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Who Is Smearing Whom?

Last week HNN published Alan Wald's critique of an article written by Michael Lind for the New Statesman in which Mr. Lind argued that defense policy in the Bush administration is orchestrated by a group of people, many of whom are Jewish, who were allegedly shaped by Trotskyism. This week we publish an exchange between Mr. Lind and Mr. Wald. Below is Mr. Wald's statement. Click here for Mr. Lind's.

After four months, Michael Lind is still unable to produce even one piece of credible evidence to prove the exaggerated and unhelpful claims made in his widely-quoted New Statesman article of April 7th. So he issues a lengthy rant discussing a wide range of other matters. Some of his new arguments are too general to be controversial. Other statements, perplexingly, are attributed to me even though they are nowhere to be found in my critique of his original essay.

Let's be clear about the argument of Mr. Lind's "The Weird Men Behind George Bush" that garnered him so much publicity. He states that, instead of looking to socio-economic and reactionary cultural explanations for Bush's foreign policy, we must understand that "the world's only global power is being made by a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the US population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment." Moreover, the "core group now in charge" are "neoconservative defence intellectuals" of whom "many started off as anti-Stalinist leftists or liberals...." He says that "most neoconservative defence intellectuals...are products of the largely Jewish American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s...." He also states that their political philosophy of "Wilsonianism" is "really Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism." This Jewish Trotskyist Wilsonianism contrasts with the "Genuine American Wilsonians," who "believe in self-determination for the Palestianians."

Mr. Lind presented us with a list of the "neoconservative defence intellectuals." Those "inside the government" are Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Lewis Libby, John R. Bolton, and Elliot Abrams. Those "outside" are James Woolsey and Richard Perle. Lind then moves to a discussion of a "metaphorical pentagon" surrounding these figures, one that includes the Israel lobby, the religious Right, and conservative think-tanks, foundations and media empires. In this last category he mention's Rupert Murdock's Fox Television Network, William Kristol's Weekly Standard, Conrad Black's National Interest, and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times. Linking all of these is William Kristol's Project for the New American Century. Lind states of this group: "Using a PR technique pioneered by their Trotskyist predecessors, the neo-cons published a series of public letters, whose signatories often included Wolfowitz and other future members of the Bush foreign policy team." Moreover, these "neocon defence intellectuals" came to power because "they took advantage of Bush's ignorance and inexperience."

My objection to Mr. Lind's argument is first of all that he gave no evidence that "most" of this "small clique" that is "in charge" of U.S. foreign policy has any significant connection, personal or ideological, to what he calls the "largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement." In his answer to my critique, Mr. Lind still refuses to provide documentation of such a sensational charge. Instead, he attributes to himself a different claim: "I stand by the observation that there is a distinct Trotskyist political culture, which shows residual influence on individuals who renounced Trotskyism or who were never Trotskyists but inherited this political culture from their parents or older mentors." But nowhere does he show us how a single member of the "small clique" either "renounced Trotskyism" or "inherited this political culture" from anyone.

I would be the last person to dispute that the political cultures of Trotskyism, Communism, anarchism, New Deal Liberalism, etc., can exist and be transmitted. For example, in regard to Trotskyism, it can be demonstrated that critiques of Stalinism from Marxist premises, a sympathy for the radical potential of literary modernism, and an internationalist view of Jewish identity together comprise a subcultural tradition that might be passed on. One might even write a whole book about the subject. (We might call it, "The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left.") Moreover, such a study would point out that the original group coalescing as "neoconservatives" in the 1970s included a few prominent intellectuals who had passed through a wing of the Trotskyist movement, especially an anti-Shachtmanite tendency known as the "Shermanites" (led by Philip Selznik, aka Sherman). But even in the 1970s, among the strands of ideological DNA that formed to create "Neoconservatism," Trotskyism was very much a receding one. Now, thirty years later, in regard to a group of mostly younger people that some are also calling "Neoconservatives," it is close to non-existent.

