The Authority of Failure

The Authority of Failure

MARTOV: A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY, by Israel Getzler. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. 246 pp. $12.50.

People who have experienced political defeat like to console themselves with the thought of historical vindication. The past has rejected them, the future will reject the past. Perhaps. But mostly it’s an illusion: history seldom vindicates anyone, let alone the losers and the just.

Shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power Trotsky made a speech at a Soviet session in which he pointed his finger at Julian Martov, the brilliant and equivocating left-Menshevik leader, and consigned him to “the dust-bin of history.” Trotsky was, in one sense, right: Martov would die a powerless and penniless exile in Berlin, his books unread and his name unknown to anyone but a handful of socialists. That Martov’s impassioned outcries against the authoritarian excesses of early Bolshevism have been shown to be entirely correct, entirely warranted—has this prevented the repetition of those excesses on a far larger scale? A few of us who once gave our minds to Trotsky as the spokesman for History have since learned to give our hearts to Martov as its victim. But what does it matter, in the scale of that History in which both Trotsky and Martov believed?

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