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“If The Enemy Of Your Enemy is Your Friend…


I come from an avowedly left-wing family, its politics dating back to well before the popular front of the Second World War, when liberals and socialists put aside their all too justified suspicion and disgust with Soviet Communism to find common ground and thus wage and win the war against fascism.

To a man and woman, my relatives would have all been branded as Premature Anti-Fascists when the sociopolitical winds shifted after 1945.

And speaking of wind, when I saw A MIGHTY WIND, Christopher Guest’s brilliant evisceration—with love!—of the folk revival, I was alone in that audience laughing at the FOLKSMEN, the trio portrayed by Michael McKean, Guest, and Harry Shearer, specifically in their continuing to refight the Spanish Civil War.

This was so inside baseball a joke that nobody got it who hadn’t had personal experience with the endless rehashing of that traumatic rehearsal for the not long enough delayed sequel to the Great War in their own lives.

My childhood was spent in the company of adults, aunts and uncles, who did that very thing over family holiday tables, with a soundtrack provided by The Weavers—“Viva la Quince Brigada-BOOMBALABOOMBALABOOMBALABOOM!”.

I didn’t have a clue what this was all about at the time, of course, but with age came curiosity, and with curiosity came an understanding of the often cryptic nature of American left wing politics, where internecine disagreement over minutiae was the only way to travel. Or, perhaps better said, to Fellow Travel.

Years later, I was reminded of the feuding that went on at long ago family dinners by the descriptions of the political flight paths of what were known then as Neo-Conservatives, men and women endowed with what was identified—mostly by themselves, to be sure—as an agenda, a mindset, a sensibility that set them apart from the traditional belief systems of American conservatism, which boiled down to, all too often, White Supremacy at its most troglodytic.  See, the Klu Klux Klan, the Scopes trial, Prohibition, and the John Birch Society for further details.

The Neo-Conservatives were, almost without exception, onetime leftists, Popular Fronters of the first order, who had become less and less enamored of the left, finally rejecting even liberalism, and forging a new interpretation of conservatism—less sedentarily reactionary than relentlessly activist, in service to a series of internationalist agendas, the antithesis of what had always been identified as the inward looking, isolationist political mindset of the American right.

John Dos Passos was an early, often unacknowledged example of this paradigm shift.  Never a Red himself, he was, like much of the left-wing intelligentsia of his time, what was known, often somewhat sneeringly, as, yes, a Fellow Traveler.

His experiences as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, in regard to the murderous brutality of Stalin’s hand-picked Soviet officers in their culling of any personnel identified as a potential problem for Josef Stalin, permanently removed any romantic notions Dos Passos might have had about the worker’s paradise.

His longtime friendship with fellow war correspondent Ernest Hemingway died here, as well, with Hemingway’s refusal to hold the local commissars responsible for the torture murder of a mutual friend.

There were others of that time, of course, but the real breeding ground of the Neo-Conservatives was the cafeteria at City College, where the tables each represented one of the various strains of leftist political thought in those depression years before the Second World War.

The internecine warfare extent between these splinter groups—most of whom were, to be honest, made up of youthful members of the CPUSA, and to be sure, mostly first generation Jews, whose parents, I suspect, wished they’d just shut up and get their diplomas already—must have seemed almost risible to an educated, if not politically granular observer.  This, of course, until the Mexico City murder of Leon Trotsky by Ramon Mercader, a Spaniard and an agent of the NKVD, a precursor of the KGB, in service, again of course, to Josef Stalin.

I’ve always assumed Mercader was one of those torture murderers doing Stalin’s bidding in Madrid or Barcelona, fucking with the unrulier, less doctrinaire in their relationship to the Soviet Union’s idea of communism elements of Spanish Marxism during that war.

It’s also always been clear that the murder of Trotsky was the inciting incident that began those teenaged Reds on their serpentine and unruly path to the embrace of a sociopolitical philosophy that was the exact inverse of that which personified the glory days of their youthful political awakenings.

This adjustment wasn’t an overnight seismic event, of course.  It took years, and reactions to history as it happened, to create these newly minted avatars of a new kind of conservatism…but, be assured, they remained and remain passionately dogmatic in their relationship to the world.

