Ralph Dumain on "Trotsky Van Heijenoort, Anellis" ( was Re: Symbolic logic, Gerland and New International)
farmelantj at juno.com
Wed Jul 2 12:23:14 MDT 2003
I don't recall how much Jean van Heijenoort was discussed on this list
before, but in any event, perhaps some of you don't know why I posted the
recent information about Irving Anellis and Jean van Heijenoort, with
reference to Trotsky. Van had a very interesting life, first as
Trotsky's bodyguard in Mexico City, later as a noted
mathematical logician with a specialization in the history of his field.
While in the Trotskyist movement, Van wrote very militant Marxist pieces,
under pseudonyms such as Marc Loris. Van gave up on Marxism in 1948
when he judged that the working class could not fulfill its historical
mission. However, late in the 1970s Van published his memoir WITH
TROTSKY IN EXILE. He was well known in his field for editing the
Frege and Goedel, among other things.
After his death, Anita Feferman, wife of Solomon Feferman, a colleague of
Van, wrote a biography of Van, LOVE AND LOGIC. She and her husband knew
Van for his work in mathematical logic. His life as a revolutionary was
exotic and foreign to Anita, but she wrote about that too.
How those two aspects of Van's existence fit together, Anita didn't ask,
nor have many others, it seems. Irving Anellis, whose own specialty is
the history of logic, is interested in both. I have some of reviews of
touching on both subjects, including one that mentions the difference
between the concerns of people interested in dialectics and what
logicians think of as logic. Anellis was curious to pose the question:
why did Van never mention in his book any discussions with
Trotsky about dialectical logic, as that was Trotsky's obsession,
especially circa the split in the American Trotskyist movement
brewing in 1939? Van in his memoir makes
certain statements about Trotsky's rigidity and dogmatism, and I believe
Anellis concluded that Van must have steered clear of the subject to
avoid any unpleasantness in confronting Trotsky's amateurish thinking on
subject. Anellis himself wrote a book on Van as logician and published
it through his Modern Logic publishing company, but the book has
never been available in print as far as I can tell.
Van did write a couple of articles, pseudonymously on the subject. I
think one was "The Algebra of Revolution", published in THE NEW
INTERNATIONAL,I think. Van also participated in a little known
debate within very obscure internal bulletins during World War II.
His main antagonist was George Novack, who represented Trotsky's
confused position (see Novack's book AN INTRODUCTION TO DIALECTICAL
LOGIC). I have photocopies of this material,
at least I think I do, ad I should make it available to the Marxists
Internet Archive, esp. the obscure internal bulletin material. This is
not the stuff of intellectual greatness, but it is a minor episode in the
politics of intellectual history. I remember only how inept Novack
really was and obtuse in is criticisms of Van's attempt to clarify the
I do not know when Van actually began to studied the field he was later
distinguish himself in, this I cannot evaluate his Trotskyist writings in
light of his specialization.
Anellis' book reviews were fairly measured, but as you can see by the
material I cited recently, he has lost all patience with Marxist
ineptitude in matters of logic. There are of course real logicians who
Marxists, such as Graham Priest, who works in something called
transconsistent (or is it paraconsistent?) logic, which admits of
contradictions, but this too is a branch of formal logic, and whatever it
means, it is of a different order than the confused presentations of many
Marxists on the subject, not just Trotskyists, but Stalinists like John
Somerville, and others, and non-Marxists as well (e.g. Alfred
Korzybski of General Semantics fame).
When Van left the revolutionary movement, he wrote a manuscript
criticizing Engels' writings on mathematics as exceptionally inept
and way behind thestate of knowledge of its time. As it happens,
Van did not judge Marx's mathematical manuscripts quite so harshly,
but he did lambaste Engels for being ignorant enough to claim that
Marx had done something revolutionary for calculus. Van's essay
"Engels and Mathematics" was finally published
in his SELECTED ESSAYS. This book is impossible to find outside of
research libraries, but I do have it in hand, and so I will be able to
copy the essay. The publisher is obscure enough so that I cannot imagine
copyright violation becoming an issue. Perhaps then this essay should go
up on the web, too.
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