Sanders: praising China

The other day we wrote here about a prominent psychiatrist who, in an interview on CNN, maintained that President Trump is worse than Mao, Stalin, or Hitler. As we observed, to make such comparisons is irresponsible beyond measure, because it diminishes the scale of those tyrants’ destructiveness at a time when many Americans – especially young people – are poorly educated about twentieth-century totalitarianism.

Bernie Sanders

A few days later, a far more famous person than that psychiatrist made an equally outrageous statement. In a late August interview with The Hill, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, while acknowledging that China is growing “more authoritarian” in many ways, claimed that the Communist dictatorship has “made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization.”

Mao Zedong

Is this true? Well, first of all, let’s make two things clear: China is a massive country (it’s by far the most populous on earth, and has been for a very long time) and it has long been a very poor country as well. Yes, it has undergone a major economic transformation. But because it started at almost zero, in the wake of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution, even achieving a middling level of prosperity per capita would have been a big deal. Yes, thanks to its gigantic population, China has managed in the course of a few decades to develop an economy that rivals the size of America’s; but that still means that the average inhabitant of China is nowhere near as affluent as his counterparts in the West.

Deng Xiaoping

In any event,what exactly changed? Well, let’s recall, to begin with, that Bernie Sanders loves Communism, and that when he celebrates Chinese accomplishment he is implicitly cheering on Communism. But China has experienced an economic boom not because it has clung to its Communist ideology and systems of social control but because, under Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, it abandoned its fierce devotion to Marxist economics and introduced elements of capitalism even as it remained a Communist dictatorship. It helped enrich itself, furthermore, by underpaying factory workers and selling its products abroad at dirt-cheap prices. This policy, which continued under Deng’s successors, was aided by the refusal of Western countries to impose tariffs on Chinese imports – a refusal that resulted in profound damage to large portions of the industrial base of the U.S. and other countries and great suffering on the part of blue-collar Western workers. China’s success also owed a great deal to its currency manipulation and its shameless theft of intellectual property from Western countries. Oh, and it also killed a lot of poor people, which of course is one easy way of eliminating poverty.

Xi Jinping

Hence, yes, poverty in China has declined to a considerable degree. Thanks to the spectacular growth of Chinese industries, the country now has a great many more very rich people than it had a few decades ago. But while its biggest cities now teem with gleaming skyscrapers and its richest citizens travel the world and send their kids to Harvard and Oxford, tens of millions of people in rural areas continue to live at a level of poverty that brings to mind the 1931 Pearl Buck novel The Good Earth. Indeed, the changes that Sanders so enthusiastically extols have resulted in what may well be the most formidable case of economic equality – a topic he frets over endlessly when talking about the American economy – in the history of human civilization. And let’s not forget this small detail: everyone in China is still unfree.

Nicolas Maduro

But of course that doesn’t matter to Sanders. He was a fan of the USSR. He loves Castro’s Cuba. Until recently, anyway, he was defending the Maduro regime in Venezuela. As Jim Geraghty noted in National Review, this is a presidential candidate who in 1985, while the USSR was still around, commented: “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: The rich get the food, and the poor starve to death.” Well, the fact is that in cities like Shanghai and Beijing and Guangzhou, the new Party-connected super-rich managerial class enjoys a whole lot of first-class cuisine, while out in the sticks there are still millions who are, yes, starving.

Crazy, they call him

Dean Baquet

Recently, in what, in other times, would have been considered a sensational development, news media published a leaked account of an editorial meeting at the New York Times at which that newspaper’s top editor, Dean Baquet, essentially explained to his colleagues that since the Gray Lady’s all-out effort over the past couple of years to paint President Trump as a tool of Vladimir Putin had failed ignominiously, the paper’s new approach would be to intensify efforts to smear Trump as a racist. The account of the meeting underscored the already obvious fact that in the age of Trump, actual journalism, in many of the nation’s formerly most respected news media, has increasingly given way to the systematic distortion, suppression, and invention of facts in pursuit of a partisan agenda.

Brian Stelter

If the Times and the Washington Post, under the ownership of Silicon Valley mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos, have both been accused in recent years of choosing this kind of radical activism over reportage, so has CNN. In what may well be the most egregious example yet of CNN’s over-the-top approach to the Trump presidency, Brian Stelter, on last Sunday’s edition of his laughably named program Reliable Sources, had as his guests two psychiatrists who had been invited on to discuss the supposed problems with Trump’s psychiatric health. This topic seemed a particularly curious choice, especially at a time when 76-year-old Joe Biden, at present the leading candidate to challenge Trump for the presidency on behalf of the Democratic Party, seems daily to be showing signs of possible senile dementia, giving speeches in which, among much else, he has stated his preference for “facts over truth,” placed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy in the “late 1970s,” and misidentified New Hampshire as Vermont. Admittedly, Biden has always been a gaffe machine (and a serial plagiarist of other hack politicians’ speeches), but the frequency and weirdness of his misstatements seems to have undergone a serious uptick during his current campaign. But the psychiatrists weren’t there to discuss Biden, of course; they were there to talk Trump. And to bury him, not praise him.

Bandy X. Lee

Both headshrinkers were highly credentialed. Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine, complained sourly that “concerns” expressed by her and other psychiatrists about the mental state of President Trump had been routinely ignored by the news media and charged that the American Psychiatric Association, in its refusal to entertain diagnoses of Trump by professionals who had never met him – a violation of the so-called “Goldwater rule” – had become more or less a tool of the state. You would think that the news media had been walking on eggshells to avoid criticizing Trump’s often bumptious conduct, rather than highlighting it at every opportunity.

Dr. Allen Frances

What was stunning was that the other psychiatrist, Dr. Allen Frances, former chair of psychiatry at Duke University, who had been brought on purportedly to provide “balance” to Lee’s readiness to psychoanalyze the president, turned out to have an even more outrageous take on the issue. His line was that we shouldn’t call Trump crazy, because “medicalizing politics…stigmatizes the mentally ill.” Frances said that he had known thousands of such patients, and that most of them had been “well-behaved, well-mannered, good people. Trump is none of these. Lumping the mentally ill in with Trump is a terrible insult to the mentally ill.” A couple of points. First, to say that most people with serious psychiatric issues are “well-behaved” and “well-mannered” is to sentimentalize mental illness: a full-blown psychotic, for example, is rarely either “well-behaved” or “well-mannered.” Second, has Frances ever met Trump? If not, what business does he have pronouncing on his virtues or lack thereof?

Donald J. Trump

But Frances had more to say. “Calling Trump crazy hides the fact that we’re crazy for having elected him and even crazier for allowing his crazy policies to persist.” Some psychiatrist! We thought the word “crazy” was a no-no in the psychiatric game. But not, apparently, when you’re describing the millions of deplorables across the United States who put this reprehensible creature in office. Apparently in Frances’s view, actually calling actual crazy people crazy is insensitive, but calling people whose politics you disapprove of is not.

Josef Stalin

But Frances’s most extraordinary assertion was yet to come: “Trump is as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin and Mao were in the last century. He may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were. He needs to be contained, but needs to be contained by attacking his policies and not his person.” To call this hyperbole is to realize that sometimes even the word hyperbole isn’t strong enough. All told, Hitler, Stalin, Mao took over a hundred million lives. You can like or dislike Trump’s politics or his personal style, but to compare him to these three is, in a word, crazy. And to follow this flagrant personal attack by saying that we should attack Trump’s “policies and not his person” sounds, if we may join the club and start handing out diagnoses, like a contradiction that only some kind of schizoid wacko would be capable of.

Adolf Hitler

But insulting though all this nonsense is to the president of the U.S., we’re not offended on his behalf. He’s a big boy and this sort of thing rolls off his back like water off the back of a duck. No, what appalls us about Frances’s comparison of Trump to the three most murderous creatures of the twentieth century immeasurably diminishes the scale of their evil and destructiveness. At a time when so many Americans, especially younger Americans, know little about Hitler except that he was a bad guy who killed Jews, who know nothing about Mao, and who have perhaps been told by their history teachers and professors that the Soviet Union was a good idea and Stalin a well-meaning socialist who perhaps got a bit too carried away, nothing could be more irresponsible than Frances’s glib equation of Trump with this villainous trio.

