Putin’s Quisling

Tomorrow, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a nutty but high-profile creep in Norway.

Ad for the TV series Occupied, showing a Russian flag flying over the Norwegian Royal Palace

In late August, Russia’s Foreign Ministry publicly condemned Occupied, a forthcoming Norwegian TV series, complaining that its premise – in the near future, Russia invades Norway and seizes its oil fields – brings to mind various anti-Soviet movies made in Hollywood during the Cold War. (One imagines they’re thinking of such fare as 1984’s Red Dawn, in which Soviet forces overrun the U.S.) The ten-part series, which was created by bestselling mystery novelist Jo Nesbø and will premiere in October on Norway’s TV2, had another critic: Bjørn Ditlef Nistad, who was identified by a Kremlin-controlled “news” website, Russia Beyond the Headlines, as a historian and an Associate Professor of the University of Oslo.

Nistad was paraphrased as saying that Occupied is offensive to residents of Norway, liberated by the Soviet Union from German occupation in 1944.”

What? Norway liberated by the Soviet Union in 1944?

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Bjørn Ditlef Nistad

Yes, it’s true that on October 18, 1944, Red Army soldiers chased retreating Nazi forces out of Russia and into the remote, sparsely populated far northern tip of Norway, with which Russia, then as now, shares a 122-mile-long border. But to describe these troops as having liberated Norway is Orwellian. On the contrary, even though Stalin was nominally an ally, the leaders of the Norwegian government-in-exile in London were so concerned about the entry of his troops into their territory that they dispatched Norwegian soldiers to the region, partly to try to minimize the damage done by the scorched-earth policy that the Nazis were pursuing as they fled southward but also partly to ensure that Uncle Joe didn’t annex so much as a square centimeter of Norwegian soil.

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Josef Stalin

When did the German occupation of Norway end? Ask any Norwegian. It ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945, when the Nazis surrendered to the Allies. The date is still celebrated in Norway as Liberation Day. Soviet troops lingered in northern Norway until late September 1945, when they finally packed their bags and went home. Fortunately for Norway, Stalin had his hands full subduing and Communizing Eastern Europe and knew that any effort to turn his foot-in-the-door presence in Norway’s icy attic into a conquest of the entire country would be a difficult proposition and would be fiercely resisted both by Norwegians and by the Western Allies, who at that point were tacitly accepting his ongoing imprisonment of the people of Eastern Europe behind what Churchill had yet to call the Iron Curtain.

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Vladimir Putin

So how can a professor of history at Norway’s leading university present such a twisted version of the facts? Well, first of all, as it turns out, Nistad isn’t on the University of Oslo faculty. He got his Ph.D. in Russian history there in 2008, and stayed on as a temporary lecturer until 2010, but has not held an academic position since. He claims to have been unable to find a job. Why? Because, he says, of his “pro-Russian” views – by which he means his unqualified approval of absolutely everything Vladimir Putin does and says. Nistad supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; he endorses Putin’s oppression of gays. “I think Vladimir Putin is a good guy and a likeable politician who has saved Russia,” he told Dagbladet last year. He has even compared Putin to Churchill.

Because no Norwegian university will hire Nistad, he compares himself to a Soviet dissident. He’s tried to arrange financial backing from Russian oligarchs to pursue his “pro-Russia research.” There’s less freedom of speech in Norway today, he claims, than in Putin’s Russia.

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John Færseth

Not that he’s been silenced. Far from it. Despite his inability to wangle a sinecure at the University of Oslo, he’s secured, in the words of writer John Færseth, “an important role in Norwegian debates about Ukraine, not least on NRK,” Norway’s government-run TV and radio network. Nistad, according to Færseth, is the “most important – or in any case the most obvious – defense player on the Russian team on the Norwegian scene today.” While most Norwegian commentators on the crisis in Ukraine, observed Færseth last November, are “in practice mouthpieces for Russian propaganda,” what sets Nistad apart is that his readiness to defend Putin and Putin’s former puppet in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, “has as times led him over into pure bloodlust, as when he wrote in July that the ‘coup makers’ in Kiev should be hanged.” Nistad has called pro-freedom Ukrainians fascists and neo-Nazis, and has written that killing a “few hundred” of them “would be a small price to pay” if it succeeded in establishing “that fascists would not be able to come to power through a coup in one of Europe’s most populous states.” 

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Vidkun Quisling

Here’s another way that Nistad stands out: he’s not one of those Putin fans who deny any similarity between the current regime in Moscow and the Soviets. On the contrary, as his fantasy version of the liberation of Norway might suggest, he was a fan of the USSR, too. In 2011, Norway’s newspaper of record, Aftenposten, ran an article by him headlined “Can We Learn from the Soviet Union?” His answer: da! The USSR, he maintained, was “one of the few reasonably successful multiethnic and partly multicultural societies that the world has known.” Its 200-odd ethnic groups “lived together in peace.” They had “a common dream: of building a socialistic society.” And this shared goal made them “good, honest, and hard-working citizens.” Although Gorbachev, in Nistad’s version of history, did a deplorable amount of damage to this paradise, Soviet values still survive among today’s Russians, thanks largely to Putin – who, he explains, has breathed new life into those values and made Russians proud again.

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Nistad on NRK

Bjørn Nistad: remember the name. If the scenario imagined in Nesbø’s TV series ever did come to pass, it’s not a bad bet that Nistad would be to Putin what Quisling was to Hitler: a devoted Norwegian acolyte, willing to run his puppet government and enforce his tyranny.

What a shame that, in the meantime, Norwegian students won’t be able to learn at the feet of this courageous truth-teller!

Stephen F. Cohen: Still Putin’s #1 U.S. fan

putinemperorNext week and the week after, in honor of Vladimir Putin’s sixty-third birthday, we’ll be examining some of his most ardent European fans – among them a Dutch rapper, a former Italian prime minister, a British billionaire, and a Norwegian historian. Today, however, we’ll be taking yet another look at a fellow whom we’ve discussed here several times before, and who may be Putin’s most stubbornly loyal cheerleader in the whole U.S.A.

We’re talking, of course, about Stephen F. Cohen, a veteran academic luminary (Princeton, NYU) who, back in the day, was considered a top expert on the Soviet Union and is now increasingly recognized as one of the current Kremlin regime’s most aggressive and shameless apologists.

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Stephen F. Cohen

If we keep bringing up Cohen on this site, it’s because he keeps bringing up Putin – almost invariably in the pages of The Nation, the weekly rag owned and edited by his rich lefty wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Our subject today: his latest propaganda effort, a June 30 piece entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities.” It’s full of passages calculated to paint the Ukrainian government as a pack of savages, to depict pro-Russians living in the eastern Ukraine as helpless victims, and to cast Putin in the role of the peaceful leader who’s displaying exemplary restraint in the face of a brutally violent enemy:

Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” tactics have created a reign of terror in the targeted cities. Panicked by shells and mortars exploding on the ground, menacing helicopters and planes flying above and fear of what may come next, families are seeking sanctuary in basements and other darkened shelters….an ever-growing number of refugees, disproportionately women and traumatized children, have been desperately fleeing the carnage….By mid-July, roads and trains [to Russia] were filled with refugees from newly besieged Luhansk and Donetsk, a city of one million and already “a ghostly shell.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel and Cohen

Throughout his piece, Cohen defends the Kremlin’s thug-in-chief (“however authoritarian Putin may be, there is nothing authentically fascist in his rulership, policies, state ideology or personal conduct”) while repeatedly flinging the word fascist at democratic Ukrainian leaders and groups and parties. In short, he’s perpetrating good, old-fashioned Stalin-era-style Nation journalism, taking us back to the days when, in the Marxist-soaked minds at that publication, the Soviets were the real heroes in the struggle against fascism, and the Western Allies (at best) Johnny-come-lately amateurs who reaped the rewards of victory in World War II and hogged the credit. Cohen finds it important, for example, to point out that Putin’s “brother died and [his] father was wounded in the Soviet-Nazi war” (yes, that’s right, “the Soviet-Nazi war”) and to warn us that “tens of millions of today’s Russians whose family members were killed by actual fascists in that war will regard…defamation of their popular president [i.e., any suggestion that he’s a fascist] as sacrilege, as they do the atrocities committed by Kiev.” So there.

