Monday, April 18, 2005

What's So Terrible About D-Ho? (Lots)

Matt Welch responds to a Cathy Seipp column in which she argues that the not-right-of-center's feelings about David Horowitz are a product of Horowitz's no-bullshit incisiveness.

D-Ho, as we all know, is stuffed full of no-bullshit bullshit. Here's Matt:
Speaking only for myself, I find Horowitz comically awful because he's hyberbolic, inaccurate, predictable, and off-puttingly obsessed with the many bad choices he made as a young adult. I also firmly believe that Trotskyites rarely change their warped mental and rhetorical habits -- they only switch teams. And bad writers don't magically become good just because they suddenly vote for the same gang you do.

How bizarre and distasteful is it, that the same people who -- unlike almost all of my liberal friends -- actually *did* believe in Marxism and apologize for dictators, are the most vocal in their blanket condemnations of people who never did any such thing? If I had ever been a Trotskyite, I'd spend one hell of a long time dwelling privately on my own character defects and terrible judgment, instead of immediately joining some other troupe & screeching out the same old insults to an appreciative (and forgetful) new audience.
He goes on to explain what insufferable pains-in-the-ass professional team switchers tend to be (regardless of what teams they switched to and from).

The only issue I'd take here stems from a point of personal pride, and the result of it is in fact to make Matt's case against Horowitz even stronger (more in a moment). And that is: about the "Trotskyite" thing. Trotskyists were never "Trostkyites"; they were always "Trotskyists." The former appellation, moreover, though it may have once been a derogatory term specifically for supporters of Leon Trotsky and fellow-travelers of the Fourth International, became an all purpose term for the denunciation of leftists. So while "Trotskyist" retains its connection to the man and the movement it was named for, "Trotskyite" might bear faint echoes of the original meaning but is closer to the all-purpose "commie" or "pinko." The evolution of terms, I think, is a function of the identity of the people using them. Speakers of the "Trotskyist " language were generally supporters of the (anti-Soviet) left, and were not only cognizant of the many fractures and mutual excommunications amongst leftist factions, but understood the substance of their disagreements. Speakers of the "Trotskyite" language, and this is not necessarily a knock against them," might have had some awareness of the fanatical sectarianism among the old left, but by and large could not have picked out one sect from another in a blind taste test. So while a true believer would only ever say "Trostkyist," those who say "Trotskyite" (again, not necessarily a knock) could not have been counted on to explain why a member of the Socialist Workers Party and a member of the Communist Party would have been blood-enemies.

I raise all this because, to my knowledge, David Horowitz was never associated with any Trotskyist party or movement. He was a through-and-through Communist. What’s the difference? Both engaged in anti-moral apologetics for the horrors of the Russian Revolution, the Civil War, the Kronstadt repression, etc., both were attitudinally incapable of making a political utterance free of god-awful Comspeak, and both believed in an ultimate victory of some sort of communism (though the Communists gradually exchanged a sincere belief in that victory for a sublimely cynical one). But for the Trotskyists, the apologetics stopped somewhere in the mid-1920s (when their man was ousted from power). Following Trotsky---who was perhaps the first major historical figure to denounce Stalin for the right reasons---i.e., not because he (Stalin) represented godlessness or the overturning of tradition, but because his depredations were of a kind that transcends both political theory and placement in a stage of economo-historical development---the Trotskyists attacked Stalin and his supporters not (only) on the basis of derivations from "scientific socialism," but for their suborning, commission, and whitewashing of genocide.

So there is still a scrap of honor to be preserved in having been a Trotskyist, especially in light of the fact that very few political movements of the right or left come out of the 1930s looking spotless---though if one had to choose a prominent figure of the old anti-Communist left as a model of decency, Rosa Luxemburg is infinitely preferable to Trotsky (and pretty much all the other candidates).

That scrap is not one to which David Horowitz is entitled. His left was the one that chased Trotsky to the ends of the earth and slaughtered him, that justified "necessary murder" (Auden's term, which he later despised so much that he had it expunged from his collected poems) in the name of leftist solidarity, that defended the most profound system of persecution ever devised by man as an expression of the progress of history.

Whatever motivated Horowitz to jump ship was most certainly not the pangs of a guilty conscience. There is nothing redemptive about a transformation from Stalinoid (if not Stalinist) to McCarthyite; in fact the tools of each trade are roughly equivalent: accusations of treason so abstract as to be unfalsifiable, clinically paranoid conspiracy envisioning, rampant indulgence in genetic fallacy (the notion that one's opponents' arguments can be dismissed not ad se but on the basis of their character traits), and of course, the development of an anti-linguistic vocabulary that justifies ambominations in the name of the ideals which they negate.

Matt was more right than he knew, and Horowitz really could use some time alone to dwell on his past terrible judgements.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger The ACTUAL God said...

I feel lucky to know such a smart guy.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Lev Davidovich said...

Horowitz was not a Trotskyist, but he did go through a Deutscherite phase (see Empire and Revolution).


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