By Sean MatgamnaMax Shachtman is to the post-Trotsky neo-Trotskyist movement what Trotsky was to the official "Communist" movement: the great heretic, the arch traitor — Lucifer.
Like the SWP USA at the end of the ’30s, the Workers Party and its successor the Independent Socialist League, believed it to be their duty to help the American working class develop a mass political party, of the sort the British Labour Party then was, but with better politics. Sometime in the mid or late 1950s Shachtman became convinced that revolutionary politics in the USA were not "operational" in the foreseeable future. In 1958 the ISL liquidated itself into the tiny Socialist Party, and not long after Shachtman and his friends controlled that party.
Soon the Socialist Party was working in the broad Democratic Party for a strategy devised by Shachtman: they would take the American working class a giant stride forward in politics, by transforming the Democratic Party into a labour-controlled party, in effect a Labour Party. How? The Democratic Party, since Roosevelt, had had the active support of most of the trade union movement. The racist southern Democrats, whose affiliation to the Democratic Party dated back to the Civil War, could be hived off, as could the party’s big bourgeois element.
Shachtman then became a sort of Fabian, working behind the scenes to manipulate developments in the trade unions and the Democratic Party in the direction he thought would best serve the next stage of working class development on the road to a socialist consciousness. In this guise of American Fabian, Shachtman helped organise the black civil rights movement of the early 1960s.
He had at the beginning described his Democratic Party realignment strategy as "foul and discreditable work", but necessary. In pursuit of an "opening to the right" which dominated the labour movement, he himself moved onto the right wing’s political terrain. How much this was initially a pedagogical adaptation, I do not know. He worked with the existing trade union leaders, whom he had once justly described as agents of the ruling class — the labour lieutenants of capital.
In an exact replication of the fate of the USA’s "Right Communist" (Jay Lovestone), grouping of the 1930s, many of Shachtman’s supporters became part of the trade union bureaucracy. Shachtman ceased to believe in a "Third Camp" of the working class and oppressed people throughout the world, and opted — like the "orthodox" Trotskyists, only on the other side — for one of the two great camps in the world. He chose the camp led by the USA.
Like the working class itself, as a revolutionary political force, the "Third Camp" existed only as a potential, as something to be won, worked for, propagandised about, wrought in the class struggle. Shachtman had insisted on that against those who felt impelled to stand, with however critical a demeanour, in Stalinism’s camp. After the crushing of the Hungarian rising by Russian tanks in 1956, increasingly Shachtman gave up on it. He accepted liberal capitalism as a "lesser evil", while continuing to counterpose such things as "a democratic US foreign policy" to the dominant one. He believed that the imposition of Stalinist regimes, which would stifle and destroy the labour movement and democratic freedoms won over decades and centuries, as Stalinism did everywhere it ruled, was to be resisted everywhere, on pain of death for the labour movement — resisted, even in alliance with liberal bourgeois and American imperialist forces.
It is only from the point of view of the so-called "Third Camp" — of the consistently independent working class politics which he did so much in his time to clarify and defend — that Shachtman can properly be evaluated or justly condemned. Those who opted for Stalinism, however critically, as a progressive anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist force, were Shachtman’s mirror image, only in the other "camp". Those who supported Vietnamese self-determination against the USA were right to do so, but many of us too blithely dismissed the concerns that led Shachtman to his "foul and discreditable" course because, in the last analysis, we accepted that Stalinism — the force, for now, fighting imperialism in Indo-China — was also progressively anti-capitalist. 
Nor were Shachtman’s machinations to find a road forwards for the mass labour movement necessarily discreditable. Even if one thinks the strategy for turning the Democratic Party into a labour party unlikely to succeed, or simply fantastic, and the techniques employed by Max Shachtman and his friends to help engineer it suicidal for socialists, it does not follow that dawdling in sectarian aloofness — still less doing that while basking in imaginary reflected glory from foreign Stalinist dictatorships — is thereby certified to be the best socialist politics. Shachtman’s efforts to avoid relegation to the role of passive propagandist have merit, even if one emphatically disagrees with his actions. Nonetheless, Shachtman at the end was deeply mired in conventional American dirty bourgeois politics.
The man who had with some justification denounced James P Cannon’s conception of the revolutionary party as owing too much to conventional American machine "boss" politics, died in the company of the real machine-politics Democratic Party "bosses". His section of the Socialist Party, keeping in step with the trade union bureaucracy, in effect supported Richard Nixon in the election that was held a week after Shachtman’s death.
Shachtman, when he took himself into the camp of American imperialism, did not take his life’s work with him. He could not. Against his future self he had laid down immense barriers of passionate reason, unanswerable logic, truthful history, righteous contempt for turncoats and fainthearts and scorn for those who in middle age make peace with the capitalism on which in their braver youth they had declared war to the death. Shachtman’s "Third Camp" writings are the best commentary on, and the best condemnation of, Shachtman at the end. Those writings, and the writings of Shachtman’s comrades, are an important, indeed a unique part of the capital of revolutionary socialism — the defence, elaboration and continuation of unfalsified Marxism, that is, of Trotsky’s ideas as they really were and as they really were developing at his death. Shachtman’s writings are a precious part of the heritage of revolutionary socialism: in the post-Stalinist world they are no small part of the seed from which socialism will renew itself.Max Shachtman – a political-biographical essay,
by Albert Glotzer, et al.
The events which followed the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 split the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party down the middle, with Shachtman as principal spokesman for the minority. The minority – 45% of the party and the youth – opposed the traditional Trotskyist defense of the Soviet Union on the grounds that the acts of Stalin’s Russia – the partition of Poland and the invasion of the Baltic states and Finland – did not differ from the imperialism of the great capitalist powers. Some members of the opposition also had grave doubts about the nature of the Russian state, questioning whether it was indeed a workers’ state, albeit a degenerated one, as Trotsky contended. The debate became a polemic between The Minority and Trotsky himself, now in exile in Mexico. On behalf of the SWP majority Trotsky defended the traditional position which he had developed but he could not convince The Minority that the historic task imposed on Trotskyists was to defend the Soviet Union as a workers’ state, despite its degeneration, even despite Stalin’s incursions into Poland and Finland.
In 1940, The Minority split to form the Workers Party. With Shachtman as its moving force, the new organization disseminated its new political views in the monthly The New International and the weekly Labor Action. After an extended reexaminaion of the Russian Question, the Workers Party adopted the view that the Soviet Union was a new type of exploitative and oppressive society, neither capitalist nor socialist; this new social phenomenon is termed Bureaucratic Collectivism. Shachtman compiled his writings on the subject in The Bureaucratic Revolution, The Rise of the Stalinist State, published in 1962.
Shachtman continued to edit The New International for a brief time, but his main role during the Second World War and through most of the Fifties was that of a political leader and spokesman of the Workers Party and its successor after 1948, the Independent Socialist League. On the speakers’ platform, he was passionate, entertaining, and well-informed polemicist, renowned for his wit, humor, and irony. Among his frequent speaking engagements on behalf of the WP and ISL, some of the most significant were the debates with Earl Browder, deposed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the US; with Father Rice, labor priest in Pittsburgh, on social struggles in the US; with Alexander Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government during the Russian Revolution of February, 1917, on events associated with the struggle for power; and with Friedrich Von Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom, on socialist goals.
During the Fifties, Shachtman and some of his close associates continued to reexamine socialist theory and programs. They came to reject the Leninist concept of the Party, believing instead that the totalitarian degeneration of the Russian Revolution was inherent in the dominant ideology of the founder of Bolshevism. The “Shachtmanites” reaffirmed that democracy is essential to socialism, and believed that the one-party state leads necessarily to dictatorship or totalitarianism. Earlier, though desiring Hitler’s defeat, they had supported neither side in the war, declaring instead for a non-existent “Third Camp.” Then, after the war they opposed the Marshall Plan for European recovery. On review, they concluded that these positions were based on sectarian misreadings of the events. Shachtman and his comrades concentrated their main political propaganda on the defense of democracy against all exploitative and oppressive regimes, whether right wing or Stalinist. In 1958, Shachtman and his colleagues of the ISL, on behalf of the organizations affiliated and in consonance with these views, challenged their inclusion on the Attorney General’s Subversive List and succeeded in having them removed from the list. Max Shachtman was the principal witness for the organizations in the protracted hearings in Washington D.C. Thereafter, the ISL and its youth section dissolved into the Socialist Party, now Social Democrats, USA.
Shachtman observed with alarm the events of the Cuban revolution, and he rejected the Trotskyist (SWP) interpretation of Castro’s Cuba as a new socialist phenomenon. Instead, he saw Castro as the head of the first Stalinist state in the western hemisphere and described the SWP support of Castro’s Cuba as a capitulation to Stalinism. Shachtman regarded the Ho Chi Mihn government as another example of Stalinist expansion. He was disturbed that the anti-war movement was highly influenced by the Stalinists and their fellow travelers.
In debates inside and outside the SP, Shachtman held that the anti-communist government in Saigon, though far from democratic, left room for opposition groups and the beginnings of a trade union movement, and thus made possible a democratic development. In speeches and dialogues about socialism in the United States, Shachtman stressed that no democratic socialist movement could prosper without intimate ties with the American labor movement; nor did he think it could flourish without a broad socialist organization encompassing a wide spectrum of theoretical and political views, in which contending ideas could be voiced as long as the majority conducted the affairs of the organization in an open and democratic way.
Although he developed coronary problems in the early Fifties, Shachtman hardly curtailed his activities. He continued to speak and write, and devoted much attention to people who sought his views and assistance. Over the years, he influenced many contemporaries – notably James T. Farrell and Bayard Rustin – as well as many younger, developing intellectuals, writers, and labor activists including Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Harvey Swados, Isaac Rosenfeld, Stanley Plastrik, Michael Harrington, Don Slaiman, Sam Fishman, Tom Kahn, Sandra Feldman, Paul Feldman, Norman Hill, Herman Rebhan, Israel Kugler, Rachelle Horowitz, and Emanuel Geltman.
During the post-WW II period, Shachtman frequently saw Natalia Sedova Trotsky. From 1952 to 1961, he and his wife Yetta visited Natalia in Mexico every year, and on two occasions Natalia came to New York. Despite his sharp ideological break with Trotsky, Shachtman remained his literary representative and continued to act in that capacity for Natalia, often corresponding with her on legal matters. Beset by tragedies, Natalia remained alert and interested in intellectual and cultural affairs. After Trotsky’s death, she turned against his “defensist” position toward the Soviet Union and other types of Stalinist bureaucracy, writing to the Fourth International, “I see no other way than to say openly that our disagreements make it impossible for me to remain any longer in your ranks.” Thus she found herself more closely aligned with Shachtman, with whom she often conversed, in French, about politics and the state of the movement. Until her death in France in 1962, the Shachtmans were among the many international friends with whom she retained warm relations.
During the Sixties, Shachtman devoted much of his time to researching and writing a history of the Communist International, which he never finished. He lectured at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, for which he prepared the important study, Comintern Splinter Groups (Trotskyism, Bukharinism). He spent weeks lecturing at the University of Illinois at Urbana, and spoke at other academic centers. In researching his books he talked to many noted figures about their experiences and knowledge of past events; among these were Ignazio Silone, Boris Souvarine, Nicola Chiaramonte, Manes Sperber, Alfred Rosmer, Pierre Naville, David Rousset, and Jock Haston.
Max Shachtman’s concern with socialist ideas and ideals never left him. Although he had been educated in Marxist philosophy and the politics of the early Communist, Trotskyist and Socialist movements, he had nevertheless sufficient objectivity and intelligence to reassess the experiences of several decades. He had the flexibility and wisdom to acknowledge mistakes and adopt new strategies for changing times.