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Cathy Young

On July 24, in Slate, the Russia-born American journalist Cathy Young, who is a contributing editor at Reason, gave Cohen precisely what he had coming to him for this most recent boatload of disinformation.

First Young made a few telling points about Cohen’s background: during his years as a “Soviet expert,” he befriended some Soviet dissidents, though they were usually “of the democratic socialist or even Marxist persuasion.” During the Gorbachev period, he and vanden Heuvel co-authored Voices of Glasnost, a collection of interviews with “proponents of top-down change to bring about a kinder, gentler Soviet socialism.” Then the USSR fell, the result, in most people’s view, of “the system’s internal rot,” although Cohen blamed it on “Boris Yeltsin’s power-grabbing, aided by the pro-Western ‘radical intelligentsia’ that ‘hijacked Gorbachev’s gradualist reformation.’”

putin9Putin’s rise won Cohen’s cheers – and Putin’s brutal regime, as we’ve observed repeatedly on this site, has won Cohen’s unwavering praise. But this newest article by Cohen, as Young puts it, “hits a new low.” Cohen sums up his thesis as follows: “the pro-Western Ukrainian government, aided and abetted by the Obama administration, the ‘new Cold War hawks’ in Congress, and the craven American media, is committing ‘deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not done so already.’” Young notes that while Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.N. have reacted to the fighting in the Ukraine by raising concerns of the sort that they routinely, and properly, raise about any and every armed conflict, none of them have suggested that Ukraine is guilty of war crimes.

Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine

She further points out that while these organizations have documented acts of rape, kidnapping torture, and murder by “the insurgents whom Cohen calls ‘resisters,’” he “entirely omits these inconvenient facts, conceding only that the rebels are ‘aggressive, organized and well armed—no doubt with some Russian assistance.’” No doubt indeed. Cohen also argues that “calling them ‘self-defense’ fighters is not wrong,” because “their land is being invaded and assaulted by a government whose political legitimacy is arguably no greater than their own, two of their large regions having voted overwhelmingly for autonomy referendums.” Really? Here’s what Young has to say about those “referendums”:

Is Cohen the one person in the world who puts stock in the results of the Donetsk and Luhansk “referendums,” which even Russia did not formally recognize? Pre-referendum polls in both regions found that most residents opposed secession; they were also, as a U.N. report confirms, kept from voting in the presidential election by violence and intimidation from the insurgents. Nor does Cohen ever acknowledge the known fact that a substantial percentage of the “resisters” are not locals but citizens of the Russian Federation—particularly their leaders, many of whom have ties to Russian “special security services.” Their ranks also include quite a few Russian ultranationalists and even neo-Nazis—a highly relevant fact, given that much of Cohen’s article is devoted to claims that Ukrainian “neo-fascists” play a key role both in the Kiev government and in the counterinsurgency operation.

Young goes on to catalogue the factual mistakes – or outright lies – in Cohen’s piece, which she describes as “so error-riddled that one has to wonder if The Nation employs fact-checkers.” She rightly dismisses his absurd “claims about the ‘mainstreaming of fascism’s dehumanizing ethos’ in Ukraine,” which, she points out, “rely heavily on Russian propaganda canards.” Then there’s this:

In a downright surreal passage, Cohen argues that Putin has shown “remarkable restraint” so far but faces mounting public pressure due to “vivid accounts” in the Russian state-run media of Kiev’s barbarities against ethnic Russians. Can he really be unaware that the hysteria is being whipped up by lurid fictions, such as the recent TV1 story about a 3-year-old boy crucified in Slovyansk’s main square in front of a large crowd and his own mother? Does Cohen not know that Russian disinformation and fakery, including old footage from Dagestan or Syria passed off as evidence of horrors in Ukraine, has been extensively documented? Is he unaware that top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin himself, have publicly repeated allegations of war crimes that were quickly exposed as false, such as white phosphorus use by Ukrainian troops or a slaughter of the wounded in a hospital? But Cohen manages to take the surrealism a notch higher, earnestly citing the unnamed “dean of Moscow State University’s School of Television” (that’s Vitaly Tretyakov, inter alia a 9/11 “truther”) who thinks the Kremlin may be colluding with the West to hush up the extent of carnage in Ukraine.

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The Boris and Natasha of Irving Place

Yes, eastern Ukraine is undergoing a human-rights crisis. As Young notes, every bit of evidence indicates that it’s “overwhelmingly the responsibility of the Russia-sponsored militants.” But for the likes of Stephen F. Cohen, his devoted spouse, and their comrades at The Nation, what are mere facts alongside a fealty to the Putin line that’s every bit as deeply seated as their forerunners’ determination, back in the days of Stalin, to be reliable cogs in Uncle Joe’s monstrous mendacity machine?

The Nation: lies, lies, lies

We concluded our previous post on The Nation, the leftist weekly now celebrating its 150th anniversary, with a recent summing-up  by Daniel Greenfield. The Nation, he wrote, has “learned nothing from the past. Instead it repeats history as farce, stumbling from one tyranny to another in the hopes of finding progress somewhere among the corpses.” Having “aided the Soviet plan for world domination,” Greenfield noted, The Nation is now “doing the very same thing for the Islamists.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Yep. And just as it manages to align itself, in all its preening, putatively progressive self-satisfaction, with the least progressive forces on earth, it consistently savages the one democracy in the Middle East – and then, when necessary, lies through its teeth about it. In a recent interview with the Jewish Daily Forward on the occasion of The Nation‘s big anniversary, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel insisted that her magazine had a “great” pro-Israel record, and cited what she described as a 1940s Nation article by Ron Radosh “lobbying Truman, the UN, for the creation of the state of Israel.” But Radosh himself, after reading the interview, called vanden Heuvel’s attempt to claim his article as a part of The Nation‘s heritage an outrageous misrepresentation. “My wife and I,” he explained in a Facebook post, “wrote an article for World Affairs Journal about Freda Kirchwey and Israel, and NOT for The Nation. In fact, vanden Heuvel wrote a letter to the editor accusing us of being Likudniks. Now she tries to make it appear our pro-Israel article appeared in her magazine.”

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Harry Dexter White

But, of course, without lying – outright lying – a magazine like The Nation, which is still peddling ideas that have been totally shot down by history, wouldn’t be able to survive. Just as the USSR pursued a systematic policy of radically revising its own past – including the total removal from the public record of any trace of certain individuals who’d played major roles in government – so The Nation just keeps on amending its own annals. So deep-rooted at Ms. vanden Heuvel’s magazine is this longstanding impulse to dodge and distort, to prettify and prevaricate, that, as Jonathan Tobin has noted, it ran a review in 2013 that – with breathtaking audacity – sought to whitewash the late U.S. Treasury official Harry Dexter White by quite simply ignoring Soviet records proving that he’d been a KGB spy. Throughout the Cold War, observed Tobin, the folks at The Nation had pretended that “Soviet infiltration of Washington in the 1930s and 1940s was a figment of the imagination of demagogic right-wing anti-Communists”; but after the Cold War, when the facts were put before them, they continued to cling to their falsehoods.

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Michael Moore

As noted, The Nation‘s anniversary issue also contains some new material. There are testimonials to the magazine’s extraordinary value by Gloria Steinem and Alec Baldwin, among others. Michael Moore offers a long piece – which is apparently intended to be funny – about why he should be elected president. In another article, Kai Bird argues for total U.S. “disengagement” from the Middle East – in other words, leave Israel at the mercy of its neighbors. Bird presents this as a respectable retreat from imperialism –because, in the eyes of The Nation, absolutely everything is ultimately about U.S. imperialism. Also included is yet another attack on “Islamophobia” – which, of course, The Nation has been savaging for years. The anniversary issue’s overall message is summed up in a cartoon by the reliably execrable Tom Tomorrow; entitled “All the Right Enemies,” it expertly toes the party line, claiming that The Nation has always been on the right side of history.

