Leon Trotsky, “demon” of the revolution


Com­rades, we love the sun that gives us light, but if the rich and the ag­gressors were to try to mono­pol­ize the sun, we should say: “Let the sun be ex­tin­guished, let dark­ness reign, etern­al night…”

— Le­on Trot­sky (Septem­ber 11, 1918)

То­ва­ри­щи, мы лю­бим солн­це, ко­то­рое да­ет нам жизнь, но если бы бо­га­чи и аг­рес­со­ры по­пы­та­лись за­хва­тить се­бе солн­це, мы бы ска­за­ли: «Пусть солн­це по­гас­нет, пусть во­ца­рит­ся тьма, веч­ная ночь…»

— Лев Троц­кий (11 сен­тяб­ря 1918 г.)

Dmitrii Volko­gonov, former court his­tor­i­an of Sta­lin­ism turned ra­bid an­ti­com­mun­ist, fam­ously dubbed Trot­sky the “de­mon” of the Oc­to­ber Re­volu­tion. When he com­manded the Red Army, dur­ing the Civil War, this was in­deed the im­age en­emies of the So­viet Uni­on had of him. He would ap­pear in Theodor Ad­orno’s dreams, and Wal­ter Ben­jamin de­voured his auto­bi­o­graphy and His­tory of the Rus­si­an Re­volu­tion. The psy­cho­ana­lyst Helmut Dah­mer, a stu­dent of Ad­orno, has writ­ten on the vari­ous in­tel­lec­tu­al res­on­ances and par­al­lels between Trot­sky’s Left Op­pos­i­tion and Horkheimer’s In­sti­tute of So­cial Re­search. I’ve poin­ted out both the ten­sions and con­nec­tions of Trot­sky with the Itali­an com­mun­ist lead­er Amedeo Bor­diga, if not Trot­sky­ism and Bor­di­gism (which are much fur­ther apart than their re­spect­ive founders).

Some of his works could already be found in a pre­vi­ous post, but here are a few more titles:

  1. Le­on Trot­sky, 1905 (1907)
  2. Le­on Trot­sky, Ter­ror­ism and Com­mun­ism: A Reply to Karl Kaut­sky (1920)
  3. Le­on Trot­sky, Mil­it­ary Writ­ings, 1920-1923
  4. Le­on Trot­sky, Lit­er­at­ure and Re­volu­tion (1923)
  5. Le­on Trot­sky, The Chal­lenge of the Left Op­pos­i­tion: Writ­ings, 1923-1925
  6. Le­on Trot­sky, My Life (1928)
  7. Le­on Trot­sky, The Third In­ter­na­tion­al After Len­in (1928)
  8. Le­on Trot­sky, His­tory of the Rus­si­an Re­volu­tion, Volume 1: The Over­throw of Tsar­ism (1929)
  9. Le­on Trot­sky, His­tory of the Rus­si­an Re­volu­tion, Volume 2: At­tempt at Coun­ter­re­volu­tion (1930)
  10. Le­on Trot­sky, His­tory of the Rus­si­an Re­volu­tion, Volume 3: The Tri­umph of the So­vi­ets (1931)

Here are some bio­graph­ies and mem­oirs by his friends, as well:

  1. Vic­tor Serge and Nat­alia Se­dova, Life and Death of Le­on Trot­sky (1946)
  2. Jean van Heijenoort, With Trot­sky in Ex­ile: From Prinkipo to Coyoacán (1978)
  3. Dmitrii Volko­gonov, Trot­sky: The Etern­al Re­volu­tion­ary (1992)
  4. Ian D. Thatch­er, Trot­sky (2002)
  5. Joshua Ruben­stein, Le­on Trot­sky: A Re­volu­tion­ary’s Life (2011)

More be­low.

Continue reading

Adam Smith’s neglected masterpiece?

Corey Robin posted a brief write-up of a passage from Adam Smith over on his blog some weeks back. The text quoted was Smith’s earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It’s become quite popular in recent years to contrast this work with Smith’s magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations, which came a few years later.