In addition to the critical reevaluation of Soviet society, he was responsible in his later years for a new perspective towards the Democratic Party, known as “realignment.” He saw the party as the arena of the social and political struggles of our time and the place where the labor movement and socialists should work to move towards a free and progressive America. He had came to believe the goal of our epoch was to coalesce in defense of humane, democratic institutions, without which a free socialist society would be unattainable. On November 4, 1972, coronary failure ended Max Shachtman’s life, a life devoted to liberating social ideals.The Origins of Modern Leftism
by Richard Gombin
The vital question : The régime of the
USSR and the phenomenon of bureacracy
Trotskyism, therefore, provided leftism with its point of attack : Soviet bureaucracy. In a sense, Trotskyism itself started out as a form of leftism : by questioning the very structure of the Soviet régime, the Trotskyists started from a foundation which might have led to a critique of Leninism itself. However, they were never able to take this vital step, for they based their whole attitude on a single magic - and arbitrary - date, 1923, before which everything was roses, while after it everything began to go wrong.  By virtue of this one fact, Trotskyism has more the characteristics of extremism than of leftism, to apply the distinction drawn in the Introduction.
So while the attempted critique by Les Temps modernes seems ambiguous, holding a very precarious balance between Stalinist orthodoxy and liberal thought, Trotskyism was the only movement in the immediate postwar period to sustain a serious left-wing critique of Stalinism.  Organized Trotskyism, and notably the PCI ( International Communist Party ), was also to provide the sounding-board for the political opposition to Stalinism : the reasoned negation of Leninism was constructed on the basis of Trotsky's ideas, but was also to be directed against them.
The condemnation of Stalinism as a caricature of socialism meant making a serious bid to challenge the Soviet régime. This is what Leon Trotsky dedicated himself to from 1923 onwards, from the formation of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union. Between 1923 and 1940 he developed an analysis of great penetration which led him, on the basis of an exhaustive description of Soviet society, to state that the Soviet State under Stalin remained a workers' State, that Russian society was still very close to the Marxist model, but that its socio-economic régime was a transitional one between capitalism and socialism. Its transitional nature was, according to Trotsky, the result of the inadequate development of the factors of production on the one hand, and the existence of a bureaucratic stratum at the summit of the social structure on the other.  The ruling caste had taken over the apparatus of the State, had secured for itself all the privileges, carved itself the lion's share in the distribution of the national income and almost restored the conditions of a thoroughgoing exploitation. Nevertheless, having completed a description of Soviet society which has since become a classic, and from which it emerges that inequality, poverty, prostitution. abuses of every kind had made their reappearance in the Soviet Union, from which, above all, it emerges that the group in power possessed all the features of a dominant group, Trotsky concludes that the Soviet bureaucracy is not a class in the true sense. Although it had raised itself up above other groups in society, although it was a 'privileged and dominant' group, differing from every other bureaucracy in that it served only itself, it had not created any social base for its domination. In particular, since it did not own the means of production, and could not bequeath its goods and its privileges, it remained a political and not a social phenomenon.
To reach this conclusion, Trotsky had started from a highly literal interpretation of Marxism, according to which it is the ownership of the means of production which characterizes régimes. Since Marxism knows no other form of ownership than individual or collective, Trotsky defined the USSR as a degenerate workers' State, the base of which was socialist, but with a mode of distribution which was bourgeois and operated to the benefit of a tiny minority. This situation, according to him, could only be unstable and transitory; the régime would sooner or later have to move in the direction of complete socialism or tip backwards to capitalism. In the former case, it would probably need a political revolution; in the latter case a complete social counter-revolution would be necessary, since the relationships of production would have to be altered.
Whatever the value of this analysis,  it became, after Trotsky's death in 1940, the bible of all those who attached themselves to his cause.
After the war, this analysis came to appear both to go beyond the theses of the CP, in that it called Stalinism in question and aspired to a return to the pure and healthy springs of Leninist Bolshevism, but also as less far-reaching than some views which detected in Stalinism something other, and more, than a mere political structure.
Nevertheless, by his attack on Stalinism, supported by his personal prestige as the companion of Lenin, Trotsky had opened a breach in the monolithic structure of world communism, and through this breach poured every radical critique of Stalinism.
Within the Fourth International, after 1944, and in its French section, the PCI, it was assumed without question that the Soviet State was both proletarian and degenerate, half-way on the road between capitalism and socialism. But Trotsky, as we have seen, considered this state of affairs to be abnormal : the régime of the USSR seemed to him to be in unstable equilibrium; it was fated inevitably either to develop towards socialism or to 'fall back' into capitalism. The war, he was convinced, would precipitate this development : the USSR could only emerge from it as a fully fledged proletarian State, or slide back into the barbaric state of capitalism.
However, come the Liberation, not only was this 'unstable' régime in better health than ever. but the leaders of the Fourth International 'froze' any new interpretation of this phenomenon by attributing to Trotsky's analyses the qualities of an unassailable dogma. This situation drove a number of young Trotskyists to form a splinter group, which claimed that the analysis of the Russian régime and its bureaucracy should be carried further in the light of the new facts. Going back to the reasoning of the founder of the Fourth International, they came to the conclusion that the Stalinist bureaucracy had become a true ruling class.
The revolt and the subsequent breakaway by the young Trotskyist dissenters in 1948 was apparently based on a point of secondary importance : the designation of the Soviet ruling group. In fact, the real issue was the whole Trotskyist doctrine, which the expellees, grouped around the review Socialisme ou Barbarie, were subsequently to condemn as 'ideological conservatism'. 
Taking issue with Trotskyist dogma, which saw in Stalinism a phenomenon that was purely political and nothing else, Socialisme ou Barbarie asserted that the Russian bureaucracy was a veritable ruling class, oppressive and exploitative, the social expression of new economic forms and new models of exploitation. 
This was now a real innovation in the framework of Marxist theory, since a third socio-economic category had been created, besides free-enterprise capitalism and socialism.  This new category was State capitalism, resulting in a form of development common to all the industrialized countries and all modern societies, and which had its origins in the world of before the Great War. This development is characterized by an increasing concentration of property in the hands of those who also control the management of commercial enterprises and hold the reins of State. The bureaucracy is the new class which benefits from this development : it achieves the ambition of every capitalist, for it is the sole and undisputed wielder of economic and political power; it has no trade-union opposition to cope with, let alone political opposition.
By comparison with the bourgeoisie of the Western countries, the Stalinist bureaucracy possesses one peculiarity which might at first sight seem to deny its class nature : its members are not individually owners of the means of production. To the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, this is not a decisive argument, however. For a start, the Russian bureaucracy possesses all the attributes of a property-owning class - it decides upon and directs investment, fixes prices and wages, appoints and dismisses local functionaries and enjoys a standard of living and a way of life which in the West would be the apanage of the bourgeoisie. At all events, and this is the second point, it controls the means of production and enjoys the attendant privileges collectively : but this is merely a question of legal status which in no way alters the bureaucracy's real situation as a class. Besides, in the capitalist countries it is no longer true today that the property-owning middle classes are the major beneficiaries of class exploitation, it is the executives and managers of industry and commerce and the higher civil servants who corner the benefits of the system, and this not by virtue of a formal title to property, but from the fact of their situation in the productive set-up.
The bureaucracy of the Eastern countries thus possesses all the characteristics of a dominant class : from its existence, the analysts of Socialisme ou Barbarie deduce that the Soviet Union is a society of exploitation and that the Soviet State is a capitalist State. 
Certainly this analysis of bureaucracy is not entirely novel : quantities of ink have flowed on the subject, from Hegel's Principles of the Philosophy of Right down to Djilas's The New Class. But Lenin and Bukharin, Max Weber and Trotsky all considered the problem from the political angle. Only Roberto Michels had gone one step further, by asserting that the management of an enormous volume of capital gave the managers a power comparable with that enjoyed by the actual owner.  But the first man to speak of 'bureaucratic collectivism' and explicitly to designate the Russian ruling group as a class was Bruno Rizzi, who expressed these ideas within the framework of a critique of Trotskyism when he left the movement just before the war.
In his dispute with Trotsky, Bruno Rizzi maintained  that the Soviet State is not a workers' State because the capitalist class has not been replaced by the working class but by the bureaucratic class, which includes State and Party officials, technicians and experts of every kind. He estimated this new ruling class as comprising fifteen million people, and the share of production monopolized by them on the eve of war at 40 per cent.  This class corresponds to a new form of social organization and results from a considerable growth in the forces of production, which excludes, according to Rizzi, any likelihood of a return to capitalism in the USSR.
The divergences with Trotsky are therefore apparent; but it was on the basis of the latter's analyses that Bruno Rizzi ( who had already evinced an intuitive perception of the new Russian ruling class in 1936, in his Oû va l'URSS ? ) was to give a closely reasoned development of his thesis, and indeed he himself readily acknowledged the debt.
While it may thus be affirmed that the analysis of the Russian bureaucracy as a class springs from a common source ( Trotskyism ), from which both Rizzi and the founders of Socialisme ou Barbarie had drawn in abundance, and while we may even assume that the former had some influence on the latter, the differences of detail and, above all, the clearly contradictory conclusions drawn by the two parties from these common premises should not be overlooked . 
Whereas Rizzi lumped together the Nazi and fascist régimes with that of the USSR, applying to all three the term 'bureaucratic collectivism', the collaborators of Socialisme ou Barbarie regarded the fascist bureaucracy as a purely political phenomenon, since private property and its individual beneficiaries still existed; this was not the case in the Soviet Union, where the very form of property had been modified. The chief point of difference, however, is that Rizzi, convinced of the convergence of all types of régime towards bureaucratic collectivism, remained highly sceptical of socialism's chances of ever winning the day. Consequently he even went so far as to propose an alliance between the proletariat and fascism to oppose capitalism.  The collaborators of Socialisme ou Barbarie, on the other hand, considered socialism inevitable, and looked on their task as a preliminary demystification necessary to any reconstruction of revolutionary theory. 
For this reason, their analysis did not confine itself to an examination of economic and social relationships in the USSR : since it was supposed to provide the fundamentals of a revolutionary theory readjusted to fit contemporary reality, it went further than this. It endeavoured to answer the question 'Why was the class hatched by the October Revolution a new class ? Why was there no Thermidor, as Trotsky had maintained, i.e. a simple about-face ?' In order to answer this fundamental question, it was necessary to take a closer look at the bureaucratic phenomenon, to ask oneself if it represented an accidental, specifically Russian social form, or whether it represented a new, universal category which made it possible to understand the development of modern capitalism. Detailed study of the Russian economy, the social and economic relationships characterizing Soviet society, shows that it is going through the last phase of capitalist development - that in which the development of technology has reached a peak, in which the concentration of capital and of power is at its most intense. P. Chaulieu has deduced from this that the bureaucracy is that precise class that corresponds to this stage in the development of capitalism, and that it has its roots in the absolute concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the Party. Now the concentration of political and economic power is a phenomenon which also characterizes the capitalist countries of the West - the only difference is that in these countries it is not yet absolute. In this sense, the countries of the East present a picture of a concentration that is complete -perfect, one might say, from the point of view of a French, English or American industrialist. There is nothing to stand in the way of the march of the economy and the reality of exploitation : neither opposition parties, nor trade unions, nor even quarrelling capitalists. Just as it wants an entirely controlled economy ( a process already begun by monopolistic mergers, nationalization and State controls ), the bourgeoisie aspires to become a bureaucracy. In this sense, it may be said that the bureaucratization which is a reality in the Eastern countries is an irresistible tendency in the countries of the West. 
