Irving Kristol's plan to save Russia

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Ron Rizzo

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Jan 29, 1986, 6:43:12 PM1/29/86
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NEOCONSERVATIVES AS WIMPS
=========================

I've long suspected that the American rightwing, & especially its
conservatives, whether "ultra-", "neo-", or "just", was as abysmally
ignorant of the nature of Communism as the leftwing. And maybe
more so, for most of the expose's, intelligent criticisms, and
awareness of Communism's actual nature, although few in number in
the West, have come from the political left-of-center: Irving Howe
and his DISSENT magazine, Simon Leys, George Orwell, Victor Serge,
Susan Sontag, the French "new philosophers", etc. Exceptions to
this rule tend to be people who began life under Communism
(neoconservative Paul Hollander, Solzhenitsyn, quite a few others).
For that matter, the most prominent Russian critics, the Medvedev
brothers and even Solzhenitsyn himself, began their intellectual
lives on the "left", as true believers of the reigning "Marxism-
-Leninism" of the USSR.

Now a recent event tends to confirm my suspicions, despite the
widespread lipservice paid in the 1980s to gulags and holocausts.

In a column in the 1/26/86 Boston Sunday Globe (p A33), ATLANTIC
magazine editor Jack Beatty describes Irving Kristol's plan "to end
Communism in Russia," divulged "at a recent Washington gathering of
the Committee for a Free World, a conclave of prominent `neoconser-
vative' thinkers and publicists." Kristol, an ex-liberal member of
the New York literati, whose equally illiberal wife, Midge Decter,
has been taken to task (by Gore Vidal in "Some Jews & the Gays" in
The Nation a few years ago) for her homophobic outbursts, "has been
called `the godfather of the neoconservative family.'" He's also
Jack Kemp's top house intellectual and a close adviser.

Kristol claims that "ideological reformation" is the key. And he
asserts that the "established religion" of Marxism-Leninism on which
Communist Party hegemony rests, crucially depends on the success of
Soviet foreign policy! If a series of defeats are inflicted on the
USSR's international aims, the regime, according to Kristol, will
crumble.

The utter fatuity of this claim reveals an innocence of the most
rudimentary facts of either Communism or totalitarianism so complete
that it's startling, especially coming from the self-avowedly "anti-
Communist" right.

To briefly detail some of the gaping fallacies in Kristol's view
that Beatty mentions:

-- in the last few decades Soviet successes around the
world have been mixed in with many failures.

-- control within the USSR rests not on a kind of adherence
to a denominational creed, as in say a Protestant church,
but on systematic and inescapable physical brutality and
institutional coercion.

-- lacking an internal public opinion or political opposition,
in total control domestically, & acting on Leninist principles
(the ends always justifies the means) at home and abroad, the
USSR need not react to any external event, short of invasion
or nuclear war: any penalties inflicted on it can be & often
are passed on to its subjects.

In fact, a case can be made that during the early years (say
from 1917 to the early 1930s) the Soviet Union really had no
or not much of a foreign policy, despite books on the topic
(by, eg, EH Carr, v 3 of his History of Soviet Russia); it
even lacked "sovereignty", ie, effective control, over parts
of itself for years after the revolution. There was very
little international recognition of the regime until the
1930s; the Western powers constantly tried to isolate it, &
actually invaded a number of times in the 20s. The Soviets
had numerous problems while trying to consolidate their rule.
Yet throughtout this period, the dominant impression is how
little external influences or even threats affected the
Bolshevik regime or its course.

Kristol, an intellectual, expected by definition to be at least well-read,
could not have ever perused, eg, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO; if he has, he's
got to be brain-damaged. Emigres from Communist societies have often
characterized the entire West as liberal, myopic, weak (these 3 words
are probably synonyms as they use them), unwilling out of naivete, lack
of experience, to believe how "inhumanly strong", durable, permanent,
and destructive (in every way) Communism is as a "system" of rule, a
technique of total control. In this sense of the word, even Jerry
Falwell is a liberal, ie, unbrutalized by a life (if it can be called
that) under Communism. Liberalism is thus merely the underlying
ideology of Western culture, and even the radical right embraces its
assumptions and possesses its weaknesses.

If Kristol's ignorance & extreme myopia are common on the political right
(& I bet they are), then American conservatives react with myopia and
self-delusion from the same motive as do other political persuasions:
squeamishness, and maybe despair, in the face of a very real and very
hard problem, namely the existence and widespread establishment of
Communism in this century. Everyone wimps out.

Beatty concludes his article: "Kristol was surrounded, in that
Washington meeting room, by what the late Harold Rosenberg called
`a herd of independent minds.' A generation ago, that herd, numbering
some of today's neoconservatives in its ranks, was on the left, or at
any rate, of the liberal persuasion. Now it is on the right. The cast
of sheep may change, but the tyranny of fashion does not."

"At a certain point in their development, intellectual/political
movements like neo-conservatism suffer a change. Loyalty to the
herd becomes the overriding motive, herd-think the dominant mental
product, and the movement loses that habit of heresy that gave it
elan in its youth. Neoconservatism, our new Establishment, has
quite lost that habit. The Soviet Union may not be ripe for an
`ideological reformation,' but one is past due here in the United
States."


Cheers,
Ron Rizzo

ja...@inmet.uucp

unread,
Feb 2, 1986, 6:12:00 AM2/2/86
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>[Ron Rizzo rrizzo@bbncca]

>most of the expose's, intelligent criticisms, and
>awareness of Communism's actual nature, although few in number in
>the West, have come from the political left-of-center: Irving Howe
>and his DISSENT magazine, Simon Leys, George Orwell, Victor Serge,
>Susan Sontag, the French "new philosophers", etc. Exceptions to
>this rule tend to be people who began life under Communism
>(neoconservative Paul Hollander, Solzhenitsyn, quite a few others).

Add also ex-Communists like Arthur Koestler and Whittaker Chambers.
Orwell, too, as an ex-Trotskyite, had an inside understanding
of Communism.

>For that matter, the most prominent Russian critics, the Medvedev
>brothers and even Solzhenitsyn himself, began their intellectual
>lives on the "left", as true believers of the reigning "Marxism-
>-Leninism" of the USSR.

Medvedevs stayed there. Their professed views are communist;
their criticism is very circumspect. They also have some kind of
accommodation with the KGB which different people interpret dif-
ferently. Prominent Russian dissidents span the political spec-
trum; they all share an intimate understanding of totalitarianism
that is hard to obtain outside the Communist world. E.g., each of
them reads 1984 as a portrait of a very particular society, warts
and all, and not as an abstract anti-utopia, or projection of
Western trends etc. (Possessing this book, of course, is a crime
in Russia).

>Kristol claims that "ideological reformation" is the key. And he
>asserts that the "established religion" of Marxism-Leninism on which
>Communist Party hegemony rests, crucially depends on the success of
>Soviet foreign policy! If a series of defeats are inflicted on the
>USSR's international aims, the regime, according to Kristol, will
>crumble.

>The utter fatuity of this claim reveals an innocence of the most
>rudimentary facts of either Communism or totalitarianism so complete
>that it's startling, especially coming from the self-avowedly "anti-
>Communist" right.

It *is* naive, and I agree with your criticism. But where is
the harm of it ? Defeating Soviet international aims is a worthy
goal in itself, even if it does not reform the USSR.

Your indictment of Neoconservatives in general is new to me, and
I have no opinion yet. Could you formulate a positive position ?
What should be done about Communism and the USSR ?

Jan Wasilewsky

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