Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 23

Feature review

Capital & Class 34(3) 509530 The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0309816810378725 c&c.sagepub.com

Our awkward ancestors: Trotsky, Gramsci and the challenge of reconnaissance


Ian G. McKay

Queens University, Ontario, Canada

Emanuele Saccarelli Gramsci and Trotsky in the Shadow of Stalinism: The Political Theory and Practice of Opposition, Routledge: London, 2008; 312 pp.: 9780415873383, 26.99 (pbk) Socialists of the 21st century live in a world undergoing two connected and epochal capitalist revolutions: neoliberal globalization and environmental transformation. Spatially limited and temporally restricted approaches, i.e. the familiar liberal panoply of practical and partial responses to these interlocked revolutions, are transparently inadequate when measured against crises that challenge the sustainability of human civilisation. A new socialism that takes the survival of humanity itself as its categorical imperative must necessarily actualise Marxs theoretical vision of a rational and just regulation of humankinds metabolism with the natural world. Yet as soon as this socialist imperative is voiced, it is as quickly muffled by the bloodied weight of socialist history, with its failed states and post-Bolshevik disillusionment. In Gramsci and Trotsky in the Shadow of Stalinism, Emanuele Saccarelli captures something of this predicament when he writes that the proverbial elephant in the room confronting leftists is the legacy of Stalinism: Any reconsideration of Marxism seeking to do more than provide yet another interpretive riff on various texts must account for this reality (p. 11). One important term bearing on this mission, bequeathed to posterity by Antonio Gramsci, was reconnaissance (Gramsci, 1971: 238, Q716)1: an accurate, rigorous and historically informed analysis of each country we hope to revolutionise and (by extension) the international socialist movement we hope to inherit, critique, and transform. It is a Gramscian metaphor that nicely unifies urgency, realism, and collectivism: there is a real world, understandable through shared categories of analysis and empirical explorations,

Corresponding author: Ian G. McKay, Queens University, Ontario, Canada Email: imckay@magma.ca
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

510

Capital & Class 34(3)

that we socialists are collectively called upon first to understand and then to change; and this combined project of understanding and transformation, this praxis of revolution, means that we must articulate our investigations together, in a campaign that unites us all in a massive, ultimately planetary co-ordination of information, insight and activism. According to Saccarelli, today Leon Trotsky is the indispensable guide to the theory and practice of Stalinism, whereas Gramsci, helpful on some topics, is unreliable and politically suspect on many others. Saccarelli first addresses Gramscis contemporary legacy, arguing that the Gramsci we know today was made to measure by the Stalinist Italian Communist Party. He also eviscerates academics who subsequently dallied with a domesticated, post-revolutionary Gramscianism. Next, he analyses Gramscis often implicit critique of Stalinism in the Prison Notebooks. In the books second part, Saccarelli takes up the cause of Trotsky. Rather than engaging fully with Trotsky, a world-historical figurefor our times (p. 191), rightly associated with a revolution that actually succeeded, academics have preferred to focus on a Gramsci deeply infected by a compromising defeatism and even guilty of complicity with Stalinism. Professor Saccarelli is an engaging, often savagely sarcastic polemicist, rising to the defence of his hero Trotsky against philistine academics, Stalinists real and imagined, weak-kneed liberals, social democrats, and effete Gramscists. Here is a vintage Leninist annihilating polemic barely disguised as a heavily footnoted academic bookwhich is the main reason why Gramsci and Trotsky is really a model of What Is Not To Be Done for those trying to rethink and reshape the next left. As is the case in so many polemics, we are confronted here with a starkly dichotomised choice between two men. One, Antonio Gramsci, is rather like the J. Alfred Prufrock of the socialist tradition: vague, disconnected, introspective, even rather pathetic, a sickly silhouette (p. 38) much loved by academics who, in their grandiose efforts to inflate this sad Sardinian into something more than his properly provincial status, are even neglecting the methodologically correct history of ideas (p. 199, n9), one that would essentially confine him to the Italian peninsula. Hell-bent on producing a Gramsci abstracted from his Italian context, Gramscian academia has conveniently overlooked its heros unimpressive recordone suggestive of a very recalcitrant and troublesome supporter of Stalinism before his imprisonment, and the author of cryptic and indirect critiques of it afterwards (pp. 545). Any comparison of this frail specimen with the brilliant, prophetic, decisive, strong and principled Leon Trotsky, unqualifiedly one of the great men of the type saluted by Hegel in his Philosophy of History (pp. 24950 n80), works to the Sardinians disadvantage. *** This comparative exercise is necessary, Saccarelli urges, because it is in Trotsky, not Gramsci, that we can find the indispensable tools with which to analyse Stalinism. Much obviously depends on how we understand this term. Saccarelli adheres closely to the position of the Fourth International, with which he has been closely identified, in insisting upon a near-absolute distinction between Bolshevism and Stalinismand on rejecting the liberal continuity thesis that a predetermined linear process of cause-andeffect connected the first with the second. Yet he also dissents from Stephen Cohens insistence on Stalinism as a specific kind of revolution from above, set in motion from
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

511

1929 to 1933 and consolidated from 1934 to 1953an approach that defines Stalinism in terms of a particular dictatorial regime and its excessive, cruel and irrational practices, as well as the veritable mass religion that came to be based upon it (Cohen 2008 [1977]: 258). Rather, Saccarellis Stalinism is largely a reiteration of Trotskys mature, final word in The Revolution Betrayed (1937) as interpreted by the Fourth International, which saw the Soviet regime as one that was transitional between capitalism and socialism, as the particular outcome of Russias backwardness, the failure of the revolutionary movement in Europe, and the processes of exhaustion and bureaucratisation that typically set in after any revolution (p. 167). Counter-intuitively, then, Saccarellis Stalinism existed long before the advent of Stalins regime and well after his demise in 1953; it also pervaded all the Comintern-affiliated partieswhich became lifeless bureaucratic apparatuses easily steered from Moscow (p. 211 n86).2 A vast array of left-wing parties and intellectuals, indeed almost any leftist outside the Fourth International, can also be linked to Stalinism.3 Even before it was fully formed, this Stalinism entailed an extended, profound process of political, theoretical, and moral decay (p. 214 n7). In essence, after Trotsky produced The Revolution Betrayed in the mid-1930s, there was not a great deal left to be said on the subject (and so Saccarelli neglects virtually all the new archivally-based histories and collections of documents generated over the last four decades). For Saccarelli, it goes without saying that the rise of this Stalinism should have been the central preoccupation of any aware Marxist theoretician after 1924yet only Trotsky, standing virtually alone among prominent Marxists, was able to grasp the truth and act upon it. More myopic, distant and confused communists, e.g. Gramsci, are basically just distractions from the main Trotsky vs. Stalin event. This orthodox interpretation suggests an emphatically essentialist method, one that takes up and refines one of Trotskys positions on Stalin and makes it the Trotskyist position. In Saccarellis reconstruction, any Trotsky writing that does not fit the Fourth International model can be set aside as a mere anticipation of the masters mature position or, if it was written later than The Revolution Betrayed, can be seen as a mere non-essential or rhetorical supplement to it. Yet, from a less Manichean perspective, it would seem that Trotsky had at least five implicit and explicit theories about Stalin and his regime. First, and most problematically, there was Trotskys Orientalising, biological and racial explanationone that predominates in the early chapters of his Stalin, a work written well after Saccarelli tells us Trotsky had reached his mature, final stance on the subject (and, remarkably, not even cited in this text). It must be remembered that Trotsky, deeply influenced by Darwin as well as Marx, worked within a framework that postulated a clear-cut pattern of human social development. Influenced by pervasive notions of Orientalism, Trotsky thus interpreted Stalin as the product of the deficient South, a fact demonstrated by his enemys bad manners, deficient grasp of theory, mis-shaped forehead, and even (by implication) the yellowish tinge of parts of his body (Trotsky, 1967 [1941]: 3, 244; Trotsky, 2007 [1930]: 449). Trotsky, who regarded eugenics as an important component of the new socialist world wherein a superman would emerge (Trotsky, 2005 [1925]: 2067), thought that Stalin exemplified the savagery and barbarism that, in a biological as well as cultural sense, would become extinct after the advent of the new order. On this reading, Stalin was an evolutionary throwback. Born into a declassed, virtually lumpenproletarian family, within a cultural milieu so primitive that life went unrecorded and flowed on almost without leaving any trace (Trotsky, 1967
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

