With election season upon us, I thought it might be mildly interesting to look at one of the recent political trends that seems to be at an end.
Neo-Conservatism will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as Bush II’s legacy. The modern incarnation of the Republican Party has a small but powerful group of Neo-Conservatives in power. They’re often lumped in with older conceptions of American Conservatism as, “Establishment Republicans,” by people who watch this kind of thing. This is problematic as a Rockefeller Republican and a Neo-Conservative (for instance) have a lot of important differences—but both tend to pull more tightly together against the Libertarian-Enfused Tea Party.
Those that would oppose the Neo-Conservatives (and by extension the Establishment Republicans) have been linked by other Republicans to Bolshevik and founder of the Red Army Leon Trotsky. The Neo-Conservatives themselves being, at times, called Trotskyists.
This goes back to a few things: The change of demographics in the Republican Party, establishment anti-semitism (most accusations of Trotskyism in the west do have this flavor), and the difficulty the Republican Party still has in attempting to reconcile the Southern Strategy with being the Party of Lincoln. As I like to point out whenever this comes up, however, Lincoln was the only American president to have a correspondence with Karl Marx. So, yeah, the Republicans have strayed pretty far from that. More than accusing the Republicans of not staying ideologically pure (after all, nobody should), I hope to help highlight some of the problems in the Republican Party that have come to a head while at the same time going through a little bit of interesting history.
Max Shactman, Philip Selznick, Irving Kristol are really the only ones ever cited as being neo-concervative Trotskyists.
But, they’re not great Neo-Conservatives.
Max Shachtman was never anything but a hard leftist. He broke with Trotsky by going further to the left than Trotsky to a group Trotsky called, “ultraleft circles of petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.” That is to say, where Trotsky advocated unconditional support for the Soviet Union in World War II, “ultraleft,” individuals like Schactman did not find it worth saving, especially after the Soviet-Nazi pact.
So, according to the theory that neoconservatives are Trotskyists, Schactman moved to a more utopian left than Trotsky himself and somehow became a conservative by his endorsement of the New Left and the Civil Rights Movement (darlings of conservatives at the time!). Though it is true some of Schactman’s followers did go onto become neo-conservatives. But it is pretty weak tea to say that some students of Schactman (though never Schactman himself) later became neo-conservatives, and imply from this that neo-conservatives are tied to Trotsky in anyway whatsoever.
Philip Selznick has a slightly better claim to neo-conservatism, but a far worse claim to Trotsky. He was part of the Young People’s Socialist League for only three years. He recounted it as mostly an, “intense intellectual experience.” One thing he took from it that he carried away from it was the concept of bureaucracy being a bad thing (Trotsky took this from Lenin). Here the link wasn’t far from anyone that opposed bureaucracy. When Shactman and his people broke with Trotsky (an ideology known as Bolshevik-Leninism), Selznick demanded, “the rejection of Bolshevism and of Leninism.”
This is a little better match to conservatism in that much later Tea-Baggers would argue that the free-market somehow was the opposite of bureaucracy, but as I hope to show why this itself isn’t the best connection either.
Irving Kristol is a better conservative, but an even worse Bolshevik-Leninist than the others. He was attracted to a group of Schactmanites largely for their anti-soviet feeling. This, of course, already separated him far from Trotsky and even pretty far from Max Shactman—was an ultra leftist in his rejection of the Soviet Union. No, Kristol was pretty much just against the Soviet Union. He was deeply against the Civil Rights Movement and New Left (separating him from Schactman) but he was for the New Deal and government expansion into certain areas (separating him from Selznick). When allying with Harringtonists for the expansion of New Deal-like programs, Michael Harrington described what he thought was a slur against Kristol as a, “neo-conservative.” Kristol picked it up and ran with the idea of a conservative expansion of government and whatnot, based on Reaganomics and the expansion of capitalism.
Alright, so these are the three that are always brought up as the Trotskyists turned Neo-Conservatives. One of them was a Trotskyist for a bit, one was actually a neo-conservitive. They all would violently disagree with each other. So what do Trotsky, Shachtman, Selznick, and Kristol, all have in common?
And that’s all that really matters, because this theory that Neo-Conservatism is Trotskyist comes from state-rights Republicans that have a Confederate bend and don’t like the big bad Union—something that Neo-Conservatives are more willing to accept. Other things the Confederate-bending conservatives don’t like are big cities and Jews. Since the Civil Rights Movement was accepted in the US, these kinds of Conservatives had to back off and put things into a more libertarian rhetoric. Note this is not saying all libertarians believe this, but that these kinds of Conservatives put their traditional platform into libertarian rhetoric:
In case you can’t see it, this is the Republican platform via Lee Atwater’s strategy under Ronnie Reagan:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, Nigger, Nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “Nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, Nigger.”
