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tv   Q A  CSPAN  July 18, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

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national directorate. it includes supreme court justices governors, the u.s. house and senate and the president's cabinet. this week on "q&a," our guest is robert service. in the last 10 years, he has written about the lives and influences of lenin, stalin and his latest, trotsky. . . caught
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robert service, harvard has published three of your books, "stalin", "lenin", and
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"trotsky", 1,876 pages. when did you get interested, first time in this, and why? i got interested in this i suppose in the late '60s when i was a student. mainly because it was being talked about by all of my friends at the time. i was doing languages and literature, russian literature, ancient greek literature. but it was part of the atmosphere of the times. and it started to suck me in and suck me away from literature. >> where were you located at the time? >> i was in england, cambridge. and i loved tolstoy, dostoevsky, all the great russian classics. i loved ancient greek tragedy. but somehow, somehow the bug got me then. there were really big questions to answer about one of these amazing inventions of the 20th century, the one party state, totalitarianism. where did it come from? how did it develop? what were its strengths to give it endurance, and what were its weaknesses? what were its terrors? that's how it came of it. >> what years were you at the university of cambridge? >> in the late '60s. >> and what were you studying? >> i was studying russian literature and ancient greek literature. i started as a linguist. so i didn't come in at this topic. i was a historian. i became a historian. >> and if i read correctly, the
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"lenin" book was 2000 by harvard, the "stalin" book was 2004 and the "trotsky" book was late last year, 2009. >> that's right. and one of the interests of doing all three of them is that they are the gigantic figures. the start of the soviet regime. they were the towering figures. and they are all different. they have their different talents. they have their different dangers. but one of the -- one of the unifying themes of my work is that different as they are, they shared more than they held apart from each other. and that was communism. really existing communism. this extraordinary invention that the russians attained after 1917. >> define communism according to what they thought it was supposed to be. >> well communism as they saw it didn't have anything to do with sandals. it didn't have anything to do with long hair. it didn't have anything to do with smoking pot. it did have something to do with rebellion. it did have something to do with ending exploitation and oppression around the world. but it wasn't diffuse. it was something that involved system. political order, economic regulation, cultural control
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including censorship. and travel restrictions. you didn't even let poets out of the country. if you thought they might write a poem against your political system. so this was not the sort of communism that was relaxed and open-ended. and never could have held power anywhere. never could have held power anywhere. this was the sort of communism that involved power. involved an obsession with power. involved a big objective, which was to transform all of society, all of the economy, economics, all of politics. and do it within a single generation. and do it not just in one country, but all around the world. and this system really was really existing communism. it wasn't the pie in the sky communism of the mid 19th
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century. it was connected to what marx and engels had developed in the middle of the 19th century. but it took some of the ingredients of their doctrines, and it added on russian fanaticism. the russian historical experience and practicality. these were very, very practical men, lenin, stalin, and trotsky. >> can you define -- go to those three names again, because we hear this all the time. what is stalinism? >> stalinism is a tighter form of leninism. stalinism involves pervasive permanent state terror on a scale that probably neither lenin nor trotsky would have endorsed. stalinism is the most stalinism is the most centralist politically and economically of all the variance of communism. >> what is leninism? >> leninism is the idea that if
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you want a revolution, you have to use violence. there has to be an insurrection. you have to have a dictatorship. you absolutely have to have state terror to initiate the movement towards something gentler you know in the future. now the difference between the two men was that stalin didn't really see that terror would ever cease to be necessary. in a sense he was right. because men and women will always grow up with inconvenient ideas, inconvenient ambitions. so what do you do about them? so what do you do about them? you maintain the dictatorship. >> what is a trotskyist? >> a trotskyist is someone who shares most of the ideas of lenin, but gives priority to the spreading of the revolution around the globe as a means of
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ameliorating the conditions in the original country of the revolution, russia. so trotsky thought that the well indeed problems in lenin's russia, in trotsky's russia fundamental problems to do with russian historical backwardness. which could be eradicated if only the revolution could be spread to germany, france, britain, and america. now to my mind, this was light- headed thinking. the problems that existed in trotsky's variant of communism were not specific to russia. there are problems if you set up a dictatorship. if you use state terror that are going to arise in any country. you could do it in belgium.