512

Capital & Class 34(3)

[1941]: 4), so poorly educated at a dismal seminary that his Russian language skills were as defective as various parts of his bodyin all these respects Stalin was Trotskys racialised and essentialised inferior. When this primitive product of the backward Caucasus shows some signs of intellectual capacity, they are said to be mere acts of mimicry, shaped (in one famous instance) by the unremitting supervision and line by line editing of Lenin (Trotsky 1967 [1941]: 1567). Sluggishness and inordinate cautiousness, utter lack of literary resourcefulness, and, finally, extreme Oriental laziness combined to make Stalins pen rather unproductive Trotsky remarks (Trotsky, 1967 [1941]: 140). So how could this yellow-eyed atavism, this Oriental other, have come to occupy the leadership of the Bolsheviks? In this mode, Trotsky explains the rise of Stalin in the highly charged and immensely popular fin-de-sicle language of degeneration theory. Stalin, this man seized with an ambition of an untutored Asiatic cast (Trotsky, 1967 [1941]: 393) is for Trotsky a Nero-like individual degenerate. Degeneration writ largein essence, evolution working in reverse gearbecame a leitmotif of Trotskys analysis of Stalinism overall. Stalins bio-ethical unfitness can be closely related to a second element in Trotskys neo-Darwinian theorisation of Stalinism, which focused on the conditioning environment resulting from Russias patterns of uneven and combined development. As Saccarelli usefully shows, Trotsky grasped that the expansion of the capitalist world-system impressed an accelerated but lopsided development onto the socioeconomic structure at the periphery of the world economy. Rather than produce a world after its own image, Western capitalism would instead systematically spawn odd mutations (p. 98). Instead of an ever-advancing modernity, capitalism on the periphery might well strengthen existing archaic and grotesque forms of political rule. In such a setting, even a relatively new, relatively small, but potentially powerful working class could take the political initiative, achieve democratic and national tasks elsewhere associated with the bourgeoisie, and ultimately be compelled by the logic of the political situation to rapidly engage in a struggle for socialism as well (pp. 989). Trotsky did not himself invent, nor did he consistently defend, this theory of permanent revolution (Day and Gaido, 2009). Nonetheless (and, as an innovative account shows, to a large extent misleadingly [Day, 1973]), it came to be polemically attached to him, as the antithesis of Stalins socialism in one country. In this interpretation, Stalins rise could be explained by revolutionary Russias isolated position, encircled as it was by hostile capitalist powers and unaided by a socialist revolution in a major western country, and by the abject cultural unevenness and spiritual poverty (Deutscher, 2003 [1959]: 137) of a population just emerging from a long Middle Ages. A third strand in Trotskys interpretation of Stalin and Stalinism connected his adversary to the history of revolutionary movements in Western Europe, specifically the French Revolution, which provided Trotsky with two of his key categories: those of Thermidor and Bonapartism. One could, on this analogical line of reasoning, predict the future of the 20th-century Russian Revolution in part on the basis of its 18th-century French predecessor, because revolutions, affected as they are by natural (implicitly evolutionary) laws of human physiology and psychology, follow predictable patterns. Thermidorthe end of the most radical phase of the French Revolution, exemplified by the July 1794 vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Robespierrestood in Trotskys mind for that moment when the Revolution came to be betrayed by activists professedly sworn to defend it; and Bonapartism he initially conceived as the military
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

513

endpoint of this Thermidorian process. In one of his interpretations, the Soviet Thermidor coincided precisely with his own individual reversals within the Communist Party; in another, Thermidor and Bonapartism were interpreted not as consecutive steps but as parallel processes happening at the same time. As Saccarelli usefully observes, these were not for Trotsky just interesting historical analogies, but actual living forces that demanded a definite political orientation toward them (p. 158). Fourth, the most renowned schema advanced by Trotsky was that of the totalitarianism of a ruling bureaucracy. Repeatedly and insistently, especially in The Revolution Betrayed, he draws out the parallels between Nazism and Stalinism (see especially Trotsky, 1965 [1937]; 1972 [1937]), a theme subsequently taken up by many Cold War liberals (a good number of whom were Trotskyists in the 1930s). In this interpretation, Stalinism, like Nazism a product of capitalisms interwar crisis, was the outcrop of a totalising vision of humanity. Well before George Orwell did the same, Trotsky thus made totalitarianism a powerful presence in interpretations of the Soviet Union, with enduringly controversial results.4 It is not so much the vanguard party and its leader that bear the brunt of Trotskys critique of totalitarianism in The Revolution Betrayed, but the bureaucracy and its allies, which together made up a ruling stratum, a vast caste-like assemblage of post-revolutionary careerist mediocrities. They were, pace Lenin, not so much passive hold-overs from the ancien rgime, but the active makers of the new one. Adding the bureaucrats proper to the labor and collectivised peasant aristocracy, the Stakhanovists, the nonparty active, trusted personages, their relatives and relatives-in law, Trotsky suggests that these two interpenetrating strata might constitute a ruling stratum as many as 25m people, or about 15 per cent of the population (Trotsky, 1965 [1937]: 139). As many scholars have since observed, this vast, powerful Thermidorian bureaucracy did not look much like the bureaucrats known in other societies, and neither did many of the activities associated with itmass murder, breakneck collectivisation and industrialisation, and other processes that swept into oblivion thousands of the bureaucrats themselvesseem cautiously bureaucratic (see especially McNeal 2008 [1977]). If, as Saccarelli says of the mid-to-late-1920s, this was an increasingly privileged bureaucracy whose watchwords were stability, order, routine, and mistrust of adventures at home or abroad (p. 139), it seems hard to explain (for many contemporary students of Stalins Russia) why such risk-averse types would launch the cataclysmic adventures of the Soviet 1930s. Moreover, Trotskys characterisation of Stalins base of supportthe tired radicals,... the bureaucrats,... the nepmen, the kulaks, the upstarts, the sneaks,... all the worms that are crawling out of the upturned soil of the manured revolution (Trotsky 1967 [1941]: 393)underestimated a phenomenon far more fully explored in the archivally-based literature Professor Saccarelli so scrupulously avoids: that is, the workers considerable support for Stalin, encompassing even their enthusiastic participation in aspects of the Great Terror, which some of them used to address their own class grievances (Goldman, 2007). They were caught up, that is, in a revolution from above (Tucker 2008 [1999]: 119), one that over time looks less and less like the manifestation of a routine bureaucratism orchestrated by a dim-witted man who was never, in anything or anywhere, an initiator (Trotsky 1967 [1941]: 119). Fifth and finally, and in tension with this emphasis on the sociology of Stalinism, and indeed with the scientific ambitions of Marxist historiography in general, was
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

514

Capital & Class 34(3)

Trotskys explicit or implied emphasis on Stalins character, as a free-standing factor in its own right. Trotsky often wrote and spoke about the Russian Revolution as a play (Beilharz, 1985, 1987) or as a book, with predetermined acts or chapters (see especially Deutscher, 2003 [1959]: 208). He placed great stress on how the lead protagonists looked, with their dress, deportment, dispositions and body-types providing clear indications of their underlying charactersindeed, of their moral worth (for example, Trotsky, 2007 [1930]: 151). Just like in a romantic novel, in The History of the Russian Revolution, vast developments can depend upon a particular individuals delivering one stirring speech or making a split-second decision, or come about through sheer serendipity; and hidden conspiracies and even accidents can influence patterns of history (Trotsky, 2007 [1932]: passim). Trotsky often suggests that moral and political excellence equates with attractiveness. Conversely, through My Life, Stalin, and The Stalin School of Falsification, the pockmarked Stalin is less the exemplification of underlying social patterns, and more like the villain of a novel. He is compellingly drawn, but in the end we are left with an enigmatic force of evilthe ultimate stage villain. With obviously necessary emendations, each of these threads might contribute something to our knowledge of Stalin and his regime. Saccarelli insists that most of them come together in an organically unified interpretation, one that it is the imperative duty of every present-day Marxist to accept (for a more critical evaluation, see Anderson, 1984). From a different viewpoint, however, and one that aligns better with much contemporary writing on the Soviet 1930s, while Trotskys various perceptions and interpretations of his adversary are valuable as eyewitness testimony and initial stabs at an explanation, they do not really cohere into a unified theory. In fact, taken together, they both contradict one another and depend for much of their force on a pervasive counterfactualism at odds with Marxist methodologyone that infers, unprovably, an entirely different path for a Russia without Stalin and with Trotsky. Lacking a coherent method for separating the organic from the conjunctural, Trotskys work imaginatively juxtaposes, but cannot reconcile, fatalistic determinism and voluntarist accidentalism. Is this theoretical unevenness so surprising from one who was immersed in the events about which he wrote? As judgements that were often made on-the-fly, and made by someone immersed in the very events he was trying to analyse, Trotskys journalistic evaluations need to be critically assessed in the context of more contemporary historical work, especially that based on far greater access to the archival records. Trotskys appraisals of Stalin and his regime were politically significant. They left (and still leave) his many followers, among them some of the sharpest minds Marxism has known, with a legacy of unresolved debates over which they have split and split again (see especially Matgamna, 1998). For instance, if Stalin arose as a direct result of a revolution in a country characterised by uneven and combined development, would not revolutions in similar circumstances invariably fall victim to the same patterns? If the Book of Revolutions has always already been written, in one way or the other, and if Thermidor inexorably follows upon Revolution, almost as a natural physical process, what is the point of resisting it? If the key to the story lay in the poisoned personality of Stalin, what then became of the Marxist science that had underwritten the Soviet experiment, and of the Darwinism that had deeply inspired Trotsky, undermined as they both were by this one rogue elephant? Could a traditional Marxist analysis of bureaucracy, a merely parasitic encrustation in such works as The Civil War in France, comprehend Trotskys
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

515

vast interpenetrating strata, which could seemingly command a surplus squeezed out of a working population in the interests of sustaining a bourgeois lifestyle? And here was the question that most profoundly divided his followers in 19391940: did not Trotskys emphasis on a Nazi-like totalitarianism even more murderous after 1936, with the Moscow Trials and the HitlerStalin Pact, suggest that honest leftists should repudiate the Soviet regime entirely? In what real (and not merely formal or rhetorical) sense was this militaristic behemoth still a workers state? And was there not, in truth, another elephant in the room besides Stalin and Stalinismthat is, the Leninist party itself? As Trotsky confided privately in his mid1930s Notebooks, Lenin created the apparatus. The apparatus created Stalin (Trotsky, 1986: 86). Could the Bolsheviks be entirely removed from any honest account of the transformation of their own party? And, we might now ask, given that we now know that the Russian Revolution decisively failed as a revolution, in the rigorous Marxist sense that it proved incapable of permanently transforming prior social relations of production, what today remains of all of Trotskys own argumentsfor the militarisation of labour, for the gpus first red terror (see especially Rabonowitch, 2008 [1979]), for the first large party purges and for Kronstadtall defended by Trotsky on consequentialist grounds in the name of an ultimate triumph of socialism that did not, in fact, take place? If Saccarellis efforts to isolate, identify and sanctify one element of Trotskys analysis are unpersuasive, so too are his attempts to enshrine an authoritative interpretation of Trotsky as a revolutionary politician. An unintended consequence of the professors Stalinisation of everyone outside the orbit of the Fourth International is that Trotsky himself emerges as no real Trotskyist. En passant, and with considerable understatement, Saccarelli concedes for example that the militarisation of trade unionsin effect, in the name of the workers state, the return of coerced labourshowed that Trotsky himself was not completely removed from the powerful negative currents affecting the party (p. 153). If totalitarianism in this form is linked to the one-party state, and within that one party the abolition of the right to form factions, Trotsky in the 1920s was obviously one important architect of the very totalitarian forces that were later to destroy himalthough, to his credit, as Ernest Mandel and others have shown (Mandel, 1995: 846; Mandel in Le Blanc 1993: xxiv; see also Trotsky, 1965 [1936]: 263), he subsequently championed a multi-party workers democracy and advanced sophisticated arguments for a form of market socialism (Day, 1973). And the clear lines of demarcation that Saccarelli would like to draw between his Trotsky and a Stalinising Soviet regime are even more difficult to draw from 1928 to 1933. Trotsky, at least on Isaac Deutschers reading, gave serious consideration to a bloc between his left faction and that of Stalins center (Deutscher, 2003 [1959]: ch. 6).5 Trotsky maintained almost to the day of his expulsion from the Soviet Union that his primary enemy was Bukharins right. If this much is common knowledge, J. Arch Gettys work on hitherto secret parts of the Trotsky Archives more innovatively suggests that from 1929 to 1933, Trotsky worked tirelessly for a return to the Moscow leadership, a quest made all the more urgent by the Nazi crushing of the German Communists. Trotsky pursued two lines: one using secret contacts within the Soviet Union to further a bloc with former allies and newly discontented communists, quite reminiscent of the professional techniques of konspiratia championed by Lenin and many others in the early twentieth century (Lih, 2006); and a second that entailed privately offering the Soviet
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

516

Capital & Class 34(3)

leadership a formal offer to return to the Politbureau under certain conditions, i.e. re-entering the leadership without the usual recantation, but refraining from criticism for the sake of party unity. On 1 October 1933, Trotsky then announced his conclusion that the only way to remove the Soviet bureaucracy was by forcenot an armed insurrection against the proletarian dictatorship but the removal of a malignant growth upon it, i.e. not civil war, but measures of a police character (Getty, 1986: 26). It was only after both approaches came to nothing that Trotsky decided to form the Fourth International, whose first meeting was held only in 1938. In the mythsymbol complex cherished by Saccarelli, Trotsky devised a peerless synthesis of theory and practice that he used to fight the Stalinist regimeindeed, he invented the political theory and practice of opposition announced in the books title. The authors Carlylean approach requires his hero to be resolute, consistent, stalwart and near-infallible. For the most understandable of reasons, however, the fully human Trotsky was in fact uncertain how to fight the regime, wavered uncertainly through much of his exile over how best it should be analysed and opposed, and in the end, alas, failed to create an effective political theory and practice of opposition against it. No one who contemplates the horrors perpetrated by Stalin and his regime will begrudge Trotsky either his courageous analyses nor his complicated two-track political strategy; but the point is that both strategies suggested that as a writer, theorist and politician, Trotsky persistently misestimated the regime he was trying to fight. As Deutscher and Brou document in depth in their highly sympathetic studies, Trotsky never quite got the extent to which the Stalin regime could penetrate his own movement. It was a measure of Trotskys inability to fully comprehend the new normal that at the formation of his Fourth International, the Russian delegation was itself headed by a Soviet spy (Deutscher, 2003 [1959]: 340). And the second join-the-Politbureau tack explored by Getty suggested that Trotsky was still functioning with the democratic conventions of Bolshevik party politics of the 1920s, not those of the dictatorial 1930s. In short, the three frontal attacks mounted by Trotsky against Stalininvolving konspiratia, compliance with reservations, or clear defiancewere, in so far as they were based upon a faulty reconnaissance (as a certain Sardinian might have put it) and assumed the continuance of the political realities that had prevailed from 1917 to 1929, doomed to defeat. And there was, in all of this frustrating record of the Opposition, the deeper sense in which Trotsky had to be loyal to the Soviet stateone that shone forth in his desperate attempt, sustained by the flimsiest evidence, to find some liberating inspiration in the Finnish and Polish depredations of the Red Army in 1939 and 1940. Convinced that the Russian Revolution he had helped to make was part of a much vaster social evolutionary history, i.e. humankinds long march from savagery to civilisation, and that its foundational achievement had been to constitute a new form of economic life exemplified by nationalisation of the means of production and state monopoly over foreign trade, Trotsky believed his theory and political practice to be underwritten by laws of nature and of history. The world unfolded according to the laws of dialectical materialism, that philosophy which, building on the work of Engels, Dietzgen and Plekhanov, came to be the official philosophyoften nicknamed Diamatof Stalins state. Professor Saccarelli is simply and surprisingly in error when he writes (supposedly in praise of a Trotsky who made a revolution, and did not just search, think, and struggle) that Unlike Marx and
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

517

Gramsci, there is little in Trotsky resembling a philosophy of history, a political economy, a social theory, or even a statement of method (p. 97). Au contraire: for Trotsky, the laws of the materialist dialectic governed everything from the behaviour of foxes to the achievements of modern science to the correct resolution of debates among communists (Trotsky, 1995 [1942]: 166). There could be no doubt, in Trotskys mind, that a Marxist who did not subscribe to dialectical materialism was in reality no Marxist at all: Beware of the infiltration of bourgeois skepticism into your ranks, he urged the younger members of his movement. Remember that socialism to this day has not found higher scientific expression than Marxism. Bear in mind that the method of scientific socialism is dialectic materialism (Trotsky, 1995 [1942]: 156). One reason for Saccarellis strange neglect of Trotskys fascination with Darwin and his fervent loyalty to Diamat is that such links might qualify his insistence that, when it came to revolutionary Marxism, Trotsky had no peer. This is, unapologetically, Great Man history, often more Carlylean than Marxist in its argumentation (see Carlyle, 1993 [1841]). Rather than probing Trotskys writings for their internal consistency and empirical accuracytasks perhaps better left to the critical and clueless academics (p. 114) we are urged, via Alasdair MacIntyre, to remember our humble stations in the face of greatness of a certain dimension: A Lilliputian who sets out to write Gullivers biography had best take care (p. 102). Trotsky was no mere human being, but a Prophet, displaying remarkable gifts of clairvoyance (p. 93). As an individual hero, he towers far above all his contemporaries and descendants. Saccarelli strikes an unmistakably Carlylean pose: I regard Leon Trotsky as the highest model of political conduct, a figure whose historical and political stature dwarfs the more usual cast of characters typically invited in a work of political theory (p. 16). The Stalin regimes grotesque parodies of Orthodox Christianity, with its icons and saints, is here answered with a no less reverential account of an heroic and apostolic succession: from Marx to Lenin to Trotsky. *** Alas for those accustomed to lighting their candles before images of Saint Antonio, Saccarelli is almost as scathing towards the Sardinian as he is reverential towards Trotsky. As the very title of his book announces, this is a compare-and-contrast exercise: in essence, between (on the one hand) a giant, one of Hegels word-historic titans, and (on the other) a deservedly obscure provincial, preserved for posterity by Stalins accomplices, and the source of much confusion and pomposity today. There can be only one Great Man in Saccarellis book. That position has already been taken. Yet in most respects, this Trotsky/Gramsci showdown is a shallow polemical exercise, presented without subtlety and context, and one strictly derived from the authors insistence upon the Fourth Internationals version of Trotsky. Again and again, Gramsci the vague talker and long-term loser is contrasted with Trotsky, the decisive doer and revolutionary winner. Could the young Gramsci, for instance, provide us with fresh insights into radical working-class democracy, based upon the workplace? Mais non, scoffs the author: we only find in the editor of LOrdine Nuovo an enthusiast of a pseudo-syndicalist vague spontaneism, one that tended to underestimate the role [sic] the party and the importance of centralism and leadership within it (p. 262 n12)themes so superbly developed by Trotsky.
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

518

Capital & Class 34(3)

Saccarelli thrives on such apples-and-oranges comparisons. As Deutscher demonstrated, it is possible to write a long history of the Stalin/Trotsky conflict in the 1920s without once mentioning Gramsci. Although Gramsci had lived for a time in the Soviet Union, knew the politics of the Comintern from within, and as leader of the Partito Comunista dItalia (pcdi), kept abreast of the Russian developments of the mid-1920s, he could hardly match Trotskys first-hand experience of events.6 After Gramscis arrest in November 1926 and up until his death in April 1937, his access to detailed information about Russia was even more restricted. Saccarelli treats both Gramsci and Trotsky as people equally implicated in, and knowledgeable about, the rise of Stalina wholly inappropriate decontextualising and ahistorical strategy. The trial of Antonio Gramsci Saccarelli mounts in this book, on the charge of his having been defective in his ability to diagnose Stalinism in its specificity, causes and implications (p. 48) is triply misconceived: first, because Stalinism by any definition had not cohered by 1926; second, because unlike Trotsky, an imprisoned Gramsci was in no position to investigate the Soviet regime from 1926 to 1935; and third, because even Trotskys theory and practice of opposition were far from coherent, consistent or successful. Saccarellis elaborate test case, predesigned to show an adamantine, consistent and heroic Trotsky against a tentative, inconsistent and weak Gramsci, has been rigged in advance. Gramsci was a deeply concerned observer of Russian developments, and his initial response to the bitter factional warfare of the 1920sreflected especially in his famous October, 1926 letter to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union7was to side with the majority aligned with Bukharin and Stalin. His position was based on the fairly solid Leninist grounds that, since the party had earlier banned factions and the Joint Opposition had been acting like one, the Oppositionists had therefore broken the rules. That said, Gramsci went on to express shock and disappointment over the way both sides had fought each other. He hated the heavy-handed way the majority had dealt with the minority. As Saccarelli himself concedes, his was a letter flamboyantly beyond the pale of the historico-political standards enforced by Stalinism (p. 60)one, interestingly, more flamboyant than many roughly contemporaneous and cautious statements from Trotsky himself. Gramscis critique called into question the ability of the majority to lead the international movement, queried the privileged position of the Russian party, and warned of factionalisms catastrophic consequences (see Agosti, 2008). Yet somehow, in the face of this evidence, the hubristic author merely sees in this moment an always evasive Gramsci who, failing to grasp the full international dimensions of the crisis, was seemingly trying to wish it away (p. 61). The Prison Notebooks are subjected to an even odder treatment. Saccarelli follows the controversial interpretation of Francesco Benvenuti and Silvio Pons, who work hard to show that Gramscis apparent criticisms of Trotskyprincipally as a reckless proponent of the war of manoeuvreare in fact aimed at Stalin. The first served as a lightning rod for the second. As Marcus Green suggests, the case is speculative, seems to rely on an inconsistent reading of the textual evidence, and is hence not wholly convincing: if Gramsci referred elsewhere in the Notebooks to Stalin by easily decoded names, why would he have adopted this roundabout stratagem to target him in comments seemingly aimed at Trotsky (Green, 2009)? Yet Saccarellis discussion here is revealing. Rather than dealing with Frank Rosengartens conclusion, in a well-known but uncited article on precisely this subject, that Gramsci and Trotsky agreed on some issues and diverged on
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

519

others, specifically the ways in which the international and national-popular elements of revolutionary struggle should be connected (Rosengarten, 2002 [19845]: 344; see also Leonetti, 1972), Saccarelli seemingly cannot entertain the proposition that there were valid grounds upon which the Great Man Trotsky could be critiqued along with Stalinand by such a lowly, confused, non-heroic provincial as Gramsci. Gramscis 1930s critique of Trotsky, like his well-known attacks on Bukharin, is actually a multifaceted and intricate one. In an important note in the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci broaches War of Position and War of Manoeuvre by way of a commentary on Rosa Luxemburg, P. N. Krasnov, and Luigi Cadorno. He concludes,
One attempt to begin a revision of the current tactical methods was perhaps that outlined by L. Dav. Br. [Trotsky] at the fourth meeting [the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922], when he made a comparison between the Eastern and Western fronts. The former had fallen at once, but unprecedented struggles had then ensued; in the case of the latter, the struggles would take place beforehand. The question, therefore, was whether civil society resists before or after the attempt to seize power; where the latter takes place, etc. However, the question was outlined only in a brilliant, literary form, without directives of a practical character. (Gramsci, 1971: 236, Q1324)

