The Hammer and the Anvil: Dispatches from the Frontline of the Russian Civil War, 1918-1919 By Larissa Reisner, translator Jack Robertson.London: Bookmarks Publications, 2021.
In depths of legend, heroine, you’ll walk,
Along that path, your steps shall never fade.
Tower like a mighty peak above my thoughts;
For they are quite at home in your great shade.
In Memory of Reissner-by Boris Pasternak
“Larissa Mikhailovna Reissner’s work on newspapers and her presence on the newspaper staff made us – newspaper labourers as compared with that great craftsman in style – somehow more wary and tense. How can you treat style and form with disdain when sketches like Reissner’s are printed alongside your own? Even someone who never thinks especially much about form starts to reflect. For my part, let me say that none of the seekings of the Formalists (i.e. the advocates of formalism in literature) have made an impression on me. But the last articles of Larissa Mikhailovna Reissner made me learn a thing or two. I believe, too, that more than one generation of pupil-trainees at the State Institute of Journalism will learn the model of a good revolutionary style from her sketches”.
In Memory of Reissner-by Lev Sosnovsky
“Having dazzled many, this beautiful young woman swept like a hot meteor against the backdrop of the Revolution. With the appearance of an Olympic goddess, she combined a subtle ironic mind and the courage of a warrior. After the capture of Kazan by the whites, under the guise of a peasant woman, she went to the enemy camp for reconnaissance. But her appearance was too unusual. She was arrested. A Japanese intelligence officer interrogated her. During the break, she slipped through the poorly guarded door and disappeared. Since then, she has worked in intelligence. She later sailed on warships and took part in battles. She devoted essays to the Civil War that will remain in literature. She wrote with the same vividness about the Ural industry and about the workers’ uprising in the Ruhr. She wanted to see and know everything, to participate in everything. In a few short years, she grew up to be a first-class writer. Having passed unharmed through fire and water, this Pallas of the Revolution suddenly burned out from Typhus in the calm atmosphere of Moscow before reaching thirty”.
My Life-Leon Trotsky
“Much better to die in open combat, among comrades, with weapons in their hands. That is how I want to die. That is how hundreds and thousands die for this republic every day.”
This new collection of work containing the writings of the outstanding Russian revolutionary Larissa Reisner was put together and published by Bookmarks which is the publishing arm of the British Socialist Workers Party. Despite having fundamental political differences with this group, the SWP and especially the translator Jack Robertson deserve significant recognition and commendation for this book.
Larissa Reisner was an extraordinary member of the Bolshevik Party. She was a leading revolutionary figure and the first woman to be a political Commissar in the revolutionary Red Army. She was also an author and journalist. Much of the work published in this collection will be unknown to the modern-day reader. Reisner is best known to English speaking readers through her book Hamburg at the Barricades. Her literary output was huge. Unfortunately, little has been translated into English. Hence the significance of this new collection. This new translation by Jack Robertson is based on her collected works currently being held in the British Library. The book contains 100 pages of Larissa Reisner’s on the spot reports from the Red Army front from 1918 to 1919.
One jewel in the British Library collection held at Boston Spa is the 1948 English language pamphlet Svyazhsk: An Epic of the Russian Civil War – 1918, produced by the then Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party, founded in 1935.
This new book concentrates on battles fought by the Red Army against White armies supported by Western imperialist governments. Reisner shows what a bloody conflict it was. The White counter-revolutionaries committed mass murder against anyone suspected of Communist sympathies, including the elderly, women and children.
Reisner refers to many key Bolshevik leaders of the era. Many held her in high regard. None more so that Leon Trotsky, commander in chief of the Red Army. In his autobiography My Life, he wrote about Reisner, saying she “flashed across the revolutionary sky like a burning meteor, blinding many… Her sketches about the civil war are literature. With equal gusto, she would write about the Ural industries and the rising of the workers in the Ruhr. She was anxious to know and see all and participate in everything.”
Amid the death and destruction of the Russian Civil War, this highly educated young woman managed to write in an informative, pulsating and almost poetic way. She writes, “It is a strange feeling to be moving about in an unfamiliar building with windows and doors slammed shut, knowing full well that a battle to the death is about to take place in this godforsaken hotel. It is a racing certainty that someone will be killed, some will survive, some will be taken, prisoner. At such moments, all the words and all the rationalisations that help preserve your presence of mind go out the window. All that remains is an acute, penetrating sorrow — and underneath it, barely perceptible, a disorienting question: whether to flee or stand your ground. In the name of what? Face screwed up, choking with tears, the heart reiterates: stay calm, do not panic, no humiliating exodus.” (36-37)
Her description of a particular event in which she witnessed the brutal slaughter by White troops of innocent bystanders as being something out of a Goya painting will stay in mind for a long time. Her work compares favourably with another outstanding chronicler of the Russian Revolution, John Reed, whose book Ten Days That Shook The World is required reading for anybody interested in this period of history.
One of the most important things that come out of her portrayal of the events of the Civil War is that she believed that the Revolution was a mass event. People were prepared to fight and die for this Revolution because a great cause inspired them. This was not just some coup organised by a handful of conspirators.
Reisner writes “Of course, individuals do not make history. However, in Russia, we had so few people and characters of his calibre. It was so difficult for them to break through the undergrowth of old and new bureaucracy that they rarely found themselves in the real-life, life-and-death struggle. It is because the Revolution had men like this, men in the highest sense of the word, that Russia was able to rally and recover. At decisive movements, they stood out from the general mass, and all of them displayed an authority – a full, genuine authority. They were aware of their heroic task and by their actions were able to rouse the rest of the wavering and pliable masses”.
