Hundredth Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution: Hoisted

Edmund Wilson: To the Finland Station: "There has been... no other first-rate Marxist for whom the Marxist conception of History, derived from the Hegelian Idea, plays so frankly teleological a role as it does in the work of Trotsky...

...Here are some references.... "If the prince was not succeeding in peacefully regenerating the country, he was accomplishing with emarkable effectiveness the task of a more general order for which history had placed him at the head of the government: the destruction of the political illusions and the prejudices of the middle class." "History used the fantastic plan of Gapon for the purpose of arriving at its ends."...

History, then, with its dialectical Trinity, had chosen Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky to disillusion the middle class, had propounded revolutionary conclusions which it had compelled Father Gapon to bless.... These statements make no sense whatever unless one substitutes for the words history and dialectic of history the words Providence and God....

What it may mean in moments of action to feel History towering at one's elbow with her avenging sword in her hand is shown in the remarkable scene at the first congress of the Soviet dictatorship after the success of the October insurrection of 1917, when Trotsky, with the contempt and indignation of a prophet, read [the socialist] Martov and his followers out of the meeting. "You are pitiful isolated individuals," [Trotsky] cried at this height of the Bolshevik triumph. "You are bankrupt; your role is played out. Go now to where you really belong—the garbage-pile of history!"

These words are worth pondering for the light they throw on the course of Marxist policy and thought. Observe that the merging of yourself with the onrush of the current of history is to save you from the ignoble fate of being a "pitiful isolated individual"; and that the failure to so merge yourself will relegate you to the garbage-pile of history, where you can presumably be of no more use.

Today [writing, as Wilson was, at the end of the 1930s], though we may agree with the Bolsheviks that Martov was no man of action, his croakings over the course that they had adopted seem to us full of far-sighted intelligence. He pointed out that proclaiming a socialist regime in conditions different from those [of advanced industrialization, high technology, and material abundance] contemplated by Marx would not realize the results that Marx expected; that Marx and Engels had usually described the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as having the form, for the new dominant class, of a democratic republic, with universal suffrage [for the working class] and the popular recall of officials; that the [Bolshevik] slogan "All power to the Soviets [workers' councils]" had never really meant what it said and that it had soon been exchanged by Lenin for "All power to the Bolshevik Party."

There sometimes turn out to be valuable objects cast away in the garbage-pile of history—things that have to be retrieved later on. From the point of view of the Stalinist Soviet Union, that is where [Leon] Trotsky himself is today [in the late 1930s]. He might well discard his earlier assumption that an isolated individual must needs be "pitiful" for the conviction of Dr. Stockman in Ibsen's [play] An Enemy of the People that "the strongest man is he who stands most alone"...

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