At this point, it may well be asked whether modern bureaucratic societies or societies in the process of bureaucratization have preserved all the classical features of exploitation : individual appropriation of surplus value by the owner of the means of production. By virtue of the fact that the bureaucracy operates as a collective entity, and because of the separation, in the West, of the functions of management and of ownership. the decisive boundary is no longer that between the propertyowner and the propertyless but that between management and operatives. 
Whereas the contradictions postulated by classical Marxism ( between the individual nature of property and the social nature of labour ) have been muted in the new situation which applies in all the developed countries, new contradictions have been introduced which the system cannot and never will resolve : the contradictions which result from the total cleavage between managers and workers, and which present-day capitalism must preserve in order to survive. The worker reduced to the condition of a mere robot. with no power of decision or control over his own actions, also loses his spirit of creativity and will tend to abandon all initiative in his work. But since the system of production is becoming technically and intellectually more and more complex. it can only continue to function with the active and willing assistance of those very people whose personalities are being eradicated. Consequently, the system needs a spirit of initiative in its workers in order to function; but if it were to acquire such a spirit, the ruling class would lose its permanent basis of domination - the separation of management and work-force.
In Socialisme ou Barbnrie an attempt was made to consider the bureaucratization of social movements. The central questions were: is it an iron law that movements opposing the existing order either fall apart or change into rigid hierarchies? How can militants organize themselves without being absorbed or rigidified into a bureaucratic apparatus? Socialisme ou Barbarie first posed these questions because the group asked itself why things had gone wrong in the traditional labour movement. After all, in the course of the twentieth century this movement had increasingly alienated itself from its grass roots and taken on the shape of turgid labour and trade union bureaucracies.
In reaction to this development Socialisme ou Barbarie tried to stimulate new types of opposition. The approach used was that of direct democracy. The history of the group was essentially a lengthy search for a new relationship between spontaneity and organization, between practice and theory. The debates which took place during this search often had a freshness which is still relevant today.
Socialisme ou Barbarie's most prominent intellectuals were Castoriadis and Lefort. Cornelius Castoriadis was born in 1922 and studied law, economics and philosophy at the University of Athens. Before the Second World War, during the dictatorship of Metaxas, he had joined the Greek Communist youth organization. However, when the Germans occupied the country and the Communist Party wanted to ally itself with the bourgeois resistance, Castoriadis rejected the decision. After a short period of political wanderings, he ended up with a small Trotskyist group led by Spires Stinas. This was a risky choice, because Trotskyists were threatened from two sides in Greece. The occupying power persecuted them whenever possible and in 1943 executed the most important leaders, among them Pantelis Pouliopoulis and Yannis Xypolitos. (4) When the country was 'liberated' in 1944, it was the Communists' turn. During massive 'mopping-up operations' they murdered at least 600 of Trotsky's followers, often after having tortured them. (5) This traumatic experience was a determining factor in Castoriadis' further development. The Trotskyist view on Stalinism, which he had supported only a short time before, seemed less and less correct.
The Stalinists were not a part of the labour movement which had been absorbed by capitalism, as Trotsky had claimed, but bureaucrats, who opposed the workers as well as capitalism! When Castoriadis settled in France at the end of 1945 he joined the Parri Communiste Internationale (PCI), the French section of the Fourth International, which had a few hundred members. He immediately started propagating his new position.
Claude Lefort was Castoriadis' most important partner in the building of the dissident current in the PCI. Born in 1924, Lefort was still a philosophy student when he met Castoriadis for the first time. As early as 1943 he had formed an underground group at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris, although the Trotskyist position on the Soviet Union and Stalinism had never seemed very convincing to him. When he first heard Castoriadis speak, Lefort was deeply impressed: "His analysis overwhelmed me," he said in an interview. "I was convinced by him even before he had come to his conclusions. [...] Castoriadis' arguments were in my view on a par with the best of Marx, but the Trotskyists called it heresy." (6)
From 1946 onwards Castoriadis and Lefort worked together. As was customary in the Trotskyist movement, both had cover names. The first called himself Pierre Chaulieu, the second Claude Montal.(7) Hence they were at first known as the Chaulieu-Montal Tendency. (8)
The political histories of Castoriadis and Lefort differed rather markedly. Castoriadis had been a member of a Communist party and later of a Trotskyist organization. In both cases he had only taken up an oppositional view during his membership. He was thus used to party discipline - at least for a while. Lefort, on the other hand, had no such experience. He had spent fewer years as a member of a party organization and had taken an oppositional view in the Trotskyist movement from the beginning. The idea of identifying himself with any party was therefore a strange one for him. (9) This difference between them became more critical in later political debates.
The Cold War, the economic recovery of the 1950s. and the antagonism between the two 'workers' parties' and their trade unions, resulted in a clear drop in militancy: the radical zeal disappeared. In 1947 there had been more than 22 million strike days; by 1952 this had dropped to less than one and a half million. The circumstances for radical socialists were naturally very difficult. Enormous political pressure was exerted on all kinds of far left groups (Council Communists, Trotskyists, Bordigists, etc.) to join one camp or the other: Washington or Moscow. Those who refused such a choice were not given a hearing and were deemed suspect. The anti-capitalist opposition was completely monopolized by the Communists. There was hardly any room for independent revolutionaries.
The isolation had two contradictory consequences. On the one hand the lack of successful practical activities led to a greater emphasis on theoretical-programmatic questions. Naturally this resulted in differences of opinion and quite often ended in large conflicts and even splits. On the other hand the enmity of the world 'outside' brought the small left-radical groups together, resulting in co-operative ties despite the political differences. There was a kind of 'dialectic' of division and reunion.
The changed situation also led to intense debates within the international Trotskyist movement, especially about Eastern Europe. It is unnecessary to enter into the niceties of this discussion; it seems sufficient to note that there were minorities in a number of countries who refused to regard the Soviet Union as a 'transitional society' between capitalism and socialism, as had Trotsky. These minorities considered both East and West to have equally reprehensible systems of exploitation and repression. In the United States such a view was defended by a group known as the Johnson-Forest Tendency. Johnson was the pseudonym of the black revolutionary C.L.R. James, Forest the cover identity of
Rae Spiegel (Raya Dunayevskaya), a former secretary of Trotsky. In Great Britain the opposition inside the Trotskyist movement was led by Ygael Gluckstein from Palestine, who operated under the name of Tony Cliff. In France it was Castoriadis and Lefort in their Chaulieu-Montal Tendency who voiced the opposition to the old viewpoints. All these opponents left the international Trotskyist organization, the Fourth International, between 1948 and 1951 in order to set up independent groups. They were to maintain regular contacts with each other. Castoriadis and Dunayevskaya were still working together in the Sixties. (11)
In August 1946 Castoriadis and Lefort published 0n the Regime and Against the Defence of the USSR, in which they criticized the Trotskyist critical-positive evaluation of the Soviet Union. They especially opposed the idea that Stalinist society - despite the shortcomings also admitted by the Trotskists (specifically the lack of any democracy)- should have to be defended against capitalism.
Castoriadis and Lefort proposed that a new elite, a "social layer" of bureaucrats, had achieved power in the USSR and that this elite exclusively defended its own interests rather than those of the Soviet workers. For this reason the Soviet Union was a new kind of society, which scrove for expansion just as much as Western capitalism.(12)
In a later stage Castoriadis and Lefort abandoned the characterization of the Soviet Union as a new type of society and described it as 'bureaucratic capitalism.' According to them this was a society based on exploitation, without the classic laws of competitive capitalism but with the surplus value formation typical of capitalism.
Numerous articles were written by the opposition to convince their Trotskyist party comrades." When this failed and the Chaulieu-Montal Tendency seemed doomed to remain a small minority within a movement that was itself quite tiny," the dissidents decided to break with the Fourth International. At the end of 1948 ten or twenty of them left the organization. (15) In March 1949 the group published the first issue of the magazine Socialisme ou Barbarie - a well-made periodical of one hundred pages or more. The reasons for leaving the Fourth International were once again explained in an open letter to the members of the Fourth International who had been left behind. Trotskyism was reproached for being a movement without political-theoretical power because it was incapable of finding an "independent ideological basis for existence." Trotskyism could not truly liberate itself from Stalinism, because it continued to define itself as the opposite of Stalinism.
The central article of the first issue was an extensive text entitled "Socialism or Barbarism," which amounted to a statement of the group's position. This text was mostly written by Castoriadis. Just as Marx wanted to give a programmatic foundation to the League of Communists with his Manifesto of the Communist Party, so Castoriadis attempted to formulate a political foundation for the new organization with "Socialism or Barbarism." He took the world situation, which had changed so thoroughly as a result of the Second World War, as his point of departure. Two "superstates" had divided the world between them: the United States and the Soviet Union. Both had expansionist tendencies and strove to dominate the other. The result of this would inevitably be a third world war, which would result in barbarism for international society, unless the power elites in East and West were overthrown through a radical-socialist revolution. Socialism or Barbarism: those were the only remaining roads for humanity.
What would such a radical-socialist revolution mean? Its point of departure would lie in the most fundamental contradiction shared by East and West, bureaucracy and competitive capitalism: the contradiction between managing and subordinate labour. While it had seemed in Marx's time that the ending of the private ownership of the means of production would be sufficient to remove injustice and exploitation from the world, it had now become clear - among other things because of the existence of the Soviet Union - that state ownership of the means of production did not necessarily lead to socialism or even improved circumstances. On the contrary, it might lead to increased exploitation and repression. Developments in competitive capitalism had shown that it was not just a question of the ownership of the means of production: to an increasing extent entrepreneurial leadership and capital ownership were being separated while the importance of the managers versus the owners had increased. (17) Everything therefore revolved around the struggle against hierarchy and bureaucracy. All power must reside in the rank and file, among the working population.
Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution
John B. Judis
From Foreign Affairs, July/August 1995
The Rise of Neoconservatism : Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs 1945-1994. John Ehrman. 1995, 241 pp. $45.00
The other important influence on neoconservatives was the legacy of Trotksyism--a point that other historians and journalists have made about neoconservatism but that eludes Ehrman. Many of the founders of neoconservatism, including The Public Interest founder Irving Kristol and coeditor Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, and Albert Wohlstetter, were either members of or close to the Trotskyist left in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Younger neoconservatives, including Penn Kemble, Joshua Muravchik, and Carl Gershman, came through the Socialist Party at a time when former Trotskyist Max Schachtman was still a commanding figure.
What both the older and younger neoconservatives absorbed from their socialist past was an idealistic concept of internationalism. Trotskyists believed that Stalin, in trying to build socialism in one country rather than through world revolution, had created a degenerate workers' state instead of a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat. In the framework of international communism, the Trotskyists were rabid internationalists rather than realists and nationalists. In 1939, as a result of the Nazi?Soviet pact, the Trotskyist movement split, with one faction under James Burnham and Max Schachtman declaring itself opposed equally to German Nazism and Soviet communism. Under the influence of an Italian Trotskyist, Bruno Rizzi, Burnham and Schachtman envisaged the Nazi and Soviet bureaucrats and American managers as part of a new class. While Burnham broke with the left and became an editor at National Review, Schachtman remained.
The neoconservatives who went through the Trotskyist and socialist movements came to see foreign policy as a crusade, the goal of which was first global socialism, then social democracy, and finally democratic capitalism. They never saw foreign policy in terms of national interest or balance of power. Neoconservatism was a kind of inverted Trotskyism, which sought to "export democracy," in Muravchik's words, in the same way that Trotsky originally envisaged exporting socialism. It saw its adversaries on the left as members or representatives of a public sector--based new class.
