Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robert Service's new biography of Trotsky gets a little too close to murderous Judeofascist origins of Communism for comfort; Socialists don't like it

In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service's Trotsky
(World Socialist Web Site) -- by David North

Trotsky: A Biography
Robert Service
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2009

...Now comes Robert Service’s contribution to the on-going efforts to demolish Leon Trotsky’s historical reputation. In its pre-publication promotional material, the Harvard University Press proclaims: “Although Trotsky’s followers clung to the stubborn view of him as a pure revolutionary and a powerful intellect hounded into exile by Stalin, the reality is very different. [Service’s] illuminating portrait of the man and his legacy sets the record straight.” Does it really?

Biography as Character Assassination

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.

Trotsky once declared, as he defended himself against the slanders of Stalin’s regime: “There is not a stain on my revolutionary honor.” Service, however, portrays Trotsky as an individual without any honor at all. He attempts to discredit Trotsky not only as a revolutionary politician, but also as a man. Service’s Trotsky is a heartless and vain individual who used associates for his own egotistical purposes, a faithless husband who callously abandoned his wife, and a father who was coldly indifferent to his children and even responsible for their deaths. “People did not have to wait long before discovering how vain and self-centered he was,” Service writes of Trotsky in a typical passage. [56]

Service’s biography is loaded with such petty insults. Trotsky was “volatile and untrustworthy.” “He was an arrogant individual” who “egocentrically assumed that his opinions, if expressed in vivid language, would win him victory.” “His self-absorption was extreme. As a husband he treated his first wife shabbily. He ignored the needs of his children especially when his political interests intervened.” [4]

Trotsky’s intellectual and political life was, Service would have his readers believe, as shabby as his personal life. Trotsky’s “lust for dictatorship and terror were barely disguised in the Civil War. He trampled on the civil rights of millions of people including the industrial workers.” As for his subsequent political defeat, Service dismisses, without counter-argument, Trotsky’s analysis of the growth of the Soviet bureaucracy and its usurpation of political power. Service simply asserts, as if he were stating the obvious, that Trotsky “lost to a man [Stalin] and a clique with a superior understanding of Soviet public life.” [4]

According to Service, Trotsky was nothing more than a second- or third-rate thinker. Trotsky, he writes, “made no claim to intellectual originality: he would have been ridiculed if he had tried.” [109] “Intellectually he flitted from topic to topic and felt no stimulus to systematize his thinking.” [110] Trotsky wrote quickly and superficially: “He simply loved to be seated at a desk, fountain pen in hand, scribbling out the latest opus. Nobody dared to disturb him when the flow of words was forming in his head.” [319] And what was the result of this “scribbling”? Service writes: “His thought was a confused and confusing ragbag.” [353] “He spent a lot of time in disputing, less of it in thinking. Style prevailed over content…This involved an ultimate lack of seriousness as an intellectual.” [356] This is Service’s verdict on the literary work of a man who must be counted among the greatest writers of the twentieth century. (5)...

Let us now turn to Service’s contention that Trotsky sought to downplay his Jewish ancestry. There is, to be blunt, something rather unpleasant and suspect about Service’s preoccupation with this matter. The fact that Trotsky was a Jew occupies a central place in Service’s biography. It is never far from Service’s mind. He is constantly reminding his readers of this fact, as if he were worried that it might slip from their attention. Indeed, given the emphasis placed on Trotsky’s ethnicity, this book might have very well been titled, Trotsky: The Biography of a Jew...

It might be possible to dismiss this as nothing more than a careless exercise of authorial imagination but for the fact that Service’s continuous harping on Trotsky’s religious background is obsessive, obnoxious, and, in its cumulative impact, ugly. He employs the suspect device of noting anti-Semitic attitudes and then proceeding to reinforce them. The reader is offered such passages as the following on page 192:

"Russian anti-Semites had picked out Jews as a race without patriotic commitment to Russia. By becoming the foreign minister for a government more interested in spreading world revolution than in defending the country’s interests Trotsky was conforming to a widespread stereotype of the ‘Jewish problem.’ … As things stood he had already become the most famous Jew on earth. America’s Red Cross leader in Russia, Colonel Raymond Robins, put this with characteristic pungency. Talking to Robert Bruce Lockhart, head of the British diplomatic mission in Moscow, he described Trotsky as ‘a four kind son of a bitch, but the greatest Jew since Christ.’ Trotsky, furthermore, was merely the most famous Jew in a Sovnarkom where Jews were present to a disproportionate degree. The same was true in the Bolshevik central party leadership. If Lenin were to have dispensed with the services of talented Jews, he could never have formed a cabinet." [Emphasis added]...

More important information follows on page 202: Trotsky “was brash in his cleverness, outspoken in his opinions. No one could intimidate him. Trotsky had these characteristics to a higher degree than most other Jews emancipated from the traditions of their religious community and the restrictions of the Imperial order. He was manifestly an individual of exceptional talent. But he was far from being the only Jew who visibly enjoyed the opportunities for public self-advancement. In later years, they were to constitute a model for Jewish youth to follow in the world communist movement when, like communists of all nationalities, they spoke loudly and wrote sharply regardless of other people’s sensitivities. Trotsky can hardly be diagnosed as having suffered from the supposed syndrome of the self-hating Jew. Hatred did not come into the matter. He was too delighted with himself and his life to be troubled by embarrassments about his ancestry.” [Emphasis added]

Having suggested that Trotsky’s revolutionary career was an example of Jews taking advantage of opportunities for “public self-advancement,” Service develops this idea in the next paragraph:

“Trotsky was one of those tens of thousands of educated Jews in the Russian Empire who at last could assert themselves in situations where their parents had needed to bow and scrape before Gentile officialdom.” Many Jews, Service notes thoughtfully, sought advancement in respectable professions. But “the second route was to join the revolutionary parties where Jews constituted a disproportionate element.” This is a theory of well-known anti-Semitic parentage: revolution as a form of aggressively ambitious Jewish revenge against a society dominated by Christians. But Service has still more to say on this subject. He declares:

“Young Jewish men and women, trained in the rigors of the Torah, found a congenial secular orthodoxy in Marxist intricacies. Hair-splitting disputes were common to Marxism and Judaism (as they were to Protestantism).” It is now possible to explain Service’s previous twisting of the Eastman citation. Trotsky, according to Service’s distorted account, had also been trained in the “rigors of the Torah.” From there, the reader is led to believe, it was only for the career-minded Bronstein a hop, skip and jump to Das Kapital, the Theory of Permanent Revolution, and a corner suite in the Kremlin.

Service, on page 205, writes that: “The party’s leadership was widely identified as a Jewish gang.” No source is given for this statement. He adds, a few sentences down, “Jews indeed were widely alleged to dominate the Bolshevik party.” Again, there is no source provided for this allegation. These allegations are not challenged, let alone refuted. On the next page, 206, Service reproduces a paragraph from an “anonymous letter to Soviet authorities” which is a wild anti-Semitic denunciation of “full-blooded Jews who have given themselves Russian surnames to trick the Russian people.”...MORE...LINK

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