After attempting to mulch my way through Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles of the Revolutionary Party (a title far too long for the amount of material and original thought of the volume itself), I began reading The Lost Revolution, a history of the failed series of socialist uprisings in post WWI Germany. I cannot think of the last time that I read such a miserable, mournful, self-pitying piece of garbage that masqueraded as a history tome. It is an energy-draining slog through an admittedly dark period of German political history (although, in all fairness, it would take some diligence to find an uplifting book of the same genre and time period).
I simply could not finish it: while there are lessons to be learned from failed revolutions, and in fact studying those failures ensure that those same mistakes are not made repeatedly, this book offers no answers. It simply presents a series of bad choices made by both the masses and their representatives, and at the end Hitler assumes power following the fall of the Weimar Republic. The history is so judgmental and bristling towards the would-be Spartakists that it almost acts as an advertisement for the proto-Nazi Freikorps.
I’ve come to notice that Trotskyites (as embodied by the revolutionaries in The Lost Revolution, as embodied by the “revolutionary” gentleman who suggested that I read it in the first place) are arguably the most bitter, depressive, and divisive of the entire left-wing spectrum. Why? Because they’ve lost every major battle since their inception, beginning with Trotsky himself getting shivved in 1940. There has not been a single revolution in the 20th and 21st Century that has successfully gone Trotskyite. Even the anarchists have a better track record. But on the other hand, the Trotskyites have kept their principles intact no matter what particular schism they happen to belong to. Clap, clap.
Here in North America, the international Trotskyite tendency has been riven by factionalism and sectarianism, the kind of intense infighting that I have not seen since I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Routinely, a dominant strain will assume some level of power and control, which will send the individual sub-groups running for cover. There is never any attempt at compromise or diplomacy – one group will anger another group, and there will be another micro-split. And it is this complete lack of cohesion that renders them irrelevant outside of a few very large, cosmopolitan cities (where there are all sorts of wacko sets that affect nothing).
Where does this leave the Neo-Marxist of today? The Communist Party (which I have belonged to in the past, and which I am strongly tempted to reconnect)? Social Democratic organizations like the NDP in Canada or Socialist Alternative in the US? Academia? Anarchist bookstores?
I joined the mother of them all, the Socialist Workers Party, when I was living in Ireland in 2010, and to this day I think that was one best things that I took away from living in miserable auld Galway. The SWP in Ireland was not driven by lunatic personalities or a childish attitude to run away with one’s toys when you get some info that you don’t care for. It was genuine democratic centralism; decisions were arrived at by the discussion and debate amongst party members, and there were no strong men to “encourage” you to vote one way or the other. Centralism consisted of coming up with a party line, then sticking to the decision, across the board. No second guessing after the fact, no infantile breaks with party unity. SWP Ireland is an organization worth studying, rather than wringing one’s hands and think of all of the coulda/woulda/shoulda scenarios of past decades.
Study the past, but do not bother with a non-prescriptive “history” that resembles a Gothic lament. I say this as someone with an MA in Political History – some records of the past are educational than others, even if the subject matter is grim. There is no need or purpose wallow in the muck.