Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Trotsky's Continuing Relevance by Isabelle Hayes

LeGauchiste recently wrote about Marx's concept of the necessity of the connection between the worker and the work, the concept of one's life-activity having value and being natural to the healthy human; that capitalism has severed that connection, creating a host of ills for the ordinary person.

A person's free, conscious activity is what differentiates man's species (if I understood Marx correctly), from the animals and without which the laborer is alienated from his/her work.

That diary started me thinking about the steady or growing rate of unemployment in the urban and rural ghettos of this country. The ordinary young persons (not specially talented athletes) growing up there have to go into illegal trade if they have ambition (exceptions of course do happen), a situation created by our society being run by and for capitalists and wannabe capitalists. That system requires scapegoats, another method used to gull the voters. The willingness of the many to ascribe fault to the poor can make a humanist very depressed indeed.

I've been able to be involved and interested in American politics only since 2008, having since Reagan been unable to take it seriously, or believe in the intelligence or good will of the electorate. And this alienation extends to the entire human race, given the history of hatred, murder, mayhem, permanent war.

Such thoughts cannot but occur to anyone who cares about the apparent human inability to create a world supportive of all living creatures.

But for the last year or so I've been reading Leon Trotsky's writings, and books about him, and have found his life (and death) exemplary and inspiring. No more need be said about his foresight than to quote from the book he wrote circa 1920, entitled “Terrorism and Communism”:

“...The capitalist bourgeois calculates: While I have in my hands, lands, factories, workshops, banks; while I possess newspapers, universities, schools; while—and this most important of all—I retain control of the army: the apparatus of democracy, however, you reconstruct it, will remain obedient to my will. I subordinate to my interests spiritually the stupid, conservative, characterless lower middle class, just as it is subjected to me materially. I oppress, and will oppress, its imagination by the gigantic scale of my buildings, my transactions, my plans and my crimes. For moments when it is dissatisfied and murmurs, I have created scores of safety valves and lightning conductors. At the right moment I will bring into existence opposition parties, which will disappear tomorrow, but which today accomplish their mission by affording the possibility of the lower middle class expressing their indignation without hurt therefrom for capitalism. I shall hold the masses of the people, under cover of compulsory general education, on the verge of complete ignorance, giving them no opportunity of rising above the level which my experts in spiritual slavery consider safe. I will corrupt, deceive and terrorize the more prviileged or the more backward of the proletariat itself. By means of these measures I shall not allow the vanguard of the working class to gain the ear of the majority of working class, while the necessary weapons of mastery and terrorism remain in my hands...”

And there it is, the state of the world in 2012:

for oppressing the lower middle class's imagination, see all the faux news outlets, see popular "culture" extolling violence; for safety valves and lightning conductors, again see tv, films, the internet; is there a "new opposition" party? Is American education an oxymoron?

here in “the Great Experiment”, i.e., the United States, while workers languish, what are the industries supported by the government, besides itself? : police, prisons and the armed forces, whose share of the budget is phenomenal;

with such an edifice in place, all that's needed is the bodies, and those they get either by enacting bad law, e.g., marijuana, a beneficent plant that's been enjoyed by human beings for thousands of years, that has non-toxic medicinal uses galore, is treated under the law as the same as cocaine and heroin;

and prosecuting the “drug war”, by imprisoning the foot soldiers never the money men, by giving any kid who smokes a joint in the wrong place a criminal history, which thenceforth determines what his/her chances are for further prosecution, employment, etc.

and/or by drumming up war with others as a necessary evil, always in order to put down more evil, as if we didn't have the imagination for peaceful existence

L.D. ( as Trotsky's followers called him) foresaw it and much more. He had been Lenin's right hand during the revolution which brought a “soviet” (association of citizens) form of government into being, which with Lenin's death devolved into Stalin's totalitarian society. Before that, however, it was Trotsky who was the architect of the war the bolshevik government had to fight upon taking over; the new government was beset on all sides, by the former western allies, by the “whites” (the Russians who wanted to continue the tsarist autocracy), the Germans, the Finns, the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Ukrainians, and more, and Trotsky went around, as the Commissar of War, on a train loaded with food supplies, pamphlets, tools, arms, etc., and rallied the troops with his compelling and heartfelt words and expressions, eventually winning the chance to have a society run by and for the ordinary hardworking person.

Having given his life to writing, speaking, organizing, supporting “the permanent revolution”, to remaining accessible to any who were committed to the betterment of the ordinary person, and having been on the Stalinists' hit list from the late 20's on, exiled from his native land, unable to find a home anywhere, and finally murdered by them in 1940, he never gave up on his commitment to a world where the common people would have the necessities of life, including education, including their elected officials governing for the greatest good. He thought it would come about sooner or later. He believed in the human being.

