Permanent Debate

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Review of 'Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism', Alfred Rosmer, Francis Bootle £10

There is now a vast amount of literature on the subject of this book. First and foremost there are Trotsky's own brilliant and voluminous writings, then Isaac Deutscher's mighty 'Prophet' trilogy, Tony Cliff's four-volume political study, works by Victor Serge and Natalia Trotsky, Pierre Broué, Ernest Mandel, Duncan Hallas and many lesser figures.

So the question inevitably arises, what is added by this latest volume? The answer, sadly, is very little. In itself the book has certain things to recommend it, most obviously that much of it--the best part--is written by Alfred Rosmer, a significant and noble figure in the history of Trotskyism. Rosmer writes on the basis of extensive first-hand knowledge of the events and deep engagement in the problems of the workers' movement, with refreshing candour and clarity. In the third part of the book Rosmer provides a brief and lucid account of Trotsky's last years, using Trotsky's own words where he can. But it still doesn't mean that it has anything new to say, either factually or by way of analysis.

Also, as an introductory text this book has a serious defect. Its opening chapters consist of documents dealing with the early years of the French Communist Party by Emile Fabrol, Antoine Chavez and Boris Souvarine, who are much lesser figures than Rosmer and do not write half as well. Moreover, these chapters give the book a lopsided character and prevent it being any kind of balanced overview of the origins of Trotskyism.

It may be that the editor, Al Richardson, and publishers have an implicit political agenda here--emphasising the role and culpability of Zinoviev and his regime in the Comintern for paving the way for Stalin, and noting the link between Zinoviev and James P Cannon, the US Trotskyist leader. If this is the case it seems to me that this is a fairly obscure argument to be having at the moment. Although there may be some truth in this, it can easily be exaggerated to the point where organisational and personal factors are stressed at the expense of the fundamental objective factors conditioning the rise of Stalinism such as the defeat of the international revolution, the isolation of the Soviet Union and the weakness and destruction of the Russian proletariat.