John G. Mason
Hersh’s report gave the unfolding story of bureaucratic competition and deception campaigns a new philosophical twist. Not content to denounce a neo-conservative cabal for the disinformation campaign that helped them sell the Iraq war to the Bush Administration, the Congress and finally the American and British publics, critics now drew the philosophical pedigree of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon group into the debate.
Michael Lind for instance traced their roots back to the right wing Shactmanite faction of the American Trotskyite movement who entered the Democratic Party in the 1960s and then split with the Left over the Vietnam War. Many members of this group continued their rightward itinerary by rallying to Senator Scoop Jackson’s campaign against the New Democrats. Some finished with the Democratic Leadership Council, while others found a home in the Reagan and now the Bush fils administrations.
by Michael Lind
Most neoconservative defense intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the influential Jewish-American sector of the Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history. Their admiration for the Israeli Likud party's tactics, including preventive warfare such as Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, is mixed with odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for "democracy." They call their revolutionary ideology "Wilsonianism" (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism. Genuine American Wilsonians believe in self-determination for people such as the Palestinians.
The neocon defense intellectuals, as well as being in or around the actual Pentagon, are at the center of a metaphorical "pentagon" of the Israel lobby and the religious right, plus conservative think tanks, foundations and media empires. Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) provide homes for neocon "in-and-outers" when they are out of government (Perle is a fellow at AEI). The money comes not so much from corporations as from decades-old conservative foundations, such as the Bradley and Olin foundations, which spend down the estates of long-dead tycoons. Neoconservative foreign policy does not reflect business interests in any direct way. The neocons are ideologues, not opportunists.
The founding fathers of neoconservatism all began as either Trotskyites or as Social Democrats, ie, extreme liberals. And as will be shown, they really never surrendered their liberalism.
The godfather of neoconservatism is Irving Kristol (Neoconservatism: the Autobiography of an Idea.) Irv is the father of William Kristol, editor of that fierce laptop bombadier neocon magazine, "The Weekly Standard," now pushing hard for war on Iran.
Irving began his political life as a Trotskyite. Followers of Trotsky (whom Stalin exiled from Russia and later had killed in Mexico) are deeply regretful and angry that a nice, brilliant Jewish boy lost out to that rude gentile peasant Stalin as dictator of Russia.
As North wrote, when Kristol and his accomplished neocon wife moved to Washington from New York in the '80s, "the New York literati had visibly staked their claim to direct political influence. What some of them had only dreamed of as youthful Marxist splinter group members in the 1930s had now come true."
Another New York gent named Max Schactman also had an impact on neocon thinking and theory. Schactman was long a stalwart and leader of the Socialist Workers Party, before he decided to become a Left Democrat. The name of this old Marxist technique is "boring from within."
One of old Max's followers was Jeane Kirkpatrick, later to be Ron Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations. Jeane was a neocon by then, altho a few short years before she was an active Left Democrat. She is reputed to be a gentile. If so, she must have been Schactman's sole shikse follower. (Years ago, I knew a few of the Schactmanites in the big city - all strictly kosher. Put on good parties,tho. And what the women lacked in pulchritude they made up for in their demonstrative rejection of those old Puritan morals.)
Thinking About Neoconservatism
By Kevin MacDonald (http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/)
Neoconservatism’s key founders trace their intellectual ancestry to the “New York Intellectuals,” a group that originated as followers of Trotskyite theoretician Max Schactman in the 1930s and centered around influential journals like Partisan Review and Commentary (which is in fact published by the American Jewish Committee (http://www.ajc.org/)). In the case of neoconservatives, their early identity as radical leftist disciples shifted as there began to be evidence of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Key figures in leading them out of the political left were philosopher Sydney Hook and Elliot Cohen, editor of Commentary. Such men as Hook, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset, were deeply concerned about anti-Semitism and other Jewish issues. Many of them worked closely with Jewish activist organizations. After the 1950s, they became increasingly disenchanted with leftism. Their overriding concern was the welfare of Israel.
By the 1970s, the neocons were taking an aggressive stance against the Soviet Union, which they saw as a bastion of anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel. Richard Perle was the prime organizer of Congressional support for the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment which angered the Soviet Union by linking bilateral trade issues to freedom of emigration, primarily of Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel and the United States.
Current key leaders include an astonishing number (http://tomweston.net/neocom.htm) of individuals well placed to influence the Bush Administration: (Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, David Wurmser, Abram Shulsky), interlocking media and thinktankdom (Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Stephen Bryen, John Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes), and the academic world (Richard Pipes, Donald Kagan).
For those of us with nothing better to do than read books on conservative philosophy, it is hard not to see in this exchange a revival of the old conflict between James Burnham and Frank Meyer, the central theorists of Cold War conservatism. Their names are still invoked liberally by many conservatives, although it is still puzzling why these two men should be mentioned next to each other so often when talking about a vision for the future of American conservatism. Pretty much the only thing that Burnham and Meyer could agree on was that Soviet communism was a terrible thing. Although both were willing to stop at nothing (including full-blown nuclear war) to prevent whatever they imagined the "victory" of communism to be, their reasons for hating communism, as well as their prescriptions for what should replace communist systems, differed considerably.
Today, the neoconservatives claim both these men as their mentors when appealing to mainstream conservatives, although Burnham is clearly the favorite. Some neocons of late have even taken to claiming that Burnham was in fact, more or less, the first neoconservative. This is stretching the truth a bit, since as Paul Gottfried has pointed out, Burnham lacked the neoconservative fondness for utopianism that the modern neocons draw upon so frequently. Additionally, Burnham was always rather pragmatic and grounded in the historical realities of the United States. Unlike those who claim to be his disciples, he would likely not claim to be able to export American style democracy to every corner of the globe or to bring about an end to ideological conflict among nations. Nevertheless, he did manage to come to a lot of conclusions that neocons must like. He was thoroughly Machiavellian, he supported an anti-communist Pax Americana in Europe, and he had a pronounced disdain for ordinary people. He preferred to address only the "ruling classes" whom he adroitly identified as existing in every society, even democracies. His primary problem with Communism, however, was not that it was anti-democratic, but that it destroyed the authority and stability of the nation-state, which he believed was the primary institution that gave meaning to human existence. Thus, if we look carefully, we can see that the underlying worldview of Burnham is fairly incompatible with the internationalist and democratic "end of history" that the neocons are so fond of whooping it up for, yet for the average neocon, there is still plenty to like about James Burnham.
So, we can grant Burnham to the neocons. He has been theirs ever since National Review editor John O’Sullivan resurrected him in 1990 to declare the virtues of the American pursuit of a British-style empire. Burnham was indeed a wily choice for O’Sullivan since Burnham’s unrelenting worship of power and of the "civilizing" force of the State meshed nicely with the neocon dreams of a world empire. While corrupted somewhat, the Burnham legacy lives on.
The portrayal of the neocons in general and the Straussians in particular as the brains behind the American right became obvious in an article by William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune (May 15), in which he wrote that “The radical neoconservatives, who appeared in the 1960s, are the first seriously intelligent movement of the American right since the 19th century” and “the main intellectual influence on the neoconservatives has been the philosopher Leo Strauss.” Both statements are simply wrong.
In the first place, there is nothing especially “radical” about any of the neoconservatives, and, in the second place, even if we grudgingly grant that they are intelligent, they are clearly not the first to display this quality. Mr. Pfaff might have glanced at George Nash’s Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 to learn something about “intelligent” conservatism in this country or at any of the myriad books about the Southern Agrarians, the history and background of conservatism, etc. Obviously, however, he did not or had some other reason for wishing to present the neocons as the only adversaries worthy of the immense brainpower of the left.
In the third place, Strauss, while a major influence on several Old Right figures as well as on some neoconservatives (his picture appears on the dust jacket of Nash’s 1976 book) and the founder of his own school of (sort of) conservative thought, is hardly “the main intellectual influence” on the neocons. Neoconservatism emerges from three originally separate movements, among which the Straussians are one. The other two are the liberal-to-left mainstream intellectu-als of the 1950’s, most of whom were at one time known as “consensus liberals,” and the Social Democrats of the Sidney Hook stripe, who actually contributed most of the anticommunism of the neo-cons. The former group “moved to the right”—if that is what they did—principally because the New Left slipped out of their control, started kicking them down the stairs (often quite literally), and snuffling up to the Palestinians against Israel. Unlike the anticommunist right that emerged a decade or more earlier (the right of Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, and Frank Meyer), the neocon right experienced no dark night of the soul about the God That Failed and, in fact, never even missed a meal. So far from being Trotskyites (I know of only two or three major neoconservative figures who were), most were never committed to the revolutionary left at all and had little problem shuffling from one side of the spectrum to the other as the occasion required. I have never heard of any neocon who, like Chambers and Meyer, felt the need to stay up all night every night with a loaded shotgun in case some of his former comrades and employers in the NKVD came looking for him. The transition from whatever it was the neoconservatives formerly purported to believe to whatever it is they now purport to believe was no more wrenching a spiritual odyssey for them than a trip from Pinsk to Prague would be for an Eastern European peddler. Intellectual nomads by their very nature, they are as comfortable with one ism as with another.
This brings us to the last myth of neoconservatism. The idea that there's something about being a former liberal which makes you somehow less authentically conservative and beholden to an ill-defined ideology called "neoconservatism." Take The Weekly Standard, the universally recognized home of "neoconservatism." Even a cursory glance of its masthead reveals none of its major writers and editors are former liberals, including Bill Kristol, the ringleader of neoconservatism. Neither is it true that liberals, leftists, or even Trotskyites who become conservatives are neocons. This is another funny irony: When it comes to comparing former Communists-turned-conservative National Review has always had the best team around. We beat The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and The Public Interest combined. Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Norman Podhoretz may have been radicals or Communists in their days, but they were low-ranking ones.
Meanwhile, James Burnham was perhaps Leon Trotsky's most-trusted lieutenant in the United States and for a time arguably the most famous Trotskyist intellectual in America. Frank Meyer — the creator of fusionism, the doctrine which bound the Right for 40 years and famed literary editor of National Review — was a high ranking Communist as was Max Eastman (both of whom were Jewish by the way). And, of course, Whittaker Chambers certainly counts as a major ex-leftist. Why none of these figures, particularly Burnham, who was influential among The Partisan Review crowd and an intellectual of the first order, never counted as neoconservatives is a fascinating question, but probably too complicated for those who think Tom Delay might be a neocon too.
At the root of neo-conservatism is the naked power approach to politics, heralded by the ex-Trotskyite James Burnham in his influential book The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, shortly after WWII. Burnham and his followers at first produced a political theory and eventually a political practice of what are, supposedly, competing elitisms: the conservative elitism of say Mosca, Michels, and Pareto against the radical elitism of Lenin, Gramsci, Marcuse, Althusser et al. In either case, the so-called “people” are, according to this theory’s proponents, necessarily excluded from any real say in political life. The theory became practice especially in the work and activism of Irving Kristol, the godfather of neo-conservatism, who in the 1970s in an influential essay—perhaps the most influential essay written in the 20th century United States—addressed corporate leaders and foundation heads on the necessity of taking steps to defend capitalism against the Left by explicitly funding right-wing theorizing and activism. Note that in Kristol’s politics, as in all neo-conservative political theory, “the people” existed only to be manipulated, by someone or other; this assumption has become the ideological underpinning of all neo-conservative activity since.
