Trotsky: the graphic biography

Rick Geary's Trotsky: A Graphic Biography summarizes and illustrates some of the great biographies of Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky (notably the Isaac Deutscher bios, which my father, a lifelong Trotskyist, speaks highly of).

Trotsky was an amazing figure: brilliant and fiery, an impassioned rhetorician and propagandist, who fought fiercely with Lenin on ideological grounds -- but eventually reconciled -- and was purged (and then assassinated) by Stalin after Lenin's death. The unlikely story of how Trotsky -- the son of a wealthy landowner -- became a revolutionary fighter and general is improbable, exciting, and thought-provoking, and Geary's comic-book retelling does it great justice.

From his theory of "permanent revolution" (the idea that the Soviet Union could only sustain its revolution by bringing on revolutions in every other country) to his doomed affair with Frida Kahlo, Trotsky's genius, hubris, frailty and strength are well covered in this volume.

(Actually, my dad takes some issue with this, "Geary's facile description (which, by the way, echoes the Stalinist perception of Trotsky's theory) really misses the point: Yes, the theory did have something to do with the extension of the revolution abroad, but that was merely an aspect of it. Trotsky's theory, influenced by Parvus, was that the historically distinct stages of social evolution (barbarism, feudalism, mercantile capitalism, capitalism) was not so distinct any more. In the age of capitalist expansion (primitive accumulation), capitalism was penetrating social systems of previous historical stages and combining with them. Russia, characterized as a form of feudalism, had by the time of the rolling in of the 20th century been penetrated by some very large scale capitalist enterprises by foreign investors. So, here was a society in which serfdom had only been recently abolished, still with an absolute monarch, overwhelmingly peasant and illiterate, but also experiencing the growth of a nascent industrial proletariat as a result of foreign capital. Trotsky's view was that the historical tasks normally assigned to the bourgeois forces emerging within the bosom of feudalism could not be accomplished by the Russian bourgeoisie. They were too weak, already bypassed by foreign capitalists, and therefore unwilling to carry out the democratic reforms appropriate to the normal development of capitalism. So, Trotsky said, the new revolutionary forces would have to do double duty, carry out a bourgeois revolution and a socialist one.")

(That said, Dad adds, "I did enjoy reading his graphic bio")

The only thing really missing from this is Trotsky's own words. He was an incredible and inspiring writer, and his autobiography, My Life (written while exiled in Turkey) is an excellent companion to this introductory text.

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography