Robert Service on Trotsky 07/26/2010Jan 14, 2022
welcome to econ talk part of the library of economics and liberty i am your host Russ Roberts of George Mason University and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University our website is econ talk org where you can subscribe find other episodes comment on this podcast and find links and other information related to today's talk our email address is mail a deacon talk org. Anthony's College Oxford is the author of many books including biographies of Stalin Lenin and Trotsky Bob welcome to the economic talk nice to be with you our topic today is Trotsky an elusive figure to many of us in the West many of our listeners probably know he was involved in the Russian October 1917 Revolution which eventually broke with Stalin and was exiled and then assassinated on Stalin's orders but that was it for me until I read his book which is a vivid portrait of the man in events he was so influential to be a part of to tell us about him what kind of man he was and what was his impact well Trotsky I think by any standards he was a really remarkable man he was a committed revolutionary from his teens onwards , he had a whole basket of talents he recognized very early on that he really was a great speaker in the making and he worked at being a public speaker he worked at public speaking at a time when e most of his party comrades didn't think he was great but he knew long before any revolutionary uprising that public speaking before huge audiences was going to be important.
The other great talent he had was as a writer. I think by any measure he was one of the great political writers of the 20th century the only person I think comes close to him in the quality of his prose is Winston Churchill and that is saying a lot he was a good editor he was a very good organizer the disadvantage was that he was vain he was exceptionally arrogant and he was very cold as a personality the people around him had to serve him and adventure of geniuses so they say yes I go they say yes so he was a mercurial figure his health was never very good he needed pampering he needed people to look after him his whole life his parents his wives he put revolution before everything else i think there's no doubt he lived for revolution he just breathed revolution he wanted to make a revolution he would would he would sacrifice sacrifice i think he was physically brave he would have sacrificed himself for the revolutionary cause he certainly risked his life in many ways for that cause surely he did it much more than the other great leaders of the revolution russian revolution Lenin and Stalin who never put themselves in danger on the way to danger, but Trotsky definitely did, he was a bit of a daredevil too.
I mean, escaping from him first from Siberia and then from northern Russia were very reckless business. There was a certain kind of liveliness about him that again contrasts with the other revolutionary. leaders in his day and, of course, he wrote about these escapes with great panache. I mean, he never missed an opportunity to write a little, make a little money, and put it into the revolutionary cause. yes, and he was drinking and then writing his own accounts, which probably reflects particularly well on you, you are absolutely right, there is nothing that makes me worse than Trotskyist.
It's that he assumed that when he wrote about himself he was a mirror of reality, well, what politician reflects reality and Trotsky was no exception, he sculpted everything to fit the statue he wanted to put on now when you say it was him. Would he be a revolutionary first and foremost? When you say revolution, you don't just mean the Russian revolution, he really had an ideal of world revolution, a world dedicated to a socialist future, a socialist marxist economy and a world where the proletariat was we are quoting a charge whatever that meant to him we'll get into it but he certainly didn't when you say he was a revolutionary he wasn't happy about russia going communist no that's absolutely correct he was a revolutionary of a very extreme kind he wanted a dictatorship in russia he was almost anxious for that dictatorship to be installed by state terrorism, he thought of Russia as the first country in the world to have such a revolution and he thought in the short term that the important thing would be to extend it to the rest of Europe and extend it to North America and then all the rest of the world would do the same that was the idea would be as you say a world revolution and lived in accordance with this from very early.
He emphasized world revolution as the ultimate goal. He got him into a bit of trouble with his fellow Russian revolutionaries who said that sometimes you know we have to take care of Mother Russia so he can. he had a conflict with the nationalists, but he also had a conflict with strategic issues, they say the use of the Russian army there were two unsuccessful revolutions in Germany, one of which was opposed to the use of Russian aid, but the other was an enthusiast of it's. in 1923 I think we are again for those of us who are not up to date with history there was a real possibility that much of Europe would turn socialist at that time they were communists and there was a very very active German revolutionary movement.
Not that when Trotsky had had a great experience before the Russian Revolution when he was in various parts of Europe hanging out and fomenting revolution in Russia and he certainly thought it possible, if not likely, that much of Europe would do the same. . he thought that from the end of the 19th century onwards, the great advanced industrial countries were ripe for revolution and he thought that the best country of all was Germany, so he did not have so much confidence in Russia and the Ukraine where he came from. as he did in Germany and in that sense he was like all the other communists, all the other Bolsheviks in Russia, they really admired the German working class or the German proletariat as they called that working class and he is often thought to have assumed that the Germans would just make the revolution themselves, but because he had this global perspective, he always quietly assumed that the Russian Red Army the S Soviet Red Army would have to get involved once once there was a Soviet state in Russia, then everything that happens in other parts of the world could be affected and in the case of Germany it would have to be affected by what Russia did and the Germans might not be able to. to do it themselves because their middle classes were much more determined to embark on revolution than in Russia and their army was not as demoralized as the Russian army had been in 1917, so Trotsky throughout the 1920s It made the assumption that there would be a revolution in Germany, it would be a better revolution than in Russia, but it would still need Russian help and that would mean there would be another European war because the British and the French and possibly the Americans would get involved on the other side. and there would be carnage again, but out of this would emerge a perfect multinational European revolutionary state that was what he thought was a nasty thing. luckily right, although it didn't happen the way he expected one or two things, one is that you mentioned that he was a great writer, yes he was also an incredibly prolific writer.
