theoretical works in the service of Bolshevism, led the Red Army to victory in a brutal post- 1917 civil war against the Whites, and vied with Stalin for leadership of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party after Lenin's death in 1924. Over the long haul, Stalin was able to out-maneuver Trotsky, strip him of his party functions, and eventually exile him. Trotsky met a gruesome end in Mexico in 1940, at the hands of an assassin who was in all likelihood dispatched by Stalin. But North maintains tenaciously that only a handful of accurate, useful studies of Trotsky have ever appeared; chief among them is Isaac Deutscher's large-scale biographical trilogy from the early 1960s. The works of Pierre Broue (1988) and Max Eastman (1925) have pride of place among the others.

And the drought of good works on Trotsky continues. Meanwhile, inadequate works about the man, and even slanderous ones, have begun appearing again. This is the essential background for understanding the impetus behind North's work. The three works that have set off alarms for North are all by British professors: Ian Thatcher's Trotsky (2003), Geoffrey Swain's Trotsky (2006), and...

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