Thursday, November 7, 2013

Isaac Deutscher: O Judeu-Não-Judeu Trotskista-Stalinista

O título não é sacanagem não, Isaac Deutscher foi um comunista polaco, evidentemente mais um picareta desonesto, que escreveu horrorosas biografias de Stalin e Trotsky. Sua carreira e sucesso ilustram como errar consistente e sistematicamente é uma qualidade querida e adorada pelos intelectuais. O grande Walter Laqueur destrói a tentativa de reabilitação dele e aproveita para descer o cacete no seu infame sidekick E.H. Carr: revisiting Deutscher in 2013 is still a matter of fascination—if only as an exercise in the sociology of knowledge. Writing about him in 1967, I noted his indestructible optimism, which could well be one of the keys both to his personality and to his misjudgments. Deutscher’s ideological outlook was formed in the 1920s, a period when many young intellectuals with his background, including some of the brightest of them, turned to Communism as the great hope for the salvation of mankind. Neuroscientists tell us that optimism is hardwired in the human brain; they also tell us that this pervasive bias is responsible for our overestimating the likelihood of positive events and underestimating the likelihood of negative ones. (See Tali Sharot, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, 2011.) But if a youthful infatuation with Communism is easily explained, how to explain the fact that 30 and 40 years after the Bolshevik Revolution, after so many brutal setbacks and disappointments—preeminently the murderous rise and consolidation of Stalinist rule—Deutscher-style optimism should have continued to paralyze the critical judgment of so many? And more fascinating yet: how to explain that, even today, despite everything that another half-century of scholarship has disclosed, Deutscher and his friend and alter ego E.H. Carr still have their defenders? Deutscher, after all, only misinterpreted Stalin; Carr managed to get both Stalin and Hitler wrong—no mean achievement—and yet he is still regarded as a towering figure in the so-called realist school of international affairs. The special indulgence granted to intellectuals who have been consistently wrong emerges from things big and small. In the 1950s, for example, an industry developed that specialized in the fabrication of Soviet memoirs. Some were produced by enterprising individuals out for material gain; others may have involved intelligence agencies.(Grigory Besedovski,a Soviet diplomat who defected in the 1920s but then seems to have re-entered Soviet employ, is frequently cited as a main author.) Although a number of these productions were quite sophisticated, most were so primitive that no deep knowledge of things Soviet was needed to spot them as fakes. Nevertheless, Deutscher was taken in by a book by Stalin’s nephew, Budu Svanidze (My Uncle Joseph Stalin), whom no one had ever met because he did not exist, and another (I Was Stalin’s Bodyguard) by Ahmed Amba, likewise non-existent. He also believed the rumor of Stalin’s third marriage to a Rosa Kaganovich. Carr, for his part, was fooled by the fake memoirs of Maxim Litvinov, the longstanding Soviet foreign minister. Such slipups can occur at any time to busy writers, but they also point to a certain inherent credulity. What differentiates them and makes them of interest is the way they are received by others. A similar misfortune happened in 1983 to the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who authenticated a forgery entitled The Hitler Diaries; the mistake nearly ruined his formidable reputation. No such fate met Deutscher and Carr, whose howlers were all but ignored. False optimism, then, can explain the Deutscher-Carr syndrome only in part, and their enduring reputation in some circles not at all. Similarly unhelpful are explanations that appeal to the perfectly natural reluctance of authors to admit mistakes—another hardwired tendency. In the end, the most crucial factor may be just this: being in tune with the right crowd. As the leftist French journalist Jean Daniel once put it: better to be wrong with Jean-Paul Sartre than right with Raymond Aron. Sartre might have been consistently wrong in his political judgment and his intellectual opponent Aron almost always right. But Sartre, like Deutscher, was pro-Soviet during the cold war while Aron, like Isaiah Berlin, was pro-American (and also, like Berlin, pro-Israel). And that settled the matter. This is how reputations quite often develop in the world of ideas, and how they endure—an interesting issue itself, and certainly one in need of further investigation.

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