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Portraits of Russian Revolutionaries Cause Stir

As new information surfaces, insights on Trotsky and Stalin

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TROTSKY: The Eternal Revolutionary

By Dimitri Volkogonov

Free Press, 524 pp., $32.50

STALIN

By Edvard Radzinsky

Doubleday, 607 pp., $30

Not least among the radical changes sweeping Russia over the past decade has been the widespread rewriting of history.

Opening secret archives, discarding Marxist cliches and stereotypes, finding vigorous new writers who dare raise long-suppressed questions: All this signifies a gigantic recasting of historical memory, a vast reassessment of the past and a new vision of the future.

Resurrecting hidden documents is necessary but not sufficient. What matters most is replacing traditional Marxist verities with new ideas, new themes - the totalitarian motif, for example, that Western historians have largely discarded, has proved surprisingly popular - that offer satisfying interpretations of the great sweep of Russian history.

The point man in this vast enterprise has been the late Dmitri Volkogonov. As a member of the Soviet establishment; as both a professional historian and a professional soldier of high rank; and as a lieutenant of President Mikhail Gorbachev in the l980s, he could have been expected to play a cautious insider's game. But instead, he created a tremendous stir in Russia with the sharply critical "Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy" (l990). There followed a biography of Lenin (l994), and now, completing the trilogy of the three who made a revolution, Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary.

It is an apt title for a carefully written and thoroughly researched work that, addressing a Russian audience, assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge as it raises a vital, transcendent question: How could Trotsky, with all his brilliance, his knowledge of languages, his remarkable verbal and literary fluency, his obvious intelligence, nevertheless insist - despite all factual experience - that world revolution was imminent and indeed certain? What explains this ridiculous obsession, this fanatic insistence that capitalism was soon to disappear?

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