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Trotsky, The Passionate Revolutionary  (Hardback)

Military > Biographies P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Allan Todd
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 272
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399010764
Published: 15th July 2022

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Although Trotsky was dramatically assassinated just over eighty years ago, he remains a controversial figure. He has had many biographers over the decades - ranging from the overly-sympathetic, to the extremely-hostile. Robert Service, his most recent biographer, expressed the hope that his book would ‘finish off’ Trotsky - a job he believed the ice-axe had failed to do in 1940!

This biography, as expected, deals with those aspects for which Trotsky is noted: his passionate and fiery oratory which captivated and inspired huge crowds; organising the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917; masterminding the creation of the Red Army and ensuring its victory during the Civil War; becoming the most determined opponent of Stalin’s creation of a monolithic party and state; being a Marxist theoretician of socialist revolution and combatting fascism; and, of course, being the originator of the very specific brand of revolutionary socialism that, as early as 1906, became known as Trotskyism.

However, this biography also explores other aspects of Trotsky’s life which are not so well-known. In particular, from a very early age, his love of writing: the world of books and publishing became his first passion; it remained his first love and, if revolutionary politics had not taken over, his life would have been a very literary one. Immediately after the November Revolution, he hoped to return to his literary work, believing his main practical work as a revolutionary was over. His writings on art and literature, when compared to the stultifying strictures of the ‘Socialist Realism’ associated with Stalinism, are remarkably sympathetic and open; while he also wrote many perceptive articles as a war correspondent, covering both the Balkan Wars and the early stages of the First World War.

Other aspects covered by this biography concern his family life, and his relationships with his children. Also explored is his love-life - while it is known he had a brief affair with the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, there are also suggestions he may have had other affairs. Whatever the truth of such allegations, he certainly maintained a passionate relationship with his long-term companion, Natalya Sedova; and readers should be aware that one proof of that, provided towards the end of this book, contains very explicit language.

"...for a concise, comprehensive and sympathetic biography of this committed, incisive and passionate revolutionary, Allan Todd’s book is highly recommended."

The North West History Journal - October/November 2023

Well-written, at times even gripping account of Leon Trotsky's life and political struggle... Definitely going to recommend this to anyone with an interest in the origin of the Soviet Union.

NetGalley, Enno Rehling

Since his death, murder or assassination depends which side of the fence you sit on, there have been numerous biographies about Leon Trotsky. Some biographies are sympathetic, overly so in some, and like his most recent by Robert Service very critical. Trotsky really does divide opinion.

Trotsky since his death has been described as many things such as a revolutionary practitioner, a political theorist, a factional chief, engaging writer, a ‘ladies’ man’ (his affair with Frieda Kahlo often used an example of this), an icon of the Revolution, the anti-Jewish Jew, a philosopher of everyday life, a father and hunted victim, Trotsky lived an amazing life in extraordinary times. His adherents have represented Trotsky as a pure revolutionary soul and a powerful intellect unjustly hounded into exile by Stalin and his henchmen.

Allan Todd takes the view that Trotsky was a passionate person in everything that he did. Leon Trotsky was a person who rose from obscurity to be an active member of both 1905 and 1917 revolutions. He was the man who organised the Red Army from a shambles to an organised fighting force. One only has to look at the shambles he had to deal with when the political commissar Joseph Stalin made such a mess of the Russo-Polish war.

Todd has tried to do something which other biographers have not done, capture is passions without the one-eyed reverence of a Marxist, or the hatred of his politics which some have assessed him by. Todd is not a hostage to fortune or trying to enhance the Trotsky myths which seem to grow by the year. He does highlight Trotsky’s love live and the literary career that sustained him in exile. These are often passed over in other biographies.

This is an excellent book exploring Trotsky’s passions rather a political biography of which there are hundreds out there. This brings something new to the reader, which is always important in research.

Amazon Customer, Paul Diggett

As featured on Penniless Press

Penniless Press

Trotsky, The Passionate Revolutionary, by Allan Todd, is a biography that emphasizes what is usually marginalized in other Trotsky biographies, namely, his passion as it relates to things other than the revolutionary cause.
It is sometimes easy to think of our historical figures as one dimensional. In this case, as one dedicated to and passionate about revolution. In doing so we lose sight of the figure as a complete human being. Todd rounds out the picture most of us have in our mind. ...While the love life, alleged and known, plays a significant role in this story, it is not sensationalized but rather used to illustrate how passion in all its forms ruled his life. Todd does not so much sensationalize the stories about Trotsky but weaves them into the whole of who he was. This is a man with flaws yet one who strives to improve himself and the world. I would recommend this to any reader who wants to know more about Trotsky the person and not just Trotsky the revolutionary. They are interlocked and knowing more helps us to better understand his political thought as well.

