Friday, May 22, 2009

Keynes 1, Trotsky 0

One reason I frequently return to Brad DeLong's blog is that he occasionally digs up nuggets like Keynes' review of Trotsky's book on England. Both men were capable of writing with cutting wit; this is on display in the passages Keynes quotes from Trotsky and in his response to them.

In response to Trotsky's argument that the British left's desire to work through the parlimentary system stood in the way of revolutionary progress, Keynes wrote:
Granted his assumptions, much of Trotsky’s argument is, I think, unanswerable. Nothing can be sillier than to play at revolution – if that is what he means. But what are his assumptions? He assumes that the moral and intellectual problems of the transformation of Society have been already solved--that a plan exists, and that nothing remains except to put it into operation. He assumes further that Society is divided into two parts – the proletariat who are converted to the plan, and the rest who for purely selfish reasons oppose it. He does not understand that no plan could win until it had first convinced many people, and that, if there really were a plan, it would draw support from many different quarters. He is so much occupied with means that he forgets to tell us what it is all for. If we pressed him, I suppose he would mention Marx. And there we will leave him with an echo of his own words – “together with theological literature, perhaps the most useless, and in any case the most boring form of verbal creation.”
Fortunately, eighty years later, it appears that it was Keynes, not Trotsky, who was right about history (though some might say it is too soon to tell).

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