Mao Zedong

To top it all off, Brian Stelter, who is, frankly, a buffoon, sat through Frances’s whole nutty rant without so much as offering up a mild challenge to Frances’s kooky claims. Later, when attacked widely for sitting there with his mouth shut, Stelter blamed his silence on some technical goof. Whatever. The mistake was inviting these two shrinks on in the first place to discuss such a topic. The whole thing was yet another a black mark on CNN’s record, and it must have caused many discerning viewers to wonder, and worry, about the kind of “education” in matters psychiatric being provided to med students at Yale and, especially, Duke.

Putting the pink in Pinkham

Sophie Pinkham

When we wrote on Tuesday about a recent New York Times piece praising the Soviet Union’s space program for its supposed sensitivity to questions of sexual and racial equality, we frankly didn’t know much of anything about the piece’s author, Sophie Pinkham. So we looked up her archive at The Nation. Wow.

In a 2015 piece, she wrote about commemorations in eastern Ukraine and Moscow of the 70th anniversary of Germany’s 1945 surrender to the Soviet Union. Her point of view on matters Ukrainian and Russian was crystal clear – and downright appalling. Pinkham cited with obvious sympathy a comment made that day by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, then head of the “Donetsk People Republic,” a part of eastern Ukraine that declared its “independence” in 2014 after being “liberated” by Russia: “Seventy years ago, Soviet heroes had defeated the fascists, he declared, and now their children and grandchildren were fighting fascists once again; the generation of victors had raised a generation of heroes.”

Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Vladimir Putin “was surrounded by veterans and foreign dignitaries from China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Egypt,” but “[m]ost European leaders skipped the parade to protest Russia’s actions in Ukraine.” Here’s the key part: “For many Russians, it looked as though the once-Allied nations had forgotten that it was the Soviet Union that rescued them from Nazism, at the cost of tens of millions of Soviet lives.”

Again, wow. Pinkham, plainly, is one of those Soviet sympathizers who always love casting the USSR as a “liberator” of Europe and as having played a far more crucial war in the Allied victory than the US or UK. In fact, of course, Stalin and Hitler – or, more specifically, Molotov and Ribbentrop – signed a cynical 1939 pact in which they agreed to carve up Poland, and Stalin didn’t go to war against Germany until the Nazis violated the agreement by invading Soviet territory. Stalin’s subsequent conquest of the countries that became the Warsaw Bloc wasn’t a war of liberation; it was a war of defense that ended up turned subjects of one kind of totalitarianism into subjects of another. Finally, despite the sheer size of the Red Army that admittedly made a huge difference in the victory over Hitler, the best historians of the war agree that if America hadn’t invested so much of its resources in providing massive supplies of materiel to Stalin, the Western Allies would have made it to Berlin before the Soviets, and it would have taken the Soviets a lot longer to push back the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front.

But hey, don’t get Pinkham wrong. She’s no Putin fan. Putin, she complains, “is continuing the process of privatization that began with Yeltsin. Even as the Russian government insists on its symbolic association with the Soviet past, it is moving toward a neoliberal social model antithetical to Communist ideals.” Don’t rush past that one: “Communist ideals”! Pinkham also takes seriously all the Soviet-era rhetoric about “friendship” between Soviet republics (“Stalin died in 1953, but the friendship of the peoples lived on”).

Vladimir Lenin

Likewise, she buys all the bushwah about the dictatorship of the proletariat. In a 2017 piece, Pinkham wrote that after the Bolshevik Revolution, “Lenin was virtually alone in his insistence that power pass into the hands of the workers immediately.” Her whole understanding of the early history of the USSR, indeed, is founded on the rock-solid belief that Lenin was a supremely good guy, devoted to “a utopian philosophy that sought to eradicate human suffering.” How, then, she wonders, could he have taken such an “insouciant attitude toward mass death”? Even after a century during which Communism has been put into practice all over the world, and always with disastrous results, Pinkham has still somehow failed to grasp that it’s not about eradicating human suffering but about eradicating humans.

Later in 2017, Pinkham reviewed Red Famine, Anne Applebaum’s history of Stalin’s deliberately engineered famine in the Ukraine. The book, complains Pinkham, “is distorted…by [Applebaum’s] loathing of communism.” Imagine writing that sentence! Imagine a graduate student at Columbia University (that’s what Pinkham is) complaining in a respectable publication that some book is marred by its author’s “loathing of Nazism.” But needless to say, Pinkham is hardly an exception to the rule in the academic history field. Her number is legion. This is the kind of history that is being taught to college kids nowadays. And it’s a big reason why they react to far-left presidential candidates not with horror but with hosannahs.

More praise for the USSR at the Times

Walter Duranty

On this site, where our task is to record the antics and inanities of those who have taken it upon themselves to defend the indefensible, all roads, or at least so it can sometimes seem, lead back to the New York Times. It was the Times, after all, that gave us our mascot, the world-class lickspittle (and Pulitzer Prize winner!) Walter Duranty, who while serving as the Gray Lady’s Moscow correspondent during the Stalin era shamelessly defended Uncle Joe’s evil Gulag, his brutal policy of farm collectivization, and his outrageous show trials – and, not least, covered up his deliberately engineered Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor. Millions died; Duranty lied. And what makes things all the worse is that, far from being an exception to the rule at the Times, which countless low-information readers continue to view as a newspaper of record, Duranty was a proud and consistent exponent of an ignoble and longstanding Times tradition: the reflexive whitewashing of totalitarian regimes.

Herbert L. Matthews and friend

The Nazis, too, benefited from the Times’s weird compulsion to sugarcoat monstrous tyranny – reports on the Third Reich’s treatment of Jews were routinely suppressed, softened, and relegated to short articles in the newspaper’s back pages. Decades later, similarly, Times correspondent Herbert L. Matthews gave so much positive coverage to Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution that the National Review, borrowing a familiar classified-ad tag of the day – “I got my job through the New York Times” – ran a parody ad featuring El Comandante himself; in 2007, Reason ran a piece about Matthews headlined “Fidel’s Favorite Propagandist.”

Vivian Gornick

Three decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Times hasn’t stopped looking for aspects of Soviet life to hold up for praise. A couple of years ago we took note of a sickening Times piece by Vivian Gornick entitled “When Communism Inspired Americans” – a serious effort on Gornick’s part to paint American Stalinists as heroic believers in noble ideals, rather than as the unquestioning toadies of (and lying apologists for) a mass-murdering dictator. Also in 2017, we commented on an instant classic entitled “Why Women Had Better Sex under Socialism.” In this masterpiece of buffoonery, Kristen R. Ghodsee, a professor (what else?) at the University of Pennsylvania, maintained that women in the Soviet Union not only had more rights than women in the democratic West but also had more orgasms.

Sophie Pinkham

Gornick’s and Ghodsee’s pieces were part of a Times series commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Now, to celebrate the fiftieth year since Apollo 11, the ever-reliable Times has run a piece by one Sophie Pinkham arguing that, even though America beat Russia in the race to put a man on the moon, the U.S.S.R. won what she calls “the Space Race for Equality.” Meaning what? Quite simply, that the Soviets “sent women and people of color to space years before the U.S.” As Pinkham explains: “The Cold War was fought as much on an ideological front as a military one, and the Soviet Union often emphasized the sexism and racism of its capitalist opponents — particularly the segregated United States. And the space race was a prime opportunity to signal the U.S.S.R.’s commitment to equality.”

Hero of equality

Pause for a moment, if you will, over those last words: “the U.S.S.R.’s commitment to equality.” Not its alleged or claimed or supposed or pretended commitment. Pinkham – a grad student at Columbia University who has written for such far-left organs as The Nation and London Review of Books – is apparently trying to sell the Soviet Union to us as a beacon of equality. Yes, in a way we suppose men and women were equal under Soviet Communism – equal, that is, in their utter lack of human rights and democratic freedoms. Men and women alike were woken in the middle of the night by KGB agents and beaten, tortured, or imprisoned, without being officially charged or tried, for having been overheard voicing some complaint or for having otherwise found their way onto the government’s radar. Men and women alike were condemned to death by starvation in the Holodomor, were sent away for years at a time to the Gulag, or were simply lined up against walls and shot in cold blood.

That’s Soviet equality, folks. Yet after Columbia awards a Ph.D. to Pinkham – who, in her recent photos, appears to be too young ever to have experienced Communism firsthand in the U.S.S.R. or its European satellites – she will earn a living telling generations of students at some prestigious college or other that Soviet Communism was synonymous with social equality. Caveat emptor.

