The Eloquence of Trotsky and Macaulay

The comparison of these two historians and historical actors is interesting because they appear to have nothing in common except for their extraordinary eloquence. Macaulay has been accused of writing history as ratification of the present. Trotsky has been accused of roughly everything else.

Consider these examples of eloquence. Both are quoted from memory (I am the only person too lazy to respect the journalistic standards of blogging). Each is the principal example in two essays which praise the eloquence of Trotskey and Macaulay respectively. I think the essay on Trotsky is the introduction to a collection of writings of Trotsky (I think this because I can?t find it in ?To the Finland Station?). The essay on Macauley is an article in The New Republic circa 1995.

?The assembly passed a resolution that there would be no negotiation with the enemy while their armies were on French soil. Danton asked ?have you made an alliance with victory? the assembly replied ?we have made an alliance with death??

A stiring line which also shows how Trotsky?s history mysticism had, by that point, driven him completely insane. Solidarity can fuse a group of individuals into a mighty historical force, but it can not make them think of the same snappy line at the same moment..

Macaulay was, of course, much more reasonable. He argued against anti semitism when arguing against legal discrimination against Jews writing ?we close all honerable professions to them then denounce them for becoming money lenders.?

Again eloquent, but it seems that the two cases of eloquence have nothing else in common. One displays the beauty of reason and good sence, the other the beauty of madness.

it seems that the two cases of eloquence have nothing else in common, but they do share one other trait. They are both word for word translations of Maximilien Robespierre.

4 thoughts on “The Eloquence of Trotsky and Macaulay

  1. “A stiring line which also shows how Trotsky?s history mysticism had, by that point, driven him completely insane.”

    This from 1932 on: The Soviet Economy in Danger, doesn’t look in the least insane to me:

    “If a universal mind existed, of the kind that projected itself into the scientific fancy of Laplace – a mind that could register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the results of their inter-reactions – such a mind, of course, could a priori draw up a faultless and exhaustive economic plan, beginning with the number of acres of wheat down to the last button for a vest. The bureaucracy often imagines that just such a mind is at its disposal; that is why it so easily frees itself from the control of the market and of Soviet democracy.”

    – from:

    In fact, that looks remarkably sane, which probably explains why Trotsky was liquidated.

    The interesting challenge today is to uncover the reasons for his enduring influence over successive generations, up to and including the Neocons in America now. My guess is that the reason is quite straight forward. Over the course of his illustrious career in political activism, Trotsky managed to cover the entire waterfront of ideologies with the one exception of Nazism.

    At the 1903 conference in London of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, he supported the Mensheviks and their call for reform of Russia by constitutional means. By the time of the Revolution in October 1917, Trotsky was a committed Bolshevik, going on to become the celebrated commander of the Red Army during the Civil War after the Revolution. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, he fell out with Stalin and the Stalinists over the feasibility of achieving and maintaining Socialism in one country and advocated – very logically – global socialism with permanent revolution. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, he eventually settled in Mexico until his assassination in 1940. While in Mexico, he seems to have come under the influence of “free market” ideologies, leading to the above quote, which couldn’t embarrass the likes of Von Mises or Milton Friedman.

    Trotsky had something for almost everyone, hence his enduring appeal. Whether your particular sweetie is constitutional reform, revolutionary transformation, global socialism and permanent revolution or free markets, Trotsky’s the prophet to follow.

  2. I know Trotsky said many sane things (all people do). You could probably find cases in which he said 2+2=4 too. The claim that no one can personally plan a whole economy does not make one von Mises. I don’t think anyone has ever disagreed with claim of Trotsky (and everyone else who ever lived).

    I have not read most of the writings of Trotsky, but , in what I have read, I find two consistent crazinesses. One is a tendency to make a god of history in that history is the judge of what is right and just (sorry progressive) and that history does this and that like an agent. The other, of course, is an absolute faith in *The Book* Das Kapital, such that the possibility that it might contain errors is absolutely dismissed (I got these accusations from “To the Finalnd Station”).

    The connection between Trotsky and the neocons is very simple. The founding neocons were Trotskyites in college dining in alcove B of the CUNY caffateria. They have kept the arrogance, the conviction that they are in mystical communion with History and that all contrary evidence is incidental, and the conviction that right and wrong is all us and them, that it is ok for us to do things and wrong for them to do things (Trotsky is absolutely explicit on this point in “Their Morals and Ours” dedicated to his recently murdered son). By the way, in their morals and Ours Trotsky does another insane identification. he says proletarians should tell the truth to proletarians and lie to others. Since most people are proletarians, this would require billions of people to keep a secret. Obviously by “proletarians” he meant something like “the Politibureau.” The failure to notice the difference is a consistent strain of insanity in Trotsky’s thought.

  3. Robert,

    I’m not and never have been a Trotskyist but do think there is a mildly challenging issue of explaining the extent of the numbers of his dedicated followers several generations out.

    His invocation of historical process or outcomes to justify decisions and events is not an unusual predilection. It is the regular hallmark of historicists, Marxist or otherwise. After all, even George Santayana put it: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    My complaint about Trotsky is not that he was insane or even that I mostly disgree with what he said, wrote and did. My complaint is that he was a highly intelligent opportunist with well-developed literary skills, high ambitions and an aptitude to foresee the way events were moving. That combination was enough to attract a dedicated following. The fact that he espoused at one time or another almost the entire waterfront of ideologies ensured his wide appeal. There was something for almost everyone. Consistency was sacrificed to the demands of “historical necessity” – and for Trotsky’s career development.

    I tend to be a bit cautious about attributing insanity to high-profile ideologues I happen to disagree with because I recall it became the standard Soviet procedure in the 1970s to send regime critics to lunatic asylums for drug therapy. It was and is so much easier an option than rebutting criticism. Anyone who questioned the millennialist properties of the “socialist” model prescribed by the party could only be mad. Could anyone then stand up to disagree with that?

    I thought Trotsky’s defence of the benefits of markets over the the flaws of central panning in that quote rather well put. But then I would.

  4. Oh know I didn’t type A and lost a reply.

    I didn’t mean to say that Trotsky was crazy. I meant an unreasonable ideologue. I would say his views were consistently far left and devoutly Marxist (there is a lot of room between Menshevism and centrism).

    I actually don’t think he was an opportunist. That would make it hard to understand why he accepted Lenin’s leadership so completely. I would say he subsumed his personal ambitions to the cause.

    Why are there still Trotskyites ? Well he had the right enemies. Being hated by Stalin gives him credibility. Also, as you note, he wrote very very well even when not cribbing from Robespierre.

    I guess the recognition of practical problems with planning helps. Also it was a contribution to relative well being in the Soviet Union for a few years.

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