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you could do it in south africa. you could do it in peru. you'd still get the same result. >> small thing, is there such a thing as a trotskyite versus a trotskyist? >> that is a really good question. followers of trotsky hate being called trotskyites. it's a way of teasing them. actually in my book i call them trotskyists, which is what they are comfortable with. it's -- it's ridiculous -- >> is it like the republicans in this country calling a democrat the democrat party versus the democratic party? >> its -- >> is it just an irritant? >> it is all cultural irritant. no more. if you really want to get them wound up you call them trotskyites. stalin called them the trotskyists, trotskyites. >> all right if you go to moscow today, go to red square, the lenin tomb is still there. if people want to go look at him he is there, something is there. >> yes. >> why is it there still to this day and where is stalin
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buried and where is trotsky buried? >> lenin is still in the tomb because the post-communist government led by boris yeltsin wanted to get him out of the tomb and bury him. but bad to popular opinion. lenin always comes out rather well in popular opinion surveys because he reassembled the lands. he brought the old russian empire back together after 1917. russia was disintegrating. so he is remembered as somebody who is tough, severe even, but did the job of keeping russian together. and all russian children in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s were taught to look on uncle lenin as a family friend. so that is very, very deeply engrained.
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so it -- so boris yeltsin didn't dare ultimately to get him out of the tomb. trotsky is buried in coyoacan, outside the center of mexico city. his casket is under a plinth in the villa where he was the villa where he was assassinated 70 years ago next month. >> what about stalin? >> stalin is someone who died in 1953 probably peacefully. it was probably benign medical neglect that killed him off. >> where is he buried? >> he was incinerated, and his ashes remain below the kremlin wall. so he went into disgrace in the late 1950s after his death.
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the soviet leaders didn't quite know what to do with his remains. so they hit on this demise of moving him out of the lenin/stalin mausoleum, incinerating him, and just putting his ashes below the kremlin wall. >> i am going to put on the screen the chart that we made up based on your books, so. >> go ahead. >> go ahead. >> we could get some idea of the time period. you can see on the screen at the top are the years, 1870 in 10-year increments all the way up to 1950. and then you have lenin, who was born in 1870, right below that trotsky born in 1879, and below that stalin in 1878. across you go to the 1917 period there where lenin was 47,
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trotsky 38, stalin 39, and then you can see on the chart that lenin died at age 53 in 1940. trotsky died at age 60, well actually my eyes are deceiving me, lenin was 1924, trotsky was 1940 and then stalin in 1953 at age 74. talk about those, the deaths of those three men. what were the circumstances around lenin? where did he die and what caused it? >> well lenin had very severe chronic health problems. in fact to some extent, his revolutionary impatience came from his presentiment that he might die young. leaders died young. so he had problems with his heart. he may have had syphilis. he certainly had very, very terrible problems with his
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health, more or less as soon as he took power. and he went off for periods of convalescence. >> where? >> in a sanitarium actually south of moscow. and from 1922 onwards, for the last two years of his life, he was a cripple. he could barely talk. and he wrote a testament in which he called for the removal from posts of responsibility of joseph stalin. and he predicted the possibility of a conflict between two potential successors, one was stalin, and one was trotsky. one was trotsky. and he had objections to both of them. but ultimately he had the biggest objection to joseph stalin. >> in those years when he was sick the 1922 to 1924, what was his role in the soviet union, and what was going on in the world? >> well in the early 1920s the soviet union was in a bad way.
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it had come through a civil war. the country was exhausted. the economy was ruined. and in order to restore the situation lenin introduced a new economic policy. and he also opened doors to trade with the west. and this was awfully unpopular with his party comrades. this seemed to them a betrayal of the ideology of communism. but lenin together with stalin, together with trotsky insisted that this sort of temporary compromise is essential for the survival of the regime. >> how did they relate at that time, lenin, stalin, trotsky, where were they in 1923? >> well, stalin was the general secretary of the party, which was thought to be a mainly administrative, and not a
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political post. but if you got a one-party state, and the party is doing the governing, it's not an administrative job to be the administrative head of the party. you are bound to have your fingers in every single pie with politics. and if that state also runs the economy, you've got your fingers in an economic pie as well. and if that state lays down the rules on censorship, and on the diffusion of culture, you're there too. so lenin didn't quite understand this. didn't quite understand the architecture of the communist building that he had put up. and he underestimated them the potential for one-man move i have started that was to come to -- into existence in the early 1930s. he tended to set stalin against trotsky.
