Trotskyism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Fri Oct 28 19:22:09 MDT 1994


On Fri, 28 Oct 1994 tgs at cunyvms1.gc.cuny.edu wrote:

> Justin,
> I find one of the strands of what you're arguing a bit censorial. I'm hip
> to what the other person said about manual vs. mental labor, though
> I don't know I would get that analytical or angry.  I just think you
> ought to reexamine this strand, because you're depriving yourself.

I'm lost here. I don't follow you.

 All
> the thinkers you mentioned have their dark side: Gramsci's totallitarianism,
> FS's support for the Vietnam War, Luxemburg's attack upon nationalism too much;
> etc.  Why write off Trotsky only.

I wasn't talking about Trotsky but about T-ism. Nor was I criticizing the
old man for his dark sides--Kronstadt, the militarization of labor,
support for the Red Terror, etc. I wasn't discussing him at all. I would
not write him off. I think we should study him, but treat him as we treat
other thinkers, as the source of ideas and inspiration, not as the
founder of an ism to be defended.

One thing with regard to a contrast between T and T-ists. T was a fine,
even a great writer, capable of producing a supple, muscular, powerful
prose studded with brilliant aphorisms. He had an eye for telling detail
and a gift for narrative. His History of the Russian Revolution is one of
the great works of history, up there with Thucydides and Gibbon. He is
simply the best writer among the great Marxists by a wide margin. His
followers have fashioned a clotted, impenetrable, opaque style, closed and
self-referential, riddled with jargon, long on invective, short on
argument, barely accessible to Marxists and completely mysterious to a
wider public. It is too much to expect that they should be as good as he
is, but that's why clarity is in order. It does no service to the ideas of
a good thinker and a great writer to translate them into, well, sectarian
gibberish.

>
> There is much more to Trotsky than you give him credit: he is not simply
> an anti-Stalinist.  Just from what you are saying, you reveal I think the
> problems of ignoring him.  When you mention that what we should do in
> this country is not be in the Democrats yet organize ourselves, and also about
> not knowing how to organize the working class cohesively as a whole.Well, that's
> a perspective that Soidarity holds (at the risk of people now saying, yea,
> yea, talk about Solidarity, and turning this into a cock fight again).
> What they're missing is perhaps the central legacy of Trotskyism: the
> transitional method and program, which has nothing to do with the Stallinist
> era per se, specifically.  The transitional demand--30 for 40, full employment
> sliding scales of hours and wages, workers' militias to defend against
> fascism--pose demands which are eminently reasonable, yet which at the
> capitalists must ultimately balk.

The various demands are reasonable. You underestimate the flexibility of
capitalism, though, which has at various times been able to meet some or
most of them. Still, we don't need Trotsky to tell us the workers should
ask--as Gompers put it--for MORE!

>  PLUS it unites the class as a whole.

As a strategy for doing this it hasn't been that effective. In theory it
sounded plausible that it might, but German workers have won 35 hours for
40 without this looking in the least transitional to anything, etc.

> This makes for much more of a radical politics than simply not being in the
> democratic party.  It provides a focus for mass struggle within society
> rather than merely at the level of abstract party pollitics.

Of course. In my contributions on this subject here and elsewhere I have
insisted that independent politics is not negative abstention but active
involvement in independent organizations, of which at present parties are
the least important.

> Another point: it is not sufficient to just say, let's find an expert on
> the Carribean.  With what theory will your Carribean theorist be endowed:
> an internationalilst revolutionary one, or a pessimistic, "realist," one, boudn
> to national boundaries.

I didn't say that all you need is an expert on the region (although you do
need that). I also said you need a theory of international relations which
recognizes the reality of imperialism.
>
> But being afraid of being interrupted by call waiting, I shall talk about
> other, still relevant features of Trotskuysm at a later time

I still think we should not discuss T-ism. T's concrete ideas are another
matter. I am especially interested just now in his notion that the Soviet
bureaucracy was proto-capitalist. This appears to have been correct two
generations later. The idea deserves study.

--Justin Schwartz




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