Many FrontPage Magazine readers will probably know writer William Blum (Killing Hope) from his critique of Party of Defeat and co-author Ben Johnson’s reply. But a truly astounding piece of work by him appeared in October on Alexander Cockburn’s CounterPunch Web site.
The title is “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” and the teaser “Another Cold War Myth.” He begins, “Within a few weeks many of the Western media can be expected to turn on their propaganda machines to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.” And what will this “propaganda” consist of?
All the Cold War clichés about The Free World vs. Communist Tyranny will be trotted out and the simple tale of how the wall came to be will be repeated: In 1961, the East Berlin communists built a wall to keep their oppressed citizens from escaping to West Berlin and freedom. Why? Because commies don’t like people to be free, to learn the “truth.” What other reason could there have been?
In Blum’s account, the Wall was built not to keep East Germans from fleeing Communism, but “to tighten up entry into the country from the West.” No, he doesn’t mean that masses of West German citizens were fleeing to Soviet Germany (the “German Democratic Republic” — GDR). Rather, he asserts that the Wall was built to keep out anti-Communist spies and saboteurs of the socialist economy.
That is, of course, the standard Communist invocation of “wreckers,” those agents of reaction, foreign or domestic, who are really responsible for the seeming failures of scientific socialism. Specifically, it is the GDR model, which was the brainchild of Khrushchev. For those who might question this version of events, Blum provides incontrovertible proof:
Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets’ erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Evidently in contrast to Blum’s credulous ears. One can easily imagine his condemning “the Soviets’ erstwhile allies” for blocking the Bolsheviks’ efforts at the Nuremburg trials to bring the Nazis to justice for the Katyn Forest massacre.
Khrushchev’s propaganda line is Blum’s only shred of would-be evidence against the Wall’s history as understood outside the “progressive” community. That, and one other: “[B]efore the wall went up thousands of East Germans had been commuting to the West for jobs each day and then returned to the East in the evening. So they were clearly not being held in the East against their will.”
Going by that line of reasoning, you’d never imagine that 3.5 million East Germans (about one-fifth of the GDR population) had left by the year the Wall went up. Nor does Blum explain why the Communist guards, if they were there to keep out Western saboteurs, would shoot to kill East German citizens who tried to flee over the Wall. Such victims, along with those who were imprisoned for trying to escape, are never even mentioned. (Would Blum at least concede their existence? And if he does, will he admit that they were “held in the East against their will”?) And the thousands of East Germans who fled through Hungary in 1989? Indeed, the whole history of the escape to the West is ignored, with this exception: “The West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government.” For Blum, the East German dictators were the victims — of Western sabotage/seduction and ungrateful citizens. (Note the implication: The State owns those for whom it provides — what an indictment of socialism’s “positive rights”! One cannot help wonder if he read Atlas Shrugged and chose its villains as his heroes.)
Blum’s claims don’t even hold up to a Wikipedia search, a veritable mine of refuting facts, including these nuggets:
• “The major task of the ruling communist party in the Soviet zone was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties pretending that these were initiatives of its own. Property and industry was nationalized in the East German zone. If statements or decisions deviated from the described line, reprimands and, for persons outside public attention, punishment would ensue, such as imprisonment, torture and even death. Indoctrination of Marxism-Leninism became a compulsory part of school curricula, sending professors and students fleeing to the west. An elaborate political police apparatus kept the population under close surveillance, including Soviet SMERSH secret police.”
• “After Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, the majority of those living in the newly acquired areas of the Eastern Bloc aspired to independence and wanted the Soviets to leave. Taking advantage of the zonal border between occupied zones in Germany, the number of GDR citizens moving to West Germany totaled 197,000 in 1950, 165,000 in 1951, 182,000 in 1952 and 331,000 in 1953. One reason for the sharp 1953 increase was fear of potential further Sovietization with the increasingly paranoid actions of Joseph Stalin in late 1952 and early 1953. 226,000 had fled in just the first six months of 1953.”
