Springtime for Trotsky

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In most circles the word “fascist” is a generic pejorative, an epithet that conveys a moral judgment rather than a description. We Americans have perhaps become so accustomed to this use of the word that we don’t even think about it. We should, because “fascist” in this sense was specifically coined by the Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky to identify all of his rivals, even Stalin, with Hitler and Mussolini — and with “the right.” Its use reveals the undying influence of Trotsky.

By calling Stalin a fascist, Trotsky and his followers could claim that “real” socialism is not a murderous ideology. They could further claim that all true threats to human dignity and freedom really come from the right. Although Trotsky himself had a rather fateful encounter with an icepick in 1940, Trotkyists today continue his fight on behalf of international social democracy. These days however, Trotskyists prefer to call themselves “neoconservatives.”

Over the past two months the word “Islamofascism” has gained currency. The term has appeared in National Review Online, The Weekly Standard, and at Andrew Sullivan’s website, among other places. To a vigilant eye the word “Islamofascism” looks suspiciously like a classic Trotskyist coinage. You don’t have to be a fan of either fascism or Islamic terrorism to wonder if there’s more than meets the eye to this word.

“Islamofascist” was coined or at least popularized by Stephen Schwartz in his recent Spectator article “Ground Zero and the Saudi Connection.” Note that within the article Schwartz singles out Stalin and Bolshevism for criticism, rather than Communism in general.

Schwartz, who now writes from National Review Online, is a hardly abashed Trotskyist. Here’s how a one-time fellow traveler of Schwartz’s describes him:

Schwartz’s parents had been members of the pro-Moscow Communist Party U.S.A. In reaction against the Stalinist milieu he’d grown up in, he’d become a Trotskyist in his teens and eventually gravitated towards the left communism of the FOR [Fomento Obrero Revolucionario]. Schwartz and I agreed that all forms of Leninism were counter-revolutionary. This didn’t stop Schwartz from intensely identifying with Leon Trotsky and blaming anything that peeved him, from bad weather to poor table service, on the machinations of “Stalinists”.

By attaching himself to the FOR, Schwartz could gain notice among Trotskyists as the author of the most extreme left English language publication close to the Trotskyist spectrum, and guarantee himself a place in the future as a wax mannequin in the ludicrous icepickhead pantheon that was so dear to his heart.

And here is Schwartz in his own words, referring to information he gleaned from researching the Venona transcripts:

Dismissing questions about the guilt of Alger Hiss, Lauchlin Currie, and Harry Dexter White, Schwartz writes: “I am much less interested in the fates of these three bourgeois careerists than I am in those of such dissident revolutionists as Ignacy Porecki-Reiss, Andreu Nin and Leon Trotsky.” “I have never understood the moral compass of certain U.S. intellectuals who consider the sufferings of White and Hiss, or of the heirs of Currie, to be more compellingly tragic than the assassination of Reiss, the death by torture of Nin or the smashing of Trotsky’s brain by an ice ax” by Soviet agents, writes Schwartz.

For Schwartz, Stalinist assassinations are something of an obsession. He wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard earlier this year hypothesizing that Stalin murdered Frankfurt School theorist Walter Benjamin. From this article and his quote above it’s hard not to conclude that Schwartz feels a great deal of continuing sympathy for Trotsky and the Trotskyists, and not just for the grisly ways they met their deaths. Was Trotsky’s assassination really “tragic,” as Schwartz says?

The Trotskyist pedigree of neoconservatism is no secret; the original neocon, Irving Kristol, acknowledges it with relish: “I regard myself to have been a young Trostkyite and I have not a single bitter memory.” Nor is there any doubt about the influence — one might almost say hegemony — of “former Communists” on the post-war conservative movement. Just read the words of one neocon, Seymour Martin Lipset:

From the anti-Stalinists who became conservatives — including James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, and Irving Kristol — the Right gained a political education and, in some cases, an injection of passion. The ex-radicals brought with them the knowledge that ideological movements must have journals and magazines to articulate their perspectives. In 1955, for example, William F. Buckley, Jr., launched National Review at the urging of Willi Schlamm, a former German Communist. In its early years, National Review was largely written and edited by the Buckley family and a handful of former Communists, Trotskyists, and socialists, such as Burnham and Chambers. It played a major role in creating the Goldwaterite and Reaganite New Right and in stimulating an anti-Soviet foreign policy.

Worthy of note is that while ex-Stalinists tended to denounce their Communist roots vehemently, neoconservatives like Kristol and Schwartz remain at least wistfully fond of Trotsky. It’s also worth noting that the neoconservative preoccupation with exporting social democracy abroad through war and mercantilism reflects the original split between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky argued that there could not be “socialism in one country” but rather that the revolution had to be truly international. And so the neoconservatives push for “human rights” and social democratic governments to be imposed on Serbia, for example, by force of arms.

And so fifty-six years after the death of Hitler we’re still fighting a war against “fascism” in one form or another. We’re still fighting to make the world safe for (social) democracy. Somewhere in the bowels of hell Leon Trotsky must be smiling.

Postscript: I’m indebted to Paul Gottfried, whose lectures at the Mises Institute’s History of Liberty conference inspired and informed much of this article.

Daniel McCarthy [send him mail] is a graduate student in classics at Washington University in St. Louis.

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