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David Horowitz Versus Christopher Hitchens

The British novelist Martin Amis has written a new book, Koba, The Dread about Soviet Communism and the utopian delusion. It is about the romance of western intellectuals with a fantasy whose real world incarnation has already killed at least 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union and probably 100 million all over the world. The crime committed by these victims of the progressive dream was their refusal to go along with the claims of “social justice” and the requirements of instituting a socialist state.

This is Martin Amis on the adventure of creating the Soviet Union: “The dictatorship of the proletariat was a lie; Union was a lie, and Soviet was a lie, and Socialist was a lie, and Republics was a lie. Comrade was a lie. The revolution was a lie.”

Question: How many intellectuals believed and spread this lie and thereby colluded in the enslavement, death, and generalized social misery of hundreds of millions of socialist citizens?

This is Martin Amis’s answer: “The overwhelming majority of intellectuals everywhere.”

To make the statement perfectly clear: Every magazine that today calls itself “progressive,” including The Progressive, the Nation, Social Text, Oktober, Zmagazine, and the Village Voice, tens of thousands of professors in American universities alone, the intellectual avatars, models and instructors in virtually every Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Chicano Studies and Cultural Studies program in America, the heads of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Modern Language Association — all were either apostles of this lie in its own time, or are apostles of the same utopian idea that gave it birth, along with the same anti-capitalist, anti-Americansocial analyses and the same anti-Western, anti-American historical narratives that produced the lies and their attendant atrocities in the first place.

Amis’s book also asks the following question: Why are even those leftwing intellectuals who managed to understand all along that these were lies — or who have come to realize that they are lies — still comfortable in thinking of those who supported them as “progressives” and worse, political “comrades.” In his book, Amis addresses this question to his close friend Christopher Hitchens:

“Comrade Hitchens! There is probably not much in these pages that you don’t already know. You already know, in that case, that Bolshevism presents a record of baseness and inanity that exhausts all dictionaries; indeed, heaven stops the nose at it. So it is still obscure to me why you wouldn’t want to put more distance between yourself and these events than you do, with your reverence for Lenin and your un-regretted discipleship of Trotsky. These two men did not just precede Stalin. They created a fully functioning police state for his later use.”

Amis further recalls an evening he spent at London’s Conway Hall listening to Hitchens recall his leftist past:

“At one point, reminiscing, Christopher said that he knew this building well, having spent many an evening in it with many ‘an old comrade.’ The audience responded as Christopher knew it would … with affectionate laughter…. Why..? If Christopher had referred to his many evenings with many ‘an old blackshirt,’ the audience would have….”

Christopher, who is also my friend, tells me that his answer to Amis will appear in the next issue of the Atlantic. I look forward to what he has to say.

Amis’s book was cogently reviewed in the Sunday New York Times in an article titled, “A Million Deaths Is Not Just A Statistic.” (July 28, 2002) While generally supporting Amis’s commentaries, the reviewer, socialist critic Paul Berman, attempts to diminish the seriousness of Amis’s most unsettling question by characterizing Hitchens’ Trotskyism as “more of an eccentricity than anything else.” This is Berman’s way of diminishing the complicity of progressives, like himself, in what happened to an idea and a movement to which they are still attached. (Not to be misunderstood, I am referring to the general “progressive” movement and the “anti-anti Communist” idea.)

To regard Hitchens’ Trotskyism as an eccentric tic, is patronizing, and not a judgment one can really take seriously. Hitchens is a witty thinker, but never a frivolous one. As a mark of his seriousness, he is the author of the introduction to The Prophet Armed, a forthcoming reprint of the first volume of Isaac Deutscher’s monumental trilogy of Trostky’s life. The book is scheduled to be released under the imprint of Verso, the New Left publishing house.

Isaac Deutscher was my friend and mentor and so I write the following with heartfelt regret. He was a brilliant, innovative thinker and literary stylist, but his life’s work, including his masterpiece on Trotsky, is finally a monument to the intellectual bankruptcy of Marxism itself. When all is said and done, the Trotsky biography must be seen as an incomparably sad waste of a remarkable individual talent. The intellectual framework of Deutscher’s portrait of Trotsky, including the standard by which its hero’s thoughts and deeds are measured, has been utterly falsified by the historical events since the author’s death in 1967.

In particular, the failure of Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union and the collapse of what proved to be the hollow shell of the Soviet empire brutally contradict and refute the essence of all that Deutscher wrote about them. Deutscher believed that socialism was an economically sound system that had enabled the Stalinists to build an advanced industrial base in Russia. He was convinced — and this was his hallmark contribution to Marxism — that this advanced economic base would eventually create an advanced democracy as well. Trotskyism itself was premised on this expectation. Instead, the opposite proved to be the case. The advanced economic base was another socialist lie, and the introduction of democracy destroyed the system. What then is left of intellectual Marxism but the atrocities it produced?