Most especially, from the standpoint that there is nothing to politics but the clash of elites, the denial by liberals that they are a controlling elite at all is itself inflammatory, and fuels the biggest lie of the late 20th century, the lie that undergirds contemporary neo-conservatism and pseudo-populism both: the lie of “liberal control of the media.” From the neo-conservative standpoint, there must be some political elite in control of any important institution, and since they know they are not in control of network television or the national prestige newspapers, it must be liberals who are. What has happened now—the disaster that has happened—has been the conjunction of this political theory of naked elite power, with the counter-Enlightenment: the anti-modern, ideological fanaticism of the religious right.
A leftist critic of the neoconservatives, Michael Massing, observed in 1987 in the New Republic how “Trotsky’s orphans” had moved into the camp of Ronald Reagan as the sworn enemies of Soviet “Stalinism.” What had driven them toward the anti-Soviet Republicans was not an imaginary conversion to the Right, but rather hatred for the Soviet government, a regime that had betrayed their vision of revolution. Internationalism, the call for a world upheaval that would transform pre-modern, anti-egalitarian societies, and the continuing struggle against “fascism,” linked to anti-Semitic, anti-modern regimes, were the ideals that “Trotsky’s orphans” had hoped that Russian socialist revolutionaries would pursue. Since they did not, the incipient neoconservatives became anti-Communists of the Left; and in due course they took over a moribund and highly corruptible “conservative movement.” (My forthcoming book on this movement goes into exactly how this happened.) The fact that Trotsky and the neoconservatives were Eastern European Jews, who had been touched by socialist thinking and who identified traditional nationalism with anti-Semitism, rendered this affinity even more probable.
Among the neoconservative first generation the attraction to Trotskyism had taken concrete form: Irving Kristol had begun his journalistic activities as a Trotskyist; while CUNY professor of philosophy Sidney Hook had spent years trying to vindicate Trotsky’s reputation as a “democratic revolutionary.” Many of the older generation of neoconservatives were members of or very close to the Fourth International that Trotsky had set up as an exile in Mexico. Basic to this rallying of non-Stalinist Communists were the rejection of Stalin’s notion of “socialism in one country” and the insistence that revolutionary socialism must be international and should not identified with any one nation and its interests.
One of the prices that neoconservatives have sometimes had to pay as directors of the “movement” has been to tone down their revolutionary language. But these efforts have not been very successful, and abundant evidence exists that many neoconservatives have never stopped sounding like Marxist revolutionaries. My friend Claes Ryn and I have laced our recent books with quotations from Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Alan Bloom, William Kristol, and Robert Kagan. All of the passages in question read as if they came from Trotsky’s Soviet Comintern, the institution that he founded to foment international Marxist revolution. Although I would not deny the presence of other components in what one eulogist calls “the neoconservative vision,” the Trotskyist aspect has never been abandoned completely. The zeal for revolutionary upheaval, summed up by the boast of Michael Ledeen while speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, that “Destruction is our [America’s] middle name” goes well beyond the parameters of the vision proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson and his followers for a “world made safe for democracy.” Because of his declaration of war against the hated Germans and his extension of the welfare state at the federal level, neocons are happy to identify with Wilson. But their vision includes more than Wilson’s Anglophile policies and his hopes for Anglo-American hegemony. Neocons yearn for a world democratic revolution, a term that one does not find in Wilson or even in FDR. American “national greatness” is measured by Kagan, Kristol, and other neoconservative policy-makers as the willingness to deploy American armies and to lavish revenues on a continuing crusade to remake the world.
Two final observations seem in order. One, it is possible to have adapted Trotsky’s thought without having taken away what neoconservatives now believe. One Catholic of English descent, James Burnham, had been Trotsky’s leading disciple in the US in the 1930s. Although Burnham had drifted away from Marxist-Leninism, even before Trotsky’s assassination, he continued to write on the Trotskyist theme of how the Soviet experiment had been “derailed bureaucratically.” From Burnham’s Trotskyist phase came his continuing interest, which he eventually carried over to the Right, in the managerial transformations of democracy and socialism. Both of these themes informed Burnham’s classic The Managerial Revolution, a work that decisively shaped the thinking of his later right-leaning disciple Sam Francis. But the Trotskyist imprint on the neoconservatives is of another kind. It reflects their passion for universal revolution and an instinctive repugnance for things as they are, unless neoconservative revolutionaries are causing things to happen. This vision is also distrustful of national identities, unless they are founded on revolutionary slogans—with the obvious exception of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
The neoconservatives also got their conception of intellectual and political work from their socialist past. They did not draw the kind of rigid distinction between theory and practice that many academics and politicians do. Instead they saw theory as a form of political combat and politics as an endeavor that should be informed by theory. They saw themselves as a cadre in a cause rather than as strictly independent intellectuals. And they were willing to use theory as a partisan weapon.
Together, the legacy of nsc?68 and Trotskyism contributed to a kind of apocalyptic thinking. The constant reiteration and exaggeration of the Soviet threat was meant to dramatize and win converts, but it also reflected the doomsday revolutionary mentality that characterized the old left. Even the sober historian Walter Laqueur predicted in 1974 the imminence of a "major international upheaval such as the world has not experienced since World War II." In 1979 Eugene Rostow (who was named after socialist Eugene Debs) predicted that if salt ii were ratified, "We will be taking not a step toward peace but a leap toward the day when a president of the United States will have to choose between the surrender of vital interests and nuclear holocaust."
Modernism, which holds that "[h]uman knowledge can be only empirical; moral statements can be only relative or factual . . . and human action cannot be modeled on transcendent or spiritual goods that either do not exist or cannot be known" (p. 131), thus ranks for most traditionalists as a stance to be utterly repudiated.
James Burnham, best known for The Managerial Revolution, broke with traditional conservatism precisely at this point. He agreed with the modernist denial of absolute values, yet arrived at a conservative position nonetheless. In his 1943 work The Machiavellians, Burnham viewed politics as the struggle of competing elites for power. The appetite for power could be restrained only through "a balanced distribution of power among various social and political forces that mutually checked the power of each other" (p. 133). (So exact is Francis's knowledge of Burnham that he cites differences in wording between the 1963 reissue of The Machiavellians and the original edition.)
The Origins Of Conservative Foreign Policy
John B. Judis
American foreign policy has always had its great debates, from the imperialists versus the internationalists. Since the early 1950s, the great debate between the advocates of containment and of liberation: between those who favor containing Soviet communism within its present geopolitical campus and those who favor rolling it back and liberating the people under its sway.
The debate between the advocates of containment and liberation continues to underlie major political differences over arms control, East-West trade, and intervention abroad. The debate has even broken out among conservatives, as evidenced by the Heritage Foundation’s recent symposium, "Beyond Containment," in which former Reagan administration Arms Control Director Eugene Rostow called on the U.S. to "achieve a balance of power" with the Soviet Union, while former National Security Advisor Richard Allen recommended that the U.S. seek "the dissolution of the Soviet external empire."
The origins of the containment doctrine, dating from consular official George Kennan’s cable from Moscow in 1947 setting forth the strategy, have been amply researched, but the origins of the liberation doctrine have not been. As a strategy, it became the trademark of a new generation of conservative Republicans, led by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. It was originally developed, however, neither by Republicans nor self-styled conservatives, but by former Communists and Trotskyists like Whittaker Chambers, the former spy who fingered Alger Hiss, and James Burnham, a former CIA consultant. These were men who were still halfway on a journey from left to right and whose view of the Soviet Union was not shaped by debates with State Department officials, but by their anguished reflection on their own revolutionary pasts.
Of these former leftists, the most important was Burnham, a former Trotskyist. In a series of books and articles written from 1946 to 1953, Burnham laid the theoretical basis for the doctrine and strategy of liberation. For the next twenty-five years–until a stroke incapacitated him–he served as the principal senior editor and foreign policy columnist for William Buckley’s National Review. Historian George Nash, in his authoritative study, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, wrote, "More than any other single person, Burnham supplied the conservative intellectual movement with the theoretical formulation for victory in the cold war."
by Michael Brendan Dougherty | May 21, 2006
In The Machievellians, Defenders of Freedom (1943) Burnham formulated a rational, scientific view of politics. Burnham promoted a tradition of political thought that assumed that men were primarily self-interested and that power was always obtained, exercised and maintained (by force or fraud) by elite minorities. The ideologies of these elites are not rational or verifiable but serve to justify, maintain and expand the power of the elite that espouses them. Burnham wrote:
The Machiavellians are the only ones who have told us the full truth about power . . . the primary object, in practice of all rulers is to serve their own interest, to maintain their own power and privilege . . . No theory, no promises, no morality, no amount of good will, no religion will restrain power. Neither priests nor soldiers, neither labor leader nor businessmen, neither bureaucrats nor feudal lords will differ from each other in the basic use which they will seek to make of power... Only power restrains power. . . . When all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do. A despotism, any kind of despotism, can be benevolent only by accident.
In his essay, "The Other Side of Modernism," Samuel Francis wrote that "Burnham held to a 'conflict model' of society, like that of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Marx," which is "more distinctly modern than the 'consensus model' of most classical and medieval thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas, as well as Burke . . . In the conflict model, consensual elements are at best subordinate, and consensus itself is a product of conflict and eventually of domination by one social force."
The method of restraining one power by the ambitions of another is of course at the heart of American political theory, especially in the Federalist Papers. But Burnham, building on Gaetano Mosca's theories of juridical defense, extended the idea of "checks and balances" from the formal structure of government to the real social forces working in the ruling class. Preventing the consolidation of power in one social force leads some powers to restrain others. The result is liberty: the security of private property, freedom of assembly, speech, and religion and a sophisticated cultural life.
Now that many conservatives are looking again at their movement and asking: Where did it go wrong? How was it so easily co-opted? They should consider reaching into the memory hole where Burnham's work is waiting, like a stick of dynamite.
National Review was founded in 1955 by a young William F. Buckley, fresh from the success of God and Man at Yale, his "J'accuse" against all the religion and tradition bashing at his alma mater. Buckley wanted to give shape and voice to an inchoate "conservative" intellectual movement, an uneasy anti-New Deal coalition at the time torn between F.A. Hayek's free market individualism and Russell Kirk's traditionalism, between faith in a free society and a panicked feeling that we had to crush international communism at all costs.
James Burnham, who helped guide the young Buckley into the CIA in 1950, was his most influential mentor. Burnham had written an important book in 1941, The Managerial Revolution, explaining the post-agricultural, post-industrial elite that controlled America's huge bureaucracies, both private and public. Burnham was an ex-Trotskyist, a former editor of The New International and early contributor to Partisan Review, a hard-headed Machiavelli scholar who believed only power moved the world. In Managerial Revolution he tried, neither cheerleading nor decrying, to sum up the nature of the new power centers.
Burnham was the perfect disillusioned former commie to write a relentless column for decades on the Cold War's shiftings and turnings. Though little lauded for it nowadays, Burnham is also a founding father of modern neoconservative foreign policy, as witness this, written by him in the 1950s: "The reality is that the alternative to the Communist World Empire is an American Empire which will be capable of exercising decisive world control. Nothing less than this can be the positive, or offensive, phase of a rational United States policy."
Burnham helped shape NR with his belief that it must speak to the regnant Eastern establishment and influence it in a right-wing direction, aiming its force where real power lay. His was the part of NR's soul that yearned always for Nelson Rockefeller. To Burnham, who died in 1987, conservatism meant little more than the endless twilight struggle against international communism. In practice, he wasn't much for either traditionalism or libertarianism, the other legs of the postwar conservative stool. The magazine wasn't purely Burnhamite: In the early days it was a big tent that could publish articles by Russell Kirk and Murray Rothbard, Whittaker Chambers and Milton Friedman, alongside one another in relative peace. But as time wore on, the magazine became less a home for independent and varied voices in a larger anti-collectivist coalition and took more seriously Burnham's suggestions that it hew to the respectable and possible. The early National Review endorsed neither Eisenhower nor Nixon; after some internal foofaraw about whether or not to back further-right challenger William Knowland in "56, Buckley proudly and publicly abstained from voting at all. It is difficult, though delicious, to imagine NR's current editor, Rich Lowry, doing the same on principle these days.