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because trotsky seemed the more likely successor to practically everyone in the world. trotsky was a brilliant orator. he was a -- he wrote like an angel. i think anyone who reads his autobiography can't fail to be impressed by the first half of that autobiography. because it's -- he is a master of russian prose style. >> how did those three men relate though in that 1922 period? in other words, did they -- were they in the same office, were they all in the kremlin? did they all have jobs? >> lenin was in the sanitarium from 1922 onwards. and he was issuing his general guidelines of policy. stalin was carrying them out. increasingly he was carrying the them out to his own wishes rather than to the desires of lenin. and although lenin suspected trotsky, thought him very, very vain, thought him awfully arrogant, thought him lacking in judgment, he turned to trotsky as a way of reining back stalin. he didn't particularly like trotsky.
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but lenin was a great user of people. people. he knew how to use people. he was clubbable. he knew how to pat people on the shoulder and make them feel good about themselves. and he knew that he could get through to trotsky and use him against stalin. >> on page 473 of your book on lenin, you have what is a letter to stalin from lenin. i want to read it and ask you what's the story behind this. this is lenin to stalin. and i suspect it was near the end or in the last couple years. you had the uncouthness to summon my wife to the telephone and swear at her.
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although she has even given you her agreement to forget what was said, nevertheless, this fact has become known through her to zinoviev -- >> zinoviev. >> and cameneth -- >> cameneth. you are really good. >> not really. i think -- this is lenin again. i do not intend to forget so easily what has been done against me, and it goes without saying that i consider that something done against my wife to be something also done against me. therefore, i ask you to consider whether you agree to take back what you said and apologize or prefer to break relations between us. what brought that on? >> when lenin was in the sanitarium, from 1922 to 1923, he was making himself ill by his attempts to get re-involved in politics. and the doctors told him. and the political leadership agreed with him with them that he ought to ease out of politics. politics. but lenin's wife knew that
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politics were the air that lenin breathed. without politics he was nothing. and so she fed him information which allowed him to interfere in politics. and the man who was in charge of the medical regime of lenin was none other than stalin. and when stalin found out that lenin's wife was doing this, he used all the uncouth methods, all of the obscene language of which he was the master. now lenin was a communist revolutionary. but in his private life, in his private habits, he was a middle class victorian. and he didn't use foul language. you didn't smoke in the house. actually in some ways he was
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anti-victorian because they always smoked in the house in those days. this sort of uncouth behavior was completely unacceptable to lenin, added to which stalin was giving him a hard time politically. and stalin was getting more and more boisterous. so lenin went for him. lenin went for him because he had always thought of stalin as an errand boy, as a political errand boy. and it was turning out that he was another lenin. >> by the way, just on a simple thing of height how tall was lenin, how tall was stalin, how tall was trotsky. >> lenin and stalin were about the same height, about five-six. trotsky was a little bit taller. none of them were giants. the man who had the greatest physical presence undoubtedly
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was trotsky. if you look at the pictures in my book, i collected some fantastic pictures from the hoover institution archives in california, about a fifth of what's left in the world from around. the year 1917, lenin was 47. he didn't last much longer than that, he only lasted about six years. >> yes. >> what was the importance of 1917? what happened? >> well 1917 was one of the turning points in the modern world history. a communist party came to power. it left the cafes, it left the libraries, and it came to power. and it took power in a bog country at a time of war. country at a time of war. >> how big was the country then, and was it called the soviet union? >> no. it was the former russian empire, and it covered one- sixth of the world's earth