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.

Useful Stooges: Banned from Twitter!

What was it, Jack? Was it our criticism of Cuban Communism? Our piece about anti-Semitism in Britain? Our report on the imprisonment on corruption charges of a former Chief Justice of the South Korean Supreme Court?

Was it the fact that we called out would-be spiritual guru Reza Aslan for describing the face of that Covington High School kid, Nick Sandmann, as “punchable”?

Was it our uncomfortable reminder that legendary leftist heroine Angela Davis was, in fact, an accessory to murder and has been a lifelong supporter of totalitarian governments?

Has it been any of our several articles about the devastating impact of socialism on Venezuela?

What was it, Jack Dorsey, that led your company, Twitter, to remove this website’s Twitter feed?

Max Blumenthal

This site, Useful Stooges, has been online since April 2015. As you can read at our “About” page, our focus is largely on “heads of state, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, who practice corruption and oppression on a colossal scale” and on those “who serve them, praise them, and provide them with positive PR even though they know better, or should.”

During our more than four years in operation, we’ve published over 750 posts about such past and current leaders as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Qaddafi, and Vladimir Putin and on a wide range of their bootlicking admirers, including Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal, Stella McCartney, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, E.L. Doctorow, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Eric Hobsbawm, and dozens of others.

Eric Hobsbawm

We owe no allegiance to any political party. Without fear or favor, we’ve criticized tyrants of both the left and right. We stand only for individual freedom and human rights, and we stand up against those who oppress, who seek to oppress, or who cheer for oppression. And we deal in facts, not rumors or spin or smears.

Oliver Stone

You wouldn’t think there’d be anything controversial about this. Not in the United States, in the second decade of the twenty-first century. But you’d be wrong. Jack Dorsey, like his counterparts at Facebook and YouTube, has taken on the role of censor. In doing so, he has taken the side of what some have called the “regressive left” and taken it upon himself to stifle its critics.

The alarming fact is that, for all too many Silicon Valley bigwigs, tyranny is an awful thing and those who assail it are doing good work – except, maybe, when it comes to tyranny in Cuba. Or China. Or in the Islamic world. Or in certain other countries and regions, perhaps, where those bigwigs may happen to have great business deals going on.

To be sure, Jack stands apart from the heads of some other social-media giants. When confronted with their hypocrisies, they prefer to retreat behind the walls of their mansions. Jack Dorsey, who encourages Twitter users to think of him just as “Jack” – a buddy, a pal – takes another approach. More on that next week.

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.

The Avakian cult invades UCLA

UCLA

As if America’s colleges – especially those in the University of California system – weren’t already in the grip of far-left political ideas, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party of America targeted UCLA earlier this month with an aggressive recruiting campaign. As Arik Schneider reported at Campus Reform, they descended upon the campus dorms, where they “set up signs, handed out flyers, and wrote out chalk markings.” They ignored orders to cease and desist, staying at the dorms for hours spreading their call for “an actual overthrow of the system” through an armed “proletarian revolution” and replacement of the current government a “New Socialist Republic of North America.”

Bob Avakian

Of course if you’re a regular reader of this site you know who would be in charge of that “socialist republic”: Bob Avakian, who, as we’ve seen, started his career as a Stalin- and Mao-loving community organizer in northern California, where he tried to win workers over to Communism. In 1968, he and some pals founded the Revolutionary Union, which a few years later, under his sole leadership, became the RCP. Avakian is the real deal: visiting China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, when millions were being executed by the state for the crime of ideological impurity, he pronounced it “wondrous”; in the decades since Mao’s death, Avakian and his party have persistently proclaimed Mao’s – and Stalin’s – greatness and, bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union and the watering-down of Chinese Communism, have declared that they, the RCP, are Communism’s true torch-bearers, and that Bob himself is Stalin’s and Mao’s natural heir.

Ed Asner

If it sounds like a creepy personality cult, that’s because it is. RCP members are typically worshipers at Bob’s throne, proclaiming the urgency of armed insurrection one minute and the greatness of Avakian the next. Yet Bob isn’t just some marginal clown who has given a bunch of losers somebody to look up to and persuaded them to spend their time barging onto college campuses and handing out his flyers. He has friends and admirers whose names you know. A couple of years ago, when he placed an ad in major newspapers protesting Trump’s “Fascist America,” the signatories included actors Ed Asner and Debra Messing, comic Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, and novelist Alice Walker. Cornel West is a buddy of Bob’s, and Michael Eric Dyson is a fan.

