Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Introducing the Lubitz TrotskyanaNet/Closing remarks

The Lubitz TrotskyanaNet: An invaluable Trotsky resource

The Lubitz TrotskyanaNet is a labour of love.  Online since 2004, the site is the product of forty years spent collecting and cataloguing anything to do with Trotsky.  Wolfgang and Petra Lubitz keep their site constantly updated with new information, or old information newly unearthed, producing a new edition of their Leon Trotsky Bibliography several times a year.

The breadth and depth of information available on the site is rendered less intimidating by the clear and helpful format.  You can check up on pretty much anything here, from Trotsky’s genealogy and pseudonyms to the contents of relevant archival collections (including the Lubitz’ extensive personal Trotskyana collection) and the location of useful research facilities all over the world.  There are also direct links to works both by and about Trotsky.

It goes without saying that this site is a treasure trove for any scholar of Trotsky or Trotskyism.  But it’s also very accessible: Wolfgang and Petra Lubitz provide abundant guidance in the form of introductory notes, and the Picture Gallery section is full of interesting and sometimes surprising material.  If you have any interest in getting to know Trotsky, I would advise visiting this site post-haste.

Wolfgang Lubitz Q&A

How did you first discover Trotsky?

I learnt about Trotsky when a school boy of 17, in the year 1968, first by reading the fascinating Isaac Deutscher trilogy (in German translation by Harry Maor) and by browsing through Trotsky’s “My life” and “Revolution betrayed” (both in German translation, too) These works and perhaps all the many other books by and about Trotsky deeply and sustainably influenced me and at the same time gave me a lifelong immunisation against capitalism and Stalinism (whether with or without a “human face”) .

When did you first begin to work on the bibliography?

I began collecting works about Trotsky and about the movement(s) which he created and inspired  around 1970, more intensively since 1977. My work with the “Trotsky bibliography” (and its forerunners, respectively) began in 1979. A first printed edition was published by a German publishing house in 1982. Since the work continued , another edition was published in 1988 and the third (and last one in printed form) in 1999. Since then I could intensify and perfectionate literature search and so on and a new field was opened up by the Internet and by the many possibilities created by automated data processing, data base systems and all that…

Why do you think people should engage with Trotsky now?

People (I mean those people who don’t consider capitalism as the “end of history” and who don’t consider the “real existing socialism” à la ex-USSR as an appropriate alternative) should study Trotsky because it was he who perhaps more than everybody else in the first half of the 20th century symbolized the very antithesis to both, i.e. on the one hand to capitalism which fouls the world up and which blesses this planet with enduring crises, hunger, world wars etc. and to Stalinism and all varieties of bureaucratic strangulation and anti-emancipatory tendencies within the workers and anti-imperialist movements. Since Trotsky was the very embodiment of the Russian revolution (both as the theoretician of permanent revolution and as the man of action) and since he was one of the most eminent and outstanding socialist thinkers in the tradition of Marx, Engels and Luxemburg in a time of decline (“Midnight of the century”), no one seeking genuine socialist answers on burning questions can ignore him. It goes without saying that working with Trotsky should always be done in a critical, not “orthodox”, quasi-religious way.

Many thanks, Wolfgang, for speaking to us today.



Kirsty Jane McCluskey

I started to read Trotsky in my second year of University.  I believe the first thing I read was My Life, followed closely by The Year 1905 and Literature and Revolution.  I never did kick the Trotsky habit after that, but my relationship to him has evolved a great deal since then.

I started out as a fully signed-up, starry-eyed member of the Trotsky fan club.  I adored him.  I thought he understood everything, and was always ready to accord him the last, best word.  My supervisor, passing by as I sat by the departmental coffee machine re-reading My Life for the umpteenth time, was heard to remark: “You want to marry him, don’t you?  But you can’t.  He’s dead.”  (Thanks, Dr. Ward, for that dose of realism.)

When I subsequently decided to embark on a research project, of course it had to be about Trotsky.  This doomed the romance immediately.  You can’t maintain uncritical admiration for someone when you’re picking through their memoirs for omissions or getting in about their ghastly but interesting early journalism.  “She doesn’t want to marry him anymore,” said my supervisor to a colleague, “so her analysis has got a lot better.”

It goes without saying that this was a useful development.  Adulation is the enemy of good research.  It’s also very boring.  But the flip side of healthy academic detachment is that it becomes too easy to lose sight of the equally healthy enthusiasm that prompted the study in the first place.  Faced with the everyday drudgeries of research, the problems thrown up by the sources and hostile or judgmental responses from outside – and sometimes inside – the field, it’s easy to become jaded.  It’s also easy – and tempting – to become contrarian, defining yourself against the worst excesses of idolatry or vilification.  To maintain an independent position in the face of an ideological onslaught is both intellectually necessary and extremely hard.  To remember why you are doing so in the first place can be even harder.

In putting together this Trotsky Week for Vulpes Libris, my aim was very simple.  I wanted to get back to the appeal of Trotsky; his capacity to engage and enthuse.  Because if one thing is clear from the clamour of approving and angry voices around Robert Service’s recent biography (which has been so comprehensively taken apart – notably by Sheila Fitzpatrick in the LRB – that I have no need to review it here), it is that people still care about Trotsky.  Seventy years after his death and almost twenty after the fall of the USSR, he can still cause an uproar.

If we can take one conclusion from this week’s posts, it must be that this uproar is entirely warranted.  Whether you see Trotsky as a political figure, as a writer and commentator or as a historical actor – or any combination of these – his importance is undeniable.  He demands engagement, discussion, debate.  And he deserves study.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to this week’s contributors – Geoffrey Swain, Ian Thatcher, Michael Carley, Chris Ward, Wolfgang Lubitz and Tariq Ali – for their generosity and candour, not to mention their time.   Talking to them has been an eye-opening experience for this fledgling researcher (not Trotskyist, but most definitely Trotskyish).

On that note, it’s time I handed Vulpes Libris back to the other Foxes, who have a stunning month of audiobook-related pieces starting on Monday.  Check in tomorrow for details of Week 1.  Many thanks for reading!

This 1936 photo of Trotsky at his desk comes from the Marxists Internet Archive.

4 comments on “Introducing the Lubitz TrotskyanaNet/Closing remarks

  1. Hilary
    September 4, 2010

    It has been a fantastic week, Kirsty – thank you for the inspiration and all the hard work you have put into pulling it together. It has helped me to understnad, from a position of ignorance about Trotsky, why he is such a significant figure, and why his life and thought continue to have meaning (or many meanings) for so many people.

    We’ve had multiple views on why Trotsky should continue to be engaged with. I’ve never considered him any sort of literary stylist, to be read for pleasure. I think I must remedy that. The recommendations of where to start are therefore particularly welcome.

    Finally, for this bibliographical geek, learning about the Lubitz site and bibliographical endeavour is terrific – thank you!

  2. Jackie
    September 4, 2010

    I agree with Hilary, in both her assessment of the week & also the curiosity now to read Trotsky as a literary figure. Looking forward to exploring the Lubitz site, too.
    One thing that struck me about the entire week was how enthusiastic everyone was, Trotsky really inspires passion in people and that’s quite refreshing in these times of limited attention spans. I was also intrigued to see how your interest in him began, Kirsty, though I wonder what the professor would’ve said had you been a male student?
    As I’d hoped, I learned a lot this week & Kudos to you & the other participants for sharing their time & insights with us on VL.

  3. Pingback: Trotsky Week on Vulpes Libris « Kirsty Jane McCluskey

  4. Adolfo Gilly
    September 5, 2010

    Please, subscribe. AG.

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