Splinters in Politics and Art
Splinters in Politics and Art (excerpt)
by Leon Trotsky (1938)
“In the June issue of your magazine I found a curious letter from an editor of a Chicago magazine, unknown to me. Expressing (by mistake, I hope) his sympathy for your publication, he writes: “I can see no hope however [?] from the Trotskyites or other anemic splinters which have no mass base.” These arrogant words tell more about the author than he perhaps wanted to say. They show above all that the laws of development of society have remained a seven times sealed book for him. Not a single progressive idea has begun with a “mass base,” otherwise it would not have been a progressive idea. It is only in its last stage that the idea finds its masses – if, of course, it answers the needs of progress. All great movements have begun as “splinters” of older movements. In the beginning, Christianity was only a “splinter” of Judaism; Protestantism a “splinter” of Catholicism, that is to say decayed Christianity. The group of Marx and Engels came into existence as a “splinter” of the Hegelian Left. The Communist International germinated during the war from the “splinters” of the Social Democratic International. If these pioneers found themselves able to create a mass base, it was precisely because they did not fear isolation. They knew beforehand that the quality of their ideas would be transformed into quantity. These “splinters” did not suffer from anemia; on the contrary, they carried within themselves the germs of the great historical movements of tomorrow.
“In very much the same way, to repeat, a progressive movement occurs in art. When an artistic tendency has exhausted its creative resources, creative “splinters” separate from it, which are able to look at the world with new eyes. The more daring the pioneers show in their ideas and actions, the more bitterly they oppose themselves to established authority which rests on a conservative “mass base,” the more conventional souls, skeptics, and snobs are inclined to see in the pioneers, impotent eccentrics or “anemic splinters‚” But in the last analysis it is the conventional souls, skeptics and snobs who are wrong – and life passes them by…
“Every new artistic or literary tendency (naturalism, symbolism, futurism, cubism, expressionism and so forth and so on) has begun with a “scandal,” breaking the old respected crockery, bruising many established authorities. This flowed not at all solely from publicity seeking (although there was no lack of this). No, these people – artists, as well as literary critics – had something to say. They had friends, they had enemies, they fought, and exactly through this they demonstrated their right to exist.”
Excerpted from “Art and Politics in our Epoch”
Fourth International, March-April 1950.