The Poverty of Anti-Communism

The Poverty of Anti-Communism

Mini Teaser: American anti-Communists distorted and corrupted the domestic political scene with exaggerations of a threat that was never as strong--or worrisome--as they pretended it to be.

by Author(s): John Lukacs

In the history of the United States, too, the ideology of
anti-Communism long predates the Second World War, not to speak of
the Cold War. As early as 1854, George Fitzhugh, an intellectual
defender of the South, wrote that the enemies of the Southern order
were "Communists." The history of the first Red Scare in 1919-21 is
well known. Less well known are the statements of members of
Coolidge's cabinet, including the otherwise moderate Secretary of
State Frank B. Kellogg, to the effect that the troubles in Mexico in
the 1920s, and in Nicaragua, were due to "Bolsheviks." In December
1941, three days before Pearl Harbor, Senator Robert A. Taft (a hero
of many of today's conservatives) proclaimed that while "Fascism"
only appealed to a few, Communism was a much greater danger because
it appealed to many. (This when Hitler's armies stood fifteen miles
from Moscow.)

Between 1947 and 1955 the Second Red Scare--admittedly, with more
justification than the first--swelled into an oceanic tide, leading
to the entire identification of anti-Communism with American
patriotism. We need not list its many excesses here, except to note
two matters. One is that the ideological vision of International
Communism obscured and compromised the very perceptions, and the
conduct, of American foreign policy. The other is the
then-contemporaneous emergence of an American conservative movement,
the composition and ideology of which was as anti-Communist as it was
anti-liberal. Men and women who had been isolationists but a few
years before now became extreme internationalists, arguing not only
for the containment but for the conquest of the Soviet Union.

The consequences of this mutation of the political and ideological
climate were considerable. They included the opportunism of President
Eisenhower, who in 1945 had chosen to reject Churchill when it came
to Anglo-American political and military strategy in Central Europe,
preferring to approach Stalin directly instead. Less than eight years
later, the same Eisenhower refused Churchill again (privately
referring to him as senile and naive) when the English leader
proposed an attempt to negotiate a revision of the division of Europe
with the Soviet leadership, after Stalin's death. Or there was Henry
Luce's Life magazine, which in 1942 printed a full-page photograph of
Lenin with the caption: "This was perhaps the greatest man of the
century." Nine years later it editorialized that while Communism was
a Mortal Sin, McCarthyism was but a Venial one. The ultimate
beneficiary of this ideological revolution was of course Ronald
Reagan in the 1980s--when, for the first time in American history,
more Americans identified themselves as "conservatives" than as

And, as so often, intellectuals were quick in climbing onto the
bandwagon. There was Hannah Arendt, in her Origins of Totalitarianism
(1951), a flawed and fraudulent book from beginning to end. Flawed,
because her analysis of "totalitarianism" was nonsense; fraudulent,
because, after her manuscript had been rejected by publisher after
publisher, she quickly added two chapters about Stalin at the end.

Whittaker Chambers, who deserves our sympathy, was not fraudulent;
but he certainly was wrong in attributing to International Communism
the ability to engineer "mankind's decisive transformation . . .
about to close its 2000-year experience of Christian civilization."
Of course, these were the inclinations of an honest man to attribute
all of the evils of the world to the wrong from which he had, after
great inner troubles, escaped. Still, both Chambers' sense of
proportion and his perspective of history were flawed.

Some of the shrillest prophets of anti-Communism in the
"conservative" camp (Chambers did not identify himself as
"conservative") were former Communists or Trotskyites. Then in the
late 1960s, the wave of neoconservatism arose--composed mostly of men
and women for whom it had taken fifty years to discover that the
Russians were anti-Semitic. Since then, all of the dishonest and
imbecile Revisionists and Revolutionaries of the 1960s
notwithstanding, and all of the lamentable presence of Political
Correctness in American universities notwithstanding, the influence
of these so-called neoconservatives has become more and more evident,
and in certain areas of public discourse even prominent. Are they
more honest, or better, than the pinkish Lib-Lab intellectuals of the
Twenties and the Thirties? In some instances, perhaps yes; generally,
alas, no.