Deutscher, Lenin, Trotsky and Marx all staked their claims on the belief that socialism would produce abundance and freedom. A terrible history has shown us irrefutably that it doesn’t. Socialism is really a theory of economic theft and what it produces is poverty. Socialist systems are unable to even keep pace with the technological development necessary to sustain a modern economy. Moreover, they are fundamentally incompatible with human liberty.

None of these four revolutionaries still admired by the left had a clue about the critical importance of private property in making political liberty possible. Equally telling, none of them understood the necessity of a capitalist economy to technological progress or to economic well-being. In the last half of the 20th Century, vast masses of humanity — hundreds of millions in fact — were lifted out of subsistence poverty in those countries that protected and supported private property and free markets. This liberation of poor people into lives of relative dignity and modest luxury by capitalist economics represents a revolution unprecedented in the 5,000-year history of human societies.

Despite Chistopher Hitchens’ fluid and interesting new politics, he seems to still share many of the social illusions of his progressive mentors. These are manifest in his continuing nostalgia for the Allende regime in Chile, whose elements are laid out in the lead article of the latest issue of the London Review of Books. Here is how Hitchens describes the aftermath of the coup that toppled the socialist Allende and established the capitalist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet:

Much more significant in the long run were the policy intellectuals … who wanted to revive the free market doctrines of Hayek and Friedman. The paradox in their case was obvious: it might take a very strong state to impose those libertarian values. Milton Friedman himself, and others of the so-called ‘Chicago School’ of political economy, had been engaged by the Pinochet regime as advisers. In 1976, Allende’s former comrade Orlando Letelier, by then living in exile in Washington, wrote an extraordinary essay for the Nation entitled ‘The Chicago Boys in Chile.’ I remember getting the New Statesman to reprint it. It laid out the principle of the ‘free economy/strong state’ equation: ‘shock treatment’ number one being the application of electrodes to the recalcitrant, and ‘shock treatment’ number two being the withdrawal of public subsidy for the unfit or the inefficient. A few months after publishing the article, Orlando Letelier was torn to pieces by a car bomb in rush-hour Washington traffic, just a few blocks from where I am writing these words. ( “11 September 1973” LRB, July 11, 2002)
Before responding, let me observe first, that these are not the reflections of a man whose leftism is mere “eccentricity.” Second, allow me to acknowledge that Christopher lost friends in this conflict and that I respect the passions of his grief if not the analysis that accompanies it.

In Hitchens’ Chilean equation, now reflected nearly thirty years later, free market economics still equals torture and dictatorship, which is pretty much the end of the story. At least as far as he is concerned. But of course it was not the end of the story. What followed (and flowed directly from) the Pinochet dictatorship, including the above referenced policy advice from Chicago, is pretty interesting, as well as being obviously crucial in evaluating the stakes in this battle.

Allende, it must be observed, was a Castro leftist. He even brought the Cuban monster to Cuba for a month-long political campaign to promote support for the Chilean revolution (and antagonism towards the United States). Allende had been elected with less than half the popular vote and was thus not in a strong position to advance the radical social and economic agendas he did. While himself something of a socialist “moderate” he had forged a coalition with the Communist left. Hitchens even quotes an elegy for the Allende regime by the notorious Stalinist Pablo Neruda, who was a respected member of Allende’s political family.

What does Hitchens think would have happened if Allende had not forced a confrontation with the Chilean right and had been allowed to carry out his radical programs? The historic record on Marxist regimes is pretty clear. Allende’s programs would have brought even greater poverty to Chile, along with socialist repression. But Allende never got the chance to institute a Fidelista regime in Chile because his inflammatory measures and political alliances soon provoked a counter-revolution which was supported (if not instigated as Hitchens would have it) by the United States.

This was the famous coup of September 11, 1973 which overthrew the elected government and brought to power the aforementioned Pinochet junta. It was as Hitchens has written a ruthless and cold-hearted military regime, but no more ruthless or cold-hearted (and probably a lot less) than the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” instituted by Allende’s friend and hero in Cuba.

Not to be misunderstood, this does not make Pinochet’s crimes ok. The murder of innocents is never justified whether the crimes are committed by the left or the right. On the other hand, there is not a conservative known to me who has denied in print that Pinochet killed a lot of innocent people or who has argued that these deaths were either justified or necessary. It would probably take a leftist to make that kind of case.

What Hitchens and his comrades leave out of the story, is that the dictator Pinochet did manage to strengthen the capitalist economic system in Chile, albeit by deplorable means. Unlike the sadistic Castro, however — who is now the longest surviving dictator in the world — Pinochet eventually agreed to a popular referendum on his rule. He lost the vote (but in doing so actually won a greater plurality of the vote than his victim Allende had in winning the presidency). Pinochet’s referendum ended his rule and restored political democracy to Chile. Today Chile — unlike any of the Marxist states on which Allende might have modeled his own — is a political democracy. Equally important, Pinochet’s Chicago advisers have been proven right. Today Chile enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in all Latin America and for the last decade has been its fastest growing economy, raising more and more Chileans out of poverty and into the middle class. Unlike socialism, free markets work.

This article was first published by frontpagemagazine.com and is reprinted with permission.