By Charles Cornell*
One must understand Trotsky’s passionate devotion to the cause of the oppressed to appreciate the full import of his work. He hated the injustices and indignities forced on man with his whole being. His polemics against political opponents are not at all the brilliant stylistic exercises which his petty-bourgeois critics make them out to be. Nor did he dash them off with the literary glibness which they attribute to him. Trotsky’s powerful and incisive writing merely reflects his ardent convictions in the struggle for the liberation of mankind. The barbs of his sharp pen were completely at one with his hatred of all that degraded humanity. The style was truly the man. He did not write with facility at all; his polished writing was the result of strenuous and lengthy application.
Although the Old Man considered himself a slow writer, his literary output was prodigious. A shelf five feet long could be filled with his published works prior to 1918 alone. The secretary who was with him in Prinkipo relates that he finished the three volumes of the History of the Russian Revolution in thirteen months. His writings testify not only to the extraordinary fertility of his brain, but to his remarkable self-discipline.
Knowing that his time was limited, that Stalin’s order for his death would be executed before he had contributed all he could in the task of preparing the Fourth International, Trotsky worked indefatigably. It was a race against time in which he spared nothing of his tremendous energy.
As was characteristic of him in all things, he sought for preciseness of expression and scientific exactitude in his writing. After the Russian stenographer had transcribed his first draft LD would make corrections and revisions, cutting and pasting the manuscript until it was a long and continuous sheet. Part or all of the work was often revised and re-typed several times, before he was satisfied with the final draft.
LD, a master of self-discipline, bent every minute of his time to his will. Not a moment was wasted. He arose early, at about six in the morning, performed the chores in the yard, returned to his study and worked until breakfast. After breakfast he dictated letters and went on with his writing. Shortly before the noon meal he again took care of the animals. Unless some particularly urgent piece of work pressed for attention, he rested for an hour after lunch in accordance with the doctor’s instructions. Sometimes at three in the afternoon a visitor would come and L.D. would spend an hour or so with him. Longer visits were infrequent, for his time was too limited.
Dinner was usually a lively meal during which L.D. engaged everyone in conversation and joked with members of the household.
Most of his time was spent within the structure L.D. often referred to as “the jail”; the routine of the day being repeated monotonously. On occasion, but less frequently as reports of a GPU concentration in Mexico reached us, he went on “picnics.” These were actually expeditions to gather cactus for LD’s collection. He especially admired this odd Mexican plant and as was typical of him, aspired to make his collection as nearly complete in its many varieties as possible.
He never undertook anything half-heartedly and his cactus collecting was no exception. On one occasion we accompanied some friends to Tamazunchale, a distance of about 360 kilometres from Coyoacan, in hopes of finding a special variety of cactus.
This wholeheartedness permeated his entire activity. It was visible in his soldierly bearing, in his lively stride, in his punctuality. Whether it was a meal, a trip or a meeting, he insisted that it begin on time. I recall a conference held in his study with some friends from New York at which some of the guards came in late. After the first one arrived, L.D. got up and locked the door, putting the key in his pocket. Each time one of the latecomers knocked at the door L.D. arose from his chair, walked to the door and let the guard in. It was a most effective demonstration.
* Cornell was a guard in Trotsky’s household in Mexico. Taken from Fourth International, August 1944