Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brief Civics Lesson In Light Of Events: Strictly Speaking, Stephen Harper No "Trotskyite".

In today's Ottawa Citizen: That Vladimir Putin is a vulgar, preening thug is not news. But there was something newsworthy, or at least notable, in the brutish utterance he is reported to have let slip during a meeting last weekend with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Toronto Sun's David Akin appears to have solely acquired this account of Putin's comment, and good for Akin, who takes the remark as a sort of foreshadowing of the murders in Libya, including that of the American ambassador Chris Stevens, at the hands of a mob of Islamist thugs yesterday in Benghazi. That's the sort of thing you'll get, Putin is said to have advised, for "instigating" mobs.

"According to officials in the room with the two men," Akin reports, "Putin said Harper and other Western leaders are acting like 'Trotskyites' - that was Putin's line -- for exporting revolution and promoting instability."

This business of exporting revolution, I unhappily notice, is largely the stuff of conspiracy theory. This in itself should give you some more insight into Putin's ugly and paranoid mind. Akin goes on: "I'm not sure how Putin connects the dots between Stephen Harper and Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, but Putin's basic point to Harper was that Western leaders were being dangerously naive by meddling in the affairs of the dictators of the Middle East. Harper was trying to get Putin to join the West in taking a hard line against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad."

What the dots leading from Putin's vulgarity connect are his proper location as "paleoconservative" reactionary in the post-Soviet sense of the term, a neo-Stalinist who shares more with Stephen Harper's more fervent detractors - not a few of whom use the term "neoconservative" as a substitute for "Zionist" or "Jew" - than they would want or even understand. The dots also connect an actually-existing political trajectory that is occluded by contemporary leftish conspiracy-mongering in the same circles of the "West" that Putin so reviles.

What follows will be familiar to those who imagine themselves to be members of the cognoscenti, but for those of you who normally have more interesting things to occupy your attention this might be "news," and even mildly entertaining. Heaven knows we need to find things to amuse ourselves at the moment, with what's happening today in Yemen, Cairo, Gaza, Kashmir, Morocco, Tunisia and so on

The first thing to understand is that Stephen Harper is by no means a neoconservative, least of all if the lame descriptive "exporting revolution" is to be relied upon. His ideology, to the extent that he has one, is a species of neoliberalism certainly, but he's by no means a "neocon." There are a few decent members of Harper's cabinet who can be placed by compliment in the so-called neoconservative camp, but as for Harper, it's worth remembering that our prime minister, unlike many members of his cabinet and caucus and the Opposition benches, was never even much of an enthusiast about Canada's bold and honourable efforts in Afghanistan.

Here's the fun bits.

If, like Akin, you are mystified by Putin's "Trotskyite" comment, you'll want to look in a direction way from the place Putin occupies in a lineage with its origin in the deep and irreconcilable divisions that beset the Russian communist movement back in the 1920s and 1930s. For the moment, let's leave all that history this way, at the risk of absurd oversimplification: Putin would have been in Josef Stalin's camp - the "socialism in one country" crowd, the authoritarian, boot-wearing murderers of Rosa Luxemburg who went on to slaughter thousands of their own party members to assert discipline and so on. 

The cadre Putin would have pitted himself against would have been the "permanent revolution" crowd that gathered around Lev Davidovitch Bronstein (known to history more commonly as Leon Trotsky) in exile, and went on to form the Fourth International. Here's where the line of dots re-emerges in a different direction: there is a case to be made that the heirs and successors of the Fourth International are indeed the "Trotskyite" neoconservatives Putin was reportedly being so clever about. This observation deeply offends the George Galloway cultists and the gruesome bourgeois "anti-war" pseudo-leftists who dominate left-wing politics in Canada these days. The observation truly horrifies them and hurts their feelings, which is precisely why I like to make it whenever I get the chance.