I was amazed at how many books and articles and how journalistic he was. involved in the other thing that struck me and in the general description of his life is how often he was prescient about what was going to happen. trends of history and certainly one could argue that modern Europe has many of the characteristics of a socialist state without the dictatorship, violence and state control that the Russian system has, but certainly Europe has moved much closer to A socialist ideal may not last, but at least today, as we are here in
2010, Europe certainly moved closer to a socialist ideal than a capitalist ideal or it would argue with that, well, it wouldn't. go that far, but it is certainly true that the European states built their welfare mechanisms partly in reaction to the Russian Revolution that the communists launched, there was fear that the communists might be right that the workers of Europe might overthrow their governments and overthrow capitalism, and in reaction to that, many of the major power governments in Germany and Great Britain created social security and various health care measures to eliminate this threat.
I think that to some extent that's what happened in the 1930s. also in the US when Roosevelt had the same kind of feeling that there had to be some way of depriving communists of their opportunities for anti-capitalist propaganda, yes i think the gist of what you say is correct after world war 1 europe was in a mess the americans withdrew after they provided hugely important food aid in the early years coordinated by herbert hoover right who who the leading institution his name we are sitting on right now, yes, Hoover was one of the greatest philanthropists and humanitarians of that period. in Belgium and Holland and places like that to this day, but coming back to Europe in the years of honor for their World War, then it was in a mess and the socialist parties, they all had splinter groups that were being lured into joining The Communist International was established in Russia and the price of that was that they had to assure Moscow that they would form proper communist parties and subordinate themselves to Moscow, which is what duly happened in all the big European countries and indeed in many other countries as well.
The small and in The North American communist parties became disciplined, centralized and made themselves available to the Communist International. Now Trotsky said that these parties, these parties, can now be used much more. Now that before World War I these parties can be used to speed up the pace of revolutionary transformations, so he urged the rest of the Soviet communist leadership to take risks, take risks and make revolutions and there were some of course. then there was an ephemeral one, but Germany, Hungary, many others, from what I don't know, there were in any area, the cities of northern Italy were boiling in 1920, there were many reasons to think that something could break out and be lasting in one In the big industrial countries of Europe, it didn't happen because everyone knew what was coming in the first place, so whether you were a priest, a factory owner, a tradesman or just a member of the factory workforce You believed in God, you believed in private property, you didn't want a country to be ravaged by dictatorship and terror, so you knew what was coming and you knew what you had to do about it, which was to be much more determined to avoid the communism that the Russians in 1917 so reactionary literally the reactionary movements opposed to communism that were a reaction to communism became very widespread in Europe in the 1920s so that by the 1930s democracy it was itself a fragile minority yes yes yes it was a phenomenon of minorities throughout Europe there were very few democracies and one of the reasons for this was the determination of the anti-communists to end communism and if the price of that was the removal of the democracy, they were willing to pay that price for it either way Look at it, the October revolution in Russia of 1917 was a disaster because it had this rebound effect of giving an opportunity for fascism and far-right conservative politics They will take control of so many countries and in the end.
The result of all that was World War II, which was a calamity for humanity and, of course, a terrible 70-year run for the Russian people, but it was never that great. in russia i have a russian friend of mine in st. Louis where he used to live when I asked him how he was doing he said he was fine like all Americans but that's not the answer you get from a Russian you usually get ah yeah no so they are very experienced with difficulties. but going back to the revolution itself and thinking about it the pre-revolutionary period the post-revolutionary period and the pre-revolutionary period what struck me most about Trotsky was his confidence that a revolution was inevitable now, of course. all many ideologues have a certain overconfidence like all entrepreneurs really were intellectual entrepreneurs no, that's what I think of him and entrepreneurs always have a lot of faith in their own product and how easy it will be to raise money at home, you know we are all we need is 10% of the Chinese market and think how much we will sell but he was very like that he saw as you say he saw that the world revolution is inevitable and he acted that way especially in the period from 1905 to 1917 so talk about what was going on in Russia talk about what happened in 1905 and Trotsky was all between 1905 and say the czar's abdication in 1917 that created a provisional government led by Kerensky before the Soviets took power before the communists of the Bolsheviks seized power well when Trotsky was growing up, the agricultural sector, to which the father belonged, was on the rise, it was doing better, let's say, an ult sector racal greek, his father was not a farm worker he owned. a farm oh yes he very successful a very successful someone should write the biography of the father of
trotskyI am a spectacularly successful Jewish farmer in the south of what we now call the Ukraine really an economic hero you mention his Judaism because it was part of his being a farmer was his because of his book.
I learned that the Russians were very concerned about the role the Jews would play and sent many of them to the Ukraine in the hope that they would become more Russian. which they did well yeah unless they were jewish and less jewish and hoped to become successful farmers and very few of them did very very less than not a jewish tradition why would someone who lives in a city suddenly thrown into the countryside he becomes a successful farmer, most of them failed, yes, but
trotsky's father was magnificently successful, so he was renting land to the poles, the ukrainians and the russians, as well as his own land.
II, he was tremendously successful and gave his son Trotsky a good education. because he could afford it and Trotsky grew up with a steadfastness of purpose that many young men who had a rebellious streak had in those years, he looked around the countryside and saw these The poor peasants everywhere looked around the rush and the Ukrainian factories. Fascism in Odessa and Austria. You know, the death that was one of the centers of the Russian imperial economy or Desa was the great grain export port of the Russian Empire. I mean, it fed Germany. with their grains that stopped in 1917 and had the 70 year streak of bad weather a joke I made on the Pew podcast Caron Paul Gregory I'll do it again sorry but yeah they were a very successful farming region I mean if that was they were modernizing their economy rather quickly.
