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Today’s ‘Progressives’: Repeating the Mistakes of Yesterday’s Communists

Revisiting the case of Bertram Wolfe, who was horrified to realize the fundamental evil of leftism — the cause to which he had dedicated his life.

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

December 20, 2010 - 12:00 am
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How much would that have changed history, how far might the United States have been fundamentally transformed! But the Progressive effort then was far less sophisticated and the identity of the enemy abroad and at home was becoming increasingly clear. Of course, too, back then the Progressives neither captured the Democratic Party (which is why they had to run separately) nor intimidated America’s great liberal leaders, among them the incomparable Harry Truman.

Wolfe’s task was both easier and harder than that of his spiritual successors. A single ideology, party, and model country exercised a stronger pull and discipline in his time, but it also was an idol more easily shattered than the varied ideas, loyalties, and groups that characterize what I call today’s “third left” (after that of Communism and the New Left).

In Wolfe’s time, Robert Minor, editor of the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker, publicly declared: “Honesty is a bourgeois virtue.” Today, hundreds of mainstream media journalists and editors implicitly accept that they should report only what supports their political views and use their positions to attack those holding different ones.

How little has changed in essentials, how little has been learned from that past. It is vital today to understand the story of Communism: its big promises based on humanitarianism and its very different performance; the power it exercised in intellectual circles in the West despite being deeply wrong both morally and in terms of its prescriptions; the fellow travellers and well-meaning fools who slandered opponents and silenced critics; the culture of lying on behalf of a “good cause.”

Yet where in our schools and universities, in our public debate, are the lessons of Communism taught? How are people being inoculated against an “idealistic” ideology that did so much harm in the name of doing so much good? Are people learning about apologists for foreign states and movements, the concealing of crimes, the foolishness of the intellectuals, the belief that the more government control the better, the failure to understand that the far left was as much an enemy of liberalism as the far right, and the other mistakes involved in that experience?

But it is more than that. There can be no better explanation of the left-wing fellow travellers with revolutionary Islamism or the mlticulturalist and plitical correctness advocates with reactionary Third World regimes and cultures than Malcolm Muggeridge’s critique of fellow travellers with Stalin’s USSR:

There were earnest advocates of the humane killing of cattle who looked up at the massive [secret police] headquarters with tears of gratitude in their eyes, earnest advocates of proportional representation who eagerly assented when the necessity of a one-party dictatorship was explained to them, earnest clergymen who walked reverently through anti-God museums and reverently turned the pages of atheistic literature [Today it is the exact reverse! -- BR], earnest pacifists who watched delightedly tanks rattle across the Red Square and bombing planes darken the sky, earnest town-planning specialists who stood outside overcrowded ramshackle tenements and muttered: “If only we had something like this in England!”

And what better remark on how Western apologists for Islamic and Arab nationalist tyranny function can there be than what Wolfe wrote in response to the report of a 1952 British mission about how wonderful life was in the USSR:

Mr. Cadbury is slandering the Russian people by saying that they are “content” with the way in which they live. The hundreds of thousands that have died in purges [or been] … sent to concentration camps demonstrate that the Russian people are not the ignorant cattle that Mr. Cadbury suggests they are. So do the hundreds of thousands of … escapees testify to the fact that this people like any great people knows what freedom is and what slavery is.

Anyone care to substitute the word “Iranian” for Russian?

(Quotations from Robert Hessen, Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe.)

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.
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