Friday, September 24, 2010

Disagreement with the World

There's a very fine interview with Argentine historian Adolfo Gilly in the new New Left Review. I especially liked this:

One is led to rebellion by sentiments, not by thoughts. At the end of his statement to the Dewey Commission, Trotsky described being drawn to the workers' quarters in Nikolayev at the age of eighteen by his "faith in reason, in truth, in human solidarity," not by Marxism. But perhaps the most crucial sentiment is that of justice -- the realization that you are not in agreement with this world. There is a story that Ernst Bloch was once asked by his supervisor, Georg Simmel, to provide a one-page summary of his thesis before Simmel would agree to work on it. A week later, Bloch obliged with one sentence: "What exists cannot be true."
Yes. The sense that there is something radically wrong, something intolerable, about the world as it exists, is the deep spring from which the strongest political commitments flow.

(I was also interested by Gilly's claim that in 1960, when he became involved with the Algerian struggle for independence, official Communist parties were hostile because "Moscow characterized the Algerian war of independence as a bourgeois nationalist movement which deserved no backing." It's certainly true that the Soviet Union was very slow to support the Algerians; but Alistair Horne argues, I think plausibly, that this was mainly because they wanted to build on a their good relationship with De Gaulle's France, and also because the French CP, with its strong base among working-class pied noirs, was divided on the war; and not because of any judgment about the character of the Algerian independence movement itself. It's characteristic -- and not unappealing -- that a Trotskyist downplays these practical-political considerations and instead sees a difference of ideology.)

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps Bloch was saying that "what exists"--meaning, all of the particular things that exist in the physical world (see John Locke's argument in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding")--"cannot be true"--meaning, cannot be absolutely true, but only CONTINGENTLY true; the only True Truths being abstract mathematical formulas...just a thought. It also ties in with David Hume's argument about would be really interesting to explore the ideas of Hume/ Locke in relation to Bloch/ Simmel/ Marx.