Thursday, August 09, 2007

James on Trotsky

In Cultural Amnesia Clive James has an essay on Leon Trotsky.

A respected cultural citic has vouched an opinion that "James' essay on Trotsky is fucking shit".

James, as the liberal he sees himself as, sees any attempt at "an egalitarian project" as inevitably leading to the deaths of innocent people. He sees this by taking some examples, notably Stalin's USSR and forced collectivisation of agriculture, and constructing an ,incorrect, universal truth.

James sees Trotsky as a hero to "aesthetically minded progressives" who wished for "a vegetarian version of communism", "a more human version of the historic force that sacrificed innocent people to egalitarian principle".

According to James,Trotsky was idealised because he wrote, orated, loved women and threatened Soviet power so much that the sent assassins out to Mexico to kill him. If you change Soviet to US and Mexico to Afghanistan you can then change Trotsky to Osama Bin Laden argues James. So does that make George W Bush Stalin?

Like a bucket full of bullet holes James's argument holds no water.

"The only thing true about Trotsky's legend as some kind of lyrical humanist was that he was indeed unrealistic enough to think that the secretarial duties could safely be left to Stalin. His intolerance of being bored undid him." And "Trotsky wasn't interested in the hard grind of running the show: Leave that to Stalin. But, an important but, Trotsky yielded no points to Stalin in the matter of dealing with anybody who dared to contradict him." Was this the same Trotsky who is described in Lenin's last will for his "too far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs"? (Isaac Deutscher,The Prophet Armed, Trotsky 1879 - 1921, Oxford, 1970, p516).
I think that gives Lenin one up on James.

Sure Trotsky was, at times, an unyielding, stubborn, murdering bastard. Witness Kronstadt. The massacre at Kronstadt was inexcusable and wrong. As Emma Goldman stands for many on the left when she quotes, and then criticises Lenin Lenin at the Tenth Congress of the CCP, in My Disillusionment with Russia, ch 27, "The sailors did not want the counter revolutionists but they did not want us either". Goldman goes on to argue that what made the suppression of the rebellion worse was that at the Tenth Congress "Lenin advocated free trade - a more reactionary step than any charged to the Kronstadt sailors".

This shows that Trotsky did not get a free ride from the non-Stalinist Left, well at least from anarchists.

James reveals a massive gap in his knowledge of geo-politics when he says "when totalitarianism is no longer a thing for states, but only for religious fanatics". So Burma is not totalitarian? North Korea is not totalitarian?

James's liberalism leads him to believe, wrongly, that communism, or egalitarian projects inevitably lead to mass deaths. He then loses against Lenin in a description of Trotsky's character. Then he ignores totally the remaining existence of totalitarian states. Finally he posits Trotsky's appeal on the fact that young people want to be him. Where is the evidence? A sudden crop of goatee beards?

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