Latest Issue

Imagine there’s no Stalin

Two new biographies help us to ask one of the great unanswered questions of the last century—what would have happened had Trotsky led the Soviet Union?

By Victor Sebestyen   November 2009

Trotsky: A Biography By Robert Service (Pan Macmillan, £25)

Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky By Bertrand Patenaude (Faber and Faber, £20)

There was a fad among popular historians in the 1980s and 1990s to produce works of “virtual” or counterfactual history, as a way of answering some of the intriguing “What if?” questions. What if Napoleon had succeeded in invading England? What if America had never won independence? This was more than an amusing game. Some excellent historians, Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts among them, worked on books that contained important ideas that could not have…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect