Friday, June 7, 2013


The sneering contempt for which Trotskyists view Liberals has stuck with me all these years. Indeed, I'm still proud of saying that I've never voted for a Democrat (even though that's not strictly true). It's odd that I should bear that animosity. My extended family are all loyal Democrats. My mother (who grew up during the Depression) thought FDR was a saint, and loved Eleanor even more. My wife usually votes for the donkeys (I vote, and she un-votes), as do my kids. In their defense, I'll note that they're all low-information voters--i.e., the sort that typically vote Democratic.

So my dalliance with anti-Democrat Trotskyism could be seen as simply adolescent rebelliousness--except that it's not. Indeed, there is a history of ex-Trotskyists becoming Conservatives, most famously James Burnham. Burnham, one of the founders of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) split from the organization in response to the Stalin-Hitler pact. He later went on to receive a Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan (my kind of guy!).

There are continuing stories about how neoconservatism is descended from Trotskyism. The beef is that the neocons, like Trotskyists, believe that political power can effect nation-building, social change, as in the Iraq war. I will confess that I was a strong supporter of the Iraq war at the time, a position which I've since had cause to reconsider. Still, I think the connection is pretty far-fetched. Despite some superficial similarities, I think the Trotsky-neocon thing is mostly romantic myth.

Hatred of the Democratic Party is something that Trotskyists don't share with the Stalinist, Communist Party tradition. The Communist Party allied itself with the "progressive" wing of the Democrats, campaigning actively for Democratic politicians. Thus they successfully insinuated themselves into real positions of power. The SWP called this class collaboration and viewed it as a betrayal of the working class. Accordingly, Trotskyists--always principled--never had any real influence on anybody. As it turned out, the Communist Party didn't accomplish very much either.

But this is a real difference. Ex-Communists can simply gravitate to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and live happily ever after. Ex-Trotskyists don't have that option--at least not as easily. Thus my sense is that there are a lot more Conservative ex-Trotskyists than there are Conservative ex-Communists, at least per capita.

To get further we need to make a semantic distinction between conservative and Conservative. The two words are really very different. Conservative is a political movement, exemplified for my generation by William F. Buckley. It holds that the human character is intrinsically flawed, that government will always tend toward evil, and that the social engineering schemes so beloved by Democrats, Communists & Trotskyists alike are bound to fail. Unlike Libertarians, Conservatives put great stock in mediating institutions, i.e., institutions they see as protecting the individual from government, including Church, family, law, and civic life. Conservatives tend to be more religious, more law-abiding, more family oriented, and more civically engaged than most citizens. Mormons are Conservative.

On the other hand, conservative is a psychological trait, such as exhibited by a conservative investor. A conservative wants to preserve the status quo above all else. conservatives are not really a political force, but they have a great and deleterious influence on politics. Any public policy attracts a constituency which lobbies for the preservation of that policy--biofuels is an excellent example. It doesn't matter if the project is initiated by Democrats or Republicans, but once begun conservatives will rise to its defense en masse. The Amish are conservative, as are Hasidic Jews.

So it is possible to be both Conservative and conservative, such as Pat Buchanan. Even Buckley tended that way, with his famous quote that Conservatives should "stand athwart history yelling stop!" But the real conservative Party in America today isn't the Republican--instead it is the Democratic Party. The Dems are now in the uncomfortable position of having to defend all the failing social engineering programs from the New Deal and the Great Society. Some are a travesty, not just the aforementioned biofuels subsidy, but also indefensible policies like affirmative action and Title IX.

More seriously, the great entitlement programs are falling apart. The nation is now so in hock for pensions, benefits, medical care, social security, etc., that there isn't enough money in the entire universe to make good on the promises. Look for some bodacious financial haircuts, and soon. Democratic conservatives--think Jerry Brown or Michael Bloomberg--are scrambling against all odds to preserve the status quo.

No institution is more conservative and more Democratic than academia. My colleagues (pathetic losers) are tying themselves up in knots trying to rationalize the existing educational model. Here's an example of a very conservative (vaguely incoherent) effort to defend the professoriate. The problem with conservatism is it will inevitably lose. Technology conspires against it, and at the end of the day people will choose a freer, richer life over the rule-bound, rent-enabling, impoverishing conservative regime.

So now I can tell you why Trotskyists hate Democrats. Democrats, not Conservative, but very conservative, are all-in standing athwart history. Trotskyists are also not Conservative, but nor are they conservative. Trotskyists always described themselves as radicals. And this is a very good description--they were (and are) honestly, sincerely, and consciously against the status quo. Upper case or lower, Trotskyists are anti-conservative.

In this they differ from the Communist Party. The Stalinists at very least had to defend the Soviet Union, and all that went with it, including detente, and whatever the latest foreign policy wheeze was. Further, by participating in government--however surreptitiously--they acquired a vested interest in defending it. The Communist Party further tied it's hands by getting involved in internal, Democratic Party politics, which intrinsically made them conservative.

Trotskyists had no such conflict. By remaining powerless and pure of heart, they are passionately anti-conservative. That's why they appealed to adolescents, and beyond that, that's why they appealed to me. For I still share that anti-conservatism--it's moderated slightly with old age, but I detest the Democratic Party precisely because they're conservative. Likewise, I hate academia for the same reason.

So I've gone from being a Trotskyist to being a Conservative, but the personality trait--anti-conservatism--remains constant.

To the barricades, Comrades! Down with the Academy!

Further Reading:


  1. I voted for a Democratic state legislator once--he was more Conservative than his Republican (nitwit) opponent. I have also voted for Democrats in municipal elections--especially when the real contest is within the Democratic Primary. Indeed--in what is probably the worst vote I've ever cast--I believe I once voted for Jane Byrne as mayor of Chicago.

    Other than that, I've voted straight Republican.

  2. "there is a history of ex-Trotskyists becoming Conservatives. . ." I am not sure this is a recommendation for conservatism, at least not the kind that I believe in.

  3. What Trotsky and the neo-conservative have in common is the belief that ideas can change the world -- or, rather, that the appeal of certain ideas (Western liberal democratic capitalism in the case of the neo-conservatives) was universal. I used to believe that. Who would not want to be free? And I too supported the Iraq invasion, though not on those grounds (Sadam was a monster and should be gotten rid of on humanitarian grounds). But after our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan I have completely changed the way I understand the world. Now I think hbdchick has found the key: