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As President Obama encourages an immediate “transition” from Hosni Mubarak to whatever might replace him in Egypt, hope again springs eternal among the American Left. The president has made clear that he supports the presence of the Islamofascist Muslim Brotherhood in the new government, and it appears that no one in the halls of power has sense to persuade him otherwise. Even his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, “clarified” for the Congress on Thursday that the ultra-Islamic Brotherhood is “largely secular” with no “overarching agenda.” The progressive dream, clearly, is that the Muslim Brotherhood will take power and build yet another revolutionary anti-American utopia — which will ideally follow in the footsteps of other recent great Muslim Sharia paradises, from Hamas to the Ayatollah. Forgive me for not sharing in the optimism.
Instead, I thought I’d offer a walk down memory lane, recalling the Left’s pattern of judgment regarding other leading “revolutionaries” of the past 100 years. Who are some of these dictators, these monsters? Join me, if you will.
A fitting to place to start is Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, first communist dictators of a truly Evil Empire. From the outset, numerous American “progressives” were enchanted with the “Great Experiment” in the Soviet Motherland. I could fill a book with examples. (In fact, I have.) Here, I’ll offer just a few.
Corliss Lamont, ACLU member, Columbia University professor, leading atheist/”humanist,” who embraced every leftist cause under the sun from the 1920s to the 1990s, made an early pilgrimage to Moscow. He loved what he saw, recording his observations in a book he co-authored with his wife. Probably nothing moved the Lamonts quite as much as their moment near the rotting breast of Lenin, who, by the time the Lamonts arrived in Moscow, had been dead and encased in a glass-covered box for eight years. They recorded:
Lenin’s face is strong, calm, and refined in the fundamental sense. His hand rests on a red pillow and his hands, clasped on his chest in a tranquil way, appear delicate and intellectual. The short yet forceful beard is reddish. We have to keep moving, though we want to stop and look longer and more carefully…. [I]t is not enough.
No, it was not enough; the Lamonts ached for more, and so they got in line again to revisit Lenin. They paid “homage,” “taking strength from [Lenin’s] impersonally beautiful and resolute face,” which was “perfectly natural and wholly desirable.”
In general, the Lamonts returned home to America to report the “great deal of happiness,” the “new human nature” they had discovered in communist Russia. “[T]he new world of the twentieth century is the Soviet Union,” they glowed to their progressive comrades. “And no one who is seriously interested in the progress of the human spirit can afford to miss it.”
Some “progress.” As the Lamonts wrote those words, Stalin was ramping up his forced famine, his Great Purge, and launching his annihilation of tens of millions of human spirits. Few in the USSR would miss it—the mass murder and criminality, that is.
But that wasn’t the feeling among the American Left. Among them was Corliss Lamont’s colleague, Dr. John Dewey, pillar of Columbia Teachers College, and founding father of American public education. The Bolsheviks adored Dewey, immediately translating into Russian several of Dewey’s major works before the Russian Civil War had even ended. The respect was mutual, and John Dewey couldn’t wait to make his own pilgrimage to the USSR, which he did in the summer of 1928, preceding the Lamonts’ visit. When Dewey returned, he filed a six-part series in The New Republic.
Dewey’s TNR dispatches on Russia were almost lyrical, as he waxed poetic about what he had experienced. Dewey discovered a “kind of completed transmigration of souls,” an “impression of movement, vitality, energy. The people go about as if some mighty and oppressive load had been removed, as if they were newly awakened to the consciousness of released energies.”
In Dewey’s mind, the Bolsheviks had thoroughly liberated the Russian people. “[T]the essence of the Revolution,” reported the Columbia professor, was “in its release of courage, energy and confidence in life.”
So taken was Dewey that he almost swooned: “My mind was in a whirl of new impressions in those early days in Leningrad. Readjustment was difficult, and I lived somewhat dazed.”
Dewey had been frustrated by having “heard altogether too much about Communism, about the Third International [the Comintern], too much about the Bolsheviki.” No, averred Dewey, what needed to be understood was that the Bolsheviks had ushered in not any sort of dangerous dictatorship, but, rather, a “revolution of heart and mind” and a “liberation of a people to consciousness of themselves as a determining power in the shaping of their ultimate fate.”
Dr. Dewey also praised “the orderly and safe character of life in Russia” under Stalin. Indeed, said the unflinching professor, there was no country in all of Europe in which “the external routine of life is more settled and secure.”
The faculty at Columbia was hardly the only place enchanted by Lenin and Stalin. Some of the finest minds from Britain’s literati were likewise impressed.
“I’ve never met a man more candid, fair, and honest,” marveled author H. G. Wells upon his return from a meeting with Joe Stalin in 1934, at the start of the Great Purge. “Everyone trusts him.” Wells had likewise been impressed by Vladimir Lenin, whom he called a “frank,” “refreshing,” and “amazing little man,” who had “almost persuaded me to share his vision.”
Fully persuaded was Wells’ fellow socialist, George Bernard Shaw, who piped up with an even more outrageous assessment after meeting with Stalin: “[W]e cannot afford to give ourselves moral airs when our most enterprising neighbor [the Soviet Union] … humanely and judiciously liquidates a handful of exploiters and speculators to make the world safe for honest men.”
Shaw was deadly serious; this was not sarcasm scribbled for some tasteless stage comedy.
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