The American Conservative, paleoconservatism’s house organ, has continued its war against neoconservatism by launching a broadside against, wait for it, Christopher Hitchens. Well, no surprise there, I suppose. Hitchens has been called a neocon by the Left for years. And the paleos and the far Left have become chummier and chummier since the war in Iraq.
But the attack is unique in one main respect: it scolds Hitchens for being a Soviet apologist and a Communist fellow traveller. After all, Hitchens opposed the Vietnam war and the invasion of Grenada, the commie scum. There can be “no doubt where Hitchens stood during the Cold War,” writes Tom Piatak. “He was faithfully following Leon Trotsky, who wrote in 1939, â€œthe defense of the USSR coincides for us with the preparation of world revolution.â€”
I confess that this left me a little mystified. That is not how I remembered Hitchens’ views at all at the time. In fact, he regularly took shots at “anti-anti-Communists” for their fatuous “yes, but” responses to human rights violations in the Soviet bloc. As late as August 1988, for instance — with perestroika in full stride — he wrote a moving account of the political nightmare of Czechoslovakia, quoting opposition writer Milan Simecka, with approval:
However adaptable socialist ideology may be, it would be hard for it to justify with any credibility the fact that the socialist state behaves like a red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist of the last century, that it establishes blacklists, and fires employees suspected of involvement in â€œstrikesâ€, not to mention those who might be a source of trouble, or those who fail to show the right degree of respect to the management, and so on. You do not need ideological reasons to be disgusted by such practices; the good old socialist gut-reaction we inherited from earlier generations tells us they are wrong.
At other times Piatak simply mischaracterizes what Hitchens wrote. Consider this passage:
And after Solidarity had been outlawed and Lech Walesa imprisoned, Hitchens participated in a Nation forum on Communism and Poland in whichâ€”to his creditâ€”he wrote that it was legitimate to defend the â€œPolish workers movement,â€ but also fretted about â€œthe Manichaean anti-Communism of the bad old days,â€ wished that Walesa had denounced Pinochet, and rebuked Susan Sontag for saying that Communism was akin to fascism and that the reliably anti-Communist Readersâ€™ Digest had done a better job of informing its readers of the realities of Communism than had The Nation or The New Statesmanâ€”coincidentally (or not) Hitchensâ€™s journalistic homes during the Cold War.
Let’s be clear what Hitchens actually wrote. He didn’t “fret” about Manichaean anti-Communism: he praised Sontag for steering clear of it.
“I was pleased that Susan Sontag invited the left to criticize its own record on Stalinism,” he wrote. “Surely I am not the only socialist who finds comparisons between Solidarity and the fate of PATCO [Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association] to be grotesque? The rights of highly paid Reaganite air controllers may have been violated, but the rights of Polish coal miners and ship-builders have been abolished. It is, really, casuistry to mention them in the same breath.” Some on the Left, he admitted attempt to “divert an argument about Polish self-determination into an argument about the hypocrisy of Reagan and Haig. By doing so, they devalue solidarity with Solidarity, and I think Sontag was right to say so.”
With “apologists” like Hitchens, it’s no wonder the USSR lost the Cold War.