Good Trot, Bad Trot

Anyone making controversial statements on politics, as I occasionally do, should expect arguments.

Almost all of those who have taken issue with me when I do so are articulate, perceptive and well informed and almost all are polite. But a few are insulting, applying to me words such “moronic”, “idiotic”, “clueless”, “asshole”, and “fool” among others.

Although it is readily apparent that these emanate from a small number of individuals what those following my threads may not know is that all would be described as Trotskyites.  That’s to say that they belong to political groups claiming Leon Trotsky as a primary inspiration (along with Marx and Lenin).

While a distinct variety of smug arrogance and dismissive rudeness has been fairly characteristic of these circles since Marx  there is more at work here than bad manners in that the behavior on view is goes beyond personal and into politics.

For the personal attacks are not merely obnoxious acts of obnoxious people. Rather they are a tactic to achieve a political end–to silence others by suggesting that their opinions are essentially ridiculous and fundamentally illegitimate. Consistent with what is likely a coordinated effort, other group members will usually pile on creating the impression that a broad consensus has emerged.  If that can’t be accomplished, they will “go negative” by injecting well practiced ad hominem remarks to create a hostile conversational environment driving away those who might otherwise participate.

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Given that we share many of the same political objectives, including erasing disparities in wealth, power and privilege, supporting health care, housing and education as basic human rights, democratizing the workplace, saving the planetary ecosystem from its near certain destruction by capitalism etc. the question naturally is raised, why would a group want to silence those who are attempting to advance these goals.

The answer is that, for them, more important than the goal is the path which leads there. This must be that dictated by Marx-more precisely their particular reading of the “science” of Marxism as has been applied within their democratically central internal deliberations.  Just as teams of structural engineers apply the principles of Newtonian mechanics or materials science in constructing a bridge, or a botanist applies principles of genetics in breeding for a disease resistant crop so do party members in good standing derive the correct, scientifically informed answers on left tactics and strategy.  This they expect others to follow based on its status as authoritative scientific truth.

Those lacking a background in “Marxist theory” or skeptical of the claims for its scientific status or even those who adopt unorthodox readings of Marx are viewed as dangerously irresponsible,  particularly when they endorse positions deviating from the party line.  According to this brand of Trotskyite logic, taking seriously their suggestions on political matters would be analogous to entrusting the design of an aircraft to someone ignorant of aerodynamics or vaccine design to those without a basic understanding of biochemistry.

It is therefore a mistake to engage these views seriously as doing so legitimizes what are dangerously illegitimate views.  Those advancing them need to be removed from public discourse by ridicule, exposed as buffoons, ignoramuses or worse.

Hence the routine appearance of this sect of Trotskyists on my threads where they attempt to do just that by deploying their now familiar lexicon of slurs and insults.

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I should make clear here that not all Marxists share these views or have adopted these tactics. Some have criticized as inherently flawed the premise of democratic centralism implicating it in what is obvious to everyone:  the abject failure of these groups to succeed as mass organizations, invariably deteriorating to a small number of absurdists endlessly parodied, most memorably in The Life of Brian. I won’t weigh in on this matter except to note that while I’m sympathetic to horizontalism and recognize its necessary role in achieving vibrant and even minimally functional organizations, I also recognize its inherent liabilities; one of the many useful consequences of the Occupy movement was in exposing both the potential and limitations of horizontalism.

Finally, even among Trotskyists adopting some form of democratic centralism not all find it necessary or even useful to trivialize and attack those with whom they have tactical or strategic disagreements.   Rather they have found ways to disagree without being disagreeable, something which anyone with a serious investment in achieving concrete political goals recognizes as a minimal requirement for success.

In contrast, those wanting to succeed in academic seminar rooms-and it should be noted here that the Trots in question are, from what I can tell, without exception current or former graduate students-will adopt rhetorical practices appropriate to them-with the predictable cost of irrelevance and marginalization from the broad mass which must be engaged for any movement worthy of the name to succeed.

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2 thoughts on “Good Trot, Bad Trot”

  1. Glad to finally find someone who agrees with me that these ridiculous (or at least, poorly informed) attacks against Sanders are coming out of the Marxist camp. Your idea that their hostility comes from their belief that people like Sanders will do “the revolution” wrong is also interesting. I had thought they merely felt they had the right to lead it (after all, they’ve worked so hard), but your more nuanced take on their motivation is probably closer.

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