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?

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.

Carol Andreas, Maoist

Yesterday we looked at a recent New York Times piece in which a Brown University professor named Peter Andreas paid tribute to his mother. In the article, entitled “Thanks to Mom, the Marxist Revolutionary,” Andreas celebrated his mother’s “commitment to transformative social change” and “devotion to creating a more just world.”

The cover of Peter Andreas’s memoir, featuring a picture of himself and his mother, Carol

One thing that stood out in the piece was the omission of Andreas’s mother’s first name. As it turns out, her name was Carol Andreas. There were a few other things Peter Andreas left out of his essay. For example, his mother, whom he strove to depict as a sort of Auntie Mame with a radical but ultimately benign and even charming political orientation, wasn’t just a Communist (as if that weren’t bad enough) – she was a fanatical disciple of Mao, a zealous supporter of his Cultural Revolutionary, and an intimate collaborator with (if not outright member of) the Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path.

In any event, her son’s Times memoir isn’t the first time she’s been enthusiastically eulogized. When she died, the website of the Maoist Internationalist Party – Amerika (MIPA) ran an obituary headlined “Amerikan revolutionary Carol Andreas passes away.”

Praising Carol Andreas for her “international significance to Maoism,” the MIPA noted that “In 1976, when most of the world’s communists fell for Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping after the death of Mao, Carol Andreas held firm. Her study group immediately published a book upon the death of Mao upholding the Cultural Revolution and denouncing the capitalist restoration.”

Mao Zedong

Get it? Even Deng Xiaoping, who took control of Communist China after the death of Mao, wasn’t Communist enough for Carol Andreas. When the Cultural Revolution was over – that bizarrely named period during which millions of persons dubbed insufficiently radical by China’s governing regime were deprived of their homes, families, careers, and lives – many of them being subjected along the way to extensive torture and efforts at brainwashing – Carol Andreas mourned its passing. In the admiring words of the MIPA, she “proved to have great foresight and firmness on this question while most of the world’s communists temporarily fell off course.”

Peruvian soldiers carrying rescued children, formerly held as hostages by Shining Path guerrillas

That wasn’t her only praiseworthy conduct on behalf of the cause. She also “gave her energy to the revolution in Peru” – in other words, to Shining Path, the Maoist group which is so extreme that back when there was still a Soviet bloc, the Shining Path considered it insufficiently Communist. To quote Wikipedia: “Widely condemned for its brutality, including violence deployed against peasants, trade union organizers, popularly elected officials and the general civilian population, the Shining Path is classified by the Peruvian government, the U.S., the European Union, and Canada as a terrorist organization.”

Anyway, that’s old Mom for you. And that’s the New York Times, yet again whitewashing and celebrating murderous, hard-core totalitarianism in the best Walter Duranty tradition. 

Halberstam: Ho’s happy hagiographer

David Halberstam

One last foray into the career of writer and journalist David Halberstam (1934-2007), who on his death, as we’ve noted, was the subject of breathtaking paeans throughout America’s mainstream media. The thrust of most of these glowing obits was that he’d been that rara avis, a brilliant investigative reporter who was, at the same time, one of the most incisive analysts of the events of the day.

On the contrary. Halberstam was celebrated in the usual places for one reason and one reason alone: because he provided a certain demographic (i.e. the kind of people who read the New York Times religiously and believe every statement they encounter there) with texts designed to confirm their lockstep prejudices and received opinions. Originally a cheerleader for the Vietnam War, for instance, Halberstam changed his mind about the subject exactly when all the right people in the U.S. changed their minds, and in The Best and the Brightest he told them exactly what they wanted to hear about the not-so-wise men who had led America into what he now professed to view as a quagmire.

