In response to:
The Monster and his Myths from the January 24, 1974 issue
To the Editors:
Mr. Christopher Hill’s treatment of what he calls “the Stalinist myth of the lives of Stain and Trotsky, and the Trotskyist myth” (NYR, January 24) is curious. (I don’t refer to his treatment of the books by Tucker and Ulam which is, as one would expect, thoughtful and provoking.) The Stalinist myth, supported by the immense force of the Soviet State, included such absurdities as that Trotsky had been, since before the Revolution, an agent of the German, Japanese, and British intelligence services; that he conspired with the Nazis; that the October Revolution and the development of the young Soviet State took place despite the activities of Trotsky, as Chairman of the Petersburg Soviet, Foreign Minister and Commander of the Red Army. In the later Stalinist period detailed histories of the period from 1917 to 1927 were written in which Trotsky scarcely appeared as an actor.
Whatever in the end historians may say about Trotsky’s History and about his other writings, they at least have to be taken seriously as contributions to the understanding of their time. They rest upon hypotheses of a perfectly rational kind and are serious attempts to explain the phenomena. If his work is sharpened by rancor and party feeling, so is the work of Clarendon and Macaulay. The end of it all is by no means mythical: the murder of Trotsky by one of Stalin’s agents.
I believe that to balance the two accounts as though they belong to the same logical type and screen the facts from us in similar ways, and I read Mr. Hill as doing this, though perhaps it wasn’t his intention to do so, is a source of confusion. I don’t myself find Trotsky an amiable character and I suppose he might have turned out as evil a man as Stalin had he been thrust into supreme power. But he was fortunate in his fall and left behind him much writing, above all the great history of the Revolution, that has literary power and a kind of distinction that make it to Stalinist historical writing as, say, Hopkins is to Alfred Austin.
University of Toronto