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The Fire and the Arsonist
(Part 2 of 3,  Leon Trotsky and the Dewey Commission)

A house on fire!  Billows of smoke rise above the roof, flames shoot out the windows, black figures silhouetted against the glare wave frantically and cry for help.  We hear the wail of a fire-engine in the distance  help is on the way.  We see the fire-engine.  Here it comes ...

And it drives right on by!

The fire-engine stops at a house down the street, where a man is trapped up in the branches of a tree.  He is watching the burning house and shouting “Burn, burn, burn!”  The firemen jump out, put up a ladder, and get the man down.  After some words of sympathy to him for having been stuck in a tree, the firemen watch the man walk away.  Then they return to their fire-engine, drive past the burning house and go back to the station.

(To be continued.)

Leon Trotsky is tangentially relevant to the Alexander Technique in that the Dewey Commission  where Dewey defended Trotsky against Stalin  is relevant to Dewey’s mentality, and some Alexandrians claim Dewey’s mentality is relevant to the A.T.

As described in the previous article, one respondent, a teacher, keeps bringing up, in defense of Dewey, Dewey’s defense of Trotsky. This respondent considered six questions I asked of him:

1.  What role, if any, did Trotsky play in the Red Terror?

He answers this fairly well.  In brief:  Trotsky was instrumental in carrying out the Red Terror.

2.  Did the Dewey Commission find Trotsky guilty of anything?

He calls this “a non-question” because

« The Dewey Commission was mandated to investigate Stalin’s charges against Trotsky.  Those charges were ridiculously false. »

The charge of “anti-Leninism” was indeed false.  One charge was not, though perverse considering that Stalin was the accuser:  the charge that Trotsky had killed masses of “workers.”  Indeed he had.

But let that pass.  The other charges Stalin invented for the occasion:  the occasion of purging his competitors.  The trial was a frame-up.  Yet we should wonder at the motivation of the Commission, just as we should wonder at the motivation of those firemen.  The respondent again:

« The Commission had no platform to assess or pass judgment on Trotsky’s career. ...  Dewey employed considerable restraint in holding to the Commission’s mandate and refraining from exploiting his position to criticize Trotsky. »

Mandated by whom?  Answer:  those who set up the Commission, the “American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky.”

Why no interest in setting up another commission that would investigate Trotsky and his role in the organized murder of countless thousands of people?  Why investigate only Stalin’s frame-up of Bolsheviks?

To finish “The Fire and the Arsonist”:  Just as you would conclude from their actions that the fireman didn’t have much interest in putting out fires, so Dewey and his Commission didn’t have much interest in justice.  They rescued Trotsky from Stalin’s charges, and pretty much ignored the Red Terror and Trotsky’s role in it.

The Commission laughed at Trotsky’s jokes.  (See previous article for a reference to the Commission’s report.) At times they are downright obsequious. (*)  All the while Trotsky makes himself out as a peace-loving man, a champion of democracy and factory workers.  Yet he was proud to say early in the proceedings:  “I worked with Lenin hand in hand from 1917 to the moment of his illness and then his death.”

3.  Can you provide a reference to Dewey ever denouncing Trotsky for anything?

The respondent ignores the question and says in reply:

« Dewey was one of the first ... critics of Soviet tyranny from a left-liberal perspective. »

Why are only left-liberals entitled to our consideration?  The fact is, Dewey was amazingly slow to criticize Soviet tyranny.   Not until the mid 1930s do we hear real criticism.  As for Trotsky, if Dewey ever denounced him for anything more substantial than that his ideas were “pre-conceived,” “absolute," etc. he sure didn’t spend much ink on it.

4.  If  X  hates Dewey, and  X  is bad,  how much evidence is that that Dewey is good?

That is the gist of the respondent’s defense of Dewey, with ‘X’ being the communists who denounced Dewey after he chaired the Commission.  The respondent ignores this question.

5.  If Dewey admired some action Y performed by the Soviets (the action itself, regardless of who performed it), and years later denounces the Soviets for some other action Z, how much evidence is that that Dewey no longer admires action Y ?

One example of ‘Y’ would be investigating the parents of children who resist communist indoctrination.  See Dewey’s Impressions of Soviet Russia.  The respondent ignores this question.

6.  If Dewey blinked at murder performed by the Soviets in the service of a great communist experiment, and years later denounces the Soviets for murder in the service of Stalin, what would you conclude?