In another note, with respect to Trotskys theory of permanent revolution, Gramsci wonders whether the theory of permanent revolution was not the political reflection of the theory of war of manoeuvre, and compares the superficially national and superficially Western or European Trotsky with the profoundly national and profoundly European Lenin. He then adds, in a passage whose extreme folkloric roughness, in vivid contrast to Trotskys polished epigrams, seems as if designed to shock the reader:
Bronstein [Trotsky] in his memoirs recalls being told that his theory had been proved true fteen years later, and replying to the epigram with another epigram. In reality his theory, as such, was good neither fteen years earlier nor fteen years later. As happens to the obstinate, he guessed more or less correctly; that is to say, he was right in his more general practical prediction. It is as if one were to prophesy that a little four-year-old girl would become a mother, and when at twenty she did so one said: I guessed that she wouldoverlooking the fact, however, that when she was four years old one had tried to rape the girl, in the belief that she would become a mother even then. It seems to me that Ilyich understood that a change was necessary from the war of manoeuvre applied victoriously in the East in 1917, to a war of position which was the only form possible in the Westwhere, as Krasnov observes, armies could rapidly accumulate endless quantities of munitions, and where the social structures were of themselves still capable of becoming heavily armed fortications. This is what the formula of the united front seems to me to mean, and it corresponds to the conception of a single front for the Entente under the sole command of Foch. (Gramsci, 1971: 2378, Q716)

The polemical unfairness of Gramscis specific critique, especially with reference to the United Front, lay in the fact that it was Trotsky who had, through his intervention on the Italian Question, forcefully persuaded Gramsci to drop his resistance to the strategy before and after the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922. Similarly, the permanent revolution reference, with the implicit blurring of the line between
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

520

Capital & Class 34(3)

permanent revolution and war of manoeuvre, did slight justice to a concept that, developed by Kautsky, Parvus, Lenin and Trotsky, stood close to the heart of the Bolshevik framework, and was one Gramsci himself had earlier used in Trotskys sense (Rosengarten, 2002 [19845]: 345). Yet the critique was not wholly unjust. Gramsci was acutely sensitive to the problem of reductionist and simplistic applications of the theory that failed to respect the particularities of each countryhence his insistence on reconnaissance. In recent communist history, such actions had unfolded in Germany, Estonia, and Bulgaria, in each case suggesting a cosmopolitan line that little respected local realities. It was not wholly far-fetched to interpret Trotsky as a proponent of such a line in the German case (for discussion, see Brou, 2006: 822). Such forced moments were, without a detailed reconnaissance of the country they aimed to transform, bound to fail. Gramscis critique of Trotsky as the theorist of frontal assault, war of manoeuvre, adventurist ultraleftism was simply preposterous, writes Saccarelliso, following closely on Benvenuti and Pons, he concludes that its real object must have been third period Stalinism (pp. 845). Actually, Gramscis critique was not based on thin air (see Rosengarten 2002 [19845]: 340). Trotskys My Life, which Gramsci had recently read, echoes and re-echoes with exalted descriptions of its heros death-defying exploits in the Civil War. In Gramscis recent memory, Trotsky had run the risk of setting off the literature debate by releasing Lessons of October, with its defiant finger-pointing at Zinoviev and Kamenev, the strikebreakers of the revolutiona debate that was useful to his enemies in the factional war that promptly erupted all around him, and which he decisively lost. Trotskys record in the 1920s is the release of one bombshell publication and one spell-binding speech after another, many governed by his proudly announced principle, when the struggle is one for great principles, the revolutionary can only follow one rule: Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra (Trotsky, 2007 [1930]: 531). We could characterise the gist of Gramscis rejoinder in the Prison Notebooks with an old French expression, Cest magnifique, mais ce nest pas la guerre. Unless youre deeply familiar with the lay of the land and the social and cultural forces at play, and unless you have calculated as carefully as possible the likely outcome of your move, then among the consequences of doing what you think must be done will not just be whatever might happen, but the destruction of all youand not just you, wehope to achieve. Gramsci was abrasively critical of a Jacobin temperament without an adequate political content (Gramsci, 1971: 85n*, Q1924). As Rosengarten remarks, Gramsci had a high regard for individuality, but he loathed individualism, egotism, self-centredness (Rosengarten, 2002 [19845]: 331). Readers of Trotskys My Life, such as the imprisoned Gramsci, would encounter manifestations again and again of some of these traits. Gramsci in particular underlines Trotskys epigrammatic authorial conceits. He seemingly perceived in the Trotsky of My Life a man who had emerged from the Civil War with a reputation for illustrious manoeuvres, but who (in one way or another) proved far less capable of addressing the partys day-by-day reciprocal siege warfare, and so yielded up a lasting victory to Stalinand in politics the war of position, once won, is decisive definitively (Gramsci, 1971: 239, Q6138). Gramsci may well have considered that the frontal attacks Trotsky repeatedly praises in My Life were bound to backfire in other countries, differently situated with respect to the world capitalist system and with very different structural relations between civil society and the state. Germany 1923 served as an eloquent example (see Brou, 2006).
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

521

Moreover, Gramscis dismissive commentary on My Life likely also implies a more fundamental critique of aspects of Trotskys Marxism. Gramsci was a severe critic of Lorianismthe importation into a loosely-defined socialism of pseudo-scientific evolutionary notions that threatened to undermine the movements analytical capacities and revolutionary potential (see especially Buttigieg, 1992: 425 and passim). As someone who had helped Trotsky on Italian Futurism as the latter was preparing Literature and Revolution, Gramsci surely would have recoiled from many of that particular books eugenic and science-fiction-like, indeed Lorianesque, depictions of the socialist future. My Life, with its numerous beautifully crafted epigrams, might also have struck Gramsci as somewhat Lorianistic in its curious treatment of the dialectic, problems of culture, and characterisations of Trotskys enemies. Saccarelli usefully notes that when Gramsci tore into Bukharins Marxism, he was in part ripping up a text issued in 1921, when Lenin was alive and at the helm of the party (pp. 745). This he reads as evidence questioning the firm and reliable presence of a doctrinal critique of Stalinism in the Notebooks, and raising the possibility that Gramscis critique of the primitiveness of official Soviet Marxism made no particular distinction between works coming before or after the Stalin regime (pp. 745). Yet Professor Saccarelli must surely know that Trotsky, who saw dialectical materialism as the fundamental philosophical presupposition of Marxist theory and activism, was as vulnerable to Gramscis critiques as Bukharin, whether before or after the rise of Stalin. Trapped in his own rigid periodisation, he cannot see that the comments Gramsci aims against Trotsky in the Prison Notebooks target the credulous and adventurist application of mechanical models in little-studied temporal and geographic contexts. And Gramscis critique of the primitiveness of Soviet Marxism would have been ten times rougher, had he had the opportunity to read Trotskys Notebooks, with their crude equations of Darwinism and dialectics, and especially his In Defense of Marxism, with its musings about the dialectical capacities of foxes and other animals and its unremitting insistence that dialectical materialism unlocked many of the scientific secrets of the universe. Gramsci saw in dialectical materialism a kind of amateurish and naive metaphysics similar to those of Lorianism, and he could not have been oblivious to the extent to which it had profoundly structured the thought of so many Russian Marxists, including Bukharin, Trotsky and Stalin. Thus, Professor Saccarellis leading question about Gramscithat of whether Gramsci himself contributed to or opposed the rise and consolidation of Stalinism (p. 48)is ineptly posed, and better suited to the university seminar than to a realistic reconnaissance of socialist history. If we accept his exceptionally loose definition of Stalinism, then virtually all communists and social democrats prior to 1933, Trotsky included, must be found guilty as charged. If we accept a narrower, more usable definition Stalinism as the state-orchestrated, excessive and extraordinary combination of nationalism, bureaucratisation, dictatorship, censorship, police repression, and the cult of the leader, each raised to an entirely new level, thus entailing a kind of 25-year holocaust by terror from 1929 to 1953 (Cohen, 2008: 12)then Gramsci made no contribution, and Trotsky at most a minimal one, to the phenomenon. The first definition, essentially the same as that proffered by Cold War liberals, is unworkable; the second more meaningfully clarifies the choices before the socialists of another age. Saccarelli in effect argues differently. The upshot of his comparison is to show Gramsci to be a weak, uncertain and ultimately co-opted figure. Gramscis anguished reflections
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

