Whitewashing Communism for eco students

Bryan Caplan

A professor at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog, Bryan Caplan knows his stuff – his stuff being economics. And so last February, when we ran across a statement by him that his first encounter with eco textbooks proved many of them to be alarmingly “pro-communist,” we kept reading. Those books, he maintained, were “very positive relative to communism’s historical record” and their authors “seemed deeply ignorant of actual communism.” They were, in fact, “communist dupes,” spreading “a radically overoptimistic image of communism.”

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

Is this still the case? Now, a generation later, Caplan is helping his son, a high-school student, prep for an advanced-placement eco exam. The main text in the subject, Modern Principles of Economics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, gets good grades from Caplan: it “includes accurately horrifying details about life under communism.” But the test prep books are something else again. The Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Economics is “mostly a normal econ text,” but its account of Communism, Caplan says, is nothing less than “awful.” He takes it apart sentence by sentence: “Communism,” it states, “is a system designed to minimize imbalance in wealth via the collective ownership of property.” In fact, Caplan points out, collective ownership “was never primarily a means of ‘minimizing wealth imbalance’”; for Communist leaders, it was “an end in itself,” kept in place despite the fact that it “caused horrifying famines in the short-run, and low agricultural productivity in the long-run.”

Cowen and Tabarrok’s textbook: good on Communism

The Princeton Review prep book goes on: “Legislators from a single political party – the communist party – divide the available wealth for equal advantage among citizens.” Caplan’s comeback is blunt:

What actually happened under communism was rather different. Communist regimes began with the mass murder of their political enemies, businessmen, and their families. Next, they seized the peasants’ land, leading to hellish famines. In time, they launched major “industrialization” campaigns but obsessively focused on building up their militaries, not mass consumption. And no communist regime has ever tried to “divide wealth for equal advantage.” Bloodbaths aside, communist regimes always put Party members’ comfort above the very lives of ordinary citizens.

The Princeton Review’s book: not so good on Communism

The prep book goes on: “The problems with communism include a lack of incentives for extra effort, risk taking, and innovation.” Caplan’s reply: “Communist regimes did provide poor incentives to produce consumer goods for ordinary citizens. But they provided solid to excellent incentives in the sectors they really cared about: the military, secret police, border guarding, athletics, space programs, and so on.” Finally, Princeton had this to say: “The critical role of the central government in allocating resources and setting production levels makes this system particularly vulnerable to corruption.” Caplan: “Talk about praising with faint damnation. Never mind mass murder, famine, pathological militarism, and state-mandated favoritism for Party members. What’s really telling is that communism was ‘particularly vulnerable to corruption.’” What kind of a book “leaves students with the impression that corruption was communism’s chief defect”?

Annie Day, Commie stooge

Bob Avakian

On this site, we’ve profiled a few top members of the Revolutionary Communist Party – among them top cat Bob Avakian, perennial sidekick Carl Dix, and ever-devoted spokeswoman Sunsara Taylor. In doing so, however, we’ve neglected another major member of the Avakian crew: Annie Day. Last October, the party’s own website ran an in-depth interview with her – kind of like a magazine running an ad for itself. What emerged was a portrait of a woman who’s just as dedicated a member of the Avakian cult – for that’s what it is, a cult – as Sunsara Taylor herself.

Annie Day

Day was interviewed shortly after the launch of Avakian’s book The New Communism, and she was eager to talk about – okay, get ready for this – what a “powerful example of what difference it would make in the world and society if Bob Avakian’s work were known and engaged – the challenges that presents, the hope that inspires, the moral unity and outrage at the horrors that exist today, and also the deep inquiry into the source of the problem in the system of capitalism and the way out through making an actual revolution to get rid of all the oppressive and antagonistic divisions among people which cause so much unnecessary suffering today.”

