A Hobsbawm hagiography

E.J. Hobsbawm

Back in 2016 we spent five full days on the British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, who had died four years earlier at the age of 95. As we noted then, Hobsbawm’s demise was followed by a tsunami of praise. In the Guardian he was described as “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind”; the New Yorker called him “refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged,” a man who “was in it to change the world.” The Independent told its readers that he was “one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century.”

The obituarists for these and other prominent media did not ignore the fact that Hobsbawm was a lifelong Communist – a passionate admirer and fierce defender of Stalin who even, in a 1994 TV interview, expressed support for Stalin’s murder of millions. What they did was find ways to minimize it, or excuse it, or even praise it. One necrologist spoke of Hobsbawm’s “Marxist ideals.” Another depicted him as a victim of anti-Communist prejudice. Can you imagine any of these publications referring seriously to “Nazi ideals” or “anti-Nazi prejudice”?

A.N. Wilson

The novelist A.N. Wilson was almost alone in explicitly condemning Hobsbawm for his politics, pointing out that “if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews….We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public.” But what happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? As we wrote in 2016: “His career soared. He was offered (but rejected) a knighthood. Later he accepted from Tony Blair the title Companion of Honour. Oxford gave him a prize worth half a million pounds. As Hobsbawm got older, the media increasingly described him as the country’s greatest living historian. All this despite the fact, as Wilson pointed out, that Hobsbawm never learned the lessons of the century he had lived through.” Nor was he even a good historian: his books, as Wilson bluntly put it, were Communist propaganda. He “quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40.” He was silent on the Katyn massacre, in which the Soviets murdered 20,000 Polish soldiers. And he “deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties” and “the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945.”

Richard J. Evans

If we’re returning now to the subject of Hobsbawm, it’s because another famous historian, Richard J. Evans, FBA, FRSL, FRHistS, FLSW, has published an 800-page biography of him. Evans is best known for his three-volume history of the Third Reich – which has been described as definitive – and for his court testimony defending a writer’s characterization of David Irving as a Holocaust denier. In all his writings on Hitler’s regime, Evans has made it clear that he is not a fan. He sees Nazism for the evil that it is. He does not buy into the notion that, in writing about a Nazi, you can set aside his Nazi beliefs, or contextualize them or relativize them, depicting them as just a minor or incidental part of his personal makeup. You can’t conclude that, his Nazi convictions notwithstanding, the most important thing about him is that he was a devoted husband and father, a good friend and neighbor, a man who loved his pets and was, as the British say, clubbable. No, a Nazi is, first and last, a Nazi. Evans understands that.

David Pryce-Jones

Confronted with the case of Hobsbawm and Hobsbawm’s Communism, however, Evans is able to take a totally different approach. In a blistering review of Evans’s book for the June issue of the New Criterion, yet another historian, David Pryce-Jones (who, as it happens, is also an FRSL), laments that Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History makes Evans “look either a dupe or a fool of the higher sort, in any case earning him a reputation no historian would want to have.” Describing Hobsbawm as “the foremost Communist apologist in the Britain of his day,” Pryce-Jones observes that if Hobsbawm had been a Nazi, “Evans surely would have thrown his doctrine back into his face. Instead, he defends the indefensible with this hagiography.” Although Hobsbawm, after joining the Communist Party as a student at Cambridge, “never deviated from the Party line,” Evans “can still write this utter absurdity: ‘there was no sense in which [Hobsbawm] was an active or committed member of the Party.”

Josef Stalin

As for Hobsbawm the man, Pryce-Jones, who is now 93 and who actually knew Hobsbawm, provides a valuable corrective: “In my experience, Hobsbawm was nothing like the genial and popular figure depicted by Evans.” At one dinner they both attended, Hobsbawm sang the praises of Castro’s Cuba; another dinner guest, a former British ambassador to Cuba, demurred, providing chapter and verse on Cuban perfidy, but to no avail. “All American propaganda, according to Hobsbawm.” There was more: Hobsbawm and Pryce-Jones just happened to be neighbors in a certain Welsh village, where, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hobsbawm, like any half-mad local crank, “would stop to tell me at the top of his voice with expletives in front of surprised farmers how superior Communism was to the nationalism that replaced it.” Pryce-Jones concludes by underscoring a point that is somehow missed by people like Evans and the writers of Hobsbawm’s admiring obituaries: namely, that this was a man who, if the Soviets had conquered Britain and given him the power to do so, would have ordered them all sent to their deaths.

