This article is taken from the November issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
Too kind to Trotsky
Having received my first copy of The Critic, I was surprised to find an article by Ella Whelan staunchly defending Leon Trotsky (October). Given Ms Whelan’s casual covering up of the crimes of the Soviet Union which Trotsky so keenly advocated (blithely glossed over as being “specific to the historical moment he was acting”), can I expect future articles crediting Pol Pot’s ambitious plans to reform Cambodia, or the journalistic flair of Julius Streicher? That Ms Whelan finds it tolerable to publicly support a man who unstintingly called for the liquidation of his opponents, without adequately contending with the magnitude of these evils, is no doubt telling.
Should we ever be unfortunate enough to arrive at a situation where the horrors of the Russian revolution and civil war are repeated, I hope that she finds herself free from the murderous impulses of any future Trotsky. Thus far, it appears that the millions of bullet-ridden bodies left in the wake of such “inspiring” men have had little effect on Ms Whelan’s outlook. Perhaps only future waves of brutal repressions and state-sanctioned murder will open her eyes to the ultimate consequences of her intellectual sophistry.
In an era in which so many positively hunger to be offended, The Critic’s stated aim of making a practice of including something to offend everyone strikes me as brave as well as democratic.
However, it is curious that the statement of the magazine’s intention in this regard was appended to an article suggesting that Britain’s elite remains terrified by Leon Trotsky’s ideas of working-class upheaval and, still more bizarrely, that the working-class Brexiteer is some kind of twenty-first- century Bolshevik. This is a claim more likely to give rise to incredulity or amusement than offence.
Trotsky, a multilingual cosmopolitan radical, preached the language of international revolution, the end of the nation-state, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The mostly socially conservative and patriotic Brexiteers who voted to leave the EU did so because they wanted Britain to remain a nation-state and because they sensed that the EU’s drive to achieve ever-closer union spelled the end of representative government — a concept which Trotsky regarded as irredeemably bourgeois.
Ella Whelan praises Trotsky’s energy and ambition along with his ability to inspire millions, qualities which would be easier to admire if they had been placed in the service of a nobler cause. In fact, in recent decades his admirers have largely been confined to idealistic and mostly immature middle-class activists motivated by a romantic and distorted version of history.
But even their numbers have dwindled as scholars have shown that had Trotsky won his power battle with Stalin the same totalitarian nightmare would have ensued.
Britain’s liberal elites may be uneasy that millions or ordinary citizens feel let down and may consequently seek new channels to vent their frustrations.
But there is no reason why their blood should run cold. Workington Man seems unlikely to mutate into a Bolshevik: international revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat are not concepts which play particularly well in Workington, Huddersfield, or Newcastle, or indeed in any of the predominantly working-class constituencies where large numbers have come to believe that they have been let down by a metropolitan elite that has treated them with disdain.
It’s good to see The Critic live up to its claim on the masthead (“The New Magazine of Ideas for Open-Minded Readers”) by publishing Ella Whelan’s valedictory article on Leon Trotsky. As someone who has read many biographies of Trotsky (Deutscher’s three volumes twice!) I would say the best way to classify Trotsky is not so much as a revolutionary internationalist as a beautiful loser — a category also occupied by other leftist icons like Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. All three were martyrs to an idea which was never (fortunately) put into practice, freeing them from any historical responsibility.
By the way, with all due respect I do not believe the story of Baron von Kuhlmann and Count Czernin “eagerly reading” Markin at Brest-Litovsk. I don’t doubt that Trotsky said this. But in fact the German and Austrian plenipotentiaries at that meeting were underwhelmed by their Soviet counterparts — bearded Jewish hippies who didn’t seem to have recently bathed. This led them to greatly underestimate the long-term Soviet threat.
Joy of cities
Reading Lisa Hilton (Eating Out, September) made me feel she could be living in the wrong place. The location
of Five Guys is not one anyone who has spent time in Milan would expect anything of at all — an open-air Brent Cross located at Piccadilly Circus. But the truly telling phrase is the reference to “lots of mediocre to decent traditional Italian joints”. That is the joy of a city — it is what gives contentment to quotidian life, and quotidian food. My local hipster coffee place uses the choicest beans scientifically roasted. It sometimes serves superlative coffee and sometimes execrable; it depends on the “pull”. Every mediocre-to-decent morning cappuccino drunk al banco at a neighbourhood bar accompanied by an oversweetened cornetto all crema is a delight.
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