A time to celebrate!
100423.2040 at compuserve.com
Sun Feb 18 02:58:55 MST 1996
Thanks for giving me a good laugh when I opened my mailbox this
morning. I needed it. Things have been too tense and a laugh
helps communication. I feel quite warm towards you for a few
minutes (all illusory of course!) And inclined to respond
to your invitation to share with you my foolhardy and probably
hopeless Trotsky reading programme.
My inhibition about Trotsky and Trotskyism has been a long
standing gut feeling, a prejudice of course, that a Trotskyist
is someone who can always tell someone else what is wrong with
their revolution. I find that unattractive, but I can see that
if Trotskyism aims to organise as a Fourth International, its
supporters (however divided) will speak on the assumption that
the class should be one and should know what should be done
properly in every country.
This problem seems to me to be the other side of the coin to
the actions of the Third International and Comintern which
interfered in the affairs of many other countries often, so
Trotskyists seem to say, to enforce conciliation with the
Now the books. I had a nice 1 1/2 hours in Dillons, because
I turned up by mistake a day early for the Open Polemic
conference. My purpose was to make a selection of Trotskyist
1. The Serge-Trotsky Papers, Ed David Cotterill, Pluto Press,
London, pb. 1994. Being remaindered already! at 3.99 sterling.
I bought this because I thought it would help me to understand
the problems of how Bolsheviks tried to regroup in the 30's
in the face of dogmatism and repression of the official parties.
I have not dipped into this yet except to see there is a whole
section on Serge, Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution. I look
forward to referring to this, Carlos, when you submit your
paper on fascism and Spain. It should be coming up soon
shouldn't it? I am likely to be particularly interested
in any differences between your point of view and Trotsky's
in order to understand how Trotskyists deal with problems
of orthodoxy versus dogmatism in their own movements.
I am likely to want to put the odd arkward question.
2. Ernest Mandel "The Place of Marxism in History", Humanities Press
New Jersey, 1994 pb.
Because it is short. Because I think I recall it being recommended
at the time of the obituries for Mandel last year, and because
the respect for him seemed to go wider than sectarian politics.
3. "The Ideas of Leon Trotsky" ed by Hillel Ticktin and Michael Cox
pb 1995 Porcupine Press, London.
Because I saw both authors speak at a Radical Chains/Critique conference
two years ago and they appear to be leading figures in a theoretical
regrouping of Trotskyists in the UK willing to re-examine Trotsky
critically. I have not dipped into it yet but I recall speakers
at the conference, (not necessarily Ticktin and Cox) saying
pretty freely that in some sense Trotsky got very many things wrong.
I recall Ticktin's (to my mind) all encompassing theory of "Stalinism"
which seemed to be everything that ever went wrong in a marxist
party and left Trotskyists unfortunately as oppositional elements.
(I caricature of course to highlight not to judge definitively).
I suspect you Carlos, of having such a catch-all definition of the
evils of "Stalinism" and may dip into this book, to find ways
to probe your position on this in the future.
4. (The one I got into a bit)
"In Defense of Marxism" by Trotsky, 3rd Edition 1990 ed Doug Jenness
pb Pathfinder New York. (There was another better printed but more
expensive pb version too) Introduction by Novack and Hansen, updated to 1973.
I started reading this backwards. They appear to be Trotsky's
last political letters ending ominously on August 17th 1940.
I would like to take the opportunity to say how utterly, utterly
disgusting I find his murder. Although it was only one death
among so many, it is somehow an oscene act of annihilation.
I can only think by comparison of the Burning of the Books in Berlin
by the Nazi's. Although most Trotskyists do not refer to it much in
my hearing I assume it hangs as a shadow over the possibilities of
exchange just as Jews and non-Jews all know of the holocaust.
If we establish even slightly better dialogue on this l*st between
different tendencies of Marxism, I think at some level the
emotional reaction to this assassination has to be taken into account.
I started dipping into the letters reading backwards.
Some initial impressions, because you will never get a definitive
critique out of me to be realistic. I am in the mood now, and this
moment may be swept aside by other priorities, in the future.
I can't say I found the style of writing quite as good as some
subscribers have recently argued. To be fair I concentrated on the
letters, which by their nature are often fragmentary comments.
I thought a number of the themes were "eternal" recurring ones for
- Whether the US Party would in Doug Jenness's introduction, be
a "revolutionary party that would truly be part of the working class
and its struggles, or a petty bourgeois radical party calling itself
working class in words, while buckling in deeds to bourgeois
- What to do with prominent intellectuals in the party. "Burnham is
an intellectual snob". Whether they should be courted. When to give
up. What to do about the different class strata within the
party, which Trotsky seems to call different classes, the working
class and the petty bourgeoisie.
- What is the character of the Soviet Union? I have to get into the
meat of the main articles but they seem to be shaping up that
the change of property relations in the Soviet Union in 1917
was strongly progessive but that the SU was run by a bureacratic
caste. Nevetherless if there was an attack on the SU then
progressives ought to support it. (These letters were written
at a time when the war was seen as an inter-imperialist war,
and of course the US was out of it too.)
- The increasingly difficult relations with Schachtman and the problems of
maintaing influence over the US Party from Mexico.
The issue that interested me most of all was the insistence on dialectics
as a key issue in the split with Burnham. As I say, I have yet to read
the substantive articles but I saw an interesting parallel. Althusser
has praised Mao's contributions to the discussions of dialectics
in the thirties. Unless Trotsky's emphasis was purely polemical with
Burnham, this would appear that another major Marxist thinker was
reaching out in the thirties to re-emphasise dialectics.
For me this has echoes today with the need to understand the relevance
of marxism not in mechanical ways, but ways that are more dynamic, and
have increasing relevance with certain trends in modern science.
(But that is the chaos theory thread and there is already enough in these
So that is my Sunday morning letter of thanks to you, Carlos and the l*st.
I must emphasise I read exceedingly slowly. I buy more books than I can
read. I pile them up, and which one comes to the top when the pile falls
over is often a matter of chance. I hope your fellow comrades from
a Trotskyist tradition will not feel I have to understand everything
correctly at once, and will not argue *too* much on this l*st about
which interpretation is correct, to the exclusion of all other
threads. (I believe there is a newsgroup on Trotskyist politics,
moderated by Chris Faatz).
But if your letter and my reply helps to suggest that despite everything
there may still be some points of common interest, and ways of reducing
sectarianism in arguing over differences, then perhaps it is worth it.
Thanks for the good laugh anyway.
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