trotsky: the jargon of the trojan horse?

It was all the young, impatient, implacable todays since the beginning of time shouting down the tired, timid old yesterdays…

Trotsky was still in exile in New York when the March Revolution overthrew the czarist regime in 1917. He rushed back to begin mobilizing the Russian, and the worl, proletariat for the final struggle. In Petrograd he met Lenin, by now converted to the doctrine of the Permanent Revolution, or something very similar, and the two men patched up their fifteen-year-old feud. After which, Trotsky became the chief executor of Lenin’s insurrectionary program, though the politico- military strategy of the insurrection seems to have been largely his own. Trotsky brilliantly exploited his official position to organize the armed Bolshevik uprising behind a smoke screen of revolutionary oratory that bemused both the Kerensky government and a number of his brother socialists.

---This is where Trotsky contributes something absolutely new to the theory of art, and here does the previously unthinkable for Marxists: He promotes (and does not condemn) the art of the peasantry. This is not to say that he promotes the politics of the peasantry, but makes a significant distinction between art and the political sentiments contained in it. In other words, he defends the art over the artist. An idea emerges here of “the fellow traveler” of the proletarian socialist revolution, not equivalent to it, but parallel with it.---Read More: image:

In Trotsky’s My Life, he seems much of the time to be occupying the front of history’s stage, but on the basis of what appears to be the evidence, this claim was not without merit. He can be frank and cynical, in revealing the deception and covert manipulations that lay behind the Bolshevik coup.—an order removing commissars, the cutting-out of Smolny’s telephones – these pin-pricks were just sufficient to convict the government of preparing a counter-revolutionary coup d’état. Although an Insurrection can win on the offensive, it develops better, the more it looks like self-defence. A piece of official sealing-wax on the door of the Bolshevik editorial-rooms – as a military measure that is not much. But what a superb signal for battle!—Read More:

The insurrection as it emerges from Trotsky’s prose, was no mere putsch. It had to be conspired, but it was not simply a conspiracy. Bolshevik agitators had systematically subverted the loyalty of the garrison with revolutionary propaganda; he himself was the party’s foremost agitator, and his volcanic oratory almost literally mesmerized the crowds, civilian or military, that were exposed to it. No doubt he mesmerized himself.

---Bonner says very little about the nature of her parents' work. We are only told that they worked long hours. The only thing she blames her mother for is a lack of affection and leaving the children to nannies. The Russian poet Aleksandr Galich wrote this about the "nomenklatura" (privileged bureaucrats), after escaping to the West: We dug and we toiled, And we bit the iron, while you, driving past in your Victory motorcars Shouted to us: achieve your norm. Despite the book's attractiveness and easy pace, Bonner's avoidance of the real question is disturbing. ---Read More: image:

In plotting to seize power from Kerensky, Trotsky did not consider that he and Lenin had themselves made a revolution; he insisted, not very convincingly, that they had merely helped one to be born. This was a prologue to a world revolution that was destined almost overnight to transform the human condition. The Permanent Revolution was theory in 1906; by October 1917, it had become Messianic mystique.

Consciously, or almost consciously, Trotsky came to regard himself as the prophet of this revolutionary mystique, uniquely qualified, especially after Lenin’s death, to interpret its revelation. At a more profound level of his thought, especially in moments of supreme crisis, when there was no time for rational analysis and “revolutionary intuition” took over, he seemed to be identifying himself with the hero of some epic myth of revolution that his own imagination had conceived. He became charged with a primal energy as if invisible sparks were continually crackling from his mustache and satanic goatee as well as the wild shock of hair. Trotsky’s expansive ego appeared to lead him to assume attitudes of not merely a theatrical, but also archetypical quality; both exemplary, ritualistic and practical dimension that seemed to reinforce his search for incarnation of heroic myth to justify an identity that could rationalize the slaughter and bloodshed he was in large part responsible for.

