Actually it never waned. Like most evils, it lurks in the shadows and under rocks until it is called on again to serve the rich and powerful. Like racism, red-baiting is a tool of division and distraction. It is designed to separate those who are weak or wavering from those determined to change a malignant political and social system. Red-baiting harnesses fear to tarnish those seeking social justice. Red-baiters sow cynicism, dampen ardor, nurture doubts and dissolve unity.
A renewed and virulent strain of anti-Communism has surfaced in the US, stretching from the imbecilic film Red Dawn to the rabid media bashing of Oliver Stone’s ten-part television series, The Untold History of the United States.
Red Dawn, currently showing in hundreds of theaters, has grossed over $31 million in revenue through December 2. Based on a moronic plot of an invasion of the Pacific Northwest by troops of the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Korea, the movie postures young patriots as forging a resistance movement against their Asian aggressors. Only in Hollywood could writers craft a plot that features a relatively poor country of twenty-five million people mounting a naked, distant aggression against the most economically powerful country in history with well over ten times the population. What next, an invasion of the Southwest from Nicaragua?
Oh, sorry, that movie was made in 1984! Actually, the current Red Dawn, found its dubious inspiration in the Reagan-era movie with the same title and an equally virulent commitment to red-baiting. We have John Milius, and his equally demented Hollywood colleagues, to thank for the fear-mongering of Red Dawn I. Screenwriter/Director Milius bears responsibility for such stupid --though less politically dishonest – movies like Magnum Force and Conan, the Barbarian. But where those movies only enshrined ugly politics and employed right-wing icons, Red Dawn I advanced the political agenda of US imperialism and crudely served to prod domestic reaction. At a time when the struggle for international peace and détente was at a critical juncture, the film was heartily welcomed by opponents of rapprochement.
Today, Red Dawn II emerges not as a counterforce to the left, but as a pre-emption of a feared rising of the left. Even with most of the US left’s leaders chained to the Democratic Party or mired in opportunism, the rich, the powerful, and their minions recognize that the profoundly wounded economy and the dysfunctional political system provide both the seeds and fertile soil for a powerful peoples’ movement. And they hope to pollute it with red-baiting before any sprouts arise. Even with its crude, wildly implausible plot, Red Dawn II is meant to discredit any “red” or even “pink” movement before it matures.
Likewise, Oliver Stone’s new TV series on Showtime has been met with furious bashing on the part of the professional anti-Communist toadies of the mainstream media. Setting out to correct the “official” high school civics class histories of the Cold War period, Stone and his historian collaborator, Peter Kuznick, produced a ten-part serial that challenges knee-jerk anti-Communism and seeks to balance the slanders of Cold Warriors. The Untold History of the United States proposes a counter history, an account built around a number of “what ifs…” that chart a different historical trajectory absent a rapacious and predatory military-industrial complex and a destructive CIA.
Of course this does not set well with the rabid guardians of the anti-red canon. As Peter Kuznick chronicles in a recent appeal to Historians Against the War, the red-baiters are out in force.
Ronald Radosh – famous for crafting a career from equating Reds or “fellow travelers” with NKVD or MVD agents—makes an astonishing leap to connect Stone and Kuznick to the long-departed Soviet security agencies. He claims to detect similarities just short of plagiarism (leaving his claim just short of libelous) between The Untold History and a book by the late Carl Marzani, We Can Be Friends. To square his circle, Radosh proffers that Marzani “…told this very story in We Can Be Friends. A secret member of the American Communist party who had worked during the war in the OSS, Marzani later was proved by evidence from Soviet archives and Venona decryptions to have been a KGB (then the NKVD) operative. His book was published privately by his own Soviet-subsidized firm. It was the first example of what came to be called “Cold War revisionism.”