"Totalitarianism", as understood by Hannah Arendt, had certain
recognizable general characteristics. First, all totalitarians tended
to be anti-Semitic. Second, totalitarians aimed at the conquest of
the entire globe. Third, totalitarian rule was bound to become not
only broader but stricter and stricter as time went on. A mere few
years after her magnum opus appeared, events proved that all of this
was nonsense. Was Castro, or Pol Pot, or Ho Chi Minh anti-Semitic?
Was Khrushchev aneven greater tyrant than Stalin? All of this in no
way harmed her reputation, but that is not the point.
"Totalitarianism", not only to Hannah Arendt, but to libertarians and
to all kinds of conservatives, means the overall power of the state.
But look at Russia now, when the danger is the exact opposite: the
weakness, not the power, of the state.

We have experienced a phenomenon unparalleled in history, and there
are not many things unparalleled in history: a great empire giving up
its possessions--without external pressure, and without a bloody
revolution in its midst. By the 1980s the only people who believed in
the existence of International Communism--though there were, alas,
still many of them--were the conservatives and neoconservatives and
their plethora of timeservers in Reagan's administrations. Compared
to them the number of believers in Communism in Russia, or in the
Communist states of Eastern Europe, were a minuscule remnant. And now
we have the promoters of wild Capitalism in Russia, Harvard savants
such as Jeffrey Sachs--a successor of another Harvard illusionist
eighty years ago, the then-celebrated John Reed. It is at least
possible that the consequences of the Ten Days That Shook The World
may have been nothing compared to the consequences of the Ten Years
That Are Now Shaking Russia.

I fled my native country in 1946, fifty-three years ago, when I knew
that sooner rather than later it would fall under Communist rule. But
I did so not because Communism was strong, nor because Communism was
the ideology taken up by masses of my people. On the contrary:
Communism was unappealing; it was antiquated; it was unpopular,
except with a few. The reality was the presence of Russian armed
forces, not Communism; and that, I believed, would stay in my part of
Europe for a long time, perhaps fifty years. (I was ten years off,
thank God.) This distinction between Russian armed power and the
ideology of Communism was something that many Americans did not
comprehend--or perhaps did not wish to comprehend--or, perhaps more
precisely, were made not to comprehend by politicians, ideologues and
propagandists of all kinds. To illustrate this would take an entire
volume, and not a small one. Alas, the history--including the
psychology--of anti-Communism is yet to be written.

William F. Buckley, Jr.:

John Lukacs delights to provoke, and succeeds wonderfully in doing
so. This time around his launch is my having named 1917 and the
Communization of Russia the principal political event of the century.
"In 1917 history changed gears", to quote myself. In passing, Mr.
Lukacs bemoans the "weirdness" of the "mechanical metaphor"--"as if
history were an automobile." It's a lucky thing Lukacs was not around
when the Romans came up with deus ex machina.

What is he saying? That the Communist threat was ephemeral; that, as
a matter of fact, the Communist state dissolved ten years earlier
than he had predicted. He goes on to recite Soviet setbacks in Korea,
Berlin, Yugoslavia and China, which is on the order of telling us of
all the battles Napoleon lost. He is disdainful of the neocons'
efforts to mobilize a movement around the premises of the Committee
on the Present Danger. He mocks what others have thought an operative
distinction: "the struggle between International Communism and the
Free World (whatever that is)." "That" is the term used to describe
those nations in the world whose governments were not controlled by
Moscow or Peking.

The working distinction was entirely serviceable, guiding
geostrategic thought and action. In 1965 President Johnson sent the
Marines to the Dominican Republic to preempt what he feared would be
a coup by pro-Communists. If such a coup had succeeded, it would have
meant one more Castro in the Caribbean. At the time the Marines
arrived at the eastern end of the island, Baby Doc Duvalier was
lording it over the western half of Hispañola, presiding over as much
misery as Castro brought to Cuba; but in the global perspective,
Duvalier was nothing. Johnson was not engaged in a Wilsonian venture;
he waswatching over the ramparts.

Much of what Lukacs says is obvious, and not threatened by the
generality about 1917 that so aroused him. Yes, if Germany, not
Russia, had been Communized, that would have been more serious. Yes,
the true believers in Communism diminished significantly in number as
the oppressive emptiness of the Marxist regimes transpired. But it
wasn't pro-Communists we had so much to worry about, rather an
amalgam of defeatists, pacifists and accommodationists, on whom
successive regimes in Moscow banked to undermine the Western will.

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