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Trotsky's ghost wandering the White House: Bolshevik's writings influence on Bush aides ^ | Saturday, June 07, 2003 | Jeet Heer

Posted on 06/07/2003 8:55:20 PM PDT by Destro

Trotsky's ghost wandering the White House
Influence on Bush aides: Bolshevik's writings supported the idea of pre-emptive war

Jeet Heer
National Post

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Leon Trotsky has influenced such White House confidants as...

.... journalist Christopher Hitchens an ad hoc consultant to the Bush administration and an advocate for military intervention in the Mideast. CREDIT: Justin Lane, The New York Times

Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, was paranoid. Perhaps his deepest fears centred around his great rival for the leadership of the Bolshevik movement, Leon Trotsky. Stalin went to extraordinary lengths to obliterate not only Trotsky but also the ragtag international fellowship known as the Left Opposition, which supported Trotsky's political program. In the late 1920s, Stalin expelled Trotsky from the Communist Party and deported him from the Soviet Union. Almost instantly, other Communist parties moved to excommunicate Trotsky's followers, notably the Americans James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman.

In 1933, while in exile in Turkey, Trotsky regrouped his supporters as the Fourth International. Never amounting to more than a few thousand individuals scattered across the globe, the Fourth International was constantly harassed by Stalin's secret police, as well as by capitalist governments. The terrible purge trials that Stalin ordered in the late 1930s were designed in part to eliminate any remaining Trotskyists in the Soviet Union. Fleeing from country to country, Trotsky ended up in Mexico, where he was murdered by an ice-pick-wielding Stalinist assassin in 1940. Like Macbeth after the murder of Banquo, Stalin became even more obsessed with his great foe after killing him. Fearing a revival of Trotskyism, Stalin's secret police continued to monitor the activities of Trotsky's widow in Mexico, as well as the far-flung activities of the Fourth International.

More than a decade after the demise of the Soviet Union, Stalin's war against Trotsky may seem like quaint ancient history. Yet Stalin was right to fear Trotsky's influence. Unlike Stalin, Trotsky was a man of genuine intellectual achievement, a brilliant literary critic and historian as well as a military strategist of genius. Trotsky's movement, although never numerous, attracted many sharp minds. At one time or another, the Fourth International included among its followers the painter Frida Kahlo (who had an affair with Trotsky), the novelist Saul Bellow, the poet André Breton and the Trinidadian polymath C.L.R. James.

As evidence of the continuing intellectual influence of Trotsky, consider the curious fact that some of the books about the Middle East crisis that are causing the greatest stir were written by thinkers deeply shaped by the tradition of the Fourth International.

In seeking advice about Iraqi society, members of the Bush administration (notably Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President) frequently consulted Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi-American intellectual whose book The Republic of Fear is considered to be the definitive analysis of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule.

As the journalist Christopher Hitchens notes, Makiya is "known to veterans of the Trotskyist movement as a one-time leading Arab member of the Fourth International." When speaking about Trotskyism, Hitchens has a voice of authority. Like Makiya, Hitchens is a former Trotskyist who is influential in Washington circles as an advocate for a militantly interventionist policy in the Middle East. Despite his leftism, Hitchens has been invited into the White House as an ad hoc consultant.

Other supporters of the Iraq war also have a Trotsky-tinged past. On the left, the historian Paul Berman, author of a new book called Terror and Liberalism, has been a resonant voice among those who want a more muscular struggle against Islamic fundamentalism. Berman counts the Trotskyist C.L.R. James as a major influence. Among neo-conservatives, Berman's counterpart is Stephen Schwartz, a historian whose new book, The Two Faces of Islam, is a key text among those who want the United States to sever its ties with Saudi Arabia. Schwartz spent his formative years in a Spanish Trotskyist group.

To this day, Schwartz speaks of Trotsky affectionately as "the old man" and "L.D." (initials from Trotsky's birth name, Lev Davidovich Bronstein). "To a great extent, I still consider myself to be [one of the] disciples of L.D," he admits, and he observes that in certain Washington circles, the ghost of Trotsky still hovers around. At a party in February celebrating a new book about Iraq, Schwartz exchanged banter with Wolfowitz about Trotsky, the Moscow Trials and Max Shachtman.

"I've talked to Wolfowitz about all of this," Schwartz notes. "We had this discussion about Shachtman. He knows all that stuff, but was never part of it. He's definitely aware." The yoking together of Paul Wolfowitz and Leon Trotsky sounds odd, but a long and tortuous history explains the link between the Bolshevik left and the Republican right.

To understand how some Trotskyists ended up as advocates of U.S. expansionism, it is important to know something about Max Shachtman, Trotsky's controversial American disciple. Shachtman's career provides the definitive template of the trajectory that carries people from the Left Opposition to support for the Pentagon.