So by 1980, the Southern Strategy marries these rather racist former Dixiecrats and social conservatives with Eisenhower “establishment” Republicans. It really only works for Nixon and Reagan, falling apart when an Establishment Republican like Bush (the first) comes into office and alienates the former Dixiecrats. They compromise on Bush II later, but things are already falling apart by that point in the party.
Enter Pat Buchanan, who gives the opening salvo in the Republican Civil War that continues today. He lists the charges leveled against him for his anti-semitism, though tellingly alludes to Jews not being able to be completely dependable Americans because of their ethnicity (he is too shrewd to come out and say this directly of course):
The War Party may have gotten its war. But it has also gotten something it did not bargain for. Its membership lists and associations have been exposed and its motives challenged. In a rare moment in U.S. journalism, Tim Russert put this question directly to Richard Perle: “Can you assure American viewers … that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?”
Suddenly, the Israeli connection is on the table, and the War Party is not amused. Finding themselves in an unanticipated firefight, our neoconservative friends are doing what comes naturally, seeking student deferments from political combat by claiming the status of a persecuted minority group. People who claim to be writing the foreign policy of the world superpower, one would think, would be a little more manly in the schoolyard of politics. Not so.
Former Wall Street Journal editor Max Boot kicked off the campaign. When these “Buchananites toss around ‘neoconservative’—and cite names like Wolfowitz and Cohen—it sometimes sounds as if what they really mean is ‘Jewish conservative.’” Yet Boot readily concedes that a passionate attachment to Israel is a “key tenet of neoconservatism.” He also claims that the National Security Strategy of President Bush “sounds as if it could have come straight out from the pages of Commentary magazine, the neocon bible.” (For the uninitiated, Commentary, the bible in which Boot seeks divine guidance, is the monthly of the American Jewish Committee.)
David Brooks of the Weekly Standard wails that attacks based on the Israel tie have put him through personal hell: “Now I get a steady stream of anti-Semitic screeds in my e-mail, my voicemail and in my mailbox. … Anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. It’s just that its epicenter is no longer on the Buchananite Right, but on the peace-movement left.”
Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan endures his own purgatory abroad: “In London … one finds Britain’s finest minds propounding, in sophisticated language and melodious Oxbridge accents, the conspiracy theories of Pat Buchanan concerning the ‘neoconservative’ (read: Jewish) hijacking of American foreign policy.”
Lawrence Kaplan of the New Republic charges that our little magazine “has been transformed into a forum for those who contend that President Bush has become a client of … Ariel Sharon and the ‘neoconservative war party.’”
Referencing Charles Lindbergh, he accuses Paul Schroeder, Chris Matthews, Robert Novak, Georgie Anne Geyer, Jason Vest of the Nation, and Gary Hart of implying that “members of the Bush team have been doing Israel’s bidding and, by extension, exhibiting ‘dual loyalties.’” Kaplan thunders:
The real problem with such claims is not just that they are untrue. The problem is that they are toxic. Invoking the specter of dual loyalty to mute criticism and debate amounts to more than the everyday pollution of public discourse. It is the nullification of public discourse, for how can one refute accusations grounded in ethnicity? The charges are, ipso facto, impossible to disprove. And so they are meant to be.
He goes onto define his enemies:
Who are the neoconservatives? The first generation were ex-liberals, socialists, and Trotskyites, boat-people from the McGovern revolution who rafted over to the GOP at the end of conservatism’s long march to power with Ronald Reagan in 1980.
A neoconservative, wrote Kevin Phillips back then, is more likely to be a magazine editor than a bricklayer. Today, he or she is more likely to be a resident scholar at a public policy institute such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) or one of its clones like the Center for Security Policy or the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). As one wag writes, a neocon is more familiar with the inside of a think tank than an Abrams tank.
Almost none came out of the business world or military, and few if any came out of the Goldwater campaign. The heroes they invoke are Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, Martin Luther King, and Democratic Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson (Wash.) and Pat Moynihan (N.Y.).
All are interventionists who regard Stakhanovite support of Israel as a defining characteristic of their breed. Among their luminaries are Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Michael Novak, and James Q. Wilson.
Their publications include the Weekly Standard, Commentary, the New Republic, National Review, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Though few in number, they wield disproportionate power through control of the conservative foundations and magazines, through their syndicated columns, and by attaching themselves to men of power.
…For whose benefit these endless wars in a region that holds nothing vital to America save oil, which the Arabs must sell us to survive? Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam?
Answer: one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud.
Indeed, Sharon has been everywhere the echo of his acolytes in America…What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel. They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.
And finally defines how people like him lost control of the Republican Party:
The radical Zionist right to which Perle and Feith belong is small in number but it has become a significant force in Republican policy-making circles. It is a recent phenomenon, dating back to the late 1970s and 1980s, when many formerly Democratic Jewish intellectuals joined the broad Reagan coalition. While many of these hawks speak in public about global crusades for democracy, the chief concern of many such “neo-conservatives” is the power and reputation of Israel.
Right down the smokestack.
