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A Morally Squalid Man Besotted With Ideology?

This New Oxford Note is offbeat in two ways: It’s about a subject far afield from the usual concerns of the NOR, and it’s a comment on a review of a book we have not read and have no intention of reading. But this is the thing: When a man is cruelly denigrated, and you happen to know the man, you must speak up.

The book is Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany by Victor Grossman (University of Massachusetts Press), and it’s reviewed by Harvey Klehr in The Weekly Standard (Dec. 1, 2003). Klehr describes the book as “a nostalgic memoir about life in East Germany” by an American Communist who fled to East Germany in the 1950s. Fair enough.

Now, The Weekly Standard is the flagship publication of neoconservatism. It is edited by William Kristol, the son of Irving Kristol (an ex-Trotskyite and the founding father of neoconservatism). The Standard is a well-written and often witty magazine, and, given neoconservatism’s mostly Jewish roots, it is remarkably solicitous of Catholic and Evangelical concerns.

Neoconservatism, of the authentic variety, is usually traced back to the faction fights in the Communist and socialist movements in the U.S. The main pedigree of neoconservatism is Trotskyism, a dissident ultraleft brand of Communism. When Stalin came to dominate the Communist movement, and had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico, many Trotskyites gradually became more anti-Communist than anti-capitalist, with certain of them embracing capitalism pretty much without qualification, and with it an aggressive U.S. foreign policy against Communism — and now against the Muslim world.

Did the Trotskyites do a flip-flop? Yes — and no. The Trots (or ex-Trots) still carry with them the dream of world revolution. Stalin, a cagey tactician, realized during the 1920s and 30s that world socialist revolution was not possible, and came up with his doctrine of “socialism in one country.” The Trots would have none of this, and pushed for immediate world socialist revolution. In essence, the ex-Trot neoconservatives transferred their allegiance from world socialist revolution to world democratic revolution, hence their eagerness to export the democratic revolution everywhere and have the U.S. intervene militarily in the affairs of (supposedly) sovereign nations. Just as the Trots abhorred Stalinism as a kind of isolationist socialism, so they abhor an isolationist Americanism and a non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy.

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