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.

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.

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.

Those chavista Brits

Jack Staples-Butler

Jack Staples-Butler, a British law student, wrote an interesting article recently about Venezuela – not about the social and economic crisis itself but about the government’s response to it, namely “systemic and organised psychological denial,” which largely takes the form of “externalis[ing] blame through conspiracy theories.” Nicolás Maduro’s regime has spread “[f]antasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States,” and has used these fantasies as an excuse to seize food from grocery stores and impose price controls on food products. “The most disturbing recent development,” wrote Staples-Butler, “is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.”

Nicolas Maduro

It is madness – dangerous madness. Yet, as we have noted frequently on this website, Maduro has, until very recently, had more than his share of eager Western supporters. “As recently as June 2015, when this starvation crisis was already in full-swing,” wrote Staples-Butler, “an event organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in London” to cheer chavismo as a heroic challenge to “neoliberalism and privatisation” drew such prominent figures as Jeremy Corbyn (now head of the British Labour Party) and two other members of Parliament, Grahame Morris and Richard Burgon.

Jeremy Corbyn

But more interesting to Staples-Butler than the lingering enthusiasm of British politicians – as well as British intellectuals and journalists – for the Bolivarian Republic is the role they played years earlier in the creation of this crisis. Among the names he mentions, in addition to Corbyn, Morris, and Burgon, are several other prominent MPs and former MPs, including Diane Abbott, John McDowell, and Colin Burgon, journlist Owen Jones (whom we’ve profiled at length on this site). After the 2012 elections, influential British figures organized a propaganda tour of the UK for chavismo politicians and union bosses. Left-wing British groups held events all over the UK to celebrate Venezuelan socialism; among the speakers were Seumas Milne (whom we’ve also profiled here), London mayor Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones (again), and chavismo enthusiasts from Cuba and Argentina.

The rewards of socialism: a Venezuelan supermarket

All of these figures, charged Staples-Butler, bear a “moral responsibility” for “the continued suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of a regime which they passionately supported.” Yet these Western chavistas, who are accustomed to viewing themselves as moral exemplars, are incapable of admitting to themselves their moral responsibility for the current outrage. “What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony,” therefore, “is the absence of response.” They can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. Venezuela, writes Staples-Butler, “has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation.” (There are exceptions. The Morning Star, a Communist newspaper to which Corbyn contributes, “continues repeating Venezuelan state propaganda,” describing anti-Maduro protests, for instance, “as a right-wing ‘coup plot.’”)

Hugo Chavez

Staples-Butler predicted that when the international left finally works out a “history” of contemporary Venezuela with which it can live, it will take the line that Hugo Chávez was, indeed, a great man whose brilliant socialist program brought Venezuela prosperity, but that Maduro (who took over after Chávez died in 2013) was a criminal whose corruption ruined everything. Such a fantasy, suggested Staples-Butler, would rescue not only Chávez and socialism but, more important, themselves from responsibility. If this lie were to take hold, it would not be the first ever historical example of such revisionism: after the USSR fell, many ardent Western Communists dealt with the reality of Soviet evils by blaming them entirely on Stalin and depicting him as having betrayed the supposedly benevolent – and beneficial – ideology of Lenin.

Of all the Western apologists for chavismo, Staples-Butler singled out one for special censure. It’s somebody whom we’ve discussed at length on this site – Owen Jones. But Staples-Butler’s comments on Jones in connection with the downfall of Venezuela are reason enough to return to Jones yet again. We’ll do that tomorrow.

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.

A thumbs-up for Communism in California

Josef Stalin

It may seem like a minor matter – an attempt to repeal an old state law in California barring members of the Communist Party from holding a government position. Indeed, the law itself, which dates back to the early days of the Cold War, may seem unfair and antiquated. Why should political association cause anyone to be denied a state job?

The issue is debatable. But one thing that isn’t debatable is that membership in the Communist Party is treated in mainstream America today far differently than membership in the Nazi Party. You may feel obliged in principle to defend the rights of a Nazi to be a Nazi, but you would not find any pleasure in it. A Communist, on the other hand….

Rob Bonta

The measure to repeal the anti-Communist law was introduced by Rob Bonta, a Democrat who represents Oakland in the California Assembly. Bonta described the old law as “archaic.” At least a couple of members of the Assembly opposed Bonta’s bill. Travis Allen, a Republican who represents Westminster, a suburb of Los Angeles, noted that many of his constituents are Vietnamese-Americans who escaped to the U.S. from Communism. “This bill is blatantly offensive to all Californians,” said Allen. “Communism stands for everything that the United States stands against.”

Travis Allen

In addition to lifting the ban on employing Communists, Bonta’s measure would remove language from California law that identifies Communism as “a world-wide revolutionary movement to establish a totalitarian dictatorship based upon force and violence rather than upon law”; that describes it as having inspired the establishment of “totalitarian dictatorships” around the world that have been characterized by “treachery, deceit, teaching of false doctrines, teaching untruth”; that refers to the existence within the U.S. of “active disciplined communist organizations presently functioning for the primary purpose of advancing the objectives of the world communism movement”; and that notes this movement’s determination “to place its members in state and local government positions and in state supported educational institutions” where they can disseminate Communist dogma.

Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Communist Party

There is, of course, nothing “archaic” about any of this. On this site, we have frequently examined groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, whose ideology is straight out of Marx and Lenin, whose rhetoric is fanatical, and whose leaders have made clear that, if they attained political power, the heads would start to roll. No, the reality of revolutionary Communism in the U.S. is not “archaic.” To people like Assemblyman Bonta, however, criticizing Communism and placing it on a par with Nazism is what’s “archaic.”

The measure, AB22, passed the Assembly on May 8. It’s now in the hands of a committee of the state Senate.

GBS: So versatile that he loved Hitler and Stalin

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George Bernard Shaw

Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), author of such works as Caesar and Cleopatra, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and Man and Superman, was widely considered the best playwright of his time, and is often described as the greatest playwright – with the exception of Shakespeare – in the history of the English language.

He was also a man of many opinions. He famously opposed vaccinations and crusaded for simplified spelling, among many other causes. He was an early member of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party, both of which promoted socialism in the United Kingdom. To his credit, he was an early supporter of women’s rights and interracial marriage. Less attractively, while some intellectuals and artists in the West loved Hitler and hated Stalin or vice-versa, Shaw went on record as admiring both of these bloodthirsty dictators – not to mention Lenin and Mussolini, too.

Lenin_CL
“Really interesting statesman”

He called Lenin “the one really interesting statesman in Europe”; in 1931, he met Stalin and came away with the impression that the strongman was “a Georgian gentleman.” Two years later, during the deliberately engineered Ukrainian famine, or Holodomor, in which several million people died, he wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian defending the Soviet Union from what he called “slander” in the British press.

The same year, he greeted Hitler’s rise to power by calling him “very remarkable,” denied that Hitler was out “to establish a military hegemony in Europe,” and accepted the official German verdict that the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 – likely a false-flag operation by the Nazis – was the fault of Communist opponents of the Third Reich.

Adolf Hitler, Austrian born dictator of Nazi Germany, 1938. Hitler (1889-1945) became leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) party in 1921. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in Munich in 1923, for which he was briefly imprisoned, Hitler set about pursuing power by democratic means. His nationalistic and anti-semitic message quickly gained support in a Germany humiliated by defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and, from the late 1920s, suffering from economic collapse. Hitler came to power in 1933, and persuaded the Reichstag (parliament) to grant him dictatorial powers. He proceeded to crush opposition both within his own party and throughout German society, and set about re-arming Germany. Hitler's aggressive policy of territorial expansion to secure 'lebensraum' (living space) for the German people eventually plunged the world into the Second World War. A print from Kampf um's Dritte Reich: Historische Bilderfolge, Berlin, 1933. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
“I have backed his regime…to the point of making myself unpopular”

“The Nazi movement,” Shaw once wrote, “is in many respects one which has my warm sympathy; in fact, I might fairly claim that Herr Hitler has repudiated Karl Marx to enlist under the banner of Bernard Shaw.” In a 1935 letter to an Austrian colleague, he asked that his best wishes be communicated to Hermann Göring and noted that “I have backed his regime in England to the point of making myself unpopular.”