Sansura Taylor

Phew. That’s the way these people talk, and it’s apparently the way they think – in these endless strings of windy clichés about challenge and hope and outrage and inquiry. And, of course, revolution. It’s not terribly illuminating. But what was rather interesting about the interview, although in an admittedly perverse way, was Day’s patently fanatic devotion to the goal of “project[ing] Avakian’s work throughout society,” her apparently sincere belief that Avakian had somehow accomplished a “new synthesis of communism” that represents “a breakthrough for humanity.”

Day called Avakian “the Karl Marx of our time” and described his “new synthesis of communism” as “a revolution in human thought” and “a whole different framework, scientifically grounded, for human emancipation” that should be “known, engaged, and debated in every corner of society, yes, all around the world.” Every problem in the world, every kind of suffering in the world, maintained Day, can be explained – and fixed – by Avakian’s analysis and by his “new synthesis of communism” which is “a real storehouse for humanity.”

Carl Dix

Who is Annie Day? In an article for Harpers published in February of last year, Garret Keizer reported on a 2014 RCP event at which Avakian spoke. The next day he met for breakfast with Day. He described her as “focused, upbeat, and kind,” and attributed these characteristics to “the serenity common to people so radically committed that they no longer need an attitude to convince themselves they’re real.” Day, wrote Keizer, was now in her 30s and been an RCP member since age 19. How did she become a Communist? “One evening she heard a woman speak at Revolution Books about going to Shanghai ‘when China was socialist’ and walking the streets at night without fear. The remark was an epiphany for Annie. ‘So much of my life had been about walking home.’” In other words, while Mao was executing millions of innocent people, the streets of Shanghai were safe to walk at night. And so a Communist was born.  

Communism? Peachy! Oscars mixup? A horror!

Shirley MacLaine

“Legendary screen star reveals that they are both ‘still processing the horror of it.’” The headline appeared in the Daily Mail in March. The “screen star” referred to is Shirley MacLaine. The other person embraced by the word “both” is her brother, Warren Beatty, who of course is also a screen star.

Here’s the actual quote from MacLaine: “I think we’re all processing the horror of it. I’m still dealing with it.” She added: “We know how difficult it was for him, but it was also for me.” The reporter, Chris Spargo, reports that “MacLaine could be seen gasping, covering her mouth in shock and then clutching her chest.”

Warren Beatty in “Reds”

What “horror” were they still processing?

Now, as it happens, we’ve written about both MacLaine and Beatty on this site. MacLaine, as it happens, was one of the few Americans to gain access to Communist China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. This was in 1973, at which point that nightmarish chapter of history had been going on for seven years. It involved the murder by the authorities of millions of people who were considered, for some reason or other, to be counter-revolutionaries. During the entire period, all but a tiny minority of the Chinese people lived in a constant state of terror. Who would be the next victim? Would the men come knocking at our door in the middle of the night and take one of us away forever? Which one?

Mao Zedong

MacLaine was there in the midst of it all. Filming what she saw. And she returned to the U.S. with a documentary that might have been made by Mao himself – or by Leni Riefenstahl. It was as splendid a work of propaganda for Maoism as one could imagine. Entitled The Other Side of the Sky, it tried to demonstrate certain propositions in which MacLaine actually believed – namely, that Chinese women were more liberated, more equal, than American women; that China lacked “social friction” and was awash in a sense of “brotherhood”, that everyone there was committed “to working for the common good.” The film won an Oscar nomination.

Vladimir Lenin

Beatty has also promoted totalitarianism. The 1981 movie Reds, which he directed, co-wrote, and starred in, was described by one reviewer as an “homage, of sorts, to the Russian Revolution.” A trailer represented it as the story of a “fight for freedom” and a timely challenge to “conservative politics” – the point being that Lenin, alongside Reagan, was benign. Reds, which celebrated a regime that killed more people than any other in human history except for the one applauded by his sister in The Other Side of the Sky, nabbed Beatty an Oscar for Best Director.

