Not Trotskyism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Fri Oct 28 07:22:25 MDT 1994


On Fri, 28 Oct 1994, Kevin T. Mahoney wrote:

> i have been in read mode only for a while, but this post seems to
> necessitate a response, longer than i can give now, but that i will
> nonethless make a beginning.
>
> this brings me back to a passage in Gramsci--who is a favorite among the
> "reduce all theoretical concpets to simplistic and popularly accessable
> terms."  i will not get into how this is a gross misreading of gramsci in
> the first place, but i think the fact that the "marxist you can bring
> home to mother" would say that reducing theoretical language to
> simplistic terms is not only politically regressive,

Not my point. Difficult theoretical language has its point, although it
should be clear. But the difficulty has to be justified by the payoff.

it is one of the
> most demeaning modes of engagement of petit-bourgeois intellectuals

Yeah, so's yer ol' man. Look, let's grow up and drop the ad hominems, eh?

 who
> get to maintain a priviledged access to knowledge and "mental labor"
> while the "masses" continue their manual labor.  the fact that many of
> the concepts put forth by trotsky are 'difficult' that this difficulty
> would translate into rendering the work of trotsky and trotskyism silent
> sounds more to me like a tactic that our good traditionalist in
> literature departments would make, not an arguement from a "revolutionary
> socialist" (and is use that term hesitantly given that much of its values
> has been beached from it through extension and inclusions).  marxism is a
> theoritics of practice--as gramsci suggests a "philosophy of praxis"\
> which is committed to tackling the problems of the historical division
> between mental and manual labor not reproducing them...
>
> these are preliminary thoughts....i hope to return to them soon.
>
> kt
>
> On Thu, 27 Oct 1994, Justin Schwartz wrote:
>
> >
> > Tom Smith suggests we talk about Trotskyism publically. I think we
> > shouldn't. I'll briefly say why and then follow my advice and not talk
> > about it. There are basically two reasons:
> >
> > 1. Trotskyism has developed an arcane esoteric language intelligible only
> > to insiders--I mean Trotskyists, not even Marxists as a whole, much less
> > socialists. This reflects a particular history of--I won't say sectarian,
> > but shall we say small-group conflict over positions and actions of no
> > interest to anyone anymore. (Pabloism!) Technical vocabulary is a
> > necessary evil when you have something that can't be precisely expressed
> > in plain language, but it has to be worth expressing, and I think the
> > language of Trotskyism is not worth learning for this purpose.
> >
> > I do not mean that Trotsky and various Trotskyists have nothing of
> > interest to say, just that it's best said in plain English or Marxese,
> > without the specialized apparatus. E.g. the discussion about Haiti Tom
> > started sounds interesting if implausible, but it didn't sound like we
> > needed Trotskyism to engage in it. What we need is knowledge of the
> > Caribbean and some grasp of imperialism. (There, some Marxese.)
> >
> > 2. More deeply, I think that Trotskyism is a ladder we can kick away
> > having climbed it. (We don't have to have been Trotskyists to have done
> > this.) In a funny way Trotskyism has been made outmoded by its own
> > success. I speak in riddles, so let me be more plain. The defining issue
> > of Trotskyism was always anti-Stalinist Marxism. T-ism was the bad
> > conscience of the Stalinist and fellow-travelling left, reminding us that
> > there was a place for the ideals of classical Marxism against the
> > barbarism of Stalinist regimes. It defined a space where even people who
> > were not T-ists could be for revolutionary socialism without being for the
> > Gulag. Ok, it won: Stalinism is over. T-ism didn't win the way it wanted;
> > not with "political revolutions" (T-ist jargon) of workers against
> > bureaucrats in the name of October. But nonetheless the main raison d'etre
> > for T-ism--Stalinism--is now past or passing, and even its few pro-forma
> > defenders don't believe in it any more.
> >
> > What is left, as it were, is not T-ism, but perhaps what T-ism was for:
> > revolutionary independent socialism inspired at least in part by classical
> > Marxism. Now at this point we do not know what "revolutionary" means
> > beyond saying we are intransigently opposed to capitalism and want to end
> > class rule. We are little enough clear on what socialism means, given the
> > debates about planning and markets, etc. And to what extent Marxism has a
> > political role to play in organizing the struggles of the oppressed is not
> > clear. Its intellectual role remains clear: it is the theory of working class
> > self-emancipation and the best guide we have to capitalism. But even there
> > the working class is not all that needs emancipation and we do not have a
> > general account, theoretical or practical, of how to tie together the
> > various struggles. That is, I guess, part of what people mean by saying
> > that postmodernism is a fact, whatever theories post modernists hold.
> > I think that we do know what independent means: in the US context, it means,
> > don't do Democrats; organize yourselves. But in any event those are the
> > issues--and not the ones framed by Trotsky or Trotskyism in the struggle,
> > often heroic, against Stalinism.
> >
> > So there's a legacy from Trotskyism to which the democratic left is
> > indebted. There is a body of analysis and theory which people can use, and
> > should do, just as we use Gramsci, Luxemburg, the Frankfurt School, and
> > work to the right and left, above and below that literature. But there's
> > no point in being a Trotskyist anymore; it's like being a Newtonian to
> > emphasize your opposition to Cartesian physics (sorry, my old training in
> > history and philosophy of science is showing). Sure we're Newtonians--but
> > even there we use Leibniz's analytic notation and formalization, not
> > Newton's geometric one. And besides, Newton has been subsumed by
> > Einstein--not refuted, just exhibited as a special case.
> >
> > So with regard to (1), we don't need to talk that talk and walk that walk
> > to get what's good in Trotskyism; we need the current analytic and not the
> > geometric method. With regard to (2), the antagonist is defeated:
> > Descartes is a piece of history of science, not a founder of modern
> > physics; Stalinism is defeated and discredited. (I don't mean to imply
> > that Descartes was a mass murderer or Stalin a genius.) Trotskyists should
> > pride themselves on this victory and start thinking about what they should
> > do now, since the old formulas are from yesterday's battles.
> >
> > I'm done. That's why I am not a Trot and why I don't think we should talk
> > in those terms. And I'm not saying a word more about it.
> >
> > --Justin Schwartz



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