On Prejudice, the 'Jewish Question,' and Communism's Legacy

Published: 1997-07-01

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Joseph Sobran

Joseph Sobran

Joseph Sobran is an author, lecturer and nationally syndicated columnist. For 21 years he wrote for National Review magazine, including 18 years as a senior editor. He is editor of the monthly newsletter Sobran's (P.O. Box 1383, Vienna, VA 22183. To order call 1-800-493-3348 or e-mail [email protected].) He also writes the regular "Washington Watch" column for The Wanderer, a traditionalist Roman Catholic weekly (201 Ohio St., St. Paul, MN 55107).

"Created Equal" is from the January 2000 issue of Sobran's newsletter. The single-paragraph item about the Irving trial is from Sobran's, June 2000, p. 2. "The Forgiven Holocaust" is from Sobran's, July 1997. "The Black Book" is from The Wanderer, January 1, 1998. "Duranty's Denials" is from Sobran's, August 1997.

Created Equal

The United States was founded in the republican conviction that heredity shouldn't be destiny. This doctrine has many ramifications, not all of them strictly logical or mutually consistent. The Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal; the Constitution forbids titles of nobility; it eventually outlawed chattel slavery; "civil rights" has come to mean that even private employers must not hire according to ethnic criteria; racial prejudice, "racism," has become a social taboo; and even generalizations about ethnic groups are frowned on (unless they flatter the "contributions" of this or that group). The only trait it's now safe to ascribe to whole races is victimhood.

And yet common sense tells us that groups and nations do have distinct characters, with characteristic vices as well as virtues. When we aren't on our guard against the thought police, we may discuss such things freely. American individualism is balanced by the earthy sociology of stereotypes, which, as the great sociologist John Murray Cuddihy assures us, "are more or less accurate." Obviously what is true of the group may not apply to this or that member, but the group still has its own habits and ways, maybe even its own culture (or "subculture," to use a word my generation learned in college). The individual may show the group's traits for the same reason he speaks in the accents of his native place: from early childhood he imitates those around him, often without even realizing it.

How does a group get a reputation that lasts over centuries? Is any such reputation a "prejudice"? A "prejudice" need not be a prejudgment; it may be the settled conclusion of long experience. In Europe Jews and gypsies were unpopular for centuries. Many Jews blame this fact, which they call "anti-Semitism," on Christianity, which they consider superstition, thereby denying any empirical foundation to the gentiles' distrust. The word anti-Semitism itself implies that all frictions between Jews and gentiles must be blamed on the gentiles. Hence the campaign to tar Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church as "anti-Semitic."

But the slang words jew and gyp tell another story: the bad reputations of both groups have less to do with religion than with practical experience and word-ofmouth tradition. Notice that the unpopularity of such groups has more to do with distrust than with simple hatred. The verbs jew and gyp imply sharp dealing and low ethics. The Middle East bears witness that the Jews may be unpopular even

where most of the population is non-Christian. They haven't endeared themselves to Muslim Arabs; just as they were unpopular in the ancient pagan world. As a matter of fact, most of the world's Jews have chosen to live in Christian countries. Would they have done so if Christians were always hostile to Jews?

Majority populations sometimes explode in violence against these minorities, but that has always been the exception. And of course our ethnic etiquette forbids us to ask the obvious question: Have the minorities ever done anything to exasperate the majority?

A government can launch a hate campaign and excite the population to violence; this sort of topdown hatred has been a frequent feature of modern states. But most prejudices aren't created by official doctrines; they result from popular experience and the slow spreading of a group's reputation.The first gypsy I ever met – on a street in Rome – grabbed a wad of money out of my hand. I'd been too naive to be wary of her, though my companions had warned me against her.

Hilaire Belloc's book The Jews, published in 1922, should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what used to be frankly called (even by Jews) "the Jewish problem." Belloc addressed the problem from the Christian point of view, but he did it in an even-handed way, acknowledging t4at the vices of the Jews are often the obverse of their virtues. He wrote at a time when "Jewish Bolshevism," based in Russia, menaced Christendom. The Jewish Communists in every country seemed to embody, in extreme form, every bad trait ascribed to the Jews: hatred of the majority and its religion, duplicity, materialism, lust for power.

The Jews' long survival is often called "miraculous." It would seem so – literally. Judaism is based on divine revelation, and the highly tribal and patriarchal Mosaic law, so contrary to every precept of modern liberalism, has created a race of people who have refused assimilation to their surrounding populations over many centuries.

