More than any other leading Bolshevik, Trotskyists have been fulminating at Service's supposed "hatchet job" on Service's excellent Trotsky: A Biography. In turn each of these ideologues will be dealt with for their cheap invective, cherry picking of quotes and blatant distortion of what Service has written about this mass murdering ideologue.
To begin with here are some hack propagandists I intend to precision skewer for their utter bitterness and outraged self-righteousness and misplaced faith in this supposed revolutionary hero. Most of which seems to pun rather childishly on the name "Service" as merely assert faith in Trotsky rather than deal with the facts.
Peter Taafe, A Dis-Service to Trotsky The Socialist Party/Socialist Alternative.org
Paul Hampton, A Hatchet Job on Trotsky ( Worker's Liberty )
David North, In the Service of Historical Falsification ( WSWS )
David North, Historians in the Service of the “Big Lie”: An Examination of Professor Robert Service’s Biography of Trotsky
Hillel Ticktin, In Defence of Leon Trotsky.
This rather tedious and unintelligent man does nothing to engage with the substance of Service's biography other than express common places that re-iterate the mythology of Trotsky as well as moaning about how long the book is, as if that was somehow in itself an argument against it.
"This book is very thick - running to 600 pages - but is very thin when it comes to an honest political examination and analysis of the ideas of Leon Trotsky, the subject of Service's tome".The only thing which is very thick is Taafe who seems to think that anything Service writes should be treated with scepticism simply because he conducted a debate with Christopher Hitchens at the Hoover Institute which is considered parts of the US Establishment and hence necessarily invalidates anything he has to say.
To this fool, debating Trotsky at the Hoover Institute means he must be a tool of "the ruling classes" to smear Trotsky and thereby deny hope to those yearning working masses for whom Trotsky was a beacon of working class militant struggle. Yet as Service points out, Trotsky regarded the proletariat as a means to his ideological ends of destroying the system.
Taafe whines pitifully that,
"This is a mild example of the epithets Service flings at Trotsky. He presented "serious inaccuracies" in his writings, he was an "intellectual bully"; he was "vain and self-centred". Two lines after making this charge Service says that Trotsky "disliked boasting"!"Well , that quite possibly because it was true of Trotsky. A person who feels no reason to boast can feel so arrogant that he feels no compunction to engage with tedious politicking. Like Verkhovensky in Dostoevsky's The Devils, Trotsky used to sit out boring committee meetings in silence.
Trotsky would usually doodle on bits of scrap paper, yawn, read newspapers ostensibly in front of dull speakers. Had the slow witted Taafe been alive then at committee meetings then , Trotsky would have treated him no doubt as an elephantine bore. The fact is Trotsky was not a pleasant man and very condescending to those of lower intellect than he.
Service is revealing his self centred arrogance and to do so by quoting primary historical sources is not "boasting". It just means Taafe lacks the intellectual capacity to engage with Service who has obviously riled him into making highly embarrassing You Tube videos that reveal his own lack of capacity for critical thought.
"He is accused of base motives in allegedly "abandoning his first wife" and his two daughters, who Service nevertheless concedes urged him to escape from Siberia in order to link up with Lenin and the RSDLP leaders who were producing Iskra (The Spark), the revolutionary paper of the time. On virtually every page there is at least one distortion, and often more, of Trotsky's ideas, his personal life, etc."If Trotsky is accused of such behaviour, as fully documented by Service, then it is no use ignoring what Service says with regards Trotsky being a charming egotist who was always willing to put ideological imperatives before basic care and concern for his first wife, with women seen as subordinate to his world historical mission.
Unwilling or more likely incapable of challenging Service, Taafe reacts with scorn and sarcasm typical of those motivated by idolatry for the man and not concerned with all those people he betrayed in his rather unpleasant way, whether they were personal relations of the Kronstadt Sailors,
"There is not one relevant new fact which adds to our picture of Trotsky in this book... apart from learning that Trotsky's children acquired a "Viennese accent", surprise, surprise, when they were living in that city".So they did and how does that detract from Service's biography? Answer: it does not. If Taafe is so fundamentally unwilling to react intelligently, it is hardly surprising Service has refused to debate with him any more than one would bother with a cranky religious fundamentalist standing on Hyde Park Corner.