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surface. and the importance of the event was firstly that it withdrew russia from the first world war allowing the germans to concentrate their forces on the western front against the british defense and the americans. but even more importantly, it brought into existence a totally new way of running society. it brought into existence a one-party system that depended on dictatorship and on state terror. it brought in to existence a cistern of rule that penetrated not only politics but the whole of the economy and the whole of culture and all of social life. it removed civic freedoms from anyone associated with the old days, with the old property elites. anybody who'd been middle class was deprived of the vote. >> did that include ukraine and the stands, you know the -- [inaudible] and all that, kurdistan, and also georgia and those states,
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were they all included then in the governing unit? >> when the civil war happened in 1918 through to the early 1920s, first the communists took over russia, then they took over ukraine again. until the second world war they didn't take over estonia, latvia, and lithuania. but they did take over the transcaucasus, georgia as a [inaudible] and they did take back central asia, and they took over the whole of siberia. so essentially the russian empire was reconstituted. >> and lenin was born where? >> he was born in the vulgar region in a place called [inaudible]. >> in russia. >> in russia. >> and stalin was born where? >> in georgia. and he was a georgian. >> what's the difference? >> the difference is the difference between let's say, an englishman and an albanian. the georgians were a small -- are a small nation to the south
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of the caucasus mountain range. they speak an entirely different language from the russians. and this was one of the reasons why the other communist leaders rather looked down on stalin because russian wasn't his first language, and he was always making slight mistakes, and he had a heavy accent. >> and trotsky was born where? >> trotsky was born in the south of what we would now call ukraine to a very wealthy farming family. he tended to play down on a lot of aspects of his early life. he tended to draw a veil over the enormous commercial success that his extraordinary father had in building up this farm in the south of the country. his father was jewish. that wasn't the most convenient national or religious group to belong to in the russian empire.
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trotsky father tramped over all of the obstacles in his path. he built up a huge farm. >> and trotsky's original name was? >> trotsky's original name was bronstein. and he changed it like all the revolutionaries did. you have to have a feuder name to override the police. >> let's go back to the lenin death. you started us in 1922 in a sanitarium. and what were the circumstances of his death, and what happened right afterwards? >> well if we go back to the period when lenin was dying, he tried to set down guidelines for how the communist state would operate when he departed. and he knew he was dying. and he knew he was dying. and he knew not only that his physique was going, but also his brain was going. and lenin didn't really know what would be done with him when he died. what was done with him was that
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be became the object of a quasi-religious cult. this was a political convenience. lenin was thought of by the peasants as their friend. in fact, he had done a lot of damage to the present economy, but the peasants didn't see it that way. they saw it as being lenin having giving them the land so that he was a rallying point for a substitute religion. because let's remind ourselves, the communists didn't just want to change the practical way that society was run. it wanted to change the belief system. and so he wanted to get rid of religion entirely. and it found that this couldn't be done without substituting it -- substituting something else for it. and so he became the object of a quasi-religious cult.
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and you know from then onwards, from 1924 when he died onwards, it was completely impossible for any soviet leader willingly to criticize any aspect whatever of lenin's life and career. >> who was with him when he died? >> when he died, his wife was out there at the sanatorium with him, and the last soviet leader to see him was nikolai bukharin, one of the other contenders for the political succession. succession. someone who eventually like most of the rest was killed by joseph stalin in the 1930s. >> let's go back to our chart again. we can see where mr. lenin was age 53 when he died. and the next one to die on the list is trotsky. >> yes. >> theres that period there between 1924 and 1940 when he died that is about 16 years.