One commenter, Diana, expressed more or less this exact sentiment. “Please keep blogging about the Theory of Moral Sentiments,” she wrote. “Everyone so associates Adam Smith with the other book [The Wealth of Nations] and forgets about this one.” Another commenter, Benjamin David Steele, immediately seconded her request, writing: “I agree. I’ve never read the Theory of Moral Sentiments, but I’ve been very interested in this lesser-known side of Adam Smith.”

For whatever reason, though the Theory of Moral Sentiments is an interesting work, it annoys me when individuals try to “correct” common misperceptions about Smith’s political and economic philosophy by redirecting attention away from what is undoubtedly his greatest work, The Wealth of Nations. (This is, of course, the work that libertarians and neoliberals like to cite the most in their anti-government diatribes, though this is simply because they never read beyond Book I). So I felt I’d write something along these lines. What follows is a brief exchange mostly between Corey Robin and me on Adam Smith’s moral philosophy and its ideological relation to aristocratic (versus bourgeois) virtue. Also at issue is the relative worth of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments as opposed to The Wealth of Nations. Continue reading

Urbanization avant la lettre

Bourgeois economists
on town and country

Image: Sir David Wilkie, The Parliament Close
and Public Characters 50 Years Since (1796)

François Quesnay, Tableau Économique (1758)

“[It is important] that the children of farmers are settled in the countryside, so that there are always husbandmen there; for if they are harassed into abandoning the countryside and withdrawing to the towns, they take their fathers’ wealth which used to be employed in cultivation.”

James Steuart, An Inquiry into the Principle of Political Economy (1766)

Chapter 9

“When the earth is not in common to those who live upon her spontaneous fruits, but is appropriated by a few, there either slavery or industry must be introduced among those who consume the surplus of the proprietors; because these will expect either service or work in return for their superfluity. In this case, the residence of the inhabitants will depend upon the circumstances we are going to consider; and the object of agriculture in countries where the surface of the earth is not broken up, being solely directed towards the gathering in of fruits, will determine the residence of those only who are necessary for that purpose: consequently it will follow, that in climates where the earth produces spontaneously, and in vast abundance, there may be found large cities; because the number of those who are necessary for gathering in the fruits is small in proportion to the quantity of them; whereas in other countries, where the earth’s productions are scanty, and where the climate refuses those of the copious and luxuriant kind, there will hardly be found any considerable town, because the number of those who are necessary for collecting the subsistence, bears a great proportion to the fruits themselves. I do not say, that in the first case there must be large towns, or that in the other there can be none; but I say that, in the first case, those who may be gathered into towns, bear a great proportion to the whole society; and that, in the second, they bear a small one.”

“I now proceed to the other class of inhabitants; the free hands who live upon the surplus of the farmers.

These I must subdivide into two conditions. The first, those to whom this surplus directly belongs, or who, with a revenue in money already acquired, can purchase it. The second, those who purchase it with their daily labor [proto-proletarians] or personal service.

Those of the first condition may live where they please; those of the second, must live where they can. The residence of the consumers determines, in many cases, that of the suppliers. In proportion, therefore, as those who live where they please choose to live together, in this proportion must the others follow them. And in proportion as the state thinks fit to place the administration of government in one place, in the same proportion must the administrators, and every one depending upon them, be gathered together. These I take to be principles which influence the swelling of the bulk of capitals, and smaller cities. Continue reading

Two Lefts? (Guest post by Konstantin Kaminskiy)

Protestors at Occupy Wall Street

The following is a post by my friend and fellow Platypus member Konstantin Kaminskiy, a Economics major at Baruch college and a Marxist.

by Konstantin Kaminskiy
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
Questions of Political Economy in Modernity
Oct. 14, 2011

This is a report on and some thoughts inspired by “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation with Michael Kazin,”a panel discussion hosted by Demos.  I have described them before as broadly wanting a New Deal.  I will add to that — they are progressives, or Left Democrats, or “Obama-pushers.”  This constitutes one of the Lefts represented at the event.  The other is Occupy Wall Street, which was represented by one of their organizers.