The following is from the third volume of Isaac Deutscher's biography:

[...] On 27 February 1940 [he was murdered the following August] Trotsky wrote his testament [...} As he penned these lines he looked out of the window, saw Natalya approaching the house, and the sight of her stirred him to conclude with this poetic passage:

'Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky about the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence, and enjoy it to the full.'

May future generations justify his optimism.

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Generally speaking, the (marxist) Russians

Cassiodorus's picture

were the architects of what Kees van der Pijl calls a "contender state," a rival from the semi-periphery to the core states of the advancing capitalist system. And the Soviet Union, as van der Pijl puts it, "posed the most serious challenge to the pre-eminence of the West in modern history" (from p. 216 of Global Rivalries from the Cold War to Iraq). (Trotsky was of course a Russian, and an architect of the Soviet Union -- you all know that.)

Now "the West" is of course an ideologically loaded term. I suppose its most prominent defender these days is Samuel P. Huntington, with the "clash of civilizations" thematic of his 1996 book. There is a clash of civilizations because "the West," namely the architects of the capitalist system, are continually at work imposing capitalism upon the rest of the world. The rest of the world, having already been obliged to form itself into nation-states (or having been forcibly inducted into the nation-state framework), had the additional task of reacting to the capitalist system's invasion and appropriation of their wealth.

For van der Pijl, expanding capitalism produced two state-society complexes:

1) the "core states," the state locations of the corporate headquarters of capitalism, in which a modicum of business "rights" have been established to facilitate the hegemonic role of capital

and

2) the "contender states," states from the semi-periphery which choose to adopt authoritarian, forced march industrialization programs so as to induct themselves into the core.

The "nation state" appears in the context of expanding capitalism as a concept of some theoretical importance. The "nation state" offers social units of some limited scope the ability to conduct "foreign relations," thus dividing humanity into armed, nationalist camps. Capitalism, with its "production for production's sake" logic, exploits these armed camps by appealing to the need for "development," by which is meant the exploitation of nature and labor for the greater good of corporations and the state. The Soviet Union merely continued these processes, while at the same time putting up a propaganda facade in which it demanded that it be viewed as the vanguard of marxist revolution. Thus it adapted to its role as a contender state.

As the leader of a contender state, Leon Trotsky felt obliged to justify the authoritarian, forced march character of Soviet development according to the "anticapitalism" of the Russian variant of socialism. There was in Trotsky's opus the doctrine of "uneven and combined development," in which the peasant nature of the Soviet people was excused on grounds that, since capitalism was already quite well-developed, the Soviet Union could piggyback on development elsewhere to induce socialism even though it itself wasn't one of the "most developed nations" in the era of the USSR's infancy and thus unqualified for socialist revolution by Marx's criterion. There was also in Trotsky's opus the doctrine of ""permanent revolution," in which revolutionary change can be viewed as ongoing rather than as the marker of the end of capitalism and the beginning of socialism. "Permanent revolution" was a doctrinal counterweight to the Stalinist notion of "socialism in one country." Trotsky suggested, then, that the Soviet Union, as the presumed vanguard of the revolution, could not come to any sort of accommodation within the capitalist system. These were ideological adaptations to explain away the clear possibility that the Russian Revolution had not really been a foundation for socialism and that the Russian revolutionaries had been (in the word used by Boris Kagarlitsky) mere "Jacobins."

Now, communists and socialists typically revere the Russians as architects, rather than as mere agitators or advocates. The problem with Soviet hagiography as such is that the Soviet Union was an architecture of what Tony Cliff called "state capitalism," in which the state becomes an owning class in its own right. Perhaps this format was necessary as an adaptation to the Soviet Union's ongoing role as a contender state, with Stalin's "socialism in one country" doctrine as the ideological glue that sealed official Stalinism as a contender state doctrine promoting state capitalism. Trotskyism, including the Trotskyism of Tony Cliff himself, appears as a "could have been, should have been" variant of all that. What if the Soviet Union had been the real thing? Well guess what -- it wasn't.

At any rate, since the Soviet Union developed a state-society complex appropriate to the expanding capitalist world system, it was destined at some point for re-integration into global capitalism. According to Kees van der Pijl, the Soviets missed two opportunities to incorporate some sort of revolutionary flavor into this process of reintegration -- 1956, when the Hungarians revolted, and 1968, when the Czechs and Slovaks revolted. The Soviet Union could have allowed Hungary and Czechoslovakia free and independent development as marxist states, rather than sending in the tanks in each case (as they did). The result might have merely been another version of capitalism, but I think it would have been a lot better than what we have now, with capitalism in decline and nothing else of importance on the horizon.

The problem with justifying "Trotsky's continued relevance," as this diary claims to do, is that it's far, far easier to argue that Trotsky is irrelevant, the Soviet revolutionaries were Jacobins, Stalinism was state capitalism, "uneven and combined development" was a contender state doctrine, and "permanent revolution" merely clouded the issue of whether or not the Russian Revolution contributed anything at all to the possibility of genuine socialism. I don't claim to have all the answers here, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

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