November 30, 2004

The Granddaddy of Trot Studies

If you've never had occasion to read Isaac Deutscher's magisterial Trotsky trilogy--well, what the hell are you waiting for? And how better to understand the man that has inspired political figures as disparate as Lionel Jospin and Irving Kristol?

Trotsky is mostly an affliction of youth, of course. I too fell under his spell after reading Deutscher's (quite friendly) biography as a high school student. Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Pound (not to mention two very dispiriting years in the Balkans) pulled me rightwards quickly indeed, however.

And so did this espying this phenomenon:

Trotsky was one of the first revolutionaries to denounce the temptation of ‘substitutism’. Back in 1904, he had warned that if the Party substituted itself for the working class, then ‘the Party organisation would . . . substitute itself for the Party as a whole; then the Central Committee would substitute itself for the organisation; and finally a single dictator would substitute himself for the Central Committee.’ Few prophecies have been fulfilled with such ghastly precision. But Trotsky himself was complicit in its fulfilment. Within a year or so of the Revolution, he adopted – with typical enthusiasm – the principle that in crisis the Party must substitute for the proletariat. In 1923, as he fought for ‘proletarian democracy’ against the triumvirate led by Stalin, he changed his mind again, but by then he was too involved to speak decisively.

As Deutscher writes, neither side in the controversy

"could say that they were condemned to pursue the proletarian ideal of socialism without the support of the proletariat – such an avowal would have been incompatible with the whole tradition of Marxism and Bolshevism . . . Trotsky, while he sought to reverse in part the process of substitution and struggled to tear to shreds the thickening fabric of the new mythology, could not help being entangled in it".

Still, who cannot but feel moved by a Trotsky, exiled to Siberia at age 22, proclaiming with such unvarnished earnestness:

As long as I breathe, I shall fight for the future, that radiant future in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizon of beauty, joy and happiness.

Such broad vistas seem long gone--replaced by rampant consumerism and dumbed-down culture. Perhaps we are just all wiser now. But the "false consciousness" born of the prevailing and near-constant ironic, cynical millieu we inhabit surely showcases some of the perils borne of "value-emptying."

Still, perhaps Ezra Pound said it best in his poem, "An Immorality":

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.


Posted by Gregory at November 30, 2004 04:07 AM
Comments

Geregh;

I am really ASTOUNDED by your paean to the Trotsky and the Left.

BAD FORM AND WRONG.

You wrote (after quoting from a sentimental paragraph by young Trotsky:

"Such broad vistas seem long gone--replaced by rampant consumerism and dumbed-down culture. Perhaps we are just all wiser now. But the 'false consciousness...'"

HOGWASH.

(1) "RAMPANT CONSUMERISM" is just the way a LEFTIST describes proletariats having the means and the freedom to materially enjoy themselves - IOW: not have an impoverished life!

(2) "Dumbed-down culture" is merely the ELITIST/LEFTIST turning his nose up at proletarian interests.

(3) "FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS" is merely a LEFTIST term which reveals that LEFTISTS believe that each and every unique person should first and foremost behave in ways concordant with their membership in a group or a class, AND this denies the sanctity and unicity of the individual soul. I say: to each according to his ability and will and luck. You and the Left say: to each according to how much the elite determines how much a person in that group/race/class/gender should get.

GREG: If you really believe these things then you are still in your heart of hearts a Leftist - and rightly admire the Leftist Trotsky.

Tha'ts okay: a lot of people are wrong about many things; you just always seemed smarter than them.
(I have been wrong, too - on occassion: when I thought you were a democratic libertarian... I was wrong about you!)

I believe the REAL REVOLUTIONARIES were and remain OUR FOUNDING FATHERS and that the American democratic revolution - (based on NATURAL LAW, and the concept that each human is sovereign and that we each derive our Rights from the Creator - NOT the State) - is still the most revolutionary force in the world today.

CONSUMERISM S GREAT! Isn't a good consumer what we want to make every poor person in the world? Shouldn't we want evereyone to have the means to consume whatever they choose to consume and to produce whatever they choose to produce!? Isn't this exaclty - and only - what creates abundance!?

Isn't poverty the absence of consumption and the ability to consume?

Isn't prosperity the product of FREEDOM and NOT REDISTRIBUTION OF EXISTING GOODS according to how an wlite decides they should be produced and consumed!!?

Every socialist and every Marxist of every SECT are just wrong, and their creed has been a scourge on humanity.

Trotsky was as bad as they come. We should no more admire him than Che or Stalin or Jack the Ripper.

Or the novelist Saddam - who like Trotsky also wrote many flowery paragraphs...

Posted by: reliapundit at November 30, 2004 02:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Still, who cannot but feel moved by a Trotsky, exiled to Siberia at age 22, proclaiming with such unvarnished earnestness:..."

It's easy. Just think of the skulls of those he and his colleagues trampled over to fulfil this adolescent fantasy. When Bush or Blair or Kerry talk about "fighting" their domestic opponents for the future, they mean it metaphorically - persuading, convincing, accepting when people vote against them. Trotsky (and Hitler and Saddam and Mao) meant it literally. Trotsky, like Che, gets an unfairly good press because he wasn't directly complicit in the worst mass murders.

Posted by: PJ at November 30, 2004 02:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Trotsky "wasn't directly complicit in the worst mass murders"? The butcher of Kronshtadt, who slaughtered the very same sailors who propelled him and Lenin to power a little while previously? He merely prefigured Stalin's purges and was as culpable as Lenin in the mass murder of the 20s.

Posted by: djg at November 30, 2004 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Trotsky may have been wrong, but he was still the best and the brightest of the old Bolsheviks, not to mention by far the best writer. To his credit, he said just a year before his assassination that if, as a result of WWII, the people of the Soviet Union could not throw off the "bureaucratic parasitism" of the Stalinists, it would mean that Marxism had ended in a utopia.

Posted by: Helian at November 30, 2004 09:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Helian - Trotsky wasn't just "wrong". He was a mass murderer. We don't say that Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy were just "wrong", do we? Trotsky, like bin Laden, Idi Amin or Hitler, belongs to a pantheon of people who based politics on hatred and annihilation, not on live and let live. And to do him justice, he admitted it.

DJG - yes, he ordered the massacre of the sailors of Kronstadt, who had helped the Bolsheviks gain power and who had then resisted. That's nothing like as bad as some of Stalin's crimes, either in terms of scope (thousands not millions) or evil, since those sailors were killed because they had taken up arms, not because they owned an extra cow, or made an anti-Soviet joke, or were deported simply because they were "in the way", such as the Chechens or Germans. I don't say that he wouldn't have done similar things, or even worse, if that's possible, had he been in power in the 30's and 40's and not Stalin. But he wasn't, so he didn't.

Posted by: PJ at December 1, 2004 05:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PJ: I refer you to Martin Amis' cogent enumeration of of pre-Stalin purges conducted by the Old Bolsheviks in his well-researched "Koba the Dread." Death toll apparently exceeded 10 million, and Trot was directly responsible for a good portion, and justified the rest through his "best writing." Kronstadt was merely the beginning.

I don't mean be a slavering anti-com, just making sure that facts are presented accurately.

Posted by: djg at December 1, 2004 07:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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