Particularly striking are Reisner’s comments about the importance of the Red Army leader Leon Trotsky. In addition to Reisner’s writings, the book contains two pieces from Leon Trotsky’s My Life, A Month in Sviyazhsk and The Train. Reisner attaches great importance to Trotsky’s leadership in defence of Sviyazhsk, which turned out to be a turning point in the civil war.
One facet of her character that permeates the book is her bravery. She thought nothing of risking her own life in order to save others. One such example is when The Red Army, along with thousands of others in Kazan, fled to Sviyazhsk in 1918. Reisner believed that her husband, the Bolshevik Fyodor Fyodorovich Raskolnikov, had been taken prisoner by the Whites. She risked her neck by trying to rescue him by returning to Kazan. Her problem came when because she was such a high profile Bolshevik, she was easily recognised by a White officer. As she writes in the book, she managed to escape when a driver of a horse cab who was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks helped her, saying he “saved people like me, humbly and resolutely, just like they saved thousands of other comrades scattered all over the Russian highways.” (62)
Larissa Reissner died on 9 February 1926, in the Kremlin Hospital, Moscow, from typhoid; she was 30 years old. There is no small element of tragedy in this life cut so short. To produce such an important body of work at such a tender age is remarkable. No doubt, had she lived, she would have been able to add substantially to that work.
It is also clear that had she lived, that work would have taken on a much different character. Her close association with Leon Trotsky (she worked on Leon Trotsky’s Commission for Improvement of Industrial Products) would have undoubtedly led to her arrest and possible execution at the hands of Joseph Stalin’s counter-revolution. One thing is certain she would have defended not only herself but the Revolution from Stalinism.
It is perhaps fitting to end this review with a quote from a close associate of Leon Trotsky- Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky, who wrote, “she died at the height of her powers, intellect and beauty. She died in a clinic from an unexpected, absurd and accidental illness after long-suffering had worn her out. She should have lived, however, and she should have died somewhere on the Steppes, at sea, or in the mountains, clutching a rifle or Mauser in her hands, for she was renowned for her spirit of adventure, her unceasing restlessness, her courage, greed for life and strong will. This was a fighting spirit, and, without sparing herself, she gave herself completely to the revolution”.
Trotsky, Leon, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (Harmondsworth, 1979). X.708/22026.
 www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/reissner/works/hamburg/ch02.htm See Svyazhsk … An epic of the Russian Civil War-1918. Maradana : Hashim Press, 1948.LLSP [Extracted from “The Front.” Translated by John G. Wright and Amy Jensen.Larissa Reisner- From Fourth International, vol.4 No.6, June 1943, pp.184-189. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol04/no06/reissner.htm See also Trotsky, Sri Lanka and an ‘Olympian goddess-https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2016/10/trotsky-sri-lanka-and-an-olympian-goddess.html Aleksandr Voronsky-Art as the Cognition of Life-$24.95-Mehring Books
A Reply To Ella Whelan’s The 21st century Bolshevik.
The subheading for Ella Whelan’s article is “Brexit showed the ruling elite is still terrified by Trotsky’s ideas of working-class upheaval”. At the same time, Whelan is correct in this assumption but off the mark on the rest of the article.
Calling Trotsky a 21st Century Bolshevik while correct is only done so from the standpoint of negating his revolutionary ideas in order to align him with one or more faction of the British ruling elite. Whelan is not the first writer to link Trotskyism to one or more sections of the ruling elite.
Whelan’s article contains a degree of flippancy and cynicism you would expect from a writer who writes for a magazine that makes the Spectator magazine look like the Communist Manifesto. She also seems to have a fixation with Leon Trotsky having written a previous article for the Critic entitled: Trotsky’s lesson for dealing with Covid-19.
Whelan is not the only former radical to warn of the dangers to the ruling elite of Trotsky’s ideas. Another journalist who now writes for the Daily Telegraph Janet Daly warned a good while back that Trotsky and his ideas should not be allowed to save socialism.
Daly was a radical in the sixties but soon shed that cloak of radicalism and like a number of her generation shifted very far to the right. Daly writes “In the 1970s, as I clung to my Marxist convictions, I heard an interview with Sir Keith Joseph, one of the great architects of the Thatcherite revolution. He described the dangers of what he called “the pocket-money society.” If the state provided all of the basic human needs—housing, health care, education, care for the elderly—, it left nothing for people to provide for themselves, other than the more trivial recreational things. Their earnings became like children’s pocket money, to be spent on toys or self-indulgence. The state took all of the significant economic choices of adult life out of their hands, diminishing them as responsible, moral beings. Joseph’s words did not convert me on the spot, but they shook my beliefs to the roots because they chimed so convincingly with the evidence that I saw around me”.This blind political stupidity does not need any comment to suffice to say if Whelan wants to know where she is going to end up politically, she should look no further than to Janet Daly.
Whelan has now assumed Daly’s mantle writing “And so it is unsurprising that 80 years after his assassination at the hands of a pick-axe-wielding Stalinist mole, Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronstein). Trotsky was killed by a Stalinist agent, not a mole and why the need to put his former Jewish name in brackets. A name that he has not been associated with for over ninety years.
The article shows the author’s laziness and political proclivities in this next quote when she writes that Trotsky “has somewhat fallen out of favour. While his revolutionary career and unwavering polemics against the Stalinist regime won him support among lefties from Birmingham to Bolivia during the twentieth century, the slow (and painful) death of the left has all but killed off Trotskyism”.
I am afraid Trotsky ideas and influence are very much alive and kicking in the 21st century. Since its founding in 1940, the Fourth International has defended and then expanded the ideas and program that Trotsky fought for all his life. The modern-day form of this organisation is embodied in the form of the World Socialist Website (wsws.org).
