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New Left Review I/48, March-April 1968

Nicolas Krasso

Reply to Ernest Mandel

Ernest Mandel’s reply to my critique of Trotsky’s Marxism requires some comment. It may be most rewarding to consider the three fundamental questions he raises, and focus discussion on these. Most of the local issues at dispute will be resolved in so doing. The whole aim of my analysis was to try and reconstruct the unity of Trotsky’s thought and practice as a Marxist: its singular character and coherence. Mandel’s reply renounces any attempt to seek such a unity. Chronologically, he separates the Trotsky of 1904 from that of 1905 and that of 1912 from that of 1917; the Trotsky of 1926 is dissociated from that of 1922. Structurally, Trotsky’s thought is divorced from his practice as a politician. My purpose was to show that the differentia specifica of Trotsky’s activity taken as a whole may not simply be identified with abstract principles. Mandel makes virtually no reference throughout to Trotsky’s style of leadership within the party, his role as a military commander or his record as a state administrator. It is thus important to emphasize, at the outset, that Mandel has provided selective criticisms of the theses of the original essay. He has not provided a counter-theory of Trotsky’s Marxism. By opting for this course, he has run the risk of empiricism. A corollary of this is a recurring tendency to revert to the traditional comparison Trotsky-Stalin, from the impasse of which it was one of the purposes of the essay to free debate. The struggle between Trotsky and Stalin in the ’twenties is often seen as a struggle between principles. Yet the polarization Trotsky-Stalin was a disaster, as Lenin in his will had predicted it would be. Today, the necessary point of departure to assess Trotsky and Stalin is Lenin. This is the axiom which governed the course of the whole argument. By dividing Trotsky’s thought into discrete episodes, separating it from his practice, and relating it to an abstract antipode, Mandel has prevented himself from situating Trotsky properly within history or Marxism.

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Nicolas Krasso, ‘Reply to Ernest Mandel’, NLR I/48: £3

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