Michael Kazin’s new book is titled American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.  Actually the title sums up the framework pretty nicely.  The Left goes through stages.  First it dreams, in the form of Henry George, whose “Progress and Poverty” apparently sold more than anything Marx wrote and Edward Bellamy (“Looking Backward”).  These dreams are utopian and see the complete transformation of society as desirable.  The movement becomes large enough to pressure politicians to pay attention to them and enact some sort of changes.  Communists are important as far as they are a part, and sometimes at the heart, of this pushing.

Examples of this include the anti-monopoly laws and most significantly the creation of the American welfare state, connected by Kazin with pressure on Roosevelt from radical socialists and general strikes in multiple cities.  The argument is that the left has been “culturally successful but politically a failure.”  Anti-corporate films are, after all, successful at the box office, and that is the continued legacy of the New Left.  The Left has also been successful as far as it took society as it is, which means accepting all sorts of religiosity.  The Left is not, however, going to take power, or anything like that — the revolution, for Kazin, is impossible.  The best we can do with our utopian creativity is force what are really cosmetic changes.  He seems to not note the ways in which the “cultural left” has reinforced the system of capitalism.

The comments of Kelly Heresy, described as an Occupy Wall Street organizer, were refreshing by comparison.  OWS has failed to propose any creative demands.  It has failed to push politicians.  That seems like anathema to them, the corporate-funded system is not to be trusted to originate or secure any real changes.  Between the Democrats and Republicans there is no difference.  At OWS they are “having a conversation,” and have found that assembling at the park is a way to do that.  There is a core of devoted organizers, but “some college kids who think it’s a vacation” have also become involved and are bad for the image.

He sees us “at the beginning of a new era in human history” because we are so connected by modern media. OWS is about participatory democracy and direct action.  For Kazin this must eventually give way to the political process, to compromise — for those at OWS a new world of acting as individuals on a direct democracy basis, without representation, seems to be open.

These are two different ways of viewing the world, and the OWS way seems to me to be the more profound, open, and interesting way.  They take for inspiration the Paris Commune and the Greek Agora — to a Marxist there is deep irony in both.  But there is possibility — they have yet to decide that the best we can have is a “more fair” distribution of resources or “democracy in the workplace,” whatever those things might mean.  They hold open the possibility of “taking back the system for ourselves.”

When, time after time, Kelly Heresy defended against the “you must push power and vote” formula with the “greedy corporate funding runs everything” formula I wanted to scream out: “Lenin would agree!” Roosevelt was not funded in the same way that Obama was funded, but this matters little. Lenin says that the “real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism” is “to decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people” (The State and Revolution). This can be applied to Roosevelt as much as to Obama — Roosevelt and his class had something to fear, the radical left. Obama and his class have no such fears, OWS has not been able to shut down entire cities while keeping people fed and orderly. Kazin sees that time and time again concessions have resulted from this process — since the left has been able to get something it has been successful, and must do this and only this. OWS, by comparison, seems to hold history open.

In the Q&A I introduced myself as “an economics major at Baruch and a Marxist.”  My comment to the panel, and question, was almost word for word this — “I see two lefts here. The first left had at one point theorized about why the world is as it is and how it could be changed.  It now declares to us that the revolution is impossible, that the best we can do is little changes.  The other Left, in a very embryonic form, is thinking about systems and how they can actually be changed.  We have been pushing Obama for the last 150 years.  We are here, with some of the greatest inequality ever.  I could go on.  Is the pushing of Obama a viable strategy for meaningful change?”

To complete the paradigm: the historian Kazin did not understand the pun. Obama is not 150 years old, he pointed out. We must push the Democratic Party, not Obama.  The OWS organizer had no difficulty in seeing what I meant by the “Two Lefts.”

