Netflix’s miniseries Trotsky. Historical narrative in times of post-truth (contains spoilers)

Feb 14, 2019 | Asia and Oceania, Debates, Eastern Europe, Latin America

“Vulgar as a lie may be, sirs, do not fear, do not stop slandering. Even after the accused refutes it, the wound will have already be made, and even if it heals, the scar will remain”. Rousseau

The phrase “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth” is usually attributed -though there is no proof that he ever said it- to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda. In that quote, the utilization of lies and slanders, and their repetition and diffusion, as effective weapons of political propaganda, is summarized.

In this brief review about the miniseries Trotsky, available on Netflix: a blockbuster filmed in Putin’s Russia that shows a number of gross historical falsifications about one of the principal leaders of the October Revolution.

Of scarce artistic value, but with great technical bill, the series was launched in Russia in November 2017 for the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Throughout eight episodes, the script demonizes Trotsky, blaming him for the death of his own children, attributing to him and Lenin the order to execute the Czar and his family, when they actually never gave such an order, and a long etcetera that turns the series into a defamatory and cheap bore.

The injurious imbalance is such that the figure of Stalin is sugar coated. If someone that knows nothing about history watches it, he or she ends up supporting Stalin against the ambitious, cynical, petty, sanguinary, cynical and scalper monster that is Trotsky in this fiction.

However, as if historical falsification and bad taste slander were nor enough, the series tries to show the Russian Revolution as a conspiracy or coup, where workers and Bolshevik Party mobilizing the masses do not exist. The party is shown as a group of agents submitted to the duress of Trotsky and Lenin. With an excessive emphasis in trying to convince viewers that the revolution wasn’t an action in which the workers and the oppressed masses mobilized.

The miserable narrative doesn’t stop at its explicit anti-communist propaganda. In its injurious eagerness, it saves nothing on misogyny, placing all the women of the story in a social and political second place. Always at the service of masculine desire incarnated in the voracious macho that is Trotsky.

To complete the reactionary combo, the series reeks of folkloric anti-Semitism (typical of Russian chauvinism) showing Parvus(1) as an evil, opportunistic and ambitious Jew, an agent of Germany.

A specter is haunting the world

The culture industry of capitalism has long deployed the efficient tactic of turning revolutionary figures into objects of consumption for pop culture, commercializing and trivializing their ideals. Emptying their evocation of content and profiting from the merchandising of their image. Such is the case of Che Guevara. Nevertheless, the power and danger that some revolutionaries pose for the establishment, is such that the chosen tactic focuses on avoiding their names altogether and deleting them from history. And when they become unavoidable, their evoking is filled with historical distortion and vulgar accusations.

The historical and political dimension of Trotsky perhaps explains why, in his case, the method has always consisted of the construction of a slanderous tale.

It is evident that the series is made according to the political interests of the Putin era.

Launched on October 2017, in the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it’s lined up with the Russian official policy of denying the deeds of Russian workers that imposed a workers’ government for the first time in history.

The series was originally launched by Channel One Russia, which is the center Russian official propaganda and the main State channel(2). The message of the series is, according to the directors, that “we must not force the people to be on the streets” and that “every revolution means bloodshed”.(3)

As a propagandistic work, its originality is scarce even on that. The figure of Trotsky is the paradigm of distortion and historical defamation. The Stalinist regime literally “deleted” him from the history of the Russian Revolution. Even today, the manipulation of graphic records of the different moments of the revolution are studied as pioneer works of photo montage.

In the same sense, the official history was rewritten, changing situations, distorting texts, and plainly falsifying facts to minimize Trotsky´s role and praise Stalin.

Trotsky´s defamation is perhaps not the only point on which Putin is similar to Stalin. The Putin government rests its current power and wealth on the appropriation of state resources after the restoration of capitalism. It is a government executed with an authoritarian hand, that often raises the patriotic vindication of the great Russia and whose current anthem is a version of the one used by Stalinism.

In these conditions, they need to recycle the historical narrative of hate against Trotsky. Stalin´s lies from eighty years back are still the base of Russian official history. We can only find a small difference in the argumentation of the Moscow Trials at the end of the 30s: the series displays explicit anti-Semitism.

But the main similarity is perhaps that colossal hate that shows just how great the fear that the ideas of the creator of the Red Army provokes in the powerful of yesterday and today is. The election of Trotsky for a series launched at the hundred years of the Russian Revolution indicates a historical and political reading of the role and responsibilities in the revolutionary process. Maybe in this we can find one of the few political merits of the series. They attack and slander who they see as the most dangerous figure of the revolution.

The times of post-truth

Unlike the Stalinist slanders of the previous century, this series is produced in an epoch where the fragmentation of news sources has created an atomized world where lies, rumors and gossip are spread with dangerous speed. Lies that seem to be true shared on social media, in which its members trust each other more than the big media.

This phenomenon that some call post-truth marks the political practices of the most reactionary expressions of today. Recently, the construction of post-truth in Brazil, for example, through the use of fake news, was essential for the triumph of Bolsonaro. The press in that country revealed -after the elections- the Bolsonaro campaign´s million-dollar contracts with different companies that flooded WhatsApp groups with fake information. Two years ago, the same resource was used by the Donald Trump campaign. The contemporary disciples of Goebbels have, in the repetition of lies, a privileged resource to generate adhesion and strengthening prejudice.

No, the series has an advantage over fake news, sometimes spread by hand on social media, where it has great persuasive power. The expensive production and technical level makes it really convincing for a spectator without historical information.

Trotskyists have historically had a categorical position against the censorship of any cultural expression. Defending the independence of art against the artistic regimentation and the “socialist realism” imposed by Stalinism. From that place we vindicate the right to point out the historical falsifications that flood this fiction, designed with the explicit political objective of promoting reactionary ideas.

  • Parvus: Marxist theorist and financial backer of the revolution with whom Trotsky wrote his first essays about the theory of permanent revolution. His real name was Israel Lazarevich Gelfand.
  • Channel One Russia conserved a majority of stocks, with the company of Roman Abramovich, one of Russia´s richest magnates, and who many claim is a front man of Putin´s.
  • Aleksandr Kott and Konstantin Statskiy, the directors of the series, and one screenwriter, Oleg Malovichko, have explained the objectives of the series on various interviews.