The Purest Neocon

Christopher Hitchens, an unreconstructed
Bolshevik, finds his natural home on the pro-war Right.

The American Conservative

October 10, 2005

There is no denying Christopher Hitchens`s skill as a
public figure: he is seldom at a loss for words,
sometimes entertaining, and occasionally even right. But
he keeps getting important things wrong because,
throughout his political wanderings, there persists a
strange loyalty to an obscure bloodthirsty revolutionary
and to the ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution. For
Hitchens—now honored throughout the neoconservative
Right—remains what he has been throughout his public
life, a disciple of Leon Trotsky and a talented writer
and polemicist—perhaps the most talented polemicist the
Bolshevik tradition has produced in the West.

Given Hitchens`s current role as a neocon fellow
traveler, it is instructive (not to mention fun) to
recall with whom he used to travel. When the United
States was locked in a mortal struggle with Soviet
Communism, Hitchens was at best AWOL, at worst pulling
for the other team. From his safe post at The New
and later The Nation, Hitchens
opposed every effort to defeat Communism—including the
defense of South Vietnam, the deployment of cruise
missiles and Pershing missiles in Europe, the invasion
of Grenada, American support for the Contras, and
Reagan`s military buildup. Hitchens can be sensitive
about his past—he is

quite angry with his brother Peter
for letting us
know that Christopher used to joke about not caring
"if the Red Army waters its horses in Hendon"
there can be no doubt where Hitchens stood during the
Cold War. He was faithfully following Leon Trotsky, who

in 1939, "the defense of the USSR coincides
for us with the preparation of world revolution."

Rather than worrying about Soviet Communism, Hitchens
spent his Nation years fighting against

what he called
"a regime of crime and corruption
in the White House. … necessitated by a war on
revolution overseas and on democracy at home."
description—typical of Hitchens`s invective against
Ronald Reagan—was contained in a fawning letter to
"Comrade Ramirez,"
a functionary of the Sandinista
dictatorship in Nicaragua. Hitchens unbosomed that, far
from hoping for an American victory in the Cold War, he
was hoping for a "socialist renewal in the Soviet
Hitchens also told his friend in Managua,
"It is quite likely that historians will record this
unhappy period not as an age of Reagan at all, but as a
footnote to the age of Mikhail Gorbachev."

Elsewhere, Hitchens turned out lines worthy of
Soviet Life
, such as
this observation
from a pre-invasion visit to the
budding Communist dictatorship in Grenada: "The
general enthusiasm, the internationalism and the
determination of the Grenadan people is an inspiring
thing to witness."

Then there was the column Hitchens wrote in 1982,
blasting anti-Communists for talking about
and "Finlandization." In the
midst of Hitchens`s long-winded explanation of why these
were "bogus ideological words" and their use was
"an insult—and not only to Finland," comes a
plangent reminder of the place Hitchens was happy to
call home during the Cold War: an advertisement enticing
readers to "spend Your Vacation with The Nation
and Cruise Up the Volga."
The CPUSA was not listed
as a sponsor, but that would probably have been
redundant for a trip also sponsored by the National
Council of American-Soviet Friendship and the Women`s
International League for Peace and Freedom.

More insight into Hitchens`s long love affair with
Bolshevism came with the publication in 2002 of his
close friend Martin Amis`s Koba the Dread, a
masterful account of the mass murder with which the
Bolsheviks busied themselves after seizing power in
October 1917. Hitchens told Amis, "Lenin was … a
great man"
and implored him not to

"fall for moral equivalence."
What Hitchens warned against was not
viewing the West as equivalent to the USSR (a view
generally attacked at The Nation only by those
asserting straightforward Soviet superiority), but a
belief that Soviet Communism could legitimately be
compared to its (slightly less) murderous rival, Nazism.