It’s a discomfiting truth, but too often a truth nonetheless.  There’s no greater a commitment to a philosophy, political, religious, or otherwise, than one made by someone who has converted to that philosophy from what might best be described as its complete opposite.  See Whittaker Chambers, as another seminal and primally early example.

(Or, for that matter, my wife, who converted to Judaism—not for me, but an earlier husband, for fuck’s sake—and is, by many standards, a far better Jew than I am or might ever be.  That said, I’m so good at being Jewish, I don’t have to practice.)

But enough about what these former radicals became.  Let’s hark back to that inciting incident, that clawhammer that drove a wedge between two, to be brutally honest, not particularly different manifestations of Lenin’s interpretation of Marx…and look at the dogmatism that underpinned Stalinism, which, for better or worse, certainly from my perspective a fuck load worse, is what soviet communism was, despite public repudiation, no more than lip service from its leaders, to be sure, until the collapse of the USSR.

(Of course, Trotsky was Jewish, and Stalin hated Jews with as much passion as did his fascist counterparts in Germany.  Had he not conveniently died when he did, the USSR would likely have experienced its own Shoah.  Not to be too bloody minded, it would have been interesting to hear the CPUSA spin on that.)

The passion and zeal with which those youthful Reds applied the dogma of Marxism to their lives, filtering every aspect of their lives through the brickwork maze of Marxist jargon, in the name of the Soviet Union’s marketing of Communism International, was tragic in its comedy.

In THE UN-AMERICANS, Joseph Litvak’s extraordinary book about the blacklist, the Hollywood ten, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, he describes an unintentionally comical moment, in which the choreographer Jerome Robbins, eventually a friendly witness before HUAC, who likely denounced his friends and colleagues for fear that his homosexuality would be made public, is asked by his fellow communist cell members how he applied his understanding of dialectic materialism to the choreography of his modern ballet, “Footloose and Fancy Free.”

Who says the left has no sense of humor?

I kid.

And let us not forget that his right wing ditto head fans defended Rush Limbaugh from all the “Ding Dong we’re glad he’s dead” reaction to his overdue passing from those of us who were not impressed by that monstrous slab of piss poor protoplasm by pitching him as a satirist.

Sure.  Of course.  Naturally. Positively Swiftian in scope.

Litvak elaborates on a familiar theme, which I embrace and believe in wholeheartedly, identifying the Blacklist and HUAC as a homegrown pogrom, rooting out what he calls Comic Cosmopolitanism—in layman’s terms, namely International Jewry’s multimillennial ability to make light of darkness in the cause of survival.  As ever, White Anglo Saxon Protestant America and its older European cousins mistook, and frankly often continue to mistake, the presentation of gravity for the presence of enormity.

“What’s so darned funny, Jewboy?”

He also points out that those friendly witnesses were rarely motivated by any political conviction, but by self-serving careerism, which Litvak identifies as sycophancy to the ruling order.  Rarely did those show business Reds and fellow travelers naming names move across the aisle to the right in their confessions of what most tried to pass off as past youthful indiscretions.

Rather, they held on to their own careers at the expense of others, others whose names were already known by the committee, justifying their behavior as patriotism, paying lip service to liberalism, in most cases until their deaths.

Those City College apostates, however, were a breed apart, and in turn brought all that passionate abandon and emotional commitment that had once served the dictates of the Supreme Soviet to an embrace of the politics and economics of John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

A curious number of these sociopolitical refugees insisted that their perspectives and points of view hadn’t changed at all—rather the world had so rocked on its axis that the game board had moved, not the chess pieces themselves.

From what I can gather from their writing and pronouncements, this mindset informs much of the 180 degree shift made by such contemporary apostates as Matt Taibbi, Russell Brand and Naomi Wolf, among others.

And, to be frank, I can understand such a thought process myself.

That said, the American right as we know it today, in its post neo conservative iteration, has become a theocracy of hypocrisy, a successfully financed hostile takeover by authoritarian religionists in league with billionaires who were handed their game plan by James Buchanan.

The political scientist out of Chicago, not the comically failed president.

This long game has finally come to fruition, in its goal of demonizing the social contract created by the Democratic administration that came to power and saved the country in those tumultuous 1930s, and carried forward by subsequent democratic administrations—until the liberal left found itself as suborned by its own breed of special interests as the conservative right had been.

