[Marxism] Fw: Isaac Deutscher and Marxist history

Brian Shannon brian_shannon at verizon.net
Sat Jul 1 22:39:21 MDT 2006

On Jul 1, 2006, at 4:38 PM, Graham M. wrote:

> Deutscher's biography of Stalin first appeared in 1949, while the  
> Soviet dictator was still alive and while Stalinism was almost  
> totally dominant in the world Communist movement. The book was  
> ignored by the Soviet press, but it was a best-seller in the West.  
> The book was denounced as an apology for Stalin and Stalinism by  
> Cold Warriers in the West, while orthodox Communists denounced it  
> as a heretical attack on the Stalin cult. There have been written,  
> over the years, many biographies of Stalin, but Deutscher's study  
> is to my mind the most satisfying of the ones I've read. Trotsky's  
> biography of Stalin is in my view too partisan and lacking in the  
> distance that is probably necessary for this kind of work.  
> Deutscher's own perspective is however heavily indebted to Trotsky,  
> but Deutscher develops interesting and important original insights  
> concerning the nature of Soviet Bonapartism and the intricacies of  
> Stalin's foreign policy.

I hope that you will expand and post this review to other forums. I  
agree with it 99%. My only reservation is that Deutscher's trilogy is  
less sympathetic to Stalin than his Stalin biography. In other words,  
something should be said about how Deutscher's own views evolved.

By the time he finished the Trotsky trilogy (The Prophet Outcast,  
1963),* Deutscher seems to have come closer to Trotsky, whereas the  
earlier Stalin biography (1949) was written when the communist  
parties dominated the Left throughout the world.

Trotsky's draft book on Stalin is an exceptional work, one however  
deeply marred by the additions of the translator, Charles Malamuth,  
who apparently had the copyright in his name at the time of Trotsky's  
death. John G. Wright wrote an excellent review of Trotsky's  
biography. http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/wright/ 
Unfortunately, in the interest of summarizing Trotsky's views,  
Wright's comments on the completely twisted insertions by Malamuth  
were much too short. Malamuth's poison runs throughout the book; he  
performed a literary rape of Trotsky's thought. He substituted  
primitive psychological second-guessing for Marxist evaluation and  
even the barest of his connecting summaries contradicted Trotsky's  
basic ideas about the Russian Revolution, Stalin, and the character  
of the Soviet state:

> "It is necessary to briefly comment in passing on the scandalous  
> conduct of Charles Malamuth who figures as “editor” of the book. He  
> had been hired solely as translator of the book. Instead of  
> preparing the uncompleted text for publication as the author had  
> left it, he arbitrarily proceeded to interpolate passages directly  
> counter to Trotsky’s own ideas, among them the cynical contention  
> that Stalinism is the inevitable outcome of Bolshevism. It goes  
> without saying that one of the main objects of the author was to  
> demonstrate just the contrary." --John G. Wright

Despite the value of Deutscher's work and accepting his evaluation of  
the futility of building the 4th International, history has many  
strange twists. In my opinion, Trotsky's attempt to build the Fourth  
International has given future revolutionists an extraordinary  
collection of writings on the strategy and tactics of building a  
revolutionary movement. . Drawing on 45 years of experience in  
Europe, the Soviet Union, the founding of the 3rd International, and  
the information that he received from his collaborators around the  
world, Trotsky presents future revolutionists with a treasure of  
arguments, suggestions, evaluations, and results.

Not the least of his contributions are the sympathetic and  
collaborative methods that he used in bringing revolutionists  
together, even those with whom he had clear disagreements.

Brian Shannon

* "The three volumes of Deutscher’s life of Trotsky . . . were for me  
the most exciting reading of the year. Surely this must be counted  
among the greatest biographies in the English language." — Graham Greene

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