A lot of people were having a hard time. He had always had a hard time for centuries. and women like Trotsky turned to the revolution and said that the only way that all of this can be humanized the only way that all of these problems can be solved the only way that we can get rid of economic exploitation and this was of course was a political dictatorship Sarazen was a political dictatorship there were no unions there were no legal political parties there was no free press there was preventive censorship you had to present things before publishing them so that the combination of all this would turn a lot of people into revolutionaries and the remarkable thing about Trotsky is that the jungle doesn't just become a revolutionary he becomes a marxist he becomes some kind of extreme revolutionary and he doesn't just become a marxist he becomes an extreme marxist because he says big changes can happen in our country not in decades or even in years, but they can happen overnight if we just set up some kind of workers' dictatorship because the czar The ism under the Romanoff imperial family is weak, it can burst to pieces, the middle classes are not yet powerful enough to seize power, we Marxists can lead the workers when we get a chance, we can go for it and establish a workers' government and blow me up in 1905 after a peaceful demonstration by workers in front of the Winter Palace of the imperial family when Tsar Nicholas II was not in the residence police fire on police and troops fire on peaceful demonstrators in a Sunday that would soon be known as Bloody Sunday and all that hell breaks loose in Russia workers riot strike against the government peasants seize pastures and forests from landlords non-Russians riot and for a year and years It half looks as if the ISM czar was going to fall that Nicholas II would be hot on his heels and the workers would establish their own with sejos in st. petersburg and one of the great revolutionary leaders of that council that soviet as it is in the russian soviet was leon trotsky the young leon trotsky has returned from exile he has returned from switzerland he knows he has his chance because he has always believed that he would be a great orator .
Everyone knew that he was already a great writer. His chance had come, so he gives some big speeches and gets arrested. Here it's not about 1905, yeah, uh-huh, and then he gets put on trial and gives another great speech. I mean, he's one for drama, he knows the politics of theatrics by instinct, he and his comrades are brushed aside rather flippantly, sent into exile again even though he had a record of that exile inside the country. Russia is big enough that you don't. I don't have to expel people from the country, exile them within the country and even though he already had a history of escaping from Siberian exile in the early 20th century, they send him there again and what does he do?
Ibes bribes a drunken sledge master to take him across the snowy wastelands of northern Russia and back to a bit of Petersburg he reunites with his wife and children and goes to Vienna where he stays predicting revolution all day. time says we failed that time again it will be Come on this was just the first act on the drum there will be a second and a final act and now he says I am completely convinced that the workers can take the power hold the power never share it with anyone maintain a revolutionary administration that will deny rights to the enemies of Marxism permanently and somehow this revolution will spread to the rest of Europe and then all over the world and bring down the old European empires, bring down the US government and once the industrial countries have fallen then the third world wont take long to follow okay he was his prediction which was partly right partly wrong those predictions dictions, some correct, some incorrect, were helpers.
Instigated by the lack of zeal with which the Tsar and the Okhrana, the police force treated their enemies unlike the communists when they came to power, but clearly the repressive nature of the Tsar was clearly not repressive to the terrorists for the most part. they did not have to side with the terrorists it is correct that in terms of their enemies they could have killed him they could have executed him they could have been more so now they dealt with Trotsky and Lenin who was also in exile most of the time it was a mistake tactical or a mark of some humanity or incompetence I don't know what you thought I think I think it's a mix of many things if they sent you to penal servitude then it was bleak if they sent you to administrative exile when you were in Siberia you could get a medium job time and the government gave you a stipend, so it wasn't the grueling set of conditions we're familiar with from the Soviet gulag if you take e l Russian Empire and it's population and you compare that to the size of the police force then actually the UK had seven times as many policemen than chance did the Tsar and the reason they didn't have as many policemen as he could What he wanted was I didn't have the resources.
This was a poor country. It was a very big country. It would have been very difficult. It is very difficult to control it. and he hadn't had time to build his bureaucratic surveillance apparatus and the police were so underpaid that everyone assumed they were easy to bribe and easy to bribe. I mean these revolutionaries if they wanted to get out of Siberia. they always bribe a policeman and then tell their stories as if they were acts of feats, I'm exaggerating a bit, but most of the time it wasn't feats, it was the whisper of the ruble note and they get a ticket on a w ell upholstered train back along the Trans-Siberian railway to Moscow or Petrograd and then off if you know you come from rich families like Trotsky then if your parents subsidize you you can live in Vienna and Geneva and he worked of course although he worked as a working journalist when he was in Vienna, he wrote yes, accounts for newspapers, but numerous newspapers, yes, what went on in the world and the war, yes, let's go to 1917, initially, there is a provisional government that finally falls to the Bolsheviks.