Those adorable Communists

In late June, when the Guardian sent a reporter to cover the annual convention of the Communist Party USA, the article that resulted was surprisingly sympathetic. No, let’s revise that a bit: the level of sympathy would have been surprising had the piece appeared in some other British newspaper – say, the Telegraph or the Times. But it would probably be naïve to be surprised by a friendly account of a CPUSA clambake in the Guardian.

Written by one Eric Lutz, the article said nothing particularly negative about the party or its ideology. On the contrary, Lutz seemed to strive to present the CPUSA as a longtime victim of unfair prejudice. The subhead, for example, noted that the party had been “derided and feared for 100 years.” The first sentence called the party “one of American politics[’] biggest historical bogeymen.” Lutz quoted, without comment, a line from a CPUSA official’s convention speech in which he assured America that “the [C]ommunist [P]arty isn’t out to hurt you….It will set you free.”

Moreover, Lutz seemed pleased to be able to state that the party was looking to “a brighter future…at a moment in American politics in which democratic socialism and progressive ideas are increasingly finding a home in the mainstream of the Democratic party.” And when he reported that convention delegates “sought to send the message that their party has been the most consistent champion of [progressive] ideas [and] has been on the right side of some of the most consequential ideological battles of the last hundred years,” there was no indication whatsoever that Lutz wasn’t totally convinced. Neither he nor his editors found it necessary to remind readers of the hundreds of millions of human lives snuffed out by murderous twentieth-century Communist regimes. In a time when the vast majority of mainstream news media in the U.S. and Britain seem incapable of reporting on Donald Trump or the Republican Party or Brexit voters without a condescending sneer, there was not a whiff of skepticism in Lutz’s report on the American Communists.

Far from it. Apparently to show that Communists have been in the vanguard of the advancement of black Americans, Lutz noted that the father of one convention speaker, Pepe Lozano, had “rallied Mexican and Puerto Rican voters to support Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor” in the 1980s. Lutz went on to quote, again without a hint of doubt or dispute, Lozano’s claim that the CPUSA had played a major role in “profound American struggles for democracy.” For anyone who knows anything about the subject, the very idea that American Communists ever sought to advance democracy is obscene on the face of it. Whole books – extremely well documented books, some of them based on Soviet archives – have vividly shown just how thoroughly controlled the Cold War-era CPUSA was by the Kremlin and just how determined the party was to crush liberty and destroy its enemies. For the Guardian to drop all these facts down the memory hole is disgraceful.

“Communism,” wrote Lutz, “has long been regarded with fear in the US, viewed as antithetical to American values and democracy.” The implication here, of course, is that Communism isn’t antithetical to American values and democracy. What to say about the fact that a sentence like this could appear, in the year 2019, in a major British daily? Is Lutz a fool or a liar? “[I]t can be striking,” he observed, “to hear Americans openly discuss their support for communism.” Not “appalling”; not “disgusting”; not “vomit-inducing” – no, “striking.” Imagine a writer for any major conservative newspaper reporting on a neo-Nazi rally in this way. Nazism is – as it should be – beyond the pale. Why does Communism – an equally evil totalitarian ideology, and one that caused even more deaths than Nazism did – still get this kid-glove treatment?

The man who was America’s “most dangerous Communist”

Herbert Aptheker

Very few members of the general public remember him now, but in his time Herbert Aptheker (1915 – 2003) was a very big deal indeed, and to this day he is a revered figure in the academy. He is considered a pioneer in the historical study of slavery in America – more broadly, in the general history of black Americans, and, more narrowly, in the history of slave revolts.

But he was not just a scholar. He was a devout Communist. David Horowitz called him “the Communist Party’s most prominent Cold War intellectual.” J. Edgar Hoover once said that the FBI considered Aptheker “the most dangerous Communist in the United States.” In 2015, Harvey Klehr, the historian of American Communism and of Soviet spying in the US, described him as “an ideological fanatic who squandered his talents as a historian, gave slavish devotion to a monstrous regime, and lacked the intellectual courage to say publicly what he wrote privately.”