Whelan seems to have been so distracted by her attempt to rubbish Trotsky’s legacy and that of his modern-day followers that she has not paid too much attention to the fact that the wsws.org has just undertaken a massive technological and political transformation of its website. It can safely be said that for the last 19 years this website has not only defended Leon Trotsky’s ideas but has expanded them to the degree that perhaps not even the Old Man could have envisaged.
There is a degree of nervousness and silliness in her article that comes from the fact that Whelan who has read some of Trotsky’s writings but does not believe what she writes is true. She writes “For many of today’s wannabe revolutionaries, ideas such as the dictatorship of the proletariat or even the transformative power of the working class is not as attractive as jam-making socialists and knighted lawyers in the Labour Party or farting about in fancy dress for”the climate”.
Her comment is just silly, hardly worth commenting on and is not true. The significant number of new members that are coalescing around the Fourth International are very serious people, and they are looking for answers to extremely pressing pollical and social problems faced by millions of people all over the world.
Whelan’s article is not without insight when she writes “Communism has been so warped by historical inaccuracy it is easy for people to project their prejudices onto it. But not so when she writes “But even so, if all hope of revolutionary Communism has been dead in the water for decades, and all that’s left is crass characterisations, why should we remember a man like Trotsky?”.
Whelan does say some correct things about Trotsky’s life such as this “perhaps the most important thing to know about Trotsky is that his real strength lay in his desire to inspire the masses to take control for themselves. In chapter 24 of My Life, he pays tribute to Nikolay Markin — a shy sailor” with the sullenness of a force-driven in dee” who became an important figure in the revolution and a close friend to Trotsky’ss own family. Trotsky describes how Markin quietly took charge of small things at first — such as the hostility Trotsky’ss family was facing in the”big bourgeois” house they were lodging in — and then larger tasks, including establishing printers to publish The Worker and the Soldier. Inspired by the revolutionary politics of the Bolshevik Party, and the rousing speeches given by Trotsky, workers like Markin realised they had the ability and the ambition to seize control of the means of production.
Trotsky describes how Markin became, for a time,” an unofficial minister of foreign affair”, writing pamphlets that Baron von Kühlmann and Count Czernin” read eagerly” at Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky writes that it did not matter that he”had no academic degree, and his writing was not free from grammatical error” or that”his comments were sometimes quite unexpected” because Markin” drove the diplomatic nails in firmly, and at the very points where they were most need”.
She is wrong however when she writes that Trotsky’s writing and aspirations were specific to the historical moment and says “some things have not changed so much. Capitalism might have evolved and transformed itself beyond anything Bolsheviks might recognise, but its inherent weaknesses and limits remain the same. What has changed is our unwillingness to mount a challenge to it.”
Trotsky’s writings are being looked at now because they still have a contemporary feel to them. The problems that Trotsky grappled with in his day are still ones we have to deal with today.
Whelan in her excitement to bury the influence of Leon Trotsky she repeats one of the old Stalinist slanders of Trotsky that has been repeated down the years and are used by modern-day charlatans to besmirch his revolutionary record.
She writes “But if Trotsky’ss strengths lay in his capacity to organise and defend the revolution, his failings in part contributed to its downfall. Unlike Lenin, who was so adept at managing internal party manoeuvring, Trotsky was incapable of working out what to do with the power struggle following Lenin’ss death. His refusal to take the deputy leadership of the party after 1924, and his blindness to the threat that Stalin posed, were disastrous for the Bolsheviks”.
On this occasion, Whelan is really out of depth and shows a simplistic understanding of the history of the Bolshevik revolution and Trotsky’s battle with Stalin. As an article in the wsws.org points out “The conflict that emerged between Stalin and Trotsky was not a subjective fight between two individuals over personal power, but a fundamental battle waged between irreconcilable political programs. The consolidation of power by Stalin, and the bureaucratic dictatorship that he personified, was not the inevitable outcome of the Russian Revolution. It developed out of the conditions of an economically backward workers’ state that was surrounded by world imperialism and isolated by the delay of the international and European revolution. A series of revolutionary upheavals were defeated due to the political immaturity of the revolutionary leadership internationally.
Whelan to a limited extent understands that the revolution needed to spread internationally which was at the heart of the battle between Trotsky and Stalin when she writes “But ultimately it was the failure of the revolution to spread internationally that led to the collapse of the first working-class revolution in history. Where Stalin destroyed the gains of the revolution, enforcing socialism in one country, Trotsky was a firm believer in the need for workers of the world — not just Russia — to unite. So why repeat the slander.
To conclude, Whelan asks Why is Trotsky still relevant today? A question she is politically incapable of answering without slandering Trotsky and his modern-day supporters and attempting to tie him to one wing of the British bourgeoisie. She is correct in saying that Trotsky had an “unshakeable belief in a working-class revolution” and it is this that is inspiring millions today”.
It is also true as Whelan writes “Unlike other historical figures who live to regret their intervention in history, Trotsky remained resolute in his belief in working-class independence to the end. That is what made him such a threat”. So what better than to leave the final word to Trotsky when he wrote: “I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist . . . life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full”.
Review: Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence translated and edited by Alan Woods, London: Wellred Books, 2016
“I can therefore state that I live on this earth not in accordance with the rule, but as an exception to the rule.”
“In a reactionary epoch such as ours, a revolutionist is compelled to swim against the stream. I am doing this to the best of my ability. The pressure of world reaction has expressed itself perhaps most implacably in my personal fate and the fate of those close to me. I do not at all see in this any merit of mine: this is the result of the interlacing of historical circumstances”.
