Leon Trotsky, Padura and Me

Daisy Valera 

"The Man Who Loved Dogs" by Leonardo Padura.

Leonardo Padura’s work came into my life almost at the end of 2005, when my first year university class on mathematical analysis elbowed out my very old habit of reading one book after another.

Anton Arrufat’s La noche del aguafiestas and Padura’s tetralogy Cuatro Estaciones were the sole books I could read in six months.

I was captivated by Mario Conde (the main character in the four-novel series by Padura) but I wasn’t interested in continuing with the crime stories dealt with in several Cuban novels or in Leonardo’s other works.

Trotsky appeared later, pregnant with sense, reminding me of passages and images from my childhood: those from books by the Mir and Moscow publishing houses, and the albums of photos of Lenin that once glowed in the courtyard of my elementary school.

But Trotsky’s works especially filled me with arguments during my reality as a university student anxious for answers and solutions.

Trotsky cured me of indifference and filled in the holes in the words “socialism,” “communism” and “revolution.”

Those were words that for me had been ripped apart years earlier by failed experiences and nauseating speeches.

I rushed to get his books and in which it wasn’t difficult to conclude that his story was partly my own – brimful of betrayed revolutions, purges and bureaucrats.

Two years ago I found out that Padura had written a book that had Trotsky as one of its characters. I was astonished.  Prior to that, I had neatly categorized him as a writer of detective novels.

Leonardo Padura at a Havana book signing.

But my astonishment had other sources.  In the first place there was the fact that Leon Trotsky is absent in modern history books that are taught in Cuba.  He has been erased, just like Soviet Stalinism erased him.

I was also astonished because what still rings in my ears is the word used by my military instructor in my Defense Preparation course who branded Leon Trotsky as a “traitor” in front of a classroom full of students at my university.

Conscious that the myth of “Trotsky the renegade” is still alive in the minds of many people, I saw the presentation that Padura made of his book on Leon’s murderer delivered at the Casa de las Americas before a packed hall.

Today I finished reading the book.  The story that he tells doesn’t bother me, I already knew it.

The publication of El hombre que amaba a los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs) reminds us about part of our history from when our principal ally was the USSR and we danced to the beat of a Russian polka.

Leonardo Padura’s book is also a way of resuscitating Trotsky by presenting to Cubans the story of a person who was concerned about the workers of the world.

It reveals a man who spoke out against the crimes and abuses of power perpetrated by the Stalinist bureaucracy, but the book also proposes alternatives to revive a decadent society.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

Daisy Valera has 208 posts and counting. See all posts by Daisy Valera

10 thoughts on “Leon Trotsky, Padura and Me

  • I believe you are talking about my sister Eva Chertov who was the daughter of Morris and Pearl Chertov. She moved to Cuba after the revolution, was married to a Cuban but did not have any children. She returned to the US for personal reasons and to continue political work as a member of the Socialist Workers Party until her death in 2011.

  • Michael: The person you are referring to is Eva Chertov. I knew her slightly. I wouldn’t say she was “embittered” by her experience in Cuba. She did have criticisms, for instance, opposing the persecution of gays and the jailing of Heberto Padilla (this was the late ’60s, when “Stalinism” was at its apex in Cuba), but she remained a socialist to the end. I’m sorry to report that she recently died of cancer

  • One more thought . . . It is not relevant to dwell on the Trotsky vs. Stalin history. What is relevant is the programmatic discussion. What is the proper program for a socialist organization? Answering this is what we should be discussing.

  • If people, especially caring people like Daisy who wrote this article, would like to know it they themselves are “Trotskyists,” they need only ask themselves one question: “Do I believe that a truly socialist state should own all–or even the vast majority–of the instruments of production, thereby abolishing private productive property rights and the trading market?”

    If the answer is “yes,” then a person can accurately lay claim to the title of “Trotskyist.”

    If the answer is “no,” however, there is no way that the person can lay claim to the title. The person is more likely to be a modern cooperative socialist, that is, a co-thinker of yours truly.

    Trotsky, like Marx, Engels and all Marxists before or after him, believe in full state ownership of everything. This is what defines them as Marxists, or “scientific socialists.”

    If you are a Trotskyist in a programmatic sense, you are a statist. Statism is the Marxian program, per the Communist Manifesto and subsequent Marxian pronouncements. If this is denied, well, what can I say!

