At the NY Review Daily, US novelist and occasional gonzo journalist William T. Vollman writes about the 1959 novel The Great Prince Died: A Novel About the Assassination of Trotsky by Bernard Wolfe, which is a work of epic fiction based loosely on Trotsky’s life. Even as fiction, the book vividly evokes the moral dilemma’s that Trotsky faced in the heat of revolution. Here’s an excerpt:
Paradox: If Trotsky was correct at Kronstadt, then his own murder could also be construed as right. If his murder stinks (as I most certainly believe), then he was wrong at Kronstadt, in which case his murder again becomes justified so long as he supports Kronstadt-like actions. Like most paradoxes, this one ultimately fails to hold together—but only in the “real world.” Rostov is a reduction of a far more interesting and ambiguous man. But the protagonists of parables must be types, emblems, tropes. Rostov represents not who Trotsky was, but a certain principle that Trotsky stood for. If we feel willing to generalize and simplify, then this parable with its paradox does have something to tell us—for the events that haunted Bernard Wolfe reincarnate themselves endlessly.
“Then it amounts to this,” says a Mexican official to the dying Rostov’s wife. “Those who use all means will win, those who reject some means will lose. There is no remedy …” Can it be so? Trotsky believed it. Sometimes, so do I. (That is why I prefer to lose.) Exactly here we come face to face with Wolfe’s defective, unlikely greatness. His formulation must never be forgotten.
Image: A railway station destroyed during the Kronstadt rebellion, 1921. Via NYR Daily.