David Evanier's tragicomic masterpiece parodies the 20th century’s most infamous communist couple.
To order David Evanier's Red Love on Kindle, click here.
David Evanier, Red Love,
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991), 340 pp.
New edition published as an E-Book by The David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2013
There are times when if you want to know about an era, you should turn to great literature. There are many books written about the Old Left, and about the Cold War espionage case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, including one of which I am co-author. But few give readers a sense of what the era of the Rosenberg’s espionage activity and the life of their comrades in the American Communist Party were really like, as does this novel by David Evanier.
Written as an account of the effort to write a book about the Rosenbergs by a fictional author named Gerald Lerner, a stand-in for Evanier himself, we learn from the very first page that Evanier will be anything but respectful to the doomed spying couple. Named Dolly and Solly Rubell in the book (but clearly Ethel and Julius), Evanier gives us his perspective in the name of Lerner:
“I have f--ked the Rubells in this book. I have f--ked this gentle, peace-loving couple. And I feel very much better.”
And indeed he does, and so will the reader. For the Rubells are not the tortured innocent victims of McCarthyism so familiar to readers of the other novels about the Rosenbergs, or to those who were foolish enough to see Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, in which the late Rosenberg prosecutor and McCarthy associate Roy Cohn is showing dancing over the characters of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in a gleeful macabre scene.
As one character puts it at the start of a chapter, “Whatever they did, they didn’t do it.” So make no mistake. The Rubells are guilty of what they were charged with; they are Soviet agents who continually rationalize their fealty to the Soviet Union of Joe Stalin with gross apologetics. As one Party activist says in the novel,
“Move the clock back to the 1940s, when Stalin, the little father, the model for progressive humanity, the feeder of the hungry….What if he and the Rubell couple is allowed the opportunity to help Stalin achieve his goals? What could they be guilty of?”
We know that the real Rosenbergs wrote Party manufactured letters to their children from prison -- widely distributed as propaganda for their cause. And so do the Rubells. As Solly writes in one letter meant to be given to his children after he is executed,
“Up to the very last minute liars have tried to convince Mommy and me that the Soviet Union is a bad place. But we know it is tops.”
If you think the real Rosenbergs would never have penned anything so stupid to their sons from the death house, think again: the real letters are much, much worse, and Evanier manages to parody their style and their mundane writing brilliantly.
Fortunately, Evanier’s writing is anything but mundane. It is, in fact, dazzling. He can take you from broad parody and satire, often hilarious---and within a few pages move to a dark and powerful chapter that gives readers the essence of what it was like to suffer in the Soviet Gulag. Readers are introduced to a fictional character named Antonio Carelli, son of an Italian immigrant to the United States, who followed his father’s path and became an organizer for the Young Communist League in Buffalo, and who left with his father for the Soviet Union when he was arrested and deported after a short prison sentence for radical activity in Youngstown, Ohio.
Arriving in their beloved Soviet Union, he and his son are arrested as dangerous foreigners and sent to the Gulag. Basing his portrayal of life there on the literature of Solzhenitsyn, Evanier lets us feel the deep despair of life in hell. Mixing truth with fantasy, Carelli is placed by Evanier in the same camp when the American dupes including Vice-President Henry A. Wallace and the Asian expert and Johns Hopkins professor, Owen Lattimore, arrive in the Kolyma region in 1944. They were actually there on a trip in which Wallace described the camp as a beautiful place inhabited by happy, prosperous prisoners. What he saw, of course, were NKVD agents acting their parts, which successfully fooled the gullible American visitors. Watching the charade and a chorus of actual prisoners perform, one of the group -- this time a fictional lawyer -- says,
“So much caring! We Americans have so much to learn from them. I’m so ashamed of our superficial values, on things, on getting ahead and competing with the next guy. It makes me want to vomit all over again!”
Carelli, we learn, was eventually freed in the period of the “thaw,” and before being rearrested, manages to leave and returns to the Buffalo he was born in. There he looks up old comrades, whom he was anxious to relate his experiences and tell them about their wasted lives in the movement. Most do not want to see him and do not return his calls. Finally, he meets an old comrade named Charlie Rosenbaum, who tells him “there is no more dream, because we found out about the Soviet Union.” But in a moment, he proudly tells him how his granddaughter has found a new dream -- Castro’s Cuba -- where she is cutting sugar cane with the Venceremos Brigades. “Perhaps there they’ll make the dream come true,” he tells Carelli. And soon we see how the Left perpetuates itself into the true believers of the young generation, who do not even realize that they are repeating the same foolish journey of their parents and grandparents.
And so in the granddaughter, we get the hint of the birth of the New Left, drawn to Cuba as her ancestors were drawn to Stalin’s paradise. The girl, named Prim Rosenbaum, offers her poetry on how great Communist Cuba is. “We prayed in the sun in front of the healthiest cows I’d ever seen.” Would someone say anything like this? I know from my own experience how true his parody is. In my trip to Cuba with erstwhile Castroites in 1975, one member of our group, learning that the showplace psychiatric facility regularly lobotomized their patients, exclaimed: “We have to understand the difference between Communist lobotomies and capitalist lobotomies.”
And then there is that wonderful parody of Communist left-speak. Speaking about his wife, Solly Rubell writes that Dolly “is the most beautiful person I have ever met…She has such revolutionary anger; she never deviates from it. She referred to Eisenhower the other day as a ‘guttersnipe in striped pants.’ And ‘a privileged fascist dog.’…she talks that way to me. I have learned so much from her integrity.”
