TV REVIEW

Netflix’s “Trotsky”: a hatchet job and a con job

Leon Trotsky (center) with Diego Rivera and André Breton.
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Leon Trotsky, the co-leader with Vladimir Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, was assassinated by a Stalinist henchman with an icepick. The Netflix series “Trotsky,” for its part, is a political hatchet-job. Slashing at Trotsky and Lenin and their ideas, it is an anti-historical capitalist dream made to order for the likes of Trump or Putin. It lies outright and creates and distorts events and political theories in an aim to destroy the legacy of these two leaders. Why? Because our current times of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, with climate change threatening humanity’s future, prove that their critique of the profit system is correct — and that the socialist solution they devoted their lives to is still desperately needed.

The Russian company Sreda spent a lot of money producing a travesty that would be funny if it weren’t so obnoxious. The show is created with the same ruling-class hatred of Trotsky and Lenin that was displayed in loathsome Czarist cartoons of the two. It reminds me of an infamous anti-Semitic poster issued in 1920 by the Polish Ministry of Military Affairs, during the Russo-Polish War. Trotsky is depicted as a red, bloodthirsty, satanic figure sitting naked on a pile of skulls. Images like these were used by the White Army in its attempt to overthrow the new Soviet form of government.  

The show uses unbelievable episodes, like one in which Lenin tries to throw Trotsky off a roof to exert his domination, to besmirch every relationship with lies. In one episode, Freud tells Trotsky that he will be a serial killer — but the two men never even met!

Lenin is portrayed as a cynical manipulator of the socialist movement, funded by nefarious sources, and his actual theoretical and organizational brilliance and sincere revolutionary fervor are nowhere to be seen. Trotsky is supposed to have contempt for Lenin when in reality, after some years of rivalry based on conflicting ideas, they become the closest co-thinkers and comrades. But the show depicts Trotsky pulling the revolution off by himself while he ridicules Lenin and tries to take over the Bolsheviks. It paints Trotsky as a coward who did not even know how to shoot. It even shows Trotsky using his son as a shield against a would-be assassin’s bullet! Trotsky’s true history, however, is that of a brave commander who built the Red Army and led it to victory against a counterrevolution backed by capitalist countries.

Trotsky is portrayed as a mustache-twirling villain, exulting over his conquest of women and his Machiavellian schemes for power. A connecting image through the episodes is the famous military train that carried Trotsky from one battle front to another during the chaotic civil war years of 1918 to 1920, when the Bolsheviks were fighting for the revolution’s survival. In this production’s hands, the train is a symbol of death and horror, and in which Trotsky carried out his nefarious schemes — and had a lot of sex.

The production’s version of Trotsky is as a tremendous egoist with contempt for the Russian people and humanity, when in fact he was driven by respect and a desire to end human suffering. And, according to Sreda’s account, Trotsky seems always to be ripping some woman’s clothes off. How on Earth did he have time to lead the revolution, analyze fascism and how to fight it, found the Fourth International world communist organization, and produce an enormous literary output?

Natalia Sedova, his wife, is pictured as an aloof bourgeois whom Trotsky wins by force; in truth, she was a dedicated revolutionary. The series also trashes the great artist and socialist Frida Kahlo, who was close to Trotsky for a time, by showing her simply as a woman who “sleeps around.” When it comes to personal relations, the series is a jumble of bullshit shot through with scenes of sexuality meant to degrade Trotsky and his partners.

This bilge knows no limits. The Russian workers are demeaned as bestial thugs and savage anti-Semites, while the monarchists come off as true patriots. An open Russian fascist, Ivan Ilyin, is put forward as a defender of freedom and civilization.

Joseph Stalin, the usurper of the revolution, hated Trotsky because of the latter’s superior mind, leadership, and understanding of Marxism. Stalin’s backwardness also led to his hatred of Trotsky’s love of culture, art and literature. Stalin consolidated his power by exiling, imprisoning, or killing most of the Bolsheviks who helped lead the revolution. The Sreda production never shows Stalin’s crimes.

Once Trotsky was exiled, he continued to organize politically against Stalin internationally. Stalin responded by planning his murder. An assassin named Ramon Mercader, using the name Jacson, got access to Trotsky’s compound in Mexico by becoming the boyfriend of one of Trotsky’s secretaries. The Netflix series pretends that Jacson became an intimate friend and equal of the “Old Man,” even his superior. It posits that Trotsky knew Jacson was a Stalinist and that he sought Jacson’s opinions and judgment.

Ridiculously, the show takes a page from the bunny-murder in “Fatal Attraction.” Trotsky is depicted as a heartless realist who kills a rabbit to eat while Jacson, his cold-blooded assassin, is too sensitive to do it. The series pretends that Trotsky was having guilt-haunted hallucinations in Mexico, he who was clear-minded and a brilliant writer to the end. And then the final enormous lie — Jacson is shown as forced to kill Trotsky in self-defense because Trotsky goaded him to do it. Jacson even takes the icepick from Trotsky’s own wall. The explicit conclusion is that this outstanding revolutionary knew that Jacson was an assassin and thought he had best get it over with!

Sreda’s “Trotsky” is comparable to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an infamous anti-Semitic Czarist fraud that purports to be about the Jewish plans for world domination. It is rightwing political porn. It ends with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.” This is actually a good description of the series itself.

The Old Man himself wrote his real story in books like The History of the Russian Revolution and My Life. Interested in the short version? There’s an excellent booklet called Leon Trotsky: His Life and Ideas available from RedLetterPress.org.

From Trotsky’s final testament: “My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth. Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence, and enjoy it to the full.”

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