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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Communist Fronts and Dupes

By Paul Kengor
Rev. by Hugh Murray
            Kengor reveals much information that may surprise readers – 1) Sen. Ted Kennedy’s behind-the-scenes approaches to Soviet leaders to undermine President Reagan’s foreign policy; [Yet, Kengor fails to note that if true, Kennedy would have violated the Logan Act of 1799.]  2) the Communist Party (CP) affiliation of an important mentor to the teenage Barack Obama; and 3) the links between Obama and pro-terrorists leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Weather Underground.  And one suspects that with the recent opening of so many secret and classified files – in Moscow and elsewhere – there may yet be many more disclosures.  Thus, Kengor’s book may be only the tip of the ice-berg in Cold War disclosures.

            There is a simple logic to Kengor’s work: the Soviet’s, from their earliest years in power in Russia, required that all foreign Communist parties, to be accepted as legitimate organizations, had to submit to the international Communist movement led by the only successful revolutionary Marxist government, in Moscow.  The Soviets ordered various American communist groups to unite into what became the CPUSA, and like all such parties throughout the globe, the American Communists were to create both a legal and an underground section.  All these parties were officially united in the Communist International (Comintern).  The Soviets supplied funds to various foreign Communist parties, including that in the US.  Indeed, even the Daily Worker press was subsidized with Moscow money.(p. 33)
            Moscow also ordered the American party to create front organizations, which would be dominated in the leadership by Communists, both open and secret, but which would seek a membership of non-Communists, liberals, the religious, pacifists, anti-fascists, anti-imperialists, women, racial and ethnic minorities, etc., depending upon the issues of the day and the specialty of the group.
            The fronts would provide more than propaganda for the cause, for they would also be a source for recruiting members into the CP itself.  And most important, from the CP, the Soviets would recruit their main supply of spies, couriers, and people of influence at the levers of power.  Thus, the logic: Moscow admits and subsidizes the American CP, which creates fronts.  Then, from the fronts, the CP recruits new members, and from the American CP, the Soviets recruit its spies.(34, 260)  And there would be other syllogisms in this logic.  From the world-wide Communist movement would emerge “ the single greatest documentable human rights atrocity in history,”(583)  claiming up to 100 million lives.
            Why would anyone join such a movement?  Why would any American join the CP, or any CP dominated front?  I think that Kengor’s book fails to answer those questions.  Worse, I think Kengor cherry-picks, evades, and distorts the reality on the ground.
            To justify this, I must do some cherry-picking of my own.  As Kengor discusses the possibility that actor Humphrey Bogart may have been a Communist in the 1930s and early 1940s, he cites the positive reviews of Bogart in the Daily Worker, adding that this CP newspaper sought to promote those who were members of the Party.  This may be true, but only generally.  In the late 1960s the Weekly Worker (successor to the DW) printed an article by Herbert Aptheker praising one of my articles in on a rape case published in Phylon.  Not only was I not a member of the CP, I was unaware of the article until several years following its publication.
            My article had originally appeared in an academic journal (a synonym for one with few readers).  I sought to evaluate critically the Cold War charges condemning the role of the CP with American Blacks, exemplified by the Scottsboro case.  I found absurd the charge that the Communists had raised and stolen millions of dollars intended for the defense.  The more damning charge was that the CP wanted the young Black defendants executed so they would be martyrs to the unfairness of American justice system.  I looked at the conflict between the liberal NAACP and the CP front, the International Labor Defense.  In this conflict, the NAACP contended it should handle the case because it was the first to defend the youths.  However, when the US Supreme Court first ruled on the case in 1932, it found that the initial defense amounted to no defense at all, a denial of right to counsel and a violation of the 14th Amendment.  The ILD could make this argument before the court.  Could the NAACP maintain that its defense was no defense?   Had the Communist ILD had wanted the young Blacks to be executed, it simply would not have intervened in the case.  The guilty verdicts with the death sentences were overturned by the Supreme Court (which at the time was very conservative) because the Communists intervened.  The CP saved the Scottsboro defendants.  Furthermore, this case brought by the ILD would become a major precedent in requiring a right to counsel.
            Not only did the CP save the Scottsboro Boys, but by stressing the role of non-court-room efforts, i.e., the role of agitation, propaganda, plays, poems, songs, marches, letters, petitions, telegrams, the ILD spotlighted the racism in the Southern judicial system as had rarely been done prior (but has surely been done since).  Furthermore, the Communists raised the issue of American racism on an international stage as had not been done since the American Civil War.  Did this cause celebre discredit the US?  Did it make the Communists look better?  Yes.  But did it help to change the injustice in part of the US?  When with the ILD Mother Wright toured Europe telling the story of her boys in jail; with luminaries like Einstein, Mme. Sun Yat Sen, and prominent authors signed petitions on behalf of her sons and the young Blacks who had been riding a freight train in Alabama, American racism was exposed and such exposure probably helped to save those boys.  Put simply, many of the tactics that would be used by the American civil rights movement were developed by Communists and their front groups.
