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Netflix has an 8-part Russian-language mini-series purporting to portray the life of Leon Trotsky. Wikipedia has a short description at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotsky_(TV_series). They say that it won a bunch of awards: “The Association of Film and Television Producers in Russia awarded the series in the categories Best Sound, Best Editing Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects, Best Actress (Olga Sutulova), Best Actor (Konstantin Khabensky), Best TV series.” It was released on the anniversary of the Russian revolution and, understandably, drew a lot of watchers. I don’t think that Russians, even old Russians from the Soviet days, have ever heard much about the man, so they’re bound to be curious.





Leon Trotsky had, and still has, a worldwide revolutionary following

I’m no expert, but I’ve studied Trotsky’s works, and some histories of the Soviet Union, so I know that the mini-series plays very loose with the truth. The people who actually know something about the Russian revolution and about Leon Trotsky are furious. Check out the World Socialist Web Site commentary at https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/12/19/tele-n25.html.

Here’s the short version of what actually happened. Trotsky was a leading figure in the unsuccessful 1905 revolution that took place when the Russian Empire suffered an ignominious defeat by the Japanese. He was well known, especially as an agitator. In the late summer of 1917, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks and was taken into their central leadership just a few months before they took power. He was entrusted with negotiating a peace settlement with the Germans. The leadership then put him in charge of the Red Army in the extremely important civil war that quickly followed. Lenin died in 1924 and Trotsky was exiled in 1928. Trotsky then started organizing his worldwide following into a new anti-Stalin “Fourth International.” He was murdered in Mexico in 1940, but his followers continue to this day.

TV Trotsky is portrayed as an oversexed megalomaniac who spends his days killing people, screwing around, and scheming. Stalin’s sex life is left out. He just robs people and schemes. Lenin is kind of a weak buffoon that the evil Trotsky manipulates. In this version, Lenin didn’t even lead the Russian Revolution: Trotsky carried it out as a putsch, then manipulated the feeble-minded Lenin into taking credit.

I ought to mention that there’s a tremendous amount of anti-semitism in this new Russian version. Women are just sex machines drooling over the power-mad title role. Actually, it would be really hard to find anything good about any of the characters in this version of the Russian revolution and its aftermath.

One may conclude then, that the misleading series is not a good way to understand the Russian revolution or its aftermath. But the TV mockumentary has value for trying to understand the current mindset in Russia. I think they want to be seen as open minded, because they talked about someone whose name and reputation were repressed in the Soviet days. I also think they want to discredit the revolutionaries and what they built.

The effect on the few Americans who find everything else in their world so boring that they are willing to sit through this repetitious collections of scraps, is that it may make them want to learn some real history from somewhere else. We Americans, like the people who made this TV series, don’t know much about Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and the Soviets, either.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

In the long view of history, the most important event of the 20th century was the Bolshevik revolution that occurred 100 years ago on November 7, 1917.

russianwoman

There will be small groups, and some large groups, of people singing  “The International” in their own languages all over the world. It’s probably the most popular song ever sung, but is almost completely unknown here in America. The song is now associated with Russia, but it was originally French. The lyrics came from the Paris Commune (1872?) . One of the English versions is at https://youtu.be/VUw_aaBjCpE.

Over here, people know almost nothing about the event. They think it was some kind of a putsch, or sneaky takeover — or that the bosses actually handed their power over, as they did with Hitler in Germany.

What actually happened was that the works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels began to be translated into Russian sometime around the 1880s. Before that, there were young revolutionaries, but they didn’t know what they were doing and tended toward terrorism. One of them, executed by the tsarist government, had a little brother named Ulyanov. That little brother decided that he would study up before trying anything revolutionary. As he became more knowledgeable and took on leadership, he adopted the name pen name Lenin.

I think it was in 1903, at a party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, that Lenin argued for a scientific Marxist revolutionary approach. He won a majority in the voting. The Russian word for “majority” is “bolshevik.”

In 1905 Russia was shaken by their losing role in a war with Japan. Among other important developments, the anti-war movement and other progressives formed giant committees that vied with the tsarist government for power. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” The main committee was in Petrograd and was run by another revolutionary who had taken the name Trotsky. They lost that struggle, but the idea of these committees was familiar to the progressives after that.

What followed was years and years of hard work. Lenin was exiled, but he managed to argue for his policies through underground newspapers. By early 1917, the Russian empire was in another crisis. This time, they were getting whipped by Germany in World War I.

Progressives overthrew the Tsar, but the government they formed was basically capitalist. The new leaders wanted to continue the war and the war economy. The Bolsheviks argued for “bread, land, and peace” and “All Power to the Soviets!”

New Committees were formed. Some of them were called “workers, peasants, and soldiers soviets.” This time, Lenin and his Bolsheviks were the main force in the progressive movement. By mid 1917, the Petrograd Soviet was virtually equal to the “official” government. Power was up for grabs, and the soldiers were streaming into the soviets.

I’ve been told that only a handful of people actually died on November 7, 1917. Apparently, only one battalion of soldiers still supported the government, and they couldn’t effectively protect it. People from the soviet stormed the Winter Palace and took charge.

The United States and several other countries already had soldiers on Russian soil, and they didn’t leave. Instead, they joined in a civil war to overthrow the Bolsheviks. In the rest of the world, progressives began to split apart. The American Socialist Party split is dramatized in the movie “Reds.” Essentially, the Socialists kicked the supporters of Lenin out, and they had to form their own party.

Since then, they’ve been trying to explain what happened.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9 central time. If you want to know what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us