“A crash course in revolution and counter-revolution” – Leon Trotsky: Writings in Exile reviewed

Trotsky, not only the progenitor of hipster chic, but also one of the most important socialist revolutionaries of the 20th Century.

Alex Snowdon has reviewed Leon Trotsky: Writings in Exile, part of Pluto’s ‘Get Political‘ series, in Counterfire this week. Snowdon remarked positively about the collection of essays, speeches and written extracts, summing the book up by describing it as “a potted history of major developments between 1917 and the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, but it is also a crash course in revolution and counter-revolution from one of the Marxist tradition’s most gifted writers.”

For those looking for something of a potted biography to remind themselves who this crucial historical figure was – Leon Trotsky was one of the most prominent leaders of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He was one of the primary contenders for the leadership of the Bolshevik Party in 1922 after the death of Lenin. When Stalin took this post, Trotsky swiftly concluded that the Revolution had been undermined. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1927 and subsequently went into exile in Mexico, where he was assassinated by Soviet agents in 1940.

He went from an active, pragmatic revolutionary in Bolshevik Russia, to a prescient if marginalised political analyst and intellectual contributor during his years of exile. As Snowdon puts it, “he was … a marginal figure with no political base. His words were ignored, with tragic consequences.”

Unlike many of his peers in the Marxist tradition, his ideas were formed in the crucible of the moment, an often fluid, and always responsive approach to socialism that stepped away from classical Marxism when the real world contradicted it. His promotion of a united front against the rise of fascism in the ’30s is just one example of Trotsky’s political intuition that deserved more credence than it received.

The reviewer elaborates:

The extract … from Trotsky’s writings on Germany in the early-to-mid 1930s is astonishingly clear, illuminating the complex processes which underpinned the rise of Hitler to power in 1933. The political strategy Trotsky advocated was influenced by his prescient grasp of the enormous dangers posed by Hitler’s rising Nazi Party in the early 1930s. His pieces on Germany from this period are among the greatest writings in the entire Marxist tradition. The article contained in this volume is an extraordinary example of first-rate political analysis: acutely perceptive, concise, urgent, and powerfully expressed. As well as offering a peerlessly astute insight into Nazism, its class basis, the historical forces driving it, and the direction in which it was heading, the article is a model of political writing.

Leon Trotsky: Writings in Exile contains some of his most insightful and penetrating works. Exiled and isolated by Stalin, Trotsky used the only weapon he had left – words. The book’s selection is broad in scope, united by a number of central concerns: a defence of the 1917 revolution, a prophetic warning about the rise of fascism and his analyses of anti-colonial movements in the global south.

Acknowledging the omission of some of Trotsky’s more substantial works, the reviewer writes that:

The focus is on complete shorter works, from articles of just a few pages to substantial essays. This is, I think, a strength: the overall result is a remarkably wide-ranging book but one packed with coherent and succinct pieces on major topics. There is helpful and detailed guidance on further reading, both Trotsky’s own writings and a range of works about him and his ideas, such as the multi-volume biographies by Isaac Deutscher and Tony Cliff.

For the full review, click on this link to Counterfire. When you’re done reading, you can follow the links below to buy the book from our website…

Leon Trotsky

Writings in Exile

Leon Trotsky, edited by Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc

Introduces the writings of Leon Trotsky.

“Leon Trotsky stands as a shining beacon amid the revolutionary events of our epoch. Out of the vast ideological arsenal he produced, Trotsky always considered that his most important works were those from his years in exile, which remain essential reading for those seeking to bring about fundamental change today. Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc have done a great service in helping to make available, in a single volume, these texts to new generations of revolutionary activists.” – Esteban Volkow, Grandson of Leon Trotsky and President of the Board, Leon Trotsky House Museum, Coyoacan, Mexico

“This bracing book provides theoretical nourishment for our times, just as millions take to the streets worldwide demanding a just economic system. Leon Trotsky hit the world stage as President of the St. Petersburg Soviet in the 1905 Russian Revolution. … Trotsky continues to educate and inspire, his flame refuses to be extinguished.” – Suzi Weissman, Professor of Politics, Saint Mary’s College of California

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site

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