522

Capital & Class 34(3)

about the chances of his eventually being broken down in prisonwhich he likened to someone rejecting cannibalism in the abstract, then having to confront after days of starvation the possibility of accepting it to surviveare headlined by Saccarelli, with a hamfisted and tasteless irony, A Man of Modest Appetite. As for Gramscis posthumous reputation within the pcdi, all that this envenomed prosecutor-professor can see is a manipulative exercise in Stalinist mummification at the hands of a villainous Palmiro Togliatti. He misses the fact that Valentino Gerratanas scrupulously prepared edition of the Prison Notebooks has been available since 1975; he also misses the extent to which Stalin evidently refused a deal to release Gramsci, now plainly an opponent of the Third Period (Hobsbawm, 2010; for context, see Spriano, 1979). As for Gramscis reputation among Marxists in general, Saccarelli avenges Trotskys honour by emphasising only those who have endeavoured to cut him down to size, including Richard Bellamy, whose Gramsci is basically just a mildly interesting writer on historical problems specific to the Italian peninsula; and especially Perry Anderson, whose renowned Trotskysant dissection in the 1970s of Gramscis supposed antinomies (Anderson, 1976) was based, as Peter Thomas has recently shown, upon a philologically inexpert and ultimately highly unpersuasive reading of a partial version of the Notebooks (Thomas, 2009). Conversely, a tone of raucous dismissal is applied to a vast panoply of writers who have dared to subject Trotsky to criticism. Baruch Knei-Pazs painstaking and substantial The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (1978) is cursorily dismissed as palpable pedantry (p. 112). Not one of its arguments is seriously engaged. *** It is a revealing fact about the socialist movement as it underwent a vast transformation in the wake of the Russian Revolution that, to an extraordinary degree, large political and intellectual movements came to bear the names of individual peopleor, to be more precise (with a few exceptions, such as Rosa Luxemburg), individual men. The term Marxist, of course, went back to the 19th century, though the actual Marx thought the neologism amusing and famously denied being one. Still, as a badge of ones political identity or as a name attached to major political groups, Marxist was not all that common up to 1917. After the Russian Revolution, however, it became commonplace to attach the names of individuals to vast political currents and movements. Leninist came into vogue in the 1920s and 1930s; Marxist-Leninist applied the names of two individuals to one supposedly monolithic tendency; Trotskyist arose initially as a term of abuse in the factional storms in the Soviet Union. Stalinism was initially resisted by the artful Stalin, playing at humility, but caught on in the 1940s. The post-1945 period then gave us Titoism, Castroism and Maoism, all claiming descent from Leninism. With the gradual eclipse of state communism and its various cults of the leader (see McDermott and Bayerlein, 2009), such branding exercises went into decline. They seem to have been an invented tradition that flourished with the world formation of socialism that took the Russian Revolution as its model. This naming practice then declined when it did. Paradoxically, the epoch in which the socialist idea was tied closely and dangerously to the tactics and strategies of particular states was also one in which it was attached, in various forms, to certain Great Heroes. To this day, many socialists define themselves in terms of these big names.
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

523

Yet despite the efforts of some North American conservatives, who have sought to remake a hitherto obscure Sardinian into a veritable devil-figure in their perpetual culture wars, Gramsci and its cognates have revealingly not had the same sort of career. Saccarelli gamely experiments with Gramsciology, an explicitly pejorative term to refer to those academic uses and users of Gramsci who [sic] fundamentally detach his political theory from his political practice and do so either as a conscious ideological manoeuvre, or simply drift in that direction by following various disciplinary and institutional parameters (p. 199 n4); with Gramsciological escapades of academics and Gramscian academia, a truly amorphous institution (p. 24); and with the similarly elusive phrase a Gramscist turn (p. 190), against which the left is solemnly warned. Yet despite these and other efforts, Gramsci has not generally turned into the root-word of a major current or a clearly demarcated tendency. If there is a self-proclaimed Marxist-Gramscian party in the 21st-century world, my usually diligent search engine hasnt found it. It seems, in other words, that Gramsci belongs to a later phase of socialist discourse. Little known outside Italy until the mid-1960s, Gramsci rose to world prominence largely as a result of his adoption by left-wing intellectuals and activists in search of a more open and critical approach to socialist theory and politics. A comparison between Trotsky and Gramsci more interesting than the one carried out by Professor Saccarelli would focus on the different sorts of relations implied by their most widely-consulted texts. Trotsky generally leaves us with beautifully polished literary products, speeches that must have been extraordinary to listen to, and an astonishingly large correspondence with followers far and wide. He very often adopts a tone of complete and utter certainty. The ideal reader of his texts is the humble student. Even when his text is far livelier and less ostensibly didactic, as in The History of the Russian Revolution and My Life, there is nonetheless a palpable sense that Trotsky is in charge, pronouncing the last and decisive verdict upon those who pass before him, almost like a novelist crafting his characters. And even when he is defending dialectical materialism as a scientific philosophy that affords unexampled understanding of change in the natural and social worlds, he does so in a way that implies unchanging and inflexible certainty about that very worldfor instance, in the clear and unchanging definition of a workers state. In part, the very polished and finished quality of his prose has worked against his reputation in a different epoch. It is something of a refreshing surprise to read Trotskys Notebooks, which convey a much more open mind, ready to admit to puzzlement in the face of such knotty problems as that of consciousness and the body, and less liable to resort to his all-too-ready fund of polished but eventually wearying characterisations and epigrams. Had the Prison Notebooks and Prison Letters not been rescued, and were we reliant strictly upon his journalism and pronouncements on behalf of the Comintern, Gramscis works might well create the same impression of certainty and ideological closure. Instead, in all their perplexing detail and sometimes enigmatic conclusions, the Prison Notebooks have worked on later generations in a way very different from Trotskys writings. Gramscis philosophy of praxis seems open to new experiences, challenges and questions in a way that Trotskys dialectical materialism is not. Though he graciously allows that some elements of Gramscis legacyhegemony, the role of intellectuals, transformism, southernism, and more (p. 190)on the face of it, a not unimpressive listmight be recoverable within a reinvigorated left, Professor Saccarelli, who favours manly militants and clear-cut straightforward programmes,
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

524

Capital & Class 34(3)

might well respond to this image of openness: Well, so much the worse for Gramsci. Again and again, and in accordance with his iron law of Great Man Theory of Socialist History, he attacks Gramsci on the grounds that he was not entirely original, but rather extremely dependent on the international communist movement for the scaffolding, the material, and the techniques used for the Notebooks (p. 25) (overlooking, revealingly, all that recent scholarship has shown about Gramscis indebtedness to linguistics and to philosophy [see, especially, Ives 2004]. The unrestrained violence of the polemic even includes a satire on the mummified body of the dead Gramsci, in the clichd Death of Marx tradition. Trotsky was not like the imprisoned Gramsci, Saccarelli tells us, forced by necessity to be evasive and indirect; struggling, but inexorably slouching toward the relative peace and comfort of a defeat fr ewig (p. 97)a particularly nasty polemical swipe, which makes Gramsci sound like he spent the years from 1926 to 1937 luxuriating in an old folks home, and not slowly dying in Mussolinis prison. A man firing a gun in so many directions is bound occasionally to hit something. Sometimes this scattershot polemic against the Modern Gramsci connects with the odd target. Joseph Buttigieg, pondering the 15,000-odd titles in the Bibliografia Gramsciana, wittily thinks of Paris Hilton, who is important or famous for being famous; she is a celebrity simply because she is a celebrity (Buttigieg, 2009: 20). In the late-20th century, Gramsci was repeatedly misinterpreted, by some very prominent North American intellectuals, as a simple-minded social control theorist (Scott, 1987) and hegemony was often treated as a strictly ideological phenomenon floating above the material world. Although some of his critical points are still worth making, against a left academy too often addicted to abstraction and allergic to actual politics, Professor Saccarellis alternativea return to the Great Man polemics of the 1920s and 1930sis worse than the ailment it purports to cure. The entire tradition of left polemic he typifies, with its feints and its thrusts, its charges and counter-charges, its tone of outraged certainty premised on never-examined assumptions and terminology, has come to seem tired and counterproductive. Professor Saccarellis book suggests why. Again and again, he mounts slashing attacks from his podium. His imaginary enemiespuffed-up social democrats, pompous professors, incomprehensible Gramscists, effete ditherersscatter before him. Behind him stand his stalwart heroes. Yet there is one little problem. Outside the virtual reality staged by this book, the actual auditorium is empty. And an ivory tower, bedecked with red flags on symbolic occasions, is still an ivory tower. None of the professors mock skirmishes has much to do with any real world revolution in a more prosaic sensethat is, an actual rising of the ruled against their rulers, to create a new and lasting egalitarian order. It is time to fix a cold, Marxist eye on the Russian traditions of the annihilating polemicthat style of argumentation, exemplified by this book, in which the discussion of the lefts options is really a form of verbal warfare, in which the objective is the destruction of ones opponent. Such polemics are very exciting and dramatic, especially for young male radicals in search of absolutes, clarity and adventure, and they are doubtless deeply rooted in the soil of theological and philosophical disputation specific to each of the national cultures in which Marxism has taken hold. Especially within academia, a free-floating sectarianism can flourish with few real-world consequences. Little Lenins and pocket Trotskys proliferate. Often they are in pursuit of their own local god-like statushence the Olympian heights from which they rain down their polemical thunder-bolts
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