So obviously MacLaine didn’t consider Maoism a horror. And Beatty wouldn’t use that word to describe Leninism, either. So what “horror,” then, was MacLaine referring to in that Daily Mail article?

The horror! The horror!

Why, it was that moment of confusion at the end of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, when Beatty and Faye Dunaway at first mistakenly presented the Best Picture statuettes to La La Land rather than to Moonlight. Days after the mixup, MacLaine was still pondering it. “I’m basically a mystic,” she told the Mail. “And I’m wondering what was that all about? And I am not sure yet. I have to think about it some more.” One wonders how much thought she’s ever given to that slightly bigger mixup for which she was primarily responsible – namely, the representation of Mao’s China in a major film as a paradise rather than a hell on earth.

I.F. Stone, journalist hero – and KGB spy

I. F. Stone

On this site we’ve discussed Oliver Stone and Sharon Stone, but one Stone we haven’t yet gotten around to is the journalist I.F. Stone (1907-89). Which is odd, because this particular Stone could very well have been the mascot of this website, a dubious honor we awarded at the outset to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent who systematically whitewashed Stalin’s crimes and sang his praises in America’s newspaper of record.

It is no exaggeration to say that Stone was revered. In 1999, New York University’s journalism department named his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which he published from 1953 to 1971, the second most important American journalistic periodical of the twentieth century. In 2008, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University began awarding the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.

Independence: that was the word they invariably used when describing Stone. That, and words like “rectitude” and “probity.” His New York Times obituary began as follows: “I. F. Stone, the independent, radical pamphleteer of American journalism….” It went on to call him a “maverick” and praise his “integrity.” The London Times entitled its obituary “I.F. Stone: Spirit of America’s Independent Journalism”; the headline in the Los Angeles Times obit called him “The Conscience of Investigative Journalism.” A posthumous editorial in the Boston Globe began with this statement: “For thousands of American journalists, I.F. Stone represented an ideal.”

In fact, he was a KGB spy.

A brief bio: the son of Russian immigrants (his birth name was Isidor Feinstein), Stone quit college to become a journalist. He served for a time as editor of the New York Post, then worked as a staffer and/or contributor to The Nation, New Republic, PM, and other left-wing political journals before starting his own weekly. Throughout his long career, he was known for his strong leftist leanings.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, he was an ardent supporter of the newly born State of Israel, but later became one of its fiercest critics and an outspoken champion of the Palestinian cause. He was also a vocal opponent of the Korean War and Vietnam War. Nobody who read his work could mistake him for anything but a far leftist with (usually) an obvious soft spot for the Soviet Union.

John Earl Haynes

All along, a few canny observers suspected that Stone was working for the Kremlin. In 1992, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, credible-sounding reports began circulating to the effect that Stone had been a KGB man. John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev finally coughed up the goods in their 2009 book Spies, about KGB operatives in America. Stone, it turned out, had been on the Kremlin’s payroll as a full-fledged spy beginning in 1936 and ending perhaps in 1938, perhaps several years later. (On this question the records have yet to yield a definitive answer.) “Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks,” wrote Haynes and his co-authors, “ranging from doing some talent spotting acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data the KGB found interesting.”

In other words, this widely venerated pillar of integrity and personification of independence was in fact a secret Kremlin operative. Spies established this fact beyond question in 2009. It is interesting to note that this information has not made much of a dent in Stone’s reputation among true believers on the left. Harvard did not change the name of its medal for journalistic independence, and none of the people who have won the award since 2009 have declined to accept it.

Then again, many of those winners – including Putin apologist Robert Parry, socialist radio host Amy Goodman, and Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky – are precisely the sort of “journalists” who wouldn’t much mind having their name associated with that of a Soviet spy. Which is precisely why we’re here at this website, writing about these unpleasant people and their unpleasant antics day after day.  