It is true that, even as Trotsky had criticized
Stalin, Hitchens felt free to criticize the USSR
occasionally at The Nation—though generally
without the venom reserved for the "Christian bigots"
and "thwarted militarists" Hitchens saw in the
"Reagan junta,"
the "fascists" allied with
the United States against Communism, and such obvious
evildoers as Mother Teresa. But Hitchens, still
following Trotsky, generally coupled these criticisms
with attacks on the West or on anti-Communists, as in a
1986 piece on Chernobyl, where he devoted almost all his
space to describing "two cases of potential and
actual nuclear irradiation that were visited on
unsuspecting peoples by NATO governments."
And after
Solidarity had been outlawed and Lech Walesa imprisoned,

participated in a Nation forum
on Communism
and Poland in which—to his credit—he wrote that it was
legitimate to defend the "Polish workers movement,"
but also fretted about "the Manichaean anti-Communism
of the bad old days,"
wished that Walesa had
denounced Pinochet, and rebuked Susan Sontag for saying
that Communism was akin to fascism and that the reliably
anti-Communist Readers` Digest had done a better
job of informing its readers of the realities of
Communism than had The Nation or The New
—coincidentally (or not) Hitchens`s
journalistic homes during the Cold War.

Hitchens also asserted that most of the Left did not
have a problem with Poland, ignoring the fatuousness of
the other contributors to the forum and his own
magazine, which wanted to "transcend the
hand-wringing platitudes of the Reagan Administration
and to create some distance between radical Americans
and the evident hypocrisy of `Let Poland Be Poland.`"

Hitchens, too, had distinct limits to his sympathy for
the Poles: the next time Hitchens managed to write about
Poland in The Nation, in January 1983, it was to
mock the Poles, including John Paul II and Lech Walesa,
for their religious beliefs. While the world watched the
courage of Catholic Poland with admiration, Hitchens
sneered. There is a reason streets in Poland are being
named after Ronald Reagan and not writers for The

Hitchens has never apologized for his Trotskyism. As
he told British writer Johann Hari in

October 2004
, "I don`t regret anything. … [The
socialist movement`s] achievements were real, and I`m
glad I was a part of it."
And in the

July/August 2004 issue of The Atlantic,

Hitchens wrote a hagiographic essay about a figure whom
he claimed "always was … a prophetic moralist."
Hitchens was not writing about Mother Teresa or John
Paul II, but about Leon Trotsky—a man who was an active
participant in and apologist for Lenin`s Red Terror, the
inventor of the "blocking units" that would gun
down Russian troops foolish enough to defy the
commissars by retreating, and the author of such

witty aphorisms
as "We must rid ourselves once
and for all of the Quaker-Papist babble about the
sanctity of human life."

Hitchens also took Amis to task for Koba the Dread
in The Atlantic, criticizing him for
suggesting the dreaded moral equivalence between the
Nazis and the Communists and for wondering if the right
side won the Russian Civil War. Hitchens`s dogged
determination to defend Lenin shows that he is, at
heart, as intense a believer as any radical Islamist.
After all, it was one thing to believe in 1917 that the
Bolsheviks might be better than the Romanovs; it is
quite another to believe that still today, tens of
millions of corpses later.

Amis had also made the mistake, in a letter to
Hitchens, of urging his friend to turn his back on
Trotsky because Hitchens`s "prophetic moralist"
was really a "nun-killer." Amis should have
realized that an appeal based on sympathy for nuns was
hardly the way to his friend`s heart, and Hitchens
responded by mocking Amis for having a "special
horror of Bolshevik anti-clericalism."
What Amis has
a "special horror of" is eloquently described in
his book: a regime that killed 2,691 priests, 1,962
monks, and 3,447 nuns of the Russian Orthodox Church in
1922 alone. None of this bloodshed bothers Hitchens, who

recently written
that "Secularism … only became
thinkable after several wars and revolutions had
ruthlessly smashed the hold of the clergy on the state."

Since the American Revolution did not produce a single
executed clergyman, Hitchens is here singing the praises
of the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks.

Indeed, nothing shows Hitchens`s continuing fidelity
to the Bolshevik ideal more than his hatred for
religion. He told the Guardian on May 31, 2005,
"I can`t stand anyone who believes in God, who
invokes the divinity … I mean, that to me is a
horrible, repulsive thing."
But Hitchens is by no
means equal in his contempt for religions. He has
written favorably of Judaism and described Islam as
having been a "civilizing and creative force in many
Hitchens has no such kind words for
Christianity, especially as manifested in the Roman
Catholic Church. This is hardly surprising: the Roman
Catholic Church was Bolshevism`s most consistent and
successful adversary, beginning with the 1920 defense of
Warsaw from Trotsky`s Red Army, when the future Pius XI,

Norman Davies
`s words, "stood on the ramparts of
Radzymin and cursed the advancing hordes of Antichrist
in person"
and the Polish Army—dismissed by Trotsky
as being

"steeped in priests` lies"
—prevented the Red
Army from watering its horses anywhere near Hendon.