525

upon the unbaptised and the unrighteous. Often, around such menthey seem invariably to be mengather small cults of believers, hoping the guru will connect them with the Great Men of History. Such sectarianism thus affords a strange kind of escapism. It suggests comparisons with retail therapy. Just what sort of revolutionary would you like to be today? Anarchist? Anarcho-syndicalist? Anarcho-communist? Fourth Internationalist? Fifth Internationalist? Sixth Internationalist? Whatever your selection, you will find a group, internet site, and a well-defined if vast set of enemies. If all goes well, you will attain an ineffable and deeply individualised sense that you have achieved distinction, not least over the petty bourgeois philistines who bought last years model. With luck you may come to think you have channelled the spirit of some long-dead Great Man, whose identity you shall inscribe upon your politics. This strange form of politics, for all the critique of the academy it likes to affect, is in truth profoundly at home in it. There are not many instances in the developed worldFrance is a partial exception, perhaps (Carpier, 2002)of such sectarianism managing to inform serious revolutionary movements, let alone create the actual revolutions that they have been promising for seven decades. What has generally remained is not the substance but the verbal violence, the certitude, the fervour to ascribe hostile class identities to ones polemical opponents. The first time this was a tragedy... And it is past time to leave behind the entire tradition of wrapping ourselves around imagined figures from the socialist past. Make no mistake: a scrupulous, critical and compassionate engagement with Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci and the many other big names in the socialist past can teach important lessons. Trotsky, Stalins most prominent enemy and victim, was an intrepid analyst and critic of the Terror at a time when so many good liberals acclaimed it. He was an often inspired journalist gifted with unusual insights into his time, and an accomplished theorist on many questions ranging from military tactics to cultural life. There are many good reasons why his extraordinary life has inspired so many books, ranging from those of liberals lamenting his Marxism to more discerning leftists seeking to evaluate him in his context (with Deutschers inspiring trilogy and Brous thorough, workmanlike study standing out in the crowd).8 Few other Marxists have stirred the socialist imagination or bothered the complacency of liberals so creatively as he. With Marx and Gramsci, he is one of the most remarkable of our awkward, demanding ancestors. The subtle and unsubtle barriers that have made him a nogo zone for many leftists should be dismantled: he has much to teach us. But our awkward ancestors effective reconstruction today, as our co-investigators in the reconnaissance of capitalism and the world that must lie beyond it, will occur precisely to the extent that the Great Man approach exemplified by Saccarellis book is abandoned. Awe-struck reverence for the legacy and grandeur (p. 19) of a figure like Trotsky, and sometimes no less fetishistic treatments of Gramsci, not to speak of Lenin, are invitations to infantilisation. As the historian E. P. Thompsonpredictably brought forward in this book as just one more denizen of a Stalinist party (p. 261 n176)once remarked, The point is that Marx is on our side; we are not on the side of Marx (Thompson, 1978: 384). This point bears repeating with respect to all our other awkward ancestors whose records today can inform, but should never predetermine or name the debates that necessarily lie in our future. Rather than calling ourselves after dauntless heroes or placing defective specimens on trial, it would be better to imagine ourselves in a critical, open and continuing dialogue
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

526

Capital & Class 34(3)

with our awkward ancestors, so that their voices might echo in our present. These old, dead men have many lessons, both painful and inspiring, about what it means to struggle to live otherwise, to create powerful movements of resistance against liberalism and the capitalist order. But in order to learn from them, we have to unlearn the ancient, destructive, violent and objectively reactionary habits of polemical warfare the left has inherited from its distant past. One can imagine, that is, a form of left historiography and left practice entirely without apostolic successions, without heroes or apostates: yet one that is also engag, that does not pretend that its underlying motivation for the sober and accurate reconstruction of socialist history is merely for the edification or amusement of the reader, but rather aims at an informed and more intelligent relaunching of a left movement capable of intervening in the 21st-century fight for human survival. To use a term earlier cited from Gramscis Prison Notebooks, we might call this new stance toward the history of the left reconnaissance, i.e. an accurate assessment of the historic modes of the left in each country and period, using as a criterion of interpretation the capacity of a given left formation to analyse, withstand and ultimately transform the capitalist order. Such an approach, more cold-hearted and more merciless than the enticing brew of sentimentality and sectarianism we find in Professor Saccarellis book, would refuse to eternalise (i.e. sentimentalise) the conventional strategies of Marxist-Leninist historiography. To put it another way: reconnaissance would prefer to speak not in the conditional and counterfactual mode so often favoured in left polemicif only things had worked out differentlybut in the indicative tenses and in a factual mode: here is how things played out, how this given ideal of a party worked in reality; here is the measurable difference over time that we can attribute to a given practice. Reconnaissance, that is, turns away from the fatal attractions of a certain kind of left history, in which by replaying and replaying the tape of a past revolution, we might find the real revolutionary alternative that actual history obscured, and focuses instead on the realist reconstruction of what was necessarily in place in order for a given development to take placethat is, Marxs method of determinate abstraction, applicable not only to the past but also to a present fast turning into the future. In one of the few passages that really connected with something beyond his polemic, Professor Saccarelli writes,
It is true that the body of Gramscis work, which is for us so readily and transparently available, in a fundamental sense could not exist without the efforts of the communist movement. But in a different and no less signicant sense, we should say that this body of work also emerged in spite of these efforts. This contradiction is as puzzling and as real as those at the heart of the movements degeneration: between preserving a form and subverting its content; between the greatest attempt to snap the cycle of human history as the mere reconguration of oppression and one of its most appalling manifestations. (pp. 3435)

To snap this particular cycle, to live otherwise than merely configuring and reconfiguring exploitation and oppression, will also require the snapping of the cycle of mechanical thinking and stale left polemic. But can we not also hear in these words a muffled call to a realistic reconnaissance, one that would make historical research not a source of perpetual polemical conflict and the endless restaging of old debates, but an actual root and inspiration for a revolutionary engagement with our present world?
Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay Endnotes
1 2

527

5 6 7 8

Following convention, references to the Prison Notebooks give the number of the Notebook (Q), along with the specic note (), to allow readers to refer to their own editions. This position places Saccarelli at the extreme traditionalist pole in current communist historiography. Those wanting a more nuanced perspective should study Lawrence and Wisharts superb new journal, Twentieth Century Communism. Those encompassed in one way or another in Saccarellis Stalinism, Stalinist parties or softon-Stalin positions include Perry Anderson, Robert Brenner, Alex Callinicos, Anton Ciliga, Tony Cliff, Isaac Deutscher, Milovan Djilas, Max Eastman, Geoff Elay [sic], Christopher Hill, E. J. Hobsbawm (this living example of the demoralization and social democratization of the old Stalinist milieu, 196 n21), Sidney Hook, C. L. R. James, Ernest Mandel, Chantal Mouffe (suspect in part because supervised by Hobsbawm), and Paolo Spriano. This grab-bag of neerdo-wells includes a host of people normally associated with Trotskyism or social democracy. In this framework, a repentant Stalinist is always and forever still a Stalinist. For the concept in general, see Arendt (2001 [1966]), Baehr and Richter (2004), Boffa (1992), Geyer and Fitzpatrick (2009), Zizek (2001). For Gramscis contrasting interpretation, see Adamson (2002 [1980]), Fontana (2004). For discussions with respect to the Soviet Union, see Cohen (2008 [1977]), Fitzpatrick, (2009 [1992]), Flewers (2008), Getty (1985), Getty and Naumov (1999), Ilic (2006), Litvin and Keep (2005), McLoughlin and McDermott (2003), Shlapentokh (2001), Siegelbaum and Sokolov (2000) and Volkogonov (1991). For a different emphasis but, to my mind, not an outright counter-argument, see Brou (1988), Chapters 31 and 32. And, as we have seen, even as an insider Trotsky himself found such developments hard to understand and, on Saccarellis own evidence, fundamentally changed his mind about them. This is available in Gramsci (1978): 42632. See, for example, Brotherstone and Dukes (1992), Brou (1988), Callinicos (1990), Conquest (2009), Deutscher (1945, 1959, 1963, all reprinted 2003), Patenaude (2009), Swain (2006), and Thatcher (2000, 2003).

