To survey the Marxist historical writing is to demonstrate the persistence of Marx in twentieth-century historical inquiry. For a school of history so often accused of reductionism and determinism, Marxism more than any other (only the Annales is nearly comparable) embodies a wide range of approaches and subjects. Because the British Marxist historians of the post-Second World War era have been associated with ‘new history’, there is the temptation to think that Marxism rejects traditional forms such as biographical, political, intellectual and narrative history. Marxist historians have excelled at the conventional forms of history as well as the innovative. Isaac Deutscher’s Stalin (1967, 1st edn 1949) and his multi-volume work on Trotsky provide a model for Marxist biographies.2 A host of Marxist biographical portraits could be assembled: Paul Frölich’s Rosa Luxemburg, Tony Cliff’s Lenin, Christopher Hill’s Cromwell or Milton, and Georges Lefebvre’s (1874–1959) Robespierre or Napoleon. In the preface to the final volume of his Trotsky trilogy, Isaac Deutscher explained the interaction between the great events and individuals: ‘It was as if a huge historical conflict had become compressed into a controversy and feud between two men [Trotsky and Stalin].’ Deutscher carefully drew out the tragic story of the persecutions of Trotsky’s family based onthe revolutionary’s letters to his loved ones which ‘added a sombre depth to the drama’.3 Far from Marxism rejecting biography, what distinguishes Marxist biography is a greater theoretical clarity about the role of the individual in history, which always presents the greatest puzzle for every biographer to solve. In fact, the non-Marxist Ian Kershaw borrowed from Marx on the role of the individual in history in writing his biography of Hitler.
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