A straightforward description of all Hitchens`s

would fill every page in this magazine—he
recently argued, in
, that Judge Roberts should not be confirmed
to the Supreme Court because he is Catholic—but his most
disgusting, and revealing, anti-Catholic spasm was his
reaction to the death of John Paul II, a man he
dismissed as "an elderly and querulous celibate, who
came too late and who stayed too long."

Speaking ill of the dead is a Hitchens trademark,

Mother Teresa

Bob Hope
, and Ronald Reagan—whom Hitchens described
as "dumb as a stump" and a "cruel and stupid
—each rating a bilious sendoff. But

John Paul II
rated two. Hitchens blamed the pope for
such wide-ranging evils as the "enslavement of the
Middle East"
and "the millions who will die
needlessly from AIDS,"
a disease whose sexual
transmission would cease if Catholic teaching were
followed. Hitchens also blasted John Paul for harboring
Cardinal Law from justice, ignoring the fact that
Cardinal Law was never convicted of any crime or even
indicted because, as the prosecutor told the Boston

"there was no intent that we have found to assist in any
way in criminal acts."

Hitchens also criticized the pope for opposing the
First Gulf War, writing, "I have never read any
deployment of Augustinian argument … that would not
qualify it as a just war."
Yet at the time, Hitchens
denounced the First Gulf War as a "contrived war"
of "discreditable origins," blamed the United
States for "the infliction of a Dresden on the Iraqi
and looked forward to "fresh Augustinian
tautologies from our churchmen about proportionality in
a just war."

But the most repellent aspect of Hitchens`s diatribes
was the sly way he sought to minimize John Paul`s role
in the transformation of Eastern Europe, implying that
the credit belonged to "the Polish workers" and
"Warsaw`s dissident intellectuals … who thought of
Cardinal Glemp … as one of their main enemies."
reality of Poland is deeply embarrassing to someone who
views the world as Hitchens does, which is why he
indulges in fantasies about nameless "workers"
and secular intellectuals battling evil Catholics.

The bare facts are these: the institution in Poland
that gave dissidents, even secular intellectuals, the
civic space to operate during the years of Soviet rule
was the Catholic Church. The "Polish workers" who
began the revolt that ended up toppling the Soviet Union
were the workers at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, who
during their historic strike decorated the main gate of
the shipyard with precisely two pictures—one of John
Paul II, one of

Our Lady of Czestochowa.
(Leon Trotsky was nowhere
in sight.) The leader of those workers was Lech Walesa,
who posed in his first photograph after the strike under
a crucifix, who afterwards customarily wore an icon of
Our Lady of Czestochowa on his lapel, who signed the
Gdansk agreement ending the strike with a souvenir pen
bearing the likeness of John Paul II, and who left his
Nobel Peace Prize as a votive offering at the Jasna Gora
monastery where the famous icon of Our Lady is found.
All of these symbolic gestures were carefully considered
and show the profoundly Catholic nature of the peaceful
Polish revolt that ended up discrediting Bolshevism in
both its Stalinist and Trotskyist variants. Regardless
of their views on other issues, Poles credit John Paul`s
epochal 1979 visit with inspiring all that followed.
Indeed, the dissident publication Robotnik—–
associated with the sort of intellectuals Hitchens wants
to credit instead of the pope—wrote the epitaph for
Soviet Communism just 10 days after John Paul`s
triumphant Mass in Krakow before the largest gathering
in Polish history, in

that Hitchens would never write, or even
acknowledge having been written: "Pathetically silent
was the ideology created without God and against God."