Kelly offers much more in this interesting biography—accounts of Burnham’s travels, private life, hobbies, and last years—but we must draw some conclusions.
Early in the story, Kelly quotes Matthew Josephson on how Burnham the Trotskyist would wax enthusiastic about “vast bloodbaths that would attend the overthrow of our society” (p. 36). It would seem that Burnham simply transferred this apocalyptic vision to his views on foreign policy. This move seems to undercut, more than a little, Kelly’s notion that Burnham had an “Augustinian sensibility” all his life.
Burnham’s books do have interesting and important insights—especially The Managerial Revolution, Congress and the American Tradition, and Suicide of the West—but the Cold Warrior Burnham constantly undermined the conservative Burnham (if conservative is the right word). He embraced empire, constant frontier wars, managerialist determinism, and the warfare state, while complaining occasionally about Caesarism, the decline of Congress and other intermediate institutions, the growth of federal bureaucracy, and the loss of traditional liberties. This circle could not be squared. Burnham seldom considered that anything other than big impersonal historical forces might be causing the things he bewailed, that actual human agents might be driving some of the seeming inexorabilities. As a result, his rather willful disregard of economic theory and his battles against “doctrinaires” such as Frank Meyer look like symptoms of a larger failure of vision.
Kelly seems to believe that reconciling the right-wing movement to pragmatism and big government was Burnham’s signal contribution. Burnham was constantly calling for Americans to conjure up will. Now that we have “conservative” leadership with far more will than brains, the struggle of the next decades will be to summon up some won’t.
From: National Review | Date: 11/5/1990 |
Author: John O'Sullivan
I. The Machiavellian
THE EVENTS that occurred between 1917 and 1989 are of such magnitude, they occurred with such rapidity by conventional historical standards, and they had such terrible and hopeful consequences for millions of human beings that they are difficult for the imagination to grasp, let alone for the intellect to interpret. James Burnham devoted his life to understanding them and to propounding a realistic strategy to defend the hard-won freedoms of the West.
Burnham, who had been a leading theoretician in the American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s but
of all varieties in 1940, had an unillusioned view of democracy. In the book that expounds his post-Communist philosophy, The Machiavellians (1941), he advances the view that popular government, taken literally, is an impossibility. Power is always wielded by an elite, and elites are in continual conflict to possess it. The slogans of popular government are little more than fraudulent devices by which one elite seeks mass support to overturn its predecessor.
Once this fact is faced, however, we can devise, or retain, social arrangements that are likely to increase popular welfare. Insofar as an open society with several parties and a free press forces opposing elites to compete for the support of the majority of voters and to continue doing so in and out of government, the interests of the people will be served in some fashion. The modest benefits this will bring are greatly to be preferred to the extravagant promises of totalitarianism that in reality cloak lying, slavery, and mass murder. But we cannot enjoy these benefits unless we accept their underlying premise: that only power can check power.
Burnham applied these insights to international affairs in four books that are the main focus of this essay: The Managerial Revolution (1941), The Struggle for the World (1947), The Coming Defeat of Communism (1949), and Containment or Liberation? (1952). All four books predict the future course of world politics; but they offer very different predictions.
The Managerial Revolution, which preceded The Machiavellians, bears the marks both of Burnham's recent Marxism and of the period when it was written, namely the brief apogee of the two totalitarianisms between 1939 and 1941. It argues that economic forces are giving birth to a new form of planned society that will be neither capitalist nor Communist but controlled by the managers"-businessmen, bureaucrats, technicians, scientists, etc. This new society-glimpsed in embryo in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and New Deal America-will be centralized, collectivist, and in-egalitarian. There will be the euthanasia of the rentier class, but the workers will not take over. Private property will disappear, but
wi the dominant managerial class. And although the ideologies providing this new society with legitimacy will vary according to the history and traditions of particular states, the managerial class will rely on economic planning and bureaucratic politics rather than on the free market and liberal institutions.
Naturally, these great developments were also transforming international polities. The war of 1914 had been the last great war of capitalist society; the war of 1939 was the first great war of managerial society. Under our eyes the comparatively large number of sovereign nations was being replaced by a comparatively small number of great nations, or "superstates." Indeed, the economic map suggested that the world political system would shortly coalesce into three primary superstates, each based upon an area of advanced industry. The nuclei of these three superstates would be Japan, Germany, and the United States.
The 1939 war, moreover, was merely the initial attempt on the part of Germany to consolidate its hold on its strategic base. For the consolidation of strategic bases would not end conflict. There would be future wars caused by the struggle among the three strategic centers for world control. Everywhere, men would have to line up with one or another of the superstates of tomorrow. Not even a coalition of two such states, however, would be able to win a decisive and lasting victory over the third. So, presumably, these wars would continue to burst forth at frequent intervals. Power would check power-indefinitely.
This vision had a morbid Calvinist grandeur about it, but the course of the Second World War seemed to disprove its predestination. By the time that Burnham started to write The Struggle for the World in 1946, three things had changed. Nazi Germany and militarist Japan had been comprehensively defeated. The Soviet Union had advanced into the heart of Europe. And the atomic bomb had been invented.
Burnham therefore explicitly retracted his predictions of a new world order in The Managerial Revolution and sketched out a very different future in his new book. Since there were now only two superstates, he argued, the kind of powerbalancing that might have occurred with three had become impossible. One of these states, furthermore, might actually conquer the other and therefore the world.
Indeed, one must do so. The discovery of atomic weapons had created a situation in which Western civilization, and perhaps human society in general, could continue to exist only if a monopoly on the control of nuclear weapons was created. This monopoly could only be achieved by a world empire, which was both the aim and the likely result of the Third World War that had begun in April 1944 with the mutiny of Greek Communist sailors against the British in Alexandria. The only two candidates for world leadership were the Soviet Union and the United States.
The USSR was the representative of Communism, whose victory would reduce all Western society to the status of a subject colony. Communism was a conspiracy that aimed to establish everywhere a form of society based upon class dictatorship, forced labor, and mass terror. It would have to be resisted. But effective resistance could only be made by a non-Communist world federation led and dominated by the U.S., which would retain for itself the monopoly control of atomic weapons. In other words, there would have to be an American world empire, though one run on liberal lines, in which lesser powers would retain a considerable measure of internal autonomy and dignity, and individual citizens their liberty, even if restrictions might have to be placed on Communist parties.
The U.S. should meanwhile make a start on its imperial destiny in three ways. First, it should mount a friendly takeover of Britain and its empire by offering a full constitutional union of the English-speaking countries. Second, there should be strong American encouragement of a European federation as a bulwark against Soviet Communism. And, third, the U.S. should adopt a comprehensive program to rally world opinion, which would include appealing to the Soviet peoples, the real victims of Communism and so its fiercest opponents, over the head of their government. This last plank was developed in greater detail in The Coming Defeat of Communism.
III. Cassandra, or the Problem of Timing
WITHIN ITEM six years, Burnham had produced two original, analytical, and apparently contradictory exercises in what we now call futurology. Such sweeping strokes across such a vast historical canvas were an invitation to criticism. And Burnham was indeed fiercely attacked, in particular by Marxists taking revenge for his apostasy.
But his most acute critic was also his most brilliant imitator: George Orwell, who based his 1984, with its three competing superstates of Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania, perpetually at war, upon the geopolitical vision in The Managerial Revolution, which indeed appears in the novel as The Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism." In two long essays, "Second Thoughts on James Burnham" and "Burnham's View of the Contemporary World Struggle," Orwell subjected the Burnhamite theses to analysis that was at once respectful, harsh, shrewd, and ultimately misleading.
He was right, for instance, to point out that there were some possibilities in the situation of 1946-47 that Burnham failed to explore. Two such possibilities, mentioned by Orwell, were that atomic weapons would prove too frightening to use, and that given a generation or so of peace Soviet politics would develop in the direction of greater freedom. Both prophecies seem to have been borne out by events. But the reason Bumham did not explore them is that they were not actions to meet a crisis but mere hopes that one would be avoided of its own accord. A serious Western government in 1947 could no more have responded to the Soviet threat by hoping it would simply disappear than Churchill in 1940 could have adopted a policy of hoping that the U. S. and the USSR would eventually end up on Britain's side even though Churchill did indeed nourish such hopes and they too were borne out by events.
Orwell's sole policy prescription, to set against Burnham's proposal for an American empire, was a Socialist United States of Europe that would rob Communism of its appeal by offering economic security without concentration camps. One can hardly exaggerate the frivolity of such a suggestion. Orwell himself admitted it would require twenty years of peace to bring about. Yet any sane policy at the time had to be directed, as Burnham's was, to securing the twenty years of peace Orwell's alternative policy required. On top of that, a proposal for European socialism was an absurd distraction at a time when a prostrate Europe was living on loans from capitalist America. And, finally, it would have created bitter political divisions at the very time when anti-Soviet unity was what was most needed. Alongside Burnham's sharp-eyed Realpolitik, it was little more than irresponsibly partisan daydreaming.
Orwell's second criticism was his famous charge that "at each point Bumham is predicting a continuation of the thing that is happening. Now, the tendency to do this ... is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully separable from cowardice." The best answer to this criticism of The Managerial Revolution is The Struggle for the World, which amounts to a program to reverse the thing that was then happening, namely the advance of Soviet Russia. Nothing in Burnham's career even hints at cowardice, intellectual or otherwise, and in later life as a senior editor of NATIONAL REVIEW he took what was plainly the less influential side in the liberal-conservative struggle.
But the string of false short-term predictions in The Managerial Revolution still requires explanation. By a nice incongruity, it is Orwell who unwittingly provides it. Only two months before he published "Second Thoughts on James Burnham," Orwell wrote a letter in which he delivered this judgment: Whether we like it or not, the trend is toward centralism and planning and it is more useful to try to humanize the collectivist society that is certainly coming than to pretend, like [Colm] Brogan, that we could revert to a past phase." Orwell, as much as Burnham, can be acquitted of charges of cowardice and power worship. What did they have in common that misled them into thinking collectivism inevitable under some rubric or other?
Surely the answer is that both men, as socialists, had been economic determinists. Orwell remained a curious kind of cranky, unsystematic British socialist until his death, while Burnham evolved into a curious kind of American conservative. But he retained his Marxist contempt for American business, especially in relation to foreign policy (where it was often deserved). As late as the late Forties he underestimated the flexibility of the free market, arguing that "Europe will never recover" because Stalin had cut off its natural markets in the East. (It was then recovering very rapidly.) And his economic determinism led him into a serious intellectual error: the belief that political sovereignty must coincide with economic efficiencies of scale.