Avakian with Cornel West

How did the recruiting effort at UCLA go? The good news is that even many left-leaning students at UCLA, including some for whom Marxism is an attractive concept, recognize RCP for what it is and want nothing to do with it. “I’m a Democrat and I absolutely cannot stand the Trump/Pence administration but these people are out of their minds!” a sophomore biochem major, Jenai Blazina, told Schneider. But she added, rather unsettlingly: “I want to think they’re harmless fools but they keep recruiting more and more people.” One wonders how many new members the RCP found at UCLA. Never underestimate the degree to which ideas that seem to you insane and extreme can gain the allegiance of people whom you think of as intelligent and sensible. Today’s laughable crackpot can be tomorrow’s dictator.

Gasp! The Guardian tells the truth about Mao

Mao Zedong

When we glance at the Guardian, the favored newspaper of Britain’s left-wing elites, we’re used to seeing nonstop demonizing of moderates, libertarians, and conservatives alongside articles in which the virtue of socialism is taken for granted and out-and-out Communism is whitewashed. So it came as something of a shock, last Saturday, to encounter a more than 3,000-word essay in the Guardian that presented a sane and sober view of Maoism. The author, Julia Lovell, whose book Maoism: A History has just been published, began by referencing “the strange, looming presence of Mao in contemporary China,” which, despite its radical economic changes over the past few decades, is, she explained, “still held together by the legacies of Maoism.” Even though the sanguinary utopianism of the Cultural Revolution era has been replaced by authoritarian capitalism, wrote Lovell, the ghost of Mao still hovers over the nation of one billion-plus, and can be found in, among other things, “the deep politicisation of its judiciary; the supremacy of the one-party state; the intolerance of dissident voices.” Moreover, Xi Jinping has resurrected the long-dormant personality cult of Mao.

Xi Jinping

And the West, warns Lovell, has largely failed to notice. For decades, observing China’s economic success from afar, many Westerners have assumed that China has been gradually changing, that it has been becoming a place less alien to us, a nation more like our own. Wrong, insists Lovell. “The opposite has happened,” she writes. She points out – and this hadn’t even occurred to us – that if the Chinese Communist Party is still in charge five years from now, it will have outlasted the reign of its Soviet counterpart.

But you don’t have to go to China to find Maoism. You never did. Maoism, Lovell reminds us, has inspired revolts in countries ranging from Cambodia to Peru – revolts in which, as she admirably underscores, millions of people died. For eight decades, Maoist thought has been “a pivotal influence on global insubordination and intolerance.”

Julia Lovell

And what is Maoism, as opposed to Soviet-style Marxism? Lovell is helpful here. Unlike Stalin, Mao presided over “guerrilla wars deep in the countryside.” He preached “revolutionary zeal” and “anarchic insubordination” and “a pathological suspicion of the educated.” Stalin was no less evil and bloodthirsty than Mao, but the USSR never had an equivalent to Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The most radical ’68ers in the West looked not to the Kremlin but to Mao, especially his “message to his youthful Red Guards that it was ‘right to rebel.’” Mao posters adored dorm rooms in American college; copies of The Little Red Book abounded. In fact, the Black Panthers – that terrorist group celebrated, then as now, in chic leftist circles in the U.S. – “sold Little Red Books to generate funds to buy their first guns.” In West Germany, the violent but trendy Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof group) parroted lines from Mao, such as “imperialism and all reactionaries [are] paper tigers.” Today, Maoist insurgents threaten peace and freedom in 20 of India’s 28 states, and “self-avowed Maoists” now rule Nepal. So much for Francis Fukuyama’s declaration after the fall of the Iron Curtain that “the end of history” was at hand. “Write Maoism back into the global history of the 20th century,” emphasizes Lovell, and you get a “different narrative from the standard one in which communism loses the cold war in 1989.” Bottom line: with China now challenging America’s economic superiority and global power, it makes no sense whatsoever to pretend that Communism lost out to capitalism thirty years ago.

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.