So where does this lover of Trotsky and hater of God,
this despiser of religion and tradition and devotee of
"permanent revolution," this anti-Catholic bigot
and reviler of Reagan and John Paul, now find an
ideological home? Among the neoconservatives, naturally.
As Hitchens told Johann Hari in the same interview where
he said "I don`t regret anything," he admires
Paul Wolfowitz, whom he described as a "real bleeding
According to Hari, Hitchens sees
neoconservatism as a "distinctively new strain of
thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using
US power to spread democracy."
Hari also wrote that
Hitchens believes that if neoconservatism "can become
dominant within the Republican Party, it can turn US
power into a revolutionary force."
Barry Didcock
came to a similar conclusion in the

June 5, 2005 Sunday Herald
after interviewing
Hitchens: "The way Hitchens tells it, he began to
realize, as the 1990s wore on, that US force could and
should be used to fight what he saw as the forces of
Hitchens still wants world revolution; the
only difference is that now he sees us Americans as
perfectly placed to do the fighting and the dying needed
to achieve his Trotskyist dream.

As both the Hari and Didcock interviews make clear,
Hitchens was able to overcome his past squeamishness
about American military force not because America is
threatened, but because the threat now comes from men
who believe in Allah rather than Marx. Didcock notes,
"the origins of [Hitchens`s] position lie in his
long-held distaste for religion,"
and Hitchens told
Hari, "The United States was attacked by theocratic
fascists who represent all the most reactionary elements
on earth. … However bad the American Empire has been,
it is not as bad as this."
Hitchens also wrote—in
the same column in which he extolled the priest-killing
potency of the French and Russian Revolutions—that
"George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he—and
the US armed forces—have objectively done more for
secularism than the whole of the American agnostic
community combined and doubled."
Hitchens`s entire
politics is motivated by his hatred of religion and
tradition; he`d be just as happy bombing St. Peter`s as
the Taliban.

Needless to say, Hitchens`s views have nothing to do
with American conservatism or even American patriotism,
which sees America as a real country and a real place,
not as a template onto which foreigners project their
ideological fantasies. None of the Founders wanted to
use American power to bring about world revolution, nor
did they believe in wasting American blood and treasure
in grandiose ideological crusades. Neither did Ronald
Reagan. While effusive in his praise for the neocons,
Hitchens told Hari that he would never join "the
Buchanan-Reagan right."

For their part, the neocons have warmly embraced
Hitchens. His writing is welcomed at The Weekly
, which also gave a glowing review to his
latest book, and at, which has given
him three sycophantic interviews and describes him as
"one of the most prominent political and cultural
essayists of our time."
Regulars at National Review
Online praise and link to Hitchens`s work, and David
Frum has boasted there of his friendship with Hitchens.
Recently, Hitchens was even allowed to

post in NRO`s Corner
to respond to Ramesh Ponnuru`s

flaccid criticism
of his Catholic-bashing piece on
Judge Roberts. (Ponnuru agreed that he found Hitchens`s
outbursts on the pope "bracing,"
but he drew the line when Hitchens used his
anti-Catholicism against the Bush administration.) NRO
has hardly been as accommodating to any of the
traditional conservatives its writers have smeared.

The irony, of course, is that Hitchens has hardly
cast his lot with the "Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom"
school of conservatism. The neocons prattle on endlessly
about "moral clarity" and display a fondness for
ideological purges but have never been anything but
indulgent toward Hitchens. They have not criticized his
Bolshevism or his hatred of religion. In fact, one of
the Hitchens columns Frum

at NRO described the Catholic Church as
and Opus Dei as a

"sinister cult organization."
Let us not even pause to consider what
Frum would have done if some paleoconservative had
written a glowing essay describing Rudolf Hess as a
"prophetic moralist"
: whole forests would need to be
felled to print his denunciations of the miscreant.

What the mutual embrace of Hitchens and the neocons
tells us is that Hitchens`s assessment of
neoconservatism is essentially correct: the regnant
force in American conservatism today is warmed-over
Trotskyism, which views America merely as the embodiment
of the ideology of global revolution. This is,
admittedly, a depressing conclusion. But there is hope.
Hitchens spent the first half of his ideological career
riding a dying horse. He may have just started riding
another one.

Tom Piatak

him) writes from Cleveland, Ohio.