Moreover, the Jews have preserved as their holy books (which Christians call the "Old Testament") writings which portray them in a very unfavorable light. They repeatedly stray from the Law and God has to keep rebuking the "stiff-necked people" and punishing them with terrible severity, even allowing their enemies to conquer them. In all this the Jews are in striking contrast to the ancient Romans, for example, who glorified themselves and developed a self-congratulatory mythology (as in Virgil's Aeneid). Today the mighty Roman Empire is long gone; the Jews are still here, thanks in large part to their capacity for spiritual self-criticism. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." The Jews, to their glory, took his chastenings to heart.

Jews who adhere to their religion also believe that moral laws are as objective as physical laws. Their moral sense is stern, vigorous, and realistic, without the sentimental Christian tendency to turn morality into mush, with every sinner getting an infinite number of second chances. In that respect, early Christianity was much closer to Judaism than to modern watered-down Christianity.

The Irving-Lipstadt Trial

"A veteran lawyer, commenting on David Irving's disastrous lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, asks a good question: Why do rightists, knowing how corrupt the legislative and executive branches are, think the judiciary is any better? Why turn for justice to an ambitious judge who knows what he can expect if he rules the wrong way? The forces who conspired to destroy a single dissident historian wouldn't stick at destroying a judge too, if necessary. Even his physical safety couldn't be assured."

—Joseph Sobran

Of course most Jews no longer believe in Judaism; many are hostile to any religion, including their own. In substituting Zionism for Judaism they have adopted a self-exalting modern nationalism, rejecting all criticism as "anti-Semitism." The state of Israel practices every form of discrimination against non-Jews that secularized Jews reject when they are a minority anywhere else in the world. But this obvious fact is mentioned publicly at one's own risk. The idea of the Chosen People is separated both from the Mosaic Law and from any sense of a transcendent mission to the goyim – "the nations." And Zionist jingoism, forever casting Jews as innocent victims, has taken its toll on the ancient Jewish capacity for rigorous self-criticism. Just as gentile criticism of Jews has become "anti-Semitism," Jewish self-criticism has become "self-hatred."

Modern Jewry violently resented the 1975 United Nations declaration (later rescinded) that Zionism is "a form of racism and racial discrimination," but that is what Jews would rightly call any state based on similar laws consigning Jews to inferior status. Israeli laws on intermarriage and residence (92 per cent of the land of Israel is for Jewish residence only) recall Southern Jim Crow laws and Germany's Nuremberg laws. But only a few bold critics have pointed out this double standard. Actually, it goes beyond normal double standards:it's the application of standards that are directly opposite to those the modern, more or less "liberal" Jews insist on elsewhere.

"Israel's right to exist" really means the right of Jews to dominate non-Jews. That is the foundation – the virtual constitution – of the Jewish state, and Jewish courts have ruled that non-Jews may not claim the same rights as Jews. Under the "right of return," any Jew in the world may "return" to Israel (even if none of his ancestors ever lived there) and immediately claim rights denied to Palestinians whose ancestors have lived there for untold centuries.

Such facts, along with Israel's heavy dependence on American aid, confirm the very stereotypes Jews constantly protest: of Jews as duplicitous "parasites" who recognize no moral obligations of Jews toward gentiles. So do Israeli espionage and technology theft against this country.The convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is widely celebrated as a national hero in Israel. And yet we are told, not only by Jews but by our own native prostitute politicians, that Israel is our "reliable ally" as well as a model of "democracy."

Before Zionism seemed to have any prospect of success, many Jews thought Communism was "good for the Jews." Of course they also insisted that Communism was good for "the proletariat." Russia under the tsars didn't have much of a proletariat, but when it became the Soviet Union it was transformed into "the workers' paradise." Until the heroic Alexander Solzhenitsyn published his great trilogy, The Gulag Archipelago, in the 1970s (excerpts of which, be it noted, were carried in the New York Times under its Zionist editor Abe Rosenthal), the heavily-Jewish U.S. liberal media still maintained that the Russian people were far better off under Communism than under the despotic tsars.

In Germany, especially after Jewish-led Communist insurrections there and in Hungary and Romania, Hitler could argue plausibly that Soviet Communism showed what the Jews meant to do to other countries. Traditional suspicion was easily raised to a hysteria that found persecution not only permissible, but prudent. In America, Father Charles Coughlin, the radio priest, warned of Jewish Bolshevism too, cataloguing the real Jewish names of the Soviet ruling circles and accusing the Soviet regime of murdering 20 million Christians (a figure that later turned out to be far too low, according to Solzhenitsyn and others). Nevertheless, Stalin enjoyed widespread support from Jews around the world, even after his bloody purge of most Jewish members of the Soviet hierarchy.

