TROTSKY, STRAUSS, AND THE NEOCONS

by , June 14, 2003

The War Party is playing defense these days, and for good reason: in Iraq, there is no sign of those “weapons of mass destruction,” and in Washington, Congress is getting ready to launch an investigation into who lied about what – and why. Meanwhile, one American soldier is getting killed every other day, on average – weeks after Bush’s declaration of “victory.” This is what old King Pyrrhus had in mind when he said: “One more victory such as this, and we are done for.”

Worst of all – from the War Party’s perspective – is that the neocon meme is really getting out there. Every day, it seems, there is a new article in some periodical not only pointing to them as the driving force behind the rush to war, but also detailing their ideological odyssey from left to right – and this is driving the neocons craaaazy. The result is that, within less than 24 hours, no less than four major polemics appeared denouncing this level of scrutiny as evidence of (what else?) “anti-Semitism.”

First to weigh in was Robert Bartley, in the Wall Street Journal, who approaches the problem by floating his own sort of conspiracy theory: the whole brouhaha, he avers, is a plot by Lyndon LaRouche and his kooky followers. The evidence: a pamphlet put out by the LaRouchies, luridly entitled “Children of Satan.” Bartley is apparently a LaRouche afficionado – or, at least, interested enough to claim, with a knowledgeable air, that

“It does seem to be true that the LaRouche screed was first in line in thrusting Leo Strauss, author of such volumes as Natural Right and History, into the middle of the debate over the Iraq war. The theme was later sounded by James Atlas in the New York Times and Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.”

This is absolute nonsense, on two counts:

1) As anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of how to use Google could discover in a moment, the neocons’ enemies have long been aware of Strauss’s cult and its baleful influence. Libertarians are naturally horrified by the Straussian devotion to the benevolent dictatorship of a self-appointed elite, and we at antiwar.com have not spared Strauss and his followers their fair share of abuse. While Shadia B. Drury’s 1999 book, Leo Strauss and the American Right, provided a critique of Strauss’s influence from the left, paleoconservatives such as Paul Gottfried were among the first to raise the alarm. But I’ll leave it to my old friend Burt Blumert to capture the essence of the antagonism that has long existed between the followers of Strauss and the Old Right gang centered around LewRockwell.com:

“Neocons, as ex-Trotskyites, are bad enough, but those who follow the pro-pagan Leo Strauss are deadly. He advocated the Big Lie. Forgive me for all the gory details, but these people – with their other leaders like Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol and the help of the CIA – perverted the American right into loving the welfare-warfare state.”

And that was in one of Burt’s fundraising pieces. Help save the world from the evil Straussians, he warned over a year ago. They want to drag us into war with their Big Lie technique – it all seems pretty prescient to me.

2) Bartley seems to believe that if LaRouche says the sky is blue, it must be red, or perhaps some other color. But establishing such a LaRouche Standard, whereby we must rule out anything and everything the LaRouchians aver – aside from constituting a new category of logical fallacy – would lead Bartley to disavow his newspaper’s avid support, over the years, for such projects as the “Star Wars” missile defense, which the LaRouchians really were the first to propose and lobby for.

If one believes, like most conservatives, that ideas have consequences, and that philosophy has an enormous impact on the conduct of foreign policy (or any government policy), then you belong, according to Bartley, “in the fever swamps” with the LaRouchies. But the punch-line for this joke of an argument is here:

“This is the ugly accusation an alert reader should suspect in encountering the word ‘Straussian,’ or these days even ‘neo-conservative’ in the context of the Iraq debate. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle find their Jewish heritage a point of attack. But George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are gentiles. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell don’t look Jewish to me, but they also helped draft the basic statement of the Bush Doctrine, the September 2002 ‘National Security Policy of the United States.'”

In the Orwellian world of the neocons, where a new form of political correctness frames their every utterance, the language is contracting. Because the goal of totalitarian thought control is to make the expression of political incorrectness impossible, the goal of this Neocon Newspeak is the abolition of many now-common words. In this context, words are used, not to make debating points, but to end all discussion. There are no Straussians, we are told, and even the word neoconservative is to be flushed down the Memory Hole, along with shelves full of books, articles, and even one incredibly boring film detailing their intellectual and political evolution in minute detail.

