EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including those of you who can imagine a great Dear Reader gag here),
The Times has been running a series on Communism called “The Red Century.” It’s really, really weird. At times, it feels like the greatest high-brow trolling effort in recorded history. Some of the headlines read like they were plucked from the reject pile at The Onion. I particularly enjoyed “Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism.” One wonders what all the women who had to service their prison guards for a crust of bread would think about that. With the exception of one essay by Harvey Klehr, the upshot seems to be an effort to rehabilitate Communism for a certain kind of New York Times liberal who desperately needs to cling to the belief that he was on the right side of an argument he lost.
The tone is less “Communism was awesome” and more “Well, we sophisticated people understand it was a mixed bag, so let’s focus on the bright spots.” E.g., Mao’s collectivization liberated women from domestic service and put them to work in factories (that is the millions of women who weren’t killed in the process).
Most Communists never set foot in party headquarters, laid eyes on a Central Committee member, or were privy to policy-making sessions. But every rank-and-filer knew that party unionists were crucial to the rise of industrial labor; party lawyers defended blacks in the South; party organizers lived, worked, and sometimes died with miners in Appalachia; farm workers in California; steel workers in Pittsburgh. What made it all real were the organizations the party built: the International Workers Order, the National Negro Congress, the Unemployment Councils. Whenever some new world catastrophe announced itself throughout the Depression and World War II, The Daily Worker sold out in minutes.
It is perhaps hard to understand now, but at that time, in this place, the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified. It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted. No reward of life, no love nor fame nor wealth, could compete with the experience. It was this all-in-allness of world and self that, all too often, made of the Communists true believers who could not face up to the police state corruption at the heart of their faith, even when a 3-year-old could see that it was eating itself alive.
I wrote about Gornick’s essay on the Corner at the time, so I won’t dwell on it now. But the ideas here and throughout the series are fairly obvious, because so many of them hardened into sad clichés long ago. The motives were good! The revolution was betrayed! “Real” socialism is a worthy goal! It’s never been tried!
Frankly, I find the Twitter feed of the Socialist Party of Great Britain more entertaining and more honest:
Are you about to tell us “Socialism was tried in Russia” or “Look at Venezuela” etc? It has NEVER EXISTED! It comes AFTER global capitalism! pic.twitter.com/Rr1Ra0ugbE— The Socialist Party (@OfficialSPGB) November 16, 2016
Venezuela does not have socialism (a class-free society with no ruling elite). It has a leftwing state-run profit-driven capitalist economy. pic.twitter.com/KpkiUCA0NA— The Socialist Party (@OfficialSPGB) October 5, 2017
It’s an incredibly useful debating tactic to say that every failed socialist country wasn’t really socialist because it had a ruling class. The problem is that there will never be a “true” socialist country because ruling classes are inevitable. The unapologetic reds should spend a little less time reading Marx and read more Max Nomad, Milovan Djilas, Max Schachtman, James Burnham, and other Communists and former Communists who understood that any attempt to create a “true socialist” society runs into the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Every organization requires some small group of people to make important decisions. They may use their special knowledge and power to help people, but it’s also a sure bet that they will use it to help themselves as well. A society without democratic institutions and market mechanisms by its nature will invest bureaucrats with enormous power to make choices about how other people will live.
Anyway, what got me thinking about Communism in the first place was this story. It turns out that Russian meddling in the election wasn’t reserved for generating an army of MAGA Twitter bots:
A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election, two sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
This is amusing for a bunch of reasons, but the relevant one brings us back to the Times’ Red Century stuff. It is absolutely true that many dedicated American Communists and Communist sympathizers cared sincerely and passionately about civil rights. And that cause was indeed good and noble. But what gets left out of the picture is that Soviet support for their cause was not good and noble. It was, simply, evil and cynical. First of all, the notion that a totalitarian dictatorship that murdered and enslaved its own people actually cared about civil rights for Americans shouldn’t have passed the laugh test.
But on the matter of Russia’s meddling in American politics, the hypocrisy of American liberals isn’t remotely captured by shouting “Romney was right!” about Russia.
Russia’s meddling in American politics has continued, with only the briefest interruption in the 1990s, for a century. Liberals may only recently have discovered “fake news” — but that crap has been made in Russia for decades. The Soviets, with the aid of useful idiots and even-more-useful agents, convinced large swathes of the world that the CIA created AIDS. During the Korean War, they fabricated “confessions” and other evidence that America used biological-warfare weapons. The Soviets undermined democratic societies — and developing countries throughout the world — with conspiracy theories planted in newspapers and TV shows and peddled by seemingly legitimate academics. Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University (no really) granted Ph.D.s in Holocaust denial and anti-Zionist canards.
