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.
But it wasn’t merely the intellectuals. America’s iconic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was impressed by “Uncle Joe.” Amazingly, Stalin so hoodwinked President Roosevelt, that FDR openly mused that Stalin had even taught FDR, Churchill, and all the rest of them something about the “way in which a Christian gentleman should behave.” Where might Stalin have gained this alleged virtue? FDR, the Episcopalian elder from Hyde Park, looked upward for an answer: Perhaps it had been the dictator’s youthful training for the “priesthood.”
Of course, it wasn’t merely old men in the Kremlin that impressed the American Left. Our intellectuals, from writers to hippies, were ga-ga like giddy schoolgirls over certain Latin American communists.
For some of these men, the attraction to these caudillos seemed to border on the sexual. After meeting Che Guevara, I. F. Stone, who founded the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee with Corliss Lamont, recorded: “He was the first man I had ever met whom I thought not just handsome but beautiful. With his curly, reddish beard, he looked like a cross between a faun and a Sunday school print of Jesus.” Stone carried on, speaking of Che as “like some early saint, taking refuge in the desert.”
Similar urges were expressed of Che’s partner in crime, Fidel Castro, whose presence transformed ‘60s “yippie” Abbie Hoffman. “Fidel lets the gun drop to the ground, slaps his thigh and stands erect,” marveled Hoffman at the sight of Castro. “He is like a mighty penis coming to life, and when he is tall and straight, the crowd immediately is transformed.”
When the image of a giant penis was not satisfying enough to the Left’s exalted imagery of Fidel, the likes of Norman Mailer invoked the specter of “the ghost of Cortez … riding Zapata’s white horse.”
As usual, outdoing all others in its undo praise of Castro was the Bible of the American Left: the New York Times. Most egregious was a remarkably influential page-one article in the Sunday, February 24, 1957 issue, where reporter Herb Matthews assured Americans that Castro’s “program” “amounts to a new deal for Cuba, radical, democratic and therefore anti-communist.” Matthews was confident that Castro would bring “social justice” to Cuba. Granted an exclusive interview with a Castro hiding in the Sierra Maestra mountains, Matthews excitedly reported that Castro spoke with “extraordinary eloquence.” “His is a political mind rather than a military one,” reported the _Times_’ journalist. “He has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution, to hold elections. He has strong ideas on economy, too.”
What unbiased source did Matthews cite for these remarkable claims? Fidel Castro, of course. “Above all,” Castro promised the New York Times, “we are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to dictatorship.” Castro assured that he desired a “free, democratic Cuba.”
Yes, yes, but that’s old Cold War stuff—or mostly, at least. These guys are all long gone now, Mailer, Hoffman, Matthews.
Well, how about this post-Cold War assessment of the last remaining true bastion of Stalinism; that is, North Korea and its dictator, Kim Il-Sung, offered by an elected American president, Jimmy Carter?
Carter made a June 1994 trip to this prison state. Carter was totally hoodwinked, filing this incredible account of life in North Korea:
People are busy. They work 48 hours a week…. We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It’s like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.
In truth, North Korea is a sea of darkness. As a well-known satellite photo attests (click here), the country at night is draped in black, in empty contrast to South Korea. Within one year of Carter’s gushing appraisal, two to three million North Koreans (out of a population of 20 million) starved to death. They weren’t packing Wal-Mart; they were eating grass, bark from trees, and, in some cases, human corpses.
Should I go on? The tragedy of the Left is its consistent gullibility as it moves from one international totalitarian threat to another, from the Cold to the War on Terror—as has been ably demonstrated in these pages by the likes of Jamie Glazov, David Horowitz, and others, whether documenting Jimmy Carter’s statements about Hamas or various other liberals’ encomiums about Middle East Islamists.
And when they’re not praising our enemies, liberals are blasting American leaders who try to confront those enemies.
Who could forget when, on May 10, 2004, Ted Kennedy went to the Senate floor and declared: “President Bush asked: ‘Who would prefer that Saddam’s torture chambers still be open?’ Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management—U.S. management.”
Or, recall the unforgettable words of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who compared the thankless work of U.S. military interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay facility to the work of “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings.” This was not a flip comment by a Durbin caught on tape outside a nightclub after a few drinks. Durbin said this on the floor of the U.S. Senate, reading from a text, on June 14, 2005, amid the single worst stretch of killings of American soldiers by terrorists inside Iraq. The terrorists’ goal was to subvert support for America’s mission in Iraq and the War on Terror. Durbin had helped the cause.
Believe me when I say that this is merely a sample of what could be a multi-volume set chronicling the Left’s fatal misjudgment of a long line of dictators and brutal regimes, where jaw-dropping naïveté has led to the replacement of moderately repressive regimes with something far worse, from Nicaragua to Iran.
Could Egypt be next? Could Mubarak give way to the Muslim Brotherhood? I have many thoughts on that complex situation. But I know one thing for certain: Based on a long, long line of fatal deceit, I don’t trust the American Left to get it right.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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