Clive James on Trotsky.

Clive James’s Slate essay on Leon Trotsky has already generated some stimulating comments in various quarters. The Times Comment editor Daniel Finkelstein has made space in his April the 2nd column to draw attention to it. His deputy, and the author of the piece, Robbie Millen, says that James “does a stylish job in debunking the notion that the man loved by the sort of people who wear donkey jackets represented a more humane socialist alternative to Stalin”

In his online diary entry,the columnist (he’ll not approve of my creating a link to wikipedia) Oliver Kamm has quite rightly, but possibly unintentionally, come close to spotting that much of Clive’s thinking about Trotsky (and indeed about totalitarianism in general) is very much influenced by his reading of George Orwell.

  As George Orwell observed during Trotsky’s lifetime (New English Weekly, 12 January 1939, included in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 1, eds Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 1968, p. 419):

Trotsky, in exile, denounces the Russian dictatorship, but he is probably as much responsible for it as any man now living, and there is no certainty that as a dictator he would be preferable to Stalin, though undoubtedly he has a much more interesting mind. The essential act is the rejection of democracy – that is, of the underlying values of democracy; once you have decided upon that, Stalin – or at any rate, someone like Stalin – is already on the way. I believe this opinion is gaining ground, and I hope it will continue to do so.


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