YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 19, 2012

Communist ideas go mainstream

Rosa Luxemburg

[This blog should be read in tandem with http://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/.]

The most important idea in this blog: that the original Progressives wanted a regulated capitalism that would stave off the specter of red revolution. Their enemies were Gilded Age robber barons/ finance capital, but more so, a militant working class that seemed to be on the march, especially during the riotous year of 1919. In the first eight months of 1919–in August introducing the first article publicizing the ostensibly forgotten Herman Melville (1819-1891), The Nation magazine advised its conservative readers to move sharply to the left, outflanking the Industrial Workers of the World and its evil twin the Socialist Party. Oswald Garrison Villard’s influential magazine preached “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the communitarian sort that such Anglo-Saxon upper-Midwesterners such as Ernest Hemingway would embody in his novels, for instance in A Farewell to Arms (where war is blamed on the upper classes, and suffered by hapless peasants), and then For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940, written shortly before EH was to be recruited by the KGB as revealed in The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, 2009, see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/).

Nation writers in 1919 also made a vital distinction between industrial capital and finance capital: the latter were Shylocks, while industrial capital was, by contrast, close to the earth, *suggesting the same primitivism, earthiness, and regressive use of language [childish prattle?] that Hemingway (a.k.a. “Hemingstein”) admired. They also posited mystical bonds to unite society, for they were at heart organic conservatives, hostile to anything that smacked of empiricism or “materialism.” Above all, they preached deference to gentlemanly, compassionate Anglo-Saxon experts, who, properly reconstructed, would avoid the extremes of heartless laissez-faire capitalism and communist revolution (Jew/Jacobin-led mob rule). That is why I call them the moderate men, and these moderates can be found in both political parties today, arguing for “the neutral state,” while at the same time, the moderate men are attuned to life among the lowly (see http://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/, with its bizarre notion that all conflict can be reconciled by the artful, manipulative “mediator” bringing progressive ideas of order to the “mixed-economy”).

For a detailed account of The Nation line in January-August 1919, see http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For more on the separation of finance capital from industrial capital see http://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.

In a more recent blog, I summarized the main ideas of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes in their detailed summation of the Communist movement in the U.S. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/. ) As Klehr and Haynes demonstrate the heyday of American communism was the Great Depression, or as literary scholars say, the Red Decade, where virtually every important writer studied Marx and Lenin, with many joining the communist movement, though there were vicious animosities between Stalinists and Trotskyists that remain relevant today (for instance, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, between readers of The New Masses and Partisan Review). Klehr and Haynes argue that the communist movement today is weak and nearly defunct, but did not trace the infiltration of Leninist statism into the progressive movement and the New Left, though they mention several instances where New Deal strategies such as social security were first introduced by the CPUSA (but see Professor Cherny’s objection to this claim below in his lengthy comment).

Marcus Garvey

New Left developments: The civil rights movement, under infiltration by communist thinkers and organizers, quickly turned from an integrationist movement (the MLK Jr. line) to a militantly cultural nationalist movement, drawing on both the cultural pluralism introduced by earlier progressives, and the separatism advocated by avowed fascists such as Marcus Garvey (a petit-bourgeois radical and precursor to Malcolm X), or by Communists  advocating a Black Belt in the deep American South as reparations for the horrors of slavery, debt-peonage, and Jim Crow.

Schine, McCarthy, Cohn

The New Left (many of whom were readers and admirers of the anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist British Left still reeling from the 1956 revelations about Stalin) defined itself as “anti-anti-Communist,” with a great horror of McCarthy and his vile [Jewish] henchmen, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, arguing that anticommunism was a (continued) cover for right-wing opposition to the statist New Deal, and of course that we had not “lost China” as “right-wing loons” had insisted. It was this 1960s generation that turned once again to history from the bottoms up, or social history or cultural history, histories that had already been made fashionable and appealing by 1930s progressive journalists, authors, songwriters, filmmakers, and playwrights  celebrating the Common Man/the Salt of the Earth.  See http://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/, but also recent blogs on such figures as Edna Ferber, Oscar Hammerstein, and Martha Gellhorn. Today, NPR, the Pacifica Foundation, and academic departments of humanities  continue the populist-communitarian strain extant since the last decade of the 19th century, antisemitism and all. What a shock it must have been when Yale University Press published its series of books that delved into the briefly opened Soviet archives, revealing that Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, et al, were guilty of espionage after all, that Whittaker Chambers was no sociopath, and though McCarthy was a vile opportunist, he was not so far off the mark as liberals had insisted.

