Leon Trot­sky: A Rev­o­lu­tion­ary’s Life

Joshua Ruben­stein
  • Review
By – November 30, 2011
As Rubenstein’s sub­ti­tle, A Revolutionary’s Life,” hints, this is not so much a study of Trot­sky-the-man, as a study of Trotsky’s strug­gles to bring about a pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion in Rus­sia. While some mate­r­i­al is includ­ed on his boy­hood, edu­ca­tion, wives, and lovers, the real focus is on the fac­tion­al maneu­ver­ings lead­ing up to the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, the evolv­ing rela­tion­ship between Lenin and Trot­sky, and, final­ly, Stalin’s cam­paign to erad­i­cate Trot­sky. To deal with a polar­iz­ing fig­ure like Trot­sky is no easy task; the fact that so many con­tem­po­raries ini­tial­ly accept­ed Stalin’s ver­sion of events and con­demned Trot­sky, only makes Rubenstein’s job more dif­fi­cult. View­ing Trotsky’s sto­ry through a Jew­ish lens adds fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions; while Trot­sky nev­er hid his Jew­ish roots, he strug­gled against what he con­sid­ered Jew­ish parochial­ism.’ Yes, Russ­ian Jews faced very par­tic­u­lar prob­lems – wide­spread peas­ant anti-Semi­tism and mur­der­ous pogroms – but these were not prob­lems that Trot­sky felt he had any spe­cial oblig­a­tion to tack­le; he iden­ti­fied him­self as a Marx­ist inter­na­tion­al­ist, not as a Jew. In Rubenstein’s pref­ace, he groups Trot­sky with history’s trag­ic heroes,’ the ones who dream of jus­tice and then wreak hav­oc.’ The ambiva­lence of that descrip­tion is under­scored in page after page of this intel­li­gent but uneasy biog­ra­phy. Index, notes on sources. 

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions