“...Verso has started a new series, Revolutions, to publish (in uniform editions) an anathematized core of thinkers who had no need of the past, but pushed with certainty toward the new: a book series of Mao (‘Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy’), Robespierre, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Trotsky, plus Jesus Christ and Thomas Jefferson. Now this [unlike the ones represented by the NYRB Classics and Verso’s Radical Thinkers series described earlier in the essay] is not an eclectic tradition, though it’s a blood-drenched one.”
“The Spirit of Revival,” n+1, Number Six (Winter 2008)
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To the editors:
Never mind that capitalism is to blame for the overwhelming share of violence in this era—and how much more so if you factor in the everyday brutality of exploitation? In “The Spirit of Revival,” n+1 joins in the reflexive violence-baiting of that system’s revolutionary opponents.
Trotsky and Robespierre part of a “blood-drenched” tradition? No one but a psychopath likes to see blood spilled for its own sake. But this is a world where a lot of it does get spilled quite needlessly all the time, and those who are seeking to change that fact can’t just shrink from the sight of it all. They need to ask on which side, if any, it is being shed in what Marx (following Voltaire) called the only just war in history: that of the slaves against their masters.
And if that war ever had a general, it was Leon Trotsky leading the Petrograd workers in insurrection, and later at the head of the Red Army. Robespierre, of course, helped lead what had been the most pivotal previous campaign in this same struggle. More people were killed on a daily basis in any of Napoleon’s major battles than during the whole of the Paris Terror, but it’s the latter that the exploiters remember as “blood-drenched”—because it was their blood.
As for Mao, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh, Trotsky taught revolutionaries which side to take: against them and their kind to put the working class in power, but alongside them militarily—despite the anti-worker nature of their regimes—to defend collectivized property forms against counterrevolutionaries and the imperialists. By what right or logic do you put Trotsky in the same tradition as the followers of those he led the only revolutionary fight against?
[printed in n+1, Number Seven (Fall 2008)]