Taafe deliberately distorts and cherry picks his way through Service's biography to find things he finds offensive and objectionable. For example,
" Incredibly, we learn, for instance, that prior to 1914, Trotsky was not a "Marxist theoretician"! Unfortunately for Service's "self-serving" account, there is the small, 'unfortunate' detail of Trotsky as the chairman of the Petrograd soviet during the 1905 revolution !"In fact Service mentions the period "before 1914" prior to 1905, when Trotsky had converted to Marxism, when he was more a narodnik or more in tune with the Social Revolutionaries in the 1890s before he became involved with the leading Marxist grandees like Martov and Plekhanov.
Taafe's comment shows he has not even bothered to read the book at all but has just scented someone who calls Trotsky somewhat of an opportunist and so projects that sin back on to Service in some desperate struggle to prove Service is "lying". Trotskyists and Marxist-Leninists are known for believing that opposition to their worldview is proof they are right.
This is proved by Taafe quoting Trotsky to prove Trotsky was right and Service must be wrong.
"Service goes on to argue that Trotsky was "not original"; this theory was really the intellectual property of Alexander Helfand, better known as Parvus, who collaborated with Trotsky. Unfortunately for Service, we have the admission by Trotsky himself that Parvus contributed the "lion's share" of this theory. But Parvus stopped short of drawing the bold revolutionary conclusion advanced by Trotsky".Again this is tedious. An admission by Trotsky is just an admission by Trotsky who would have every reason to think he was an especially original theorist which he was not: Trotsky picked up those ideas he believed would be of Service in furthering his status and image as a unifier and unique leader of the revolutionary masses.
Which is why Taafe rationalises Trotsky's own justification for the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt of 1921 without providing historical evidence to the contrary to the established fact that Trotsky ordered the repression of the sailors and that they were the same sailors.
And even if they had not, having disposed of the democracy of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, there was by then no means of redress against forced grain rquisitioning, repression of a free press, lack of pay and conditions. Taafe pathetically repeats again Trotsky's self serving justification as a matter of faith and truth by authority.
"Trotsky, for instance, is accused of "omitting" in My Life any mention of the Kronstadt revolt of 1921. Trotsky himself explained when he replied to the "hue and cry over Kronstadt" in the 1930s that this was for the simple reason that this was not considered to be a major event until resurrected by latter-day critics such as anarchists and, unfortunately, by Victor Serge in the 1930s".Why it was unfortunate for Serge to keep reminding Trotsky of it has nothing to do with his being an "anarchist", as Serge has become a Bolshevik by 1918 and had subsequently developed an independent mind of the sort Taafe lacks entirely as he parrots out the ideological line as Pure True Gospel.
"Trotsky was accused of "suppressing" the Kronstadt sailors", the "same ones" who participated in the October revolution. In a forensic analysis, he showed that this was not the case - he played no direct role in the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt but accepted full "moral responsibility" for the actions that were taken".Trotsky did not take full "moral responsibility" for crushing the Kronstadt Mutiny. He lied about it consistently or used casuistry and sophistry to conceal his crime.
"The Kronstadt 'rebels' demanded "soviets without the Bolsheviks", which was applauded by the counter-revolutionaries in Russian and worldwide.Service just repeats falsehoods - without any evidence whatsoever - to try and convince us that the sailors of 1921 were the same as the heroic insurrectionists of the October revolution, which they were not. The vast majority of Petrograd workers supported the action taken against them".Which "counter revolutionaries" supported the Kronstadt rebels is not supported by evidence. The method of argumentation is using what Orwell knew in Politics and the English Language as a term used meaninglessly to mean that those who did not support the Bolsheviks were all part of a seamless and sinister imperialist plot.