Throughout the 1930s, Shachtman loyally hewed to the Trotsky line that the Soviet Union as a state deserved to be defended even though Stalin's leadership had to be overthrown. However, when the Soviet Union forged an alliance with Hitler and invaded Finland, Shachtman moved to a politics of total opposition, eventually known as the "third camp" position. Shachtman argued in the 1940s and 1950s that socialists should oppose both capitalism and Soviet communism, both Washington and Moscow.

Yet as the Cold War wore on, Shachtman became increasingly convinced Soviet Communism was "the greater and more dangerous" enemy. "There was a way on the third camp left that anti-Stalinism was so deeply ingrained that it obscured everything else," says Christopher Phelps, whose introduction to the new book Race and Revolution details the Trotskyist debate on racial politics. Phelps is an eloquent advocate for the position that the best portion of Shachtman's legacy still belongs to the left.

By the early 1970s, Shachtman was a supporter of the Vietnam War and the strongly anti-Communist Democrats such as Senator Henry Jackson. Shachtman had a legion of young followers (known as Shachtmanites) active in labour unions and had an umbrella group known as the Social Democrats. When the Shachtmanites started working for Senator Jackson, they forged close ties with hard-nosed Cold War liberals who also advised Jackson, including Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz; these two had another tie to the Trotskyism; their mentor was Albert Wohlstetter, a defence intellectual who had been a Schachtmanite in the late 1940s.

Shachtman died in 1972, but his followers rose in the ranks of the labour movement and government bureaucracy. Because of their long battles against Stalinism, Shachtmanites were perfect recruits for the renewed struggle against Soviet communism that started up again after the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1970s, intellectuals forged by the Shachtman tradition filled the pages of neo-conservative publications. Then in the 1980s, many Social Democrats found themselves working in the Reagan administration, notably Jeanne Kirkpatrick (who was ambassador to the United Nations) and Elliott Abrams (whose tenure as assistant secretary of state was marred by his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal).

The distance between the Russia of 1917 and the Washington of 2003 is so great that many question whether Trotsky and Shachtman have really left a legacy for the Bush administration. For Christopher Phelps, the circuitous route from Trotsky to Bush is "more a matter of rupture and abandonment of the left than continuity."

Stephen Schwartz (a crypto-Muslim convert) disagrees. "I see a psychological, ideological and intellectual continuity," says Schwartz, who defines Trotsky's legacy to neo-conservatism in terms of a set of valuable lessons. By his opposition to both Hitler and Stalin, Trotsky taught the Left Opposition the need to have a politics that was proactive and willing to take unpopular positions. "Those are the two things that the neo-cons and the Trotskyists always had in common: the ability to anticipate rather than react and the moral courage to stand apart from liberal left opinion when liberal left opinion acts like a mob."

Trotsky was also a great military leader, and Schwartz finds support for the idea of pre-emptive war in the old Bolshevik's writings. "Nobody who is a Trotskyist can really be a pacifist," Schwartz notes. "Trotskyism is a militaristic disposition. When you are Trotskyist, we don't refer to him as a great literary critic, we refer to him as the founder of the Red Army."

Paul Berman agrees with Schwartz that Trotskyists are by definition internationalists who are willing to go to war when necessary. "The Left Opposition and the non-Communist left comes out of classic socialism, so it's not a pacifist tradition," Berman observes. "It's an internationalist tradition. It has a natural ability to sympathize or feel solidarity for people in places that might strike other Americans or Canadians as extremely remote."

Christopher Phelps, however, doubts these claims of a Trotskyist tradition that would support the war in Iraq. For the Left Opposition, internationalism was not simply about fighting all over the world. "Internationalism meant solidarity with other peoples and not imperialist imposition upon them," Phelps notes.

Though Trotsky was a military leader, Phelps also notes "the Left Opposition had a long history of opposition to imperialist war. They weren't pacifists, but they were against capitalist wars fought by capitalist states. It's true that there is no squeamishness about the application of force when necessary. The question is, is force used on behalf of a class that is trying to create a world with much less violence or is it force used on behalf of a state that is itself the largest purveyor of organized violence in the world? There is a big difference." Seeing the Iraq war as an imperialist adventure, Phelps is confident "Trotsky and Shachtman in the '30s and '40s wouldn't have supported this war."

This dispute over the true legacy of Trotsky and Shachtman illustrates how the Left Opposition still stirs passion. The strength of a living tradition is in its ability to inspire rival interpretations. Despite Stalin's best efforts, Trotskyism is a living force that people fight over.

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: christopherhitchens; leontrotsky; neocons; tinfoil
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1 posted on 06/07/2003 8:55:20 PM PDT by Destro
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To: TruthIsNotLiberal
2 posted on 06/07/2003 8:56:12 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro

3 posted on 06/07/2003 8:56:45 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Great commentary and right on target!
4 posted on 06/07/2003 8:58:01 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Oh really?
5 posted on 06/07/2003 8:58:32 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
Trotskyism is a living force that people fight over

Even if Trotsky had never lived, Trotskyites would still exist.