References
Adamson W (2002 [1980]) Gramscis interpretation of fascism. In Martin J (ed.) Antonio Gramsci: Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philosophers in Intellectual and Political Context, Vol. 1. London: Routledge. Agosti A (2008) Palmiro Togliatti: A Biography. New York: I. B. Tauris. Anderson P (1976) The antinomies of Antonio Gramsci. New Left Review I(100): 578. Anderson P (1984) Trotskys interpretation of Stalinism. In Ali T (ed.) The Stalinist Legacy: Its Impact on 20th-Century World Politics. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Arendt H (2001 [1966]) The Origins of Totalitarianism. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Baehr P, Richter M (eds.) (2004) Dictatorship in History and Theory: Bonapartism, Caesarism, and Totalitarianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Beilharz P (1985) Trotsky as historian. History Workshop 20: 3655. Beilharz P (1987) Trotsky, Trotskyism and the Transition to Socialism. London: Routledge. Beilharz P, McDermott K, Bayerlein B (2009) Writing the history of twentieth century communism. Twentieth Century Communism: A Journal of International History 1: 15363. Boffa G (1992) The Stalin Phenomenon, trans. Fersen N. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Brotherstone T, Dukes P (eds.) (1992) The Trotsky Reappraisal. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University. Brou P (1988) Trotsky. Paris: Fayard. Brou P (2006) The German Revolution 19171923, trans. Archer J. London: Merlin.

Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

528

Capital & Class 34(3)

Buttigieg JA (1992) Introduction. In Gramsci A, Prison Notebooks, Vol. 1. ed. Buttigieg JA, Callari A. New York: Columbia University. Buttigieg JA (2009) Reading Gramsci now. In Francese J (ed.) Perspectives on Gramsci: Politics, Culture and Social Theory. London: Routledge. Callinicos A (1990) Trotskyism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Carlyle T (1993 [1841]) On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. Berkeley: University of California. Carpier F (2002) Histoire de lextrme gauche trotskiste de 1929 nos jours (Edition o1). Cohen S (2008 [1977]) Bolshevism and Stalinism. In Tucker R (ed.) Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation. Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Conquest R (2009) Trotsky: A Biography. London: Macmillan. Day R (1973) Leon Trotsky and the Politics of Economic Isolation. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Day R, Gaido D (eds.) (2009) Witnesses to Permanent Revolution: The Documentary Record. Leiden: Brill. Deutscher I (2003 [1954]) The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 18791921. London: Verso. Deutscher I (2003 [1959]) The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 19211929. London: Verso. Deutscher I (2003) [1963] The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky 19291940. London: Verso. Fitzpatrick S (1992) The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Fitzpatrick S (2009) Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University. Flewers P (2008) The New Civilisation? Understanding Stalins Soviet Union. London: Francis Boutle. Fontana B (2004) The concept of Caesarism in Gramsci. In Baehr P, Richter M (eds.) Dictatorship in History and Theory: Bonapartism, Caesarism, and Totalitarianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Getty J (1986) Trotsky in exile: The founding of the Fourth International. Soviet Studies 38(1): 2435. Getty J (1985) Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 19331938. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Getty J, Naumov O (1999) The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 19321939. New Haven, CT: Yale University. Geyer M, Fitzpatrick S (eds.) (2009) Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Goldman W (2007) Terror and Democracy in the Age of Stalin. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Gramsci A (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Hoare Q, Nowell-Smith G. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Green M (2009) Review of Gramsci and Trotsky in the Shadow of Stalinism by Emanuele Saccarelli. New Political Science 31(1): 11718. Hobsbawm EJ (2010). Poker Face. London Review of Books 32(7): 234. Ilic M (ed.) (2006) Stalins Terror Revisited. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Ives P (2004) Gramscis Politics of Language: Engaging the Bakhtin Circle and The Frankfurt School. Toronto: University of Toronto. Knei-Paz B (1978) The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. Oxford: Oxford University. Le Blanc P (1993) Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities. Leonetti A (1972) Notes sur Gramsci. Paris: E.D.I. Lih L (2006) Lenin Rediscovered: What is to Be Done? in Context. Leiden: Brill.

Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

McKay

529

Litvin A, Keep J (2005) Stalinism: Russian and Western Views at the Turn of the Millennium. London: Routledge. Mandel E (1995) Trotsky as Alternative, trans. Fagan G. London: Verso. Matgamna S (ed.) (1998) The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism. London: Phoenix. McLoughlin B, McDermott K (2003) Stalins Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. London: Palgrave. McNeal R (2008 [1977]) Trotskyist interpretations of Stalinism. In Tucker R (ed.) Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation. Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Patenaude B (2009) Stalins Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky. London: Faber & Faber. Rabinowitch A (1979 [1976]) The Bolsheviks Come to Power. London: New Left Books. Rabinowitch A (2008) The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. Rosengarten F (2002 [19845]) The Gramsci-Trotsky question (19221932). In Martin J (ed.) Antonio Gramsci: Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philsophers, Vol. 1. London: Routledge. Saccarelli E (2008) Gramsci and Trotsky in the Shadow of Stalinism: The Political Theory and Practice of Opposition London: Routledge. Scott J (1987) Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University. Shlapentokh V (2001) A Normal Totalitarian Society: How the Soviet Union Functioned and How It Collapsed. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe. Siegelbaum L, Sokolov A (2000) Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents. New Haven, CT: Yale University. Spriano P (1979) Antonio Gramsci and the Party: The Prison Years, trans. Fraser J. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Swain G (2006) Trotsky. London: Longman. Thatcher I (2003) Trotsky. London: Routledge. Thatcher I (2000) Leon Trotsky and World War One: August 1914 to February 1917. London: Palgrave. Thomas P (2009) The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism. Leiden: Brill. Thompson EP (1978) The Poverty of Theory & Other Essays. London: Merlin. Trotsky L (1999 [1904]) Our Political Tasks, available online at the Marxists Internet Archive <www.marxists.org>; accessed 20 April 2010. Trotsky L (2005 [1925]) Literature and Revolution. Chicago, IL: Haymarket. Trotsky L (2007 [1930]) My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography. New York: Dover. Trotsky L (2007 [1932]) History of the Russian Revolution, trans. Eastman M. Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder. Trotsky L (1965 [1937]) The Revolution Betrayed, trans. Eastman M. New York: Merit. Trotsky L (1967 [1941]) Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence, trans. Malamuth C. New York: Stein and Day. Trotsky L (1995 [1942]) In Defense of Marxism: Against the Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party. Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder. Trotsky L (1996 [1945]) The First Five Years of the Communist International. Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder. Trotsky L (1959) Lenin. Garden City. Trotsky L (1972 [1937]) The Stalin School of Falsification. Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder. Trotsky L (1986) Trotskys Notebooks, 19331935, ed. and trans. Pomper P. New York: Columbia University. Tucker R (1973) Stalin as Revolutionary 18791929: A Study in History and Personality. acls History.

Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

530

Capital & Class 34(3)

Tucker R (2008 [1999]) Stalinism as revolution from above. In Tucker R (ed.) Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation. Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Volkogonov D (1991) Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, trans. Shukman H. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Zizek S (2001) Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)use of a Notion. London: Verso.

Author Biography See p21.

Downloaded from cnc.sagepub.com by Pro Quest on September 26, 2011

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.