Wednesday 7 October 2015

Keynes on Trotsky.

1919 Russian Civil War White propaganda poster. Source: MIA.
Appearing originally on March 27, 1926 in The Nation and Athenaeum, John Maynard Keynes' "Trotsky on England" found its way -- rather strangely, as it's anything but a biography -- into "Essays in Biography", Keynes' anthology of biographical essays published six years later.

Trying to read that intensely exasperating essay (apparently conceived as a review of Leon Trotsky's 1925 book "Where is Britain Going?"), I found "Keynes on Trotsky", an old post by Larry Hamelin (who goes by the colourful moniker of "The Barefoot Bum", here).


From Hamelin's post:
"Much as I admire Keynes, he utterly fails to make his case.
"Keynes first snarks on Trotsky's admittedly florid rhetoric. (E.g. 'These bombastic authorities, pedants, arrogant and ranting poltroons, systematically poison the Labour Movement, befog the consciousness of the proletariat, and paralyse its will.') Keynes goes on to observe, 'How few words need changing, let the reader note, to permit the attribution of my anthology to the philo-fisticuffs of the Right.' Keynes position here presages the modern 'moderate' religious critique of the New 'militant' atheists as 'just the same' as religious fundamentalists. But Keynes misses an important point in this comparison. The right, in 1933 as well as today, uses emotional rhetoric as a substitute for genuine intellectual understanding; Keynes admits that Trotsky at least backs his own emotional rhetoric with an intellectual analysis worthy of criticism, 'The second half [of Trotsky's book], which affords a summary exposition of his political philosophy, deserves a closer attention.' 
"Keynes is not above emotional rhetoric of his own …"
I'm much less of an admirer of Keynes; however, I find Hamelin's post as worthy of praise as the way he handles impertinent commentators. My applause goes to him for both.

Read the rest here.


As Keynes' efforts in biography are definitely poor -- particularly when compared to the other fawning (or extremely sympathetic, depending on your perspective) essays included in "Essays in Biography" -- and given his failure to provide any detail whatsoever on Trotsky's life, I thought I should close this post with a little something.

Persecuted by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, which he helped found, Jewish-born but atheist Leon Trotsky -- like Karl Marx before him -- became an exile, hounded implacably from one country to the next. Coming from France, from where he was expelled by the centre-right government, 57-year old Trotsky arrived in Norway in 1936. He did not stay long.

Again like Marx, Trotsky's presence there attracted the attention of foreign spies and domestic secret police; unlike Marx -- relatively unknown in his own time -- the high-profile Trotsky also attracted the attention of more mainstream characters (Keynes himself, years earlier). In particular, Vidkun Quisling, leader of the local Fascists, also noticed him and -- like Keynes and others -- wasn't pleased, either.

The cases of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden in our days somehow remind one of Trotsky.

Anyway, under pressure to expel the outspoken Trotsky, the Norwegian government, headed by PM Johan Nygaardsvold (Labour Party, Social Democrat) caved in.

True to form, Trotsky composed a letter, directed to the minister of Justice, Trygve Lie, containing this passage:
"This is your first act of surrender to Nazism in your own country. You will pay for this. You think yourselves secure and free to deal with a political exile as you please. But the day is near -- remember this! -- the day is near when the Nazis will drive you from your country, all of you."
In April 1940, less than four years later, they all had the opportunity to remember Trotsky's words, while awaiting anxiously for evacuation to Britain as the Wehrmacht conquered Norway.


Leon Trotsky was murdered by an NKVD assassin in August 1940 in a suburb of Mexico City, a few months after Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Luxembourg (all of which had remained neutral in the first World War), plus Belgium, and France had fallen under Nazi boots, joining Poland and Czechoslovakia. The British Expeditionary Force had barely survived Dunkirk. Trotsky was 60.

Over 70 years after his death, Trotsky survives more in the memory of his many enemies, than in that of his few followers. Whether French conservatives, English effets, Norwegian traitors, or pontificating American economists, for them Trotsky still is the Red nightmare he was for White Russians in 1919. Waking up in the middle of the night, their last resort is to mask fear with scorn. In that -- too -- Trotsky is very much like Marx

Quisling was tried after the war under multiple charges, found guilty, and executed by firing squad in 1945. His name subsists as a synonym of traitor.

Keynes died in 1946, of a heart attack. He is revered by his fans as much for his economics as for his moral philosophy (!), and is advanced as an inspiration for the labourite, social-democratic Left (!). His bourgeois enemies pursue him with the same insane, repulsive malice he used against Trotsky and Marx (here).

Lie became the rather undistinguished first Secretary General of the United Nations. He died in 1968, also of a heart attack.


  1. Wow, this post is super interesting. I'm really not too familiar with the Nordic variants of fascism, so this was a really good introduction to some of that history.

  2. Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed it.

    Speaking of something related: are you familiar with eugenics?

    1. Oddly enough, I have quite a few books on the subject on loan from the library currently. Really interesting to watch these folks try to separate their material by audience from book to book.


  3. Incidentally, given that you are interested in Nazi-Fascism. Over the years I've written a few posts over that subject, mostly in connection with anti-Marxism: