I had known some of that history, but I was floored to see just how bad it was when I was researching Dupes, and, specifically, digging into the Soviet Comintern Archives on Communist Party USA, where TNR frequents the files. Without revisiting all of that here, here are just a few examples from those opening decades, smack in the middle of Lenin’s and Stalin’s unholy rampage:
From the outset, TNR peddled gibberish on Bolshevism. A very strange April 6, 1918 editorial, titled, “For and Against the Bolsheviki,” dubbed the Russian Revolution “one of the great enterprises in the history of human liberation.”
Given such optimism, it’s no surprise that numerous TNR editors, regulars, and contributors did pilgrimage to the Soviet Motherland, where they were paraded from Potemkin village to Potemkin village by master manipulators. From the likes of Lincoln Steffens to John Dewey, they came home with fatally flawed reports glowing about the Brave New World they encountered.
As to Dewey, progressive godfather, Columbia University celebrity, founder of public education, and guiding light of our teachers’ colleges, I cannot do him justice here. He requires a good hundred pages. He was completely duped, swallowing every heaping spoonful of propaganda fed to him by his handlers. Worse, he compounded the manipulation by spreading his errors. Where? In the pages of The New Republic, where he cobbled a six-part series in late 1928 upon return from the USSR. TNR provided the progressive’s progressive with a platform where, in effect, he likewise misled legions of additional progressives, allowing them to share in Stalin’s manipulation.
“[T]he outstanding fact in Russia is a revolution,” declared the Columbia professor, “involving a release of human powers on such an unprecedented scale that it is of incalculable significance not only for that country, but for the world.”
Dewey aside, here are two examples from the 1930s, both TNR articles that I found specifically in the Comintern Archives on CPUSA. The fact that the articles were in those archives suggests that one of the comrades in CPUSA liked them enough, or found them useful enough, that they were channeled to the party masters in Moscow.
One of the documents is an article titled, “The Communists Meet,” June 15, 1932, written by Michael Gold, a TNR contributor, communist, and a founding editor of New Masses. Reporting from Chicago, Gold underscored the comrades’ vigorous efforts to recruit black Americans. “I love the Communist Party,” Gold quoted one woman as saying. “We Negroes love the Communist Party.”
The article is actually a re-typed excerpt, headlined “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE,” presumably by CPUSA (though that isn’t entirely clear), from where it was distributed to (among others) the Comintern.
Another document from the era is a December 1, 1937 editorial from TNR titled, “Witch-Hunting in Massachusetts.” Here we see, long before Joe McCarthy, and long before Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (I have much to say about Miller), the American Left reflexively referred to any inquiry about whether American communists were privately serving the USSR—at the height of Stalin’s Great Purge—as nothing more than a mere witch-hunt. That was always the communist line fed to progressives/liberals, who bit every time.
Why is that particular TNR editorial in the Comintern Archives on CPUSA? Perhaps the CPUSA boys wanted to impress their bosses in Moscow with evidence of their yeoman’s work successfully duping progressives/liberals.
That brings me back to Martin Peretz, who was one man of the Left who was no dupe. Peretz redeemed TNR from the institutional dupery it had suffered from the outset. The pro-communist nonsense definitively ceased under his editorship.
It took The New Republic a long time to recover from its mistakes at the start of the 20th century. What a shame if the publication’s progressives regress to where they once were—that is, prey to predators on their extreme Left.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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