What about the claims of influence on foreign policy? In his second paragraph, Mr. Lind cites as his main example the phrase "global democratic revolution," which he attributes to "Schachmanites [sic] like Joshua Muravchik." Well, giving Trotskyism credit for a vague slogan like "global democratic revolution" is about as meaningful as the earlier claim that it was Trotskyists who "pioneered" the technique of sending out public letters. But at least Mr. Lind has now given us the name of an individual, albeit not one of the original "small clique" of "neocon defence intellectuals," to whom he affirms a Trotskyist connection. However, is Mr. Lind accurate in stating so unabashedly that Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is currently, or ever was, a "Shachtmanite"? Here is what Muravchik wrote in in the Weekly Standard (Aug. 28, 2000) in his review of Maurice Isserman's biography of Michael Harrington: "Any number of those singled out in Isserman's book as 'Shachtmanites' had never been among them--including Penn Kemble, Bayard Rustin, and me.... To be sure, when in the mid-1960s I joined the Socialist party, I loved Shachtman's lectures, but what I learned from them had nothing to do with the Trotskyite arcana that had once been the substance of Shachtmanism. It had everything to do with the evil nature of communism." This statement is further proof that Mr. Lind is not to be trusted when he starts throwing around political labels, no matter how confident he sounds. Among Lind's "core" list of "neocon defence intellectuals," I doubt that any of them ever had as much personal exposure to Shachtman and his ideas as did Murachivik. Of course, an individual such as William Kristol may may well have learned about "the evil nature of communism" at the knee of father Irving, but this hardly makes the son a carrier of the Trotkyist virus. The point is that, unless we are to revert to the principle of "guilt by association," the connection between the individual and the political culture of Trotskyism must have some real substance to it.

Mr. Lind, fortunately, has now stopped referring to "Permanent Revolution," a theory that turns out to have nothing in common with the definition he originally ascribed to it. But he insists on a connection between a Trotskyist plan to "export 'revolution' " and the Bush foreign policy of invading Third World countries. True enough, following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Trotsky was reluctant to sign an unfavorable peace agreement with Germany because he favored promoting a socialist revolution there, a position that he later repudiated. But when Irving Kristol et al became Trotskyists in the late 1930s, there was no country in the world that that their tendency supported. What was meant by "revolution" was not the attack of one state on another, but bottom up social upheaval of the population. The documents of the Workers Party or the Shermanites make no reference to advocacy of intervention by any states to topple a regime and restructure society.

Utopian as their dreams might seem today, they believed the source of revolution to be a "Third Camp" of working people, not warring governments. Moreover, while I think that the Trotskyist movement in the United States has been for all practical purposes dead for decades, and is unlikely to play a part in any future radicalizations, the Trotskyist record of supporting "self-determination" of Palestinians and other oppressed populations is sterling in comparison to "Wilsonians "--including those who put the mantle of "genuine American" on themselves.

Much of Mr. Lind's polemic is directed at issues and arguments never mentioned by me, although he gives no other attributions and cites me frequently. For example, Mr. Lind states with glee that "Mr. Wald says not only that neoconservatives originated as a pejorative used by Michael Harrington...but there never really were any self-identified neoconservatives (false)." Mr. Lind then devotes a long paragraph to mocking me with anecdotes about his dinner parties with "Bill" Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, et al. The problem is that nowhere in my short article do I mention the name of Harrington or claim that the neocons didn't identify themselves as such! Ditto for all the stuff about whether or not Mr. Lind is an anti-Semite (although his "proof" that he can't possibly be an anti-Semite simply because he is "partly Jewish in descent" is both amusing and unsettling), conspiracy theories, the southern religious Right, and so on.

Mr. Lind defends his unsubstantiated argument about the political history and outlook of the "core group now in charge" of U.S. foreign policy by affirming that "it is impossible...to write either history or political journalism without generalizations." True enough. But generalizations about "core groups" have to be derived from meticulous primary research into the biographies, ideas, and activities of the individuals about whom one is generalizing. For example, based on careful research, I believe that a generalization regarding "Shachtmanite" influences could be offered in regard to the "core group" that founded a publication such as Dissent magazine. But I do not believe such a generalization can apply to the core group that runs the Weekly Standard, let alone "the neocon defence intellectuals." I think it is questionable to even claim that this particular "core group" is truly "in charge"of foreign policy; and I think it is unconscionable to preach to the American public in potboiler articles the falsehood that there has been an ideological highjacking of their inexperienced president by a "weird" clique whose roots are "Jewish-American" and "Trotskyist."

Throughout his answer, Mr. Lind bombards me with with epithets such as "incompetent," "intellectually dishonest," "disingeneuous," "deliberately dishonest," displaying "profound ignorance," and being a "conspiracy theorist." (I can't quite tell if I am included among the "gutter professors.") Fittingly, Mr. Lind's article is titled, "I Was Smeared." Readers can judge for themselves who is smearing whom.