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The Biggest Cliche of All: 'Hard-Liners Waiting in the Wings'

Russia’s government, Bliven wrote:

... is being subject to extreme pressure to persuade it to move toward the left. ... we have reason to believe that Lenin and Trotzky, (sic) in spite of the fact that they are regarded in America as irreconcilable radicals, are now regarded by many of the Russians as not being radical enough; as being almost "middle of the roaders."

Indeed, Bliven claimed that waiting in the wings was “an extremely radical and bitter organization” in Petrograd, and that unless we did what Lenin and Trotsky wanted, they would likely gain power in Russia.

Bliven further wrote:

If this group should, as now seems very likely, gain control of the Russian government during the next few months, the results would be disastrous from the point of view of the allies and the United States. This radical group has only one purpose: the overthrow of all the capitalistic governments everywhere and the setting up of communist governments in their place. The radicals would reject any proposition to trade with Western powers. It is obvious that under these circumstances the allied governments would have only one alternative which would mean a complete blockade of Russia and unremitting war against its government. The amount of suffering which this would entail about an already anguished world makes it an alternative to be viewed with the greatest apprehension.

Bliven urged Harding to work with the “more liberal and even conservative group” led by Lenin and Trotsky that understood that even a communist regime needs to maintain relations with Western powers, and to compromise with them. This liberal group, he wrote, “is now largely in control of the Soviet government.”

Bliven recommended that President Harding be both “intelligent” and  “statesmanlike,” and act to “strengthen the hands of the liberals in Russia and prevent a catastrophe.” Recognition of the Soviet regime, he assured the president, would lead to the Soviets acting to “modify [its] scheme of things to a considerable degree” and would “almost certainly result in a victory for the liberals.”

Of course, Bliven told the president that he wrote because of his “patriotic interest in safeguarding the welfare of America.”

Harding, of course, ignored Bliven’s advice, and correctly continued the policy of non-recognition of the Soviet regime. As for Bliven, as the British conservative historian Paul Johnson has written, “it is not surprising that Bliven went on, in the 1930s, to become a credulous propagandist for the Communist-run Popular Front.”

Looking at Bliven’s argument from our present-day perspective, one can see how foolish and ill-informed his advice was.

The Soviet regime was at the time well in control of the first-generation Bolshevik leaders, led by Lenin and Trotsky, both of whom ruthlessly advanced Soviet power and crushed any possible opposition stemming from the remaining Mensheviks, anarchists, and even revolutionary sailors, soldiers, and workers who dared to turn against Bolshevik leaders in the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921.

It was the leaders who always were in control of Russia, not a mythical hard-line group waiting in the wings, that sought to advance the Red Army to Poland’s borders; worked in the West to foment revolt in countries like Hungary, where a short-lived Bolshevik regime under Bela Kun was set up in 1919; and did what it could to create unrest as far from its shores as possible, including support of revolutionary agitation in Britain and the United States.

Yet in our own day, the pundits who have followed in Bruce Bliven’s footsteps use the same arguments and analogies as he offered as advice in 1921, brought up to date to be used when deciding what policy to pursue with regimes like Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

When will they ever learn from the past?