Chase/Trotsky: The Ultimate Sequel – Part III (A)

Dear Readers:

Some months ago I regaled you with a series (actually two separate series) reviewing a monograph by Professor William Chase of the Department of History of the University of Pittsburgh.  For those wanting to review my review, or read it for the first time, you can simply link to the final installment, here, since I obsessively-compulsively included all the previous links in each installment.  That comes from being the kind of person who hates having to go back and read a series of, say, crime novels, but not knowing which order I am supposed to read them!

Young Stalin: Still an idol to some

And speaking of crime novels, that is more or less what Professor Chase wrote.  From the tone and slant of his monograph, he set out to destroy Trotsky’s reputation once and for all, thus bringing succor to thirsty Stalinist and Maoist factions world-wide.  Not being part of “the movement” himself, not being a Stalinist or Maoist himself, and not even understanding the Marxist-Leninist subculture (as is clear from some of the Prof’s howlers in interpreting the conduct of Trotsky and his followers), Professor Chase took a side in somebody else’s war.  Why he chose to do this, is anybody’s guess.  But the result is positive, since he at least combed a few extra crumbs from the archives, his main contribution being the “Cornell Memorandum”, which you can go back and read about in Part II-M of my review.  This Memorandum is the supposed “smoking gun” which “proves” that Trotsky had become a Confidential Informant to the FBI even before the abduction/murder of an American citizen (=Robert Sheldon Harte) brought the FBI to Trotsky’s door on May 24, 1940.  The proof:  I quote from my own translation, which, again, you can read in full in Part II-M:

Trotsky’s diary, in which he registered all outgoing mail contains two references to letters to [a certain] Stewart.  One letter from “W”, probably referring to Walter O’Rourke, another one of Trotsky’s secretaries; the second letter from Trotsky himself.  In Trotsky’s archive there are no copies of these letters, therefore it is impossible to say whether or not the “Stewart” in question refers to American Consul James B. Stewart.  Therefore we cannot exclude (the possibility) that Trotsky was communicating with the American consulate about something even prior to the (Home Invasion) of May 24.

“I’m a G-man, and you’re a dirty rat!”

Yup, we also cannot exclude the possibility that Professor Chase failed to note the date of these diary entries, but I reckon we can take him at his word that they were penned before May 24.  And that Trotsky and Ambassador Stewart had become pen pals.  This, then, is our final proof that Trotsky had joined the FBI and become a G-man!

In conclusion, most of the Chase monograph consists of insinuations, projections, and loose combinations of the type:  A knew B, and B knew C, therefore it is pretty clear from reading A’s mind, that A was colluding with C all along.   Even Grover Furr does a better job of calumny than this.  Professor Chase claims to be able to read Trotsky’s mind and know what he was thinking at any given time.  He portrays Trotsky as a pathological liar and dissembler even though, in reality, Trotsky was one of the most transparent political figures who ever lived.

Let us put aside, for the moment, the fact that Trotsky harmed his own reputation when he made, in my opinion, two key political mistakes:  (1) striving to testify to HUAC; and (2) outing certain Mexican and Soviet operatives that he happened to know of, to the bourgeois secret services.  Both of which deeds, by the way, were done openly and not on the sly.

In my review, I attempted to put these facts into their correct context, including Trotsky’s rage against the Stalinist “Thermidorian” bureaucracy which had defeated his faction; the assassination of Trotsky’s friends, his colleagues, and even his sons; the continued assassination attempts against himself, his wife and his grandson; and the abduction/assassination of Harte.

“Putting things into context” is a necessary endeavor when dealing with crude pro-Stalin thinking, along the lines of:  “Trotsky was a traitor, it was okay to kill him and his family.”  Not to mention the typically Stalinist gloatatory glee about the use of violence against one’s political opponents — which is also an unsavory characteristic of this particular breed.  Stalinists don’t “get” that violence is only ever acceptable against an enemy in war, be it international war or class war; and that violence is completely UN-acceptable when dealing with political opponents, especially when working the same side of the barricades!  Stalinists counter that Trotskyites are the epitome of the class enemy; therefore it is not only permitted, but even encouraged, to assassinate any of them on sight.  Which potential for violence is still the main factor preventing these two factions from ever again being able to work with each other for a common cause.  And let it be noted, for the record, that it was the Stalin faction who drew the line in blood.

