October 07, 2003

Citation Help Needed: Leon Trotsky

Somewhere in the back of my brain is the unshakeable certainty that Comrade Lev Davidovich Bronstein was wont to say, to people who refused to read their Capital sufficiently seriously, "You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you."

Now comes Lawrence Kaplan--the finest neoconservative writer on national and global security affairs in America today--with a question: "I've been attempting to track [this] down for weeks.... You are the only source listed by google, which leads me to suspect that the actual quote is a bit more elaborate. Any clues about the source--was it Trotsky?--or the exact quote?"

A little googling tells me that the overwhelming opinion of 650 other people on the internet is that the quote is, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." I'm outvoted 650 to 1, and should retire from the field. Jim Henley reminds me that "Alan Furst used the Trotsky quote, 'You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,' as the epigraph to his very fine Night Soldiers," which is a very fine World War II-era espionage novel (but not as fine as Furst's Dark Star, which leaves the best of Ambler or LeCarre far behind in the dust).

But I would like to give Lawrence Kaplan more. Anybody have any idea when or where Comrade Trotsky said this? Or if it is a real quote, and not just something too good to pretend is a real quote?

I'm going to go look for my copy of Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station, which is the only obvious place I can think of where I might have read it.

I will award a Hero of Socialist Labor (Third Class) Medal to the first person with the "correct" answer.


Comrade "Jam" (what has happened to revolutionary pseudonyms in these degenerate times?) is hereby awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor Medal (Third Class) for finding the following quote in Trotsky's 1940 polemic against James Burnham, "Demission de Burnham": "Burnham ne reconnaît pas la dialectique, mais la dialectique ne lui permet pas d'échapper à son filet."


We now need to award a second Hero of Socialist Labor Medal (Third Class) to Comrade-Professor Chris Bertram, who writes: "Trotsky does use it... in his 'A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party': 'Burnham does not recognize the dialectic, but the dialectic recognizes Burnham, that is, extends its sway over him.'"

Posted by DeLong at October 7, 2003 04:17 PM | TrackBack

Comments

24 juin 1915 - Le premier pas a été franchi ! - Nominations de ministres en Russie lors de la guerre 14-18 - Article de Trotsky - in "La Guerre et la Révolution" - in Tome VIII Oeuvre "Silhouettes Politiques"

Dunno if it's correct, but I found it in a google search, obviously in a French edition of the collected works...

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on October 7, 2003 04:45 PM

____

@Donald: relax. copy post before clicking "post". wait 2 sec. close window. reopen window from the blog.
@Brad: can't help in the matter, but wanted to let you know, the permalink to this entry appears damaged.

Posted by: markus on October 7, 2003 05:01 PM

____

Then there's this from 1940 (Demission de Burnham):

" Burnham ne reconnaît pas la dialectique, mais la dialectique ne lui permet pas d'échapper à son filet."

Which has the same figure of speech and much the same thought.

Posted by: jam on October 7, 2003 05:12 PM

____

fixed.
thanks.

Posted by: markus on October 7, 2003 06:34 PM

____

I realize this is a bit late. Quotation Reference attributes "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." to Leon Trotsky as well. http://www.quotationreference.com/main.php

For those of us who are neither cosmopolitan nor revolutionary, I have seen this translated as:
"Burnham doesn’t recognize dialectics but dialectics does not permit him to escape from its net." Letter to Albert Goldman, June 5, 1940. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1942-dm/ch07.htm

Posted by: Pine on October 7, 2003 06:40 PM

____

Wouldn't ya know it. Today is Leon's birthday.

Posted by: biklett on October 7, 2003 09:56 PM

____

Re revolutionary nicknames, fella ran for Kentucky a few years back on the platform:

Put the jam on the lower shelf where the little guy can get it.

(As in: Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, never jam today)

I'll bet he has a comrade named Pie.

Posted by: Buce on October 7, 2003 10:33 PM

____

This thread seems as good a place as any to record Trotsky's greatest ever comment, on the subject of the leader of the US communist party:

"Everyone has the right to be stupid, but Comrade MacDonald abuses the privilege".

Posted by: dsquared on October 8, 2003 12:17 AM

____

The phrase may be down to James Burnham who, replying to Trotsky's "Open Letter" in which the words to not occur, writes at p. 193 of his "Science and Style" (included in Trotsky's In Defense of Marxism) "I do not recognize dialectics, but, as you say, dialectics recognizes me."

