Trotsky - Angel of Enlightenment or Frustrated Dictator?
In reviewing the career of one of the key figures in modern Russian history, Michael Lynch rejects the notion that Trotsky would have been a more humane leader than Stalin.
In recent years, following the collapse of Communism and the disintegration of the USSR, the whole period of the Russian Revolution has come in for reappraisal. One key feature of this has been the renewed interest in the role of Leon Trotsky. There are Marxists still to be found who regard Trotsky as the true heir to Lenin and the Russian revolution of 1917. In their interpretation, Trotsky was outmanoeuvred by Stalin, who then imposed a tyrannical regime on the USSR at total variance with what Lenin had intended. If only Trotsky had won the power struggle, runs their argument, the true spirit of 1917 would have survived and Russia would not have descended into the Stalinist darkness with its brutality, its purges, and its gulag.
Even non-Marxists ask whether, had Trotsky triumphed over Stalin, the USSR would have been saved from the horrors it subsequently experienced. Would revolution have developed a human face? Would the Soviet Union have developed into the first truly successful Marxist state? Indeed, would Trotsky, as his supporters continue to claim, have led the way to world revolution? These question cannot be satisfactorily answered since they belong to the 'what ifs' of history. But that they continue to be asked illustrates Trotsky's abiding significance.
An outline of Trotsky's career up to 1917