The Cult of Power - From Leon Trotsky to Paul Wolfowitz
The Cult of Power -
From Leon Trotsky to Paul Wolfowitz
With almost 900 Americans dead, thousands horribly
wounded, and talk of
canceling a national election that is taking place in the shadow of terrorism,
one has to ask: how did we get here? Seymour Hersh, speaking at the American
Civil Liberties Union conference on July 7, gave a pretty good answer:
"Rather than deal with the obvious stuff about Bush and this election
and what it means, I think the real question we have to answer - and this is
the question that I'm inchoate about: my friend Dan
Ellsberg would say this is heuristic,
'I have some heuristic thoughts about it' - he's a great expert on heurism....
The question we have to say to ourselves is, okay, so here's what happens: a
bunch of guys, eight or nine neoconservatives, cultists - not Charles
Manson cultists, but cultists - get in.
"And it's not, with all due respect to Michael
Moore, (his movie's fine) but it's not about oil, it's even not about
Israel, it's about a utopia they have. It's about an idea they have. Not only
about that democracy can be spread. In a sense I would say Paul
Wolfowitz is the greatest Trotskyite
of our times. He believes in permanent
revolution. And in the Middle East, to begin with, needless to say.
"And so you have a bunch of people who have been, for ten or twelve
years, fantasizing, since the 1991 Gulf war, on the way to resolve problems.
And of course there'll be beneficiaries, Israel would be a beneficiary, etc.,
etc., but the world in their eyes, this is a utopia.
"And so they got together this small group of cultists. And how did
they do it? They did do it. They've taken the government over.
"And what's amazing to me - and what really is troubling - is how
fragile our democracy is. Look what happened to us... They took the edge off the
press, they also muzzled the bureaucracy, they muzzled the military, they muzzled
the Congress. And it's an amazing feat. We're supposed to be a democratic society.
And all those areas of our democracy bowed and scraped to this group of neocons."
It was a riveting talk, delivered in a tone of understated modesty, each interruption
of applause visibly anticipated and borne by the speaker as if the audience
were shooting arrows at him: as if to say there's no time for self-congratulation,
because we have to get at the truth and time is running out....
I've lost track of how many major stories Hersh has broken in the past few
months: Abu Ghraib,
shenanigans of neocon guru Richard Perle, the lie
factory called the "Office of Special Plans," and the list goes
on. In this age of journalistic servility to the State, he has no peers as an
investigative reporter. The boys in the Pentagon shudder each time The New
Yorker rolls off the presses.
Here is a topnotch journalist - an empiricist by profession, and necessity
- trying to discern some pattern in the facts he's assembled. With access to
all sorts of Washington insiders - including Pentagon generals, whose disaffection,
he said in his talk, "has never been so acute" - Hersh comes up with
a story remarkably similar to that recounted by others, including General
Anthony Zinni, intelligence expert James
Bamford, retired Lt. Col. Karen
Kwiatkowski, and a number of authors and journalists - including the present
writer, who has been continually underscoring the threat posed by the neocons
since the very first
installment of this column.
"It's not the Manson clan," said Hersh to the assembled civil libertarians,
"but we really have been taken over."
By whom - or what?
Like other such sects, religious as well as political, the history and beliefs
of the neoconservative cult come in two versions. As Murray N. Rothbard pointed
out in a trenchant 1972 study
of the Ayn Rand cult:
"Every religious cult has two sets of differing and distinctive creeds:
the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric creed is the official, public doctrine,
the creed which attracts the acolyte in the first place and brings him into
the movement as a rank-and-file member. The esoteric creed is the unknown, hidden
agenda, a creed which is only known to its full extent by the top leadership,
the 'high priests' of the cult. The latter are the keepers of the mysteries
of the cult."
An ideological cult, Rothbard observed, has many of the salient features of
a religious cult, and essentially the same belief structure: leader-worship,
dogmatism, and a hatred of heresy, characteristics the neocons exhibit in abundance.
Leader-worship fairly describes
the neoconservative theory of the Presidency: the President, as Warrior-King,
torture, and even suspend the Constitution. As for dogmatism: instead of
acknowledging and analyzing the utter wrongness of their expectation that we
would be greeted with cries of "Hail our liberators!" by the Iraqis,
the neocons are now blaming the disaster on the allegedly flawed "execution"
of their policies. Hatred of heretics is certainly an animating force among
them, second only to blood-lust: just ask
Michael Lind, or, indeed, anyone who has crossed their path.