The idea that the major media have been taken over by neo-Nazis, and that the campaign to identify who and/or what got us involved in an unnecessary and ultimately futile war is all part of “the new anti-Semitism,” is the rather implausible theme of the neocons’ defense. In a polemic that has all the hallmarks of having been written by an awful drunk – i.e., not only entirely lacking in logic, but also relentlessly subjective and anecdotal – Christopher Hitchens reveals the ultimate evidence for this worldwide anti-Semitic plot in all its sinister “undertones.” Once again, the use of certain words – or, in this case, their correct pronunciation – is the issue at hand:

“‘Yes that’s all very well,’ said the chap from the BBC World Service, ‘but what about this man Vulfervitz who seems to run the whole show from behind the scenes?’ For the fifth time in as many days, and for the umpteenth time this year, I corrected a British interviewer’s pronunciation. You see the name in print, you hear it uttered quite a lot in American discussions, you then give a highly inflected rendition of your own. … What is this?”

To any normal person, it is nothing at all. A simple mis-pronunciation. A defective ear. Perhaps Hitchens, through the thick syrupy haze of alcohol and self-regard, could not hear what this anonymous “chap” was really saying. But, no:

“This is not quite like old-line reactionaries going out of their way to say ‘Franklin Delano Rosenfeld.’ Still, I don’t think I am quite wrong in suspecting that a sharpened innuendo is in play here. Why else, when the very name of Paul Wolfowitz is mentioned, do so many people bid adieu to the very notion of objectivity?”

It is Hitchens who has bid adieu to objectivity. He details all the various travails suffered by the hawkish Defense Department deputy secretary, but nowhere mentions the supposed ethno-religious factor until the very end of his rambling screed:

Coming back to where I began, though, I think that there’s genuine cause for alarm in the current vulgar conflation of ‘Kabbalah’ with ‘cabal,’ and with the practice of what, if anyone else were to be the target, the left would already be calling ‘demonization.'”

The problem with this argument is that Hitchens is the only one making such a far-fetched conflation, but boozy narcissism is what usually takes the place of logic in the alcoholic mind. Hitchens’ contribution to the neocon counteroffensive, then, is to add his own nominee to the growing list of forbidden words: Straussian, neocon, cabal…. Their campaign to constrict the parameters of political debate by eliminating words marches on.

Arnold Beichman was next up at bat, with his own nominee: in any discussion of the neocons and their influence, he wants any reference to Leon Trotsky or the influence of Trotskyism to be strictly verboten. Writing in National Review Online, Beichman is outraged at Jeet Heer’s National Post piece detailing the Trotskyist roots of leading neocons, whose cocktail party chatter evidently includes abstruse references to Max Shachtman and the factional history of the Fourth International. I wrote about the Heer piece the other day (scroll down to "Notes in the Margin"), but, alas, the saga continues. Beichman contemptuously dismisses the ex-Trotskyist Hitchens’ alleged influence at the White House. Apparently in response to ex-Trotskyist-turned-neocon Stephen Schwartz for affectionately referring to the killer of Kronstadt as “the old man” and “L.D.,” Beichman launches a magnificent attack on the crimes of Trotsky, unfairly ripping into Heer for giving Schwartz a platform and for bringing up the Trotsky connection at all:

“But there is something more sinister at work here: to rob the Coalition, which destroyed a terrorist haven and an inhuman dictatorship, of the moral victory it represents.”

Schwartz responded the next day in National Review with what I think is the last word on this subject: his article is the definitive text that proves how right we paleos have been all along about this troublesome sect known as the neocons. Schwartz denounces “a group of neofascists” who supposedly claim that “neoconservatives are all ex-Trotskyists,” but defends Heer’s piece as serving another aim, that of describing “the very real evolution of certain ex-Trotskyists toward an interventionist position on the Iraq war” – i.e., his own evolution and that of his friends and associates in the neocon movement. It is okay for certain people to talk about the Trotskyist influence on neoconservatism, just as long as they have the right ideology:

“The U.S. neofascists who have thrown this accusation around use the term ‘Trotskyist’ the same way they use the term ‘neoconservative:’ as a euphemism for ‘Jew.'”

But when he writes how “many of the original generation of neoconservatives had a background of association with Trotskyism in its Shachtmanite iteration” it’s somehow not a hate crime. Schwartz is even allowed to observe, as I did in my 1993 book Reclaiming the American Right in some detail, that “the Shachtmanites, in the 1960s, joined the AFL-CIO in its best Cold War period, and many became staunch Reaganites.” The point of Schwartz’s rebuttal, however, is that he is proud of his Trotksyist past. He even gathers his co-thinkers together in proclaiming, in true Trotskyist fashion, that they constitute a semi-official faction, which some editor at NRO deemed “Trotsky-cons”:

“The second issue at hand involves the actual ex-Trotskyists who engaged with the issue of the Iraqi war. I call this group, to which I belong, the ‘three-and-a-half international,’ which is an obscure reference I won’t explain fully. But I use it to indicate three main individuals: Christopher Hitchens, myself, and the Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya, who all did indeed march under the Red Flag at some point….”

