Thursday, November 2, 2017

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground (4)

This installment is part 3 of Trotsky vs Dostoevsky, a unit of the larger project of analyzing the ideological structure of Dostoevsky's work. These references do not specifically address Notes from Underground, but the issues are the same.

I linked to the following essay without comment in a previous post:

A Special Supplement: The Other Dostoevsky by Philip Rahv, The New York Review of Books, April 20, 1972

Here is Rahv on Trotsky:
What exactly have we given in the area of philosophy or social science?” His answer: “Nothing, a round zero. Vladimir Solovyov, who is usually remembered only on the anniversary of his death? His foggy metaphysics has not entered the history of world-thought; even in Russia his ideas failed to produce anything like a philosophical movement.” Trotsky continues by holding up to scorn the philosophical small fry who are looking forward to the imminent appearance of “a Slavic Kant.” “Where is he? He does not exist. Where is our Hegel? Where is one of equal importance in the history of thought? In philosophy we have none but third-rate disciples and faceless epigoni.
The quotes from Trotsky come from this essay:

“Concerning the Intelligentsia,” by Leon Trotsky, translated from the Russian by Philip Rahv and Irwin Weil, footnotes by Philip Rahv, Partisan Review, Vol. 35, No. 4, Fall 1968, pp. 585-598. Written 1912, published in Kievskaya Mysl. The following quote, p. 592:
In the novel A Raw Youth Dostoyevsky’s Versilov looks at Europe, as Herzen dld, with an anguish not unmixed with contempt. “There,” he says, “the conservative is only struggling to protect his living, and the store-clerk pours out his kerosene only to earn his daily morsel of bread. Russia alone lives not for itself but for the sake of an idea. . . .It is now nearly a century since Russia [that is, Russia’s intelligentsia] has been living without any thought for itself but for Europe alone.” The same Versilov says, “Europe created the noble images of the Frenchman, the Englishman, and the German; but it still knows almost nothing of the nature of the future man. It would seem, however, that Europe still does not care to know. This is understandable, as they are not free, whereas we are free. In all of Europe, I, with my Russian anguish, was the only free man. . . .” Versilov cannot see that, unlike the European conservative or the clerk in the kerosene-store, he had freed himself not only from the fetters of his class traditions but also from the possibility of social creativity. The same faceless environment which had given him his subjective freedom also loomed before him as an objective barrier.
Trotsky had a keen sense for the ideological underpinnings of philosophy and literature as well as a capable sensibility far beyond the limitations of other leading Bolsheviks. Here Trotsky excoriates the vain self-aggrandizement of the Russian intelligentsia that finds itself uprooted from the past but has nothing to go on but its inflated sense of destiny. Trotsky finds the history of Russia a culturally impoverished one, not even being able to boast the glories of other feudal regimes. Whether Slavophiles, populists, or even partisans of modern ideas, the intelligentsia was compelled to fasten onto one or another grand ideology and to absorb hastily and superficially the products of centuries of cultural evolution that had transpired in the West, as an alternative to their own backward station and severance from their roots. Hence their illusions of being free spirits and sacrificing themselves for the people, encapsulated in the quote from Dostoevsky. Four paragraphs on, Trotsky travesties some lines from a poem just quoted: "Versilov's version of  'freedom' could have no other meaning than this freedom of our thought to wander without any work to do."

Then Trotsky ridicules Russian intellectual accomplishments and we come to the passage quoted by Rahv (first paragraph above.) Trotsky is less than impressed even by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Alexander Herzen, Pyotr Lavrov, and Nikolay Mikhaylovsky. Bakunin gets grudging acknowledgment. Even Tolstoy yields political sterility. Belinski is found to be weak. Six more paragraphs and Trotsky has washed his hands of the Russian intelligentsia.

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