Who and What are Trotsky-cons?

Who and What are Trotsky-cons?


The term “Trotsky-con” has become part of the lexicon of populist paranoia in the First World. Despite its currency with red-baiters and anti-Semites, especially during the years of the Bush administration, the term does correctly refer to the  link between Trotskyism and a certain group of policy thinkers within the new generation of conservatives that emerged after World War 2. The SWP USA, a party from which many Trotsky-cons emerged, feebly dismisses any connection as fascist conspiracy theory, as though the link were a pure invention of the paranoid delusions of Lyndon LaRouche and Pat Buchanan. (1) Despite their protests to the contrary, there are deep theoretic links between Trotskyism and imperialism. Neo-con Stephen Schwartz proudly defends his Trotskyist past and prefers that “neo-cons” be called “Trotsky-cons.” (2) He goes so far as to say he will defend Trotsky “To my last breath, and without apology.” (3)

Very early on, Trotsky was engaged in various power struggles within the Soviet Union against the proletarian line of Lenin and Stalin. As early as 1926, in the infamous Clemenceau Declaration, Trotsky sought to use imperialist invasion of the Soviet Union as a way for his forces to seize power. Just as the Bolsheviks were able to take power during World War 1, Trotsky saw his forces similarly positioned to seize power. Into the 1930s, as Europe was polarized between fascists and anti-fascists, Trotsky, even though he criticized fascism, he did not see fascist invasion as the main danger.  Once again, Trotsky increasingly saw Stalin as the main danger to the Soviet Union, even on the eve of World War 2. Once one understands the essence of Trotskyism, it becomes apparent why one of the only times that Trotsky supported national liberation was for the Ukraine in 1939. (4) Trotsky advocated civil war in the Soviet Union and Ukrainian succession on the eve of Nazi invasion:

“In the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition (82-3), February-April, 1940, the following long paragraph appeared in place of the opening two sentences of the Sunday Express version: ‘…I consider the main source of danger to the USSR in the present international situation to be Stalin and the oligarchy headed by him. An open struggle against them, in the view of world public opinion, is inseparably connected for me with the defense of the USSR.” (5)

No doubt Trotsky saw his Clemenceau Declaration in the 1920s and, later, de facto support for the Nazis as having a parallel with 1917. Trotsky was hoping that an imperialist invasion of the Soviet Union, even one carried out by the Nazis, could catapult him to power just as the German invasion of World War 1 was a factor in the October Revolution of 1917. Trotsky was hoping to turn an imperialist war into his own brand of “revolutionary war” against Stalin and Soviet socialism. Trotsky saw himself riding to power on the backs of Nazi tanks. Just as Lenin’s strategy of turning imperialist invasion into revolutionary war has been named “revolutionary defeatism,” Trotsky’s strategy could be called “counter-revolutionary defeatism” since it turns Lenin on his head.

This extreme reactionary position is one element of Trotsky’s politics, a very important one. However, this does not exhaust Trotsky’s politics. Trotsky held contradictory, conflicting, confused positions, which is why Trotsky, at the same time, can appear to be anti-imperialist and anti-fascist. It took another, Trotsky’s follower, Max Shachtman, to work out the kinks, to put forward a more coherent form of Trotsky’s counter-revolutionary defeatist line. Shachtman called Stalinism, “the new barbarism.” In 1939, following the Soviet invasion of Finland, Shachtman followed James Burnham in arguing against the SWP USA’s nominal and weak-kneed defense of the USSR. They argued that the Soviet Union was not socialist and did not even deserve nominal support. Shachtman came to support the Western imperialists against the Soviet Union. Like Trotsky, Shachtman came to see Stalin as the main danger to the world. Like Trotsky, who agreed to testify on the crimes of Stalin to the anti-communist witch hunters in the Congress of the United States,  Shachtman was not above selling himself to the imperialists. The original Trotsky-cons, like Shachtman, are those who evolved from supporters of Trotsky’s so-called “Fourth International” into Cold Warriors for Western imperialism. If Trotsky is the father of the Trotsky-con movement, Max Shachtman is its mother. In addition, there has emerged a second generation of high profile intellectual Trotskyists, who mostly came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, who, like the earlier Trotsky-cons, have converted to become stooges for U.S. empire. Trotsky continues to have imperialist offspring, even to this day there is another generation of First Worldist, so-called socialists who support imperialism for similar reasons.

Although twisted opportunism surely played a role  in uniting Trotskyists and empire, the roots of the Trotsky-con phenomenon are much deeper, found within the ideology of Trotskyism itself. At the core of Trotskyism is the Theory of Productive Forces and its twin, the Theory of Permanent Revolution. The Theory of Productive Forces overemphasizes economic development as a factor in advancing revolution. According to such a  mechanical misreading of historical materialism, a society is unable to build socialism if it has not developed an economic base that approximates that of Western Europe at the time; it is, according to such Trotsky-cons and those with similar outlooks, impossible to build socialism unless a country has already gone through Western style capitalism. Much of Maoism is a rejection of and answer to this kind of phony Marxism. Mao showed how it was possible to bridge the gap between the most backward semi-feudal conditions and socialism with his theory of New Democracy. Mao showed how by harnessing the power of the masses, a communist party can lead countries whose development has been stunted by imperialism forward to socialism. The whole history of socialism validates Mao’s view. In the 1930s, under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union had developed socialism at a breakneck pace in unfavorable conditions. Stalin had c