Magazine article The Spectator

An Ogre, Nonetheless

Magazine article The Spectator

An Ogre, Nonetheless

Article excerpt

It became apparent that the academic and journalist Christopher Hitchens was regretting having agreed to appear on Great Lives on Radio Four last week (Tuesday) with Leon Trotsky as his choice for Great Life status. He couldn't really explain why someone whom Churchill described as 'an ogre of international subversion' was so great, apart from the fact that he was 'a man of action but also a man of ideas. He was a tremendous foreign and war correspondent.' He was, too, 'an exemplar of the non-fatalist Jew. The Jew who wouldn't be pushed around, who fights back.' But when pressed by the presenter Matthew Parris to explain further Hitchens was reduced to saying, 'You're a bleeding Tory and always have been, ' before looking at the studio exit and asking, 'Have you done? I've got to be somewhere at one.' It was all a bit lame, but then it was a strange choice even for someone who it seems is no longer on the Left, though he pretty much sounded as if he was. He wasn't helped by the fact that the other studio guest was Robert Service, professor of Russian history at St Anthony's College, Oxford, a biographer of Lenin and Stalin.

No woolly-minded 1960s romanticism about him; he knows his stuff.

Perhaps Hitchens thought it would be challenging, as he said he could have chosen 'someone furry' like George Orwell but instead selected 'someone who people often misunderstand'. Well, there was nothing too complicated about Trotsky: he believed in the one-party state and the dictatorship of the proletariat, a concept he did his best to spread to the rest of Europe. In my view, nothing admirable about that, particularly as the revolution ended up in the hands of one of the leading monsters of all time, Stalin.

All right, he could write well, but then so could Mussolini.

Service said Trotsky was very egotistical and had an absolute commitment to state terror that really was quite appalling. In fact, on the whole, he thought Trotsky was an appalling figure. Although he lacked the personal sadism of Stalin, he had a clinical doctrinairism which lasted more or less to the end of his life -- shortly before Stalin's ice pick embedded itself in him he began to wonder if the whole cause of proletarian revolution might have been unfulfillable and if his political life might have been rather futile. …

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