Here is where Schwartz descends into sheer hilarity, given that the best humor is always unintentional. He not only defends dear old Trotsky against Beichman’s calumniations, but also red-baits Beichman, reminding him – and NRO‘s by this time utterly baffled readers – of Beichman’s Stalinist past. Beichman was a fellow traveler of the Communist Party in the 1930s, when he worked for the pro-war, pro-FDR left-wing newspaper PM. It’s all too funny, but one can only wonder what ordinary, garden-variety, un-prefixed conservatives think of all this sound and fury.

Here, after all, are the ex-Commies of yesteryear re-enacting the Stalin-Trotsky split in the pages of National Review – even as the magazine continues with its ridiculous campaign denying the very existence of neocons as anything but plain old vanilla conservatives. The magazine’s online readers, such as they are, may be mystified by Schwartz’s argument that Trotsky has a lot to say to the neocons of today, because his analysis of the Moscow Trials somehow impacts on the neocon analysis of Peter Arnett. (Say, what?) But I, for one, particularly enjoyed Schwartz’s contention that the Beichman jeremiad represented an effort to “exclude Hitchens and myself from consideration as reliable allies in the struggle against Islamist extremism,” or, as he proudly avers:

“Because we have yet to apologize for something I, for one, will never consider worthy of apology. There is clearly a group of heresy-hunters among the original neoconservatives who resent having to give way to certain newer faces, with our own history and culture. These older neoconservatives cannot take yes for an answer, and they especially loathe Hitchens. But nobody ever asked Norman Podhoretz to apologize for having once written poetry praising the Soviet army. Nobody ever asked the art critic Meyer Schapiro, who was also a Trotskyist, to flog himself for assisting illegal foreign revolutionaries at a time when it was considered unpatriotic, to say the least. Nobody ever asked Shachtman or Burnham, or, for that matter, Sidney Hook, or Edmund Wilson, or a hundred others, to grovel and beg mercy for inciting war on capitalism in the depths of the Great Depression.”

Holding that Red Banner high, Schwartz declares war on the ex-Stalinists in the neocon movement – of which there are plenty, as he correctly points out – and proclaims his “Third and a Half International.” It is almost too farcical to be taken seriously, but then the “conservatism” upheld by National Review since the purge of John Sullivan has never been serious, and this just underscores the sheer absurdity of its claim to be some kind of final arbiter.

Schwartz raises a perfectly legitimate point: if the ex-Trotskyists have to apologize for importing their particular brand of militarism into the neocon movement, then why don’t the ex-Stalinists have to “grovel,” too? I say let them both apologize for supporting some variant of mass-murdering commie totalitarianism, or stop pretending to be “conservatives.”

The ideas that energize the neoconservative movement have little if anything to do with traditional conservatism. That this suspicion is now widespread among traditional conservatives, as well as journalists, is not to be undone by lame accusations of alleged “anti-Semitism.” Paring down the permitted language of political debate is not going to work, either. It is clear beyond the need for further proof that the War Party bamboozled the American public into taking that first fateful step on the road to empire. We know who they are, and what they believe: it is not a “conspiracy,” as the detractors of this theory insist, because there is nothing secret about it – and because the same people are urging us onward, to Iran, Syria, and beyond.

The esoteric elitist Strauss, the Leninist elitist Trotsky, Schwartz and his mock-operatic “Third and a Half International” re-fighting the inter-Commie faction wars of the 1930s with a gaggle of ex-Stalinists – this is the official “conservative” movement of today! No wonder Commissar Frum and his fellow neocons felt compelled to attack us antiwar, limited government types as “unpatriotic conservatives,” going so far as to declare that they “turn their backs” on us. They turned their backs on authentic conservatism some time ago.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Smearing antiwar conservatives is not the exclusive prerogative of the neocons: leftists like to get in on the act, too. Thus we have a news story in the Washington Times reporting on a peace group having a meeting in Washington D.C.:

Stephen Zunes, chairman of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, said politicians will produce excuses on why they do not support peace.

“‘I’ve heard [Hill] staffers say off the record that the boss agrees with the peace movement, but he needs Jewish money to get elected,’ he said. ‘If we don’t challenge Israel’s policies for the right reasons, we leave it to the Pat Buchanans to challenge it for the wrong reasons.'”

So what are the “right” reasons? Zunes hauls out the oldest, basest canard of the anti-Semites, and attributes Congressional support for Israel to “Jewish money” – and Buchanan is challenging Amerian foreign policy for “the wrong reasons”? Zunes should pipe down, and pack it in, before he discredits himself completely.

Read more by Justin Raimondo