The PJ Tatler

Hitchens on Trial

Richard Seymour, a British Marxist writer who runs a blog called Lenin’s Tomb (with himself cast as Vladimir Ilyich), has mounted a campaign against the legacy of Christopher Hitchens, authoring a book called Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, among other shorter pieces aimed at showing that Hitchens was nothing but an apologist for “empire.” By now, such a verdict — reached, in true kangaroo court-like fashion, in every such “trial” — should be familiar to readers.

In case it isn’t, however, it helps to be prepared for the type of “evidence” likely to be brought against you if you ever face a radical indictment. Seymour gives us a taste of his views in a recent piece in the Guardian–because, let’s face it, finding books published by Verso on our local shelves can be a bit challenging:

“The episodes in Hitchens’s shift to the right are well-known: the Rushdie affair, the Bosnia wars, the skirmishes with the Clinton White House and finally 9/11. The main conclusions that Hitchens drew from these were that religion, and specifically Islam, was an underestimated force for evil in world affairs, that the US empire could be a countervailing force for good, and that the left had become detached from any international working-class movement capable of challenging capitalism, and was on the wrong side of history.”

By implication, then, Seymour considers opposing the Ayatollah Khomeini’s murder contract on Salman Rushdie to be an exclusively “right-wing” position (even though the right, including George H.W. Bush, had almost nothing to say on the matter at the time). Am I to take it, then, that Seymour thinks that contracts put out on writers by religious dictators is something about which one needs to keep quiet, lest one be seen as “conservative”?

Seymour also apparently considers speaking out against ethnic cleansing in the Balkans to be a “right-wing” position: again, it was something that many on both the right and the left ignored at the time and have either ignored or justified since. You’ll still find people on both sides who either reserve kind words for Slobodan Milosevic or who express “doubt” or “skepticism” about the “official” narrative. Some on the left, like Michael Parenti and Edward Herman, have even denied that mass murders took place at Srebrenica. (Herman has taken his own idiocy further and written that Rwanda was basically a put-up job by the Western capitalist press). Seymour himself, in a book unironically entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder, seems to regard harsh criticism of Milosevic as an exclusively neoconservative phenomenon; thus he is reserved in his own condemnation. The mind of a radical can never separate recognizing foreign crimes from advocating military intervention to stop those crimes. For these people, it is never enough to argue that intervention is wrong; they must always claim that there is no impetus for intervention in the first place. A true anti-interventionist, as Marko Attilla Hoare has written, will argue against military action even as he recognizes the crimes taking place.

Note, too, that opposing Bill Clinton, a serial liar and sex offender, is also something that, according to Seymour, only someone of a conservative persuasion could undertake. This made me chuckle. Does Seymour, then, a self-identified radical leftist, support Clinton? Of course not. The radical left hates Clinton, and has always hated Clinton; in fact, Hitchens’s original criticisms of Bill were premised on the idea that the president was too conservative, according to his then-understanding of the term: the rocketing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, welfare reform, the bombing of Iraq in 1993 and 1998, “the era of big government is over,” etc. I’m willing to bet my pocket-watch collection that Seymour despises Clinton for the reasons I just cited, assuming he knows about them. Why, then, include hatred of Clinton as part of Hitchens’s “right” turn? If Seymour hates Clinton, is he also not a “conservative,” or at least someone in the midst of a “right turn”? Should he be on trial along with Hitchens?

Naturally, no. Because being a radical means you can adopt any position at will, so long as it serves the meta-narrative (in however vague, roundabout, or inconsistent a way) that the West is uniquely guilty of extraordinary crimes. When Saddam Hussein was Donald Rumsfeld’s buddy in the early 1980s, the radical left could be relied on to point out the crimes of the Ba’athist state and to remind everyone that the Kurds were as dispossessed as their beloved Palestinians. This changed when Bush Sr. pushed for an international consensus to kick Hussein out of Kuwait. All of a sudden, Hussein was transformed, as Milosevic later would be, into a poor, helpless victim of imperialism. The Kurds, who supported Desert Storm, became instant imperialist dupes.

Lastly, it is interesting to hear a Marxist-Leninist cite Hitchens’s hatred of religion as one of his character defects.  I will once again bet my pocket-watch collection that this is only because Islam, a religion mainly of darker-skinned individuals, tasted Hitchens’s wrath as much as Christianity. The idiotic cult of Marxism can no more question the culture of “minorities” as it can repudiate its obsession with seizing the “means of production.”

I am waiting to get my hands on a copy of Seymour’s new book to see whether these obvious inanities resolve themselves in long form. I have little hope that they will, as Marxist show trials historically have had only scant regard for the rigors of true dialectic.