Give us that episode and what was Trotsky's journey there? I am confident that he did not return to the Russian Revolution until May 1917 because he was stranded in New York and had to get an ocean liner across to Scandinavia and when the ocean liner arrived in Halifax harbor. in Nova Scotia, the British didn't take it very well because they had discussed what kind of policies he was likely to promote at home, not just revolutionary dictatorship, but also withdrawal. awal of the war england this is 1917 again i still have some doubts about how well it will turn out if russia pulls out which of course they eventually do allowing germany to fight a harder front war for allied forces and so in fact and this is this is very well known about Trotsky because he had been writing these articles to this effect in the New York papers so they take him out of the liner and strip search him he reads very sharply this is one of those things he remembered the rest for the rest of his days he had a sense of personal property and never in tsarist prisons had he been treated so harshly as he said the british naval establishment applied it to him then he returns home to russia joseph scandinavia climbs through Finland until Then it was called Petrograd as in Petersburg and he joins that because of the cold Petrograd because of why they changed the name, well some people sanded down the German a bit, s Yes, that's what I like, I like that it's one. from examples of wartime linguistic patriotism ok so go ahead yeah i mean the breeding family was the saxe-coburg until world war 1 they changed their name to windsor uh huh that's a sure thing there was a liberal leader. provisional government that pledged to fight the war on the allied side with business after the abdication of the tsar after the abdication of the tsar that has been brought down by workers' demonstrations in only one city but it was the crucial city was the capital city of Petrograd and once it fell in Petrograd, it had fallen everywhere, so the workers were joined by peasants, soldiers, and sailors, and there was tolerance for this new cabinet of liberals because they introduced all civic liberties and promised to fight only one war defensive and this was a very popular policy at the time, but the economy was collapsing, the administration was in chaos, food shortages were spreading to the cities, there were so many deaths of pest soldiers on the Eastern Front and the government He really was hiding from nothing in the absence of an army and a police force that would impose his will and he didn't have it because everything had fallen apart. crumbled when he saw him abdicate in early March 1917, so when Trotsky returned to Russia the circumstances could not have been better for a foray into power and, although he had had his disagreements with Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks , a very extreme Marxist party for years before 1917, he joins joins Lenin joins him in the Bolshevik Party and becomes a Bolshevik and the two of them work out a policy to seize power they will use the workers and these restored soviets these restored workers' councils as a blind behind which they would put the ruling party and the provisional government by then led by Alexander Kerensky, who was a moderate socialist, do not really have the garrison behind them to allow them to resist.
The seizure of power on October 25, 1917 and suddenly the world hears the news that the first socialist state has been proclaimed Huge basic reforms in the culture of the agricultural industry are undertaken and over the next year this party state is installed unique It is also state terror it is also a state that will introduce a preventive sense of censorship so that the foundations of what became the Soviet Union are already being laid in cement very, very strong in 1917 to 1918 talk about that terror you say terror the way i understand it that is the rule is the ruthless disposition and treatment of ideological and other enemies but some economic enemies eventually become part of that story but what do you mean by that because i think for the uneducated majority that I include myself in that group again most of us thought or once I did not but I thought of Lenin this was not Stalin Stalin was it was a murderer or of daunting proportions one of the one or The two worst murderers of human beings of the 20th century we thought of Lenin, of course, he was somewhat ruthless.
He had a revolution to carry out. How much do we know about that period in terms of what the first Soviet state did to its enemies and to what extent? Well, now we know a lot. There's really no excuse for people not knowing about it sooner. Historians in fact often knew this. take this point of view kindly from Lenin and Trotsky than from Stalin, but terror is a system of dealing with your political or economic opponents outside the law and applying to them the most brutal methods of repression that was happening from the beginning that was continuing since the first year of Soviet rule onwards and then Trotsky and Stalin later gave the orders and also provided the internal intellectual reason for what was being done, so Trotsky, for example, wrote a book called Terrorism and Communism where he said that state terrorism was a good way to start a revolutionary dictatorship, it was very, very effective in speeding up the revolutionary timetable and getting rid of problems physically before they got out of hand. you don't talk much aboutthat in the book just to give a little information about the first days of the Revolution.
Trotsky has many different roles, but one of his roles is that he is in charge of the Red Army, yes, which is a strange thing because he is sort of a professorial borderline intellectual type who is anti-militarist and certainly pacifist throughout his youth and then all of a sudden he finds himself head of an army and he has to wear it because a flavor is being fought there is a backlash from the russian army and others trying to overthrow the russian revolution the whites are fighting the reds and here it is him running this war internally and he kills a lot of people who don't fight well who don't but you don't go into a lot of detail about that so here's why he didn't and if you can flesh out some of that what we know .
I see what you're saying, there was a lot of terror carried out by the forerunner of the KGB, the so-called check, oh well, Trotsky wasn't part of that organization and therefore didn't physically sign a lot of the death warrants. who got it right zaire schinsky felix dzerzhinsky the pole that was in charge of the political police the czechs are what trotsky did was help establish the policy and formulate the intellectual justification for it, which was simply that he will never achieve reconciliation between the parties of t The proletariat and the parties of the middle classes is not going to happen the interests are completely divergent violent struggle is inevitable you better put your violence first take your retaliation first and put it big before counterrevolution is attempted so don't he physically signed many death warrants and that coupled with his undoubted role as an inspirer of the Red Army in the Civil War and the war against British, French, American and Japanese armed interventions combined to give him the reputation of having been quite a guy. romantic like Garibaldi or Bali in South America, but that completely misses the role he played He acted as one of the architects of one of the most appalling state terror dictatorships in the 20th century and that's one of the points he was trying to make in the book is that we shouldn't idealize Leon Trotsky, he was so harsh Like nails, he drove, he drove the Octo.
Ber's revolution and the early Soviet state down paths that, had it not been for him and Lenin, might not have been necessary. Ultimately, he was a tough, tough man, but he had the manner of, uh, I think he was saying that he was a professor. He was three years old. piece suit dirty suit and cheating yeah who bleaches their hair i mean let's be real he was a handsome man he had the looks of a movie star and he knew it he had the military uniform specially made for him had he is famous specially trained trotsky se he dressed so that he could slam down the carriage door and give speeches to the presumably very surprised peasants as they stopped at each village that traversed the countryside.