While he did criticize Hitler’s emphasis on anti-Semitism, Shaw was hardly free of that poison himself. Far from it: as Saul Jay Singer demonstrated at length last year in an article for the Jewish Press, the playwright was “an open and rabid Jew-hater.”

shaw2For example, Shaw accused Jews of “craving for bouquets” and called it “a symptom of racial degeneration.” He called Jews “obnoxious creatures” and pronounced that “it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed.” He described Jews as “the real enemy” and defended Hitler’s mistreatment of them as a reasonable “product of mass discontent over Jewish wealth.” And in 1933 letter to the New York Times he proposed that the Nazis should “make it punishable incest for a Jew to marry anyone but an Aryan….Instead of exterminating the Jews, he [Hitler] should have said, I will tolerate Jews to any extent, as long as no Jew marries a Jewess. That is how he could build up a strong, solid German people.”

But if Shaw was awfully fond of Hitler, he was even more of a fan of Stalin. More tomorrow.

Noel Field: From State Department to Stalinism

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Noel Field

Born in 1904 and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, by upright, pious, and wealthy American Quaker parents, Noel Field was brought up to be a fervent – but, alas, eternally naive – believer in peace and equality. After his father’s death in 1921, Noel, his two siblings, and their mother relocated to the U.S., where Noel attended Harvard and then joined the State Department, an idealistic and unworldly young man determined to use his position to remedy the world’s cruelties and inequities.

In Washington, D.C., Field and his Swiss wife, Herta – whom he had known since he was nine years old – lived in a black neighborhood and, appalled by the racism they observed, took part in anti-segregation protests.

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Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Then there was the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who were convicted of murder in 1921 and executed in 1927. The case made international headlines, resulted in the formation of defense committees around the world, and led to riots and vandalism. All this activity on behalf of the two defendants was believed at the time to be spontaneous; in fact it was all orchestrated by a U.S.-based Soviet agent, Willi Münzenberg, who saw the case as a golden opportunity to destroy “the myth of America” and thus make the U.S. fertile ground for Communism. Millions fell into his trap. One of them was Field, whom Kati Marton, in her recent biography of him, describes as “an ideal target” for Münzenberg’s machinations.

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John Reed

Disillusioned by his own country, Field began to read the works of Marx, Lenin, and the American Communist John Reed. He subscribed to the Daily Worker. Soon he was a “secret radical.” Bookish, sheltered, and utopian-minded as he was, he was easily drawn to the Communist dream of a workers’ paradise. The fact that he’d never set foot in the Soviet Union helped. “His exposure to Stalin’s Russia,” notes Marton, “came entirely from Moscow’s propaganda.” The Daily Worker‘s glorious descriptions of Bolshevik life – which he took entirely at face value – contrasted dramatically with America’s economic inequality and racism, which he saw firsthand.

Marton cites another factor in his attraction to Moscow: brought up in a starchy milieu (part WASP-y, part Swiss) without much in the way of human intimacy, the “stiffly self-conscious Noel” was deeply moved by the feeling of warm solidarity he experienced at a 1929 gathering of Communist laborers in New York City. “For once,” he wrote, “I felt myself a ‘comrade’ among that enthusiastic workers’ audience.”

It would take five more years before Noel Field fully shifted his allegiance. But he was already on the path to treason.

Josef who?

You may never have heard of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. But if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably want to know about it, for it’s an institution that seeks to address a profound need that lies very close to the heart of our own efforts: namely, the extraordinary ignorance of the brutal reality of Communism in today’s America, especially on the part of young people.

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Josef Stalin: only 18% of US millennials know who he was

The extent of that ignorance was underscored on October 17 by the foundation’s own annual report on American attitudes toward socialism and Communism. The executive director of VOC, Mario Smith, summed those findings up as follows: “An emerging generation of Americans have little understanding of the collectivist system and its dark history.” While older generations are aware of the evils of Communism, millennials (born between 1982 and 2002) aren’t. This makes sense, of course. The fall of the Iron Curtain occurred before they were born or when they were small children. They’ve been taught about the evils of Nazism, but little about Communism. They know about the Holocaust, but probably not about the Gulag.

The VOC’s sobering numbers confirm this ignorance. According to the study, only 18% of American millennials can place the name of Josef Stalin; the comparable figures for Lenin and Mao Zedong are 42% and 33%. The inevitable result of this profound ignorance of Communism is a disturbingly benign attitude toward it. While 91% of older Americans and 80% of baby boomers view Communism negatively, only 55% of millennials do. Fully 25% of millennials who recognized the name of Lenin actually view him favorably.