“Stalin’s rise to power was bound up with the crystallisation of the bureaucratic apparatus and its growing awareness of its specific interests. “In this respect, Stalin presents a completely exceptional phenomenon. He is neither a thinker, nor a writer, nor an orator. He assumed power before the masses had learned to discern his figure from others at the celebratory marches on the Red Square. Stalin rose to power not thanks to personal qualities, but to an impersonal apparatus. And it was not he who created the apparatus, but the apparatus that created him.”
While Leon Trotsky’s place in history endures, his contemporary relevance grows by the day. Not only because he was a superb writer but because the basic currents and features of modern capitalism and imperialism that Trotsky wrote about in his day still need to be grappled with today.
As one writer put it “His writings—indispensable for an understanding of the contemporary world—remain as fresh as the day they were written. Trotsky’s life and struggles, his unyielding devotion to the liberation of mankind, will live on in history.
The translator and editor of this new edition of Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence is Alan Woods. Woods is associated with the International Marxist Tendency. Despite having fundamental political differences with this group Woods’ efforts in producing this edition of Trotsky’s Stalin deserve significant and widespread recognition and commendation.
Woods has done important work to restore Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin to its rightful place in the pantheon of Marxist literature. The new edition of Leon Trotsky’s biography of Joseph Stalin, published in 2016 by Wellred Books, is a significant contribution to our understanding of Trotsky’s thinking in the last years before his assassination in August 1940.
In this revised English translation, woods correctly made the decision not to change the content of the first part of the book, Chapters 1 through 7. Trotsky had corrected and approved these chapters during his life.
The majority of new work concentrated on the second half of the book. A radical overhaul of the remaining chapters was needed and undertaken. Chapters 8 through 12 were replaced with new chapters 8 through 14. An extraordinary 86,000 words were added to the 106,000-word length of the original.
As Woods writes “If Trotsky had lived, it is very clear that he would have produced infinitely better work. He would have made a rigorous selection of the raw material. Like an accomplished sculptor, he would have polished it and then polished it again until it reached the dazzling heights of a work of art. We cannot hope to attain such heights. We do not know what material the great man would have selected or rejected. But we feel we are under a historic obligation at least to make available to the world all the material that is available to us.”
The well-known problems with this book began when the Russian manuscript was given to Charles Malamuth to translate and edit. Despite having political sympathy with Trotsky Malamuth was “incompetent”.
Malamuth not only created a mess of a book but altered and added political formulations that Trotsky did not agree with. Trotsky was unhappy with the choice of Malamuth saying “Malamuth seems to have at least three qualities: he does not know Russian; he does not know English, and he is tremendously pretentious”.
Malamuth was exposed to the Trotskyist movement through his experience as a foreign correspondent in 1931, Malamuth considered himself a convinced admirer of Trotsky and his comrades. He was never a member of a Trotskyist party. There were many objections to Malamuth changes two of the most glaring severely contradicted Trotsky’s long-held political beliefs. These concepts were: (1) that Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of Bolshevism; and (2) that the Soviet Union under Stalin was no longer a workers’ state.
The finished book was due for publication in 1941. Due to the war and the fact that America did not want to disrupt the wartime alliance with Soviet Russia the book was only published after the war in 1946.
It is clear that Malmuth’s insertions and “necessary’ adjustments’ which were politically motivated suited US imperialisms struggle against Bolshevism. Malamuth’s commentary and misleading insertions of content, some of which stood in contradiction to Trotsky’s views, were severely criticised by Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s widow. Sedova charged that “unheard-of violence” had been “committed by the translator on the author’s rights” and declared that “everything written by the pen of Mr Malamuth must be expunged from the book.”
While it is hard to place this book amongst Trotsky’s other great work, this is no lesser book. For the modern reader, this “new” work shows his unparalleled genius for analysing political phenomena and political developments.
Trotsky’s book is a classical example of how to place historical figures in the “grand scheme of things”. Unlike Issac Deutscher’s biography that tended to give Stalin a lot more credit than he was due to Trotsky’s estimation of Stalin is stunning and wholly accurate. As Trotsky explains “In this respect, Stalin represents a phenomenon utterly exceptional. He is neither a thinker, a writer, nor an orator. He took possession of power before the masses had learned to distinguish his figure from others during the triumphal processions across Red Square. Stalin took possession of power, not with the aid of personal qualities, but with the aid of an impersonal machine. And it was not he who created the machine, but the machine that created him”.
He continues “that machine, with its force and its authority, was the product of the prolonged and heroic struggle of the Bolshevik Party, which itself grew out of ideas. The machine was the bearer of the idea before it became an end in itself. Stalin headed the machine from the moment he cut off the umbilical cord that bound it to the idea and it became a thing unto itself. Lenin created the machine through constant association with the masses, if not by oral word, then by the printed word, if not directly, then through the medium of his disciples. Stalin did not create the machine but took possession of it. For this, exceptional and special qualities were necessary. But they were not the qualities of the historic initiator, thinker, writer, or orator. The machine had grown out of ideas. Stalin’s first qualification was a contemptuous attitude toward ideas. “
Trotsky’s Stalin along with his other major work on Stalinism such as The Revolution Betrayed attack the so-called “myth of Stalin” revealing the socioeconomic and class relations from which it emerged. This myth, Trotsky wrote, “is devoid of any artistic qualities. It is only capable of astonishing the imagination through the grandiose sweep of shamelessness that corresponds completely with the character of the greedy caste of upstarts, which wishes to hasten the day when it has become master in the house.” 