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Art Spiegelman

(It should be mentioned that, in the entire issue, there’s one admirable exception to the rule of irresponsible inanity: cartoonist Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, pays tribute to his late colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, writing “I have NO interest in baiting psychopaths, but I must show respect to the foolhardy and brave Charlie Hebdo artists.”)

Fittingly, the issue concludes with a few brief contributions from young people who are presented as embodying the future of the magazine and its ideology. Here’s a sample, from a 22-year-old Harvard student: “I am 22 years old, and I have been a climate activist for ten years. My call is for a radical future now.” Plus ça change…

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Quite appropriately, one of the big names who have provided a blurb for The Nation‘s anniversary issue is Mikhail Gorbachev. “It is very important a magazine that stands for left-wing, progressive ideas has an audience in America,” writes Gorby. That The Nation, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, can proudly flaunt the approval of the last unelected Communist ruler of the Soviet Union says pretty much all you need to know about what this rag is all about.

Castro, Kushner, the Khmer Rouge: The Nation from the ’60s to 9/11

Professor Noam Chomsky of Linguistics and Philosophy. photo: Donna Coveney/MIT
Noam Chomsky

We’ve been taking a look at the history of The Nation during the Cold War, when it was, as the phrase went, “anti-anti-Communist.” Practically speaking, to be sure, there was little if any difference between The Nation‘s “anti-anti-Communism” and robust advocacy for (or, at the very least, defense of) Communism. Routinely, The Nation‘s editors and contributors wrote about the U.S. and USSR as if their people had, quite simply, chosen different systems, just as you might order a Coke and your best friend might order a Pepsi. And while The Nation tended to dance around the question of whether the Soviet system was inherently oppressive, it had no qualms about stridently denouncing the supposedly intrinsic evils of American capitalism – and supporting America’s enemies, the more tyrannical, it sometimes seemed, the better. In the 1970s, for example, it ran Noam Chomsky‘s defense of the Khmer Rouge from charges of genocide and supported the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Jesse Jackson with Fidel Castro

Among the other postwar-era low notes reprinted in The Nation ‘s special centennial issue: in a 1988 editorial, the Nation actually endorsed world-class shakedown artist and Castro crony Jesse Jackson for president of the United States – this, in the midst of Jackson’s public enthusiasm for Jew-baiting, gay-bashing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (whom Malcolm X’s own relatives publicly accused of complicity in his assassination) and in the wake of Jackson’s own disgusting reference to New York City as “Hymietown.”

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Tony Kushner

Then there’s gay rights. The Nation presents itself today as having always been at the forefront of the struggle for gay equality; but for years, in fact, its contributors were consistently, fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of what they considered gay “assimilation” into bourgeois institutions. In their view, the proper socialist objective was not to achieve equal rights for gay people in mainstream capitalist society, but to marshal marginalized gay people as far-left storm troopers in the battle to overthrow mainstream capitalist society. The anniversary issue reprints part of a typically jejune 1994 article by Tony Kushner that sneeringly rejects gay marriage and calls for gay people to be true to utopian socialist ideals of “liberation. (It is instructive, by the way, to compare the complete original article – which can be found here – to the expurgated version served up in the anniversary issue.) The bottom line about The Nation and gay rights is that Kushner and other gay stalwarts at the magazine fought tooth and nail against the social changes that have enabled gay Americans to live and thrive openly with far less difficulty than they could a generation ago; yet now the magazine happily, and deceitfully, takes a big chunk of the credit for those very changes.

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Mikhail Gorbachev

When the Iron Curtain fell, millions of Eastern Europeans wept with joy and rushed to embrace capitalism and democracy. But the folks at The Nation – like other stateside comrades of the Kremlin – offered no mea culpas and exhibited no shame. Quietly, they more or less dropped their longtime enthusiasm for the Kremlin down the memory hole. But they didn’t revise their poisonously anti-American attitudes, revisit their fierce hostility to the NATO policy of containment, or rethink their resounding contempt for the unapologetic pro-freedom rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher, which they had repeatedly denounced as vulgar and dangerous. No, they just kept preaching their same old ideology, as if it had not been thoroughly discredited. They even allowed Mikhail Gorbachev, in a 2009 interview with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and hubby Stephen F. Cohen, to cast himself as the hero of the end of the Cold War – and to depict the whole conflict, in the same old way, as a clash between two morally equivalent regimes. Entirely removed from the picture was the monstrous injustice and intrinsic evil of the Communist system, and the fact that that system ultimately came crashing down precisely because of its injustice and evil.

