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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Very Truly Yours, L. Trotsky

As John Stuart Mill once warned, it is not enough to only know your own position. You must also know the opposing views because without them you don’t really know much. This is important no matter what side of an issue you are on. To truly advocate a free market system we must know how other systems work (or rather why they don’t!). This is a lesson no student of the social sciences should forget.

Even in spite of this, it is still amazing to see today’s document (which is difficult to read so I apologize), as it is difficult to think of a correspondence between two people more different on so many margins. The document is a letter from Bolshevik revolution leader Leon Trotsky to free market journalist Henry Hazlitt on November 12, 1931. The letter has Trotsky responding to Hazlitt’s request for an article meant for the Nation, which Hazlitt was managing editor. At the time Trotsky was in exile in Turkey. It was nine years before he was assassinated with an ice axe in Mexico.

Trotsky did publish one article in the Nation entitled “The French Revolution Has Begun!” in 1936. Whether this is the article discussed in the letter, however, is not certain. Still, Hazlitt publishing the work of an intellectual opponent is a good idea, particularly by someone of Trotsky’s reputation and standing. As, M. Uritsky, another Bolshevik revolution leader, once said, “Now that the great revolution has come one feels that however intelligent Lenin may be he begins to fade beside the genius of Trotsky.” The stronger the arguments for socialism that we can take down, the better chance we have for strengthening our ideas, which makes it more likely they will be understood by more individuals.

Another reason not to worry is that Austrian economics is particularly apt at arguing against the major flaws of socialism and communism. Mises had demonstrated the impossibility of socialism by 1920. And some 15 years after this letter, Hayek, in 1945 would show why Mises’s argument was still relevant for a not so pure form of socialism, such as the Soviet Union.

Download the Trotsky to Hazlitt Letter of November 12, 1931 here.

Or read the text here:

Kadikoy, Turkey

November 12, 1931

Mr. Henry Hazlitt,

Managing Editor, the Nation,

New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Hazlitt,

In reply to your letter of September 23rd, can advise that I hope that I hope to deliver an article of the kind you want for the Nation, but this I cannot do at the present time.

Just now I am very busy completing the last chapters of the second volume of my “History of the Russian Revolution”, which I must finish by the 1st or December of this year.

In January, if nothing interferes, you will receive my manuscript. I must warn you however, that I will write in Russian because I do not have anyone here who can translate it into English or American.

Very truly yours,

L. Trotsky

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.