Thursday, May 14, 2009

Leon Trotsky - An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe

This short book in the Penguin "Great Ideas" series, is actually a collection of essays and speeches spanning the period immediately before the Russian Revolutionary year of 1917 until Leon Trotsky's death - the last essay is his testament as he lies on his sick-bed, injured in an attack by Stalin's agents.

The essay opens with the Zimmerwald Manifesto against World War 1, written by Trotsky after the 1915 anti-war conference of socialists. It's much more grand sounding than the conference actually was, at this stage in the war, the genuine socialist movement was fragmented and small, the majority of socialists in Europe having swung into line behind their own governments and supported the slaughter. In his elegant and simple style Trotsky urges a new revolutionary movement of internationalism against the conflict.

"Workingmen and working women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and Orphans! Wounded and Crippled! We call to all of you who are suffering from the war and because of the war: beyond all borders, beyond the reeking battlefields, beyond the devastated cities and villages - Proletarians of all countries, unite!"

However most of the essays are of interest not because of their polemic, though most of them are this, but because of the insight you get into the actual workings and experience of the Russian Revolution. Particularly of interest are several speeches Trotsky gives to the Petrograd Soviet (the working class organ of elected delegates from across the city), immediately after the insurrection, and one just before May Day 1918 (there is no more precise date) as the Red Army is about to be formed to defend the Revolution from the belligerent capitalist nations who have sent armies to destroy workers power.

One if the speeches lists the questions that Trotsky answers from the floor, the accountability and debate that was taking place is clear and is a fascinating look at the living, breathing revolutionary moment.

If there is one criticism of this short work, it is the complete lack of context - the essays and speeches are reproduced with almost no clarifying information. Few dates are given, and given that Trotsky was speaking to the supreme body, it should be mandatory to explain to the casual reader what the Soviets were during the revolution. Nonetheless, if you do have a passing knowledge of the revolution and an interest in how the Bolsheviks organised and Leon Trotsky's life, then this is a brilliant and cheap addition to your bookshelf.

1 comment:

Andrew Blackman said...

Sounds interesting, although it's amazing that few dates are given - if it goes from 1915 right up to his death, the context would change dramatically. The insight into the original Soviets sounds fascinating though, so maybe worth a look anyway.