Commentary Magazine


Trotsky

To the Editor:

In his profound “Reflections on Trotsky” [January], George Lichtheim accepts Isaac Deutscher’s idea that Bruno Rizzi’s La bureaucratisation du monde (1939) contained the first hint of what is now called the “managerial revolution.” He thus gives credence to the Trotskyist legend about Rizzi’s having sired an idea which in reality goes back to Michael Bakunin. In his Statism and Anarchy (1873), the father of revolutionary anarchism characterized the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” as conceived by Marx, as the rule of an “aristocracy of real and spurious savants” and of “government engineers who will constitute a new privileged, scientific political class.” A quarter of a century after Bakunin, that is, in 1898, a Polish revolutionary thinker, Waclaw Machajski, in a Russian pamphlet entitled The Intellectual Worker, hectographed clandestinely while he was in Siberian banishment and later printed in Geneva in 1904, elaborated the same idea. In 1932, in a book entitled Rebels and Renegades (Macmillan); in 1937, in an essay “Masters—Old and New,” included in a symposium The Making of Society—An Outline of Sociology, edited by V. F. Calverton (The Modern Library); and again in 1939 in Apostles of Revolution (Little, Brown)—all published before Rizzi’s book and before Burn-ham’s Managerial Revolution—I applied Machajski’s idea to the class structure of the Soviet Republic.

Machajski’s role in launching this idea is pointed out in Lewis Corey’s The Unfinished Task and in Daniel Bell’s The End of Ideology. Machajski is also given credit for this idea in an article by Edmund Wilson, published in the New Yorker of October 15, 1960. . . .

So much for Rizzi’s priority regarding the “managerial” idea. The question now arises whether Trotsky was altogether unaware of this idea and whether he began to realize its correctness only in the last year of his life when he wrote something closely approaching it in the article quoted by Lichtheim. Now, the fact is that Trotsky had become familiar with the “managerial” concept during his Siberian banishment around the turn of the century, and that he mentioned Machajski’s name in his book about Lenin. But he chose to ignore the main tenet of Machajski’s views about the neo-bourgeois class character of the intellectual, workers and their potentialities as the coming ruling class once the capitalist employers had been eliminated. For with such a theory, one could not expect the workers to help the intelligentsia in the struggle against capitalism. Hence the inclusion of the intelligentsia in, and its identification with, the “proletariat” became Trotsky’s “life-lie,” to use Ibsen’s famous expression. Another aspect of that “life-lie” was his, and all other socialist theorists’, identification of the elimination of the capitalists with the “emancipation of the proletariat.” It was only in extremis, when he lost all hope of becoming the number one man of that alleged “emancipation,” that he blurted out the truth about the Soviet Union’s new ruling class. By doing so, he followed Bakunin’s example, for Bakunin likewise “spilled the beans” when, three years before his death, he realized that his dream of a world revolution inaugurating his own and his following’s “invisible dictatorship” had no chance of being fulfilled.

Having lost hope for a “final” revolution that would enthrone him over an “emancipated” world, Trotsky contented himself with the very prosaic formula that “a new minimum program would be required—to defend the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic system.” Had he been disinterestedly devoted to the underdog instead of being engrossed in his own dreams of power, he might have combined his “permanent revolution” with Samuel Gompers’s slogan of “more and always more,” as the expression of a romantic rebel’s protest against the eternal recurrence of the master-and-servant pattern of the human-inhuman tragicomedy.

Max Nomad
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

. . . Anyone familiar with the political situation in Germany before 1933 and Trotsky’s ideas about it, can only shake his head in bewilderment in the face of the arrogance . . . shown by Mr. Lichtheim. At least one writer who also was in the fortunate position of having read Trotsky’s pamphlets and articles “as they came off the press,” and who was himself deeply involved in the fight against German fascism during the period from 1918-1933—a man who not only had a pretty good understanding of political realities in Germany, but whose own writings had made him one of the outstanding targets of the Nazis—Kurt Tucholsky—had a different opinion than Mr. Lichtheim of Trotsky’s understanding of Hitler’s National Socialism. In a letter dated July 25, 1933 and addressed to Walter Hasenclever, the playwright who, like Tucholsky, was to commit suicide several years later, Tucholsky described Trotsky’s essay, “Portrait of National Socialism,” as follows: “. . . “it is indeed a masterpiece. It contained everything, but just everything. It is unbelievable how anybody who has not lived in Germany can write this.”

The serious student of Mr. Deutscher’s book can only profit by reading the essay referred to. It would certainly make it easier for him to evaluate critically all the sweeping statements Mr. Lichtheim makes. . . .

George Mohr
New York City

_____________

 

Mr. Lichtheim writes:

I was dealing with the history of Trotskyism, not that of anarchism. It is of course a fact that the anarchists were opposed to the Soviet dictatorship. Precisely for this reason, Trotsky and his followers paid no attention to them. They were perforce obliged to take some notice of the various left-wing “workers’ opposition” movements which sprang up within the Russian Communist party in 1921-2, after the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising. These movements in general accepted the dictatorship, but tried to democratize it. After he had gone into opposition, Trotsky took over some of their arguments, notably their critique of the bureaucracy. The general tendency of “left-wing Communism” was syndicalist, not anarchist. There is no evidence that Trotsky was ever influenced by Machajski. As for Rizzi, he had the experience of Mussolini’s regime to go on, and for the rest it seems plain enough that he got his theoretical arguments from Pareto and Max Weber.

Whether the anarchist critique of socialism has been borne out by experience is quite a different question, and one that has no bearing upon the issue of dictatorship. Anarchist writers have traditionally been critical of all forms of socialism, including the most democratic and pluralist, except of course for their own version, which unfortunately has never been tried in practice, and probably never can be, since it rests upon a misconception as to the role of the working class in an industrial society. One may argue, if one likes, that socialism means the rule of the planner and the expert, and therefore is not paradise. Such complaints are now very common, even in England, and doubtless we shall hear more of them. Modified forms of anarcho-syndicalism are popular all over the Western world. In the West, though, most “libertarian socialists” have usually tempered their instinctive anarchism with a little common sense. Bertrand Russell has been preaching the doctrine for half a century, but he has also supported the British Labor party. To the true Anarchist, of course, the Milk Marketing Board is as great a menace as Stalin. I am not sure to which school Mr. Nomad belongs, but I suspect it is the latter one.

Mr. George Mohr thinks I have done insufficient justice to the brilliance of Trotsky’s political pamphleteering. I thought I had said quite enough about it. My concern was with Trotsky’s standing as a Marxist theorist, and this question cannot be settled by appeals to the authority of the late Kurt Tucholsky—an able journalist, but not a political thinker.

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