Trotsky’s description of Stalin’s relationship to his fellow bureaucrats is damning in the least bringing to mind the satires of Juvenal: Trotsky writes “ligula made his favourite horse a Senator. Stalin has no favourite horse, and so far, there is no equine deputy sitting in the Supreme Soviet. However, the members of the Supreme Soviet have as little influence on the course of affairs in the Soviet Union as did Caligula’s horse, or for that matter even the influence his Senators had on the affairs of Rome. The Praetorian Guard stood above the people and in a certain sense even above the state. It had to have an Emperor as final arbiter. The Stalinist bureaucracy is a modern counterpart of the Praetorian Guard with Stalin as its Supreme Leader. Stalin’s power is a modern form of Caesarism. It is a monarchy without a crown, and so far, without an heir apparent. 
While Trotsky in the realm of politics was “the greatest mind of his age”. Stalin suffice to say was no political genius, but he knew that while Trotsky was alive and was exposing his treachery, he was a political threat to his regime. The regime could not allow him to live. Trotsky understood very well the forces aligned against him: “I can therefore state that I live on this earth not in accordance with the rule, but as an exception to the rule.”
Trotsky was alive to the danger posed by Stalin but retained a staggering level of personal objectivity: writing “In a reactionary epoch such as ours, a revolutionist is compelled to swim against the stream. I am doing this to the best of my ability. The pressure of world reaction has expressed itself perhaps most implacably in my personal fate and the fate of those close to me. I do not at all see in this any merit of mine: this is the result of the interlacing of historical circumstances.”
Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Stalin leaves a lot to be desired, and that is being very generous. I am afraid I have to disagree with Isaac Deutscher, who wrote “that the biography of Stalin—even if the author had lived to complete it—”would probably have remained his weakest work.” He continues that it did not contain the “ripeness and balance of Trotsky’s other works” and included “many tentative statements and overstatements.”
This criticism was not an aesthetic quibble but arose from Deutscher’s political objections to Trotsky’s clear assessment of Stalinism as counterrevolutionary.
According to the Marxist writer David North, “Trotsky’s Stalin is a masterpiece. Countless biographies of Stalin have been written, including one by Deutscher that presented Stalin as a political giant. None of these works comes close to matching Trotsky’s biography in terms of political depth, psychological insight and literary brilliance.
Deutscher in one part of the book repeats a time-honoured attack on Trotsky by the Stalinists that he and other leading “elite” Bolsheviks did not understand the Peasantry and that Stalin who was close to this class was more adept at understanding their political needs.
To be truthful Boris Souvarine’ biography on Stalin is not unlike that of Deutschers. Numerous academic reviewers have placed both versions above that of Trotsky’s. Sourvarine who in his early career was relatively close to Trotsky and supported the Bolshevik revolution, unfortunately, ended his days a bitter opponent of both Lenin and Trotsky as this quote shows he repudiated the October revolution as well.
“Such was the actual result of the work of the man who, in The State and Revolution in 1917, had affirmed that the state must begin to wither away on the morrow of the socialist revolution. It had been created in stages to incorporate a refractory population and subject it to the new regime. For even the minority who had voted for the Bolsheviks in the elections to the Constituent Assembly had not voted for the Cheka and the terror, or even for Communism; they thought they were voting for peace, for the distribution of land, and for free soviets. To this monstrous etatist construction corresponded an aberrant ideology, a verbal pseudo-Marxism, simplistic and caricatural, of which Lenin was equally the theoretical and practical creator. Stalin only carried to extremes what Lenin had invented, though the latter was sincere in his socialist intentions, for which his epigones cared nothing.
As for Trotsky, anxious to obliterate his former disagreements with Lenin, recoiling in the face of the treacherous suspicion of “Bonapartism”, and haunted by the historical precedent of “Thermidor”, he had to rival the so-called “Bolshevik-Leninist” orthodoxy of his opponents, whilst denouncing to the utmost and quite rightly “the apparatus’s system of terror”, but in circumstances in which this apparatus, of which he was part, was now capable of stifling all dissident voices and mercilessly punishing any inclination towards dissidence. Along with Lenin, Trotsky had contributed to forging the baleful myth of the infallibility of the party, in defiance of the real ideas of Marx, which were invoked indiscriminately. Both of them, intoxicated by their doctrinal certainties, and perched at the top of the bureaucratic-soviet pyramid, were ignorant of what was being elaborated in the levels below, evincing a lack of awareness that handed over all the levers of command to Stalin.
Such are, in a hasty and necessarily bare outline, the why and the how of Stalin’s enigmatic career. It is a summary that does not allow us to identify, as all too many are inclined to do, the founder of the so-called soviet state with its inheritor, so different in their characters and motives, without mentioning the rest. When Victor Adler, teasing Plekhanov, said to him “Lenin is your son”, he replied tit for tat, “If he is my son, he is an illegitimate one”. Lenin could have said the same for Stalin. For the latter was not another Lenin. Those who think so are deceiving themselves. But that is another story.
Jean van Heijenoort
Alan Woods is correct in his assessment of the Jean van Heijenoort’s edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin saying “In 1948 an edition of Stalin was published in French, edited by Jean van Heijenoort, a former secretary of Trotsky’s, in conjunction with Trotsky’s friend Alfred Rosmer. Although believed by some to be a more authentic rendition of Trotsky’s words, a subsequent comparison of the published French edition to Trotsky’s original manuscript revealed the deletion of many pages of Trotsky’s writing, the addition of little of import, and a blurring of Malamuth’s commentary with the words of Trotsky through the editorial removal of square brackets from the English edition”.
Throughout his life and after his death, Trotsky was attacked for using the historical materialist method to analysed political phenomena. His biography of Stalin is no different.