I mean he loved the revolution, he loved being in the middle of the fighting in the Russian Civil War was what it was made for, but in my opinion that shouldn't allow us to romanticize him, he brought about a wicked regime and never understood his responsibility, so So when Lenin died in 1924 and the struggle for the succession was between him and Stalin and when Stalin won and made that dictatorship even more ruthless even more bitterly even more vengeful even more violent even more systematically a dictatorship that engulfed society and millions of people died trotsky when i look back he never told himself that i helped create the conditions for this scale of terror to happen, he never even asked himself the question and, to that extent, we know what we know , but I think we know all we need to know because you know I've looked at all these bits of paper like drafts and so forth here in the Hoover Hoover Institution archives and you can see what happens p Or his head when you read the drafts you can see what he's cutting before things are published when he when he has second thoughts about things and I'm pretty sure he never regretted making the October Revolution and establishing the early Soviet state that He thought that this was the time of glory when he was in command of the revolution and he never saw so much as a victim after all he was murdered in 1940 almost exactly seventy years ago in Mexico City he never saw that there was a connection between the extrajudicial murder of himself himself and the kind of things that he had tolerated in 1917 1918 1919 well because the end justifies the means when it's your income yes tragically unbelievable but you know, I guess one thing that has always fascinated me about leaders and and I think about it a lot in the world Today it is very rare for someone with a historical legacy to admit guilt.
The strategy most people take is that I was right and I am going to find proof that I am right. or prove and I will maintain that it is very rare that someone can say that I made a mistake, you know that it is true, it is very and I think that psychologically it is extremely difficult for a human being to say that my life was a lie, yes, I absolutely agree I agree with them. They were tough, but what's inexcusable is their supporters not asking, okay, we'll get to that when I get to the property.
I totally agree with you. Let's go back to 1917 to 1920 for a period, a period that again most of us don't know much about before reading your book I was under the impression that there was a revolution there was a provisional government finally the Bolsheviks succeed Lenin is the new head of a government and he is a dictator until he dies in 24 there is a power struggle stalin wins he is the new dictator but this period 17 to 24 is very interesting because it is not very clear who is in charge lenin is the dominant figure trotsky is influential there is a whole group of people interacting and the hierarchy of power is extremely fluid and it's part of the reason why I think the post-Lenin period is so interesting and where I talk about that in more depth, but I talk briefly about how the Lenin really worked government in the 17th to 24th period, well it took them a little bit of time, it took a year and a half for the system to clear up the kind of political pools that were very murky for at least a year a year and a half, but within that year and a half the Soviet regime became a one-party state and within that state, the party was essentially the government, so it was a really big change because there hadn't been any party state unique nowhere.
They didn't have a model, did they? There is no plan at this point. what kind of discovery as they went they were and it was a one party state that shocked the world at the time but that party was a bit messy it was very very chaotic and disorganized how was this going to work? I know economics and politics if itself was a disorganized mess, so the party reverted to its pre-revolutionary doctrines of hierarchy discipline centralism and steadily achieved change in itself in the early 1920s to prepare to be able to control the revo solution because it was a very, very difficult task the old russian empire covered one sixth of the world's land area the roads and the rivers and the rail system did not reach all the parts they needed to reach the peasants often revolted the workers often went on strike the soldier the sailors were often reluctant to serve in the armed forces so the very people in whose name the revolution had been made were a problem in those circumstances took years for single-party status with its ruling single party to regularize its relations and at the top of that party or form of interests that clashed with each other and there was no single leader in a formal sense Lenin was the dominant leader as you said because of his record of getting things done in the day and his charisma no doubt as Trotsky was clearly able to exploit so yes, yes, that's right, when Lenin died, there was still a lot of discussion at the top of the party about which pair or trio of l It is possible that no one really thought there would be one leader.
What kind of constellation of factions would be when Lenin left, so that everything was at stake and it wasn't just a question of who would succeed him? What would come next? like the ruling system, yes, and Lenin wanted collective leadership, he did not believe that anyone was, I mean, he was arrogant, he did not believe that anyone was fit to replace him and the riddle that you write about in detail, he wrote a new last testimony yes dying or yes the future is scary and he wrote he wrote oh you want to call it a briefing paper on his fellow revolutionaries and oddly enough they all came up short yes there was criticism about some criticize more than others Stalin in particular and that's oppressed came out to the light in fragments yes after his death but mostly i died just before i was about to compile thats all and it constantly became clear that lenin had been very prescient about at least two things one was that trotsky would do one bid for power and the second thing was that Stalin would quietly wield a lot of power and could and big-eyed that power to the point of being able to challenge for the succession to both things arose ron and initially there were political divisions between the two men Trotsky wanted an emphasis on the European socialist revolution above all else and he wanted a politics that would take risks with Soviet security in pursuit of that ultimate goal because he did not believe the Russian revolution would figure it out. less. he had a German revolution on his side Stalin, on the contrary, wanted to settle the country he wanted to follow a new economic policy of Lenin introduced in 1921 that gave some space for private trade to small industrialists and, above all, to peasants to continue with Trade without too much state interference, it was still a one party state, it was still a state where the economy was very severely regulated by the s but Stalin wanted a breather.