Harvey Klehr

Indeed, as Klehr noted, Aptheker “joined the American Communist party (CPUSA) in August 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact, just as thousands of other disillusioned Jewish Communists were leaving.” And good Stalinist that he was, he parroted Uncle Joe’s calls for peace with Germany and, when the Nazis violated the pact in 1941 by invading the USSR, immediately reversed his position, calling for the US to fight shoulder to shoulder with the USSR and UK.

Aptheker’s whole adult life revolved around the CPUSA. As a student he was active in CPUSA front organizations, taught at the CPUSA’s New York Workers School, and was a regular reader of the CPUSA’s Daily Worker and New Masses and a contributor to other CPUSA rags. After the war, in which he fought on the European front, Aptheker settled in the American South, becoming an “education worker” (which is something like a “community organizer”) and working for yet another CPUSA front. From 1948 to 1953 he was a staffer at the CPUSA’s literary journal, Masses and Mainstream; from 1953 to 1963 he edited the CPUSA’s ideological monthly, Political Affairs; and from 1957 to 1991, he was a member of the CPUSA’s national committee, on which he was considered was the party’s leading “theoretician.”

Aptheker, Hayden, and other Hanoi travel companions

While the USSR lasted, nothing shook his devotion to it. He was always prepared to defend Stalin’s atrocities, and when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956, he wrote a book justifying the invasion. He also penned a defense of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. If the Kremlin was incapable of doing anything of which Aptheker would not approve, the U.S., in his view, could do no right. For him, the Marshall Plan amounted to “renazification.” And of course the Vietnam War was, in his eyes, a pure act of imperialist aggression. In 1966 he and Tom Hayden – the California radical who was then Jane Fonda’s husband – made “solidarity” trips to Hanoi and Beijing.

Eldridge Cleaver

In 1966, while remaining a CPUSA stalwart, Aptheker ran for Congress as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, whose candidate for president of the U.S., two years later, was Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther leader and convicted rapist who would later become involved in a shootout with Oakland police and flee the country to escape a murder rap.

Eugene Genovese

Under the pro-Marxist dispensation on post-Vietnam American campuses, Aptheker’s academic career thrived: he taught at Bryn Mawr, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, at CUNY, at Yale, at Berkeley, and at Humboldt University in Berlin. Yet he should never have been considered a serious historian: he consistently twisted or suppressed or invented facts to suit his ideological purposes. (Recall that a habit of focusing on the worst of America, including its history of slavery, was a key CPUSA activity.) Klehr acknowledges that “Aptheker deserves credit as a pioneer in the field of African-American studies,” but notes that “his work later came under sustained attack by far more accomplished historians who argued that he had overemphasized the significance of slave revolts and misjudged the militancy of most slaves. Even his fellow Marxist, Eugene Genovese, who praised Aptheker and sought to integrate him into the historical profession, offered a devastating critique of his thesis.”

Bettina Aptheker

Aptheker did not quit the CPUSA until after the Soviet Union had fallen, leaving him without a lodestar. To be sure, once the USSR was dead, and exposed to the world as, indeed, an Evil Empire, he felt obliged to cough up a few public recriminations, admitting, for example, that the CPUSA (contrary to his decades-long claims) had always been controlled and funded by the Kremlin. “In short,” wrote Klehr, “he confirmed much of what the ‘right-wing reactionaries’ had said about the CPUSA and the Soviet Union for decades.”

There was more. After his death, in 2003, it emerged that this man who had spent most of his life celebrating a monstrous tyranny had himself, in his private life, been a monster: his daughter, Bettina, in a memoir, revealed that he had sexually abused her from the time she was a three-year-old toddler until she was thirteen years old.

Evil takes a variety of forms.

“Democratic socialist”? Nonsense.

Bernie Sanders

It was never a secret that Bernie Sanders was a socialist. In college he belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League. After graduating he lived on an Israeli kibbutz that flew a red flag and was founded by Stalinists. During his unsuccessful 1970s runs for the U.S. Senate and for Governor of Vermont, he called for the nationalization of all banks and utilities. Later he produced “radical film strips,” i.e. propaganda, for distribution to schools and made a hagiographic documentary about Socialist icon Eugene V. Debs.

Noam Chomsky

Finally managing to get elected to public office, he served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989, during which time he openly identified as a socialist, established price controls, hosted a foreign-policy speech by Noam Chomsky, made life difficult for local business people with his chronic hostility to free enterprise, worked with the Soviets and East Germans to defeat Reagan’s military build-up, went to Nicaragua to attend a celebration of the Sandinista government, visited Cuba, publicly praised Fidel Castro, and honeymooned in the USSR.

In 1990 he ran for the U.S. House on the Socialist ticket and won, becoming the only Socialist in Congress. During most of his tenure in the House and then in the Senate, he was a voice for radical-left ideas but, until his run for present in 2016, maintained a relatively low national profile, although he did promote and support measures to cut the U.S. intelligence budget, praised the socialist regimes in Venezuela and Ecuador, and became the first U.S. Senator to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Fidel Castro

Yet despite his radicalism, and despite his lifelong acknowledgement that he is a socialist, Sanders has always called himself a “democratic socialist,” a term which is plainly intended to distinguish him from out-and-out Communists. At a TV forum in April, he told a questioner that he never supported the Soviet Union. For anybody who is even superficially familiar with his personal history, this seemed a highly dubious claim. It became even more dubious, however, when, just a couple of days later, a film emerged of a 1986 lecture in which Sanders praised the Cuban Revolution. In the lecture, given at the University of Vermont while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he recalled “being very excited when Fidel Castro made the revolution in Cuba,” adding that “it seemed right and appropriate that poor people were rising up against ugly rich people.” In the same speech, Sanders also said that he had been disgusted by President Kennedy’s anti-Communism.

John F. Kennedy

Reporting on the film, which was posted on Twitter, the Daily Mail noted that this was “not the first time that 30-year-old clips have surfaced showing Sanders making controversial remarks about American foreign policy toward communist countries in Latin America.” During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2015-16, recalled the Mail, somebody had dug up a 1985 video “in which Sanders is seen heaping praise on Castro,” celebrating the dictator’s “policies on education, health care and society in general.”

Needless to say, such video evidence makes it hard to take seriously Sanders’s insistence on qualifying the socialist label, when applied to him, with the word “democratic.” There was, after all, nothing democratic about Fidel Castro. No lover of freedom who knew the truth about Castro and his regime could possibly admire him. And no freedom-lover could possibly have responded to JFK’s hard line on Soviet totalitarianism with anything but approval. That Sanders, a man with such a manifest and enduring affection for Communist tyranny, could be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States is reason for alarm.

Great! Another movie with a Stalinist hero

When, other than under the Third Reich itself, did any major film producer ever release a movie in which the hero is a devoted Nazi? The answer, of course, is never. If any such picture ever hit the theaters, it would be universally denounced as an endorsement of totalitarianism.

Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo

But for some reason the same doesn’t apply to Communists. For decades, Hollywood has made one picture after another in which out-and-out Stalinists were treated sympathetically and their poisonous nature of their political beliefs was totally whitewashed. Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) depicted the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg not as villains but as victims. Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976) portrayed the Hollywood Ten, all of them card-carrying members of the American Communist Party who were taking orders from Stalin, as First Amendment heroes. Four years ago, Jay Roach’s Trumbo essentially turned Cold War screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – who in real life was a hard-core Stalinist ideologue, an unquestioning supporter of Uncle Joe’s Gulag, show trials, and summary executions – into something resembling a classical liberal.

The real-life Melita Stedman Norwood

The latest contribution this reprehensible genre is Red Joan, based on the life of Melita Stedman Norwood, a London woman whose secretarial job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association provided her with access to her country’s atomic secrets and who spent decades of her life working for the Soviet Union, first as an NKVD spy and later as a KGB agent. The material she passed to the Russians enabled them to produce a copy of the UK’s atom bomb. Incredibly, not until 1999 – years after the fall of the USSR – were her espionage activities publicly revealed. Also incredibly, she was never prosecuted for her crimes.

Trevor Nunn

Directed by 79-year-old Trevor Nunn (who is best known for directing plays on Broadway and in the West End), written by Lindsay Shapero, and starring Sophie Cookson (as the young spy) and Dame Judi Dench (as her older self), the movie has been shown at film festivals and will be released in the US and UK on April 19. The key point is that Nunn treats this traitor – who in the film is given the name Joan Stanley – as a hero. And reviewers have bought into it. The Hollywood Reporter called Red Joan a “good old-fashioned British spy thriller …with a bewitching female heroine.” It’s “a story of ideals and self-sacrifice that seem impossibly distant in the current day and age.” While stealing state secrets, Joan “demonstrates nothing but courage, intelligence and furious conviction.” She is “every inch a heroine.” Variety, while finding the film “flat,”also had no problem describing Joan as a heroine.

