Leon Trotsky

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It is 75 years since Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in Mexico. Paul Le Blanc’s short biography provides an introduction to a life at the heart of the highs and lows of the Russian — and international — revolutionary movement in the first half of the 20th century.

The book focuses on the latter part of Trotsky’s life, with most attention given to his time in exile from Stalin’s Russia from 1929 onwards.

It was in this period that Trotsky produced some of his most influential works, including My Life, The Revolution Betrayed and The History of the Russian Revolution.

Though his literary output was prolific during his exile, Le Blanc accurately illustrates the frustration felt by both Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, at being isolated from the struggles that were taking place within the USSR and across Europe.

Following his exile, Trotsky was forced to comment from afar on key international events. His works on the fight against Nazism in Germany and the Civil War in Spain particularly stand out, and Le Blanc does well to detail the disagreements on these questions within the alarmingly small Trotskyist circles that had survived the Stalinist purges and propaganda.

Throughout, Le Blanc weaves the political aspects of Trotsky’s life with his personal experiences, including his relationships with his family and with Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

While these are interesting for anyone with sound knowledge of Trotsky politically, it would have been better to devote more pages of this short book to two of the defining episodes of Trotsky’s political development — the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia.

The October Revolution of 1917 is given little analysis, which is a shame as it was this seismic event that shaped the political trajectory of Trotsky’s life and work — it was during 1917 that he became wedded to Bolshevism and the notion of a Leninist party.

Moreover, the experience of a genuine working class revolution tied Trotsky to the orientation on mass struggles that was to be sorely tested in the face of the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR.

The book is an interesting overview of a revolutionary whose politics have been subject to many interpretations since his assassination in 1940.

In a world where the deepening crisis of the system throws up ever more political questions, this short book is worth a read for those who want to gain an understanding of one of the architects of the tradition of fighting for revolution from below.