Perle today chairs the Defense Policy Board, Feith is an Undersecretary of Defense, and Wurmser is special assistant to the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, who dutifully echoes the Perle-Sharon line.
So they come to blows and all this history comes back as the Confederate minded Republicans and the Establishment begin to fight.
Just to be fair, this isn’t just a hardcore right movement. One of Clinton’s advisors, Sidney Blumenthal, (himself Jewish) was pretty happy to use this kind of rhetoric to connect Neo-Conservatism to a Jewish conspiracy:
As a generation of prospective intellectuals in the 1930s, they came to Marxism already steeped in the disputatious heritage of the Talmud. In the alcoves of the City College of New York, they learned the political value of universal principles, the dynamic movement of history, and the crucial role of the vanguard. Even within the left-wing movement, the future neoconservatives occupied a special place of alienation. Most were Trotskyists, followers of Leon Trotsky…
And what better fountainhead for the Jew conspiracy than Leon Trotsky? You’ll note that Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and all sorts of other presidents that expanded the federal role domestically and US presence abroad are exempted from the status of the insidious Jew conspiracy headed by the ghost of Leon Trotsky.
Now, as Buchanan and Blumenthal (obviously) would agree, there are good Jews and bad Jews. They probably both took a page from Churchill’s own problematic relationship with Jews.
Churchill discussed the good Jew:
First there are the Jews who, dwelling in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life and, while adhering faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens in the fullest sense of the State which has received them. Such a Jew living in England would say, “I am an English man practising the Jewish faith.” This is a worthy conception, and useful in the highest degree. We in Great Britain well know that during the great struggle the influence of what may be called the “National Jews” in many lands was cast preponderatingly on the side of the Allies; and in our own Army Jewish soldiers have played a most distinguished part, some rising to the command of armies, others winning the Victoria Cross for valour.
The National Russian Jews, in spite of the disabilities under which they have suffered, have managed to play an honorable and useful part in the national life even of Russia. As bankers and industrialists they have strenuously promoted the development of Russia’s economic resources, and they were foremost in the creation of those remarkable organizations, the Russian Co-operative Societies. In politics their support has been given, for the most part, to liberal and progressive movements, and they have been among the staunchest upholder of friendship with France and Great Britain.
And the bad Jew:
In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. It played, as a modern writer, Mrs. Webster, has so ably shown, a definitely recognizable part in the tragedy of the French Revolution. It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century…
…There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders. Thus Tchitcherin, a pure Russian, is eclipsed by his nominal subordinate Litvinoff, and the influence of Russians like Bukharin or Lunacharski cannot be compared with the power of Trotsky, or of Zinovieff, the Dictator of the Red Citadel (Petrograd) or of Krassin or Radek — all Jews. In the Soviet institutions the predominance of Jews is even more astonishing. And the prominent, if not indeed the principal, part in the system of terrorism applied by the Extraordinary Commissions for Combating Counter-Revolution has been taken by Jews, and in some notable cases by Jewesses. The same evil prominence was obtained by Jews in the brief period of terror during which Bela Kun ruled in Hungary. The same phenomenon has been presented in Germany (especially in Bavaria), so far as this madness has been allowed to prey upon the temporary prostration of the German people. Although in all these countries there are many non-Jews every whit as bad as the worst of the Jewish revolutionaries, the part played by the latter in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing.
And certainly this is a good fit for the conservative of the United States. It’s similar rhetoric that both Blumenthal and Buchanan use to give the idea of a shadowy conspiracy that’s afoot with their opponents. Blumenthal is a good Jew working for the United States, while shadowy Jewish cabals in New York work under the direction of the Talmud and the ghost of Bad Jew Trotsky try to undermine the United States. Buchanan needs to defend his party from the Bad Jews that have an international outlook, and break Jews of an identity other than that of their home country to stop them from puppeteering the goyim into killing each other.
I’m obviously underlying their arguments to make a point, but the point is that the three fathers of neo-conservatism exclude gentiles and pretty much focus on Jews, even if they didn’t have much to do with the movement at all. Doing this preys less on overt anti-semitism (which most people are too smart to fall into) but the issues that anti-semitism was historically used to reinforce in politics. Including, but limited to, the fear of a secret cabal somewhere, an international puppet master, a foreign element that doesn’t have the country’s interest at heart, and so on and so forth.
The idea that neo-conservatives are Trotskyists accomplish all of this, even if the accusation falls apart the moment it is examined in any detail. It’s not unlike Karl Rove saying that Hillary Clinton has brain damage, and then backing up off of the accusation the moment he’s questioned about it. All that was needed was putting the idea out there, even if there was nothing to it at all.
As such, the issue is often inverted: Trotskyists now become neo-conservatives. This has never really happened. As shown above, even those with a vague association with Trotskyists violently break with them, and there is actually no ideological consistency with any of these “founding fathers,” aside from the idea that they have, “forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world,” and become Bad Jews in the minds of the thesis.