TIME Cover, March 8, 1954

Although in prior blogs I have made sharp distinctions between liberal anticommunists (social democrats) and hardcore communists and fascists, the statism and crypto-elitism advanced by “progressivism” have so blurred the boundaries between social democracy and full-fledged Marxist-Leninism that I cannot blame those on the Right who conflate all the variant statisms into one huge encroaching monster. Popular Front politics did not stop in 1939, but persist into the present.

*It was Nation writer Lincoln Colcord who draw a distinction between “international bankers” versus “commercial bankers”; the latter were closer to the site of production, hence would make concessions to labor, whereas the international bankers were solely involved with the extraction of profits. Cf. J. A. Hobson, also favorably cited by The Nation in this period.

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14 Comments »

  1. […] This is my advice in part two of this series, for I speak out of long experience with Democrats and leftists (who now seem to be inseparable, see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/): […]

    Pingback by Standing up to bullying social democrats (2) | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 6, 2014 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  2. [...] mostly to each other, their impressionable students, and apparently POTUS and his appointees. See http://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/. (I learned about Eros und Bund from the late George L. Mosse, the prolific historian of popular [...]

    Pingback by My “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and Eric Hobsbawm « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 22, 2012 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  3. I mean Mexican and Central American foreign nationals in old age.

    Comment by cynthia curran — August 10, 2012 @ 12:06 am | Reply

  4. Well, take the Right for example Rick Perry critical of Social Security but supported in-State Tuition breaks for illegal immigrants around 2000. George W Bush wanted to have some private investment but also wanted to have legalized Hispanics the opportunity to receive Social Security in all age like other legal foreign nationals in Canada or Europe who can or take their governments pension systems. In the case of Mexican and Central foreign born they will always take Social Secuirty and will probably invest little in a private alternative.

    Comment by cynthia curran — August 10, 2012 @ 12:05 am | Reply

  5. [...] http://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Leave a Comment [...]

    Pingback by Hating finance capital « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 5, 2012 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  6. Your comments show that you are making great efforts to research and understand the slow destruction of normal-America’s culture.

    I just saw your comment on Ed Driscoll’s PJ blog today: “Until we have a full account of the cultural work of the USSR in America, we won’t understand anything that happened in the 1960s.”

    Funnily enough, I”ve published the seminal work in this regard.

    My book: Willing Accomplices: How KGB Covert Influence Agents Created Political Correctness,

    provides the closest thing to “a full account of the cultural work of the USSR in America.”

    What you’re calling “cultural work” is actually an intelligence operation the KGB called “Active Measures.” We call it covert action. One type of covert action is covert influence.

    Willi Muenzenberg was the KGB’s covert influence (and propaganda) genius. He ran the operation, beginning in the 20s, designed to destroy normal-America. The culmination of his op was the emergence of full blown PC-Prog anti-American politics in the 80s.

    Muenzenberg’s operation had two important facets. The first was the payload (see below), and the second was the creation of the PC-Prog attitude–membership in the Elite Vanguard, oh-so-smart, compassionate, caring, and just-better-than-you-moron-millions.

    The payload was best expressed by Willi’s wife:

    The hate-America-first payload, designed by the KGB’s master of covert influence, Willi Muenzenberg, was simple and direct:

    You claim to be an independent-minded idealist.
    You don’t really understand politics, but you think the little guy is getting a lousy break.
    You believe in open-mindedness.
    You are shocked, frightened by what is going on right here in our own country.
    You’re frightened by the racism, by the oppression of the workingman.
    You think the Russians are trying a great human experiment, and you hope it works.
    You believe in peace.
    You yearn for international understanding.
    You hate fascism.
    You think the capitalist system is corrupt.

    http://www.willingaccomplices.com

    Comment by Kent Clizbe — July 24, 2012 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

    • Stephen Koch wrote an interesting book about Muenzenberg, called DOUBLE LIVES. Thanks for the summary of the KGB tactics.