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what happened to trotsky? >> well as soon as lenin died, and even before lenin died, a battle took place for the succession. succession. and it was a battle of personality, but also a battle of ideas, and a battle over policy. stalin preferring to concentrate on building communism in a single country, trotsky wanting to expand communism to foreign countries. and that battle went on until trotsky's comprehensive political defeat in 1927, and his deportation from the country in 1929. and this was regarded by stalin as a mistake. you shouldn't have let him out
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of the country. he regretted letting him out of the country because from abroad, from 1929 first in turkey, then in parts of europe, and eventually in mexico, trotsky tried to run an ideological campaign against stalin from abroad from exile. >> how did he do it? >> he did it by writing furiously. he got onto the american newspapers, the european newspapers. he made appeals in the press. he was a wonderful propagandist. and really was happier with a pen than any other instrument of daily life. >> let's look at some video. i found this on youtube. not sure the origin of it, but it was -- allow people to see what he looked like, and he reads in english. >> yes. >> it's not very long. let's watch it. >> it is built upon false confessions. there is no history more terrible than the moscow trials
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of the communists. these trials developed not from communism, not from socialism, but from stalinism. that is now my principal task. it to reveal the truth and to demonstrate. demonstrate. >> what are you seeing there? >> i am seeing a man who thought he spoke english better than he really did. if he had been speaking in french, especially if he's been speaking in german you'd have seen greater fluency. i mean he comes across to me there as a bit like a mad scientist of the 1950s. >> that's in mexico. >> yes. >> when did he -- how did he get
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to mexico, and why? >> eventually the turks didn't want him. the french didn't want him. the scandinavians didn't want him either. >> why not? >> because stalin's u.s.s.r. put pressure on them. because he was a subversive, the germans wouldn't have him at all because he wanted to create a dictatorship of the proletariat in germany. now what country in the world would say yes, come in. be our guest. so he was always a very uncomfortable person to have in the country. and revolutionary mexico was the only haven for him by the end of the 1930s, and very regretfully, that's where he went. >> how many years was he in mexico? >> he was in mexico for three years before stalin's political police caught up with him. >> what was -- what were the circumstances of his death? >> an assassin, a trained
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assassin, ramon mercader was sent out from moscow, with a team -- he was told to seduce one of the many young women who worked as secretarial assistance for trotsky. he did this very effectively. he inveigled his way into the villa on a regular basis in coyoacan in mexico city. and one day one sunny august 1940 afternoon, he turned up in a mackintosh claiming that he had heard that it was going to rain. >> mackintosh being a trench coat? >> a trench coat, a raincoat, yes. and in that raincoat he had a
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huge dagger. and also the end of an ice ax. so he had two possibilities in mind. >> both in his coat? >> both in his coat. and no one noticed. in fact, that this was an odd way of arriving on a day that was as sunny as it was. >> describe the villa. >> the villa was like a fortress by then. an american trotskyist had installed an electric -- a very advanced electrical alarm system. there were guard posts outside the villa, and there were raised guards posts at the corners of the villa. but inside the compound it was really like a fortress. and it's just the same today if you go there. beautiful garden, rabbit hutches. trotsky was very practical.
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he kept rabbits. very cheap to feed all the trotskyists who flocked to sit at his table and sit at his feet. kept chickens. grew cactuses, grew flowers. you know he was an old farm boy as well. he liked that sort of aspect of life. >> wife with him? >> wife with him. >> how many years? >> his wife had been with him since the first years of the 20th century. long suffering wife. a wife who idolized him. who very rarely contradicted him. really a saint. >> but in those three years he had an affair with a figure that a lot of americans know. >> he indeed had an affair with frida kahlo, and that practically destroyed the marriage. >> she was married to diego rivera, the painter. >> indeed. and it was diego rivera the painter, and frida kahlo who had invited trotsky to seek refuge in coyoacan at their
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house, initially. so right towards the end of his life, trotsky behaved very badly to natalia, his wife. but she stuck at it. she had chosen the life of being married to one of the greatest revolutionaries of modern times, and she didn't have regrets. >> in 1940, what did people, including americans think, if they were trotskyists, and there were some -- have been some major figures in american politics that consider themselves major trotskyists. >> yes. >> what are they getting out of him? >> there weren't very many trotskyists in the world in the 1930s. most of those who existed were eliminated by adolf hitler in germany. there some hundreds of them in france, a few dozens in the
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united kingdom, and some hundreds in the united states. the ones in the united states were the most troublesome trotskyists in the lot because they couldn't stomach, or a lot of them couldn't stomach trotsky's support for stalin geostrategic policies at the beginning of the second world war. a lot of them couldn't see why trotsky condoned stalin's invasion of finland. invasion of finland. a lot of them just simply couldn't see why trotsky recommended that no american soldier should fight on the allied side in the second world war. so there were tremendous battles between these young american trotskyists and trotsky himself. and he treated them with disdain, with total disrespect. disdain, with total disrespect. and that side of trotsky came
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out that his followers to this day try to draw a curtain across because it's an embarrassment to him. ultimately, you see, trotsky believed in the fundamentals of leninism. in the one party state, in the one ideology state, in the state that seeks its own interests at the expense of all the other interests of humanitarianism in the world. it's an inflexible way of thinking. trotsky was a very flexible thinker for a communist leader in the middle of the 20th century. but what i am trying to say in my book is that is not being very flexible at all. essentially there was far more that pulled lenin, stalin, and trotsky together than tug them apart. >> nineteen-forty, august, stalin sends his henchman in to kill him. >> yes. >> he comes to the villa.
