From International Socialism (1st series), No.8, Spring 1962, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Literature and Revolution
Ann Arbor Paperbacks. $1.85. (Cresset)
In no work so much as this perhaps is revealed the union of greatness and weakness in Trotsky. The greatness lies in the grasp of actual social connections. When Trotsky writes about literature directly, he writes in the tradition of Belinsky and Chernyshevsky. He grasps the relation of Russian life to poetry. Of Alexander Blok, Trotsky wrote, ‘To be sure, Blok is not one of ours, but he reached towards us. And in doing so, he broke down. But the result of his impulse is the most significant work of our epoch. His poem, The Twelve, will remain forever’. What Trotsky saw here is very much what Pasternak tried to show us in Dr Zhivago. The weakness comes out in the substitution of an a priori scheme of things for the actual complex reality wherever he comes to a point made difficult by his own theory. Consider Trotsky’s proof that there cannot be proletarian culture, that there was bourgeois culture and there will be classless culture, but nothing in between. This is based on a Marxist scheme of things whereby the working-class arrive and perform their revolutionary tasks at once. But what of a working-class which arrives and yet waits, potentially revolutionary, but only actualising its potentialities on the rarest of occasions? Must such a working-class live only with bourgeois culture or no culture at all? If we accepted Trotsky’s answer we should be left with very little remedy for the present non-revolutionary condition of the working-class. The problem of the age on the edge of which Trotsky stood is that of a society where the bourgeois revolution goes on, and the working-class has to wait on the sidelines of history. On questions of culture as they confront this age, Trotsky is as helpless as anyone else imprisoned in the categories of Leninism.
Last updated: 2 March 2010