Is there a "Jewish problem" in the United States today? In the media age, Jews prevail in the media – in television news, punditry, major newspapers, and Hollywood entertainment. They also constitute a powerful lobby, devoted to a range of liberal causes: feminism, "civil rights," legal abortion, banning religion from public places – whatever seems to irritate the Christian population. Many ethnic Jews (as well as many nominal but effectively apostate Christians) still carry what might be called the Bolshevik gene code.

But Jews are so powerful in this country that any mention of the Jewish angle in liberalism is taboo, whereas the interests of "the Christian Right" are freely reported, often with scornful overtones. As I have reason to know, a journalist may endanger his career by discussing Jewish interests in any light except a highly favorable one. An especially vivid illustration is provided by the media's concerted hate campaign against Pat Buchanan. Jewish power is such that even Jews in the media are themselves afraid of it.

To some extent this is merely the result of the Jews' success in a free society. They have enormous wealth and power, but they also have enormous talent and determination. They are "overachievers" from the cradle, and if there is one trait they surely have, it's the ability to focus on a long-term purpose.

Despite an occasional Sandy Koufax, Jews are notoriously unathletic; but not necessarily because they lack physical ability. The chief reason is that they are serious. As the great Jewish polemicist Maurice Samuel explained, Jews have a general contempt for sports and games and don't waste their time on these gentile frivolities. Try to imagine a Jewish couch potato sitting in front of the television with a six-pack watching three football games in a row! It's hard to picture.

But their seriousness also shows in their vindictiveness. People who don't hate the Jews are nevertheless afraid of them, afraid of crossing them. Believing the mythology of their own eternal victimhood, the Jews (by and large) feel that criticism of them means persecution, and they are quick to paint swastikas on their critics. Given their inordinate power in the media, this means that t:tte general public hears very little criticism of them, even when they deserve it. It amounts to private censorship. Jewish power inhibits free speech even when the press is absolutely free from government control.

Of course the Jews are only exercising their rights as property owners when they bar their critics from their networks and newspapers, but the result is still a severe curtailment of full public discussion. The news media not only inform, but "disinform" the public by suppressing both facts themselves and comment on those facts.

The general public has become accustomed to judging everything from a Jewish point of view. This is most striking – to me, anyway – in the constant harping on World War II, which has long since ceased revolving around Pearl Harbor and Japan and now centers obsessively on the "Holocaust" – a word never used during the war itself. We are taught that it is good that the United States won, because Hitler was destroyed. In fact, the real victor was Stalin, who quickly took ten Christian countries under Communist rule; but since Communism enjoyed a good deal of Jewish support and most of its victims were Christians, its role in the war is barely acknowledged. Even Jewish anti-Communists (of whom there are now many) say next to nothing about the savage Communist persecution of Christians. In contrast to the endless hunt for old Nazis, there has been no campaign to find and punish aging Communist criminals, or to exact reparations for the cruelty and suffering they inflicted.

Until recently, Jews passionately supported (and, to a large extent, controlled) the "civil rights movement," which was really a socialist campaign to extend the power of centralized government over private individuals and institutions. The unadmitted premise of the movement, ironically enough, was white supremacy and black inferiority. It was assumed that black children couldn't get a proper education in segregated schools; only if they sat in classrooms with whites could they become achievers. But public schools, once integrated, didn't remain integrated long; whites fled as soon as they could.

Again, the alleged reason was "prejudice" – or what Bill Clinton would homiletically call "fear of those who are different," as in "the color of their skin." But whites weren't afraid of skin pigment; they were afraid of violence. They went to great lengths and great expense to escape it. Even liberals notoriously put their children in safe, that is, mostly white, schools. If sheer, irrational racial prejudice motivated "white flight" from black-dominated cities, it should also have made whites equally fearful of Orientals and other nonwhites.

There is an obvious difference between defensive and aggressive prejudices – a distinction liberalism doesn't acknowledge. When one group sees another group as threatening and is actually willing to pay a high price to avoid close contact with it, the prejudice would seem to have at least some foundation. The liberal response to this market judgment is to outlaw the market, making contact compulsory, without asking why such a policy is necessary. When such policies fail, liberals conclude that even more drastic policies must be imposed.

Even today, black "leaders" like Jesse Jackson appear to be white supremacists. Jackson admits that blacks pose a certain crime problem; he once confessed that when he hears footsteps behind him on a dark street, he is relieved if he turns and sees a white man. The huge disparity between interracial crime committed by blacks and that committed by whites – the ratio is about 50 to 1 – causes no comment; a violent crime committed by a white against a black makes national headlines.