Moreover, the pathetic reference to putting the Kronstadt rebels in scare quotes is a feeble line of argument designed to presuppose in advance, without evidence, that they were in league with the Imperialists, a claim later made by Stalin who claimed they were receiving money from Washington.
A claim which precisely was facilitated by the kind of paranoid conspiracy theory Taafe wheels out in defence of this act of brutality for which Trotsky was responsible
"Using independent sources Trotsky showed that the leaders of the revolt, for their own selfish ends - during the civil war - demanded special privileges. They even threatened to take over the Red Fleet which, with the thawing of the ice between Russia and Finland, would have opened the gates to an imperialist attack at the very heart of the Russian state. Reluctantly, therefore, the Russian workers' government, after the mutineers refused to negotiate and withdraw, quelled the revolt".Again Taafe provides no evidence Petrograd workers supported its crushing.
The evidence is copious that most Petrograd workers were fed up with the Bolsheviks repression by 1920 as many were rebelling, going on strike and demanding an end to the appalling way they were being treated under the Bolshevik regime. Maybe they were the 'wrong kind of workers'.
After all Taafe conflates the Bolshevik elite with "the workers government" , so naturally those who dissented were not real workers but enemies of the people.
If this dull ideologue had anything that could pass for analytical skill, he would be able to cut a swathe through the murderous verbal fictions used by the Bolsheviks and unclog the drivel clogging his own brain from thinking constructively and objectively.
If they had not been 'real workers' valued by the workers, there would have been no need for regular Red Army conscripts to be shadowed by blocking detachments ordering those who retreated to be shot. And even if these sailors were not "the same" but mere peasants as Trotsky claimed, it was hardly ethical to demand they be "shot like partridges"
"Robert Service has long advocated the "continuity thesis" - the claim made by cold-war historians and by Stalinist apologists that Lenin (and Trotsky) led to Stalin"This is the most stupid conflation, as if Stalinists and those who regard Communism in the Soviet Union as a catastrophe are two peas from the same pod. Hampton blethers on that Service,
"...is explicit about this in the book, but with an added twist. He makes Trotsky an even greater villain than Stalin or Lenin. Trotsky "lived for a dream that many people found a nightmare", claims Service".This is, of course, absolutely true as all Utopian zealots assume that some abstract Historical entity, in Trotsky or Stalin's case the proletariat, represent a mathematical X in History which is unified in one singular movement towards a single vision of Paradise on Earth.
In that sense Service is entirely correct that such visions can only but polarise opinion as no one person, be it a commissar such as Trotsky nor the eventual dictator Stalin, can have a monopoly of what this illusory vision at the End of History would look like.
All societies contain millions of people with their own individual dreams, hopes and aspirations and any God Society allows for a pluralism in which people are best left alone to their own devices subject to some amount of necessary state power and government.
Hampton warbles on that Service is just wrong to maintain that,
"[Trotsky’s] ideas and practices laid several foundation stones for the erection of the Stalinist political, economic, social and even cultural edifice. Stalin, Trotsky and Lenin shared more than they disagreed about".This is true as all of them from the outset of the Revolution sought policies of mass collectivisation and breakneck industrialisation in which the peasantry were going to be forced to work on collective farms whether they liked it or not,
"If ever Trotsky had been the paramount leader instead of Stalin, the risks of a bloodbath in Europe would have been drastically increased... The point is that whoever governed the USSR effectively stood in need of deeply authoritarian methods to conserve communist power"This is true as after 1918 there was going to be no open democracy after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. No free press, apart from continuous polemics from Trotsky, and no liberty for individual thought outside The Party. That's what totalitarianism means.
Hence those workers and peasants who did not understand this would be in need of large doses of re-education.