Judi Dench as “Red Joan”

In real life, Norwood was the daughter of Commies – a red-diaper baby – so loyalty to the Kremlin came naturally; the only motive she ever gave for having betrayed her country was that she was, indeed, a convinced Communist, full stop. Apparently in order to give Joan Stanley a more appealing motive for treason, Shapero’s script depicts her as being influenced, in her callow youth, by a couple of appealing friends who are German Jews and devout Communists – and whose Communism, as is so often the case in these movies, is equated with opposition to Hitler. At the same time, Shapero plays down her protagonist’s Communism, investing Joan with the belief (never held by the real Norwood) that giving atom secrets to Moscow would deprive the West of a monopoly on nukes and thus make the world safer.

After perusing the idiotic reviews in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and elsewhere, we were pleased to encounter at least one critic who had his head screwed on right. Calling the film “Operation Whitewash,” the Daily Mail‘s Guy Walters described it as “preposterously sympathetic to a woman who betrayed Britain’s most precious state secrets to Joseph Stalin, one of the most evil and murderous men who has ever lived.” Bingo. Why is this so hard for some people to see?

The best spy ever?

Richard Sorge

We’ve written about a few spies on this website, but Richard Sorge, the subject of a new biography by Owen Matthews, was not just any spy. As Joseph Bottum wrote in a recent review of Matthews’s book, An Impeccable Spy, Sorge was “possibly the greatest spy who ever lived.” A German nationalist in his youth, he emerged from World War I (and a subsequent doctoral program in political science) as a diehard Communist. Moving to Moscow, he was hired by the Soviets as a spy and sent back to Germany to work undercover as a journalist and pretend to be a loyal Nazi even as he was spying not only on the Nazis but on their Japanese allies.

He was so good at posing as a Nazi that Goebbels became a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance.

Joseph Goebbels

That wasn’t all. He infested the social and professional circle of Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoe with fellow Soviet agents. The German ambassador to Japan, Herbert von Dirksen, trusted him so much that he became a fast friend, appointing Sorge to an intelligence post, and giving him “the run of the German embassy.” (Apparently the ambassador didn’t know that Sorge had bedded his wife.) For eight years, as Bottum puts it, Sorge “managed to convince the Germans that he was working for them, the Japanese that he was an important Nazi to whom secrets could be revealed, and the Soviets that he was their man.” It was thanks to him that the Kremlin learned about the establishment of the Axis alliance, about a German-Japanese pact banning the Comintern in those countries, about the Japanese decision not to attack the USSR through Manchuria, and about the planned German invasion of Russia in 1941. Meanwhile Sorge led a social life that makes at least a few of the James Bond movies look tame and unimaginative.

It all had to come crashing down eventually, and so it did. After the Japanese secret police heard one of his secret radio transmissions to te Soviets, they arrested and tortured him, wringing from him a confession before he was hanged in 1944. Although he had provided the Soviets with an extraordinary amount of useful information, and although he proclaimed his undying loyalty to the Communist cause even as he was being executed, the Kremlin repaid his intense devotion by arresting his wife after his death on charges of being a German spy, which she almost certainly was not.

East Germany issued a commemorative stamp hailing Sorge as a hero of the Soviet Union

Whether Sorge really was the greatest spy ever seems doubtful. Does the best spy ever end up being caught and hanged by the enemy? Never mind: if not the greatest spy, he was surely one of the most colorful ones. There’s enough material here for a thrilling spy movie. It has sex and skullduggery, drinking and carousing, Nazis and Commies, glimpses of two world wars and a gallery of famous historical figures, plus a whole bunch of picturesque international settings. There’s everything, in fact, except somebody to cheer for: Sorge was, after all, spying against two of the most loathsome regimes in history on behalf of another of the most loathsome regimes in history. What, after all, to make of a German who spied against Hitler to help Stalin? The Soviets, in later years, made him a national hero; to those of us today who despise both Hitler and Stalin equally, he remains one of those puzzling figures whose contempt for one form of totalitarianism was equaled only by his adoration for another form of it.