Thus, by association—a favorite tactic of red-baiters—Stone/Kuznick becomes linked to the KGB through the alleged operative, Carl Marzani. Others have shown how fast and loose Radosh has toyed with the charges of “operative” or “agent” based on the thin evidence of “association.” But Marzani’s “secret” or open identification with Communism in 1952 is of no relevance to the truth conveyed by We Can Be Friends or The Untold History. Marzani argues for the following:
The next step to peace is to sit down around a conference table and negotiate. Negotiations, it should be emphasized, do not require friendship. Negotiators can sit down unsmiling and bargain grimly, yet both sides are aware that a settlement must be reached. (p.369)
If Marzani’s simple, but sane formula for improving US/Soviet relations was inspired by the NKVD, then credit to the NKVD!
We Can Be Friends was published by Topical Book Publishers. For those Reds with something to say in 1952, self-publication was often the only route. In the teeth of McCarthyite repression, leftists could not get mainstream publishers to even consider their manuscripts. Outside of the exceptional renegade publishers like Cameron and Associates, left-wing authors were forced to turn to funding a few hundred copies, as did Howard Fast with his now celebrated historical novel, Spartacus. The dark ages of the 1950s were certainly made brighter, if it was necessary for the NKVD to subsidize these fine books!
The quality of Radosh’s scholarship can be judged by his emphatic claim that We Can Be Friends “…was the first example of what came to be called ‘Cold War revisionism.’” A casual glance at my tattered old copy reveals a bibliography that cites earlier writers like Frederick L. Schuman and I. F. Stone who decisively rejected the Cold War canon well before Marzani’s book arrived on the scene.
Following Radosh’s lead, other rabid anti-Communists like Michael Moynihan joined the fray in attacking Stone and Kuznick. And to its shame, The New York Times unleashed its slime merchant hireling, Andrew Goldman, to mount a bizarre ad hominem against Oliver Stone. Goldman had just served his four-week suspension for publicly inquiring of two female interlocutors whether they had slept their way to the top of their professions. Sadly, this attack well represented the level of integrity shown by most of these ruling class courtiers.
To these professional red-baiters must be added the host of professors who peddle lurid books on the “Evil Empire.” Most active is Anne Applebaum, journalist turned academic, who authors books portraying the Soviet and socialist Eastern European experience as wholly oppressive and thoroughly unpopular. Her current book, Iron Curtain, enjoys wide circulation and copious publicity from the corporate media. Applebaum’s ideological bias (her husband is Minister of Foreign Affairs in the ultra-nationalist Polish government) and selective scholarship are seldom challenged by her colleagues.
Applebaum’s work indirectly suggests that Soviet “evil” is on a par with Nazi evil or, as she and her ilk crudely put it, “Stalin’s crimes were the same or worse than Hitler’s crimes.” Yale professor, Timothy Snyder, shares no such hesitation. His popular book, Badlands, boldly embraces the equation of Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, his current career seems based upon his widely speculative, broadly calculated, and poorly evidenced victim calculation. For Snyder, there would seem to be no natural deaths in the Soviet Union or socialist Eastern Europe. In his energetic counting, victims of the Warsaw insurrection in 1944, urged by the Polish government-in-exile to rise, arguably belong on the Soviet side of the ledger since the Red Army didn’t rescue them. Of course the victims of natural famines are also laid at the Soviet doorstep. Snyder pursues his head counting with an almost perverse determination and a theological certainty.
The revival of open and widespread red-baiting is ignored by liberals at their own peril. Like the inquisitions of old, the immediate object may be the dissidents, the ideological deviants, but the real design is to terrorize the majority into submission and conformity. In the US, anti-Communism and its counterpart, racism, directly target ideological and ethnic minorities, but prove to be of even greater use in fracturing, distracting, and deluding the majority. Rampant racism and rabid anti-Communism serve the rich and powerful well by closing avenues to unity and social justice. Surely the red-baiting charges of “socialism” leveled at right-centrist Obama underline this point and send a clear message to liberals of the dangers lurking in accommodating the alarm of “Reds!”