The forbidden prejudice against blacks makes its appearance indirectly, in the low expectations everyone has of blacks (contrast the high expectations of Jews). Jackson and others, in making demands on whites, always imply that blacks are incapable of achievement on their own, outside the areas of sports, entertainment, and the performing arts; they can't even envision blacks as creators, inventors, innovators. They can see them only as recipients of white largess, cogs in the white man's economic machinery. Though they complain about the injustice of casting the black man in menial roles in the white man's world, they seem unable to conceive him as a builder of civilizations.

Jackson and his ilk may not realize it, but they constantly reinforce the idea that blacks aren't even capable of moral responsibility. By blaming the white man for everything, they teach that only the white man is morally autonomous, and that blacks can be only what the white man chooses to make them. The white man becomes the Superman – the black man's excuse for failure. Whatever Jackson's words say, this is what his actions mean. Nor do many others seem to disagree. As Bernard Shaw remarked, a man's deepest beliefs are to be inferred not from the creed he professes, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

Outside of sports – where the black man is as secure in his domain as the Jew in his – most of the blacks who are celebrated for their "achievements" are political. That is what black "leaders" do: they fight to enlarge the power of the state, narrowing the white man's freedom and taking his money for racial purposes. The state is of course a coercive and parasitic institution, creating and producing nothing, dispensing to some only what it takes from others – "organized plunder," as Bastiat called it. Success in politics is nothing to be proud of.

Demands for "reparations" for blacks, for the "lingering effects" of slavery, overlook the fact that slavery is the one institution this country ever imported from Africa. Moreover, when slavery came here it was far more humane than the Mrican kind: American slaves weren't mutilated or castrated as in the African "homeland." Since black leaders sentimentalize Africa (they now want to be called "African-Americans"), no reparations are demanded of the descendants of Mrican slave merchants, while American whites are assigned total responsibility for the problems of today's blacks.

Nobody should be surprised if disreputable "stereotypes" continue to persist, since they often have the unintended but implicit sanction of the very people who deplore them. But a stereotype of any group is by its nature based on an external and usually unsympathetic view of that group. Despite liberal denials, the stereotype has some empirical validity; but it overlooks the internal life of the group – the variety, divisions, and arguments that make it impossible for the group to be monolithic. Every group bound by a set of traditions is also riven by bitterly conflicting interpretations of its traditions. Its members, keenly conscious of this, may justifiably feel that its critics don't really understand the complications that underlie the behavior that outsiders find objectionable.

By the same token, minorities have their own prejudices and stereotypes, also with some basis in experience of majority behavior. The success of so many black and Jewish comedians is largely due to their perspective as members of outnumbered and culturally overwhelmed races who have kept their ability to see the absurdities of which members of the majority are unconscious. It's a happy comment on human nature that the majority itself often finds such caricatures of itself hilarious.

Of course stereotypes can also be favorable, respectful, and even affectionate. Jews are universally respected for their intelligence, and Jewish celebrities are often loved precisely for the qualities that make them seem "Jewish." Blacks in movies were often portrayed as earthy, warm, dignified, and wise, at least until fashion decided that benevolence toward whites was Uncle Tommish, with "black pride" prescribing an attitude of rancor and menace. Most whites still see Orientals as polite and industrious. The Irish and Italians, formerly typed as drunks and mafiosi, are now the subjects of benign stereotypes. Yet in their day, the old stereotypes probably had their measure of truth and utility.

U.S. President Bill Clinton

"Diversity is our greatest strength," said President Clinton in his State of the Union address, February 4, 1997.

According to Bill Clinton's mantra, "Diversity is our greatest strength." Though Clinton has made a career of pandering to minorities (including sexual deviants), it is still true that we should delight in human variety. But there are limits; society also needs unity and an orthodoxy more solid than liberal bromides.

The Forgiven Holocaust

The columnist Sidney Zion of the New York Daily News, a forthright partisan of Israel's Likud faction, has qualified his celebration of his hero Franklin D. Roosevelt by charging him with indifference to "the extermination of the Jews of Europe" during World War II. It's a little surprising that Zion's admiration for Roosevelt can survive such a qualification at all.

Zion cites Edmund Burke's famous aphorism: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." He comments: "FDR did next to nothing to stop the massacre of the Six Million, a fact that has been established by historical documentation running back at least 20 years. If ever there was a 'good man,' it was Roosevelt, and if ever evil triumphed, it was the Holocaust."

