|Leon Trotsky (1924)|
This passivity remains the mystery of his life. After that Congress [XIV Party Congress of December 1925], his fate and that of the opposition were sealed; events moved slowly towards his exclusion, his deportation to Alma Ata in 1927 and his expulsion to Istanbul in 1929. In that crucial period of 1924-27, one of the most forceful, restless personalities in history behaved like a Hamlet. Why? A sort of pathological disconnection, perhaps, which distanced him from political intrigues he found revolting? Or intellectual arrogance: the refusal to compete against people he secretly considered his inferiors? He was certainly arrogant; to take a comic example, he probably had no idea of the resentment he caused by reading French novels during Central Committee sessions.Trotsky reading French novels. I wonder if some, perhaps most, of the U.S. electorate that voted for Donald Trump doesn't view supporters of the Democratic Party in the same way, as divorced from reality, arrogantly reading French novels that they see as having little relationship to their lives?
|XIV Party Congress, December 1925|
|Joseph Stalin (1920s)|
The Democratic Party is indeed going through a time of tumult as it attempts to grasp the post-election reality that promises to sweep away much of the legacy of past eight years. Yet the need to continue U.S. leadership in climate change remains. So does support for human rights in all of its dimensions both within and outside the US. And this is not a time for a dramatic shift in our alliances and relations with other major powers.
Another lesson from the Soviet Union from the Stalin period is that Stalin was wildly popular among the common population. In his way he may even have been a populist. That popularity endured throughout his authoritarian rule and has never faded away despite attempts by Khrushchev and others to publicize the crimes against humanity during his rule. Only those directly affected by Stalinist terror came to understand the nature of his rule, often only after being arrested, convicted, and sent to the Gulag or, in the case of many, just as the executioner's bullet entered their brains. Stalin distrusted the educated elite that he viewed as a source of opposition, and this elite suffered more than many other groups as Stalinist terror rolled across the country in repeated waves. Even at the height of the Great Terror in 1936-38, the average person likely saw the accused as rightly convicted and sentenced, in the words of prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, to be shot "like the mad dogs they are." To many, the removal of a Western educated specialist meant an opportunity for a worker, a Red specialist, to move up in the world.
I do not wish to imply any equivalence between the Soviet Union of the 1920s and 30s with the United States of today. There is none. Trotsky was a major player in creating the system that allowed Stalin to destroy him. Nor do I view Trotsky as romantic or heroic. Had he lived, he may have been more ideologically pure but just as bloody to his opponents as Stalin. Yet as someone who has spent much of her life studying Russian and Soviet history, I believe there is a lesson to be drawn from Trotsky's downfall.
For those of us who voted for Hillary Clinton or, during the primaries, for Bernie Sanders, it is time to work harder than ever to communicate what we believe in as core principles: protection of human and civil rights for all both at home and abroad, saving this planet for posterity, promoting equality for all, and advancing the interests and equality of the working and middle classes. It is a time to organize, to write letters to our elected representatives, calling on them to oppose cabinet nominations or policy changes that we consider dangerous. It's time to donate and commit time to non-governmental organizations whose programs we support. It's no longer sufficient for those committed to liberal principles just to vote.
Let's not allow the November 2016 election be our equivalent of the Soviet XIV Party Congress. We need to put away our French novels, not acquiesce to passivity, and get to work. The consequences of not doing so are too frightful to contemplate.