Red Redgrave’s comeuppance

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Redgrave in Playing for Time

Not long after Vanessa Redgrave’s 1978 Oscar debacle, which we discussed yesterday, came another controversy: she played a real-life Jewish concentration-camp survivor, Fania Fénelon, in a CBS-TV movie, Playing for Time. Many Jews, including Fénelon herself, objected to Redgrave’s selection to play the part; Sammy Davis Jr. memorably said that it was “like me playing the head of the Ku Klux Klan.” (She won an Emmy for her performance.)

In the years since, Redgrave has remained a devout Marxist. In her 1994 autobiography, she wrote that she was still “absolutely convinced of the necessity of Marxism, and not for a single day has this conviction been shaken.” She’s also continued to be a generous supporter of Islamic terrorism. In 2002, she paid £50,000 bail for Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen who was accused by the Russian government of involvement in terrorist acts, including that year’s Moscow theater hostage crisis; in 2007, she helped pay bail for a terrorist who’d been arrested immediately upon returning to Britain after his release from Guantánamo.

Jeremy Corbyn

In a 2015 interview, Redgrave celebrated the election of the Marxist Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in Britain, calling it the “English Spring.” (She may be a Commie, but she’s still enough of an upper-class, far-left English snob of the Sidney and Beatrice Webb/Bloomsbury type to all but ignore the existence of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.)

Redgrave, by the way, didn’t get the last word at the 1978 Oscar telecast we discussed yesterday. Some time after her acceptance speech, in what would become a famous moment in showbiz history, legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky (Marty, Network) took the stage to present the awards for best original and adapted scripts. He began by saying the following:

Before I get on to the writing awards, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up – at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.

I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple “thank you” would have sufficed.

Chayevsky’s remarks about Redgrave were received by the audience with immense enthusiasm. (Among those who can be seen applauding lustily in the You Tube clip are Chayevsky’s fellow writers – and fellow Jews – Neil Simon and Arthur Laurents, the latter of whom had actually been a victim of the blacklist; conspicuously not applauding was Shirley MacLaine, whose own fondness for Communism we examined on this site in 2015.) In these times, however, when more and more Hollywood luminaries are loath to criticize Islamic terror but quick to demonize the only democracy in the Middle East, we can’t help but wonder how one of today’s Oscar audiences would respond to a speech like Redgrave’s and to comments like Chayevsky’s.

 

Vanessa Redgrave’s hatred for “Zionist hoodlums”

vanessa-redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave

Though Vanessa Redgrave is one of the world’s great actresses of stage and screen, and a member of the most renowned acting dynasty ever, she’s at least as well known for her politics as for her performances. The most famous moment of her career is still the speech she gave in 1978 upon winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her title role in Julia. Redgrave was already famous for her outspoken Marxism, her support for the PLO, and her hostility toward Israel, and she had just produced and narrated an anti-Israel documentary, The Palestinian, which had caused outrage among many American Jews. As a newspaper profile would point out many years later, by the time of that award ceremony her “reputation for hectoring radicalism had made her widely disliked.”

After being handed her Oscar by John Travolta, Redgrave expressed thanks for the honor and praised her co-star, Jane Fonda, and her director, Fred Zinneman. She then thanked the audience – or, at least, the Academy members present who had cast their ballots for her – for having “stood firm” and “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.”

At the sound of the words “Zionist hoodlums” there were audible gasps from the audience – followed by a good deal of booing. Unruffled, Redgrave went on to maintain that by giving her the Best Supporting Actress nod, Academy voters had “dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in.” In other words, by choosing to present that golden statuette to Redgrave rather than to one of her fellow nominees (Leslie Browne, Quinn Cummings, Melinda Dillon, and Tuesday Weld), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had finally brought the age of McCarthyism to an end.

