Dupes and Hypocrites: Communism’s Fellow-Travellers in the West

Published October 6, 2010 by terri in featured

shaw.bmp  “Tomorrow I leave this land of hope and return to our Western countries of despair,” declared British playwright Bernard Shaw, as he embarked on his return journey from the Soviet Union in 1931.1 American writer and critic Edmund Wilson expressed similar sentiments in 1936: “. . . you feel in the Soviet Union that you are at the moral top of the world where the light never really goes out . . .”2

It is astonishing that such comments could have been made about Soviet Russia at a time when Stalin, its bloodiest-ever dictator, was murdering millions of people in internal repression. But these statements reflected the mindset of all too many pro-Communist, Western intellectuals of that period.3 Referring to Stalin’s multiple purges, British historian George Watson wrote in 1973, “Between 1933 and 1939 many (and perhaps most) British intellectuals under the age of fifty, and a good many in other Western lands, knowingly supported the greatest act of mass murder in human history.”4 Other scholars have reached similar judgements about the culpability of Communism’s “fellow-travellers” in the West.5 From the 1920s to the 1980s, at least two generations of leftist intellectuals embraced one oppressive Communist regime after another, whilst remaining fiercely critical of their own imperfect but free societies.

It should be noted, though, that their zeal had its limits when it came to their personal fortunes. Of this type of tourist, American writer Eugene Lyons wrote, “They guarded their foreign passports like the apple of their eye while sizzling with enthusiasm over this ‘new Soviet civilization.’”6 It was also reported that “[a]nother ardent fellow-traveller, Lion Feuchtwanger, was once asked why he didn’t move to the country he praised so regularly [i.e. the Soviet Union]; and the novelist replied, ‘What do you think I am—a fool?’”7

This recurring pattern of hypocrisy and double standards first raised its head in relation to Soviet Russia, but as disillusion with Russian Communism at last set in during the 1950s, it did not result in leftist intellectuals’ abandonment of Communism. They merely transferred their emotional allegiance, and their double standards, to a new set of Communist countries in the 1960s and 1970s: Red China (“The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in many centuries . . .”8); Cuba (“[T]he first purposeful society that we have had in the Western hemisphere for many years—it’s the first society where human beings are treated as human beings, where men have a certain dignity, and where this is guaranteed to them.”9); and North Vietnam (“[A] humane socialism . . . was evident in the unembarrassed handclasps among men, the poetry and song at the center of man-woman relationships, the freedom to weep practiced by everyone…as the Vietnamese speak of their country.”10).

How is it possible that so many highly intelligent people could be hyper-critical of their own societies and yet totally wedded to the advancement of totalitarian socialist revolutions responsible for some of the greatest crimes against humanity in history? Certainly, their rejection of Christianity was a major factor, and it manifested itself in several unfortunate ways: (1) contempt for Western society in general, which is built largely within a Christian worldview; (2) indifference to God’s law, which forbids much of what drives and sustains totalitarian regimes—covetousness, theft, and even murder; and (3) substitution of a manmade “workers’ paradise” for the kingdom of God, for which their hearts long, but whose Lord they cannot tolerate. Communism, then, became their new faith, one fiercely held. As Gustave Le Bon observed as early as 1899, “Thanks to its promises of regeneration . . . Socialism is becoming a belief of a religious character.”11 History, though, has used Communism to teach once again that when men promise “heaven on earth,” the result is something more nearly akin to hell.
1  George Bernard Shaw, The Rationalization of Russia (1931; repr., Indiana: Bloomington, 1964), 31.
2  Edmund Wilson, Travels in Two Democracies (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1936), 321.
3  For a detailed and exhaustive study of the whole phenomenon of pro-Communist fellow-travelling in the twentieth century, see Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).
4  George Watson, “Were the Intellectuals Duped?” Encounter (December 1973), 30.
5  For instance, American critic Lewis Feuer has written: “The Intellectual Elite in both the United States and Europe has a record of recurrent misjudgement and misperception of social reality. Its members have yielded to wish-fulfilment, emotional indulgence and even insincerity while claiming to the public at large that they were inspired by scientific reasoning. They have too often also turned out to be authoritarians rather than democrats.” In “The Elite of the Alienated,” The New York Times Magazine (March 26, 1967): 74-75.
6  See Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1937), 228.
7  See Stephen J. Whitfield, “Muckraking Lincoln Steffens,” The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Winter 1978), 90.
8  John K. Fairbank, “The New China and the American Connection,” Foreign Affairs (October 1972), 36.
9  Saul Landau, “Cuba: The Present Reality,” New Left Review (May-June 1961), 22. For a more accurate picture of Castro’s Cuba, see Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares (London: Hamilton, 1986).
10  Staughton Lynd and Tom Hayden, The Other Side (New York: New American Library, 1966), 62-63.
11  Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism (New York: MacMillan Company, 1899), ix-x.
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