Clive James debunks one of the last great myths of communism: that Trotsky was the nice guy and if only he had triumphed over Stalin, rather than vice versa, Eastern Europe would now be a utopia.
…But the Russian civil war that turned Trotsky into one of the century's most effective amateur generals also unleashed his capacities as a mass murderer. The sailors at Kronstadt, proclaiming their right to opinions of their own about the Revolution, were massacred on his order. The only thing true about Trotsky's legend as some kind of lyrical humanist was that he was indeed unrealistic enough to think that the secretarial duties could safely be left to Stalin. His intolerance of being bored undid him. But his ideas of excitement went rather beyond making love to Frida Kahlo, and at this distance, there are no excuses left for students who find him inspiring. Trotsky's idea of permanent revolution will always be attractive to the kind of romantic who believes that he is being oppressed by global capitalism when he maxes out his credit card. But the idea was already a dead loss before Trotsky was driven into exile in 1929. He lost the struggle against Stalin not because he was less ruthless but because he was less wily.