I love research. I can spend hours digging up stuff I know at some point I’ll use somewhere. In Julius, a future story, or even in conversation. My latest obsession is Trotsky. That’s right, Leon Trotsky–revolutionary, part of the Bolshevik troika (Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin) and Commander of the Red army.
What’s with the obsession? It appears that I need more conflict between my MC and narrator and her beloved. I made her a very academic Marxist and he’s leaning more towards Trotskyism. Will the two characters knock heads over theory and ideology that it causes a rift in the magazine they plan to publish? That’s my intention. Is Julius a polemic as one person who critiqued the first few chapters accused it to be? Not at all, at least I hope not.
Back to the research . . . because I decided to add this little twist to the story I was curious what my beloved Alvah Bessie thought about Trotsky, and I jotted a quick email to his son Dan Bessie. According to Dan, it wasn’t a topic that was discussed between the two, but he imagined that:
Like most “good” CP members, during the time when the “Trots” were regarded by the USSR (and the American CP) as “wreckers,” that he went along with that. As did I, until I began to associate with some during the 1960s. This was in connection with an attempt we in the L.A. CP (among my generation) made to have joint meetings with them. This was also in connection with the New Left School, a radical educational institution that I helped organize and run for a time. (We had folks of different left persuasions teaching there.). While we didn’t always agree with those in the SWP (Socialist Worker’s Party), we didn’t regard them as “enemies.” We also had, in L.A., in the person of Dorothy Healey (read about her online) a great, dynamic leader; much smarter and very very open to ideas. Ben Dobbs, her co-leader in L.A., was just as great. Both eventually quit the CP and joined the Democratic Socialists of America.
Of course when he mentioned that I take a look at Dorothy Healey online I had to Google her, and I found this entry on Dorothy in Wikipedia. It said:
Her story is told in a book she wrote with historian Maurice Isserman, Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990). In the book, Healey revealed “the aspirations, commitment, illusions — and, ultimately, disillusionment — of a generation of young Communists” who joined the movement before and during the Great Depression. She, as they, had to deal with and “the Party [being] reduced to a remnant of its former strength through the battering it received in the McCarthy era and through its own sectarian mistakes.
Book? Uh-oh. I knew after I read that line I was going shopping. And so off to Amazon I went, and found a reasonably priced copy, and it’s on its way to me.
But what about the Old Man aka Trotsky? Ah, that’s another story down the meandering research path. In this month’s Internet Review of Books, Robert Sinsheimer reviewed Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, by Bertrand M. Patenaude. In his review Sinsheimer wrote:
Perhaps the inconsistencies are less the fault of the author than of his subject. Trotsky was a complex, moody man. At times paranoid, he met his death because he let his guard down. An ideological purebred, he was nonetheless “a practiced philanderer.” More than willing to accept donations to the cause, the anti-capitalist was nonetheless forced to write to earn a living. Having penned Literature and Revolution and The History of the Russian Revolution, he was respected as a writer and his books were in some demand. Patenaude notes that Trotsky was pleased that the passport issued upon his exile listed his profession as writer. His powerful turn of a phrase drew the attention of George Bernard Shaw, who once wrote that “when Trotsky cuts off an opponent’s head, he holds it up to show there are no brains in it.” Trotsky was well along in the process of a Stalin biography at the time of his assassination.
The fact that he was a writer drew me even more to Trotsky; however, this book is about Trotsky in Mexico. I was more interested in a good biography so I Googled and saw that a spanking new book, Trotsky, by Robert Service was recently published. This time I restrained myself from buying it because the reviews were mixed (not that I put much faith in some of the Amazon reviews). So I started to Google more and came across a series of interviews by Peter Robinson of The Hoover Institute’s “Uncommon Knowledge” program with Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service. It’s a five part interview and the one thing that stood out for me was that mention on Trotsky’s autobiography My Life. I put off buying Service’s biography for the time being and downloaded My Life for free.
In My Life’s forward, Trotsky writes:
This is a book of polemics. It reflects the dynamics of that social life which is builtentirely on contradictions. The impertinence of the schoolboy toward his master; the pinpricksof envy in the drawing-room, veiled by courtesies; the constant competition of commerce;the frenzied rivalry in all branches of pure and applied science, of art, and sport; theparliamentary clashes that reveal the deep opposition of interests; the furious struggle thatgoes on every day in the newspapers; the strikes of the workers; the shooting down of participants in demonstrations; the packages of explosives that civilized neighbors send eachother through the air; the fiery tongues of civil war, almost never extinguished on our planet– all these are the forms of social “polemics,” ranging from those that are usual, constantand normal, almost unnoticed despite their intensity, to those of war and revolution that areextraordinary, explosive and volcanic. Such is our epoch. We have all grown up with it.We breathe it and live by it. How can we help being polemical if we want to be true to ourperiod in the mode of the day?