6 posted on 06/07/2003 9:00:15 PM PDT by RightWhale (gazing at shadows)
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To: MEG33
If I could find a picture of an ostrich I would reply to you that way.
7 posted on 06/07/2003 9:00:23 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
8 posted on 06/07/2003 9:06:12 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: Destro

What the....?


What are you thinking posting this without commentary?

Christopher Hitchens an influence on the White House?  Ha Ha Ha!!!  More like the other way around.  He can barely get enough people to read his blog!

Trotsky's followers today are agnostic Jews with inexplicable Marxist views.  There are unfortunately a great number of these folks.

Wolfowitz?  Cheney?  Hardly!

This is yet another smear of "neo-conservatives" or in common parlance today, Republican Jews.

Not to stereotype too much but Jeet Heer would appear to be the self-hating type.


9 posted on 06/07/2003 9:13:27 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
I thought I'd laugh myself silly over the Hitchens bit.
10 posted on 06/07/2003 9:18:47 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: Cacique
11 posted on 06/07/2003 9:19:54 PM PDT by Clemenza (East side, West side, all around the town. Tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York)
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To: Destro
It's time to let poor Jeet (the author of this spiel) in on an old joke.

You see, "bolshevik" means "majority" or "big piece", but it was a DEROGATORY term for Lennin and his most loyal followers.

In Communist circles, Lennin was considered a radical and he wasn't very popular, however, after Lenin had insulted numerous Communists at a Party meeting, enough of them walked out that Lenin and his small group briefly constituted a majority. In those few brief moments, Lenin siezed control of the local socialists and propelled himself into the leadership position for the October Revolution et al.

But the joke among Communists was that Lenin and his tiny group were "Bolsheviks". Everyone called them "Bolsheviks" in the same way that politicians called Lyndon Johnson "Landslide Lyndon" after his questionable victory in his Senate race (by 13 votes from box 13 after the polls closed). The joke was so prevalent that the name stuck. Lenin and his followers were forever laughed at as "Bolsheviks", even though they only had a "majority" for a few brief moments in time.

Alas, such a joke is probably too complicated for Jeets to grasp, however, even after a full explanation!

12 posted on 06/07/2003 9:26:08 PM PDT by Southack (Media bias means that Castro won't be punished for Cuban war crimes against Black Angolans in Africa)
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To: Destro
Here's a good Russian joke...

One night Stalin is up late and can't sleep. The spectres of those he's killed are haunting him and the hate and fear of those around him isolate him as though he were in prison.

He decides to go out into the night and walk the streets of Moscow.

After walking several hours, he finds a small tavern open and goes in for some vodka.

Inside is a bleary patron well into his cups.

Stalin, hungry for human companionship, strikes up a conversation with the fellow.

They laugh. They drink. They become very, very drunk.

Suddenly, Stalin asks the man point-blank what he thinks of the Soviet Leader Stalin.

The man is instantly sober.

The sleepy bartender stops wiping the counter and quickly leaves the room.

The tick of the clock becomes thunderously loud.

The man, his eyes darting all about, stands up and moves to the door motioning Stalin to follow him out into the night.

Stalin rises after a moment and follows.

When Stalin gets outside, he looks about and sees the man turning the corner.

Stalin walks quickly to the corner just in time to see the man walk into a darkened alley in the middle of the next block.

He walks quickly to catch up and reaching the alley he turns into it.

The alley is silent and black. Fearing that he might be ambushed, Stalin walks cautiously through the darkness.

Just as he reaches the dead end of the alley, he hears the scrape of shoe leather on cobblestones.

He turns around and sees the figure of the man huddled in a doorway alcove.

The man motions for him to come closer.

Stalin bends his ear to the mans cupped hand, and the man says:

"I like him."
13 posted on 06/07/2003 9:29:36 PM PDT by WorkingClassFilth (Defund NPR, PBS and the LSC.)
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To: Southack
Um I always thought that bolshevik meant minority and menshevik (did I spell that right?) meant majority.
14 posted on 06/07/2003 9:30:31 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Incorrigible
I am not so quick to dismiss this.
15 posted on 06/07/2003 9:32:19 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
What country are you from?
16 posted on 06/07/2003 9:39:21 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: All
Well, it seems that calling the Bush people nazis and
fascists never stuck, so now they will try calling them
communists. Hey, it could work.
17 posted on 06/07/2003 9:40:54 PM PDT by DeepDish
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To: MEG33
Citizen of the US of A and registered Republican.
18 posted on 06/07/2003 9:42:27 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
I thought perhaps you had lived where there was communist oppression and be particularly sensitive to the threat.
19 posted on 06/07/2003 9:45:30 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: MEG33
Destro's a good FReeper (even though he's a shady arms dealer!) with very many high quality posts and replies to his name.

I think he's reaching a bit with this one though!

20 posted on 06/07/2003 9:52:47 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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