Recalling Leon Trotsky

For a number of years before I became a Christian in 1974 I was a Marxist. Now Marxists, like Christians, come in a various shapes and sizes and, dare I say, “flavours.” If you had asked me what type of Marxist I was in those days—circa 1967-1972—I would have given one of two answers: a Marxist of the ilk of Che Guevara (1928-1967) or a Trotskyite. Both are passionately committed to perpetual revolution and both are idealists, the latter definitely appealing to a young man like myself in the late sixties. Reading through David Renton’s recent biography of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)—Trotsky (London: Haus Publishing, 2004)—brought back memories of that youthful idealism. Renton does an excellent job of detailing the career and thought of Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The book is very attractively produced and provides an excellent entry into the world of a key figure in the history of Marxism.

What especially struck me as I read the book was the naïve optimism of Trotsky. In his final political Testament, which he drew up not long before his assassination by a Spanish communist, he stated: “I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently an irreconcilable atheist” (p.143). Trotsky had resisted what he saw as the corruption of the Russian Revolution by Stalin and his henchmen. He believed that Stalinism was ultimately an aberration. Yet, he failed to see that the sort of dictatorship it begot in Russia is really endemic to Marxism—witness what we have seen in other countries such as Maoist China, Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime, and North Korea.

He was also convinced that “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full” (p.143). Here we see a profound optimism in humanity. What a contrast to Christianity, whose profound optimism is rooted in a perfect God, but which is pessimistic—we could equally say truly realistic—about mankind. It is God—not flawed humanity—that will cleanse this world of evil (cp. 2 Peter 3:12-13).