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The Evil of Leon Trotsky Revisited

Two of Leon Trotsky’s best-known quotes are his statement that “Where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation” (made famous, especially among libertarians, in part because it was quoted by Hayek in The Road to Serfdom), and the very next sentence in the same paragraph: “The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.” My GMU colleague Bryan Caplan helpfully provides the context of these quotes, from Trotsky’s 1936 book, The Revolution Betrayed:

During these years [since Stalin took power in the USSR] hundreds of Oppositionists, both Russian and foreign, have been shot, or have died of hunger strikes, or have resorted to suicide. Within the last twelve years, the authorities have scores of times announced to the world the final rooting out of the opposition. But during the “purgations” in the last month of 1935 and the first half of 1936, hundreds of thousands of members of the [Communist] party were again expelled, among them several tens of thousands of “Trotskyists.” The most active were immediately arrested and thrown into prisons and concentration camps. As to the rest, Stalin, through Pravda, openly advised the local organs not to give them work. In a country where the sole employer is the state, this means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.

Bryan points out that this context doesn’t reflect well on a man who is still admired by many leftists and even a few ex-leftist conservatives:

Worth noticing: While Trotsky meant what libertarians think he meant, the man’s sheer evil still shines through. He doesn’t mind if

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