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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
In such an atmosphere, it was not difficult for the Communists to mobilize the emotions of liberal Americans on a great range of problems. The anti-fascist fight could be conducted on a wide array of issues—against brutality, horror, and ugliness abroad, and against injustice at home. It is impossible to overestimate the crucial importance of anti-fascist, anti-Nazi sentiment in building the barricades on the far-flung periphery of the Communist movement: manifestos, mass meetings, picket lines, petitions—everything from Negro rights to the Okies, from Spain to China.
The Communists were well equipped to distill and siphon off these emotions into a huge cauldron of subsidiary organizations which they either created or took over—popular fronts, united fronts, etc. They had behind them fifteen years of tough organizational experience—and the cult of Russia.
This did not mean that every sympathetic liberal or fellow traveler fully accepted Communist leadership without question on every issue. It was the very nature of the “symp,” as the comrades cynically and contemptuously called him, to stay outside the party, to be hesitant or mildly critical about one or another facet of the “socialist state” and its policies. But the key factor was the “symp’s” inability or refusal to recognize the Soviet Union as a totalitarian tyranny, in this respect no different from Nazi Germany. Given this refusal, the Popular Front psychology ranged free, and organized association, co-operation, and friendship with the Communists became acceptable and desirable. It was not until the fellow travelers were disabused of their illusions about the nature and objectives of the U.S.S.R. that they were able to discern that they had been had, that their anti-fascist and democratic emotions had been manipulated and exploited.
For most of them it was the Hitler-Stalin Pact that provided this novel illumination. But for many it did not last—for as soon as the Nazis attacked Russia in June, 1941 (and the war, in the Kremlin’s lexicon, was transformed from an “imperialist” war into a “people’s” war), many of the old fellow travelers and a whole new generation of innocents came into the fold. During the wartime alliance, the party pushed such superpatriotic moves as the signing of no-strike pledges, the opening of a second front, and the prosecution of the Trotskyists as subversive of the American democratic order. And they succeeded in popularizing a whole new set of front organizations, the Russian War Relief, the Council of Soviet-American Friendship, the Council of Arts, Sciences, and Professions, into which a new generation of dupes (and some from the older generation) was inveigled. In 1943, Stalin, as an empty gesture of friendship to President Roosevelt, dissolved the Comintern; people were encouraged to greet this as a convincing token of Stalin’s desire for friendship with America and his retreat from the old-fashioned goals of Communist world dominion. The following year, Earl Browder, carried away by his doctrine that Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism and by Communist collaboration with the liberal wing of the Democratic party (and obviously not discouraged by his master in Moscow), secured the dissolution of the Communist party and its transformation into the “purely educational” Communist Political Association.
Browder’s experiment in collaboration with the capitalists was short-lived, however. In April, 1945, Jacques Duclos, the leader of the French Communist party and an authoritative Kremlin spokesman, published an article sharply attacking the “revisionist” and “opportunistic” wartime line of the American Communists, presaging the expulsion of Earl Browder from the party and the initiation by the Soviets of the cold war. It was not until several years later that the impact of the new line was fully appreciated by the American people. Thus, as late as 1947 the Soviet Union and its satellites were officially invited to join the Marshall Plan, and 1948 saw the last flicker of Communist political activity when it managed to corral Henry Wallace and a few other liberal “names” into the Progressive party campaign (the nationwide Progressive vote was just over one million—admittedly miniscule, but more than the Socialist party had ever received, and sufficient to lose New York State for Mr. Truman).
Many who were not in the least taken in by the “socialism” of Hitler’s National Socialist party were wholly enamored of the “socialism” of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Many who would have been appalled at doing business with Hitler in the thirties were all for doing business and making political deals with Stalin during and after the war. Many who denounced the book-burnings in Nazi Germany were entirely indifferent to the making of “unpersons” in the U.S.S.R. Many who denounced Hitler’s maniacal aggressions against Czechoslovakia and Poland found every conceivable justification for Stalin’s aggressions against the same countries in the name of “security.”