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
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
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.
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
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
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
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)
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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