The Best and the Brightest, published in 1972, was a huge hit and made Halberstam famous, as we’ve discussed. Another book of his, issued the year before, is less well known and deserves some attention here. It’s entitled, quite simply, Ho. Michael Lind, in his own 1999 book about Vietnam, described Ho as “perhaps the most sympathetic portrait of a Stalinist dictator ever penned by a reputable American journalist identified with the liberal rather than the radical left.” Bingo. For instance, the book “omits any mention of the repression or atrocities of Ho Chi Minh’s regime.” Lind reminded us that in 1945-46 Ho oversaw “a reign of terror in which thousands of the leading noncommunist nationalists in territory controlled by Ho’s regime were assassinated, executed, imprisoned, or exiled.” While Halberstam, in Ho, condemned South Vietnamese President Diem’s “massive arrests [of] all his political opponents,” he breathes “not a word” about “the far more severe repression in North Vietnam.” Some examples:

Ho Chi Minh

The Maoist-inspired terror of collectivization in the mid-fifties, in which at least ten-thousand North Vietnamese were summarily executed because they belonged to the wrong “class,” is not mentioned. Nor is the anticommunist peasant rebellion that followed; nor the deployment of the North Vietnamese military to crush the peasants; nor the succeeding purge of North Vietnamese intellectuals; nor the fact that almost ten times as many Vietnamese, during the brief period of resettlement, fled from communist rule as left South Vietnam for the North. The equivalent of Halberstam’s book would be a flattering biography of Stalin that praised his leadership during World War II while omitting any mention of the gulag, the purges, and the Ukrainian famine, or an admiring biography of Mao that failed to mention the Cultural Revolution or the starvation of tens of millions during the Great Leap Forward.

Michael Lind

As if all that weren’t bad enough, Halberstam omitted “mention of Soviet or Chinese support for North Vietnam after 1949”; failed to note that “Ho’s dictatorship modeled its structure and policies on Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union”; was silent about the fact that members of the Chinese and Soviet military actually “took part in the Vietnam War”; and so on. Lind examined the sources cited in Ho and noticed something very interesting: Halberstam systematically avoided citing “everything critical written about Ho Chi Minh” by those sources. In short, this writer who after his death was eulogized throughout the American media for “speaking truth to power” was, in fact, a happy hagiographer of a totalitarian tyrant.

Caleb Maupin, lackey for Putin and the mullahs

Working for the mullahs

We’ve spent the last couple of days exploring the career of Caleb Maupin, a small-town Ohio boy who became a Communist in fifth grade and went on to help organize Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in New York. The OWS movement, however, fizzled just as quickly as it had flared up. 

Maupin giving a talk

But if OWS was effectively dead, Maupin remained active. At some point he quit the Workers World Party, with which he had long been associated. In recent years, instead, he has appeared to be strongly aligned with the governments of Iran and Russia. In 2013 he appeared very briefly on CNN, speaking against U.S. participation in the war in Syria. The next year, he spoke at a conference in Iran. In 2015, he was on board an Iranian ship, the Shahed, claiming to be on a “humanitarian mission” to Yemen, although various countries charged that the ship was smuggling arms to the Houthi terrorist group. In addition, he has served as UN correspondent for Iran’s government-owned Press TV.

Venezuelans lining up for groceries

He has also been a reporter for RT (Russia Today), the English-language news, TV, and radio service of the Putin regime. In a December 2015 article for RT, he claimed that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela was still alive and well: “Due to the policies of the Bolivarian government, it now costs less than $1 to fill a gas tank. Children in schools receive free breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Rural Venezuelans receive interest-free loans in order to buy their own land. Public transportation is extremely cheap – and free for senior citizens….In the Bolivarian neighborhoods of Caracas, one can have the kind of conversations about literature, world history, politics, religion and philosophy only found on college campuses in the United States.”

Ayatollah Ali Khameini

In another piece, he charged that “US society is based on money and capitalism with so much violence everywhere and so much state repression” and that it was thus “highly conducive to insanity; this is not a healthy society.” In yet another RT contribution, he spoke up for the Islamic Republic of Iran while smearing pro-democracy Iranian dissidents as liars and impostors.

Mao Zedong

In one September 2015 interview with Beijing-based Maoist Jeff J. Brown, Maupin praised Mao Zedong, celebrated the “great strides” China has taken in the last few decades as a (supposed) consequence of the revolution begun by Mao, and bonded with Brown over their shared contempt for America’s capitalism and “fascism.”

The fact that much of Maupin’s recent work has been published by the relatively obscure group Students and Youth for a New America (SYNA), which will sponsor a debate on July 8 between Maupin and a member of the “alt right,” may indicate that his career is on the decline. But this seems improbable. Maupin is, after all, an ambitious and still very young man, and his association with SYNA more likely reflects his interest in mentoring a new generation of young American Communists to carry on the work of the revolution that has preoccupied him since his childhood.

The adorable Maoist: Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart

She was a fire-breathing left-wing radical who championed revolutionary violence and gave aid and comfort to Islamic terrorists. But when Lynne Stewart died on March 7 at age 77, many obituarists in the mainstream media strove to soften her image. Not all of them, to be sure. The article sent out by the Associated Press, to its credit, made a point of mentioning that Stewart’s clients “included members of the Black Panthers, Weather Underground leaders, a former hit man and a man accused of trying to kill nine police officers,” that Stewart “was a longtime believer in armed struggle as a way of fostering political revolution,” and that she had described “the killings of police officers…as ‘a deterrent’ against the killings of unarmed civilians by police.” Brief though it was, the AP obit provided a pretty good picture of the kind of woman Lynne Stewart had been.

By contrast, while telling much of the truth about Stewart, Joseph P. Fried, writing in the New York Times, seemed determined to avoid some of the most damning facts about her and to whitewash others, all the while stirring in as many heartwarming and humanizing details as possible: “A former librarian and teacher, she had taken up the law in the cause of social justice after seeing the squalor in the area around the public school in Harlem where she taught. She built a reputation for representing the poor and the reviled, usually for modest, court-paid fees.” And then there was this: “Belying the image of a dangerous radical, Ms. Stewart, a short, round-faced woman, often arrived at court wearing a New York Mets cap and a floral-print housedress, dangling a cloth tote bag rather than the lawyer’s typical briefcase and inevitably drawing a clutch of news photographers.” Adorable!

Neither the AP nor the Times mentioned Mao. They should have, for it is important to know that Stewart was a convinced, passionate Maoist. She spoke affectionately not only about Mao but also about Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh. There appears to be no record of her ever expressing concern about the millions of people murdered by Mao, or about the lower but still impressive death tolls racked up by Castro and Ho. “I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous,” she said in 2002. The road to utopia, after all, is a bloody one.

Nor did the AP or the Times mention Stewart’s take on 9/11. She defended the terrorists’ actions. She called the atrocity an “armed struggle.” The closest she came to criticizing any aspect of it was when she opined that the Pentagon was a better target than the World Trade Center. But she wasn’t making a moral judgment – just a strategic one.

More tomorrow.

Always a Communist: Pete Seeger

The Weavers

As we saw yesterday, the folk singer Pete Seeger was, in the late 1930s, a slavish servant of the Kremlin line who was capable, at a moment’s notice, of making a 180-degree change in his position on any issue whatever. To continue the story: in the 1950s, he was a member of the Weavers, whose hits included the old tunes “Goodnight, Irene” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”; in the 1960s, this time as a solo act, he became a symbol of leftist protest. Identified strongly with the civil-rights and Vietnam War eras, he co-wrote such songs as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, which became hits for performers ranging from The Byrds to Marlene Dietrich. Seeger also helped make “We Shall Overcome” an anthem of the protest movement. (He claimed that he was the one who changed the auxiliary verb in the title from “will” to “shall.”) Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1955, he refused to answer questions; six years later he was found guilty of contempt of Congress, but his conviction was overturned. In November 1969, he led half a million protesters in singing “Give Peace a Chance” outside the White House.