Of his method, Trotsky wrote “numerous of my opponents have conceded that the latter book is made up of facts arranged in a scholarly way. True, a reviewer in the New York Times rejected that book as prejudiced. But every line of his essay showed that he was indignant with the Russian Revolution and was transferring his indignation to its historian. This is the usual aberration of all sorts of liberal subjectivists who carry on a perpetual quarrel with the course of the class struggle. Embittered by the results of some historical process, they vent their spleen on the scientific analysis that discloses the inevitability of those results. In the final reckoning, the judgment passed on the author’s method is far more pertinent than whether all or only a part of the author’s conclusions will be acknowledged to be objective. And on that score, this author has no fear of criticism.
This work is built of facts and is solidly grounded in documents. It stands to reason that here and there partial and minor errors or trivial offences in emphasis and misinterpretation may be found. But what no one will find in this work is an unconscientious attitude toward facts, the deliberate disregard of documentary evidence or arbitrary conclusions based only on personal prejudices. The author did not overlook a single fact, document, or bit of testimony redounding to the benefit of the hero of this book. If a painstaking, thoroughgoing and conscientious gathering of facts, even of minor episodes, the verification of the testimony of witnesses with the aid of the methods of historical and biographical criticism, and finally the inclusion of facts of personal life in their relation to our hero’s role in the historical process—if all of this is not objectivity, then, I ask, What is objectivity?
Political power, like morality, by no means, develops uninterruptedly toward a state of perfection, as was thought at the end of the last century and during the first decade of the present century. Politics and morals suffer and have to pass through a highly complex and paradoxical orbit. Politics, like morality, is directly dependent on the class struggle. As a general rule, it may be said that the sharper and more intense the class struggle, the deeper the social crisis, and the more intense the character acquired by politics, the more concentrated and more ruthless becomes the power of the state and the more frankly [does it cast off the garments of morality]”.
To conclude, Trotsky’ biography of Stalin is a fine example of the historians and biographers craft. Not only was he able to place Stalin’s role within a cognisant account of the October Revolution, but he was also able to clarify the social basis of Stalin’s power. The book was not finished because Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent who murdered him with an ice pick to the head. Although his physical life ended as this edition proves not only does his legacy remain his work on Stalin and Stalinism is as relevant today as it was when he wrote this book. Again despite having political differences with the editor of this new edition, I would recommend and hope this book gets a wide readership it deserves and should be on the desk or tablet of every young revolutionary.
1937-Stalin’s Year of Terror-By Vadim Z Rogovin-Mehring Books, 1998- £25
Review: A People’s History of the Russian Revolution-Neil Faulkner-Pluto Press-£11.50-2017.
Withhold publication—but don’t lose track of the author.”Novy Mir,
Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for a harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.
Leon Trotsky-Art and Politics in Our Epoch (1938)
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Girl from the Metropol Hotel is a powerful memoir of her childhood in Stalinist Russia. In an already overcrowded market of memoirs emanating from the Stalinist betrayal of the October revolution and the rise of a Stalinist totalitarian state, this is one of the better ones. Anna Summers excellently translates the book.
Petrushevskaya’s slim memoir is beautifully written, which is all the more surprising given the level of brutality she and her family suffered as“an enemy of the people to our neighbours, to the police, to the janitors, to the passers-by, to every resident of our courtyard of any age. We were not allowed to use the shared bathroom, to wash our clothes, and we didn’t have soap anyway. At the age of 9, I was unfamiliar with shoes, with handkerchiefs, with combs; I did not know what school or discipline was.”
Petrushevskaya’s family was no ordinary family for it contained many leading Bolsheviks who were either murdered or left to rot in prison, six of her family were convicted and given 10-year sentences at hard labour, on the order of Joseph Stalin. Petrushevskaya’s grandfather, Nikolai Yakovlev, was a world-renowned linguistics scholar. Her grandmother married Yakolev after turning away the romantic assignations of the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
Petrushevskaya’s great-uncle was a leading organiser of the 1905 revolution a curtain-raiser to the 1917 October Revolution. Her great-grandfather, Dedya, joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party in 1898.
Yakolev is of particular interest because he crossed swords with Stalin over linguistics. Yakolev was an early advocate of Marrism. What should have been a comradely discussion over their differences ended when Stalin sent Yakolev to the Gulag. Stalin justified his differences with the Marrist’s in a Pravda article entitled Marxism and questions. He denounced Marrism and accused its adherents of being anti-Marxists. Yakovlev was one of the lucky ones in the sense that he could have been shot straight away.
It is clear from Petrushevskaya work that she is not overtly political and never really understood the political nature of Stalin’s purges. Petrushevskaya is fortunate that she lives in a country that produced one of the greatest Marxists scholars who wrote extensively on Stalin’s purges. The great Russian historian Vadim Rogovin described why “in the struggle for power and income, the bureaucracy (was) forced to chop off and crush those groups who (were) connected with the past, who know and remember the program of the October Revolution, who are sincerely devoted to the tasks of socialism. The extermination of the Old Bolsheviks and the socialist elements of the middle and younger generations is an important link in the anti-October reaction” 
Petrushevskaya survived the Stalin period but found it impossible to get published during the Brezhnev years. Petrushevskaya had described this as a time when truth was in general forbidden.”Her books which tackled crime, domestic violence, alcoholism, and illness were way too radical for a government whose very anti-working policies caused so much social inequality. Even Novy Mir, the supposed liberal journal refused to publish her stories, saying Withhold publication—but don’t lose track of the author” During the era of Gorbachev’s perestroika, she had a measure of success in that her books were being published. She continued to write about issues that highlighted social inequality in Soviet society. As Sophie Pinkham put it “Her characters were preoccupied, as were citizens under Stalin, with food, housing, and violent death”.
Her exposure of social inequality angered the bureaucracy. Her phone was tapped, and she was under constant surveillance. She was indicted for six months after criticizing Gorbachev’s military actions in Latvia and Lithuania.