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Joseph McCarthy: the real #1 Cold War villain

This sympathy for Communism surely owes a lot to baby-boom teachers or professors who, when they have touched on Communism, have actually treated it sympathetically. Instead of underscoring the fact that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were equally totalitarian, many of those supposed educators have drawn sharp distinctions between Nazism and Communism, pronouncing the former as unqualifiedly evil but depicting the latter as a beautiful dream that perhaps got just a wee bit out of control. In recent decades, school syllabi touching on Communism have focused less on the horrors of life in the USSR and more on the purported victimization of American Communists during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. In this formulation, the villain of the piece is not Stalin but Senator Joseph McCarthy.

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
George W. Bush: deadlier than Stalin?

Consequently, almost 45% of millennials actually say they would vote for a socialist president – a statistic that might have been surprising before the Bernie Sanders campaign, but perhaps isn’t so surprising now. Fully 32% of millennials actually believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Stalin. (The figure for Americans generally isn’t much better: 25%.)

Much of the millennial sympathy for socialism and Communism can be attributed to the widespread use, in high-school and colleage history courses, of a single book entitled A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1922-2010). We’ll get to him tomorrow.

That Stalinist style

Writer Julie Burchill photographed at the Sussex Arts Centre in Brighton, UK, 9th February 1999. (Photo by Andrew Hasson/Photoshot/Getty Images)
Julie Burchill

Yesterday we caught up with British columnist Julie Burchill, who on September 5 told readers of the New Statesman about her youthful enthusiasm for Josef Stalin.

“I don’t kiss, I’m a Stalinist,” I’d often say. “But you’ve just had sex with me!” “Yes, it would have been bourgeois not to.”

And: “I don’t smoke dope – I’m a Stalinist.” “But you’ve just snorted half a gram of speed!” “Yes, I’m a Stakhanovite, too, and it makes me work harder.” I had answers for everything, all of them mad.

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Josef Stalin

During her early years in London, recalled Burchill, she hung out with punks who played at anarchism; Stalinism, for her, proved to be a good way to one-up them. They were all into radical individualism; she reacted by saying things like, “People aren’t really that interesting, there’s not much to be said for individuals.” Stalinism gave her an instant look, a style: she wore Soviet badges and ribbons and caps and “used to admire myself in them,” fancying herself “a sexy teenage communist.” But, she added, “I spat blood whenever I saw a fellow punk sporting a swastika. Why? What was the difference? My side had killed 20 million.”

Burchill admits that her Stalin crush lasted “well into my thirties,” and calls this “a sign of my terminal emotional immaturity.” It finally ended not because she had “a big, blinding moment of revelation, repentance and redemption” but because “I am a chillingly pragmatic person, I fear, and in the end Stalin simply outlived his usefulness.” To be sure, now and then she “backslide[s]”:

burchillbkLast month, I woke up in bed with a small, silver bust of Lenin on the pillow next to me, purchased on a drunken romp the day before. I hated myself for a bit, but it could have been worse. Gagged and blindfolded with Zionist wristbands, he looks lovely on the mantelpiece. And at least he’s not Stalin – though, to be honest, the shop where I bought him didn’t have a Stalin bust. If it had, could I have resisted? I hope I’ll never find out.

What to make of all this? It’s not quite a mea culpa. It’s hard to say what it is, exactly. Burchill admits to being “chillingly pragmatic” and afflicted with “terminal emotional immaturity,” but she shows no sign of being ashamed of these attributes. She doesn’t really seem to be ashamed of anything: she’s cheerfully amoral, chronically solipsistic. It’s tempting to dismiss her column as the thousandth (or ten thousandth?) effort by a narcissistic hack to stun the multitudes yet again and thus remain in the limelight for another day or two.

burchill5But Burchill isn’t unique. She certainly wasn’t the first or last vain, puerile young person to decide that it’s cool to applaud totalitarism. If her story has any value, perhaps it’s as a reminder that not all useful stooges are mature individuals who’ve either coldly, consciously, and calculatingly sold their souls to the devil or whose serious, well-intentioned philosophical reflections have led them disastrously astray. No, some useful stooges are nothing more than children – or terminally childish adults – who have embraced a deadly ideology for the most superficial of reasons: to turn a few heads, to give their friends a bit of a shock, and to impress their Stalinist daddies.