It did not matter that most of them voted for the Socialist Revolutionaries, When they did Trotsky was a key figure in dissolving it and saying they had been consigned to the "dustbin of History". So true, as Service puts it,
"[Trotsky’s] lust for dictatorship and terror was barely disguised in the civil war. He trampled on the civil rights of millions of people including the industrial workers"Hampton, rather like Taafe, is trying to rally the faithful in defence of Trotsky as he distorts, misinterprets what he writes and muddles up the whole point of history which in the hands of professionals depends crucially on chronology
"For Service, Trotsky’s role in the flowering of working-class democracy in 1917 scarcely figures. He omits important matters such as the democratic votes in Duma elections and in the Petrograd Soviet itself in the autumn, when the most democratic bodies in Russian history voted overwhelmingly for Bolshevik representatives and for Bolshevik resolutions calling on the Soviets to take power from the highly undemocratic, warmongering, pro-landlord and anti-working class Provisional Government".But that came before the workers stated chafing at what Trotsky was later in 1921 to offer-"militarised labour armies" and the obsession against the Workers Opposition. even in the Bolshevik Party, that Trade Unions were no longer necessary as the Bolshevik regime was a 'workers state'. All this is comprehensively documented by Service.
Hampton then states,
"Service can barely bring himself to recount the threat present by the right-wing general Kornilov, who attempted a proto-fascist coup in August 1917. He suggests that if only the Bolsheviks had left alone, Russia would have evolved smoothly towards a bourgeois democratic republic".The use of the word "hardly bring" is a venomous pathetic little snipe that suggests Service is "concealing" key facts and id, naturally wholly unlike the witless and banal Hampton, a mere propagandist. It was the leader of the Provisional Government Kerensky who called on the SRs and Bolsheviks to defend it against Kornilov's action.
Skipping merrily across the repressive measures and introduction of the Red Terror, Hampton then spews out this nugget of utter wisdom,
Rather than explain the terrible circumstances of the civil war, and register that Trotsky’s intervention was critical in winning it against 21 armies from 14 countries, Service focuses on Trotsky's decision to have the Bolshevik Panteleev shot after the battle of Kazan in August-September 1918.A scandal previously suppressed? Not at all. There was a Politburo enquiry in April 1919. It found that Panteleev was shot as a deserter.If by 'desertion' Hampton means this previously erstwhile Bolshevik decided to take a steamboat up the Volga to avoid the civil war between the SR's and the Bolsheviks, then that is a curious way of putting it.
And ,of course, a Politburo enquiry in a non-democratic regime was really going to go against what Trotsky had decided when he had those on board summarily executed. With no separation of powers, no independent judiciary. A Politburo was hardly going to be objective.
But it only suffices to crawl cravenly back to the sacred texts to find a rationalisation for Trotsky's cruelty. Ignoring what Service maintains all along about how selective Trotsky was in his memoirs, as all politicians are, with the exception of the secular saint Trotsky, Hampton opines,
'The incident was recounted by Trotsky in his autobiography My Life in 1930 and discussed by Isaac Deutscher in his biography published in 1954. As Trotsky put it: "I appointed a field-tribunal which passed death-sentences on the commander, the commissary, and several privates – to a gangrenous wound a red-hot iron was applied. I explained the situation to the regiment without hiding or softening anything."That's nice of him. If that is what "socialism" is, then it would difficult to see how Fascism could be much different, only that it was only after Trotsky's suppression of the Kronstadt revolt in 1921 Fascism did come to power and self consciously emulated Bolshevik theory and practice.
As for the rest of Hampton's feeble rationalisation, there is no point going on with it when he states,
Deutscher, who saw Stalinism as (unfortunately) the only way for progress in Russia at the time, presented Trotsky's call for the "militarisation of labour" in 1920 as a prescient foreshadowing of what Stalin did in the 1930s.Only a somewhat pitiful crank clinging on to a dogmatic pseudo-religious form of faith could think Isaac Deutscher was somehow a heretic for writing about Trotsky in this way whilst writing a generally favourable three volume Prophet series of books on the man and his Revolution.
If this is not clear from this quote I cannot think what possibly could be,
Trotsky used the term "militarisation" in the interests of honest dealing within the workers' state, and not because he rejoiced in repression. "Of course, it is only an analogy, but one that is very rich in content."