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The Great Deception
AMERICA & RUSSIA, PART XI The Communist party in America was so small, so faction-ridden, so isolated. How could it enlist so much popular support? How could illiberalism take in so many liberals?
December 1961 | Volume 13, Issue 1
This disastrous policy actually led the Communists of Germany, at Moscow’s behest, to collaborate with the Nazis, not only in physical assaults on the Socialists, but in attempting to destroy the Weimar Republic itself. It clearly implied that the overthrow of democracy represented progress, that a Nazi regime was preferable to a democratic regime: it would itself be transformed shortly, by actual revolution, into a Communist one.
But with the complete triumph of the Nazis, the utter destruction of the German Communist party, the rise of clerical fascism in Austria in 1934, the nearly successful rightist coup in France in 1934, Moscow came to see both the threat to itself and the means by which it could turn the threat to its own advantage. A new chapter of Communist history was opened. With amazing speed, all the principles of “left extremism” were thrown overboard. Russia sought allies, joined the League of Nations, which it had hitherto vilified, and gained U.S. recognition. The Popular Front arrived officially with the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, and the new doctrine was soon to unfold in its manifold glory all over the democratic world. Defense of the Soviet Union and support of Soviet foreign policy became an openly admitted, paramount aim of world Communism.
Since fascism had come to power chiefly on the fear of Communism, Moscow was quickly able to establish itself as the main enemy of fascism, and so the chief friend of democracy. Thus the greatest Communist triumph of the period was Moscow’s seizure of a monopoly of anti-fascism, its ability to organize the anti-fascist sympathies and impulses of large numbers of idealists who had hitherto been only partly—and in stages—prepared for such an alliance.
One issue, above all, dramatized and rendered virtually unassailable the Communist role of leadership in the anti-fascist struggle—the Spanish Civil War. Spain represented a triangular tragedy: the violent assault on a weak, ineffectual but democratic republic by Spanish fascists, aided and abetted by Italy and Germany; the prissy, inept, and shortsighted reaction of Britain and France (for whom the Spanish republic was no less expendable in 1936 than the Czechoslovak republic at Munich in 1938), in effect sanctioned by the neutralism of distant, aloof America; the emergence of Russia and the Spanish Communists as the supposedly glorious protagonists of Loyalist Spain.
Moscow’s military aid was in reality both minimal in quantity and limited in duration. It was just enough to turn Spain into a Soviet satellite, but not enough to win the war. The Kremlin’s policies in Spain were part of Stalin’s intricate plan to achieve an understanding with Hitler. In Spain, as everywhere else, the party dropped its program of social revolution; at the same time, Soviet force was to be used there to show Hitler strength—but not so much as to frighten him into strengthening his Anti-Comintern Pact. In Moscow, meanwhile, the old revolutionists were being decimated in the purges, as another sign to Hitler that he had nothing to fear from Soviet Communism (though this, of course, was not the only reason for the purge). And all the while that Stalin was wooing the western democracies with his anti-fascism and his new social moderation, negotiations between Berlin and Moscow were going on behind the scenes.
Small as Moscow’s aid to Spain was, it was still the only help given by an outside power. But an awful price was exacted; Spain paid dearly for it, in money and in blood. The republic’s treasury of gold bullion, worth half a billion dollars, was spirited away to Moscow. The aid was the whiplash by which the Spanish Communists, theretofore the smallest and feeblest of the Spanish radical parties, bludgeoned and blackmailed their way, within less than a year after the outbreak of the war in July, 1936, into control of every major institution of Republican Spain—the trade-union movement, the youth movement, the Army (especially its political commissariats), the Foreign Office. Prostrate, bleeding Spain served Stalin, no less than Hitler and Mussolini, as a proving ground for his military forces and his political commissars. At the front and behind it, the party physically liquidated thousands of non-Communist Spanish and foreign radicals and intimidated thousands more into silence.
Little or none of this was reported in the international press at the time. There were even some prominent American journalists in Spain who deliberately suppressed what they knew “for the sake of the Loyalist cause,” or in order not to embarrass Russia. And when some few non-Communist radical voices were raised to protest, the Communist propaganda machine unleashed a vicious campaign of abuse—labeling them as fascist agents. Much of the liberal press in this country meekly, gladly, took the cue.
Thus the biggest price of all was exacted in terms of liberal opinion, which exalted the Soviet Union and the Communist movement as the leading, if not the only, champion of Spanish democracy and of collective security against the fascists. The North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy was the main front behind which these sympathies were mobilized; the Soviet stranglehold on Spain gave it the sympathy and support of men of good will throughout the western world. Victims of this psychology, people who fulminated against the crimes of Hitler and Mussolini, chose silence in the face of Soviet butchery in Spain, swallowed the fantastic lies spun out by Stalin and Vishinsky against Old Bolsheviks Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, et al., and heaped scorn on those American liberals and radicals who sought the truth.