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is still alive and long may she continue writing her books. They are worth reading and deserve a wide readership. The issues emanating from her difficult childhood and issues surrounding her family especially the debate over Soviet linguists should provoke further study. It is for that reason that I have added a recommendation for further reading.
N. Ia. Marr and the National Origins of Soviet Ethnogenetics Author(s): Yuri Slezkine Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 826-862 Marr, Marrism, and Stalinism-V. M. Alpatov- Russian Studies in History- Volume 34, 1995 – Issue 2
Just Send Me Word, a True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, By Orlando Figes- – Allen Lane- 352 pages -24 May 2012
Lenin, Machiavelli and History Today Magazine
“Some medieval courts not only condemned their worst opponents to death, but they also prescribed a series of extremely cruel and bloody forms of execution to be carried out one after the other. The thirst for revenge and urge to deter others mixed with the fear that those subjected to torture could return and take revenge. The Russian Revolution and its best-known leader, Vladimir Illyich Lenin, have suffered a similar fate over the past 90 years. Up to this day, propagandistic efforts have not ceased to strike dead this most important revolution of the twentieth century”.
While this quote from Peter Schwarz is taken from his article on the German Magazine Der Spiegel the same could be said of the History Today Magazine. It would appear that not a month goes by without an article attacking in some form Marxist conceptions or leading Marxist figures. It would appear that History Today has a particular grievance against Vladimir Lenin.
A simple search of the History Today archive would bring to the attention of the reader over thirty articles, and one must say very few of these are worth the paper they are printed on. The latest one in the November issue is no exception. Its title Lenin: The Machiavellian Marxist by Graeme Garrard gives its intentions away. It also follows a similar pattern; it is almost like History Today has a template for these kind of articles.
One problem that arises with these type of articles is the choice of writer. Graeme Garrard who is a reader at Cardiff University and is an established historian but like many who write on revolutionary politics has little or no grasp of what life in a revolutionary party today or yesterday was like. It was not always like this.
While Lenin studies are not in a very good place at the moment as the Marxist writer David North points out the situation in Trotsky studies is worse and has “deteriorated in the 1990s. American and British scholarship produced nothing substantial in this field during the entire decade. The only published work that perhaps stands out as an exception, though a minor one, is a single volume of essays, produced by the Edinburgh University Press in 1992 under the title The Trotsky Reappraisal. During this decade, a disturbing trend emerged in Britain, which consisted of recycling and legitimising old anti-Trotsky slanders. This trend was exemplified by the so-called Journal of Trotsky Studies, which was produced at the University of Glasgow. The favourite theme of this journal was that Trotsky’s writings were full of self-serving distortions”.
In many ways, Garrads is characteristic of the approach to historical and political issues taken by other writers. Comparing the revolutionary figures such as Lenin and Trotsky to religious fanatics is not new.
Another distortion peddled is that the October revolution was coup. First, the establishment of the first worker’s state was not a coup carried out by a small group of supporters of Lenin. “The October revolution was the product of the struggle of millions of workers, impoverished peasants and war-weary soldiers, who joined the Bolsheviks because they regarded the party as the most consistent defender of their interests.”
A further point which again is not new is that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were only able to live as revolutionaries off the backs of Russian Peasants and English workers. This is a cheap and very right-wing approach to historical questions. , Lenin and Marx lived under capitalism, not socialism.
Garrards use of only one other historian is a little strange. Ullam is a gifted historian but has certain baggage regarding the Russian revolution, and Garrard should have drawn on other sources.
The reference Garrard makes to Lenin being Machiavellian is absurd and would take too long to expose the stupidity of such a comment. Again he is not alone in making this remark, and the company he keeps is not very pleasant.
The last point the author makes is perhaps the most perplexing. Much of the article is given over to what happens to the state under Socialism. Lenin’s and Trotsky position was clear as day it would wither away mankind would live under a society based on need, not profit. His last sentence is strange given that what happened to the Soviet Union after Lenin died is common knowledge. Why did Garrard not mention the betrayal of the Russian revolution by Stalinism?
Why are these articles being written? After all, we have had the “Death of Marxism, “The End of History”, why to bother with figures such as Lenin, Marx, Trotsky. The reason being is that many workers and young people are looking for a socialist alternative. Many are now turning to a systematic study of the October Revolution.
They are being met with a web of lies and distortions left by bourgeois and Stalinist propaganda. It explains why 90 years on History Today continues to vilify the Russian Revolution and its revolutionaries
Lenin and the Russian Revolution -Christopher Hill-English Universities Press-248 pp. 1947
A Critical Review of Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude’s -New York HarperCollins, 2009
1917: Before and After by Edward Hallett Carr, Macmillan,1969
Trotsky was a hero of the revolution; He fell when the heroic age was over.” E H Carr.
This collection of articles, reviews and lectures deal predominantly with Carr’s assessment of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and its revolutionaries. To say that Carr had a contradictory attitude to the Revolution and for that matter Marxism, in general, would be an understatement.
The items that make up this slim volume were written before 1950 and give me a welcome opportunity for a limited survey of his work and the place it occupies in the field of Soviet studies.
The themes of the lectures are broad in scope. Ranging from figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and literary figures such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Like all Carr’s work his style of writing is clear and straightforward and explains complex historical and political events in a language untainted by jargon.
However, one major criticism of Carr’s work and perhaps the biggest charge against him is that he was only interested in writing about the victors in history. This is simply not true while he did not deal with the defeat suffered by Leon Trotsky and others on the scale of say Isaac Deutscher he did none the less deal with the defeated in a precise and not unsympathetic manner.
