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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
February 23, 2011

Before the Hive (Part I)   
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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bee hive

Over the past twenty years I’ve often written about “the Hive” — my nickname for the informal body of opinion comprising liberals, socialists, outright Communists, and various other strains of “progressive” opinion.

Like an odor, such folk are easier to sense than to define. They include assorted activists for specific causes, as well as more passive enablers, especially in the news media. The Democratic Party is their chief American organ.

The Soviet Union, until it collapsed, was the Queen Bee of the Hive. The Worker Bees of the West took their bearings — though not their orders — from the great socialist motherland. They operated sympathetically, but independently. Most of them would have felt insulted if their Soviet allies had tried to push them around.

The Hive was not, and is not, a conspiracy; it’s more a pattern. Naive anti-Communists, seeing the pattern, have mistaken it for a conspiracy. The Bees, on the other hand, have made their own mistake. Knowing that they aren’t parties to a conspiracy, they fail to see the evident pattern of their collective behavior. By sheer, insectlike instinct, they obey not the dictates of a foreign power, but the internal logic of their own nature, their yearning for a secularist and socialist political order.

This yearning drew the Bees to Communism at one period in modern history, but it also survived the institutional death of Communism; though Communism was profoundly attractive to the Bees as long as it appeared viable, Communism as such was never the essence of the attraction. Its powerful appeal, during the naive phase of the Hive, was simply that the Soviet Union under Stalin looked like a winner — a huge and altogether successful experiment in “building a new society” on progressive lines. It was also frightening, and during the 1930s, dubbed "the Red Decade" by Eugene Lyons (in his scathingly witty book of that title), it wielded incalculable power even in this country. Such people, Lyons wrote, “were drawn to the Great Experiment by its magnitude and seeming strength. Under the guise of a nobly selfless dedication they were, in fact, identifying themselves with Power.”

In fact, the Communists and pro-Communists of the Red Decade were distinguished by their real and virtual allegiance to the Soviet Union and to Stalin himself. Though they may have thought of themselves as internationalists who transcended national loyalties, they actually transferred their patriotism to a specific foreign power, which they defended, justified, and celebrated at every turn. It seems almost unbelievably naive now, but the evidence Lyons amassed is undeniable. The Red Decade1 is packed with the insane eulogies to Stalin and Soviet Russia that gushed from American liberals in those days. A new civilization was being born ... Russians were enjoying unprecedented freedom and prosperity ... A new Renaissance was thriving ... Industrial production was booming ...

All lies and fantasies — the very opposite of the indescribably grim truth. The vast and cruel tyranny was claiming millions of lives, most of them due to a policy of forced famine; the survivors lived in utter poverty, due equally to tyranny and incompetence; art, culture, and intellectual life were being crushed, along with religion. Civilization itself was being murdered in Russia, with the vociferous approval of free men in the still-civilized countries to the West.

A few honest visitors told the truth. But they were shouted down, drowned out, vilified by the organized Stalin apologists. These included not only party hacks, but prominent and often gifted writers, intellectuals, and opinion-makers: Lincoln Steffens, Louis Fischer, John Strachey, Maurice Hindus, Malcolm Cowley, Granville Hicks, Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, Paul de Kruif, James Weldon Johnson, Archibald MacLeish, George Soule, Langston Hughes, George Seldes, Richard Wright, Newton Arvin, Van Wyck Brooks, Kenneth Burke, Erskine Caldwell, Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Irwin Shaw, Irving Stone, Vincent Sheean, Upton Sinclair, Carl Van Doren, Louis Untermeyer, William Carlos Williams, Lillian Hellman, Henry Roth, Max Lerner, Heywood Broun, Ring Lardner Jr., and Nathaniel West.

All in all, an impressive roster. No wonder it took a bold man to defy the engineered consensus that Stalin and Communism were the wave of the future, the harbingers of universal human destiny. Who could suppose that so many leading intellectuals were prostituting their minds for the sake of a single foreign tyrant? They seemed to speak for enlightenment itself.

It’s easy to suppose, now, that Communism was a minor part of American life in the Thirties. We have all been taught that McCarthy Era hysteria grossly magnified the reality. It didn’t. Through his iron (though hidden) control of sycophantic intellectuals, labor unions, and other forces, Stalin wielded enormous power over millions of Americans, most of whom had no suspicion of his reach, or of his sinister influence over their opinion leaders.

Stalin was Communism. Or rather, Communism became whatever Stalin said it was. Indifferent to theory, contemptuous of abstractions (and intellectuals), he had a crude and undistracted appreciation of power: how to get it, how to wield it, how to keep it. His method was simple: terror. He murdered those who resisted him; he also murdered those who assisted him, lest they acquire some claim on him. His ruthlessness was felt through his whole global network, and was emulated by his cadres abroad. Where murder wasn’t possible, character assassination would do. The most severe punishments were meted out to defectors, and the dread of Stalin’s (or his underlings’) revenge did wonders for party cohesion.

“Our own American Popular Front,” Lyons wrote, “though never officially in power as it was in France and for a brief period in Spain, penetrated, in various degrees, the labor movement, education, the churches, college and non-college youth movements, the theater, movies, the arts, publishing in all its branches; it bored deep into the Federal Government and in many communities also into local government; it obtained a stranglehold on great sectors of national and local relief setups and made-work projects through domination of the Workers Alliance, capture of key jobs, and other stratagems. At its highest point — roughly about 1938 — the incredible revolution of the Red Decade had mobilized the conscious or the starry-eyed, innocent collaboration of thousands of influential American educators, social workers, clergymen, New Deal officials, youth leaders, Negro and other racial spokesmen, Social Registerites, novelists, Hollywood stars, script writers, and directors, trade-union chiefs, men and women of abnormal wealth [my emphasis]. Its echoes could be heard in the most unexpected places, including the supposed citadels of conservatism and respectability.” Apart from its omission of journalists, this is a pretty fair catalogue of the constituent Bees of today’s Hive. Of course time has added some new categories: feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists, and the like.

Lyons added that “the complex communist United Front tinctured every department of American life while it lasted and has left its color indelibly on the mind and moral character of the country. Our labor movement, politics, arts, culture, and vocabulary still carry its imprint.”

1-The Red Decade: The classic work on communism in America during the thirties (Arlington House, second edition, 1970, 423 pages) by Eugene Lyons. Originally published in 1941 under the title, The Red Decade: The Stalinist Penetration of America (Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1941, 423 pages) by the same author.

(Next: How the Communist philosophy gripped American public opinion)

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Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted from SOBRAN’S: THE REAL NEWS OF THE MONTH, August 2001.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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