Well, evil has triumphed on a number of other occasions, and on one of them this "good man" was likewise indifferent. Soon after taking office as president in 1933, Roosevelt extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, which was already establishing its record as the most murderous regime of all time. Specifically, it had pursued agricultural "collectivization" by confiscating harvest and starving Ukraine into submission. Low estimates put the number of dead at seven million; the highest estimate is 13 million. In some places it was reported that dead children were not even being buried; they were being eaten.

The Ukraine famine is sometimes called "the Forgotten Holocaust." It might better be called the Forgiven Holocaust. The anti-Communist Hearst papers covered it extensively at the time, thereby incurring the wrath of liberals. (Orson Welles portrayed William Randolph Hearst as a corrupt capitalist in "Citizen Kane.") But Walter Duranty of the New York Times, eager for Stalin's favor, denied that there was any starvation in Ukraine and won a Pulitzer for his reportage. His Pulitzer has never been revoked; the Times continues to honor him among its stellar journalists of the past.

Privately, by the way, Duranty admitted to the British ambassador in Moscow that as many as 15 million had died. That his estimate may have been high only underlines his mendacity. He gave the American establishment an excuse for ignoring Communist crimes which had been amply confirmed by others, and which made most of Europe terrified of Communism between the wars. In any case, Roosevelt had no excuse. No president depends entirely on the Times for his information.

Since Pius XII is (falsely) accused of "silence" about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, it is worth mentioning that his predecessor Pius XI was far more "silent" about the Ukrainian famine and, later, the equally great Soviet purges of the later 1930s. Popes rarely commented on specific events; they condemned Communism and Nazi racialism in principle and felt it unnecessary, or unavailing, to add detailed condemnations when evil principles were put into practice.

Of course those who condemn Pius XII for silence about the murder of Jews don't condemn Pius XI for silence about the murder of Ukrainians and others. But neither do they condemn Roosevelt or anyone else for overlooking the Communist horrors. This gross double standard is a key to understanding not only Roosevelt's time, but our own.

If the official world had condemned and quarantined the Soviet Union for its "democide" (an apt word coined by Professor R. J. Rummel), Hitler himself might have thought twice about imitating that precedent whose numbers of victims he never even approached. Today liberal opinion condemns "Holocaust denial" that has no effect on events long past; but it maintains its own silence on the timely denials of Communist horrors while they were happening – denials that not only helped them to continue, but allowed the killers to escape punishment and censure.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Yalta, February 1945

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the Allied "Big Three," at the Yalta Conference, February 1945, where they agreed on plans for postwar global hegemony by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain.

Later, when the numbers of Soviet victims had surpassed the total number of the dead of World War I, Roosevelt's generosity to Stalin and the Soviet Union actually increased. He gave Stalin aid against Germany, eagerly formed an alliance with him, and praised him as a great ally in the democratic war against "fascism." He even pressured Warner Brothers to produce a major motion picture, "Mission to Moscow," portraying Stalin as the benign grandfather of the Russian people. The film was based on the memoir of Joseph Davies, Roosevelt's former ambassador to Moscow; Davies defended even Stalin's purges, taking the view that anyone Stalin killed probably got what was coming to him.

While all this was going on, Hitler was not alone in blaming Communism on the Jews. Secularized Jews had been prominent in the first generation of Soviet leadership; and even after Stalin had purged those Jews, other Jewish intellectuals, propagandists, and activists were conspicuous in the world Communist movement. Many Europeans crudely equated Jews with Communism. This fact in no way justifies the slightest violation of the rights of Jews, but it does explain the readiness of many Germans to follow Hitler and the preference of many others for Hitlerite over Stalinist rule. With war looming, most people forget morality and think of their own hides. Besides, in the late 1930s Hitler was not even in the mass murder business yet; Stalin was.

This whole side of the period between the wars, officially ignored at the time, is officially forgotten now. It has become customary to speak as if Hitler arose in a vacuum, the German masses followed him out of sheer malevolence, and the French collaborated with him out of sheer cowardice. Today anyone who even advocated neutrality toward Hitler is condemned; the America First movement and other "isolationists" are spoken of as if they had actually been pro-Hitler.

That view is tenable only if you pretend that Communism didn't exist. Hitler's unforgivable acts were made possible by the people who forgave Stalin everything. But Roosevelt's latter-day admirers see no moral connection between his friendship for the Soviet Union and his indifference to the extermination of Jews.