            Why do I leave Kengor’s book with a feeling of being deceived?  Kengor devotes about 50 pages to Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist, who would become the mentor to the teenage Barack Obama.  Kengor shows Davis as one officially endorsing a conference on national defense sponsored by the National Negro Congress in 1940.  The NNC, following the CP line, was then in opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s war-like measures, as this was in the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact.  (The NNC, like most front groups, switched from anti-fascism (anti-Hitler) to anti-imperialism (anti-British, anti-French, anti-Dutch, etc., and then back to anti-fascism with Hitler’s attack on the USSR.  Kengor then examines the columns of Davis, published in a CP newspaper in Honolulu.  In 1949, Davis consistently followed the Stalinist approach, on the Truman Doctrine, NATO, the Marshall Plan, Truman’s attempt to “restore Nazism” in West Germany, etc.
            Kengor covers many years in his 500 pages.  However, 1948 is generally missing.  Yet, that was the year the Progressives bolted from the Democratic Party (as did Southerners who formed the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party).  I have often argued that the 1948 Progressive Party campaign in the South WAS the civil rights movement of that decade.  Communists, both dupes and dupers took on the Democratic Party, the party of legalized segregation.  The PP, with presidential candidate Henry Wallace (FDR’s VP from 1941-45), Dem. Sen. Glen Taylor of Idaho for VP, and campaign manager Paul Robeson (former all-American football player, later stage and films actor, and singer; one of the most famous Blacks of the era) was supported by the CP and all the dupes in Kengor’s volume.  But this campaign, of duper and dupes, would help change the South and America.
            When Sen. Taylor went to Birmingham in 1948 to speak before the Southern Negro Youth Congress, Police Commissioner Bull Connor had him arrested for trying to enter the building through the door reserved for Negroes.  (Bull Connor would become better known to the rest of the US and the world in the 1960s.)  The SNYC (pronounced “snick”) would be destroyed by Truman’s policies, but another “snick” would rise in 1960 with the sit-in movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SNCC.  But in 1948 Truman and his Attorney General had a list of subversive organizations, which included SNYC, NNC, ILD, the Civil Rights Congress, Southern Conference on Human Welfare, etc.  If one were a member, one could lose a job and be blacklisted.  One question the FBI could ask to determine if one were a Communist or subversive was, “Do you have friends of another race?”  The realistic assumption behind the question - who else would have such friends except Communists or suspected Communists, dupers or dupes?
            In New Orleans young Progressives had to sit on door stoops outside a home with baseball bats to protect it when Wallace came to the city.  When Robeson campaigned in Baton Rouge, a landlady called the police to have his hosts immediately evicted.  She was disappointed when informed that they could not evict the tenants until the end of the month.
            The liberal media and academics praise Truman for his civil rights efforts, as when he ordered the integration of the armed services.  Truman did move enough to the Left to induce  the Dixiecrats to leave his party, and Truman followed the advice of strategist Clark Clifford to win the Black vote in crucial states of the North.  Truman even spoke to the convention of the NAACP, the first President to do so.  Although the NAACP was theoretically a non-partisan organization, its leaders were generally for Truman.  When W. E. B. Du Bois (one of the founders of the NAACP) endorsed Wallace and the PP instead, he was fired.  No dissent was allowed.  After that, the NAACP was arguably a Democratic Party front group.  Truman won the election, and then had the 81-year-old Du Bois arrested as a foreign agent.
            In 1949 about 80 Young Progressives in New Orleans were arrested for having an integrated social event.  The names of the criminals were listed in the newspaper so that respectable people might take appropriate action against such subversives.  Under this pressure, the organizations for integration, the PP, the NNC, the SNYC, CRC, dwindled and disappeared.  Truman’s campaign had succeeded – for a time.
            In September 1960 I was among those arrested in the first lunch-counter sit-in in New Orleans with the Congress of Racial Equality, not the local NAACP, which opposed out action.  What was the view of the elder statesman, civil rights leader, former Pres. Harry Truman?  The sit-in era began in February 1960 (though there had been many, lesser known one before, including those led by the PP in Maryland, Texas, etc.)  In March 1960 Truman declared: “If anybody came to my store and tried to stop business, I’d throw him out.  The Negro should behave himself…” He then praised the NAACP.   18 April 1960 Truman warned, “Communists were engineering the student sit-downs at lunch counters in the South.”  The following year the New York Times reported that Truman “criticized Northerners who have gone South as Freedom Riders as meddlesome intruders.  ‘They stir up trouble’ he said.  Mr. Truman said that ‘they ought to stay here and attend to their own business and work through the people who are interested in the Negro’s welfare…’”  Truman opposed the 1963 March on Washington.  In 1965 the same day Truman received an award from Freedom House, he denounced Martin Luther King as a “rabble-rouser” who “hasn’t got any sense.”