At another time, Solly Rubell says that not only has “the U.S.S.R. had improved the lot of the underdog,” it actually put an end to “most death as we know it.” Another character named Strugin -- someone modeled on the CP’s late top ideologue and would-be historian, Herbert Aptheker, tells the narrator Lerner that in the Soviet Union, his thin hair would grow back “as a matter of course.” The real Herbert Aptheker, when a friend asked him to explain why anti-Semitism was so prevalent in the Soviet Union, responded: “There is no anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. It is forbidden by Stalin’s Constitution.” Evanier knows the kind of apologia for terror that the American Reds regularly engaged in; he simply takes it one notch further by making it so ridiculous, that even an honest commie would realize that his own statements are just as foolish.
The Rosenberg case itself is actually a metaphor for the entire folly of the American Communists and their fellow-traveling brethren. The Rosenbergs are simply one of their numbers who took the extra step of service to Stalin---espionage on his terror state’s behalf. All good Reds, if asked, would have done the very same. They all believed that the Soviet Union was the future of humanity, the good regime towards which all progressives had to aspire to build an adjunct here in the United States. They all thought that what we now know was built on terror and murder, was the only truly good society in the world- anything but a hoax. If challenged about the reality which many did know about, Stalin’s defenders would simply reply that it was capitalist propaganda, and if proven to be true, they would say it was the fault of necessary steps that had to be taken to protect it against the attempts of the U.S. to overthrow socialism.
As one character puts it, “there is only one Soviet Union in the world.” And those who viewed it as paradise, had but one job: to protect it, defend it, and serve its leader --Joseph Stalin. David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother who turned state’s witness and was imprisoned for fifteen years once put it to me, “We were soldiers for Stalin.” And in war, everything is fair. The horrible U.S. capitalist system was so evil, we are told, that not only did it pollute the atmosphere, but it was “turning innocent children into Zionists.” God forbid. In Stalin’s U.S.S.R., Zionists were hunted down and condemned as “rootless cosmopolitans,” dealt with by a bullet to the back of the head, or as was the fate of the Yiddish poet murdered by Stalin in his last years, victim of a supposed car crash, but actually an NKVD murder orchestrated to look like an accident.
The other great leftist cause of the 1930s is also not forgotten by Evanier, and that of course, is the Spanish Civil War, and the myth that only the Communists in the US and world-wide fought to give the democratic regime aid when threatened by Franco and the forces of fascism, all in the name of anti-fascism. We meet a character named Sam Kuznekow, modeled on the very real late veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, Robert Gladnick, a man I had got to know at the beginning of my own re-examination of the war, and with whom I exchanged a lengthy correspondence.
We learn the harsh reality of how the inexperienced soldiers were used as shock troops for Stalin’s Comintern army, left to die on the fields of Spain with no place to hide from the onslaught of the Franco army’s fusillade. As Kuznekow says to a Russian commander who sends the men out to their certain death, “This is a slaughter that no army would permit and I don’t want any part of it.” The response from the Commissar: “Soldiers must learn how to die!” Sentenced to death for their rebellious stance, the doomed men are told: “You will all be sentenced to death. And I want you to know this is nothing personal. This will be an objective trial. In fact, I can personally assure you that the balance of your subscriptions to the Daily Worker …will be transferred to your families in the States.” Sensing the dark mood in the killing chamber, the Soviet Commissar says: “Listen, this is a revolutionary necessity.”
The real Kuznekow, Bob Gladnick, learned the bitter truth and devoted himself to letting others know the real Soviet agenda in Spain -- that of turning the leftist Republic if they only could, to what would have been the first “People’s Democracy” in the world -- precisely the type of regimes the Soviets created in Eastern Europe after the end of World War II. Needless to say, he and the few others like him were savagely attacked by his former comrades as traitors and informers, cast into oblivion for their decision to tell the world the harsh truth.
The cause and movement for the Rosenbergs was merely one more attempt of the comrades in the United States to use their plight to gain support for Stalin’s goals during the Cold War. And in the case of the doomed couple, they were only all too willing to go to their deaths and play the part expected of them. Unlike their counterparts in Moscow’s many purge trials, they did not have to be tortured and fed a script to read in the courtroom. They lied on Stalin’s behalf all on their own, and were even willing to make their own children orphans and themselves as martyrs.
For years, the American left glamorized and memorialized them, even as today they declare others as guilty as the Rosenbergs to be innocent and victims of American imperialism. Knowing this all to be false, David Evanier has brilliantly satirized the world of the gullible who made up the ranks of the Communists, and the belief of all their allies who believed that no nation was more at fault for the world’s sins than their own homeland, the United States of America.
I have always argued had the real Rosenbergs not been executed, the world would not have had the chance to condemn the U.S. for execution of a mother who left their children orphans. Even J. Edgar Hoover petitioned the White House not to have her put to death. Moreover, after the Khrushchev Report in 1956 and the beginning of acknowledgement of Stalin’s crimes, as well as the attempt of Stalin to destroy the entire Soviet Jewish community in the so-called “Doctor’s Plot,” the chance would have taken place that even the Rosenbergs would have had regrets about their wasted lives, and would have confessed and made public their disillusionment.
In the novel, Evanier has Dolly Rubell say that once the Eastern European regimes abandoned socialism, “on that day the Rubells will say they’re guilty!” That day might have occurred, and a real confession by the Rosenbergs, had they remained alive, would have completely destroyed the entire edifice of the mythical world of American Communism.
So read David Evanier’s Red Love, and painlessly learn about the lives and the tragedy of those who wasted their time on this earth in life dedicated to doing their part to help one of the last Century’s most tyrannical and murderous regimes.
Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Fellow at The Hudson Institute, a columnist for PJ Media, and co-author of The Rosenberg File.
To order David Evanier's Red Love on Kindle, click here.