Jack M, Netgalley

Article: 'Whatever happened to... Leon Trotsky?; BOOK UNCOVERS HIS CHARACTER'

The Keswick Reminder

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The subtitle “The Passionate Revolutionary” puts the man at the heart of this biography in a nutshell, and the adjective could also be used to describe the author’s work: passionate. And therefore gripping. I admit, I asked for an ARC because, apart from some vague notions that didn’t much exceed Trotsky’s “afterlife” as a logo-like representation on T-shirts some modern-day wannabe rebel-cum-hipsters might want to wear, I didn’t know much neither about Trotsky’s life nor about his fights, his ideas, his struggles, not even why he had fallen out with his former comrades after Lenin’s death. Yet, precisely because the man more than his ideas had become an icon as potent as the Che, I craved for more information.

And Allan Todd delivered. In detail without becoming exhausting, in a vivid, flowing writing style—passion could be detected there, too—and with many titbits and anecdotes I guess one wouldn’t find in any other biography. Moreover, Trotsky has been researched and has become such a legend, a cleaving persona, that, and this is another guess of mine, it’s probably rare to get a more or less exhaustive and neutral description. Either you’re an unconditional fan, the biographer’s curse seems to be, or a political foe, be it from the right or the left. Now, in this book, I didn’t feel anything akin to fandom or hatred, just someone who tries to pick up the pieces of Trotsky’s life and present them as is.

Therefore, I found this a compelling, extremely interesting read, and an easy read to boot (none of that off-putting, dry historian’s vocabulary). From Trotsky’s birth, his younger years, his initial disinterest for political thoughts and struggles, his involvement with social movements, his enrolment in socialism, his exiles, his rise in the party ranks, but also his private, nay, his most intimate life is examined, and no dazzling whites nor condemning blacks have been left out. In the end, what I got was a contrasted portrait of a passionate revolutionary indeed, maybe a tad snob, a bit impatiently misanthropic, a little detached from ordinary people and their lives—someone who lived in an intellectual sphere, yet had an uncanny knack of putting into words what ordinary people wanted to hear while trying to remain true to his core values.

One can wholeheartedly agree or disagree with a vengeance with Trotsky’s ideas and deeds—there is not the main goal nor the main interest of this biography. Trotsky was, is, and probably will be a fascinating hero or satan for generations still, and to get to know him the way I had the impression I did is a first step to understanding him. A book I recommend without a moment’s hesitation.

NetGalley, Dieter Moitzi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book, the author has clearly done a huge amount of research and this shed new light on the controversial figure that is Trotsky. It is very well written and although I don’t always agree with the authors interpretation the fact that he has clearly done his research means that doesn’t matter. It’s an interesting perspective regardless. Highly recommend.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

'Allan Todd’s book is a really good introduction to the life and works of Leon Trotsky. All the way through it laces a clear account of the ideas and political struggles with the human dimension.'

Read the full review here.

David Kellaway, Anti-Capitalist Resistance

Trotsky, The Passionate Revolutionary, by Allan Todd, is a biography that emphasizes what is usually marginalized in other Trotsky biographies, namely, his passion as it relates to things other than the revolutionary cause.

It is sometimes easy to think of our historical figures as one dimensional. In this case, as one dedicated to and passionate about revolution. In doing so we lose sight of the figure as a complete human being. Todd rounds out the picture most of us have in our mind, showing how his activism was because it was what he believed to be the right thing to do, not because he wanted to devote his life to the cause. At least not in such a public manner. His preference would have been to use his writing abilities to further the effort.

While the love life, alleged and known, plays a significant role in this story, it is not sensationalized but rather used to illustrate how passion in all its forms ruled his life. Todd does not so much sensationalize the stories about Trotsky but weaves them into the whole of who he was. This is a man with flaws yet one who strives to improve himself and the world.

I would recommend this to any reader who wants to know more about Trotsky the person and not just Trotsky the revolutionary. They are interlocked and knowing more helps us to better understand his political thought as well.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

As featured in

The Bookseller

This is a well constructed book that seems to deliver a neutral approach to a man who excites the extremes of opinion. In doing so the author has succeeded but even with the benefit of a balanced narrative I was still left with the opinion that Trotsky was a shallow opportunist intent on power by any means. That he was side lined by Stalin and lacked the street fighter qualities that were needed to control the revolution and its aftermath, points to his failure. He shielded these limitations by his academic revolutionary pretensions and of course, distance from the main events in Russia. A really good read that does what all good biographies do – make you think.

Michael McCarthy, Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Allan Todd

Allan Todd was a teacher, exam workshop leader and senior examiner of 20th Century/Modern World History for over 25 years. He also lectured in Modern European and World History for the Extra-Mural Boards of Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia, and has written numerous GCSE, A Level and IB History textbooks and revision guides - including Revolutions, 1789-1917.

Born on this day - Leon Trotsky

7th November 1879

Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army.


Leon Trotsky is expelled from the Soviet Communist Party

12th November 1927

Leon Trotsky is expelled from the Soviet Communist Party, paving the way for Joseph Stalin to consolidate complete power


Trotsky was assassinated

21st August 1940

Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army. Fell out with Joseph Stalin and became exiled overseas. Was eventually tracked to Mexico, where he was assassinated using an ice-pick.


View all events View all anniversaries

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