• “Soviet East German ambassador Mikhail Pervukhin observed that ‘the presence in Berlin of an open and essentially uncontrolled border between the socialist and capitalist worlds unwittingly prompts the population to make a comparison between both parts of the city, which unfortunately, does not always turn out in favor of the Democratic [i.e., Communist] Berlin.’”
• “The emigrants tended to be young and well-educated, leading to the brain drain feared by officials in East Germany. Yuri Andropov, then the CPSU Director on Relations with Communist and Workers Parties of Socialist Countries, wrote an urgent letter on August 28, 1958, to the Central Committee about the significant 50% increase in the number of East German intelligentsia among the refugees. Andropov reported that, while the East German leadership stated that they were leaving for economic reasons, testimony from refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material. He stated ‘the flight of the intelligentsia has reached a particularly critical phase.’”
• “Before the Wall’s erection, 3.5 million East Germans had avoided Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and escaped from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin. From West Berlin, emigrants could travel to West Germany and other Western European countries. During its existence from 1961 to 1989, the Wall stopped almost all such emigration and separated the GDR from West Berlin for more than a quarter of a century. After its erection, around 5,000 people attempted to escape over the wall, with estimates of the resulting death toll varying between around 100 and 200.”
One other inconvenient fact: The barbed wire signal fence, which sounded an alarm when someone tried to scale it, was placed on the eastern side of the barrier zone. And a question: How many people were caught trying to clear the Wall into the GDR?
Above all: What about those East Germans who commuted to work in the West? In Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification (pp. 51-52), Professor A. James McAdams writes:
Ever since the articulation of Khrushchev’s [threat to sign a peace treaty with the GDR], the East German population’s fears that something was about to happen in Berlin, Torschlusspanik, or “gate-closing panic,” had driven the refugee flight to unprecedented heights. Twenty thousand people fled the GDR in June alone, and more than thirty thousand in July. Despite the government’s efforts to slow the exodus by implementing more restrictive controls on movement between the two parts of Berlin — restrictive measures were taken in July against the so-called Grenzgänger (“border-crossers”) who lived in East Berlin and worked in West Berlin — even these steps merely added to the number of those fleeing to the West. As a consequence, when the member states of the Warsaw Pact met again on August 3-4 in Moscow, they finally voted to support the construction of the Wall.
And in The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 (pp. 190-91), Frederick Taylor discusses what then happened to the Grenzgänger:
Now that the party had all these people in its clutches, unable to leave via the escape hatch of the open Berlin border, its policy towards all of them could, and would, change.
The former “border-crossers” were easily dealt with. They were directed to labour exchanges to be found work in East German factories. But their status as doubtful elements would still cost them dear. They were subjected to a policy of discrimination. “Concentrations” of such people in workplaces were to be avoided. They were not to be employed “in key positions and especially crucial areas of production.” By the middle of September, the Stasi reported that of 32,000 registered former “border-crossers,” 24,000 had accepted new employment “within democratic [i.e., Communist] Berlin.”
Significantly, and given the regime’s preoccupations unsurprisingly, all qualified teachers who were resident in the East but had taught in the West were to be barred from the GDR’s education system for life.
Now, against all documented history, Blum is left with only his moral insight that even if Communist leaders did erect the Wall to stem population flight, they were perfectly justified because, after all, what government can allow publicly educated citizens to freely emigrate?
At this point, we might be tempted to challenge Blum to conjure up exculpations for the uniform prohibition of emigration by the Eastern Bloc — and the rest of the Marxist world. Is North Korea’s imprisonment of its citizenry merely an unfortunate consequence of impregnable borders still needed to keep out die-hard wreckers? Would letting people sail from Cuba hinder the mayimbes’ ability to stop wrecker ships from docking on the island?
But Blum is hardly finished:
Let’s not forget that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union and wipe out Bolshevism forever. After the war, the Soviets were determined to close down the highway.