The dragging to the right of what had been for decades a solid voting block of democratic voters by this campaign, a transformed body politic bought and paid for by the Kochs, the Mercers, and their billionaire like, started, of course, with that old reprobate Richard Nixon, who knew a sucker when he saw one.

Ultimately, well after Nixon’s discrediting had been forgotten over the glow of the criminal tool that was Ronald Reagan and his continued popularity despite his ruinous tenure in the White House, the work was finally done for these incipient autocrats by the left’s takeover by an elitist identitarian mindset, often going out on a limb on social issues that were as foolish as those questions posed to Jerome Robbins in regard to dialectical materialism, and available to successful mockery by those right wing think tank mouthpieces for money who somehow convinced their constituents of their blue collar commonsensical street credibility.

And there is cruel comedy in the reaction to this autocratic turn from the Neo-conservatives themselves, aghast at what has happened to their beloved Republican party, as if they played no part in the creation of an autocracy foisted on us by the brilliant use of mass media as putsch.

It helps, of course, that the mass class of both sides are wildly uninformed and deeply opinionated, willfully ignorant and woefully miseducated, both swathes committed to the classic “It’s only wrong when they do it” school of political science.

Ideological incoherence is the order of the day.

And despite the all too common to the point of banality accusation of “Whataboutism,” that ideological incoherence acts itself out in alarmingly parallel lines for the loudmouths of both extreme perspectives.

In tandem with that “If we do it, it’s okay” approach to critical thinking, both sides are fighting a war of memory, the left decrying a past they define as a Hell on Earth of oppressor and oppressed, the right waxing nostalgic over an Elysian Eden where everyone knew his place.

Both are censorious, selectively, of course.  The right burns books. The left bans books.

Both rewrite books to serve their respective agendas.

No indication of the USA as anything other than God’s gift to the world is acceptable to the right.

No language that might offend anyone, as if the protection from offense is constitutional, is the left’s perspective.

Both deploy an apocalyptic world view, albeit two world views with wildly different nightmare scenarios.

Not to mention, but mention I will, of course, the accusations of oversensitivity flying like Hamas and IDF rockets from either side.  There are few things more comical than a right wing thug, well versed in the sneer of that tiresome “Snowflake” bullshit, getting all weepy when his feelings are hurt, other than some entitled progressive dipshit having a PTSD conniption over a microaggression.

So, as noted above, I can understand and share with those apostates the discomfiting feeling that what had been an ideological home for my entire life had become unmoored, leaving me at sea as to where I might stand, to mix way too many metaphors, even for me.

My problem with all this, is that as much as I feel displaced and unrooted and left out to dry from an increasingly unbearable left, the right is another swarm of insufferable assholes in their own right.  And after all is said and done, after all the hypocritically religious bullshit is identified as no more than self-serving nonsense, and the self identified heroes of social justice are revealed to be completely and hypocritically selective in their morally performative struggle for inclusion, both sides are interested in one thing—the accrual of power.

And, to be abundantly clear, I am convinced that the right will win in this struggle for power, by dint of the simple fact that their message is more easily digested, delivered with a shmear, however much that patina may be the phoniest of baloney, of what appears to be common sense, and bereft of the passionate know it all condescension that has become the lingua Franca of the American left.

Perhaps significantly, many of those modern apostates mentioned above began their shift away from what had been their sociopolitical homes in reaction to the morally performative demonstrations of that side of the aisle.

I can dig it.  This is what brought on and continues to roil my distaste for what progressive politics have become.

But, as clearly noted, the other side is at least as repugnant to me as what I’ve left behind.

All this is to say that the zealous apostasy embraced by these sociopolitical shape shifters remains completely unavailable to me, a reality that leaves me as permanently adrift as I could have ever imagined.

And that doesn’t even begin to acknowledge being an October 8th Jew, as I seem to have become, with enough distaste for me and that club from which I can never resign coming from both sides of this dissonant equation.

More on this in the next screed.  Maybe.

Trust me on this.

As ever, I remain,

Howard Victor Chaykin, a prince…who, now and then, as per Stephen Sondheim, experiences Agony(!).

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