Burnham's three superstates were required (and organized managerial societies like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were likely to prevail), he argued, because modern industry needed larger markets to exploit and larger capital markets on which to draw than the crabbed nation-states of Europe could provide. The errors here, typically socialist ones, were to assume that centralized economic planning and industrial intervenionism were necessary attributes of political sovereignty and that larger markets could only be achieved in the framework of larger states. In fact, it is not only possible but desirable to combine economic integration with political decentralization. Almost two centuries before Burnham, Adam Smith wrote: "Were all nations to follow the liberal system of free exportation and free importation, the different states into which a great continent was divided would so far resemble the different provinces of a great empire." The general application of GATT rules of free trade would achieve all that Burnharn thought necessary without requiring his new order of superstates. In addition, such harmful accretions of national sovereignty as tariffs would thus be prohibited; such unavoidable expressions of it as taxation would be restrained by market competition; and the general direction of affairs would be much more responsive to popular sentiment and critical debate in sovereign nation-states than under the rule of remote bureaucracies in vast superstates. Burnham's criticisms of Soviet society (of which more later) suggest that he had grasped something of this by the Fifties. Had he grasped it clearly by the early Forties, he would surely have modified his argument of bigness" from economic necessity-and thus disabled Orwell's criticism of his cowardice and power worship. Had he even grasped it by the middle Forties, he could have added an economic dimension to his general argument for an American world empire by stressing the degree of national independence that a liberal "empire" based on free trade would permit.
That brings us to Orwell's third and most telling criticism. This is that Burnham makes mistakes because he is "too fond of apocalyptic visions, too ready to believe that the muddled processes of history will happen suddenly and logically."
There is some truth in this criticism, which, when examined, turns out to be a matter of style and timing rather than of error. Burnham, a philosopher by training, wrote with great clarity. He pared away the superficialities of any situation and dealt with its central point. He would occasionally point out that history, in going from A to B, would take a meandering course and call unannounced at various spots on the way. But he was concerned with its ultimate destination rather than with the menus of the wayside inns. Occasionally, therefore, his predictions and prescriptions take on a sharpness which exiles his qualifications to the fine print.
Nor should we forget that Burnham experienced the early missionary phase of Communism in the 1930s. Immersion in that passionate, ruthless, and self-sacrificing world persuaded personalities as different as Whittker Chambers and Arthur Koestler that the West was facing an imminent danger that most people simply could not comprehend. That too lent a fierceness and urgency to Burnham's writing-not unlike a man shaking someone by the shoulders to wake him up.
More generally, Burnham was living in a century in which history did sometimes happen quite so melodramatically as that." How else, if not melodramatic, would we categorize such events as the 1917 revolution, Hitler's seizure of power, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Pearl Harbor, the Manhattan Project, the Berlin airlift, and the general novelty of worldwide ideological warfare? Burnham could surely be forgiven for occasionally slipping into an apocalyptic style when apocalypses were occurring almost yearly.
None of which should obscure the fact that Bumham's predictions were generally borne out, if with some delay, and his advice often followed, if in a more muddled way. His advocacy of a constitutional merger between the U.S. and Britain was not, of course, followed to the letter, but the postwar world saw unique Anglo-American cooperation in intelligence, nuclear policy, and foreign policy that went far beyond other alliance politics. The European federation he
proposed does not yet exist, but within three years of his proposal the European Coal and Steel Community was founded, and five years after that the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community, which may yet implement his advice in full (in very different circumstances). No American statesman would wish to be credited with establishing a world empire. But NATO was established only two years after Burnham wrote, and the imposition of American wishes on reluctant allies at Suez and in the Katanga affair reveals, in the clear light of a crunch, that the U.S. enjoyed a power that fell only a little short of imperial.
Why did Burnham receive so little credit for this prescience? The reason may have been that, on the great topic of the day, namely how to resist Communism, he was felt to be too confident of success and thus too aggressive in his strategic proposals. This public impression was unjustified. His choice of title, The Coming Defeat of Communism, did not accurately capture the more measured spirit of the book, and Sidney Hook begged him to change it for that very reason. But it was the title that most people remembered, and its promise was not to be fulfilled for forty years-two years after Burnham's death in 1987.
In the meantime, Burnham could give a number of answers to critics who asserted he had been proved wrong (beginning with "Read the book"). The SovietAmerican nuclear duopoly (and later the spread of nuclear weapons to Britain, France, China, etc., etc.), which he had warned against in The Struggle for the World, imposed a restraint on American actions and a slowness of change in international affairs that together helped the Soviet empire to survive. The inability of liberalism to resist or even to notice hostile tyrannies provided they spoke the language of progress and human rights, which he diagnosed in his classic Suicide of the West (1964), led to fatal hesitation by Western policymakers in the face of either challenges or opportunities. And the embodiment of this hesitation in the policy of containment, which he analyzed away in Containment or Liberation?, produced a long-term tendency to retreat and appeasement. In short, he could repeat what was the actual argument of The Coming Defeat of Communism: that Communism would be defeated in a surprisingly short time if his advice was followed, but not otherwise. And his advice had not been followed.
His public reputation and visibility suffered, nonetheless. And when he refused to join the liberal jihad against Joe McCarthy in the Fifties, Burnham found himself excluded from the vicarage tea-party of respectable intellectuals. As Philip Rahv of Partisan Review remarked to William Barrett, who records it in The Truants: The liberals now dominate all the cultural channels in this country. If you break completely with this dominant atmosphere, you're a dead duck. James Burnham has committed suicide."
Burnham continued to write and lecture for audiences not intimidated by intellectual fashion. He became a consultant to the CIA on international affairs and is thought to have had a hand in such covert actions as the coup that overthrew Mossadegh and restored the Shah to power in Iran. He was a founding editor Of NATIONAL REVIEW, to which he contributed a fortnightly essay on foreign affairs under the Burnhamite title "The Third World War," and where he exercised a guiding influence on the magazine's strategic argumentation. And in Congress and the American Tradition (1959), he recruited Machiavelli to support the Founding Fathers in an attempt to reconcile the "science of power" with a more traditional American conservatism.
But he remained an unsettling ghost, forgotten but not gone, in the intellectual world he had dominated in the 1940s. It was impossible for liberal intellectuals to tolerate his arguments, equally impossible to deny his brilliance. They chose to dismiss him instead. When his masterly Suicide of the West was published, Irving Howe wondered in a hostile review how its author could combine knowledge of Pareto and Kafka with the political views of "a retired candy manufacturer." It is a mark of the degradation of socialism in this century that, confronted by critical analysis, it responds instinctively with snobbery. Alas, this expression of it, Burnham did not stoop to analyze.
Thanks to the tireless work of Sam’s friends—publisher Fran Griffin and editor Peter Gemma—Shots Fired will provide a new generation of Middle American Radicals with a stockpile of ammunition handloaded by Dr. Francis. His insights into the headlines of the day are so keen that they read as if they were written only yesterday. In page after page, he tips the sacred cows of the self-appointed cultural elites, unmasking the ways in which they seek to legitimize and expand their power by attacking our culture and its symbols. Thus, these articles are not driven by raw ideology, like those that penumbrate from the Fukuyamanic keyboards of the neoconservatives, nor are they turgid Coulteresque mock-pieces spewing venom in all directions: Sam’s Machiavellian genius is tempered in each turn of phrase by patriotism, as he speaks in a language informed by his mentor, James Burnham, but accessible to the Middle American Radicals he wrote to defend.
Dr. Francis described the “incestuous union” of the state and the economy that occurred under FDR as an embodiment of what Burnham called the “Managerial Revolution.” Sam knew that, the revolution having taken full effect, the modern politician’s first priority is to protect his own assets in a never-ending campaign. Thus, he was not swayed by the professional conservatives’ demands for loyalty to the GOP. In the Managerial State, the Stupid Party, as he called it, cannot defy the cultural elite without risking delegitimization. Practically speaking, that means the cockeyed optimists who go to Washington seeking to end abortion or “gay marriage” will have to get in, get out, or get run over. The greatest danger is that they will, in fact, get in, imbibing and embracing the very leftism they had planned to resist. Which is the only way we can explain the Stupid Party’s embrace of those vampires of the cultural elite, the neoconservatives, whose Israel First foreign policy has plunged us deep into the Mess-o-potamia and completed the Shiite Crescent across the Middle East.
For Sam Francis, the battle was not Democrats versus Republicans or neoconservatives versus paleoconservatives: The enemy was the Managerial State, which includes all of the major media and both political parties. As it was the American nation being assaulted by that system, it was up to the people—his Middle American Radicals—to see the Beast for what it is and engage in its own revolution “from the middle.” That revolution begins not at the polls but in our homes, where the media elite is brainwashing us and our children through its version of “the news” and its nonstop blabbering about equality and diversity—in a word, hatemongering. For those Americans who wish to see their culture restored, “the most revolutionary act they could perpetrate would be simply to turn off the television [and] cancel their subscriptions to most magazines . . . ” Absent the constant hatemongering of the cultural elite, they might recover the honor and even patriotism that once defined us as a people.
[from New Politics, vol. 6, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 23, Summer 1997]
With the end of post-war prosperity, a prosperity limited in capitalist terms both by relatively low profit rates and dependency on comparatively large doses of state-induced activity, the incipient tendency of the state to expand its consumption at the expense of capital accumulation became manifest. Yet because the inherent tendency of profit to fall under capitalism must be contravened by ever more feverish rates of accumulation, the expansion of the state sector in times of crisis threatens to intensify the breakdown of the system. The system, therefore, began to come face to face with a new social dilemma: not only was there a crisis of capitalism, but there was a crisis of the mixed economy itself -- of the interpenetration of two competing and, at length, contradictory economic dynamics at work in modern society. For state activity can at length stave off the cumulative momentum of economic contraction solely by imposing a barrier against the very massacre of values, including the value of labor-power, otherwise needed to restore profitability. But circumventing the purgative process that such a deep economic contraction would entail requires a relentless diversion of excess, non-profitable capital to the state sector, a diversion so massive as to threaten an overturn of the established social equilibrium. The elements of the predicament began to unravel in unmistakable terms: either the ever-evolving submission of the existing economy to bureaucratic direction under the auspices of the state or the decisive reassertion of the value-profit relationships of the market sector over a drastically reduced and hence manageable "public" sphere.
To arrest the decay of the private enterprise system would require nothing less than the total overhaul and reversal of the general developmental trend of post-war capitalism. To be sure, there was always a latent tendency residing in the mass base of capitalism to halt and revoke the reliance on stabilizing social forces from without its ranks for a return to traditional forms of repression and market discipline. This sentiment was usually confined to the margins of capitalist parties or beyond. The "Republican revolution," which actually has its roots in the Reagan Administration and its counterpart in the Thatcher regime, is the crowning achievement of a massive, corporately financed ideological retrenchment. Business sponsored think-tanks now offered the hat-in-hand intellectual set, the reserve army of academia, the very security so seldom available through traditional academic pursuits. It is through this conduit that capitalist reaction was sanitized and lifted from relative obscurity to new-found prominence. The taxpaying host, or some equally potent yet empty abstraction, which the bureaucracy supposedly "exploited" finally became the rallying point of reactionary resentment. The aims of this burgeoning "revolution" were quite simply to replicate through internalization the very dynamic purportedly at work internationally. Yet, this lusty second childhood that capitalism has now apparently lit upon remains recklessly oblivious to the sobering paradox that the collapse of bureaucratic collectivism in the formerly Stalinist nations has yet to offer the West any tangible commercial momentum to displace its own state sector through the export of surplus capital abroad.
Despite the right's scapegoating of the usual litany of social culprits for the hated rise of the welfare state -- in a campaign of demonization which, in its vehemence, has brought to the fore every atavistic and retrograde prejudice and paranoid delusion in the American psyche -- the fact remains that the rise of the state bureaucracy finds its reason, above all, in the malfunction of private capital production. As a form of collectivization conjured up against a disintegrating capitalist society, the mixed economy has provided the system with a degree of social cohesion purchased on the cheap. For the welfare state dissipated and diffused the oppositional tendencies of the exploited and oppressed, tendencies already long weakened and disoriented by the pall cast by Stalinism over insurgent movements for change, and did so without actual redress of the fundamental social problems which it, too, proved at length powerless to overcome. For this reason alone, the existence of bureaucratic collectivism, although perhaps not in its Stalinist form, will forever be tethered to the continued existence of capitalism in decline. What we are witnessing today is merely the forced renegotiation of the terms of engagement.