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he's got the trench coat on, he's got the ice ax in his pocket. what's he do? >> he comes in for a discussion about politics with trotsky. he's written a draft article, which is a pretty pathetic article, and trotsky in the way that he had, he was a teacher had agreed to give a brief tutorial to run on mercader about this draft. and as trotsky's peering over the draft, mercader gets to his feet and they're talking, and mercader takes a snap decision to use the ice ax. sometimes it's translated as ice pick. but an ice pick is something that a cocktail waiter uses. this was a huge ice ax. >> yes we have a photograph that
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people can see. >> and he buried it in the back of the head of leon trotsky. and it didn't kill him, but it mortally wounded him. and he struggled for life. >> what happened right away after he hit him? after he hit him? i mean did he -- was he unconscious? >> he wasn't unconscious. he was riding in agony. he was screaming. the guards came in, the trotskyist guards came in. the laid hold of the assassin. the police turned up. trotsky was under constant surveillance by the mexican police, the u.s. consulate was keeping an eye on him too. journalists were all over him all of the time in mexico city. so mercader is taken into captivity. he denies his real identity. he denies having anything to do with the soviet union.
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he's put on trial. and he is kept in prison for decades. always denying that he had any connection with joseph stalin. always saying in fact that he was a disappointed follower of leon trotsky. >> what happened to him though, once he got out of jail? didn't he get out of jail in '60? >> yes. and he went back to the soviet union. >> did he ever fess up that he was a stalin? >> he did. he was given a ranking in the kgb. he was awarded prizes and medals. but he couldn't stand the soviet union. he just couldn't stand living there. this was not the place that it had been built up to be in his imagination. and he moved to cuba. >> what did stalin think he accomplished by taking trotsky out? >> you have to -- you have to say, i think that far too many resources were put to the
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extermination of the life of this one single individual. a man who had at most a few thousand followers in the world. whose message barely ever got through to the u.s.s.r. in the late 1930s. trotsky was politically dead before he was physically dead. stalin was a bit of an obsessive. and if he wanted to get rid of a problem you physically exterminated the manifestation of the problem. >> how long did he live by the way, and what was the funeral like? >> the funeral was a great mexican state occasion. the thoroughfares of central new mexico were cleared. crowds turned out to see the hearse going through the city. people turned out who were catholics for the death of a
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militantly atheist revolutionary leader. this is one of the aspects of trotsky's life that one has to take account of. that that people thought trotsky to have been was not what he actually had been. there is a romanticization of trotsky. my book is the -- i am not trying to be boastful, i am just stating it as a fact, that most people who have written about trotsky have fallen in love with him. they have either been trotskyists, or are trotskyists, or they are ex- trotskyists who haven't really got trotsky out of their head. so i try to read every single thing he wrote. i try to read the drafts of everything that he wrote. and the drafts of his autobiography in the hoover institution archives are amazingly helpful. >> do you speak or read russian? >> yes. you can't do this without --
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i'm afraid you can't do this without -- and that's another problem with a lot of the trotsky biographies, that they are written by people who don't read the originals. and the translation of trotsky's works is not always done in an accomplished fashion. >> hoover is on the campus of stanford. how did they get the trotsky autobiography, and had it ever been published? >> trotsky's autobiography was published. >> they have the actual script. >> they have the script. i have to tell you, brian, that this is the most amazing thing to handle. he had a very peculiar way of writing. he dictated during the day lots of letter-sized pieces of paper. and then at night when the secretary rode home to istanbul, because he was exiled on an island off the turkish mainland, he physically stuck the pages into a big long scroll. scroll. and in these hoover institution
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archives, they have each chapter rolled up into a scroll. in other words, when he edited what he'd dictated in the morning, he liked to see the run of it. he had an esthetic -- >> did you read the original? >> yes. >> they allowed you to sit there and roll it out and read it. >> they did. and they have wisely in my view, introduced restrictions on what you can do now to these extraordinary artifacts. >> do you have any idea how many people have read this there? >> i think i am the only one who has read the drafts of the autobiography. autobiography. it was a thrill. it was a magical experience for a would-be historian. >> when did you do it? >> two or three years ago. >> and how much time did it
