Yesterday’s hero

I found this ring for sale on EBay.

The seller, a Russian, advertised it as “very rare”. He was asking almost $1000 for it.

The ring, made of base metal and decorated with dabs of enamel, bears the legend in Russian, “Long Live Comrade Trotsky”. Evidently, the ring was mass produced in the early 1920s.

Soon after the manufacture and sale of this ring, Stalin won a struggle for power with Trotsky. By 1929, Trotsky was exiled to Siberia and eventually found refuge in Mexico City, where, in 1940, a Soviet assassin crushed his skull using an ice-pick.

In the meantime, in the Soviet Union, Stalin hunted down Trotsky’s supporters, both real and imagined, and eliminated them. Not content with removing Trotsky from the present and future of the communist movement, Stalin also sought to airbrush Trotsky from the Soviet past. Trotsky was to be consigned to the memory tubes.

The continued existence of a ring like this one served to perpetuate the memory of a very inconvenient person. Ownership of this ring in the Soviet Union would have been a rash and provocative act. People were shot for less. Accordingly, most of these mass-produced rings were probably disposed of in secret, thrown into the woods, dropped down privies, anything to be rid of such a treasonous item. These rings, once cheap and plentiful, we’re now very rare.

After the end of Stalinism and the fall of Soviet communism, the small number of these mementoes of Trotsky, a two-time loser in history, now are free to be circulated. Freedom enhances the value of rarity.

But who is prepared to pay $1000 for a cheap propaganda artefact from a defunct and contemptible movement? To me it carries all the hope and horror of a cataclysmic epoch in world history. I’d like to hold this ring and contemplate whether and how the world may have been different had Trotsky played his cards more effectively against Stalin.

Maybe, the Soviet Union may have turned out very differently. On the other hand, perhaps thousands of cheap Stalin rings may have been tossed fearfully down the toilets of the Soviet Union.

Instead of Orwell’s Two Minute Hate against Bernstein, instead [Big Brother] would have been the target of ritualised despising in an imagined world where the urbane, cultured, secular Jew learned how to rule like a beast.

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