Reading Trotsky’s Diary

I found a copy of Trotsky’s Diary in Exile: 1935, in a street library. It’s not often you encounter such a book in such a place, but there it was, waiting for me, and these unexpected books seem to be the ones changing my life these days.

I read the book in one sitting and underlined some memorable statements.

(As I write this, it occurs to me that I might be the only person in Oregon, or the country for that matter, who read a book written by Leon Trotsky and is writing about the experience.)

Trotsky wrote the diary while exiled in a remote alpine village in France. Stalin had kicked him out of the Soviet Union and would later have him assassinated in Mexico.

The introduction to the book is interesting and contains this literary nugget: Trotsky loathed writing on ruled paper (so did Thoreau) but only had ruled paper available to him. So, he wrote his diary without conforming to the rules of the lines and wrote his words on the paper wherever his hand and mind saw fit to place them! I loved learning that. I might try employing this exercise with a creative writing class if I ever teach one again, which I won’t.

Trotsky was the ultimate in world revolutionary. He never stopped trying to overthrow the capitalist order, whether it be at home or abroad. He had no personal life outside of the Revolution. He gave his life for it. It is impossible to conceive of anyone like him existing today, taking up the cause of economic justice, with his unrelenting zeal. He never quit.

I don’t think we’re done with Trotsky’s ideas yet…or Marx’s. Sooner or later, people will come around to them again, and perhaps avoid the murderous excesses of the past.

I would have loved to have read Trotsky’s take on the rise of the Internet and how it has deepened income inequality and turned out to be the new (cool) capitalist oppressor, in league with the State.

Here are some of my favorite statements from the diary:

There is no creature more disgusting than a petty bourgeoisie engaged in primary accumulation.

It’s spring, the sun is hot, the violets have been in bloom for about ten days, the peasants are puttering around in the vineyards.

People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life…

The thinking of mankind is bogged down in its own excrement.