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take you to do it? >> well thankfully, he wrote in a very legible hand. i have looked at the manuscripts of the great dictators in the soviet union. lenin didn't write awfully legibly. stalin wrote legibly, but you have to work at it. but trotsky was a bit of an artist, and he wrote very, very clearly. so you can read it really quite easily. >> let's go back to our chart. two down and one to go. you see on the list there, lenin died at 53, 1924. trotsky died at age 60 in 1940. but all through this process, lenin is still alive, and he lasts until he is 74 years old. and he lasts until 1953. and he lasts until 1953. >> yes stalin you mean, not lenin. >> yes, i am sorry. stalin. >> yes. >> is he -- from lenin's death
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on until he dies, is he in charge of russian during that whole time, and how would you capsulize what it was like? i know we have talked here about the great terror in '37 and '38. >> yes. >> but just give us a capsulization of what you think his time was like in the soviet union. >> stalin introduced stability to the u.s.s.r. it was a sort of stability of chaos because people all lived in a whirlwind of experience. the fans were collectivized. all of industry was taken into state ownership. the cultural system was regimented. the whole society was militarized. the ussr became a great power even before it entered the second world war and the apex of this political system was that single figure, joseph stalin and he was more dominant over that political system than even lenin had been in soviet russia because he had stabilized that system.
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he had made it possible for that system to endure. people started to wear uniforms in jobs where uniforms hadn't existed before. it was a very militarized society. so if you worked for the foreign ministry, you had to wear a uniform. you were -- you were a cog in the machinery of state and the state engulfed society. now, there was a lot of that going on in lenin's soviet russia, but it reached its peak in the stalin years in the 1930's and 1940's. >> how many people did he kill? >> we don't really know for sure, but its millions. its millions who disappeared into the gulag. >> do you agree with the 50 million figure? >> i don't think anybody knows
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and i'll tell you why i'm havering and avoiding an answer to an exact number. there are lots of ways of killing people. you can put them up against a wall and shoot them. you can put them into the gulag and starve them, but you can also forcibly resettle them in inhospitable regions of the country. you can ruin the agriculture and deprive even the free citizenry of all of the nutrition that they need. you can so mangle your foreign policy as to do a deal with adolf hitler and ill prepare your country for war in 1941 so that you have to evacuate territory where the germans then enter and kill even more people. in this respect then, the number could be even higher than the one that you just mentioned. >> let's go to the end of his life. lenin buried there in the tomb
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in red square. stalin's ashes there. trotsky in mexico. but go to the end of his -- what was the end of stalin's life like? >> stalin was exhausted by his involvement in the second world war. he was an old man before he was old. he had to ration his interventions in politics. one of the reasons he was so deliberately terrifying to his associates was that he couldn't afford to keep intervening on a daily basis with the intensity that he had done in the 1930s and 1940s. so he took lots of holidays down in the south of the country, in the south caucuses, in abkhazia. i've been round these dutchies, they're like medieval fortresses. fortresses. one thinks of wooden huts for
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dutchies for russian retreats in the summer, these were gigantic fortresses. and he got on the telephone to his subordinates and he concentrated on the guidelines of policy. >> what was his health like? >> his health was terrible and when a doctor -- a very brave doctor in the early 1950s said to him, [inaudible] you know you just ease off, you're going to kill yourself if you go at this pace, which was only half pace. he had the doctor arrested. this was a state secret, the declining physical health of joseph stalin, that joseph stalin did not intend anyone to learn. nina gradof had made a medical judgment that nearly cost him his life. >> when was it obvious he was not going to live very long? >> by the early 1950's. when the party congress -- the 19th party congress met for the first time after the second world war, in 1952, for the
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very first time it was not stalin who made the big speech. it was one of his associates. >> where was he? >> his place was on the platform, alongside georgi malenkov, his anointed successor. but his health was so poor, his frailty was so obvious that he didn't want to expose himself in the way that would be involved if he gave a really big long speech. so everyone knew there was something wrong with stalin who saw him even just sitting on the podium. >> so when did he -- you know what was it like at the very end? >> at the very end most people who were alive in 1953 had been brought up -- most people were young after all.