When Hitler, after such preliminaries as the Sudetenland, took his first goose step onto that highway on September 1, 1939, he was met with a declaration of war by Britain and France two days later. The only approval he received was from his Bolshevik allies, who marched westward into Poland on September 17 — a fact that Blum elides. Will he now explain this march — as well as, no doubt, the attacks on Finland, the Baltic states, Carpathian Ruthenia, and Moldova — as a pre-Nazi-invasion-of-Russia “determination to close down the highway”?
And what was the international Left doing in response to these events? This:
During this era, compliant communist parties in the west supported Stalin and opposed efforts to stop Hitler as “capitalist warmongering.” While many on the left had misgivings about the Hitler-Stalin pact, most kept silent or rationalized Stalin’s actions as clever political moves designed to fool communism’s enemies. These internal contradictions were only relieved by Hitler’s attack on his erstwhile ally in 1941.
Britain and France did not declare war on the Bolsheviks. With the United States entering the war, the Western forces fought the Nazi regime unremittingly, even when it invaded Soviet Russia, whom they embraced as an ally (and aided). They did not stop until that regime surrendered unconditionally.
While Blum (who appears to be echoing, consciously or unconsciously, Stalin’s Falsifiers of History) enjoins us to “not forget,” he himself seems to have forgotten the Soviets’ earlier martial efforts to use Poland as a highway to reach the West and spread Bolshevism — or is he of the opinion that the U.S.S.R. was forced to invade Poland that time as self-defense against the West and/or Gefreiter Hitler? (See Adam Zamoyski, Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe.)
Also from the Let’s-Not-Forget Dept. is why Germany, in large part, became National Socialist:
Stalinism was a far more palpable influence in shaping German politics in the Thirties than was Nazism in Soviet developments. The “Trotskyite conspiracy with the Mikado and Hitler” — the cabal which the infamous show trials claimed to expose — was a Stalinist myth; but the alliance that German Communists formed with the Nazi Party to attack the Social Democrats and destroy the Weimar Republic was an actual Stalinist plot. Without this alliance, the united parties of the Left would have formed a formidable barrier to the Nazis’ electoral triumph and Hitler might never have come to power.
Finally, Blum’s last piece of “information” regarding East Germany:
In 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled, East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism.” (USA Today, October 11, 1999, p.1.)
Let’s say the figure quoted by Blum is accurate. But what is the story today? “In a recent Pew Research Center poll,” wrote Cathy Young for RealClearPolitics.com on Nov. 14, “only 16 percent of people living in former East Germany took a negative attitude toward German unification; a positive view was taken by 81 percent…. That’s hardly evidence of communist nostalgia.”
And with that, we can now piece together what Blum has presented as history, as a corrective to “Cold War [i.e., anti-Communist] myth”: Soviet Russia was a peace-loving, anti-fascist nation that expanded its dominion only in response to a Western-approved Nazi invasion; East German citizens with access to the West always returned home; the GDR government did not censor and propagandize its people; the Berlin Wall was built, not in response to population flight, but to keep out Western spies and saboteurs; former East Germans today despise even social-market capitalism and long for the days of totalitarian (i.e., total) socialism; the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall was predictably a propaganda opportunity for Western apologists to deny all these truths.
Blum’s article is nothing less than an inversion of reality: a whitewashing of Communism’s tyranny and warmongering — and an equally mendacious blackening of the Western liberal democracies’ record in relation to both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. It consists of the flimsiest of claims … and thus constitutes the most brazen of propaganda.
While the Left has before peddled absurd explaining-aways of the lesson of the two Germanys, Blum’s piece is so outrageous that its only bit of substance is the final question it raises: Whom is he trying to convince, and why?
There was an episode of Quincy that dealt with Holocaust “revisionism” in which someone asked Jack Klugman’s character why anyone would want to deny that part of history. He answered: So no one could point to it and say This must never happen again. Indeed, at the end of the show, when an aging Nazi actually affirms the atrocities with pride and boasts that he is preserving their movement in the history books, the denier replies: And because of you, that’s where it will stay!