Seeing the General Assembly of OWS later that day forces me to add to my comments here — OWS seems to believe that the revolution has already been achieved, that the task now is to spread it to more places, occupation is revolution.  They have constituted a new society already.  But what is to become of them, of this movement, is at least more open-ended than the world of Kazin, in which the power as it is cannot be challenged or replaced, period.

Radical Bourgeois Philosophy Summer Reading Group

I am eagerly looking forward to the Platypus Affiliated Society’s New York chapter reading group for the summer, which will focus on “Radical Bourgeois Philosophy.”  Having already completed the main readings that lay the theoretical foundation for the group’s political outlook, I feel it will be profitable to better acquaint myself with the texts of classical liberalism and political economy.  Marxists, in their rejection of liberal democracy and bourgeois ideology, all-too-often forget the genuinely progressive legacy of liberalism and the revolutionary role played by the bourgeoisie in history.  This legacy is nowhere better illustrated than in the texts of some of their foremost thinkers — Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Hegel, Ricardo, and Nietzsche.  Marx’s own deep, if critical, respect for these thinkers (minus Nietzsche, who came later) cannot be ignored.

The following is the reading list and schedule for film screenings related to the subject:

Reading group and History of Humanity Film Screenings & Lectures

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789–1848 [PDF]

June 26 – August 21
New York University Puck Building
295 Lafayette St. 4th floor

We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

“The principle of freedom and its corollary, “perfectibility,” . . . suggest that the possi- bilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau’s new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, “The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.”

– James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)


June 26 | 1PM

Chris Cutrone, “Capital in History”
Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” [HTML Critical Inquiry 2003]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Film screening | 4:30PM

Marie Antoinette (2006)

June 30 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity pre-1750”

July 3 | 1pm

Rousseau, selection from The Social Contract

Film screening | 4:30PM

Jefferson in Paris (1995)

July 10 | 1pm

Adam Smith, selections from The Wealth of Nations
Volume I
Introduction and Plan of the Work
Book I: Of the Causes of Improvement…
I.1. Of the Division of Labor
I.2. Of the Principle which gives Occasion to the Division of Labour
I.3. That the Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market
I.4. Of the Origin and Use of Money
I.6. Of the Component Parts of the Price of Commodities
I.7. Of the Natural and Market Price of Commodities
I.8. Of the Wages of Labour
I.9. Of the Profits of Stock
Book III: Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations
 Of the Natural Progress of Opulence
III.2. Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.3. Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns, after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.4. How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country
Volume II
IV.7. Of Colonies
Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
V.1. Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth

Film screening | 4:30PM

Danton (1983)

July 14 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1750–1815”

July 17 | 1pm

Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns
Kant, “What is Enlightenment? ,” and “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Film screening | 4:30PM

Amistad (1997)

July 24 | 1pm

Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Kant, “On the Common Saying: That May be Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice” [HTML part 2]

July 31 | 1pm

Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]

Film screening | 4:30PM

selected scene from Gettysburg (1993) “No Divine Spark” Glory (1989)

August 4 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1815–48”

August 7 | 1pm

Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History for Life [translator’s introduction by Peter Preuss]
Nietzsche, selection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

Film screening | 4:30PM

Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human (1999)

August 14 | 1pm

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic

Film screening | 4:30PM

Reds (1981)

August 21: Coda | 1pm

Marx, To make the world philosophical, Robert Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978) pp. 9–11
Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existingMarx-Engels Reader pp. 12–15
Marx, Theses on FeuerbachMarx-Engels Reader pp. 143–145
Marx, On [Bruno Bauer’s] The Jewish QuestionMarx-Engels Reader pp. 26–52
Marx, The coming upheaval [see bottom of section, beginning with “Economic conditions had first transformed the mass”] (from The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847), Marx-Engels Reader pp. 218–219
Marx and Engels, Communist ManifestoMarx-Engels Reader pp. 469–500