Trotsky didn't want it, so a fight between the two of them wasn't just a personal fight, it was a fight about politics, and in 1927 he was trotting loose and had lost because he underestimated this little pockmarked Georgian who, oh God, didn't speak French and didn't speak German and had bad table manners and smoked a pipe in the house when nobody liked that, actually a lot of people did. at that time, but Lenin and Trotsky did not like it and he cursed his wife, he swore that actually he also cursed Lenin's wife. I mean, how could such a person get on the pedestal occupied by the great Leon Trotsky?
Trotsky greatly underestimated this the man, like many others, he was not alone, he was not alone, you could, it's a long list, it's a long list, really impressive, he was very talented, he was a very fluent writer, he spoke two languages, spoke Goergen and Russia, had edited. Pravda, of course, had a Georgian accent of course. I know he didn't have the education of the others but he had been training to be a priest until the age of 20 so he was not at all lacking in a secondary education Trotsky was a snob it just wasn't that many if the intellectuals are and yes I want to go back to that struggle but i want to mention one thing and to answer your question, one of the things you learned from your book is the endless struggle over ideology, minutiae, factions, yes hair. split going from really 1918 to the 1920s many of you mentioned some real political disagreements but of course a lot of your wobbles and it's not just Trotsky and Stalin you get the impression it reminds me a lot of a meeting of teachers like some kind of trivia, it's almost like I don't know how to say this, the kids are playing, they're just strutting around, there's ego, there's fighting over things that aren't that important, but some of the things, of course, the ones that you just mentioned the international fo because the economy was important before you got to that post lenin period more details let's start with the economy for a minute in 1917 to 1923 you know there was state control quote there is a lot of uncertainty about how it was going to turn out what was taken before and what was really going to happen and since you say that it is a government of a big country could not really manage the economy in 1920, the Communist Party could not do that outside of Petrograd or Moscow it was impossible, but they did many things that did a lot of dramatic things and as a result they ran into all sorts of messes and one theme that you talk about in the book is that they were very Hayekian issues that I wanted to bring up. the industrial goods for what they quoted were wrong and what happened well even though they made concessions to the peasants in 1921 they still had what they called the commanding heights of the economy omy in their hands, so they had all the big factories, they had all the foreign trade, they had all the banks and they had the planning mechanisms that allowed them to fix the prices of the industrial products that came out of their factories, so what they did they charged three times more in real terms for the industrial products that came out of state factories than they did from those factories when they were in private hands before first world cultures were yes they were and did not have the sense to see that peasants could do other things with the grain not themliked it yes they could eat more bread they could feed their cattle more grain if you see pictures of cattle or pigs in the Russian countryside in the mid 1920's they are not the skinny cattle some of them have been before 1914 they are fat and healthy because the peasants knew what they could do with their whey and what else they could do with their cereal. is to make it into vodka yes so the peasants were very happy or just put it in the barn and put it away until the government saw sense now this really angered leon trotsky who was quite an economic forecaster and he said the period of appeasement of the peasantry it has to end soon because they're going to have us by the throat forever we're never going to be able to sell our industrial products at three times the market rate ever again because they're just going to be taken off the market so what we have to do is change the whole base of the economy so that the peasants, who are eighty-five percent of the population, do not work on their own farms, but that all those farms are brought together in a large number of huge farms that will be managed collectively and will not be owned by the peasants, they will be owned by the state and we will train the peasants and give them tractors and we will take the profits and they will not do it no they will thank us they will think we are wonderful because we have given them fertilizer and tractors and new houses they will turn the soviet countryside into some kind of rural industry zone and everything will be fine and others at that time even among the bolsheviks said he must be kidding these people rebelled in 1917 they rebelled in 1918 they rebelled in 1919 1920 1921 the only reason we have them stabilized now is that we have given them the right to trade their grain we have to keep making concessions for these people because towns and cities will they are going to starve and trotty said we shouldn't go for them to persuade them about the glorious future that awaits them if they agree to be a communist to be collectivized and his opponents then came back to him and said he must be kidding if the peasantry will put up with it he will have to use force and Trotsky said no, no education will do it, propaganda will do it. well, you know you pay your money and make your decision.
I mean, did he really believe what Guffey was saying? Do you really think that he could do it totally without strength? instead 20 or 10 years later just as I was in he was gone but still but yeah that's certainly what Stalin was yes he ended up doing yes Iraq Stalin ended up doing what the enemies of Trotsky in the 1920s said that Trotsky would have to do if he wanted the agricultural system in the collective and communist eyes and let us also keep in mind that Trotsky's ideas were not limited to agriculture they had to do with all sectors of the economy transport industry communications everything should be owned by the state everything should be state owned he planned to have a central planning authority of the state running everything now I have seen this from all angles and you are an economist and I am not but I can't see anything in the writings of the Bolsheviks to say how the hell this central state planning mechanism was going to have enough information fast enough and be able to process it well enough to to run an entire economy like that on a permanent basis I just don't see that they seem to have acted on earth as sort of a wing on a sentence they seem to think they could figure it out on the fly rather than in advance if they tried to figure it out in advance they would have been more sober in their protections.