  • Michael: Yes, I came of age in Los Angeles those frothy times. I came into contact with the organization that was most active in leading single-issue mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War, under the slogan “Bring all the troops home, now!” I was in the Socialist Workers Party youth group, the YSA (Young Socialists Alliance), twice.

    Unfortunately, I was highly prejudiced against Mao and Maoist in those days due to having been recruited to Trotskyism as the eternal truth. What a surprise it has been in my later years to learn all I’ve learned about Trotsky and Trotskyism; and especially about the C.I.C. (Chinese Industrial Cooperatives), also called Indusco and “gung ho.” These worker-owned cooperatives were historically important, but Trotskyism hides their astonishing history from the Left to this very day.

    Here is the bottom line about Trotskyism: They believe with Marx and Engels that the socialist state should own all the instruments of production, but that these instruments of production should be run democratically, not bureaucratically. In my view, this is merely “statism” with a twist.

  • Hmmm. Whatever happened to the Cuban Trotskyists? Here in the States they were amongst the earliest and most fervent supporters of the Revolution, active in organizing the Fair Play for Cuba Committees, etc. There was a young woman I knew once in Philadelphia, circa the mid-1960’s, the daugher of two original Trotskyists, Morris and Rose Chertov, from the 1930’s/1940’s. Morris used to regale us with stories of his street battles with the Stalinists in the 1930’s. His daughter moved to Cuba in the early 1960’s, married a Cuban, had several children, but later returned to the States much embittered (don’t know if her disappointments were political or personal–probably both). I can immagine that even in the 1960’s Stalinist dogmatism was asserting itself in Cuba, though it also received defeats (e.g. the “Micro-Faction” incident of the mid-1960’s). By the 1960’s these conflicts betwixt Stalinists and Trotskyists were mostly history–at least for those of us who came of age in the 1960’s–and “some of my best friends” were Trotskyists (although I was active in the Maoist Progressive Labor Party at the time).

  • Kronstadt!

  • What I have to say about Trotsky and Trotskyism was expressed in Daisy’s previous article. I even quoted the Comintern’s formulation of the transitional program that Trotsky plagiarized ten years after he opposed it, saying it was pedantic, thin and bankrupt from beginning to end. I showed readers that Trotskyism is programmatic opportunism because it raises a small section of the tactical program up into the whole program of the party. But nothing I said had any impact on the true believers of the Trotsky cult.

    I will say the truth as I know it. Present-day monopoly capitalism is resurrecting the Trotsky cult to cocoon radicalizing youth, to ensure that they do not evolve a correct definition of workable socialism. Once a person buys into Trotskyism, she or he becomes useless for organizing the working people, and will only be isolated from the masses and engage in intellectual exchanges with other Trotskyists.

    What has been proved by historical experience is that the Marxian principle of full state ownership is dysfunctional and discredits socialism in the minds of the people. Trotskyism defends the statist priniciple, yet criticizes the bureaucracy that it always creates. It can never therefore revitalize the socialist movement. I once thought Daisy might listen to my sincere arguments, but it is apparent that she has been fully cocooned.

  • Trotsky remains a controversial figure to this day, hated by defenders of capitalism and admired by revolutionary socialists as the greatest political figure of the 20th Century. There has been a concerted attempt in academic circles to blacken Trotsky’s name and preempt interest in his work, even as the economic crisis is driving young people into politics.

    David North’s book “In Defense of Leon Trotsky” (www.mehring.com), examining the falsifications about Trotsky in R. Service’s recent biography, has received a very favorable reception by historian Bertrand Patenaude in the June 2011 issue of The American Historical Review.

    “A careful examination of North’s book shows his criticism of Service to be exactly what Trotsky scholar Baruch Knei-Paz … says it is: ‘detailed, meticulous, well-argued and devastating.'”
    A summary of the review can be found here: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/jun2011/pers-j28.shtml

    It is not possible to understand the course of the 20th Century, let alone the present situation, without a thorough knowledge of the life of work of this greatest of revolutionary figures.

  • the most fascinating thing about trotsky was that he was a genuine intellectual, willing to doubt even his own views on things, and willing to change his views if he found that facts have changed. his exile and murder are a perfect example of why the socialist movements the world over have failed. in every movement, those who are intellectually curious about things, those who’s minds are open and who’s minds can change, are always branded as traitors and counter revolutionaries. a giant stain on the cuban revolution is the fact the man who stuck trotsky with an ice pick spent his golden years of retirement living in cuba.

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