It's not a case that holds all that much heavy water, sadly. But it is still amusing to notice a few things, beginning with this fun fact: In the broad sweep of global political trends, today's  "neoconservatives" do bear a closer functional resemblance to the Trotskyists of the 1930s than the poseurs and post-modernists who actually imagine that there is something "progressive" about the so-called "anti-war" political milieu that has overshadowed the Canadian left over the past decade. Another fun fact: The structural remnants of the Fourth International provide the dominant organizational architecture within the pathetic brand of exhibitionist narcissism otherwise known as Canada's "anti-war" movement.

Stick with me here. It gets better.

The term "neoconservative" was coined by American socialist Michael Harrington as a sort of pejorative (note also that Putin's "Trotskyite" is a pejorative for "Trotskyist") for the socialists around him during the early 1970s whose anti-Stalinist exuberance was so acute that they were prepared to consider supporting the American misadventure in Vietnam, even, just to give grief to their old Soviet enemies. Soviet Russia was to be understood as a deformed workers' state, but not beyond hope at all, if only the heirs of Stalin were giving the high jump. These "neoconservatives" quickly became pariahs, as one might imagine. Where did they go?

Max Boot is a very serious thinker on matters of anti-Islamist strategy, counter-insurgency and so on. Here, in 2004, while he was (ironic or what!) the Jeane J Kirkpatrick fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations while he was (and still is) closely associated with American "neoconservatives." Boot enumerates some of the luminaries of the Trotskyist-Neocon lineage, which includes the elegant Reaganite Jeane Kirkpatrick (that is what I meant by "ironic"), who started out, like neocon archfiend of leftish imagination Richard Perle, as a left-wing (though not "socialist" by any means) Democrat. 

Notably, the late and hugely influential polemicist Christopher Hitchens - archdruid of the erstwhile  Cruise Missile Left - ascended from apprentice to journeyman intellectual as a Trotskyist of the International Socialist variety. So did the pro-intervention Iraqi-American intellectual Kanan Makiya, author of the indispensable The Republic of Fear.
The immensely important intellectual Irving Kristol, grandpappy of the neoconservative movement - the "exporting revolution" enthusiasts of Putin's vulgar caricature - emerged on the American scene as an actually-existing Trotskyist. Sidney Hook, too, was an enormously important figure on the Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist Left, and went on to be an inspiration to that school of thought that is so clumsily called neoconservativism. Here's something he wrote in 1950 that has absolutely astonishing resonance in the more important cultural and political debates underway at the moment. Keep events in Benghazi, Yemen, Gaza, Kashmir, Cairo and the rest in mind as you read this part:

Liberalism in the twentieth century must toughen its fiber for it is engaged in a fight on many different fronts. Liberalism must defend the free market in ideas against the racists, the professional patrioteer, and those spokesmen of the status quo who would freeze the existing inequalities of opportunity and economic power by choking off criticism. Liberalism must also defend freedom of ideas against those agents and apologists of Communist totalitarianism who, instead of honestly defending their heresies, resort to conspiratorial methods of anonymity and other techniques of fifth columnists. It will not be taken in by labels like "left" and "right."

Substitute "Islamist totalitarianism" for "Communist totalitarianism" and you will notice Hook's immediate relevance, in light of Chris Stevens' murder, all the related violent hysterics underway as ?I write this, Prime Minister Harper's severing of diplomatic ties with the Khomeinist abomination last week, and a panoply of related matters. Hook's clarity also neatly exposes the shallow, boring and unforgivably stupid depths of "criticism" that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition tends to level at Harper's government on these existential questions.  

You're welcome.     

(Disclosure addendum: While I've entertained no specific ideological commitments for some long while my loyalties were nonetheless once commanded by all the main and all the minor Trotskyist groupuscules, in succession, all of which I'd abandoned by the time I left high school. But if you read Hook you'll understand why I object to those lumpen goofballs who insist that at some point about a decade ago my journalism betrayed a distinct shift to the "right.")


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