The former prime minister has confessed to a student flirtation with revolutionary Marxism. At least he grew out of itby Oliver Kamm / August 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Tony Blair, it turns out, was inspired to enter politics under the intellectual influence of the Bolshevik revolution. In a BBC Radio 4 interview, he disclosed that his life was changed when, as a student, he read the first volume of Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Leon Trotsky. Though Blair acknowledges that his flirtation with Marxism was brief, he stresses its transformative impact on his thinking: “I suddenly thought the world’s full of these injustices and here’s this guy Trotsky who was so inspired by all of this that he went out to create a Russian revolution and change the world. It was like a light going on.”
I’m one of a minority of pundits who believe Blair’s words should be more closely heeded, especially on the folly of Brexit and the nullity of the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, than they generally are. Nor is he alone in finding Trotsky an inspirational figure. My late friend Christopher Hitchens, who broke with the far left earlier than is commonly supposed (in the Balkan wars of the 1990s), maintained to the end of his life that “even today a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates from the Old Man.”
This historical revisionism is terribly misguided. Trotsky exemplifies the destructiveness of political absolutism. You can see its baneful outpourings in the politics of Labour now that the party is under the control of people who (like John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor) explicitly acknowledge their debt to Lenin and Trotsky.
Of Trotsky, Christopher Hitchens said that “even today a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates from the Old Man”
Some unkind critics have suggested that Blair is not as familiar with Deutscher’s work as he claims but I’m sure he’s telling the truth. Back in 2006, when he was prime minister, Blair told an event for World Book Day that the biography had “made a very deep impression” on him as a young man. I’ve read all three volumes; and, unlike Blair and Hitchens, I was aghast at its hagiographical dishonesty and brutishness.
Let’s take just one episode, though an especially monstrous one, in the history of Soviet Communism. The third volume of Deutscher’s biography, Trotsky: The Prophet Outcast, 1929-40, discusses Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture. That term in itself is a euphemism. It involved, as Stalin put it in 1929, “liquidating…