The American Left has been expert in indoctrinating a new generation with false history. We have seen this with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Showtime TV series on the Cold War, and especially with the writings and pseudo-history of the late Howard Zinn. While conservatives — with some laudable exceptions — concentrate largely on policy issues, the left knows that it is not sufficient to work only for its own political agenda. The left realizes it needs to capture the realm of culture, which includes the portrayal of the American past.
The left believes that if the American past is to be accurately understood, its citizens must be educated to understand that their country was always the real oppressor of both its own citizens and the world community. Then, the evil of virtually all administrations will be seen not as an aberration, but as the result one should expect.
In order to understand this, it is necessary for the left to create myths. It does not matter if they have already been challenged and accurately discredited. They merely repeat them as fact.
In the past two weeks, a few examples have surfaced that illustrate how this is done.
1. How American Communists see the Haymarket bombings
The first example concerns what took place as part of the convention of the American Communist Party recently held in Chicago. As reported in the Chicago Tribune by reporter Ron Grossman, a man named Tim Yeager took the comrades on a history tour of Chicago. Yeager is described as juggling three jobs — “United Auto Workers union organizer, Communist official, and Episcopal priest” (consider for yourselves what that reveals). The article tells us what Yeager presented to his CP group on a tour of labor-related sites in Chicago:
Friday morning, Yeager led a bus tour of some party history. The first stop was at the Haymarket statue on Desplaines Street just north of Randolph Street, where in 1886 a bomb thrown during a labor rally killed seven police officers and at least one civilian.
Known radicals, some not even present at the rally, were rounded up, speedily convicted and hanged. Several were buried at Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, making it a pilgrimage site for labor activists and the second stop on Friday’s tour. The Haymarket affair made Chicago the natural site for the Communist Party’s founding convention in 1919.
Yeager noted that the Chicago establishment leaders who called for swift punishment of the Haymarket martyrs were “the 1 percenters of that day” — the favored few who enjoyed immense riches while the majority toiled for crumbs.
In the CP’s version of events, the radicals at Haymarket were framed for what was clearly a police provocation, an excuse to arrest and condemn the radicals for their protest of bad working conditions. As John J. Miller explained last year in National Review, labor historian Timothy Messer-Kruse has written a book that demolishes the myth and tells the truth: the trial was not a travesty of justice, as the left has always argued, but a real anarchist conspiracy meant to create an insurrection starting with attacks on the police.
The prosecution proved its case, and was able through solid evidence to show that the anarchists were responsible for the throwing of the bomb that led to the death of the police officers. It was not “one of the great miscarriages of justice,” as one mainstream textbook tells its readers.
Messer-Kruse is an honest historian who personally is a social-democrat. “I drunk the Kook-Aid,” he told Miller, but he now puts accurate history in front of ideology. It is more than likely, he says, that the seven dead policemen were not killed by the bomb, but shot in cold blood by the anarchists present at the rally. It was, as I put it in my own PJM column, the destruction of “another historical myth.”
The people Comrade Tim Yeager took on his tour, or the many thousands who read Howard Zinn’s falsehoods, believe the frame-up myth. And if they come across anyone who disputes it, they respond by attacking the person as a turncoat and a traitor, and by repeating the myth to their own students, over and over. The myth cannot be allowed to be exposed, or the result will be a possible rethinking of everything they have learned from the falsifiers of history
2. The Rosenberg Case
The second long-standing myth is that of the trial for conspiracy to commit espionage of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Suffice it to say, the Rosenbergs were indeed Soviet agents, seeking to provide Stalin’s U.S.S.R. with whatever military and industrial secrets the ring could gather to hand over to the Soviet totalitarian state. When I first wrote about this in the 1983 book Joyce Milton and I co-authored, we were lonely voices intent on telling the true story. By now our conclusions have been widely accepted, and in America, only a dwindling group of old Communists and fellow-travelers believe in their innocence.
This, however, is not the case, evidently, with the French.
On the 61st anniversary of their execution, June 19 of this year, Le Point ran a piece informing its readers that the “conviction of the Rosenbergs is the result of a huge paranoia that grips an entire nation.” It is a result of “fantastic Red-baiting” that existed throughout the United States. The trial was nothing but “a mock trial.” They note that “many organizations worldwide are calling today for review of the Rosenberg case.”
That falsehood is meant to create the impression that they will not be hoodwinked, and that despite everything known about the case, the left knows the “truth” that they were innocent. And readers of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, revised way after the truth of their guilt was known, will find a section of his book on the Rosenberg case where he predictably uses old discredited material to “prove” that they were framed (pp.432-435).
3. The Spanish Civil War
For decades, the left wing in America has spread the myth about the Spanish Republic’s fight against fascism that started in 1936, and the decision of heroic volunteers to fight on its behalf. Especially singled out are the Americans who went to volunteer in that fight, who belonged to what they called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was actually a small battalion, the size of which they exaggerated purposefully in order to make themselves appear as more important than they actually were.
The old pro-Communists have their own falsified history to explain that event. That too has been long discredited, especially by the historian Stanley Payne, in books such as his recent The Spanish Civil War and in The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism.
The truth about the Lincoln Battalion can be found in Cecil Eby’s important yet neglected book, Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. The role played by the Soviet Union in Spain can be understood in the book Mary Habeck and I wrote, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War. Reviewing it for The Weekly Standard, Stephen Schwartz wrote: “It will effect a complete overturn in historical perceptions of the twentieth-century Left.”
No matter. The left continues to teach its false history to a new generation. In the past two weeks, an article by William Loren Katz appeared on the website of the Zinn Education Project, which is devoted to spreading the word of the most popular leftist defiler of the truth, the late Howard Zinn. His column also appeared on the Huffington Post and other websites. According to Katz, the volunteers had one mission:
By November the volunteer rush became a torrent: An estimated 40,000 men and women from 53 nations left home to defend the Republic. For the only time in history, a volunteer force of men and women from all over the world came together to fight for an ideal: democracy. The volunteers brought a message that ordinary people could resist fascist militarism
In the United States some 2,800 young men and women of different races and backgrounds formed the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” Seamen and students, farmers and professors, they hoped that their bravery could turn the tide, or at last alert the world to the fascist drive for world domination. Most made their way to Spain illegally as “tourists” visiting France.
The truth: what they were joining was a Comintern army, put together by the NKVD’s international apparatus and the Communist International, and controlled and run by Stalin.
Rather than the mythical “good war” depicted by Katz and the propagandists, it was put together to help Spain fall under Soviet control, and to put into power a regime that would be the model for the post-World War II “people’s democracies” and that would be given limited military aid until such time as Britain and France might change their policy and unite with the Soviets in a new world alliance.
You will not find anywhere in Katz’s article — which continually heralds the volunteers’ anti-fascism — that during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, their Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade adopted the slogan “The Yanks are Not Coming!” Or that its leaders gave speeches condemning the warmongering of Franklin Roosevelt and the British, and depicted Nazi Germany as a benign power that was not a threat to the Western nations. Of course, their anti-fascism returned as soon as Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and Stalin again demanded an overnight change in the party line.
The left continues to present its ideologically determined view of the past as a tool to inspire today’s naïve and uneducated young activists, many of them taught these falsehoods by leftist professors at major universities. Their project is to mine history for heroes and martyrs, even if the heroes they praise turn out to be not heroes at all, and their martyrs actually guilty. Those of us who respect the truth have an obligation not to leave history to them.