Celebrating Karl Marx in the New York Times

Karl Marx

May 5 marked the two hundredth birthday of Karl Marx, without whom the world would have been spared the murderous regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, Hugo Chávez, and – who knows – maybe even Hitler, too. Marx was the spiritual father of twentieth-century socialism, with its erasure of the individual, its denial of human nature, and its rejection of the basic premises of economics. In his name, hundreds of millions of people were deprived of their freedom, subjected to imprisonment and torture, sent to Gulags, or executed by firing squads.

During the Cold War, countless citizens of Western countries who had been bewitched by the words of Marx and who belonged to Communist parties or “progressive” movements viewed the Soviet Union as a utopia – or, at the very least, a utopia in the making. Millions more who did not identify, strictly speaking, as Communists, and who occupied influential positions in government, the media, the arts, and the academy, took a far more benign view of the USSR than it deserved. When the Kremlin’s empire came tumbling down, and the oppressed, bedraggled prisoners of Communism cheered their newly won freedom, these Western champions of Marxism looked on in bewilderment and shame. For a time, they maintained a decent silence. Communism still existed in China, Cuba, and North Korea, but it had been discredited for all the world to see and would never rise again.

Bernie Sanders

Or so we all thought. Almost thirty years have passed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and pretty much everyone who is now living on the planet and who is under the age of thirty-five has no meaningful memories of the world in which the USSR existed. This has rendered them vulnerable to pro-Communist propaganda, much of it disseminated by the Sixties radicals who went on to become college professors – or by those radicals’ protégés. During the 2016 presidential campaign, an elderly, self-described socialist named Bernie Sanders – who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and admired Castro – was the favorite candidate of millions of American voters who were too young to have personal experiences of Soviet Communism and too ill-educated to have learned from their studies just what an evil nightmare Communism is, and always has been, when put into practice.

Jason Barker

So it was that, as the 200th birthday of Marx approached, once respectable media organs ran articles that treated Marx as a not as the begetter of a century of barbarism but as a hero and a symbol of hope. “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” read the headline on a New York Times opinion piece by Jason Barker, an associate professor of philosophy. “Today,” wrote Barker, Marx’s legacy “would appear to be alive and well.” Barker quoted French philosopher Alain Badiou as saying “that Marx had become the philosopher of the middle class” – meaning, explained Barker, “that educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement that Marx’s basic thesis – that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit – is correct.”

Empty supermarket shelves in Venezuela

Barker himself opined that Marx provides us with “the critical weapons for undermining capitalism’s ideological claim to be the only game in town.” He praised “movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo” for expanding Marx’s critique of classism to include racism and sexism as well. And he concluded his piece on an optimistic note, looking ahead to the day when Marx’s advocates finally put his ideas into practice and establish “the kind of society that he struggled to bring about.” As if one society after another hasn’t put those ideas into practice and ended up with tyranny, poverty, fear, and despair! As if Venezuela, at this very moment, weren’t providing the whole world with a tragic portrait of what happens when a government takes Marx as its model!

More on Thursday.

Sorry, New York Times: there’s nothing cute about Communists

Deirdre Griswold on a WWP placard

On Tuesday we met Deirdre Griswold, a leader of the Workers World Party who didn’t let the fall of the Soviet Union end her love of Communism and her deep regard for the USSR. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times – home of this website’s poster boy, Stalin apologist Walter Duranty – didn’t let Griswold’s admiration for the monsters who created the Gulag keep it from publishing a cozy profile of her in 2004.

David Hafetz

Entitled “Last of the True Believers” and written by David Hafetz, the profile was precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from the newspaper that made Fidel Castro a hero. Here’s Hafetz’s opening: “Most New Yorkers, Deirdre Griswold concedes with a smile, probably think Marxism is, as she puts it, ‘finished.’ It’s enough to make an aging Socialist revolutionary chuckle.” Get the point? This is no dour apparatchik out of some crude anti-Communist fantasy. She smiles. She chuckles. Also, she’s not a Stalinist but a “Socialist,” a devotee of “Marxism.”