BUREAUCRATIC COLLECTIVISM IS SOCIALISM'S DOPPLEGNGER. It is a distorted reflection of the fact that real social advance requires some form of collectivization. Where the working class cannot organize its forces to overthrow capitalism and establish the free rule of labor, bureaucracy invariably arises as an independent, substitute social force. The state bureaucracies, Stalinist or otherwise, can address the unengaged historic tasks of labor, but only with reactionary, anti-socialist consequences. The 20th century has verified, in horrific detail, the fundamental truth of that proposition by the manifest failure of these forces, either alone or in combination, to resolve the most pressing needs of humanity. The studies assembled by Haberkern and Lipow which anticipated this conclusion stemmed from an examination of the "Russian question." The tragic failure of a workers' revolution demanded clarification of the fundamental propositions and purposes of revolutionary socialism with a sweep and urgency that few other issues could claim. Rare were those in the broad revolutionary movement able to rise to the challenge. This contribution from those who did constitutes a unique and enduring addition to the arsenal of socialism.
I just finished re-reading Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Trotsky (The Prophet Armed
, The Prophet Unarmed
and The Prophet Outcast
). I re-read it (the last time was oh, a decade or more ago) for a particular reason: I wanted to trace the elements of Trotsky's influence in the current "neoconservative" movement.
Briefly, the "neoconservative" movement has strong roots in Trotskyism, or at least in the work of Trotskyites, from Irving Kristol's first New York "study group" to the influx of Social Democrats/Shachtmanites into neoconservatism in the mid-to-late 70s -- for example, Jean Kirkpatrick (Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the UN), Paul Wolfowitz (former assistant Secretary of Defense, now president of the World Bank) and Joshua Muravchik (of the American Enterprise Institute) -- and all the way back to the founding of National Review ... by right-wing enfant terrible William F. Buckley, yes, but also by James Burnham, one of America's leading Trotskyites in the 1930s and founder of the Socialist Workers Party.
That Trotskyites have had primacy of place in the neoconservative movement is beyond question, but in precisely what ways and to what extent Trotskyism itself has affected neoconservative theory -- and American political policy -- is a somewhat murkier matter. So, anyway, I wanted to know. While I was aware of the fact that Burnham, while still nominally a Marxist, had written The Managerial Revolution, which had in turn influenced Orwell's 1984 (indeed, Goldstein's book in Orwell's novel is alleged to be a thinly disguised edition of Burnham), I was unaware of the roots of his theory going further back even a little deeper in internal Trotskyite debate, to a tract called "The Bureaucratisation of the World" by Bruno Rizzi.
With me so far? Those of you who knew all of this already, pat yourself on the back for being more well-read than Kn@ppster. Those are the threads. What do they sew together?
Rizzi's work came to my attention via The Prophet Outcast, and a passage jumped out at me that hadn't caught my attention all those years before on my first reading:
"State control and planning were predominant not only in the Stalinist regime, but also under Hitler, Mussolini, and even under Roosevelt. In different degrees Stalinists, Nazis, and New Dealers were the conscious or unconscious agents of the same new system of exploitation, destined to prevail the world over. As long as bureaucratic collectivism stimulated social productivity, Rizzi concluded, it would be invulnerable."
Trotsky took exception to Rizzi. He held that even under Stalin, the Soviet Union was a "workers' state," albeit a "deformed" one for the nonce, and therefore qualitatively different from the Third Reich and New Deal America, which, if also "deformed," were still (in Trotsky's opinion) capitalist. As a Communist, Trotsky therefore held that the Soviet Union must be defended against all enemies by Communists, even while Stalin remained in charge. This argument culminated in the breakup of the Trotskyite movement in the US. Against the background of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland, Burnham and Max Shachtman held that "revolutionary defeatism" a la World War One's Zimmerwald movement, was the proper attitude toward all the belligerents in the coming second world war -- that the Soviet Union was no longer a "workers' state" but rather just another imperialist regime to be overthrown.
Proposition Two: Democracy requires a certain economic pluralism.
Somewhat more interesting is the notion developed by a former Marxist, Karl Wittfogel, in Oriental Despotism. In that classic he argued that some economic systems are so fundamentally centralized that some kind of authoritarian regime is virtually a foregone conclusion. His example was that of a hydraulic society where the water supply required a single, centralized infrastructure. James Burnham argues similarly in The Managerial Revolution:
...what distinguishes totalitarian dictatorship is the number of facets of life subject to the impact of the dictatorial rule. It is not merely political actions, in the narrower sense, that are involved; nearly every side of life, business and art and science and education and religion and recreation and morality are not merely influenced by but directly subjected to the totalitarian regime....Totalitarianism presupposed the development of modern technology, especially of rapid communication and transportation...In managerial society...politics and economics are directly interfused; the state does not recognize its capitalist limits; the economic arena is also the arena of the state. (Pp. 152-156) Science fiction might well posit oxygen, food or even levels of technology that resulted in the same non-democratic governance. Perhaps some early Mel Gibson movies come to mind.
Our Kind of Central Planning
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
In the American postwar tradition, the political right has been a mix of genuine libertarian elements together with some very dangerous tendencies. Mises wrote in Omnipotent Government that there is a breed of warmonger who sees war not as an evil to be avoided as much as possible, but rather a productive and wonderful event that gives life meaning. To these people, and Mises of course was speaking of Nazis, war and all its destruction is a high achievement, something necessary to bring out the best in man and society, something wonderful and necessary to push history and culture forward.
Reading Mises's claim in peacetime makes it seem implausible. Who could possibly believe such things about war? And yet I think we know now. There have been hundreds of articles in the conservative press in the last six years that have made the precise claims we see above. Even in the religious world, we see the shift taking place, with new emphasis on the God of War over the Prince of Peace.
The American right has long held a casual view toward the police power, viewing it as the thin blue line that stands between freedom and chaos. And while it is true that law itself is critical to freedom, and police can defend rights of life and property, it does not follow that any tax-paid fellow bearing official arms and sporting jackboots is on the side of the good. Every government regulation and tax is ultimately backed by the police power, so free-market advocates have every reason to be as suspicious of socialist-style police power as anyone on the left. Uncritical attitudes toward the police lead, in the end, to the support of the police state. And to those who doubt that, I would invite a look at the US-backed regime in Iraq, which has been enforcing martial law since the invasion even while most conservatives have been glad to believe that these methods constitute steps toward freedom. During the New Deal and before the Cold War, the libertarian tendencies of the American right prevailed. But after the Cold War began, the mix became unstable, with the militarists and statists gaining an upper hand. It was during this period that we first heard the term "conservative" applied to people who believe in free enterprise and human liberty - a ridiculous moniker if there ever was one. Frank Chodorov was so fed up with it that he once said: "anyone who calls me a conservative gets a punch in the nose." Neither did Hayek or Mises, much less Rothbard, permit that term to be applied to their worldview.
Overall, spending on prisons, police, and other items related to justice is completely out of control. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the twenty years ending in 2003, prison spending has soared 423%, judicial spending is up 321%, and police spending shot up 241%. When current data become available, I think we will all be in for a shock, with total spending around a quarter of a trillion dollars per year. And what do we get for it? More justice, more safety, better protection? No, we are buying the chains of our own slavery.
We might think of prisons as miniature socialist societies, where government is in full control. For that reason, they are a complete failure for everyone but those who get the contracts to build the jails and those who work in them. Many inmates are there for drug offenses, supposedly being punished for their behavior, but meanwhile drug markets thrive in prison. If that isn't the very definition of failure, I don't know what is. In prison, nothing takes place outside the government's purview. The people therein are wholly and completely controlled by state managers, which means that they have no value. And yet it is a place of monstrous chaos, abuse, and corruption. Is it any wonder that people coming out of prison are no better off than before they went in, and are often worse, and scarred for life?
What's more, it is not even clear that American conservatives are temperamentally inclined to support free enterprise. Let us never forget that it was the Nixon administration that finally destroyed the gold standard and gave us price and wage controls, and it was the Reagan administration that set the world record on government spending and debt, before it was broken by the current Republican administration. There is no doubt in my mind that under the right conditions, the Bush administration would institute wage and price controls in the same way that it has pursued an intermittently protectionist program, regulated business, erected new bureaucracies, and failed to seriously cut taxes.Why is it the case that American conservatives cannot be trusted with the defense of liberty? Here is where we have to penetrate more deeply into the philosophical infrastructure of American conservatism. I wish I could say it is derived from the Republicanism of Madison, or the libertarianism of Jefferson, or the aristocratic old-style liberalism of Edmund Burke, or the rabble-rousing faith in freedom exhibited by that American original Patrick Henry. Sadly, this is not the case. Nor do the conservatives show evidence of having been influenced by the thinkers discussed in Russell Kirk's book The Conservative Mind, such as John C. Calhoun, John Randolph of Roanoke, John Adams, much less the eccentric Orestes Brownson.
Having said all of this about the modern-day right, I do want to draw your attention again to the forgotten tradition of the old right of the 1930s and 40s. These were times when Garet Garrett was celebrating free enterprise against New Deal planning, John T. Flynn was exposing the warfare state as a tool of socialism, Albert Jay Nock was heralding the capacity of private education to create literacy and artistry, and when politicians on the right were advocating peace and trade. This period came to an end in the 1950s with the emergence of the first neoconservatives attached to National Review.
"Myth and Truth about Libertarianism"
Murray N. Rothbard
Socialist Robert Heilbroner, in arguing
that socialism will have to be coercive and
will have to impose a “collective morality”
upon the public, opines that: “Bourgeois culture
is focused on the material achievement of
the individual. Socialist culture must focus on
his or her moral or spiritual achievement.”
The intriguing point is that this position of
Heilbroner’s was hailed by the conservative
religious writer for National Review, Dale
He writes: Heilbroner is . . , saying what many
contributors to NR have said over the last
quarter-century: you can’t have both freedom
and virtue. Take note, traditionalists.
Despite his dissonant terminology, Heilbroner
is interested in the same thing
you’re interested in: virtue.’
Vree is also fascinated with the Heilbroner
view that a socialist culture must “foster the
primacy of the collectivity” rather than the
“primacy of the individual.” He quotes Heilbroner’s
contrasting “moral or spiritual”
achievement under socialism as against bourgeois
“material” achievement, and adds correctly:
“There is a traditional ring to that
statement.” Vree goes on to applaud Heilbroner’s
attack on capitalism because it has
“no sense of ‘the good”’ and permits “consenting
adults” to do anything they please. In
contrast to this picture of freedom and permitted
diversity, Vree writes that “Heilbroner
says alluringly, because a socialist society
must have a sense of ‘the good,’ not everything
will be permitted.” To Vree, it is
impossible “to have economic collectivism
along with cultural individualism,” and so he
is inclined to lean toward a new “socialisttraditionalist
across the board.
We may note here that socialism becomes
especially despotic when it replaces “economic”
or “material” incentives by allegedly
“moral” or “spiritual” ones, when it affects to
promoting an indefinable “quality of life”
rather than economic prosperity. When payment
is adjusted to productivity there is
considerably more freedom as well as higher
standards of living. For when reliance is
placed solely on altruistic devotion to the
socialist motherland, the devotion has to be
regularly reinforced by the knout.