I think so, and that was, of course, Hayek's argument from the beginning that the socialist dream was not to forget, you know, two drunken attacks was impractical and two would lead to despotism. I think he was right on both counts. Let's move on to the post-Lenin period. We interviewed Paul. I interviewed Paul Gregory a couple of weeks ago about his book about B. Heron's relationship with Stalin and him and his wife. It's an extraordinary story, but his book has a slightly different perspective on Vieux Carre because we see him when he was younger and on the inside instead of the outside, so we learned from Paul's book that Bukharan and Stalin were allies, but I learned from his book that was a bit Karen, not quite smooth. intellectual what I deduced from Paul's book in the post-Lenin period Trotsky finds himself in league with cam and Evan Zenovia on the other side or Stalin and baharon you and they ruthlessly pushed those three off each other what is called I guess the opposition Green, so what happens, leads us to the descent of Trotsky and the end, and then, if you have time, I'd like to ask you a few more questions, well, they, the left opposition, who became the opposition United, very good. nomenclature right there i dont think harris blames it all he has his own little yes brand and label thats true you know they were very picky about that sort of thing the left opposition more or less agreed i mean they had all sorts of disagreements between they that there had to be a faster pace of revolutionary transformation and there had to be a more defined commitment to spreading the revolution beyond the Soviet borders the rising majority within the leadership headed by Stalin and Bukharian said no as long as we must maintain the dictatorship at home and although we agree a lot with the left opposition we don't want to take any chances we don't want the revolutionary transformation to proceed at this point as intensely as they are suggesting so they had and had a battle royale behind closed doors mainly and Karen blue and Stein won and simply walked over the left opposition of Trotsky Zinoviev and communist and kicked them out of the leadership. they kicked them out of their houses they kicked them out of the party in. that's political death that's all you're out you're now you're no longer a player yes and they said if the defeated the opponents came crawling back and retracted everything they had stood for, then they would be readmitted to the party and a degree of respectability would return to them and Carmilla fanzine OVF agreed to humiliate themselves Trotsky, right? he sat in Kazakhstan in 1928 until he was transferred to Turkey twenty nine Annie was pretty sure that one day he would come back to power in the Kremlin because he didn't think that this Baharon couple and Stalin would amount to much he thought they were incompetent, stupid, they would mess up the economy, no they would be able to coordinate the political system when, when Stalin collectivized the peasantry in 1929, even then Trotsky thought well, in general, that's probably what you want to do, but there is always the danger that very right-wing Bulgarians could come back to power and then they would be a counterrevolution that was more open to private property price markets, yes, because between blue heron and Stalin there were also differences, although my feeling is that they were all Bolsheviks, they all believed in the one-party state, they all believed in terror everyone believed in the state of single ideology everyone believed in society as a resource moving a ball by the political leadership or n in any way the leaders felt that way the differences between them aren't as significant as the similarities that's a core of my my my my work over the years but they felt different of course I felt different, they were they were like German monks arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
I mean that's the mentality they had. Why are you so far away? You're talking about underrated people. Stalin vikarm was also one of them in the Gregory. The podcast you know in his book we learn that the blue heron makes the fatal mistake turn out to be fatal, not just a bad night of talking with a comment. on the wrong side of party law yeah well i mean everyone knew stalin was bugging everyone he had listening devices in their phones and yet they still stupidly taught in their houses that in their dachas everyone knew that the Czechs are the forerunners of the KGB was following people and had informers and troublemakers to do their business and yet they still travel the country and pass messages to each other so Stanley more or less knew the story main thing I needed. to know, to know, that everyone despised him, including the people who would work closely with him, who despised him, who wanted him out and if you're vindictive and ruthless and cunning and well organized and amazing were all those things, then you take out the party and the track police and you go after them and ruin their careers and finally in the mid 1930s you start arresting them. d kicked him out of the country in 1929 Trotsky went to Turkey and then France and then Scandinavia and then no country would take him because of Soviet pressures Soviet diplomatic pressures in the 1930s so the only place w would have him was revolutionary Mexico Mexico which is where he spent the last three years of his life why do you think Stalin made him kill Stalin by the way when it happened did everyone know it was when Trotsky was killed did everyone know Stalin bragged about it what do we know about it ?
We know that Stalin did not boast of that. That is a very interesting point. And how did we find out that he was ordered by Stalin? Everyone who did not like Stalin said at the time that Stalin had done it. I mean you had to be a completely gullible individual not to think that it was the Soviet security agencies one way or another, but the killer himself. Rahman naka always dares claimed he was a disappointed Trotskyist who had turned against Trotsky after meeting Trotsky in Mexico City and finding out he had feet of clay and spent years in prison in Mexico telling the same story until he was released in in 1960 and returned to the Soviet Union where she didn't like it when she found out what the Soviet Union was like.
