Perry Anderson on Trotskyism

(these next posts in lieu of suffering another painful dem debate on the television.)

(from Anderson’s Considerations on Western Marxism – ‘WM’ being a trend whose philosophical and academic gains Anderson juxtaposes with whatever “actually=existing” on-the-ground-ish-ness the Trots can claim. Call these Trot claims small, sure… but recall that they amount to the (underfed) lion’s share of internationalist socialist-left victories since the war.)

There is no space here to unravel the subsequent level of Trotsky’s thought and work. One day, this other tradition – persecuted, reviled, isolated, divided – will have to be studied in all the diversity of its underground channels and streams. It may surprise future historians with its resources.

The tradition descended from Trotsky has thus been a polar contrast, in most essential respects, to that of Western Marxism. It concentrated on politics and economics, not philosophy. It was resolutely internationalist, never confined in concern or horizon to a single culture or country. It spoke a language of clarity and urgency, whose finest prose (Trotsky or Deutscher) yet possessed a literary quality equal or superir to that of any other tradition. It filled no chairs in universities. Its members were hunted and outlawed. Trotsky was killed in Mexisco. Deutscher and Rosdolsky were exiles, unable to return to Poland or the Ukraine. Mandel is proscribed from France, West Germany and the United States to this day. Other names could be added. The price paid for the attempt to maintiain a Marxist unity of theory and practice, even in cases where it was eventually renounced, was a high one. But the gain made, the future of socialism, was in exchange an immense one. Today, this politico-theorietical provides one of the central elements for any renaissance of revolutionary Marxism on an international scale….

In general, the profress of Marxist theory could not vault over the material conditions of its own production – the social practice of the real proletariat of the time. The combination of enforced isolation from the main detachments of the organized working class throughout the world, and protracted absence of revolutionary mass upsurges in the central lands of inustrial capitalism, inevitably left is effects on the Trotskyist tradition as a whole. It, too, was subject to the ultimate dictates of the long epoch of historical defeat for the working class in the West Its defiance of the turn of the time, which set it apart from Western Marxism, exacted its particular penalties.

Reaffirmation of the validity and reality of socialist revolution and proletarian democracy, against so many events which denied them, involuntarily inclined this tradition towards conservatism. The preservation of classical doctrines took priority over their development. Triumphalism in the cause of the working class, and catastrophism in the analysis of capitalism, asserted more by will than by intellect, were to be the the typical vices of this tradition in its routine forms.

please discuss.


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