As with Hitlerism, so with Marxism. The facts of Communist tyranny can never be revealed for anyone to say This must never happen again — and thus forever consign Marxism to hardcover. But while Blum’s piece seeks an exoneration of Marxism, it in fact makes an implicit (albeit inadvertent) confession to the indictment: the link between Marxist theory and Communist practice. Why deny the latter if it is not a true reflection of the former? Why not just regurgitate yet again, “That’s not real socialism”?
But the ignorant and the stupefyingly gullible may not be the only ones Blum is striving to convince. We commonly speak of something “too good to be true,” but there can be — for certain minds— something too good not be true. Its Beauty is its Truth.
If Marxism is repeatedly compared to religion, it is only because parallels so often manifest themselves. Blum, in trying to both convince prospective adherents and reassure old ones with pseudohistory, is not unlike the evangelist bolstering biblical literalism with an invented pseudoscience (“creation science”). But what is the counterpart to Blum’s own belief in the creed? What drives him to invent that pseudohistory?
The Beauty of Marxism.
Like other fundamentalists, Marxists will just not accept that their Truth has been exposed as myth. Thus, for Blum himself, his pseudohistory is not creationism, but presuppositionalism. This is the epistemological premise that might best be described as dogmatic affirmation: You simply declare the myth to be the foundation of all fact, the standard by which everything else — including “evidence” — is to be judged. In Christian theology, it means you don’t disprove the Bible — the Bible disproves you. Muslim fundamentalists take an identical approach to the Koran.
For Blum, Marxian prophecy must be right and therefore was right. His entire “history” is a telling of events as dogma dictates they must have occurred. That is how he concocts a tale of Communist virtue and capitalist/fascist co-villainy. He needs no more than Marxist writ to deny the history of life under Communism, just as his Christian counterpart needs no more than Genesis to deny the history of life on Earth.
This mindset is essentially the origin of “postmodernism,” i.e., neoprimitivism. As Stephen R.C. Hicks writes:
Confronted by harsh evidence and ruthless logic, the far Left had a reply: That is only logic and evidence; logic and evidence are subjective; you cannot really prove anything; feelings are deeper than logic; and our feelings say socialism…. Postmodernism is a response to the crisis in faith of the academic far Left. Its epistemology justifies the leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism, and the same epistemology justifies using language not as a vehicle for seeking truth but as a rhetorical weapon in the continuing battle against capitalism.
How the mighty have devolved. Once the champions of a “revolutionary” and “scientific” thesis, “socialists” are now the reactionary zealots of a pre-scientific — anti-scientific — worldview. The “battle against capitalism” has become part of a far wider assault.
Now none of this would be threatening if it were emanating from, say, only what’s left of the Communist Party USA. But neither Blum nor similar anti-anti-Communism nor postmodernism is, to lift a phrase from Christopher Hitchens, “marginal to what remains of the left.” Blum’s article didn’t appear on PeoplesWorld.org; it appeared on one of the Left’s major Web sites, which is edited by the one of the Left’s most prominent voices and has been praised by some of its most popular representatives (e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich: “CounterPunch makes me think. It makes me laugh. Above all it tells me things I didn’t know.” Arguably that last line does apply to Blum’s piece.). The strength of these combatants is not negligible in the media— or academia. The danger is not contained.
But there is an answer, one that consists of simply extending what is already done without controversy. If the present author may quote himself: “Our culture is not neutral or agnostic regarding Hitler and his followers, and it can no longer remain so regarding Marx and his followers.” Therefore: “[W]e should … denounce and marginalize those who propagate the ideas that inspired Stalin [and the other Communists] just as surely as we denounce and marginalize those who propagate the ideas that inspired Hitler.” There are of course Nazi equivalents of Blum, but almost no one knows their names because decent society accords them no platform. That is the standard to replace the double standards of today’s media, academia, and other institutions.
There is no longer anything to adduce to the socialists themselves — by the very terms they set. We can build a Chinese wall of facts before the believer; even its blocks of human suffering will not stop him from envisioning that Beauty.