Help Me Before the Revolution Commences. . .
July 10, 2007 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: Recommend a good book on Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism.

I am just finishing up Robert Service's Comrades! A History of World Communism and I greatly enjoyed it. However, it was a little light on Trotsky and the underpinnings of his brand of Marxism. Can anyone recommend a good book that gives an overview of Trotsky's life and philosophy?

Extra caveats: I don't want anything that is overly glorifying of Trotsky or Communism (I am not a Marxist). I would also prefer a concise single volume work. I am interested in getting a good overview, but this isn't something that I want to delve deeply into.
posted by boubelium to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know several biographies on Trotsky, but they're all either very long (the best is Deutscher's 3-volume set) or by fellow Marxists/Trotskyists who obviously admire him, so those won't meet your criteria. I would suggest actually reading some Trotsky himself -- he was a great writer and I find much of work incredibly readable and engaging. I'd recommend his essays on fascism as a good place to start -- it's a very lucid discussion of the rise of Hitler and Mussolini and how to fight them, in the context of Trotsky's analysis of capitalism of the time.
posted by scody at 12:35 PM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

A good selection of his writings is here.
posted by nasreddin at 1:08 PM on July 10, 2007

Deutscher's 3-volume biography and Trotsky's own autobiography, "My Life," are pretty much the main works on Trotsky. Because the Trotskyist movement spent so much of the 20th century as a Marxist opposition to Stalinism, much of what is out there is highly polemical and requires a solid grounding in the post-Lenin USSR and, in the case of the material written after his life, the ideological struggles within the movement itself. (For instance, Tony Cliff's biography on Trotsky is written with the ideology of what is now the British Socialist Workers Party in mind.)

As far as Trotsky's politics and philosophy, I think "The Permanent Revolution / Results and Prospects" and "The Revolution Betrayed" are at the heart of things. If you're pretty well versed in the debates that Trotsky was taking part in, they'll get you a lot of insight into his thought as distinct from the Stalinists. His writings on fascism, as mentioned before, are among his best. It's tough to "get" Trotsky without going pretty deeply, though; he was a prolific, wide-ranging thinker, and at least 90% of his writing was both topical and polemical.
posted by graymouser at 4:06 PM on July 10, 2007

Ooh these are some good answers thus far and I offer up my thanks. I think I will go straight to the source and read some of his writings, though I would still like a good contemporary one volume overview.

As long as we are the on the topics, anyone offer up any interesting critiques of Trotsky? I can imagine what the Stalinists had to say, but were there critics from other ideological vantage points who provided interesting criticism?
posted by boubelium at 4:45 PM on July 10, 2007

I find council communist Paul Mattick's critiques interesting, as he was initially sympathetic to Bolshevism (iirc) but end pretty much condemning Trotsky.
posted by Abiezer at 12:32 AM on July 11, 2007

Oh, forgot the one-volume intro thing. Writers and Rreaders have been doing their light-ish lefty "For Beginners" series for ages. I've not read the Trotsky one, but it's co-authored by Tariq Ali so I guess it's sympathetic. Maybe too simple an overview for you?
posted by Abiezer at 12:40 AM on July 11, 2007

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