After Roosevelt's death the extent of his administration's secret favors to the Soviets became exposed and was seen in a very different light. The revelation that Alger Hiss and many others had been active Soviet agents led to the McCarthy era. The liberal intellectuals' condemnation of "McCarthyism" was of a piece with their general ridicule of the very idea of a Communist "threat." For them Communism had been the Great Progressive Hope, and they had far more pityfor "victims of McCarthyism" who had lost sensitive government jobs than for the millions of victims of Communism who had lost their lives and freedoms. (Professor Rummel puts the number of dead under Soviet Communism at nearly 62 million.)

"Victims of Communism" is not a phrase that rolls easily off liberal lips. The huge, tax-supported Holocaust Museum near the Mall today commemorates the victims of Nazism, chiefly Jewish, but also gypsy, homosexual, whatever. (The victims of Communism may have a plaque somewhere. Who knows?)

Liberals, Zionists, and "responsible" conservatives now occupy a rhetorically Hitlercentric universe, in which Nazism is the measure of all evil and Roosevelt is redeemed by his determination to crush Germany. The stain of guilt for Nazism constantly spreads – to ordinary Germans, allies of Germany, neutrals, isolationists, Swiss bankers, and Pius XII himself The stain even spreads backward in time, to pre-Hitler anti-Semites, Martin Luther, Christian culture in general, even (according to the filmstrip shown at the Holocaust Museum) to the authors of the Gospels. In a new theory of causation, even the slightest historical injustice to Jews "led to" the Holocaust. Scholarly books, popular movies, and everyday rhetoric are saturated with this theme. Everyone and everything are measured on a single scale, which might be called the Hitler Continuum.

But there is no corresponding Stalin Continuum. Those who aided and defended and celebrated Stalin at the height of his crimes incur no guilt or obloquy. To have dreamed the Communist dream is evidence of idealism, not guilt or even irresponsibility. Under "McCarthyism" Communists actually became victims themselves! Books, movies, and rhetoric dramatize the plight of innocent Communists in the America of the 1950s. Old Communists like Lillian Hellman can publish their memoirs of persecution – how they suffered firing, blacklisting, or sharp questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee – and be hailed as heroes and champions of liberty, no less, even if it took them until 1956, the year of Khrushchev's famous denunciation, to see the error of Stalin's ways.

Khrushchev, after all, didn't repudiate Communism; he merely accused Stalin of having betrayed it. How? By murdering countless innocent people? No, by purging loyal Party members!

So the stain of Communist guilt, far from spreading metaphysically, shrinks to one man, the erstwhile "Uncle Joe." He and he alone is blamed for all that carnage. We don't even ask what "led to" such astounding violence and terror, let alone why he enjoyed such complicity by powerful, influential, intelligent, and seemingly respectable people. Even Stalin's warmest admirers and benefactors aren't tainted; that would be "guilt by association," a McCarthyite tactic.

Certain shoes, for some reason, are never put on the other foot. Imagine what would be said today of a president who had given Hitler a little help when he needed it. Or an ambassador who had written eulogies to Nazi jurisprudence. Or a reporter who had written from Berlin that Jews weren't being abused in the Third Reich. Or an "idealist" who had seen Nazi Germany as the hope of mankind.

You don't have to imagine a world in which people are forgiven for doing the same things for the Soviet Union. You're living in that world right now.

The Black Book

It's always easy to start an uproar in France: just say something critical of Communism. The latest such uproar has resulted from an 800-page tome titled The Black Book of Communism, by the historian Stephane Courtois, which enumerates in considerable detail the mass murders of the Soviet, Maoist, and other Communist regimes.

Courtois writes provocatively: "Recent emphasis on the singularity of the genocide of the Jews, by concentrating attention on an exceptional atrocity, blurs our perception of affairs of the same order in the Communist world." "The child of a Ukrainian kulak deliberately starved to death by the Stalinist regime is worth no less than a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto starved to death by the Nazi regime." "The fact is that Communist regimes committed crimes affecting about 100 million people, against some 25 million for Nazism."

These quotations are taken for the New York Times, where the very occurrence of the Ukrainian famine was denied, even as it was still in progress, by the reporter Walter Duranty, who got a Pulitzer prize for his mendacious efforts. The paper has never repudiated Duranty, and it continues to list him proudly among its Pulitzer winners.

Writing about Courtois' book on the paper's Dec. 22nd [1997] op-ed page, Tony Judt draws this moral: "The tale of human cruelty in our times is too complicated and variegated to be captured by ideological labels alone, whether 'left' or 'right'." But it's not just a problem of abstract "human cruelty." It's a practical problem of state power. A limitless state that doesn't feel bound by divine or natural law is capable of anything.

