History: A Planet without Debates

Robert Service declines invitation to debate the life of Leon Trotsky

Trotsky once remarked that he lived on a planet without a visa, such was the fear of capitalist governments to allow him asylum. It seems we are now living on a planet without debate, at least as far as Trotsky is concerned. We are publishing below correspondence between the Socialist Party in England and Wales and Robert Service, recent biographer of Trotsky. Service was offered a debate on the ideas of Trotsky at Socialism 2009 or at any other time but turned down the offer. He was also invited to a debate in Moscow but withdrew when he found out he would be debating against Peter Taaffe of the CWI. The correspondence will give some indication of his attitude to the ideas of genuine Marxism.

A Planet without Debates

An invitation to debate his ideas at the Socialist Party’s weekend event, Socialism 2009, was sent to Robert Service, the author of Trotsky: A Biography reviewed by Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe here

Unfortunately, Robert Service declined, with the message:

"Sorry but I’m going to refuse. From past experience with party-political occasions of this type, I reckon more heat than light is going to be generated. Trotsky for me is a serious political figure and I like and want to debate him; but I doubt that this is possible with an organisation which takes Peter Taaffe seriously as a leader and thinker. I might as well be frank.

Yours, Bob Service".

Peter Taaffe replied to Robert Service as follows:

"We are ’frankly’ amazed that you have turned down the opportunity to debate the role of Leon Trotsky at our forthcoming ’Socialism’ event.

Is this the sophisticated, confident, urbane, professorial intellectual giant who has recently toured radio stations freely commenting on Trotsky and who turns down our invitation to ’debate’ Trotsky by resorting to personal insults?

This is surely an uncharacteristic ill-tempered outburst on your part, perhaps brought on by reading my review, which I must admit is not at all favourable to your book. Why not ’debate’ with me or any other representative of the Socialist Party and allow us to display in the process our ’lack of leadership’ and deficiency of intelligence?

We would ask you to reconsider your initial response to our request for a debate, which I assure you will have much more ’light’ than ’heat’, and perhaps less heat than was revealed in your treatment of Trotsky.

You are unwilling to speak at this event, perhaps because you fear that the attendance will probably be weighted in favour of those who follow Trotsky’s ideas today. If so, we are prepared to debate Trotsky’s ideas with you anywhere – including in your own ’backyard’ of Oxford perhaps – either with myself or, if you prefer, a more acceptable representative of the Socialist Party.

We would appreciate a response to this as soon as possible so we can make arrangements to accommodate a debate and discussion on Trotsky with you at the earliest opportunity.

Yours faithfully, Peter Taaffe"

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November 2009