Politics & Policy

Lenin’s Logic

Bolshevik thinking on Iraq.

You may not remember this, but during the lead-up to the Iraq war, lots of folks on the far right and left insisted that those in favor of war were acolytes of Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in pursuit of a global “permanent revolution.”

Now, I’m not going to get into all of that again here because I thought it was all a grab bag of asininity at the time and still do. So why dredge it up now?


You see, just as the notion that conservatives are driven by a desire to emulate the thinking of one Bolshevik theorist is starting to evaporate, a few conservatives–and a lot of liberals–are adopting the doctrine of another Bolshevik: V. I. Lenin.

In the May 11 New York Times, columnist (and friend) David Brooks–who was once considered a leading Trotsky-con–wrote an influential op-ed headlined, “For Iraqis to Win, the U.S. Must Lose.” What Brooks meant by this was that Iraqi nationalism and pride required satisfaction. “To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us.”

Brooks, who now says the war was based on a “childish fantasy,” doesn’t want a military defeat of the United States. But he does believe Iraqis need to feel like they’ve “beaten” the Americans. To that end he wants earlier elections in Iraq–as do I. This way, Iraqi politicians can attack us with words, instead of RPGs.

Successful Iraqi politicians will undoubtedly traffic in anti-American rhetoric to prove their independence from the occupiers. Indeed, just this week, Adnan Pachachi declined the Iraqi presidency precisely because, as a politician, he knew it would end his career (and maybe his life) if he was perceived as “Washington’s man” in Iraq.

And of course the mainstream of the Democratic party holds the position that a superior American foreign policy would be one where we started taking orders from the U.N. Security Council–a.k.a. France’s microphone. Setbacks that make this outcome more likely are no doubt seen as progress to Ted Kennedy. In Britain and Europe this sort of thinking is commonplace among “enlightened” liberals who believe America must Frenchify its outlook.

And there are some who wouldn’t mind a real military defeat for the United States. Long before the war, a Columbia University professor openly hoped that America suffered “a million Mogadishus.” Novelist Tom Robbins told the Seattle Weekly that “intellectually, emotionally, and physically, (America) has been exhibiting all the characteristics of an adolescent bully, a pubescent punk who’s too big for his britches and too strong for his age. Someday, perhaps, we may grow out of our mindless, pimple-faced arrogance, but in the meantime, it might do us a ton of good to have our butts kicked.”

More recently, the press has been exhibiting considerable glee at America’s setbacks. Toby Harnden of the (London) Spectator reported that he met an “American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials” who explained how essential it is that America fail in Iraq so as to ruin our “evil” president’s political prospects. She said her editors on the East Coast were giggling over the Iraqi setbacks and how “Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.” Hence she didn’t mind the prospects of thousands of more deaths, so long as those corpses ringed the road to failure, not success.

This is defeatism, but not merely the defeatism of the dispirited or pessimistic. This is often the jubilant “revolutionary defeatism” of Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky’s buddy, boss and founder of the Soviet Union.

The Russian form of defeatism, Lenin’s “porazhenchestvo,” demanded the willful and, if need be, bloody defeat of your own country if it would further the political ambitions of your own side. “The defeat of Russia has proved the lesser evil,” Lenin wrote in Pravda in 1915, “for it has tremendously enhanced the revolutionary crisis and has aroused millions, tens and hundreds of millions.”

Now, I don’t think that very many of the folks cheering America’s defeat in Iraq are crypto-Leninists any more than I think Paul Wolfowitz has a secret shrine to Leon Trotsky in some corner of the Pentagon.

But it’s worth noting that Lenin’s logic applies far more forcefully to the motives and views of many of the war’s critics than Trotsky’s views applied to its proponents. The funny thing is that when you disagree with the Left these days you get called a Bolshevik. When you agree with them, you’re called reasonable.

Copyright (c) 2004 Tribune Media Services


The Latest