A review of two Trotsky biographies by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher

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A review of two Trotsky biographies by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher



here is an imoprtant hisoical work presented by the WSWS..

It is a review given by David North on Leon Trotsky and the post-Soviet school of historical falsification.

When I started to read this I was sickened by the way the Stalinists murdered the socialist in Russia...

here is a bit from it and you can find th elink at the end...


Even after the passage of 70 years, the number of those murdered by the Stalinist regime in 1937-38 has not been conclusively established. According to a recent analysis by Professor Michael Ellman of the University of Amsterdam, the “best estimate that can currently be made of the number of repression deaths in 1937-38 is the range of 950,000-1.2 million, i.e. about a million. This is the estimate which should be used by historians, teachers and journalists concerned with twentieth century Russian - and world - history.”[1] Ellman notes that the discovery of new evidence may at some point require a revision of this figure.

There now exists substantial archival evidence that provides a detailed picture of how Stalin and his henchmen in the Politburo and NKVD organized and carried out their campaign of mass murder. The Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court played a central role in the process of judicially-sanctioned mass murder. A total of 54 defendants was sentenced at the three public show trials in Moscow. But there were tens of thousands of people who were tried behind closed doors by the Military Collegium and sentenced to death after “trials” that usually were completed within ten to fifteen minutes.[2] The victims were drawn from lists of individuals that had been prepared by the NKVD, along with a proposed sentence. These were submitted for review by Stalin and the Politburo. The names were those of “leading Party, Soviet, Komsomol, Trade Union, Red Army and NKVD officials, as well as writers, artists and prominent representatives of economic institutions, who had been arrested by the same NKVD.”[3] Stalin and his Politburo reviewed these lists and, in almost all cases, approved the recommended sentences - mostly death by shooting. There are 383 lists in the Presidential Archive in Moscow, submitted to Stalin between 27 February 1937 and 29 September 1938, which contain the typed names of 44,500 people. The signatures of Stalin and his colleagues, along with their penciled-in comments, are on these lists.[4]

The Military Collegium handed down 14,732 sentences in 1937 and another 24,435 in 1938. Stalin was the principal director of the terror and was deeply involved in its daily operations. On just one day, 12 September 1938, Stalin approved 3,167 death sentences for action by the Military Collegium.[5] There exists a substantial amount of information on how the Military Collegium conducted its work. Its secret trials were usually conducted at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. The official mainly in charge of the process was the Collegium’s President, Vasili Ul’rikh. On a busy day, the Collegium could handle 30 or more cases. It was often necessary to set up additional Collegium courts to deal with the crush of prisoners. The usual procedure was to bring prisoners before the Collegium. The charge was read to the accused, who was generally asked only to acknowledge the testimony that he had given during his earlier “investigation.” Whether the defendant answered in the affirmative or negative, the trial was then declared to be over. After hearing five such cases, the Collegium retired to consider its verdicts, which had already been decided and written down. The defendants were then recalled to hear their fate - almost always death. The sentences were generally carried out the same day.[6]

This was hard work for the Collegium members, and they required substantial nourishment to keep them going. They retired to the deliberation room for their meals, which, according to the account of a Lefortovo prison official, consisted of “various cold snacks, including different kinds of sausages, cheese, butter, black caviar, pastries, chocolate, fruits and fruit juice.” Ul’rikh washed the food down with brandy.[7]

The Collegium members did not only hand down verdicts. Frequently they attended and even carried out the executions that they had ordered. Ul’rikh occasionally returned home from his work with the blood of his victims on his greatcoat.


jeff house

Stalin was bad, for sure.

I tend to think Trotsky wouldn't have been much better, though.

Mainly, he accepted the perverted idea of democratic centralism, at least until it was too late.

Rosa Luxemburg was very smart about that. She said that democratic centralism would eventually replace the working class with the party, and the party eventually with the Central Committee, and the Central Committee eventually with the Leader. And since the working class can do no wrong, the Leader ends up infallible.

She also said:


"Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element."


[url=http://www.takebackthemedia.com/bushnonazi.html]Hitler[/url] was even worse, Jeff.

And they could do with less US-interference and coercion with elections in [url=http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/Afghan_ESal_Iraq_Elections.h..., Iraq and El Salvador[/url]

[ 09 May 2007: Message edited by: Fidel ]


I don't know anything about Rosa Luxemburg other then her being a leading figure in the Germany working class struggle and her being murdered....

Today they [ublished the second part of the lecture and book reviews.... Obviously they are biased towards Trotsky but I like them because of how these authors are picked apart....

here is the link and a few quotes....



However, books of this sort evaded the problem of historical alternatives; that is, were the policies pursued by Stalin and his successors the only options available to the USSR? Had the Soviet Union pursued different policies at various points in its 74-year history, might that have produced a significantly different historical outcome? To put the matter as succinctly as possible: Was there an alternative to Stalinism? I am not posing this as an abstract hypothetical counterfactual. Did there exist a socialist opposition to Stalinism? Did this opposition propose serious and substantial alternatives in terms of policy and program?

The answers to such crucial questions demand a serious reengagement with the ideas of Leon Trotsky and the oppositional movement that he led within the USSR and internationally. This, however, has not happened. Rather than building upon the achievements of earlier generations of scholars and drawing upon the vast new archival resources that have become available over the past 15 years, the dominant tendency in the historiography of the Soviet Union has been in a very different direction.

The years since the fall of the USSR have seen the emergence of what can best be described as The Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification. The principal objective of this school is to discredit Leon Trotsky as a significant historical figure, to deny that he represented an alternative to Stalinism, or that his political legacy contains anything relevant in the present and valuable for the future. Every historian is entitled to his or her viewpoint. But these viewpoints must be grounded in a serious, honest and principled attitude toward the assembling of facts and the presentation of historical evidence. It is this essential quality, however, that is deplorably absent in two new biographies of Leon Trotsky, one by Professor Geoffrey Swain of the University of Glasgow and the other by Professor Ian D. Thatcher of Brunel University in West London. These works have been brought out by large and influential publishing houses. Swain’s biography has been published by Longman; Thatcher’s by Routledge. Their treatment of the life of Leon Trotsky is without the slightest scholarly merit. Both works make limited use of Trotsky’s own writings, offering few substantial citations and even ignoring major books, essays and political statements.

Despite their publishers’ claims that the biographies are based on significant original research, there is no indication that either Swain or Thatcher made use of the major archival collections of Trotsky’s papers held at Harvard and Stanford Universities. Well-established facts relating to Trotsky’s life are, without credible evidentiary foundation, “called into question” or dismissed as “myths,” to use the authors’ favorite phrases. While belittling and even mocking Trotsky, Swain and Thatcher repeatedly attempt to lend credibility and legitimacy to Stalin, frequently defending the latter against Trotsky’s criticism and finding grounds to justify the attacks on Trotsky and the Left Opposition. In many cases, their own criticisms of Trotsky are recycled versions of old Stalinist falsifications.

The formats of the Swain and Thatcher biographies are similar in design and page length, and are clearly directed toward a student audience. The authors know, of course, that the books will be the first acquaintance with Trotsky for most of their readers; and they have crafted these two books in a manner calculated to disabuse readers of any further interest in their subject. As Professor Swain proclaims with evident satisfaction in the first paragraph of his volume, “Readers of this biography will not find their way to Trotskyism.”[21] Nor, he might have added, will they derive any understanding of Trotsky’s ideas, the principles for which he fought, and his place in the history of the twentieth century.