Wednesday, 17 May 2006

The Prophet of Merciless Vitality

George F. Will tells a story of how Isaac Deutscher, biographer and acolyte of Leon Trotsky, once opined amidst the tea, banter, and hot sickle buns of the Oxford Marxist Society that the “[p]roof of Trotsky’s farsightedness is that none of his predictions has come true yet” [1]. If one had the temper to set one’s mind in line with that thought, one might suppose that the proof of Trotsky’s farsightedness grows more compelling by the year, although it ought to be appreciated that such a mind-set would behove the use of a bib to gather the fluid proceeds of one’s mental labours.
.....If time has not yet given us the occasions by which to refute all of Trotsky’s predictions—and only eternity would be sufficient time in which to refute those that are temporally indefinite—it has nonetheless afforded us with much evidence by which we might justifiably meet his glib pronouncements with hollow laughter. In addressing the American people on the prospect of the communisation of the United States, for example, Trotsky wrote:
Should America go communist as a result of the difficulties and problems that your capitalist social order is unable to solve, it will discover that communism, far from being an intolerable bureaucratic tyranny and individual regimentation, will be the means of greater individual liberty and shared abundance. [2]
Trotsky would have had the American people believe that no example could be drawn from the condition of communism in the Soviet Union, and that “true” Marxian communism, productive of individual liberty and shared abundance, could be built in the United States. Trotsky himself believed, however, that the American people were different from continental Europeans in one important respect, a difference that could hinder the process of their communisation:
[Y]our rationalism itself is weakened by empiricism and moralism. It has none of the merciless vitality of the great European rationalists. [3]
Thus: close your eyes and harden your hearts; let no facts inform the soundness of your premises, nor scruples hinder the drawing of the consequences therefrom; be progressive and merciless!—such are the prescriptions of the man whom Christopher Hitchens calls a “prophetic moralist”. [4]
.....In whatever political form it comes, it hardly need be said that it is the duty of all good men to resist this “merciless vitality”—and better to do so without euphemism.

[1] George F. Will, Text of a Speech by George F. Will, delivered 8th June 2001, in the Archibald Room of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, The Layman Online, 10th June 2001.
[2] Leon Trotsky, “If America Should Go Communist”, Liberty, 23rd March 1935, transcribed for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Christopher Hitchens, “The Old Man” (Review of the three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher), The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004.


dearieme said...

Allegedly JFK said of J K Galbraith that if he took an enema, there would be little of him left. Trotsky too?

Anonymous said...

Old Trotters wasn't much cop, was he? A bit like a homicidal Mystic Meg.

Deogolwulf said...

Mrs P.N. of Chipping Norton, the old service revolver of emancipation is behind the sideboard of false consciousness, placed there by your grandfather, who sends his love from the other side.

Anonymous said...

"Merciless vitality" sounds like just the sort of phrase to come spitting out of a speech by a fascist or Nazi.