The first chapter The Russian Revolution; its place in History is a well-written attempt to place the revolution in its historical context. This is a solid piece of writing which is free of the usual cynicism that permeates Soviet historiography today. Carr correctly observes that the Russian revolutionaries learned the lessons from previous revolutions including the French and English bourgeois revolution.
The second chapter is a preface to a translation of the novel What Is to Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The novel was highly thought of by Vladimir Lenin. One of Lenin great works What is to be Done, written in 1902 took the name of this book. He called the author a “great Russian socialist”. This a very sympathetic portrait of Chernyshevsky. The novel is highly thought of in academic circles. Joseph Frank wrote “No work in modern literature, with the possible exception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, can compete with What Is to Be Done? in its effect on human lives and its power to make history. For Chernyshevsky novel, far more than Marx’s Capital, supplied the emotional dynamic that eventually went to make the Russian Revolution.”
Carr’s third chapter is called Red Rosa. As Carr admits it is very difficult to do justice to Luxemburg in the space of eleven pages of text. A full-length biography and then some is needed. It is clear that Luxemburg was held in high esteem amongst the Bolsheviks leaders. Lenin especially commented that “Although the eagles do swoop down and beneath the chickens fly, chickens with outspread wings never will soar amid clouds in the sky”.
Carr properly designates Luxemburg as an equal of any leading Marxists of the time. She played a crucial role in the attack on Eduard Bernstein’s revision of Marxism. Her Accumulation of Capital written in 1915 was among other things an attack on Bernstein’s revisionism. Luxemburg, it is true did not hold back any criticism especially of the Bolsheviks if she felt it was warranted.
The paragraph below quoted in Carr’s book has been interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on the Bolsheviks but I am not sure Carr’s reads it that way.
“The essence of socialist society consists in the fact that the great labouring mass ceases to be a dominated mass, but rather, makes the entire political and economic life its own life and gives that life a conscious, free, and autonomous direction. The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing. It does not need these weapons because it does not combat individuals but institutions because it does not enter the arena with naïve illusions whose disappointment it would seek to revenge. It is not the desperate attempt of a minority to mould the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfil a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality.“
Carr’s fourth chapter is called The Bolshevik Utopia. This is a very misleading piece of writing, in that it gives the impression that Marxism has a utopian content. Given that Carr is usually very precise in his writing this is not a mistake or slip of the pen. Carr really did identify with this characterization of the Bolsheviks. It is a little strange given that Carr would have been familiar with the decades-long struggle the Marxist movement carried out in opposing the utopian socialists.
The Tragedy of Trotsky is by far the most interesting piece of this collection. The chapter is a multi-layer review of Isaac Deutscher’s biography of the Russian revolutionary. Carr it must be said was one of the first historians to carry out a major attempt at restoring Trotsky to his rightful place in Soviet and international history. Using sources from the soviet archives he was one of the first historians to write a detailed account of the political struggles inside the leadership of the Communist Party of the USSR 1923-24.
Carr clearly thought that there was an alternative to Stalinism in the form of Leon Trotsky and his Left Opposition. According to the Marxist writer David North “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky. But he brilliantly summarized and analyzed the complex issues of program, policy and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a difficult and critical period of Soviet history. Carr’s account made clear that Trotsky became the target of an unprincipled attack that was, in its initial stages, motivated by his rivals’ subjective considerations of personal power. While Carr found much to criticize in Trotsky’s response to the provocations of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, the historian left no doubt that he viewed Trotsky as, alongside of Lenin, the towering figure of the Bolshevik Revolution”. 
Carr’s Place in Soviet Historiography
Carr was part of that generation of historians although not Marxist who sought to make an objective evaluation of the October revolution and its aftermath. As one writer commented “not exactly a Marxist, but strongly impregnated with Marxist ways of thinking, applied to international affairs”.
Carr, who worked under difficult circumstances throughout his career had to come to terms with the debilitating effect of Stalinism had on his field of historical study. According to Deutscher “The Stalinist state intimidated the historian and dictated to him first the pattern into which he was expected to force events and then the ever new versions of the events themselves. At the outset, the historian was subjected to this pressure mainly when he dealt with the Soviet revolution, the party strife which had preceded and which had followed it, and especially the struggles inside the Bolshevik Party. All these had to be treated in a manner justifying Stalin as the Leader of monolithic Bolshevism”. 
Since Carr’s time, there has been a distinct and traceable decline in the historical study of the Russian revolution. The failure of today’s historians to produce an objective and intelligent account of the revolution has more to do with current politics than it does with just bad academic standards and this is despite having access to archives that Carr could have only dreamed of. In fact, outside the confines of the International committee of the Fourth International, there has been no historian that has bettered Carr’s work.
It is not within the realm of this review to examine the current state of soviet historiography suffice to say it is at a very low ebb. Far from being objective historical studies, many of the books appearing lately have been hagiographies and very right-wing ones at that. Many of them do not even retain minimal academic standards.
One such book is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky according to David North “Trotsky: A Biography is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favorite devices is to refer to “rumors” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumor’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility”.
In conclusion I am not saying Carr is without flaws and limitations. His work however will “remain a great and enduring landmark in historical writing devoted to the Bolshevik revolution. “It will take a very great historian to better his work. In today’s climate I for one am not holding my breath.
Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays, Isaac Deutscher, Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955).
EH Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1921 (three volumes, London, 1950, 1952, 1953); The Interregnum, 1923-1924 (London, 1954).
 Joseph Frank, The Southern Review  Leon Trotsky- Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg! (June 1932)  Rosa Luxemburg-What Does the Spartacus League Want? (December 1918)  North, David, In defence of Leon Trotsky, Mehring Books, Detroit,2015  Isaac Deutscher’s, Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays (Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.  In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service’s Trotsky-David North
The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky-Bertrand M. Patenaude