Posted by: Chris Bertram on October 8, 2003 03:58 AM

____

No, I was wrong, Trotsky does use it, again in In Defense of Marxism in his "A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party":

"Burnham does not recognize the dialectic, but the dialectic recognizes Burnham, that is, extends its sway over him."

Posted by: Chris Bertram on October 8, 2003 04:01 AM

____

It sounds like Trotskii was paraphrasing or playing on Nietzsche's quotation that if you gazed into an abyss the abyss would gaze into you. The Russian Social-Democratic party was a Germanophilic bunch after all.

Posted by: mark safranski on October 8, 2003 07:43 AM

____

All of Furst's espionage novels are linked, and in some ways Night Soldiers (the first) is the key to the rest of them...

Posted by: xian on October 8, 2003 08:57 AM

____

What I'm afraid none of this dicussion gets to is that the original quote is spurious. It's a combination of two different phrases made in the same month.

Trotsky is here quoted in French as having said, "Burnham may not recognize the dialectic, but the dialectic will not permit him to escape from its net." I'm sure that's the correct source. But it's not the right quote. It's nothing like it. It's a completely unoriginal thought expressed like jargonated blubber. The only word it has in common with the purported quote is "dialectic." But so do a hundred other versions of that thought, all of them expressed better.

What happened was that in the same month (October 1940, the month of the Battle of Britain), JB Priestly, in his radio postscript to the nation, said "You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you." The spurious quote resulted from people mixing Priestly's very catchy rhetoric with Trotsky's very cliched (although still important) thought.

Priestly's quote is also the source of the conviction many people have that the original speaker was actually talking about war. He was.

So, to repeat, the original quote Brad was trying to track down is spurious. The answer to the original question is, No one said it in the first place. It exists only as a widely circulated misquote, like Play it Again, Sam.

But amusingly, I see that Lawrence Kaplan, the fellow who originally said he was interested in finding the true source of the citation, published an op-ed in the Wednesday, November 12th Financial Times entitled _Neo-conservatism is far from dead_. And does he appreciate all the work you fellows have done for him? No. He really liked that quote, and given a choice, he decided to forget the facts and keep the quote. He does mention Burnham though, as if a false footnote to a spurious quote somehow made it more respectable.

It's all kind of like Josephine Tey's _The Daughter of Time_ in miniature.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pollak on November 14, 2003 01:41 AM

____

What I'm afraid none of this dicussion gets to is that the original quote is spurious. It's a combination of two different phrases made in the same month.

Trotsky is here quoted in French as having said, "Burnham may not recognize the dialectic, but the dialectic will not permit him to escape from its net." I'm sure that's the correct source. But it's not the right quote. It's nothing like it. It's a completely unoriginal thought expressed like jargonated blubber. The only word it has in common with the purported quote is "dialectic." But so do a hundred other versions of that thought, all of them expressed better.

What happened was that in the same month (October 1940, the month of the Battle of Britain), JB Priestly, in his radio postscript to the nation, said "You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you." The spurious quote resulted from people mixing Priestly's very catchy rhetoric with Trotsky's very cliched (although still important) thought.

Priestly's quote is also the source of the conviction many people have that the original speaker was actually talking about war. He was.

So, to repeat, the original quote Brad was trying to track down is spurious. The answer to the original question is, No one said it in the first place. It exists only as a widely circulated misquote, like Play it Again, Sam.

But amusingly, I see that Lawrence Kaplan, the fellow who originally said he was interested in finding the true source of the citation, published an op-ed in the Wednesday, November 12th Financial Times entitled _Neo-conservatism is far from dead_. And does he appreciate all the work you fellows have done for him? No. He really liked that quote, and given a choice, he decided to forget the facts and keep the quote. He does mention Burnham though, as if a false footnote to a spurious quote somehow made it more respectable.

It's all kind of like Josephine Tey's _The Daughter of Time_ in miniature.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pollak on November 14, 2003 01:42 AM

____

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.

Posted by: Meschel Judy on December 10, 2003 08:29 PM

____

Don't worry that other people don't know you; worry that you don't know other people.

Posted by: Boskovic Helena on January 9, 2004 11:53 PM

____

Post a comment
















__