The respondent claims that “Dewey did not ‘blink at murder.’ ”  If not, Dewey’s statement that the Bolshevist crimes were “dead, empty, evacuated of vital significance.” etc. was a damn good imitation.

« He DID acknowledge that a vast imperial tyranny like Tsarist Russia could not be displaced by a handshake over teacups. »  (!)

In other words, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.  This was what Soviet apologists used to say to justify the Red Terror.

Murdering shopkeepers, manufacturers, landlords, factory workers in opposition, etc. — the alternative the respondent provides to this is “a handshake over teacups”  an absurd alternative used to justify the first.  As if the Red Terror was the only way to end the monarchy, as if the Bolsheviks had no choice but to destroy countless thousands of politically incorrect “bourgeoisie,” not to mention those non-“bourgeoisie” who also opposed the Bolsheviks.

« Dewey expressed optimism at what he was permitted to see of the Soviet education system in 1928 ... »

I interrupt.  What Dewey admired is abhorrent to any lover of liberty.  You will find plenty of quotes on this website.

The respondent continues:

« BEFORE Stalin assumed full dictatorial power. »

Stalin was a major Soviet leader from the early 1920’s.  How does his leadership being less than full exonerate Dewey?

Dewey’s subsequent criticism of the Soviets was neither extensive nor aimed at essentials, e.g. the destruction of private ownership.  He didn’t write a book denouncing the Soviets like the one he had in 1929 praising them.  He did come to see some of his error, noted at the end of part 1.  He continued to promote “progressive” causes none-the-less.

In summary, though Dewey never supported Stalin the man, at one time or another Dewey did support many of the communists’ goals and important essentials of the Soviet ruling apparatus.  Read in his own books and articles what Dewey admired during the early phases of the U.S.S.R.

“Trotskyite” has rather a specialized meaning in history and Dewey was never a Trotskyite.  However, in 1937 Dewey did help whitewash the Red Terror crimes of Trotsky  and by extension all the old-guard Bolsheviks.

*  These are my own observations from reading some of the report, which is a verbatim transcript of the proceedings.  Here is an account by Carleton Beals, an original member of the commission who later resigned:
“The hushed adoration of the other members of the commission for Mr. Trotzky [original spelling] has defeated all spirit of honest investigation. ...  When our [that is, the commission’s] lawyer, Mr. Finerty, got through with his long-winded and meaningless cross-examination of Trotzky, the Russian leader ... had wings sprouting from his shoulders. ...  Thus far, no investigations have been conducted, but merely a pink tea party with every one but myself uttering sweet platitudes.”

(quoted in “Beals Brands ‘Trial’ of Trotzky Ridiculous,” Daily Worker, 20 April 1937, p.4)  from a footnote of George Dykhuizen’s book The Life and Mind of Jonn Dewey (#31, page 393).  Beals said he resigned because the commission was not allowed to examine Trotsky about his role in the Red Terror.  Beals was a communist still sympathetic to the offical Soviet party line, and therefore prejudiced, but his account above, though flowery, is consistent with the transcript.  The atmosphere of the proceedings is also unwittingly captured by George Novack, an admirer of both Trotsky and Dewey:

“Trotsky made his summary speech on the last day of the sessions.  It concluded with a reaffirmation of his confidence in the ultimate triumph of the cause of socialism to which he had dedicated his life.  The tragic backdrop of circumstances against which his words were spoken made them all the more moving and impressive.
Esteemed Commissioners!  The experience of my life, in which there has been no lack either of successes or of failures, has not only not destroyed my faith in the clear, bright future of mankind, but, on the contrary, has given it an indestructible temper.  This faith in reason, in truth, in human solidarity, which at the age of eighteen I took with me into the workers’ quarters of the provincial Russian town of Nikolaiev  this faith I have preserved fully and completely. It has become more mature, but not less ardent.

In the very fact of your Commission’s formation  in the fact that, at its head, is a man of unshakable moral authority, a man who by virtue of his age should have the right to remain outside of the skirmishes in the political arena  in this fact I see a new and truly magnificent reinforcement of the revolutionary optimism which constitutes the fundamental element of my life ...
“A hush fell over the assemblage as the Promethean revolutionary ended his prolonged and passionate presentation.  The shadows of late afternoon had begun to cut across the patio outside.  ‘Anything I can say will be an anti-climax,’ the white-haired John Dewey remarked and pronounced the hearings closed.”
See  www.Marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1937/dewey/intro.htm .

continue to part 3 (conclusion) >>