      Comment by clarespark — July 24, 2012 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  7. The idea of social security was NOT a CP idea that infiltrated the New Deal, but was instead first advocated for during the Progressive Era. There were unpublished parts of the draft of the report of the Industrial Commission that advocated not only for old-age pensions and disability benefits but also for universal medical care. The platform of the Progressive Party in 1912 advocated for those things: “The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use.” Those ideas were common among one wing of progressivism (see Shelton Stromquist’s recent book for more about that wing of progressivism, dominated by social workers, settlement house workers, the Commons group at the University of Wisconsin, etc.), and those were the ideas, and some of the same people, that Frances Perkins drew upon in drafting the original social security legislation. See the various biographies of Perkins for more information. The CP always claimed credit for social security, but in fact opposed the original legislation, as it opposed much of the early (pre-People’s Front) New Deal.

    I’d also not consider The Nation to be representative of the mainstream of progressivism, but rather to be more aligned to that wing of progressivism described by Stromquist.

    I also don’t see mainstream, prominent progressives (TR, Hiram Johnson, Robert La Follette, George Norris, Woodrow Wilson, W J Bryan, etc.) making the distinction that you claim between industrial and financial capitalism. What’s the evidence for your argument?

    I agree that such mainstream, prominent progressives saw themselves as attempting to steer a middle course between unbridled capitalism [whether industrial (Rockefeller) or financial (Morgan)] and the anti-capitalist left (SPA, IWW). They were not seeking to destroy to capitalism, but instead to regulate its excesses, either through limiting the size of corporations (Bryan, Brandeis, briefly TR and briefly Wilson) or through regulation by the state (TR, the later Wilson).

    Comment by Robert Cherny — July 21, 2012 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

    • I relied upon Klehr and Haynes (their book on the CP in the USA) for the notion that the CP suggested the idea of social security in 1930; surely they were not the only ones. As for the lineage of social insurance in general, I have traced that throughout my website, for instance here in my piece on Disraeli: http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/. As for the distinction between finance capital and industrial capital, see the long essay I linked on populism, progressivism and corporatist liberalism in The Nation, 1919. I do not agree with you that “the money power” has not been a consistent target for both progressives and for the Left.

      Comment by clarespark — July 21, 2012 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  8. No one worries about a revolution of desperate, radicalized workers any more. Right and Left agree that the road to a communal utopia is going to come, if ever, through dependence on an increasingly powerful benign government whose power will grow by assuming responsibility for real or perceived social problems. I doubt that hard leftists will ever see their dream realized. The Progressives have already won. The relationship Americans have with their government is primarily administrative, where citizens are supplicants.
    Only the cruel and the callous could be against extension of the government as it deals with one of life’s vicissitudes after another. The source of the erosion of personal liberty and responsibility is this assumption that government is the proper solution to more and more personal problems. Liberals see this progression one issue at a time, the Left views this as a process leading to a society dominated by an enlightened elite, and the Right despairs for our freedom and dignity.

    Comment by Erik Anderson — July 20, 2012 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

  9. I have a problem with your aversion to moderate men..If the choice is between unfettered capitalism and marxist revolution, isn’t a moderate middle ground to be preferred

    Comment by david gansel — July 19, 2012 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

    • May I recommend Arthur Brooks’s The Road to Freedom, for a fair and precise account of what you call “unfettered capitalism.” There is no such thing as libertarian capitalism without a safety net. Whereas moderates place their followers in double binds, as I showed here and throughout the website: http://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/. Moderation is a fine ideal for promoting personal health, but in modern political ideology, is utopian.

      Comment by clarespark — July 19, 2012 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

      • I have long subscribed to the thought you described above, but, alas, my writing skills are unequal to yours and had previously been unable to articulate as you have that political moderation equals utopianism (simple thoughts can be the hardest to express). Thanks for the assist.

        Comment by Poppakap — September 3, 2012 @ 10:23 pm


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