Reid Kane Kotlas
Platypus Review 90
October 22, 2016
Originally presented as a talk at the 2016 Annual Gathering of the Institute for Social Ecology, held at the ISE compound in Marshfield, VT between August 19-21.
Platypus as a project seeks to relate to the contemporary left by focusing on the Left in history. We do this because we think one’s understanding of history is in fact one’s theory of the present, of how the present came to be and what might become of it.1 We try to understand the left politics of the present in light of what the Left has been, so as to provoke critical reflection. Is the Left today living up to the legacy it inherits? Are we falling short of the aspirations of the past? Must we?
Murray Bookchin offers a compelling case of the difficulty of reckoning with history. Bookchin’s political career was fundamentally shaped by his education in and ultimate disenchantment with Marxism. He joined the “official” Communist movement in 1930 at the age of nine. By the end of the thirties, disconcerted by Stalinist leadership, he found refuge in the Trotskyist movement. As the Second World War began, there was an expectation that it would set the stage for a new wave of world revolution, requiring well-prepared revolutionary leadership just as the Bolsheviks had provided at the end of the First World War.
Yet Trotsky’s judgment was not above reproach among his sympathizers and supporters. Questions lingered about his role in the degeneration of the Bolshevik leadership that had culminated in Stalinism. These concerns were only compounded by his insistence that his followers defend the Soviet Union.
Bookchin was frustrated in his efforts to win workers over to the cause of the Fourth International, finding them concerned only with their wages and working conditions. Trotskyist opposition to the war proved a further obstacle due to popular support for the Allied cause. His frustration with Trotskyism as a practical politics would culminate in skepticism of the ostensibly Marxist conception of the working class as essentially revolutionary. His wavering was only encouraged by the perceived dogmatism of Trotskyist leadership after Trotsky’s assassination.