Trotsky: A Biography

Sheila Fitzpatrick writes:

As a politician, Trotsky gets low marks from Robert Service. First of all, he was extremely skittish about taking important jobs. This started in October 1917 when, to Lenin’s bewilderment, he refused to allow discussion of Lenin’s proposal that he head the government (‘Why ever not?’ Lenin asked. ‘It was you who stood at the head of the Petrograd Soviet that seized the power.’) In the end, Lenin took that job – the chairmanship of Sovnarkom – himself. After the Civil War, Trotsky refused to serve as Lenin’s first deputy at Sovnarkom, a position that would have made him the likely successor when Lenin died and given him an institutional base to set against Stalin’s base in the Party. Equally damaging to Trotsky’s political prospects were his ineptness at factional organisation and remoteness from his followers. The greatest disadvantage of all, however, was that he not only disliked politics but also, more surprisingly, seems to have lacked any strong desire to become leader. This is clearer in Service than it was in Deutscher, whose Trotsky desired (or was willing to assume) the role of Lenin’s successor but was too proud to fight for it. Service’s Trotsky simply doesn’t want the job, though he doesn’t want anyone else to get it either. Vulnerable as a Johnny-come-lately in the Bolshevik Party, outmanoeuvred by Stalin at every turn, Trotsky was fighting not to be sole leader but to prevent Stalin from pushing him out of the leadership group altogether.

(LRB 22 April 2010)

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