Hafetz went on: “The Soviet Union collapsed and other radical leftists may have grown disillusioned, but as she sips tea and dips into a fruit plate at a diner on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, Ms. Griswold exudes the impregnable optimism of a true believer.” Note the homey details. And hey, how can you not appreciate optimism? How can you not admire a “true believer”?

Griswold (left) at a rally

Hafetz then mentioned Workers World, which “reports the news with a Marxist-Leninist twist and a dash of Stalinism.” A twist! A dash! Adorable. (Imagine a Times reporter writing the words “a Hitlerian twist” or “a dash of Nazism.”) Workers World, stated Hafetz, “often roars in protest,” but Griswold herself, “now 67, with reading glasses that dangle past her white hair, doesn’t exactly look ready to man the barricades.” Au contraire, she “speaks with a schoolteacher’s practiced patience and sounds as enthusiastic parsing the imperialist nature of the United States’ involvement in World War II, not to mention the war in Iraq, as discussing where to find good granola on the Internet.”

We kept waiting for Hafetz to use the word “grandmotherly,” but he didn’t have to: the point was made.

On and on it went. Hafetz itemized some of Griswold’s contradictions – she despises private ownership but owns an apartment, hates the U.S. government but accepts social security, abhors capitalism but likes window shopping – but he treated these contradictions as if they were cute. “She’s only human, she says.” Yes, a human who spent most of her life serving totalitarian masters.

Katherine Stapp

Hafetz interviewed Griswold’s daughter, Katherine Stapp, who revealed that “her mother believes deeply in the possibility of a better world.” Hafetz, for his part, was certainly eager to paint the old gal as humane: “She has marched against imperialism and police brutality, and in favor of the rights of groups like gays, the transgendered, immigrants and black plumbers.” You could hardly find a more classic example of the way in which the Times soft-soaps Communists, depicting them not as cheerleaders for tyrants and murderers but as super-liberals whose only crime, perhaps, is excessive idealism. Hafetz concluded his piece with a quote from the lady herself: “Our goal is to have a revolution so people don’t have to work three jobs….We want the workers to get a rest, to live a little. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

No. She has spent her life fighting for the cause of bloodthirsty dictatorship. For the kind of police state in which people lie awake at night in terror of a knock on the door, a sham trial, a summary execution. She has spent her life spitting on freedom.

She loves North Korea!

Deirdre Griswold (left) with WWP colleagues in Pyongyang

Who is Deirdre Griswold? Surely this was a question that more than a few of Tucker Carlson’s viewers asked on the evening of February 12, when Ms. Griswold, a feisty, white-haired woman of a certain age, was a guest on Carlson’s Fox News TV show. She was there because she’s an admirer of North Korea. She’s also a shameless fount of disinformation. Vociferously, she denied that North Koreans are forbidden access to information about the world. When Carlson said that North Koreans aren’t allowed to watch foreign movies, she accused him of making it up. She hailed North Korean literacy and medical care and insisted that, contrary to Carlson’s claim, North Koreans aren’t “living in some kind of jail.” When Carlson asked why North Koreans aren’t permitted to leave their country, Griswold shook her head and said: “People go back and forth all the time.”

Who is this woman? Carlson identified her as a member of the Workers World Party (WWP). And what, you ask, is the Workers World Party? It’s a solidly Communist organization, founded in 1959 by a group of comrades who split from the somewhat better known Socialist Workers Party (SWP) because they supported Mao’s revolution and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which the SWP opposed. In other words, they formed the WWP because the SWP wasn’t radical enough for them. (As it happens, the SWP was itself a splinter group, formed by Trotskyites who’d been expelled from the pro-Stalinist American Communist Party.)

Griswold’s dad, Vincent Copeland, addressing an audience some time in the early 1980s

Griswold isn’t just any member of the WWP. Her stepfather, Vincent Copeland, was one of its founders and was also the founding editor of the party’s newspaper, Workers World. Griswold succeeded him as editor over five decades ago, and still holds the position to this day. In 1980, she was the party’s candidate for President of the United States, receiving about 13,000 votes.

The Soviet Union collapsed over a quarter century ago, but Griswold remains a fan. On the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution she gave a speech affirming her abiding loyalty to the totalitarian empire that gave us Lenin and Stalin, the Gulag and the Holodomor. While many on the left, she told her comrades, were so “stunned” by the fall of the USSR that they “abandoned Marxism,” the WWP did not.

