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October 29, 2002

Hitchens On His Nation Split and "The Left"

Posted by Mike on October 29, 2002 10:04 AM

Salon's carrying an interview with Christopher Hitchens where he discusses his disillusionment with "The Left."

My tradition from the extreme left days is different from that of most mainstream leftists, I think, in that I was a Trotskyist. The group I was a member of, International Socialists, was a dissident splinter of the Trotskyist movement -- you were always fighting a war on about five fronts. But it was worth doing. It taught me how to argue, streetfighting, polemic and so forth. With the Clinton years, I realized that the left had moved literally to the right, because it was willing to excuse things that the United States did that it shouldn't do if it was done by someone claiming to be a liberal Democrat. Horrifying things, like the bombing of Sudan on the international front, and horrifying things on the home front like the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [of 1996], which, if either of these things were done by either Bush or Ashcroft, everyone would know what to say. When they were really being done and they were both worse things.

...and that's flatly weird. I don't know how long he managed to hang in there with the International Socialists, but if the current contortions of the antiwar Left are odd to him, he should have been put off pretty damn quickly by the stuff the IS comes up with... especially as a self-styled student of Orwell. Even if the tendency's politics weren't repugnant to him after close examination, the culture of the Trotskyist left is corrosive and bizarre enough to warrant a second thought:

The commissar and her closest associate (the vice-commissar who had made the statement about being willing to die) had just come back from a meeting of the ISO's National Convention. The commissar brought the news that the Midwest ISO organizer had called the Pittsburgh branch "uncreative and inward-looking," and then asked the branch for its opinions. When the soon-to-be-ex-member stated that this description of the branch was more or less correct, the commissar proceeded to blame the branch's entire debacle on this member, calling her a "petty-bourgeois dilettante." When the "dilettante" (whose father, incidentally, is a Teamster) replied that she "really didn't give a shit" what the commissar thought, the commissar answered: "I'm not the only one who thinks this," and then proceeded to have the other members denounce the "dilettante" for "putting limits on her time" and "only doing things half-way." After this miniature *Darkness At Noon* scenario had been carried out, the commissar then proceeded to state emphatically: "You know, I don't even care that much that we're only five members, because that way we'll be tight, we'll know what we're about, and we'll have our perspective right, because when the Revolution comes, we're going to have to kill people."

Maybe they didn't act like this while Hitchens was around, though I sort of doubt that. I also don't recall the IS tendency ever letting Clinton off the hook on anything, but I spent a few of the Clinton years out of the loop.