If the Hive is spontaneous, The
Red Decade1 was conspiratorial.
Stalin and his helpers were able to manipulate “a horde of
part-time pseudo-rebels who [had] neither courage nor convictions,
but only a muddy emotionalism and a mental fog which made them
an easy prey for the arbiters of a political racket.” The
dreaded charge of “red-baiting” (the
forerunner of “McCarthyism,” but far more deadly) was enough
to cow into silence most criticism of Soviet Communism. And of Stalin
himself. Anti-Communists risked, and often received, ostracism, vicious
slander, and personal harassment. It was unnerving even to those few
who had the nerve and stature to withstand it; and it was especially
effective in deterring the far more numerous weak and timid souls from
following their example.
Lyons' book, The Red Decade, is a shocking
reminder of how powerfully Communism gripped American public opinion,
through publishing, entertainment, the labor movement, and higher education.
Today Communism is dead — and
yet it isn’t.
The power that was once concentrated in a few Red hands is now diffused
among countless others, but, though it doesn’t exactly terrorize,
it still intimidates. As Charles Peguy presciently put it nearly a
century ago, “We shall never know how many acts of cowardice
have been motivated by the fear of seeming not sufficiently progressive.”
During the Red Decade, Soviet apologists deemed old scruples out of
place when measuring the Soviet achievement. “On the contrary,” as
Lyons observed, “the more distasteful the chore, the greater
the credit.” Repression, purge, forced famine were alternately
denied and defended. The ten years of the Red Decade were “the
years of the apotheosis of Stalin. The Revolution had been reduced
to one man; Marxism, Soviet style, was just another name for the whims
and blunders of one man; the Communist International and all its myriad
appendages were literally nothing more than his private racket.” Today’s
Hive is thoroughly decentralized. Yet it still maintains its own highly
effective discipline. It has refined ideology into a sort of etiquette. “Progressive” opinion
enjoys the aura of politesse; whereas “reactionary” views
are felt to be ignorant and boorish.
The New Deal proved hospitable to Communist infiltration. Franklin
Roosevelt, though sometimes wary of open association, praised Stalin’s
1936 constitution — sufficient proof, by the way, that he had
no grasp whatever of the U.S. Constitution. Joseph Davies, his ambassador
to Moscow, wrote a famously fatuous book, Mission
to Moscow, in praise
of Stalin’s utopia. Such cabinet officers as Frances Perkins
(who, Lyons wrote, “seems to live in dread of criticism from
the Left”), Harold Ickes, and Henry Wallace were always ready
to lend their names and persons to Communist-front groups.
As for Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyons captures her essence: “The First
Lady of the land became almost standard equipment in setting up any
new Innocents’ Club or in bolstering the prestige of an old one;
her sympathetic heart, her social-worker enthusiasm and ideological
naivete made her a perfect subject for communist hoaxes.... In the
inner circle of activists, I was told, she was regarded as one of the
party’s most valuable assets.” One precious detail emerged
long after Lyons’s book was published: Mrs. Roosevelt, attending
a diplomatic function, insisted on being escorted by Alger Hiss.
Stalin could count on his cadres, fellow-travelers, and dupes to follow
every twist and reverse in his party line, but he finally demanded
too much even of the most gullible. He destroyed his own Popular Front
when he made his pact with Germany in 1939 and joined the rape of Poland.
At that point even many hard-core Communists, hating Hitler even more
than they loved Stalin, at last broke away in disgust.
From that moment, mechanical pro-Communism in America was a thing
of the past. The Soviet Union lost nearly all its American loyalists.
Many of them would still pine for an “ideal” Communism,
and continued to regard Soviet Russia as vaguely progressive, but the
old thrill was gone forever.
During World War II Stalin enjoyed a temporary reconciliation with
American liberal opinion; through no fault of his own, Soviet Russia
was invaded by its German allies (as Lyons had predicted) in June 1941,
and in December the United States entered the war on Stalin’s
side. U.S. Government propaganda lied to the American public about
its “Russian friends” as shamelessly as the Communists
and fellow-travelers had lied during the Red Decade. At the war’s
end, the fruits of victory in Central Europe were too sweet for Stalin
to bother hiding his true colors, and American illusions were no longer
Today the liberals have run out of utopias. Russia is Russia again,
having renounced the Red dream after terror devolved into shabbiness;
China, though semi-Commie, can be nobody’s ideal; Cuba is both
brutal and squalid. Even Sweden has lost its charm.
The Hive no longer believes in socialism, though it keeps moving spasmodically
toward it out of old habits. The victory of market capitalism is too
clear, and planned economies have proved embarrassing. The Bees have
to settle for keeping the welfare state — also semi-disreputable — and
making hay on abortion, sodomy, environmentalism, smoking, whatever
promises to allow some incremental government growth. During the impeachment
battle they defended Bill Clinton with the same solidarity with which
the old Left defended Stalin, but it wasn’t really the same.
Stalin was, after all, a far more inspirational figure.
But the residue of the Red Decade is still with us, just as Lyons
said sixty years ago. The Hive bears traces of its ancestry. It still
believes reflexively in the state, vilifies its opponents, and, above
all, keeps its gains. It practices not only a “politics of personal
destruction,” but a politics of general destruction, in which
all social relations are determined by force. It believes in power
and nothing else.
Having said all that, I think the strongest resemblance between the
old Left and the Hive lies in their shared hatred of human individuality.
To become a Bee in this Hive is to surrender, voluntarily and eagerly,
your own personality; to submerge the self in a collectivity; to prefer
the buzzing cliché of the group to individualized thought and
expression; to take satisfaction in belonging, and conforming, to a
powerful mass, while punishing others for failure to conform. This
is not only a political but a spiritual condition. It was true of the
Stalinists, and it’s true of the Hive. All the names have changed
since the Thirties, yet you get the eerie feeling that the old Stalinists
and today’s Bees are somehow the same people.
The similarity to an insect colony — where the individual exists
only functionally, being both indistinguishable from and interchangeable
with its fellows — is not superficial. It’s of the essence.
To be an insect is to be relieved of the burden of having a soul of
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.
(See Part I of Before the Hive)
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.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
To subscribe to or renew the FGF E-Package, or support the writings of Joe
Sobran, please send a tax-deductible donation to the:
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or subscribe online.