History,  Trots

From the Vaults: Commentary, April 1989

It is fair to say that Commentary magazine is quite far removed from being revolutionary socialist in outlook.  In April 1989 Commentary published an article by Yulia Akselrod, Leon Trotsky’s granddaughter.  The article can be read in full for those without a subscription via this link and a payment of $4.95. I enclose an extract below:

Why My Grandfather Leon Trotsky Must Be Turning in His Grave

Yulia Akselrod

Commentary, Vol . 87, No. 4, April 1989. pp.39-43.

About five months after we [arrived in America after emigrating from the Soviet Union in the late 1970s] I had my first encounter with the American left.  The occasion was a meeting at New York University, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Trotsky’s birth. Somewhere in my wanderings I had seen a poster advertising the event, and I couldn’t contain my curiosity.

I’m not sure what I expected but the event simply astounded me. Here we were at the very beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis, and there was a huge black-and-green banner on the wall shouting, “Long live the revolution in Iran!” Given my lack of English, I could hardly understand the speeches,  but it was not hard to guess what they were about – I had heard them before, after all. After the speeches came a documentary film tracing the history of Russia and the Soviet Union from czarist times to the present. First we saw the czar and his family, then the czar’s ministers, then Tolstoy; next we saw the Revolution, and the civil war; finally, we saw Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin’s funeral , and last but not least Trotsky’s departure from the scene.  I felt sure I was the only person in the room  who could grasp the true meaning of these images, but there was no way I could communicate that knowledge.

When the meeting was over, I couldn’t resist revealing my identity the people who had organized it. I had a feeling that they didn’t believe me, but they did introduce me, right then and there, to a man named Harold Robinson, who had been Trotsky’s bodyguard in Mexico. Harold and I soon became good friends, though I sometimes had to suppress the urge to kill the dear fellow.

He was a true believer – a man who never lost faith in Trotsky’s ideas and his dream of a world revolution – and we never stopped arguing. He kept urging me to read Marx and I kept telling him that I had been forced to swallow all that stuff for four years at college and hated it violently (as did all the other students). Most of all I hated the Marxist principle, which had constantly been drummed into us, that “freedom is the conscious recognition of necessity.” I understood the necessity part all too well, since my whole life had been dominated by it – I just couldn’t see any freedom in it. Telling all this to Harold was like talking to the wall. I had nothing but my experience to go on, after all, whereas he had a vision.

My son did finally emigrate to Israel, where he studied in a yeshiva, moved with his Orthodox wife to Hebron on the West Bank, and served in the army during the war in Lebanon. One night, watching the news on TV, I suddenly saw him on the screen driving an Israeli tank…. What Leon Trotsky, his atheist Bolshevik great-grandfather, the world revolutionist , would make of this Orthodox Israeli tankist is too dizzying a question even to contemplate. He must be turning in his grave.

The thought of Trotsky’s granddaughter violently hating Marx and great-grandson being a religious Zionist settler in the West Bank, would not only lead to Leon Trotsky turning his grave, it would lead to Tony Cliff turning in his grave too. The thought of the latter gives me great comfort and joy.