Variedades, April 19 1924.
Translated by Michael Pearlman
Transcribed for the Internet by, July 26 1996

Trotsky is not only a protagonist, but also a philosopher, historian, and critic of the revolution. No leader of the revolution, naturally, can be wanting a panoramic and sure vision of its roots and origins. Lenin, for example, was distinguished by a singular ability to sense and understand the direction of modern history and the meaning of its events. But Lenin's penetrating studies touched only on political and economic questions. Trotsky, on the other hand, has also been interested in the consequences of the revolution on philosophy and art.

 Trotsky polemicizes with writers and artists who announce the arrival of new art, the appearance of a proletarian art. Does the revolution already possess its own art? Trotsky shakes his head. "Culture," he writes, "is not the first phase of happiness; it is a final result." The proletariat presently spends its energies in the struggle to defeat the bourgeoisie and in the work of resolving its economic, political, and educational problems. The new order is still too embryonic and incipient. It finds itself in a formative period.

 proletarian art cannot yet appear. Trotsky defines the development of art as the highest testimony to the vitality and value of an epoch. Proletarian art will not be that which describes the episodes of the revolutionary struggle, but rather that which describes the life that emanates from the revolution, its creations, and its fruits. It is not a question, therefore, of speaking of a new art. Art, like the new social order, is passing through a period of trial and error. "The revolution will kind its image in art when it is no longer a cataclysm foreign to the artist." The new art will be produced by a new type of humanity. The conflict between the reality that is dying and that being born will last for many years. These will be years of combat and malaise. Only when these years pass, when the new human organization is established and ensured, will the necessary conditions exist for the development of proletarian art. What will be the essential characteristics of this future art? Trotsky formulates some predictions. The future art will be, in his judgment, "irreconcilable with pessimism, skepticism, and all other forms of intellectual exhaustion. It will be full of creative faith, full of an unlimited faith in the future."

 This is certainly not an arbitrary thesis. The despair, the nihilism, the morbidity which contemporary literature contains to varying degrees, are characteristic features of an exhausted, worn-out, decadent society. Youth is optimistic, affirmative, and cheerful; old age is skeptical, negative, and quarrelsome. The philosophy and art of a young society will consequently have a different tone than the philosophy and art of a senile society.

 Trotsky's thought probes other conjectures and interpretations along this path. Bourgeois cultural and intellectual efforts are mainly directed toward the development of the technique and mechanism of production. Science is principally applied to generate an increasingly complete mechanization. The interests of the ruling class are adverse to the rationalization of production, and are therefore adverse to the rationalization of custom. The preoccupations of humanity are finally utilitarian. The ideal of the era is profit and savings. The accumulation of wealth seems the major purpose of human life. And, indeed, the new order, the revolutionary order, will rationalize and humanize custom. It will resolve the problems that the bourgeois order is unable to solve because of its structure and function. It will allow for the liberation of women from domestic slavery, ensure the social education of children, and free marriage from economic preoccupations. Socialism, so criticized and denounced as materialist, is finally, from this point of view, a recovery, a rebirth of spiritual and moral values crushed by capitalist organization and method. If material ambitions and interests prevailed in the capitalist era, the proletarian era, its nature, and its institutions will find inspiration in ethical interests and ideals.

Trotsky's dialectic leads us to an optimistic vision of the future of the West and of humanity. Spengler announces the total decline of the West. Socialism, according to this theory, is only a stage in the trajectory of a civilization. Trotsky establishes the crisis as one of bourgeois culture alone the twilight of capitalist society. This culture, this old, detested society, is disappearing; a new culture, a new society is emerging from its bowels. The rise of a new ruling class, its roots much wider and its contents more vital than its predecessor's, will renew and increase the mental and moral energy of humanity. Human progress will then appear divided into the following major stages: antiquity (the regime of slavery); the Middle Ages (the regime of servitude); capitalism (the regime of wage labor); socialism (the regime of social equality). The thirty or fifty years of the proletarian revolution, says Trotsky, will mark a transitional era.

 Is the man who theorizes so subtly and profoundly the same man who harangued and reviewed the Red Army? Some people, perhaps, are only acquainted with the martial Trotsky, the subject of so many portraits and caricatures; the Trotsky of the armored train, the minister of war and generalissimo, the Trotsky who threatens Europe with a Napoleonic invasion. And this Trotsky, in fact, does not exist. He is almost exclusively an invention of the press. The real Trotsky, the actual Trotsky, is the one he reveals in his writings. A book always gives a man a more exact and truthful image than a uniform. A generalissimo, especially, cannot philosophize so humanly and humanely. Could one imagine Foch, Ludendorff, or Douglas Haig with Trotsky's mental outlook?

 The fiction of the martial Trotsky, the Napoleonic Trotsky, proceeds from a single aspect of the role of the celebrated revolutionary in Soviet Russia: his command of the Red Army. Trotsky, as is well known, first occupied the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. But the final turn of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations obliged him to abandon this ministry. Trotsky wanted Russia to oppose German militarism with a Tolstoyan attitude: to reject an imposed peace and cross one's arms, defenseless, before the adversary. Lenin, with more political sense, preferred capitulation. Moved to the Commissariat of War, Trotsky was charged with organizing the Red Army. In this task, Trotsky demonstrated his capacity as organizer and realizer. The Russian army had dissolved. The fall of czarism, the progress of the revolution, and the end of the war had led to its destruction. The Soviets lacked the means to reconstitute it. Scarcely any war materiel remained. The monarchist officers and general staff could not be utilized because of their obvious reactionary spirit. For the moment, Trotsky tried to take advantage of the technical aid of the Allied military missions, exploiting the interest of the Entente in regaining the aid of Russia against Germany. But the Allied missions wanted the fall of the Bolsheviks above all else. If they pretended to ally with them, it was to better undermine them. Among the Allied missions, Trotsky found only one loyal collaborator: Captain Jacques Sadoul of the French ambassadorial staff, who finally joined the revolution, seduced by its ideals and its people. The Soviets, in the end, had to expel the Entente's diplomats and military staff from Russia. And, mastering all difficulties, Trotsky came to create a powerful army that victoriously defended the revolution from the attacks of all its enemies, external and internal. The initial nucleus of this army were two hundred thousand volunteers from the vanguard and the Communist youth. But, in the riskiest period for the Soviets, Trotsky commanded an army of more than five million soldiers.

And, like its former generalissimo, the Red Army is a new instance in the world's military history. It is an army that senses its role as a revolutionary army and never forgets that its purpose is the defense of the revolution. Its spirit, therefore, excludes any specifically warlike, imperialist sentiment. Its discipline, organization, and structure are revolutionary. Perhaps while the generalissimo was writing an article on Romain Rolland, the soldiers were invoking Tolstoy or reading Kropotkin.


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