The official exoteric story is that there is really no such creature
as a neocon, it's all an "anti-Semitic" conspiracy theory dreamed
up by Pat Buchanan
and myself. The Iraq war was driven, not by highly-placed individuals with a
specific agenda, but by historical necessity: the necessity, that is, of responding
to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The neoconservative vision, they innocently aver,
is based on building "democracy" not only in the Middle East, but
throughout the entire world, and establishing what they call the "benevolent
global hegemony" of a rising American Imperium, an "empire of
The real story, as Hersh clearly realizes, is quite different: Paul Wolfowitz
is the greatest Trotskyist not only of our time but of all time. Certainly
greater than Trotsky himself, the
founder of the Red Army and prophet of world revolution who wound up in some
rundown Mexican backwater with an
icepick sticking out of his head. Trotsky's "Fourth International,"
stillborn, lived in Stalin's shadow for all of its brief half-life, but in that
time managed to generate a tendency that would eventually culminate in another
sort of world revolution - and yet, on second thought, not all that different.
Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, whom Hersh describes as the "genius"
of the neocon operation, knows well his antecedents, as
Jeet Heer has reported in the National Post, citing neocon writer
and "ex"-Trotskyist Stephen
"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."
The Trotskyists believed that the Revolution had gone off the rails, due not
to the inherent brutality and immorality of the Bolshevik program, but because
the Party didn't have the revolutionary zeal to carry the struggle forward into
Europe and beyond. They sneered at the Stalinist concept of "socialism
in one country," and correctly pointed to the Marxist classics, including
Lenin, as proof that the Kremlin had betrayed the cause of true Communism, which
they identified with a militant internationalism. Instead of sitting around
Russian kulaks, Stalin, the Trots averred, should have gone on to
liquidate all kulaks, everywhere.
Trotsky, by this time, had been forced into exile, and, after wandering through
Europe, finally wound up in Mexico just as Hitler and Stalin concluded their
infamous Pact - and sent the small Trotskyist grouplet, as well as the rest
of the international Communist movement, into a tailspin of confusion.
Trotsky, always sensitive to the charge by Stalinists and their fellow travelers
that he was really a bourgeois traitor, had always insisted on defending
the Soviet Union "against the Stalinists and in spite of the Stalinists."
But with the Nazis and the Commies now in alliance against the Western democratic
powers - and poor
little Finland in the Soviets' sights! - how was it possible to any longer
defend the "workers' fatherland"? That's what Max
Shachtman and James
Burnham, two of Trotsky's top disciples in America, wanted to know. Trotsky,
for his part, could give them no answer they found satisfactory, and so the
Trotskyist movement split, with Shachtman and Burnham leaving the Fourth International's
American grouplet, known as the Socialist Workers Party, and founding the Workers
Party. Burnham departed the newly-minted party almost as soon as it was set
up, going on to translate his anti-Stalinism into a full-fledged and full-throated
anti-Communism by joining the CIA and winding up as a top editor at National
Shachtman took a much longer, tortuous path to basically the same position:
what his leftist opponents and erstwhile comrades in the SWP called "State
Department socialism." Shachtman was a tremendously charismatic figure,
a pyrotechnic speaker and learned (self-taught) scholar of the Marxist classics,
whose ability to justify his latest "turn" in terms of Marxoid dogma
might be fairly characterized as acrobatic. Each turn, when it came, took him
farther away from his ideological origins - he had started out his political
career as a Communist Party functionary in the 1920s.
When the Cold War began to press down on his isolated grouplet with such force
that it was put on the list of "subversive" organizations, Shachtman
regurgitated a brand new theory: the Soviet Union, in the Shachtmanite view,
no longer represented socialism, but instead constituted a new and even more
terrible danger than Western capitalism: bureaucratic collectivism. From that
point on, Shachtman and his followers began to advocate a hard foreign policy
line against the Soviet Union, a line that got progressively harder with the
years. The Shachtmanites eventually disbanded their grouplet, at least in a
formal sense, and merged with the remnants of the old Socialist Party, which
they effectively took over, changing the name to the
Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA).
Shachtman's new strategy was to work within the Democratic party, and the
unions: his followers in SDUSA held key positions in the AFL-CIO and the teachers
unions. In 1968, he pushed through a Socialist Party resolution endorsing Hubert
Humphrey for President, over the feeble protests of Norman Thomas, who lay dying
in a hospital. Shachtman ended his days as a
key supporter of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, known affectionately
as the Senator from Boeing, and fully supporting the Vietnam war. Key neoconservative
cadre came directly out of the SDUSA: Jeanne Kirkpatrick, James Woolsey, Carl
Gershman, Max Kampelman, Penn Kimble, and Elliott Abrams, to name just a few.
Scoop Jackson's aides, such as Richard Perle and Abrams, went on to become prominent
neocons. Reinforced by successive waves of ex-leftists, such as the Commentary
crowd and Irving Kristol (a former Trotskyist follower of Burnham's), Shachtmanism,
especially after Shachtman's death, in 1971, essentially morphed into neoconservatism.
"It's not about oil, it's even not about Israel, it's about a utopia
they have. It's about an idea they have."
It's widely recognized that we were lied into war by a group of ideologues,
but what is this "idea they have"? What kind of "utopia"
is Iraq? The old Trotskyist idea of internationalism is here preserved, but
for the red flags. Some of them even call themselves "Trotsky-cons."