He asked to leave, yes, he asked to leave by then, of course, he was destined to be a Soviet hero. finally, that Marek Adair had killed Trotsky on Stalin's orders, but at that time the Soviet Union denied it, but the assassin denied it, but of course, the Trotskyists knew and there were so many clues going back to Moscow, why Stalin was upset by this. an intriguing question because so many significant police resources were made available to this murder, I mean there were two attempts on his life in that year 1919 1940 the Trotskyists, particularly the American Trotskyists, relied heavily on the American Trotskyists to establish themselves. in mexico city they sent an electrical specialist who built a very sophisticated alarm system in the villa where troske ended up living they had guard posts the mexican police supplied a force outside the building the work had watchtowers built in case of a armed assault on the village was if you go if you surround it today I mean it's the way it was in 1940 it still has the rabbit hutches that Trotsky took care of because you know he was a farmer's son he also didn't have a lot of money back then and all these Trotskyists kept appearing from the AU he had entertained and he had to entertain and feed them and if he wanted a Trotskyist movement in the world this is what he had to do, so he was a very practical man, everything is still in place, but he was a stupid man i mean let this man walk into his study who he barely knows using a macintosh on which he not only has a huge dagger i mean i've seen pictures of this dagger it's a very long dagger bob's answer is about two feet away for those who know his long dagger and an ice ax with part of the handle cut off now im not talking about an ice pick the cocktail often la people talk about Trotsky Yan being f with an ice pick that's what cocktail waiters use right this was an ice ax to climb a hill I had them there at the Mackintosh those two weapons at the McIntosh on a sunny afternoon in the middle of the City from Mexico these Trotskyists have all the sophisticated devices and all the guards around the villa and yet they let this man in this in this in this in this and Trotsky talks to him alone alone in the study and while Trotsky is reading the manuscript that Merrick Adair has brought in for him to have a look at Merck Adair stands up and mumbles about something and makes his choice of weapon go into his pocket and plunges the ice ax into the top of Leon Trotsky's skull which takes a good few It's 24 hours to die, it's a very very brutal death, so Trotsky lives long enough to see the rise of the gulag, although of course he had limited access to it directly and there was limited public knowledge unfortunately people he certainly understood that Stalin was a very evil man and he certainly had tried and executed all his political opponents and created a huge police state lives long enough to see he lives long enough to see the rise of Hitler does not see other revolutions on the horizon in that point, even though china still hasn't gotten it right in its later years, what was it writing about what was it thinking, what do we know about that, when it saw these world events happen, it thought there was going to be a second world war, it did. he made some predictions that were correct, he saw the possibility of a Nazi-Soviet pact and theTrotskyists tend to praise him excessively for this, but actually quite a few people foresaw World War II, no, there is no Nazi-Soviet pact. to be fair to Trotsky, what the Trotskyists didn't remember is that when the Winter War happened from 1939 to 1940 and the USSR invaded Finland, a fact that is little known, I mean it's unbelievable, yes, Trotsky was in he was at in favor of it and the young American Trotskyists often some of the brightest American intellectuals in the 1930s at that stage read that this is what Trotsky was recommending that they said this is Stalinist imperialism our great man Trotsky has gone over to the other side and they wrote to him imploring him to say no, that the invasion of Finland is a neutral country looks disgusting the disgusting aspect of the alliance the alliance between Germany and the USSR and we will have nothing to do with it and Trotsky shouldn't either and he just he turned on them with a vengeance and said that you New York crackpots don't understand anything and gave you such a stiff statement of Leninist philosophy of e the theory of the one-party state, the one-ideology state and such a soft interpretation of Stalin's foreign policy that it more or less broke the Trotskyist movement between 1939 and 1938 and it is so surprising that in Bihar and we saw the same thing: they worship the party, it is not a strange idea, yes, romantic, yes, of course, yes, and they adore the USSR, they could not think that there was life outside of the party and October. ober Revolution in the USSR and they couldn't question the basic basics of the previous 20 years because it would have been like wishing to lose their whole life. when you know when you're in a hole stop doing it yeah well that's true i mean they could have kept quiet but it was worse than that ultimately they had this subservient attitude to the need for the party to always have the reason. and therefore that you couldn't be wrong against the party was Stalin inevitable yes no I don't think so no I don't think his acts were inevitable if Trotsky had been a better fighter who clearly had no chance because he really liked him he liked to talk and write and he liked to make things work, but he didn't like it, it seemed to me that one of the lessons of his book is that he didn't like the maneuvering that is necessary for a political party to govern in that state if he had somehow cattle or his other His allies would have been more effective in relation to Stalin.
Would he have been a similar man? Would he have become a star? What do you think? I don't think he would have become a Stalin as a personality because there was something deeply messed up in stoning personality I think he had a severe personality disorder how crazy he had a severe personality disorder bad man yes really evil I am a completely evil man I think so Trotsky would have come to power in his place, although it would still have been a one-party state, it would still have been a terrorist state, it would still have been a one-ideology state, and would have had to face the implausible 'ti of its policies regarding the people he wanted to rule and I just don't believe him with his record in the civil war when he had used a lot of brutal force that he would not have used brutal force on the peasants as well now it might not have been as intense terror as it was under Stalin in the field but th would have been what I would call state terror and I would have had to come out of the closet I would have had to say r i am in favor of using the masses for my ideological and political and cultural purposes and i will do this for a generation and i hope to change society for the better it is the same type of mentality basically the same set of attitudes that lenin and stalin had that they are blood brothers Lenin Stalin Trotsky are blood brothers and Trotsky at least wrote maybe he didn't believe it, but at least he wrote that human beings would change, there was just a great romance about the malleability of the human enterprise that, given long enough, if another generation or two people would get used to this and be better people, yes I did and there is this idealistic side of Trotsky that stays with him until the end of his days, he really believed that with this communist revolution the humanity would be transformed and while in th Beyond the great writers and great thinkers had come from the middle or upper classes, when the communist revolution took place, there would be a great release of talents and there would be hundreds of Darwins, thousands of Aristotles, perhaps millions of Shakespeares, and it would be a paradise for mankind for him to be a believer it was something close to a religious faith that he took up in place of his religious faith very early in his adulthood in his adulthood and stayed with him to the end he has these flights of idealism but this is a man who has blood on his hands you this is one of the scariest things about Soviet history, is that some of the bloodiest murderers wrote poetry, my guest today has been Robert's
service, thank you for being part of Econ talk thank you very much for inviting me this is Econ talk part of the library of economy and freedom ex econ talk go to econ talk org where you can also comment on today's podcast and find links and readings for all agencies a day's talk sound engineer for economic talk is rich go ya s I am your host Russ Roberts thank you for listening to speak with you on Monday you
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