As the happy marriage of neoconservatives and Obama-era humanitarian interventionists continues to flourish in defense of American permanent war deployments around the globe, it is a worthwhile moment to recall the roots of the neocons in the old left of the 1930s. Neocon founders like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Max Schachtman, Seymour Martin Lipset, Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, and Gertrude Himmelfarb were all anti-Soviet socialists from the 1930s, many of whom were followers of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky broke with Stalin in the late 1930s over his emphasis on permanent world socialist revolution, as Stalin concentrated on the consolidation of "socialist in one country"–the USSR.
From the 1950s, the anti-Soviet fervor of these New York City-based intellectuals prompted support for the early United States intervention in Vietnam. In the 1970s, the Socialist Party split up as some factions aligned with the New Left. The neocons formed the Social Democrats USA (SDUSA), only later abandoning their socialist party-building in favor of penetrating both the Democratic and Republican parties. In the 1970s, Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Representative William Hughes hired some leading second-generation neocons as foreign policy staffers, beginning a long, steady penetration of key Congressional committees.
At the Gerald Ford White House, successive chiefs of staff Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney organized a series of "intellectual seminars" by Irving Kristol, further spreading neocon ideology within the foreign policy establishment. As Defense Secretary and later as Vice President, Cheney continued to promote neocons to key posts and to advocate for neocon permanent warfare.
Early in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan launched "Project Democracy," to spread democracy around the globe through well-funded programs including the National Endowment for Democracy, led by Carl Gershman, who has headed the NED since its founding in 1984 through to the present. Gershman was previously Executive Director of Social Democrats USA. NED has been a stronghold of neocons from its inception.
While the anti-Soviet outlook of the neocons continued even after the Berlin Wall and the fall of Soviet communism, the focus increasingly was on permanent warfare to promote democracy around the globe.
Does the permanent warfare of today's neocons differ in any real way from the Trotsky idea of permanent world revolution? Socialism has been replaced by democracy-promotion but that difference is small, particularly as the consequences continue to play out on the world stage.