But strictly speaking, such context-putting or pleading of mitigating circumstances, is not even necessary, when working within the context of overall Marxist theory.  Marxist theory is about socio-economic classes, not about individual leaders.  Leaders are important to the cause, but they come and go, and sometimes they even switch sides.  Trotsky was a political leader of the proletarian class, from his early youth until the day of his death.  Karl Marx had devoted his life to analyzing Capitalism.  Trotsky set out to expand on classical Marxism by analyzing the first truly Socialist state, namely the Soviet Union.  He spent many years working on this analysis, and his analysis has never really been topped, or refuted, in my view.  In theory (no pun intended) Trotsky could have completely degenerated in his final years; he could have contracted Alzheimers, started drooling and ranting (while being soothed by his nursemaid Joseph Hansen) that capitalism was actually a better system after all!  (That didn’t actually happen, I am just arguing using hyperbole.)

Marx: Analyzed Capitalism, but did not analyze Socialism

But even if it had happened, none of that would have nullified Trotsky’s extensions of Marxist theory.  In theory, a Trotskyist political party is possible without Trotsky, or even in opposition to Trotsky (as almost happened within the SWP when a principled faction rebelled against Trotsky’s plan to testify before HUAC).  Because Trotsky is just one fallible Mensch, nothing like a god.  Could the same thing be said about Stalinism, though?  I would reckon not.  Stalin may seem like a god to his modern followers, but, realistically, he did not expand on Marxist theory by one iota.  His main “contribution” to the world [in the realm of theory, that is, I am not dissing his actually impressive services to the Soviet state] was his dogma of “socialism in one country”.  Which is the core political ideology of the Soviet Nomenklatura.  I contend that Stalinism is a dual phenomenon:  It is the simplistic and debased political ideology of the Nomenklatura caste; and also a cult of Leaderism.  As if Nomenklaturas are not fully capable of operating without a Dear Leader to guide these faceless bureaucrats.  Actually, I think they are, or could be; but maybe they just don’t know it!

Iago’s Credo: “I believe that singing in blackface is a horrible mistake in today’s world!”

This is all getting a bit abstruse, but before I move on to my final review of Part III of Professor Chase’s monography (which I never had time to get to, before), I just want to throw out a few more points, and this comes from the evolution of my thinking and pondering on these matters.  In the words of Verdi’s Iago, this is my Credo, this is what I believe:

I believe that Trotsky’s analysis of Soviet “Thermidor” and the rise of the Nomenklatura caste, as laid out in his main work “The Revolution Betrayed”, was absolutely correct.  To be sure, Trotsky gilded the lily and exaggerated the faults and crimes of said caste.  Keep in mind that Trotsky was the victim and loser of a vicious Office Politics jousting tournament.  Any of you out there who have experienced Office Politics, especially from the losing side, you know how bitter-making this experience can be.  Some men (like, if they get fired) just can’t handle it, and go postal.  Trotsky didn’t go that far, but he did tend to exaggerate and overplay the utter evil-ness of the other side.  Nonetheless, his political analysis was essentially correct, and, when you put aside all the fluffery and the emotions, his Thermidor theory is simplicity itself.  As Mr. Spock might say, “His logic was impeccable.”

Revolution And The Lonely Repair Man

Just stop and think about it for a moment.  In a society where the means of production are owned by the entire class of the proletariat, a multi-million-headed hydra, then it goes without saying that a layer of management must arise to manage that common property.  Otherwise, there wouldn’t be socialism, there would be just anarchy.  This layer of management is called the “bureaucracy”, from the French word “bureau”, which means office.  In other words, these are office workers.  They don’t own the means of production, but it is their job to manage the means of production and the wealth created by the proletariat.  By personality, these bureacrats will more or less resemble trade union bosses.  Depending on how one looks at them, they either (1) provide an essential service to the proletariat; or (2) parasitically prey on those who produce the actual wealth!

Madame Defarge: “Honey, I was reading in Pravda how the Zinovievite wreckers must be brought to justice…”

Add in the political ingredient of the single-party government, and you get the Nomenklatura.  Per Trotsky’s theory, this caste of managers was supposed to act as servants of the proletariat, but then, as in a Chekhov play, the servants became the masters.  Sort of.  And they all joined the Communist Party, and they all looked up to Stalin as their natural leader.  Because (1) he spoke their language, a language which (given the realities of Soviet economic life, and strikingly similar to the modern American White Collar world) often amounted to just barking orders and expecting to be obeyed by one’s groveling underlings; and (2) represented himself as the legitimate heir to Lenin.  Stalin was the Alchemist’s Stone whereby these faceless newcomers gained more legitimacy (in their own eyes) than the Old Bolsheviks.  Which was convenient, when time came for Stalin to have most of the latter whacked, to the relentless cheers of Madame Defarge and the rest of the political mob.  In the purges of 1936-37 the former Titans of Lenin’s Central Committee were humiliated, dragged through the gutter, and then murdered by the upstart pantheon of godlets.  None of that would have been possible without Stalin’s mysterious and gloating presence, his pipe-smoking aura providing the fig-leaf of legitimacy to the distasteful sausage-making of the Counter-Revolution.