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Redgrave and her brother Corin at an London antiwar rally in 1968

It was, all in all, a high point in the history of show-business vanity, self-importance, ideological hectoring, and moral posturing. And it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Just a few years earlier, Redgrave and her brother Corin had joined a radical British faction called the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and had immediately become its most famous and influential members. Corin had even bought a house in Derbyshire for the party to use as a training camp. Over the next few years, the WRP developed close ties to Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya, took money from him, and engaged in espionage on his behalf. The party also accepted payments from Saddam Hussein, on whose behalf its members photographed participants in demonstrations against Saddam’s regime. All this happened with the knowledge and approval of Vanessa Redgrave, who was twice an WRP candidate for for Parliament.

More tomorrow.

A great mom – and a great Commie

On May 13, only two weeks after the New York Times ran a sentimental op-ed by Vivian Gornick about the good old days of American Stalinism (which we looked at yesterday), the editors of the Newspaper of Record – which has spent the last few months comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, Mussolini, and every other fascist it can think of – decided it was time for another piece eulogizing Communism.

Peter Andreas

Under the headline “Thanks to Mom, the Marxist Revolutionary,” Peter Andreas, a professor of political science at Brown, served up a cozy Mother’s Day tribute to his mom, “a 1950s Mennonite housewife from Kansas who became a 1960s radical promoting the overthrow of patriarchy and capitalism.” (The contributor’s note identifies him as the author of Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution, and presumably this piece is an excerpt from the book.)

Cover of Andreas’s book, including a photo of him with his mother

Andreas informs us that during the years when he was of elementary-school age (it isn’t clear exactly much time he actually spent in school), his mother took him to Detroit, to “a Berkeley commune,” to “a socialist collective farm in Chile,” to “the coastal shantytowns of Peru,” and to the slums of Ecuador. She let him “play with a loaded gun” because it was “good training for the revolution.”

And, for her, that’s what it was all about: “the revolution.”

At some point, she divorced his dad, and after “a bitter court battle”– the particulars of which Andreas doesn’t go into – the dad won sole custody of him, which at the time was so extremely unusual that she must’ve really been one hell of a lousy mother. Andreas also mentions in passing her dodging of “arrest warrants,” but doesn’t go into detail about them, either. What crimes did she commit? One offense he does tell us about is that after losing custody of him, she defied the judge’s order and took her son out of the country.

She “joined street protests and picket lines, and wrote passionately about the oppression of the poor and powerless. With me by her side, we battled the bad ‘isms’ (imperialism, fascism, sexism and consumerism) and we fought for the good ones (communism, feminism and egalitarianism). When we secretly returned to the United States, we lived in hiding in Denver, where my mother changed her name so that my father could not find us.”

He admits that all this running around and living in hiding took its toll on him. Though he “enjoyed feeling like I was part of a cause, even if I had only a vague sense of what that meant,” he “hungered for stability.” When he didn’t grow up into a radical, she grieved over his “betrayal of class struggle.” As for her parenting skills, she thought she was a terrific mother – she was bringing her son up to be a servant of the revolution, and if she had let him grow up with his father in a more stable environment she’d have been, in her mind, exhibiting disloyalty to the revolution. As Andreas puts it, his mother “saw her rejection of traditional ‘good mothering’ – constrained by the nuclear family and the creature comforts of capitalism – as proof itself that she was a good mother.”

Andreas admits that he is raising his own daughters “very differently” from the way he was raised. “And yet,” he concludes, “I would not trade my life with her for a thousand ‘normal’ childhoods. My mother’s approach to parenting was deeply rooted in her commitment to transformative social change.” She exposed him to “the world’s enormous inequalities” and gave him “a passion for politics” and a “devotion to creating a more just world.” A commitment to transformative social change; a devotion to creating a just world: such is the twisted language that so many Times contributors and academics routinely use to describe a fanatical dedication to a totalitarian system that killed more people than Nazism.

Who exactly was Peter Andreas’s mother? Curiously enough, he doesn’t mention her name in the article. But her name was Carol Andreas, and we’ll learn more about her tomorrow, from sources other than her son.