---Bonner grew up in an orthodox Communist family. Her mother taught Marxism to the Komsomol leaders, her stepfather was secretary of the Armenian Communist Party and her grandmother worked for Leon Trotsky. Such people were feared by the rest of the population. Bonner recalls that when she first went to school and disclosed to her schoolmates that her parents were "Party workers," the panicky teacher rushed to her home and, to ingratiate herself with Elena's parents, offered to transfer the child to a higher grade. She refers passingly to one of her mother's friends, the chief of the Cheka in Irkutsk, as the "bloody boy." Also among her mother's friends were the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov, and Lazar Kaganovich, the butcher of the Ukraine. The book is an attempt to come to grips with the past, mainly with the relationship to her mother. Sound familiar? Oh, but Ruth Bonner was not an ordinary mother. Nor was Gevork Alikhanov, her stepfather, an ordinary father. On Page 159, commenting on a minor acquaintance, Bonner says: "Much later I understood that the naivete and even the kindness of many coexisted quite smoothly with cruelty, if not personal then ideological." But she never explores this topic in regard to any of her privileged friends, least of all in regard to her parents. ---Read More: image:


Trotsky: Art, like science, not only does not seek orders, but by its very essence, cannot tolerate them. Artistic creation has its laws—even when it consciously serves a social movement. Truly intellectual creation is incompatible with lies, hypocrisy and the spirit of conformity. Art can become a strong ally of revolution only in so far as it remains faithful to itself….

---This latter poster was created by Soviet artist Alexander Rodchenko in the 1920s. Of course, Soviet-era art is pretty stunning. I got a chance to see a number of different original posters and other Soviet-era art pieces at the Tate Modern Art Museum when I lived in London. Each of them were fine pieces of pro-state propaganda. You might think that it is fine and dandy for a modern-day political movement to mimick or copy the designs, but you would be wrong. For those of us of Polish descent, like me, or those of us who suffered under the Communist monstrosity either in the past or currently, these images are associated with one of the worst periods in human history.---Read More:

…Trotsky echoes—or prefigures, or both—Walter Benjamin’s idea that art can only have the correct political “tendency” if it has aesthetic “quality,” an idea that would later influence Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory, in the sense that what Adorno later identified as the incomprehensibility of art is the precondition for greater reflection and a more adequate social reality (I will get into this a bit later). Every moment of Trotsky’s theory argues the autonomy of art, recently freed, and not constricted by political “reality.” In a sense, Trotsky is the first non-philistine, because he is arguing against a newfound possibility of philistinism, depending on which way international politics will go. In other words, there is an analogy to be drawn between Rosa Luxemburg’s “socialism or barbarism?” insofar as Trotsky seems to be asking, “aesthetics or philistinism?” But what does this mean? Read More:

---Read More:

—The culture industry—with its ceaseless thrusting of art in our faces—is the penance for failing to achieve socialism, but also the petrified reminder of its possibility. In this sense, art and culture are not the solution to, but rather the problem of, our own suffering, and the crystallization of this problem also implies redemption. Does it not seem that, contrary to this, we want to preserve art, to restore the world through art, and wasn’t this specifically a crucial element of fascism, or less dramatically, conservatism? In an era of where there are no historical tasks or clearly defined problems, any proposed solution is a false reconciliation. In Adorno’s words, “that the world which, as Baudelaire wrote, has lost its fragrance and then since its color, could have them restored by art strikes only the artless as possible.”…

…The continual indigestion of culture is a problem that needs to be problematized—no simple solutions can present themselves today without also seeing history as a problem. In other words, without historical consciousness that articulates the social situation of art, we are all relegated to philistinism, nostalgic for a moment where all possibilities didn’t seem foreclosed, or predetermined the way they do today. Perhaps now more than ever, art works yearn to be recognized as distinct from the political or social ideas that underlie them—that is, we should not condemn the nostalgia of new age experimental music for example, or the vulgar politics of social art, but formulate them as incomprehensible aesthetic problems that constantly reintroduce social redemption without exactly fulfilling it. Read More:

---In contemporary artworks we are faced with similar formal problems to those that Trotsky faced. For instance, if Trotsky was critical of the many nefarious endeavors to create a permanent proletarian culture (e.g., artists enlisting in the Proletkult) because the proletariat was a transitional phase to a much broader human freedom yet to be determined, but certainly one beyond the primitive class divisions of “proletariat” and “bourgeois,” what then can be said about the “radical” art activism of today that seeks to ally itself with a vague “working class” that is increasingly depoliticized? Is this alliance doomed to an eternal struggle? Moreover, Trotsky noticed that such political “commitments” were not without their compromising effects on the aesthetic experience and consequently the transformation of subjectivity.---Read More: image:


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