Is there a connection between Leon Trotsky and Paul Wolfowitz?


posted to on June 10, 2003



(Jeet Heer is a Canadian journalist, who linked Trotsky to Paul Wolfowitz in a National Post article recently. These are comments on selected paragraphs from his piece that can be read in its entirety at:


JEET HEER: 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.


COMMENT: If Makiya's "Republic of Fear" has anything to do with Trotskyism, except the fact that the author spent some time in the movement as a youth, then one presumes that Saul Bellow's racist screed "Mr. Sammler's Planet" must also be linked with Leon Trotsky as well, since Bellow also spent a brief time in the Trotskyist movement. For that matter, one might link orthodox Judaism with Trotskyism since Isaac Deutscher and I were both bar mitzvahed and ate kosher through adolescence.


Other than the fact that Kanan Makiya spent five minutes or so in the Fourth International, there is absolutely nothing to link him to the intellectual and political traditions represented by Leon Trotsky. Consider the interview he gave to an Argentine journalist on September 23, 1938 in which he defended a "fascist" Brazil against a "democratic" Great Britain?


In order to understand correctly the nature of the coming events we must first of all reject ... the false ... theory that the coming war will be a war between fascism and "democracy." ... I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of that conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally -- in this case I will be on the side of "fascist" Brazil against "democratic" Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains in Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship.


Or the letter wrote to an English comrade on April 22, 1936 which not only defended feudal Ethiopia against capitalist Italy, but was full of praise for the Negus, ie. Haile Selassie, who made Saddam Hussein look like Martin Luther King Jr. by comparison, and contained the remarkable formulation that "A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history".


Indeed, the Trotsky of history has much more in common with the reviled Ramsey Clark and WWP than he does with the Cruise Missile "leftists" Heer falsely linked him with.


JEET HEER: 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.


COMMENT: Just because Paul Berman claims that CLR James was an influence, there is no reason to take him at his word. By the same token, George W. Bush claims that Jesus Christ influences his policies, when any sensible person understands that the White House owes much more to Joseph Goebbels. Berman is a rigid anti-Communist. During the 1980s he used his Village Voice bully pulpit to castigate the Sandinista government in terms similar to Oliver North. CLR James was a revolutionary; Paul Berman was and is a liberal no matter who he mistakenly thinks "influenced" him. In fact, his latest book simply puts forward his liberal prejudices in unambiguous terms as the title suggests: "Terror and Liberalism" (he is for liberalism).


JEET HEER: 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.


COMMENT: I would not take anything that Schwartz says seriously. There is not a single political or religious sect that he has not dipped his big toe in, from Trotskyism, anarchism, and "libertarian socialism" on the left, to Buckleyite conservatism on the right. He is now a devout Sufi Muslim, a faith that he discovered in the Balkans while writing pleas on behalf of imperialist intervention. The old Jewish saying would apply to Schwartz: "A chazer bleibt a chazer." (A pig remains a pig.)


JEET HEER: 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.


COMMENT: The rest of Heer's article spells out the connections between people like Paul Berman and Max Shachtman, which of course has more than a grain of truth. But this has less to do with Shachtman's connections to Trotsky than his *break* with Trotsky. In a very real sense, Shachtman is the spiritual and ideological father not only to those who spent 30 seconds in the Trotskyist movement, but to Michael Berubé, Todd Gitlin, Eric Alterman, Leo Casey, Stanley Aronowitz, and dozens of other 1960s and 70s radicals and left-liberals who have learned to worship the American flag since 9/11. But then again, the blame might not be put totally on Shachtman's shoulders. It would probably make sense to connect the Cruise Missile left to its true progenitors, namely the trade union bureaucrats, intelligentsia and parliamentarians of the Second International who backed their own bourgeoisie in WWI. Of course, Lenin and Trotsky broke with these traitors back in 1914 and Trotsky himself never betrayed his own principles until his death. In his fight with Max Shachtman and James Burnham over how to characterize the USSR after the Stalin-Hitler pact, Trotsky was faced with the same kind of liberal prejudices and inability to think in class terms that was on display when a large swath of the left, including some "Marxists" cheered on NATO's war against the Serbs. His words seem as timely as ever:


"It is necessary to call things by their right names. Now that the positions of both factions in the struggle have become determined with complete clearness, it must be said that the minority of the National Committee is leading a typical petty-bourgeois tendency. Like any petty-bourgeois group inside the socialist movement, the present opposition is characterized by the following features: a disdainful attitude toward theory and an inclination toward eclecticism; disrespect for the tradition of their own organization; anxiety for personal "independence" at the expense of anxiety for objective truth; nervousness instead of consistency; readiness to jump from one position to another…"