And what about 9/11 and its aftermath? We’ll move on to that disgraceful chapter of The Nation‘s history next time.

Standing with the Soviets: The Nation during the Cold War

We’ve been pondering The Nation, America’s top left-wing weekly, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. Founded as a respectable organ of liberal opinion, it became, in the twentieth century, a megaphone for fans of Soviet Communism. A generation ago, on the brink of the fall of the Iron Curtain, The New York Times’s Richard Bernstein summed up where The Nation stood during the Cold War:

The Nation often argues…that the United States is at least equal as a menace to the world as the Soviet Union, perhaps worse; that the United States has been the primary culprit in fueling the arms race and that it has fomented much of the atmosphere of the Cold War; that the United States has perpetrated injustice in places like Central America and the Middle East because of blind anti-Communism.

150th_issue_cover_otu_imgBernstein was actually being rather kind here: in fact, during the Cold War The Nation was fiercely, brutally “anti-anti-Communist,” smearing every critic of Communism as a hysterical McCarthyite reactionary. Routinely, the magazine’s contributors wrote about the anti-Communist “witch huntof the 1940s and 50s as if the presence of Communists in Hollywood, in Washington, and in New York media and intellectual circles were a feverish figment of paranoid far-right imaginations. In fact, more than a few of the Nation writers who pontificated piously about the presumably fascist “witch hunt” were themselves card-carrying Communists. The anniversary issue of The Nation includes a self-righteous piece by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo about the Hollywood blacklist; it was not accompanied on its first printing, and is not accompanied now, by any acknowledgment that Trumbo was a devoted Stalinist, who in the service of his appalling political loyalties was prepared to do far more than simply blacklist his ideological opponents. The anniversary issue also presents a 1956 piece by W.E. B. DuBois complaining about the lack of attractive choices in the current presidential contest between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson; there is no mention here, either, that DuBois, at the time he wrote that article, was also a convinced Stalinist, who would have been glad to see the U.S. under the thumb of the mass-murdering Soviet dictator rather than in the hands of Eisenhower or Stevenson.

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Harold Clurman

We’ve noted that the back pages of The Nation were ideologically sealed off from the front – but not always. In a theater review from 1964, reprinted in the anniversary issue, Harold Clurman praises Fiddler on the Roof – set, of course, in Tsarist Russia – as an admirable representation of the joy of collectivist living. Note that Clurman wrote this review just a decade after the death of Stalin, who’d murdered millions through forced collectivization (which The Nation, by the way, had applauded): “Is it any wonder,” wrote Clurman breathlessly in his review of the musical, “that an audience, living in one of the most heartless cities of the world at a time of conformity to the mechanics of production, an audience without much relation to any tradition beyond that expressed through lip service to epithets divested of living experience, an audience progressively more deprived of the warmth of personal contact and the example of dignified companionship, should weep thankfully and laugh in acclamation at these images of a good life lived by good people?”

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Fiddler on the Roof playbill, 1964

Clurman seems to have missed entirely the point that the characters in Fiddler on the Roof were poor, tormented victims of Tsarist tyranny and that, at the end, when they’re forced by that tyranny to flee their beloved village of Anatevka, the good news is that they’re all on their way to America, where – as the audience knows, but they don’t – their descendants will enjoy a degree of freedom and prosperity beyond those villagers’ wildest dreams, will escape the Jew-murdering totalitarians of twentieth-century Europe (including not only Hitler’s minions but also the Communist masters of the Gulag), and will one day be able to attend a Broadway play reminding them of just how lucky they are to be living in 1960s America and not turn-of-the-century Russia.

Tomorrow: The Nation from the 1960s to 9/11.