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lots of people had died in the 1930's or died in the second world war. most people in their 20's or 30's or younger had known no other ruler but joseph stalin and they had been taught to revere him. so when the day of the funeral came, there was a huge press of people pushing towards red square and a lot of them got trampled to death in the rush. so even in death, joseph stalin for once inadvertently was a killer. >> what was the story through around his death where -- i mean he -- i remember reading in your book that he wouldn't sleep in places that he was expected to because he was afraid somebody would find him and kill him, but what were they -- in the last couple of weeks, what was going on? >> well, you're right. he was very suspicious and if
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you go around these dutchies, these fortresses really, you can see how many beds he had upstairs and downstairs and they're quite modest. he wasn't a man who wanted a luxurious lifestyle. he had his guards who he spoke to who had a regime of supervision. and his health started breaking up and there is more than a suspicion that the rest of the political leadership decided that he was so dangerous to them all personally that they wouldn't rush to get the doctors out to see him. and there's a good reason to think that that the secret police specialists, especially lavrenti barrier, who was under threat from stalin at the time, decided that benign medical neglect would be the key to the personal survival of barrier
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and his successors. so i don't think he was actually killed, but i don't think his natural death was unassisted. >> but there was a -- at that very last moment he was in a bedroom somewhere and they were afraid to go in and look at him. >> they were afraid to go in and look at him, but i think they made the excuse that they were afraid to go in and look at him, because they made it very awkward for the doctors and for the guards to go in either. he was a dangerous man at the very end. he was turning on practically all of his close associates. what would anyone do in those circumstances? whose death sentence do you prefer? that of the dictator or that of yourselves? >> we have to wind this up, but in your book on trotsky, at the very end you write the bolsheviks were universal militants.
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they aim to turn the world upside down and build a revolutionary society, culture, economy and politics. in their own way, they too were fervent believers and none more so than trotsky. as he once said, they wish to build a paradise on earth. we only have a minute, what happened? no paradise. >> certainly was no paradise. their fanaticism was tied to a ruthlessness that blinded them to the dangers of using the methods of building that paradise. what sort of paradise was it where the paradise always had to have walls? a paradise is somewhere where anyone would want to live voluntarily. that was not the case in the old ussr of lenin, stalin and leon trotsky. >> last question, what's next for robert service?
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>> i'm doing two big books. i'm doing one on russia and the west in the russian revolution and i'm going to do a second on the soviet union and the west at the end of the cold war and i think there are lots of big questions to be asked about the international dimensions that i haven't done enough about. >> as we said, the three books we've been talking about today are the 2000 release of the book lenin, 561 pages. 2004 release of the book stalin, 715 pages. and just recently the 2009 release of trotsky, 600 pages. all published by harvard belmont. thank you very much for joining us. >> thanks for having me. >> thanks for having me.
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>> for a dvd copy of this program call 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q& episodes are also available as podcasts. >> wants more on our website with trotsky author robert service. it is a 30-minute, an exclusive that you will find act c- kenneth feinberg oversees the $20 billion fund created by bp to handle claims related to the gulf oil spill. monday, he speaks to an audience
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at the economic club of washington and takes questions. our live coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. -- 8:30 a.m. eastern on c- span 2. >> monday, a discussion on attitudes affecting u.s.-china relations. it is a number of panels from u.s. and chinese universities with live coverage starting at 9:00 a.m. eastern on c-span 3. >> is this liver's renewed tactic -- is this a laborer's great new tactic? is that the new dividing british politics? they have the prc and we've passed dna tests. passed dna tests.


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