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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


Alasdair MacIntyre

Violence and All That Jazz


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Terrorisme et Communisme
L Trotsky
ed. Alfred Rosmer 10/18, 4.40 fr.

Many Slippery Errors
Alfred Grossman
Panther Books, 3s 6d.

Alfred Rosmer, Trotsky’s most trusted friend and comrade is dead. Just before he died he edited one of Trotsky’s major works, and his introduction is a model for what such writing should be. Trotsky wrote Terrorism and Communism in reply to a work by Kautsky with the same title. He wrote it in 1920 when the Soviet Union faced armed intervention on a scale likely to crush it, when there was no hope for the Soviet Union but in the Red Army. Kautsky who had failed to implement the Second International’s declared policy of out and out opposition to war in 1914 – a policy which only the Bolshevik Party and Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg did implement – did not hesitate to denounce, on dubious evidence, the Bolshevik use of violence. Trotsky’s defence of violence is classic. And never more needed than now. If I review it side by side with Alfred Grossman’s novel it is because Grossman’s novel provides some of the context in which Trotsky’s thought is now relevant. Trotsky was as appalled at violence for its own sake as anyone. He never shared the romantic illusion that violence of itself toughens or purifies. What he did believe is that in the course of the class-struggle violence is inevitable, that in violence the working class is always the attacked, that without violence the non-violence of socialist society cannot be created. Pacifist beliefs in non-violence are not only illusions, but dangerous illusions. For they leave the aggressor in possession of the field. This is not to say that non-violence may not be a correct tactic in many times and places. It is to say that it cannot be an ultimate and unbreakable principle.

Trotsky’s method is to show from the history of socialism how violence has been forced upon class-conscious workers and other socialists. He never discusses the use of violence outside the context of class-consciousness. He thus never confuses the necessary violence of socialist revolution with the violence enaemic in capitalist society. This is the violence that Grossman discusses in his immensely serious and very funny novel. His hero is completely clear about capitalist values. ‘And bank-robbery and the whole splendid panoply of adult crime for gain, no, that is not a blow against anything. Adult crimes against property are, after all, only trivially anti-social. The ends, capital accumulation, are the bed-rock of our being, only the chosen means stray away from the strictly acceptable.’

Grossman’s hero is an American UN official in New York who commutes between a bourgeois marriage and the pursuit of a Brooklyn nineteen year old from the typing pool, who belongs to the delinquent world of flick-knives and stolen cars. The cleverest point in the novel is that where he shows that under the skins of the delinquents are corporation executives and career women. The world of the way out is a mirror image of the world of the well in. Violence is the counterpart of conformity, is in fact the expression of frustrated conformists. What’s the moral? That the violence which capitalist society breeds is certainly an expression of its frustrations, but an expression which itself belongs to the same social world. That the standard method of catching the successful gangster by indicting him for false income tax returns is a symbol of the whole system. The violence of delinquency has nothing to do with the violence of socialism.

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