Whatever the precise current branding of Christopher Hitchens, he does have in common with many of the neo-cons who hang round the Bush regime a past in Trotskyism. And, for reasons that have only partly to do with Trotsky, ex-Trots are often cheerily amoral in their approach to achieving whatever ends they now regard as worthwhile.
During the Bolshevik Revolution, Trotsky did, in 'Their Morality and Ours', offer a Machiavellian justification for tactical amorality; like Machiavelli, he assumed that people would always retain a strategic moral sense and be able to return to it after exercising terror in a good cause. And he had a case - after all, the starving and desperate have rights just the same as haemophiliac princelings; scrupulous concern for all those rights can look, in the phrase of Tom Paine about reactions to the imprisonment of Marie Antoinette, like pitying the plumage and forgetting the dying bird.
Like Machiavelli with Cesar Borgia, Trotsky seriously underestimated the difficulty of putting the Party's real hard men - Stalin, for example, in his early days as Koba robbed banks for the Revolution - back in the box. At least Trotsky, particularly in his last days of defeat, realized that perhaps he had got it wrong some of the time, that perhaps some tactics were never useful. Isaac Deutscher says so, anyway.
Tom Paine, of course, ended up in a condemned cell himself for opposing the execution of the King and Queen of France.
(There is a good story there. The prison where he was being held was so hot and so well-guarded that his cell-mates got permission to have the door open. In the evening, guards came round and chalked the names for next morning's tumbril on the doors; an hour or so before the execution party turned up, Paine's cell-mates simply pulled the door shut, leaving his name on the inside. By the time the confusion got sorted out, a couple of days later, the Jacobins had fallen and the Terror was over.)
I remember, back in the late 60s, being at a meeting with a number of the comrades at which we were discussing the prospects of a Student Union at Oxford. 'I want a proper Union,' one of them said.' with proper discipline. So that we can saw scabs legs off.'
His comrades shushed him, but I think the issue was less what he was saying than the tactlessness of saying it in front of the likes of e.g. me.
Brecht talks about how 'we who wanted kindness/could not afford to be kind.' That old crypto- fash Yeats, who knew a thing or two, said that 'too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.' The cult of revolutionary hardness corrupts successful revolutions; it also corrupts unsuccessful revolutionaries.
This may be a slightly ponderous way of leading into the revelation that the current leadership of the Socialist Worker's Party, particularly in their role as power brokers in the Socialist Alliance - which for a while really was not an SWP front - and the peace movement, have decided to make a tactical alliance with the mosques. And have accordingly decided to de-emphasize women's rights and gay rights.
Now, this comes as rather a shock to many of my friends who are, or have been, SWP comrades, and who have always been very keen to stress the touchy-feely human rights agenda that the SWP pushed for many years as a way of finding and converting recruits. An agenda not especially consistent with Leninism, but so it goes.
Some of my other friends always thought it rather cute to have so many straight SWP boys marching at Pride because a lot of them were hunky and a boy could dream. Conversion is, after all, a two-way street.
An older generation, like me, remembered how hostile the SWP in its earlier incarnation as International Socialism was to homosexuality among its own membership - a bourgeois deviation which would disappear under socialism, as I mentioned the other day - and how concerned they were that personal politics, like the Gay Liberation Front, or feminism, would distract energy from the real struggle.
Going to gay discos or consciousness-raising groups was, after all, rather more fund than turning out to sell newspapers to the early shift at factories.
When SWP leaders like John Rees and Lindsay German announce that women's rights and gay rights must not be 'shibboleths' that stand in the way of working with the mosques, they are only exercising that cynicism and moral brutality which has so often been the default setting of Party leaderships.
And which somehow stays part of the mindset of former cadres when they move on to other things.