            In Truman’s view, we were all dupes of Moscow.  Kengor’s view?  He avoids the topic by skipping 1948 and the civil rights movement it spawned.  It is noteworthy how little King is mentioned in Kengor’s 500 pages.
            I was no red-diaper baby.  Born in New Orleans I attended public schools, and through a scholarship, Tulane University.  In high school, I changed my religion.  I began to attend a church where something strange occurred.  I sat alone in a small pew for three with a wall to my right.  Before service began a couple came and I scooted over to make room for them.  Then I realized, they are Black!  What should I do?  What are they doing in a white church?  Should I find another seat?  The wall to my right meant I would have to go through them to move.  That would be rude.  What are they doing here?  Isn’t this illegal?  True, Blacks could attend Mass in Catholic churches, but they knew to sit in the back.  I was confused.  I could feel my face flushing and my breathing shallowed.  This was my Huck Finn moment – when the young Huck decides to abandon his conscience and all his morality and NOT tell authorities that Jim is a runaway slave.
            Interestingly, the church service went on as usual.  No one complained, and later in coffee hour, whites spoke to the Black couple in a friendly manner.  When I told my parents of the incident, my father thereafter called it, “that Bolshevik church.”  Obama attended a church in Hawaii deemed “the little Red church.”  Perhaps I do have something in common with the President.
            In the 1950s my church made local headlines.  The wife of the minister had been a member of the CP, and the minister himself admitted to attending a few such meetings.  Following the publicity, someone set off a bomb by their home, but no one was hurt.  I also learned that the church had been a center of PP activity in the 1948 campaign.  Were they Communists?  Dupes?  Did it matter?  I believed on certain crucial issues they were doing the right thing, no matter what the morality of the larger community demanded.  My life changed and I became an integrationist.
            When I attended church after being arrested in 1960, I was asked to be an usher.  This was an honor.  While my parents were being deluged with threatening phone calls (I had moved out for their protection), when many were nasty and hostile, my church was supportive.  Why should I care if they were, or were not, Communists?  By November 1960 New Orleans had its school integration crisis, and the church had to employ 24-hour security because of threats (paid for by the national church organization).  To many outside the church, I was a traitor to the South, to the race, to the nation.  And those were just some of the epithets.
            PBS recently telecast a program on Daisy Bates.  Undoubtedly influenced by ubiquitous feminism, the announcer explained that Bates became the leader of the Little Rock NAACP in the mid-1950s because no one else wanted the job.  The scholars admitted there was some reluctance to allow her in the post because she was a woman, as most civil rights organizations were headed by men.  Absent from the commentary was a more likely reason for the reluctance to embrace her leadership – Daisy Bates had been an open supporter of Henry Wallace and the PP in 1948 – either a dupe or a duper in Kengor’s terminology.  Yet it was Bates who was most influential in getting young teens to integrate Central High in Little Rock.  This culminated in headlines round the world.  Republican Pres. Eisenhower sent troops to the South to defend the rights of Blacks for the first time since Reconstruction.  Was Bates doing all this for Stalin?  Of course, not.  This was a benchmark for civil rights in the US.
            Rosa Parks did not simply sit down on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  She had been trained in the tactics of civil disobedience at Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, which many claimed to be a Communist training school.  Was Parks another dupe or duper?
            Martin Luther King also attended Highlander, and photos of him at the school, seated beside a known Communist, were posted on billboards throughout the South.
            When the FBI first wire-tapped King, it was not targeting King, but rather a possible secret Communist and financial courier for the CP.  Once the FBI linked King to this important subversive, Stanley Levison, then the agency tapped King too.  King is barely mentioned in Kengor’s book.  Indeed, much material on King is still secret in the US.  Was anything about King or Levison revealed in newly released documents from Moscow?
            Assume for a moment that Levison was a secret, important Communist.  Assume also that Levison not only advised King, but ghost-wrote some of his material.  So what?  If the result was generally good, so what?