Speaking to the House Un-American Activities Committee

According to some sources, Seeger became disillusioned with Communism, quitting the Party in 1949. Other sources, however, say that he considered himself a Communist all his life. “I still call myself a Communist,” he said in 1995, “because Communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.” On the one hand, he went to Russia in 1965 and to North Vietnam in 1972. On the other hand, he sang at a benefit concert for Poland’s anti-Soviet Solidarity movement in 1982. At some point he also publicly apologized for having thought Stalin was anything other than a monster – but he watered down the apology by saying, “I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. ought to apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks.”

Performing with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Arlo Guthrie in 1968

And so on, for several more sentences, the point being that everybody alive today has ancestors who did horrible things that need to be apologized for. The difference, of course, is that today’s Christians did not personally work with Torquemada or take part in the Crusades – whereas Seeger himself was a willing tool of Stalin, mindlessly following his orders and tailoring the message of his music to the Kremlin directives of the day. Then again, in 2007, heeding a critical article by historian Ronald Radosh, Seeger wrote “Big Joe Blues,” a song in which he accused Stalin of ruling “with an iron hand” and of having “put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land. / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race. / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place.”

Good try, but it could be argued that this is pretty weak stuff. Did Stalin really set humanity back “in the same nasty place”? Or did he, by injecting sheer terror into the daily lives of an entire country and by imprisoning, torturing, and murdering tens of millions, take it to places far nastier than those anyone else (excepting perhaps Hitler and Mao) had ever conceived of?

The murderers on West 11th Street

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After the bombing

On March 6, 1970, bombs created by a radical terrorist group called the Weather Underground destroyed a three-story townhouse at 18 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. Three people (Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins, and Ted Gold) were killed, and two others (Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson) were injured. When police inspected the premises, they found enough unexploded dynamite to have destroyed every building on both sides of that rather long block. (At the time, actor Dustin Hoffman lived right next door.) The truth that eventually came to light was that the house itself which the poet James Merrill had lived in as a child, and which had later been the home of lyricist Howard Dietz had not been the target of the bombers, but had been their headquarters. The five people who had been killed or injured had, in fact, planned to bomb a dance at Fort Dix in New Jersey. “It is likely,” writes Arthur M. Eckstein in his history of the group, Bad Moon Rising, “that dozens of people would have been killed if the plan had succeeded.”

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18 West 11th Street, then and now

At first they called themselves Weatherman – singular, not plural. After a while they came to be known publicly as the Weathermen or the Weather Underground. The group itself had begun as a faction within the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was a Leninist group, devoted to an international revolutionary struggle on behalf of the proletariat against the forces of imperialism, capitalism, and racism; many of its members had spent time in Cuba, idolized Che Guevara, met with North Vietnamese officials, and/or been influenced by Mao Zedong.

After the townhouse bombing, the Weather Underground publicly announced that the 11th Street bombers were members of a renegade New York cell that had been engaged in a “rogue operation” that had not been approved by the Weathermen’s national leaders. The Weathermen’s national leaders further announced that, while they would continue to work toward a guerrilla revolution that would overthrow the U.S. government, they would make certain not to plant bombs that might actually harm or kill people and would instead carrying out bombings that would do damage only to property.

bill-ayers-video-still
Bill Ayers today

In the years and decades that followed, this claim – that the townhouse crew had gone rogue and that the Weathermen, as a whole, weren’t out to murder but only to commit vandalism – was faithfully repeated in the writings and public statements by members (and, later, former members) of the group, most famously Bill Ayers, who has since become famous as a friend and mentor of former President Obama. This relatively benign line was also reliably echoed in the Academy Award-nominated 2003 documentary Weather Underground and in Jeremy Varon’s 2004 book Bringing the War Home (a comparison of the Weather Underground with Germany’s Red Army Faction, which we wrote about last September). Only in recent years has this narrative been prominently challenged. As Eckstein makes clear in his book, many if not most members of the Weather Underground were, in fact, devoted to killing, and Ayers and other Weather leaders presented “a united front committed to maximum violence.” In short, the would-be bombers who worked out of that 11th Street townhouse were not defying the Weathermen leadership; they were engaged in precisely the sort of activity that Ayers urged upon them.

More tomorrow.