The Soviets loved black radicals in the U.S. not because they gave a rat’s ass about black empowerment or civil rights but because they wanted to sow unrest in America. At minimum, they liked to use images of civil unrest for even greater propaganda victories. But the ultimate goal, until the very end of the Cold War, was the collapse of the United States.
I’d go into further detail, but ThinkProgress actually has a very good article on this history:
For instance, as described in Christopher Andrew’s The Sword and the Shield, a detailed composition of KGB operations compiled by a former KGB archivist, Soviet operations to stoke racial tensions spiked in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, Moscow aimed at removing Martin Luther King, Jr., from his leadership role within the broader civil rights movement. Per Andrew, KGB higher-ups approved a plan to “place articles in the African press, which could then be reprinted in American newspapers, portraying King as an ‘Uncle Tom’ who was secretly receiving government subsidies to tame the civil rights movement and prevent it threatening the Johnson administration.” (Writes Andrew, MLK “was probably the only prominent American to be the target of active measures by both the FBI and the KGB.”)
As War is Boring’s Darien Cavanaugh added, the campaign sought to replace King with Stokely Carmichael, hoping a less pacifist leader would help spark a race war within the U.S. The drive also included, in a harbinger of the Facebook ads to come, distributing fabricated pamphlets that showed far-right groups bent on “developing a plan for the physical elimination of leading figures in the Negro movement in the U.S.”
Growing bolder by the early 1970s, the KGB moved beyond innuendo into a far more violent strain of its campaign. Moscow higher-ups — including then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who would eventually lead the Soviet Union in the early 1980s — signed off on pamphlets, to be sent to African-American militants, which said that Jewish vigilante groups viewed them as “black mongrels.” Writes Cavanaugh, the pamphlets “were distributed to 30 black militant groups in the New York area.”
Meanwhile, the KGB approved a plan to release explosives in “the Negro section of New York,” with one KGB official suggesting bombing “one of the Negro colleges” as a back-up option. Following the planned bombing, KGB agents would then issue anonymous phone calls “to two or three black organizations, claiming that the explosion was the work of the Jewish Defense League.”
I know this is running long, but two points need to be made. First, when you read about how American Communists and fellow-travelers had the best of intentions and were on the right side of history, bear in mind that these people were at best noble dupes and useful idiots for an evil empire.
Second, for the conservatives out there who have suddenly developed a strange new respect for Vladimir Putin because he’s a “strong leader” or some other flaming garbage, you should keep in mind that the former KGB agent is an unapologetic creature of that evil empire, shorn of Marxist pretense. He is doing to America today what he was trained to do.
Various & Sundry
By now, you’ve probably heard that the podcast is up and running. The debut episode featured renowned corn-stalk-urination specialist Ben Sasse. For the second episode, I invited my cellmate from Rykers, Yuval Levin.
No one knows better than this guy that it’s still a work in progress. But the early reviews have been pretty positive. I’m still eager for feedback. I’m married to nothing (except my wife). We’ll probably get some new music in there soon (send your suggestions), and I’ve got all kinds of weird ideas about the format, but I’m open to hearing more (if someone can figure out how to incorporate dogs as podcast guests, I’d love to hear from you). I’m told that it’s very important that you give it 8 trillion stars at iTunes and other platforms and that you actually subscribe. At a minimum, I would love to have more subscribers than that villainous coven podcast The Editors.
Canine Update: Because I believe in honest reporting in this “news”letter, I feel compelled to share the shame of the Goldberg house these days. One of the dogs has been pooping in the house. We don’t know who’s doing it, though I suspect it’s Pippa. One of the great things about having a Carolina dog is that they are, like Sir John Gielgud, very private poopers. When we’re in the woods, Zoë prefers to run off out of sight and do her business in some secret ancient poop burial ground. Meanwhile, Pippa is like some eccentric British aristocrat and thinks her poop is a problem for the help to take care of. Anyway, it’s dismaying because we don’t think either of them is sick, and they keep pointing the damning paw of blame at each other. The cats think it’s all disgusting.
Meanwhile the only other thing of note to report is that Pippa was shnurfling around in some leaves the other day and uncovered a frog that proceeded to jump right into her face. Our cherished dogwalker Kirsten said that Pippa let out a shriek that frightened all of the other dogs in the pack, along with Kirsten herself. Pippa had PTSD for a while afterwards. I’m actually at a conference in upstate New York right now, but I’m told that the beasts miss me greatly (File photos). Almost as much as I miss them.
Book Update: I’m not sure I officially told you folks yet, but the manuscript has been accepted by the publisher. So now I am waiting for page proofs, which is a whole different level of Book Hell. The pub date is set for late April, and I’m going to be doing a lot of promotion for it in the spring. If you know of an organization that might want to host an event in 2018 for the book, please let me know. You can send an email to Jack.Butler@AEI.org.
Oh, and just a reminder for folks in Northern California: I will be speaking to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley next week.
ICYMI . . .
And now, the weird stuff.