Putin’s Russia Wrestles with the Meaning of Trotsky and Revolution

Article/Op-Ed in The New Yorker
Nov. 7, 2017

Joshua Yaffa wrote for the New Yorker about a lavish, big-budget series on state-run Russian television that lauds Leon Trotsky on the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution:

On Monday evening, just shy of a hundred years since the Bolshevik Revolution, viewers of Channel One—Russia’s primary state-run television network—were treated to the première of a lavish, big-budget series about Leon Trotsky, one of the main protagonists of the momentous events of October, 1917. In life, Trotsky was a ferociously talented orator and a brilliant organizer, who had grand ideas about the stream of history and his own role in it. The show portrays Trotsky as wielding a charismatic and forceful intellect, and as a man of style and passion, who, with equal alacrity, is able to win over peasant fighters to the Bolshevik cause and women to his embrace—while clad in squishy, head-to-toe black leather. I attended a screening last week, where Konstantin Ernst, the director of Channel One, brimmed with enthusiasm as he introduced the first episode, declaring that Trotsky had the air of a “rock-and-roll star” and could be thought of as the “executive producer” of the 1917 Revolution.
The series is remarkable when compared to the silence with which Putin and others in the Kremlin are greeting the Revolution’s anniversary. As my colleague Masha Lipman noted, there will be no official events in Moscow this week, no gatherings or opportunities for national dialogue or engagement with the legacy of what Trotsky and the rest of the Bolsheviks bequeathed to the world. In part, as I wrote in a piece for the magazine last month, that is because Putin sees the Bolshevik revolutionaries as forerunners to those who might challenge his own power today. “Someone decided to shake Russia from inside, and rocked things so much that the Russian state crumbled,” Putin once warned a gathering of students and young teachers. “A complete betrayal of national interests! We have such people today as well.”