Even the most notoriously harsh of Christian states – Spain during its Inquisition – claimed no authority to kill people en masse. Never mind whether Spain deserved its reputation among Protestants; even the highest estimates of its victims 30,000 over more than three centuries, probably five times the actual total) doesn't approach the slaughters of the modern state. The reason is simple: The accused had to be tried and executed as individuals. In each case, the state had to make some showing of personal guilt.

The modern state abolished guilt and embraced determinism. This was supposed to be a humane philosophy, relieving the individual of responsibility. But in practice it relieved the state of responsibility. Since people were mere passive products of racial or economic causation, their undesirable behavior (from the state's point of view) could be inferred and predicted from their membership in certain social categories. So it became rational to round them up and exterminate them, on the most advanced and enlightened principles of social science.

So why was Communism excused by so many intellectuals for so long? Judt explains that "we are still heirs to the victorious alliance with the Communists that defeated Hitler – if Nazism was Absolute Evil, then the allies who helped us destroy it cannot be utterly evil themselves." But he goes on to say that "many' of Communism's Western sympathizers, unlike fascism's, were "well-intentioned." Well, that takes care of that!

But Communism had already claimed millions of lives before World War II, when the Nazi murders began. By the 1930s countless Russian refugees had poured into Western Europe with grim accounts of the atrocities that began under Lenin and acceler-ated under Stalin. Anyone who really wanted to know already knew, by then, what Communism was. Those who didn't want to know had no excuse, then or later.

It's time to acknowledge that the man Congress has honored with a huge memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the greatest ally Communism ever had. It's inconceivable that Congress would honor anyone who had given Nazi Germany comparable aid and sympathy: Roosevelt once even dared to compare the US and Soviet constitutions, assuring Americans that the Soviets guaranteed freedom of religion, too, in their own way. (This was perhaps the only occasion on which he showed the slightest respect for the US Constitution.)

Duranly's Denials

In an important and specific way, Walter Duranty of the New York Times may have been the most influential journalist of the twentieth century. He was the wrong man at the right time, and his reportage helped change the course of events to a degree that few reporters ever have. It's a pity that Stalin wasn't more grateful to him.

During the 1930s the Soviet Union needed all the Western support it could get. But it had a bad reputation because it was, to put the matter in simple terms, killing a lot of people. Western and Central Europe were terrified of Bolshevism and of the Bolshevist movement that was spreading through other countries.

The killing reached a peak in the forced famine of 1932-3, as Stalin's "agricultural policy" punished recalcitrant Ukrainian and Kazakh peasants who rebelled against the confiscation of their lands and harvests. Nobody knows how many starved; historians's estimates range from three to twelve million.

At the time, Duranty reckoned the figure toward the high end of the scale – at around twenty million. That was his private guess, anyway. Publicly, in his dispatches to the Times, he said there was no evidence of any famine. (Hisstory is told in S. J. Taylor's brisk biography, Stalin's Apologist [reviewed in the Winter 1991 Journal].

Duranty, a learned, cynically witty Englishman with a wooden leg, was the most respected foreign correspondent in Moscow. His word carried weight even when it was false; other journalists followed his lead or were afraid to contradict him. He was never a believing Communist, but he sympathized with Stalin's efforts to subdue a huge country and he saw his opportunity. Holding ordinary people in contempt, he was unmoved by the terrible suffering they endured at the hands of the man he admired not as a Marxist leader of the masses, but as a sort of Nietzschean hero.

Anyone who reported Stalin's atrocities to the West could expect to be expelled and to cause his paper's Moscow bureau to be shut down; travel was restricted, and most correspondents based their reports on what they read in the Soviet press. But a few, notably Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian (who boldly took an unauthorized tour of Ukraine), nevertheless reported honestly.

Honesty, however, was no temptation for Duranty. He lied. For his services he received a rare exclusive interview with Stalin himself; he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize; he enjoyed the high life in the midst of proletarian poverty, keeping a mistress and a small son in his spacious Moscow apartment. For Walter Duranty, Communism paid off in caviar.

All the Western governments knew of the famine through their embassies, but none dared to denounce the Soviet regime for fear of diplomatic reprisal. Duranty's version became the more or less official version for everyone: What famine? Reports of it in the Western press were so spotty that it was hard for the public to believe them or at least to keep them in mind for long. Duranty's denials were enough to confuse Western opinion and to make the huge famine seem unreal to the outside world.

