Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Get Western Intellectuals to Support Dictatorships and Totalitarian Ideas

By Barry Rubin

In 1937, at the peak of the purge trials (when thousands of people were arrested, tortured into making false confessions, and shot), after the government-made famines (when hundreds of thousands of people died), and as literally millions were being sent to concentration camps, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was interviewed by Lion Feuchtwanger, a German anti-fascist but non-Communist author.

Stalin did the five things needed to fool a Western intellectual into supporting totalitarianism: he flattered Feuchtwanger; ensured his works were published and lavishly praised; professed devotion to social justice; attacked capitalism; and made sure he was well paid for his literary efforts.

Here’s some of what Feuchtwanger wrote after his interview with Stalin:

“Stalin…is extremely sincere and modest….He knows the needs of his peasants and workers, he is one of them….He gave the Soviet Union a new democratic constitution and has solved the nationalities problem….Soviet citizens have plenty of food, clothing, movies, and theaters….Scientists, writers, and actors live well in the Soviet Union….Writers who deviate from the general line are not oppressed….In the near future the Soviet Union will become the happiest and strongest country in the world.”

Feuchtwanger was a free man, not subject to Soviet law. He had been one of the most courageous in exposing the Nazis, forced to flee Germany for Paris. He could have been the model for the heroic Victor Laszlo in “Casablanca.” But he believed that supporting Stalin would promote social justice and fight evil political movements on the political far right. And if such behavior also benefited his own material interests, that was all the better.

One of Feuchtwanger’s points about the USSR’s glories is that “Soviet newspapers do not censor my articles,” which was understandable since they only praised the dictator and the regime.

Hence Feuchtwanger, like many Western intellectuals was so aware—and rightfully so, of course--of the sins of Nazism, was blind to those of Communism. In part, he believed that the existence of one evil justified his lying about people regarding another. In 1937 that was quite understandable given the size of that first evil. In 2009, however, the same philosophy--to tell the people only what those who think they know better believe will push them in the right direction--is still in force.

But he was no fool. When it came time to flee from the advancing Nazi army, he fled to America, not the USSR. But there was an East German postage stamp issued in his honor. If you wanted intellectual freedom America was the best bet; if you wanted intellectual prestige, Communism was the ticket.

The sin of anti-Communism, deterring opposition or honest evaluation by accusing those who spoke up of being a reactionary bourgeois supporter of imperialism, has been replaced by accusing someone of being guilty of Islamophobia, Political Incorrectness, or racism. Nonsense is defended by a wall of vituperation and ridicule.

Boris Bazhanov, whose extraordinary life is unfortunately largely forgotten today—as is true of most of those who exposed the true nature of Communism, while the apologists for it are celebrated--knew better than most about this subject. As a young man, this Ukrainian nationalist decided to infiltrate the Soviet leadership and even succeeded in becoming Stalin’s private secretary for several years during the 1920s. He defected in 1928 to France and survived two assassination attempts by his former boss. In 1978, a few years before his death by natural causes, he wrote:

"You know, as I do, that our civilization stands on the edge of an abyss...Those who seek to destroy it put forth an ideal. This ideal has been proven false by the experience of the last sixty years….If the West [develops its] confidence and unity, [it] can win the battle for our civilization and set humanity on the true path to progress…."

Communism’s failures, deceptions, and victims aren’t studied much nowadays in Western schools and universities, where fascism is presented as the sole evil totalitarianism in history, well maybe along with capitalism in many places. But it might be useful for students to know how both ends of the political spectrum—and not just the right-wing one—have their shortcomings. This might be especially important now that Western civilization is once again under assault.

Incidentally, while the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century was a beneficial liberal reform movement that produced such leaders as Theodore Roosevelt, by the 1930s the Communist Party in the United States, looking for a good cover label to conceal its attempts to take over liberalism and the Democratic Party, settled on the word “Progressive.” When the Communists formed a front political group in 1948 they called it the Progressive Party.

Oh, by the way, in the USSR during the Stalinist era they invented a term to describe when someone adhered to the regime’s line. It was called “political correctness.”

Today, however, instead of teaching young people to be wary of both extremes in politics; to know how ideals like social justice can be manipulated by tyrants and demagogues; and to see that the Federalist Papers, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have far more wisdom and valid prescription than all the works of Marxism or “liberation theology” and various other contemporary far left nostrums, the implicit doctrine conveyed is that there can be no enemies on the left. After all, what could possibly be worse than George W. Bush, slavery, and the internment of Japanese in America during World War Two?

See how much you learn when you study real history? See how much you don’t learn when you don’t?

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