it isn't modesty that makes the neocons shy away from the
spotlight. Yet how else can we explain Joshua Muravchik's
shock at the sudden discovery that entering the term "neoconservative"
will cause an aborted search because "the number of entries
exceeds the program's capacity"?
what's so unique about the neocons: any other political movement
would welcome all that publicity. But not them. Oh no: quite
the contrary. Until very recently, most
neocons denied their very existence as a coherent faction.
author of Neoconservatism:
The Autobiography of an Idea, is the only self-admitted
member of the species, and, as such, to him has fallen the
task of issuing pronouncements in its name, such as this
recent manifesto. But the neocons
have been outed, so to speak, by their own success: not
in building a mass movement, but in penetrating the top echelons
of the U.S. government. As our great "victory" in Iraq turns
out to have been purely Pyrrhic,
people are casting about for some explanation. How did we
fall into this quagmire quickly becomes: who dragged
surprising number of ideologically diverse writers have come
up with a similar answer: the
neocons. Spanning the spectrum, from left to right, they
include Michael Lind,
Elizabeth Drew, Pat Buchanan, Joshua
Micah Marshall, Jim Lobe, Paul
Craig Roberts, to mention just a few. But Muravchik, writing
in Commentary [September 2003], protests that neocons
are just liberals who developed "misgivings" about the Great
Society and a Democratic party gone soft on the cold war.
The "conspiracy theorists" have conjured up a bogeyman, according
to Muravchik, a "sinister" and
veiled group, almost a cabal, whose purpose is to manipulate
U.S. policy for ulterior purposes."
scoffs at the idea that the neocons owe much of anything either
to the cult of Leo Strauss,
the philosopher of the "noble lie," or to Leon Trotsky,
whose legacy informed such proto-neocons as Max Shachtman, Philip Selznick, and Irving
will pass, for the moment, on the subject of the Straussian connection,
since I have never been able to read a single one of Strauss's
books all the way through. I am told that he is boring on
purpose, because, you see, only the dogged few will get
the true – esoteric
– meaning. This seems fitting for a philosophy that, from
what I can tell, is founded on the primacy of deception. Clearly
this methodology is tailor-made for the gang that lied us into war.
the subject of the neocons' leftist roots, however, I feel
more qualified to comment. Muravchik disdains "ancestor-hunting"
as "typical of the way most recent analysis of neoconservative
ideas has been conducted," but surely one way to understand
an idea is to describe its history. He earlier complains that
"few of those writing critically about neoconservatism today
have bothered to stipulate what they take [its] tenets to
be." He then turns around and declares that any attempt to
understand how these ideas evolved over time is somehow not
valid. His argument, in effect, amounts to "Move
along, nothing to see here."
there is plenty to see, first and foremost the Trotskyist
DNA embedded in the neocon foreign policy prescription.
Even if Muravchik was right – and he isn't – to say that "I
can think of only one major neocon figure who did have a significant
dalliance with Trotskyism" – the parallels between Trotskyism
and neoconservatism would still be striking.
Trotskyists argued that the Communist Revolution of 1917 could
not and should not be contained within the borders of the
Soviet Union. Today's neocons make the same argument about
the need to spread the American system until the U.S. becomes
hegemon," as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol
puts it. Trotsky argued that socialism in one
country was impossible,
and doomed to failure:
encircled by capitalism, surrounded by enemies constantly
plotting its downfall, the "workers state" would not survive
if it didn't expand. The neocons are making a similar argument when
it comes to liberal democracy. Confronted by an Islamic world
wholly opposed to modernity, Western liberal democracy must
itself in the Middle East by force – or else face defeat
in the "war on terrorism." Expand or die is the operative
principle, and the neocons brought this Trotskyist mindset
with them from the left.
idea that Irving Kristol is the lone ex-Trotskyist in the
ranks of the neocons has got to be some sort of joke. If so,
it is a weak one. Albert Wohlstetter,
the grand-daddy of what
Lind calls the "defense intellectuals" and who has
conference center named after him over at Neocon
Central, the American Enterprise
Institute, in Washington, D.C. was
a member of the League for a Revolutionary Party (LRP),
a Trotskyist grouplet founded in the 1930s by B.