To continue my Credo:  I believe that Trotsky was basically right about the two main issues of his time:  China (1927), and Spain (1936).  After the October Revolution in Russia, and following the failure of the attempted German Revolution, these two situations, especially the Reign in Spain, were the only realistic opportunities at bringing about a second proletarian dictatorship in a world which knew just one.  True social revolutions might only happen, on average, once per century, therefore the job of Professional Revolutionaries is to keep themselves fit and ready, like Boy Scouts “always prepared” for the next opportunity — which they may never live to see.  This being one of the reasons why I personally decided not to become a professional revolutionary myself.  See, it’s a lonely and unrewarding job, not unlike the Maytag Repair Man’s job; or perhaps like being the timpanist in a Berlioz symphony.

George Orwell: Was a POUM member and wrote about the Spanish Revolution

Well, given this sad fact, it was a rare treat to get two socialist revolutionary opportunities (China and Spain) within a decade of each other; and also within a decade of the Russian Revolution, when most of the main players except for Lenin were still alive and frisky.  And then guess what happened:  Both opportunities were horribly squandered and lost.   The truly agonizing thing about these missed opportunities is that either one of them, especially Spain, could have provided the Soviet Union with a much-needed friend in the world; and possibly even (indulging in What-If thinking) averted WWII.  Trotsky blamed Stalin for messing up both of these opportunities.  In Trotsky’s view, Stalin didn’t accidentally fumble the ball, he deliberately fumbled the ball; he actually didn’t want another proletarian dictatorship in the world; he wanted to be the leader of the one and only.  And that’s why he deliberately sabotaged both of these opportunities, in Trotsky’s opinion.  Stalin clearly wanted the Spanish Republican Government to win the war; but if they couldn’t win, he would rather see Franco running the government than Trotsky or the POUM.

Still waiting for the Revolution…

I don’t have time here to re-fight those epic polemical battles, it’s all part of the classical Trotskyite canon; but I do believe that Trotsky was essentially correct about this; that, while there was more than enough blame to go around, the Stalinist faction takes primary credit for blowing these two opportunities.  Through a combination of incompetence (China) and exceptional maliciousness (Spain).  But don’t believe me — download some books and read up on these events.  Make up your own mind, what really happened, and who was to blame?  That is, if you are interested at all, which only Marxist-Leninists are, actually.  Everybody else is cool with proletarian revolutions being defeated, both epically and epochally.

But now, enough of my personal Credo, and it is time to move on to the actual Professor Chase monograph, this is the relatively short Part III of his opus, dated November 2003.   Hence, Trotsky has sprung back to life, roll the cameras, and we now return to his beleaguered villa in Mexico City…

[to be continued]

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2 Responses to Chase/Trotsky: The Ultimate Sequel – Part III (A)

  1. Ryan Ward says:

    Minor point, but I think you’re being a bit unfair to Chase. The fact that his essay has been used as a “smoking gun” by interested parties isn’t his fault, and I don’t think it’s actually his intention to write a “case” against Trotsky. And if he was making a case, it wouldn’t rest solely on his (in his own admission highly speculative) reading of Trotsky’s diary. Nor does he minimize or gloss over the general thuggishness of Trotsky’s Stalinist opponents. I think the situation here is the misuse of an exploratory work by opportunistic partisans rather than an attempt at a partisan attack on Trotsky by Chase himself.

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    • yalensis says:

      Ryan, I totally agree that Professor Chase cannot be blamed if third parties such as the Furries or “Red Youth” use his research for their own nefarious reasons. The duty of a historian is to write the facts and the truth, as he sees it, and not worry who is going to utilize it.

      Mostly, it’s about the tone. Especially the adjectives that he uses.
      And the way he attempts to squeeze all the facts into the Procrustean bed of his own Idée fixe.
      Which is why I call his Leitmotif “Publish or Perish” – ha ha!

      And definitely not denigrating his historical research or that it should be done. I would have just preferred a more neutral tone on the Prof’s part.
      Also, he shouldn’t have speculated about psychological motives. Especially since, as I pointed out, he is not a member of the Marxist-Leninist subculture, therefore he cannot truly understand their mode of thinking. He should just report what he found in the archives, and leave it at that.

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