But this "outing" of the neocons has caused them considerable embarrassment
- since they are currently masquerading as "conservatives" - and they've
struck back by seeking to label the outers "conspiracy theorists"
and "anti-Semites." Most deny their Trotskyist heritage - the more
strenuous denials coming from the very people
who embody it, such as Joshua
Muravchik, once a youth leader of the SDUSA and now a rising neocon star
over at the American Enterprise Institute.
Similarly vindictive protests at this dredging up of the true history of the
neocons are coming, surprisingly, from the ostensible left. Although one might
think that they would welcome the chance to excoriate their renegades, the orthodox
Trotskyists that still exist on the far-left fringes are angry because they
believe Trotsky's good name is being maligned. The "World
Socialist Website" goes into a particularly dreary recitation of Trotskyist
history that essentially admits the neocons' Shachtmanite lineage, but reduces
its significance to a "journalistic turn of phrase" that "is
a travesty of historical or political analysis, and only serves to obscure the
ideological roots of the neoconservative movement."
But it is the World Socialist Website that is doing the obscuring here: the
"world-historical" grandiosity and Jacobinism that animated the Shachtmanites
merely changed flags, without changing either its goals or its methods. SDUSA
is just as committed to international socialism as it was in Shachtman's day:
that they are using the United States Army instead of the Red Army to impose
it is only a detail that, in the end, matters little.
The Socialist Workers Party, which still exists, although it has long since
given up Trotskyism for Castroism,
is also pissed off at us for maligning their hero, and attacks Antiwar.com in
much the same terms as the neocons employ. The headline in their newspaper,
The Militant, proclaims: "Jew-hatred,
red-baiting: heart of claims of 'neocon' conspiracy." Antiwar.com,
in their view, is part of a sinister anti-Semitic conspiracy, along with Seymour
Hersh: together, we are trying to "set up" the neocons for getting
us into the Iraq war. They go so far as to repeat specific
charges made by former Coalition Provisional Authority official Michael
Rubin, in National Review, and directed at Karen
Kwiatkowski - who exposed the manipulation of intelligence by the "Office
of Special Plans" - that somewhat fancifully attempt to link her to the
LaRouche group because she once was interviewed by one of their number.
Shoot, what about the fact that LaRouche used
to be a member of the Socialist Workers Party - would it be fair to identify
the SWP as LaRouchite, on the grounds of mere contact with LaRouche? These people
are such hypocrites, and, what gets me is that they're so vulnerable to the
very tactics they employ.
The SWP screed is a farrago of lies, evasions, and paranoid ravings. According
to the Socialist Workers cult, not only Seymour Hersh and Antiwar.com, but also
Michael Lind, the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, "and numerous
other publications and internet sites," by identifying neoconservatives
as the sparkplugs behind this war, are all engaged in a veritable orgy of "Jew-hatred"
and "Trotsky-baiting." The SWP, like the World Socialist Website crew,
admits the origins of the Shachtman group in the Trotskyist movement, but then
lamely avers that
"Smears about 'Trotskycons' to the contrary, the fact is that no prominent
figure among the so-called neoconservatives has ever been a member of the Socialist
But no one ever said that they were. The SWP never amounted to a hill of beans,
except briefly in the 1960s and 70s, when they were a key element of the antiwar
movement. Today they are an insignificant little
sect devoted to selling books, and enriching
the cult leaders, while the intellectual descendants of their renegade faction
rule the roost in Washington.
Against this Popular Front of Norman Podhoretz and SWP leader Jack Barnes,
which includes Joshua
Muravchik and the World Socialist Website, opponents of the Iraq war can
only marshal the empirical evidence, and the insight that individuals,
not abstract "forces" or historical "necessity," control
events. And don't imagine this is some obscure debate over historical arcana:
the idea that specific individuals are responsible for formulating and implementing
American policy in the Middle East is the key to understanding the present debate
over the "intelligence failure" that lured us into Iraq. Far from
being a "failure," the perpetrators of this massive fraud were wildly
successful, at least from their perspective- and the SWP, for some reason,
is intent on helping them to get away scot-free.
The idea that animates the War Party is the same idea that has motivated Jacobins
of the left and the right since time immemorial: a restless and malevolent energy
that impels them to remake the world. Militant utopians inflicted millions of
casualties in the twentieth century, and it looks like they intend to surpass
their record in the twenty-first. The neocons may be temporarily discredited,
and in eclipse: but it would be a
mistake to count them out.
The cult of Power, with its roots in the Left and its present hegemony over
the Right, is the eternal enemy of peace and liberty. Like any cult, it has
an exoteric philosophy, which is presented in reams of essays and proclamations
extolling the virtues of "democracy" - while its esoteric meaning
is embodied in the photos of the Abu
Ghraib house of horrors.