J. Field, a labor leader who led
the New York hotel strike of 1934. (A close associate
of his at the Rand
Corporation has confirmed this to me.) Gertrude
Himmelfarb, Seymour Martin Lipset, Martin Diamond, all
were members of Max Shachtman's Workers Party,
and then split into their own faction, the "Shermanites,"
who upheld an ostensibly revolutionary socialist doctrine
that was, nonetheless, avowedly "anti-Bolshevik." And what
Hook, who never renounced socialism and yet was awarded
of Freedom by Ronald Reagan: what is he, chopped liver?
not like the neocons' Trotskyist legacy is any big secret.
Jonah Goldberg knows about this. Jeanne Kirkpatrick's
of her education in the Young Peoples' Socialist League
(YPSL, known as Yipsels) were a matter of public record until
the Social Democrats USA took it off their website.
of the YPSL, Muravchik is the past national chairman of that
group. If he is saying that he knows of only one leading neocon
with any roots in the Trotskyist movement, then perhaps he
ought to be introduced to – himself.
the term Shachmanite to describe his former political allegiances
– but it is hard to believe that the former national chairman
of the Yipsels, (1968 –73), the Social Democratic youth group,
could have been anything other than a follower of Max Shachtman.
According to the chronology in Peter Druckers' 1994 book,
Shachtman and His Left, in 1965 "YPSL [was] reconstituted
under Shachtman's control."
anyone think that I am merely red-baiting Muravchik, by the
time he was national chairman the group had abandoned its
revolutionary razzle-dazzle, as Drucker points out, and become
a stepping stone for careerists on the make:
extended his AFL-CIO network by helping his young followers
get union staff jobs. In 1965, following the 1964 collapse
of the YPSL, he reconstituted it under his right-wing followers'
control. The new group had barely a shadow of the independent
spirit of Shachtman's earlier youth groups. Even Tom Kahn,
who had joined Shachtman's youth group in a livelier time,
regretted that the group now had few vigorous debates. But
debates were no longer the group's main point. Its main point
was to take young people whom the 1960s had begun to radicalize,
immunize them against the New Left's subversive appeal, and
train them for AFL-CIO or other social democratic careers."
post-Trotskyist ideology developed by Max Shachtman, who broke
with Trotsky over the nature of the Soviet Union, took on
a life of its own during the cold war years. Evolving from
an orthodox Trotskyist, he later upheld the "third
camp" – "Neither Washington, nor Moscow!" – and wound
up supporting the cold war wholeheartedly, including the Bay
of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam war. Devoted to spreading
"global democracy," Shachtman's former followers soon coalesced
into a potent intellectual force that had no trouble taking
over the intellectual institutions of the Right as they made
their way from one end of the political spectrum to the other.
The indelible imprint of their Trotskyist legacy is a principled
bellicosity: combined with intellectual aggressiveness and
a capacity for bureaucratic infighting, the neocons in power
make formidable opponents.
rest of Muravchik's screed is an attempt to smear critics
of the neocons with the brush of anti-Semitism. That so many
of these critics are Jewish, according to Muravchik, merely
proves that they have "ulterior motives." Since he doesn't
name these motives, or try to describe them, the reader is
left wondering. If Muravchik wishes to deny that the neocons
pursue the Likud party line with as much alacrity as the old
Communist party cadre once followed the Soviet line, then
I challenge him to come up with a single instance in which
a prominent neocon criticized the government of Israel. In
any dispute between Israel and the U.S., when has any neoconservative
taken the American side? The answer is: never.
makes much of the Jewish heritage of many neocons, and tries
to conflate anti-neocons with anti-Semities. But the ethnic
factor is a historical accident: the really significant factor
is the intellectual history of the neoconservative
idea, especially as it relates to American foreign policy.
tracing the intellectual ancestry of the neoconservative persuasion
to its Trotskyist roots, its critics are pointing, with alarm,
to its revolutionary utopianism, its dogmatism, its bloodthirstiness
as characteristics inherited from the ruthless founder of
the Red Army. The point of exposing the neocons' far-leftist
origins is to show that they are in no way a conservative
force. There is nothing conservative about embarking on a
campaign of conquest in the Middle East and uprooting most
of the regimes in the region. The neocons are, as one critic
put it [PDF file], really neo-Jacobins. Theirs
is a revolutionary project, one that violates the precepts
of the Founders – and would have to mean the overthrow of
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