Not Trotskyism

Kevin T. Mahoney ktmahone at mailbox.syr.edu
Fri Oct 28 14:23:44 MDT 1994


the statement was not an insult that *i* make to you justin--fellow
solidarity person--this is what gramsci notied a long time ago...i draw
attention to thetendency in order to not forget history.

kt


On Fri, 28 Oct 1994, Justin Schwartz wrote:

> 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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