Friday, July 08, 2011

The anticommunism industry

To put it bluntly, this is a story of an anticommunist bullshitter sinking in his own ordure. Robert Service is someone who has set out to correct 'revisionism' about Leon Trotsky, who he claims is subject to warm, fuzzy nostalgia among the Anglophone intelligentsia that obscures his real character and impact. Yet, his own work has been exposed as sloppy, distorted revisionism in a rather unusually damning scholarly review (read it here) that's generated a bit of buzz among historians and anoraks for the fact that it completely upsets the received view of the book as a masterpiece and final rebuttal to the likes of Deutscher. The review, written by someone who appears to be no more sympathetic to Trotsky's politics than Service, corroborates the challenges raised by leftist reviewers such as Paul LeBlanc and Hillel Ticktin, and goes further. Scott McLemee, chasing up the mini-furore, seeks comment from reviewer and reviewee. Service's retort is as simple as it is unconvincing: he alleges that he is being attacked in a scurillous fashion over minor blips by Trotskyists and their fellow travellers, and that people should ignore this sort of thing. But you can check the reviews for yourself and establish that the misrepresentations and gaffes described are neither minor, nor blips in an otherwise solid narrative. Which, of course, leaves the question (hardly a question, really) as to why such a shoddy book should have been so lavishly received? It is not that one expects publishing and media industries, or the academia, to be favourable to Trotsky's reputation or legacy. But the intensity of the assault, the attempted 'second assassination of Leon Trotsky' as LeBlanc called it, and the triumphant dancing on his grave, is suggestive. Among ideologues of this cohort the shade of Trotsky, meaning (as Service has made perfectly clear) the possibility of an anti-Stalinist socialism that can't be consigned to the same historical dustheap as Stalinism, has still to be exorcised.