For Griswold, what matters is not that the Kremlin regime was toppled but that it hung on as long as it did. “The fact that the Soviet Union lasted for 74 years despite everything the imperialists did to destroy it,” Griswold declared, “is an incredible testament to the strength of the working class and the struggle for socialism.” This endurance, she added, “proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a state based upon the working class and formerly oppressed peoples with a planned economy is vastly superior to capitalism.”

No decent person, obviously, could regard this woman’s politics as anything other than reprehensible. One major American newspaper that profiled her 14 years ago, however, did its best to depict her as charming and deeply humane. Which paper? Well, if you’re a regular reader of this site you can probably guess. But we’ll tell you all about it on Thursday.

Catching up with Stalin apologist Ben Norton

In July of last year, we spent a week covering the oeuvre of Ben Norton, who after only three years as a professional scribe had already compiled an extensive body of work – and made a name for himself as a high-profile fan of socialism and Islam and enemy of the U.S. and Israel.

Ben Norton

To say he’s a fan of socialism, to be sure, is to soft-pedal his ideological allegiances. In fact he’s a full-throated defender of Communism, as witnessed by a piece he published at AlterNet on November 22. In it, he accused the Trump administration and others, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, of marking the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution by “demoniz[ing] communism.”

Singling out a Post article in which Marc Thiessen pointed out that “Communist regimes killed some 100 million people — roughly four times the number killed by the Nazis — making communism the most murderous ideology in human history,” Norton called the piece a “diatribe” and denounced Thiessen for “whitewashing the Nazi regime’s uniquely murderous crimes.” Because, you see, if you dare to tell the whole truth about the destructive evil of Communism, and acknowledge that Communism, in its century-long history, has indeed claimed more lives than Nazism did during its decade or so in power, you must be a Nazi sympathizer.

Marc Thiessen

In his screed, Norton played the same kind of numbers game in which Holocaust deniers like to indulge. Rejecting the claim that Communist regimes had killed 100 million people, he complained that that figure included Russians killed during the Nazi invasion of the USSR. He also criticized Thiessen and others for relying on statistics from The Black Book of Communism, a solid reference work that Norton dismissed as a “propagandistic tract” – “a collection of right-wing essays published in France in 1997” – and charged with “trivializing the Holocaust.”

Josef Stalin

Of course, it’s possible to tell the whole truth about Communism without being a fan of Nazism. Evil is evil. Totalitarianism is totalitarianism. Surely the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal don’t think Hitler was peachy keen. Norton’s whole line of argument here is disingenuous – in fact, he’s the one who greatly prefers one kind of totalitarianism to the other, and who is determined not to see them placed anywhere near on the same level. He claims that The Black Book of Communism had been used “to diminish the crimes of fascism and portray it as a lesser evil compared to communism.” That admirers of one brand of tyranny can use the facts about another brand of tyranny to suit their own purposes does not mean that those facts aren’t facts.

Noam Chomsky

Norton goes further: borrowing from Noam Chomsky, he serves up the suggestion that the logic of The Black Book of Communism could be used to blame capitalism for the death of tens of millions of people in India alone. He also tries to sell the notion that, because “the Soviet Union’s meticulously kept archives” show that “799,455 people were executed under the rule of Joseph Stalin between 1921 and 1953,” this number should be accepted as the sum total of lives lost as a result of Communism during the Stalin era. Forget, then, the Gulag and the Holodomor.

Mao Zedong

Norton also tries to drastically slash the number of people who died as a consequence of Mao’s tyranny, arguing that millions of them were, rather, victims of famine, and pointing out that deadly famines have been a regular part of Chinese history for centuries. In short, in addition to dropping the Gulag and Holodomor down the memory hole, Norton also deep-sixes the depredations of the so-called Cultural Revolution.

But that’s not all. Norton implies that instead of demonizing Communism, we should celebrate it – after all, it was the Soviets who experienced most of the battlefront casualties in “the fight against fascism.” Fine – the problem is that, again, they were fighting one form of totalitarianism in the name of another form of totalitarianism. He describes the USSR as having “liberated Auschwitz and Berlin.” But how can you speak of “liberation” when the people “liberated” ended up living under a fiercely illiberal dictatorship?