            About the only time Kengor mentions the CIO is when he quotes Davis attacking the labor organization.  But those attacks occurred only after the CIO expelled the “progressive” unions in 1949.  Communists had been active in organizing some of the CIO unions.  Before 1949 the CP often praised the CIO.  In the People’s World of 12 March 2012 Norman Markowits wrote in defense of affirmative action: “Readers may be unaware that Communist trade unionists were pioneers in developing practical programs to integrate minorities and women into employment and leadership positions after generations of institutional and ideological discrimination. The term affirmative action did not exist then, but the policy did when communists leading the United Election Workers Union negotiated a contract shortly before World War II providing for a higher wage increase for women than for men because women workers had been subject to systematic discrimination.”

            Markowitz writing in the Communist newspaper defended affirmative action and saw it as being derived in part from Communist programs.  I wrote an article in Telos in the 1990s “From Communist Policy to Affirmative Action,” also contending that affirmative action, so prevalent in the US, is derived from Communist praxis.  Markowitz, whom I knew slightly in the 1970s, strongly defends affirmative action.  I am a staunch opponent and view it as a betrayal of equal opportunity and civil rights.  But we agree on the source of the policy.
          Kengor’s interpretation of Vietnam is not as I recall it.  One could oppose the war without being a Weather Underground terrorist.  Even worse, is his interpretation of the massacres in Cambodia.  He blames it on the Communists.  True.  But, there are Communists and Communists.  The US helped overthrow Prince Sihanouk, an event that prepared the path for Pol Pot to achieve power in Kampuchea.  When Pol Pot Communists were slaughtering millions of his countrymen, he was allied with PR China, and indirectly, with the US.  It is the Vietnamese Communists who finally invaded Communist Cambodia and ended the monstrous killing fields of Pol Pot.
            There is imbalance in Kengor’s book.  What about duping in reverse?  I recall listening to the radio, the powerful CBS station in New Orleans, 50,000 watts, WWL, owned by Loyola U. of the South (a Jesuit institution).  I heard the news in spring 1961 about the uprising in Cuba, the people were on the march, the rumors that the hated Raul Castro had been killed by the people in their rebellion against the Cuban dictatorship. It was all BS.  The best news source on radio was issuing propaganda to support the Bay of Pigs invasion.  And what about the North Vietnamese attack on the US ship in the Bay of Tonkin?
            Kengor’s logic undergirds his book: The Soviets create and subsidize the CP, both legal and underground.  The CP then creates front groups.
            As Dr. Frankenstein learned, not all creations go as expected.  (Indeed, many parents learn that too.)  Front groups had lives of their own.  Communists often contributed to the front by providing names of sympathizers, finance, but equally important, Communists supplied expertise, knowledge of tactics, of what might or might not work, of what might have succeeded in another part of the country, or another part of the world.  And what I still admire about some of the Communists I knew – their courage and determination.  (Of course, I had my battles with some and criticized their antics as in my article on the Irish movement in the J. of Ethnic Studies).  I think the CP has been important to American history in the 20th century, and not all of that influence was bad.  Communists were important to the civil rights movement, to the labor movement, to the peace movement, and more.  Would these movements have been as successful without the Communists?
            This is not to say that I endorse all Communist efforts.  I get angry when I read of a free speech movement of the early 60s at Berkeley that later destroyed campus newspapers when an editorial opposing affirmative action appeared; a civil liberties movement that became one that demands the suppression of free speech if the CP finds it “hateful” or politically incorrect; a movement for equal opportunity that evolved into one demanding race and gender preferences.  Even Scottsboro has become uncomfortable to the Left because if rape-shield laws of today had been enacted in Alabama in the 1930s, the defense could never have exposed the lies of the prosecution.  In the world of the CP, you cannot offend the feminists, or this group, or that.  Truth is trumped by what is “politically correct” – a Communist phrase from the 1930s.
Some of the underground Communists were indeed telling the Soviets about the Atom bomb and other military secrets.  Russian leader Putin in February 2012 praised the Western nuclear scientists who supplied the Soviets with so much help in the Cold War.  Suitcases full of documents – and Putin emphasized “suitcases.”  There were spies who did great damage to the US, to the free world, and to those who had to remain under Stalin’s tyranny.  These spies endangered American lives and national security.  Such spies should be treated appropriately.  There is a reason the American Constitution provides for the death penalty.
            Had the Communists come to power in the US, as elsewhere, gulags would have sprouted up to be irrigated with blood.  Yet, Communists in the US failed to attain power.  As a tiny minority, they did stir the pot, and in some ways, made this a better country.  Sometimes, the dupers were super, but other times they were merely super dupers.  
            For the record, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party.  My recent votes for President: in 2000 for Pat Buchanan on the Reform Party; 2004 for Republican George Bush; 2008 for the Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr; in 2012 I intend to vote for the Republican nominee.