His fiction, propagated through the Paper of Record, gave the Roosevelt Administration cover to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in late 1933. Duranty was appropriately present at the White House ceremony at which the Soviet ambassador was formally received. He enjoyed a celebrity rare among journalists then, and he wrote a memoir, As I Please, which became a best-seller.

One of his many distinguished friends in Moscow was Roosevelt's ambassador, Joseph Davies, another Stalin apologist (more sincere than Duranty), whose 1941 book Mission to Moscow became a major Warner Brothers picture, filmed at the urging of Roosevelt himself. Davies was so deluded that he argued that the difference between Communism and Nazism was that Communism was compatible with Christianity – that if it had been expressly grounded on Christian principles, "it would probably be declared to be one of the greatest efforts of Christian altruism in history to translate the ideals of brotherhood and charity as preached by the gospel of Christ into a government by men."

"That is the difference," Davies added: "the communistic Soviet state could function with the Christian religion in its basic purpose to serve the brotherhood of man. It would be impossible for the Nazi state to do so. The communistic ideal is that the state may evaporate and be no longer necessary as man advances into a perfect brotherhood. The Nazi idea is the exact opposite – that the state is the supreme end of all." The Soviet government even guaranteed "constitutional protection for civil and religious liberty." The Soviet "leaders" were moved by "altruistic concepts," "ethical ideals," and "spiritual aspirations" and were "devoted to peace." "To the Red Army which stands at the ramparts of our civilization, to the Soviet government and the Soviet people, we owe a measureless debt." And much more in the same vein. For Davies, the Soviet system, though somewhat rough-hewn and not quite on a par with American democracy, was nevertheless synonymous with "the brotherhood of man."

"Thus," he concluded, "it is bad Christianity, bad sportsmanship, bad sense to challenge the integrity of the Soviet government. Premier Stalin has repeatedly told the world that the Soviet government seeks no territory in this war. It does not seek to impose its will on other peoples."

Duranty would never have been fatuous enough to write such words. But he was living in a climate where some powerful men were fatuous enough to believe them, and he took full advantage of the fact for his own purposes.

Knowledgeable people, including the foreign press corps in Moscow, understood perfectly well that Duranty was lying for Stalin's favor. Some of his colleagues, Eugene Lyons among them, had also begun as Communist sympathizers, but changed their minds and came to despise his urbane mendacity, which lacked even their excuse: their perverse conviction that they were merely concealing the blemishes of an essentially good cause. In time his reputation subtly eroded and his drinking took its toll on his talent. After he left Moscow he could for a time support his lavish and thriftless habits by public speaking in America, but finally even this became a strain.

In the late 1940s Duranty, now living in New York, decided to attempt a comeback by writing a book, which was to be called Stalin's Russia. He intended neither to repeat nor to repudiate his lies, but merely to edge away from them; a skillful writer, he could change his tune without overtly changing his story. But when word of his plans got out, he received a letter from his former mistress in Moscow warning him obliquely that if his book displeased Stalin, she and their son would be in danger. Such was the gratitude he earned from the Soviet strongman he had served so well. One wonders how this cynical man felt about Stalin's even more ruthless cynicism.

Curiously, Duranty incurred no special notoriety during the Cold War and the McCarthy era, though nobody had earned notoriety as he had. He was ignored and forgotten, living largely on loans, never repaid, from his faithful and generous friend John Gunther. His career and health continued to decline until his death in the 1970s.

To this day, Duranty's Pulitzer for foreign correspondence has never been revoked. The fact says something about liberalism's attitude toward Communism. Liberals would have reacted very differently to a journalist who had reported from Berlin that Jews weren't being mistreated by Hitler, thereby enabling the slaughter to proceed. But Duranty's lies were in keeping with the liberal agenda; in a sense, they still are. Even now liberalism would rather stigmatize anti-Communists than Communists. Stalin's greatest benefactor has just been honored with a grand memorial in Washington.

In many Western countries it is actually a crime to deny that Hitler's mass murders occurred, though such denials can't change the facts. But Duranty's denials of the Great Famine did change the facts, allowing the famine to continue with impunity. They may even have helped save Communism by making possible Stalin's profitable alliance with Roosevelt.

In a way, Duranty eventually paid for his corruption. But not nearly as much as the rest of the world has paid for it.

A Warning from an American Historian

" ... Today we must face the discouraging prospect that we all, teachers and pupils alike, have lost much of what this earlier generation possessed, the priceless asset of a shared culture ... Many of the young practitioners of our craft, and those who are still apprentices, are products of lower middle-class or foreign origins, and their emotions not infrequently get in the way of historical reconstructions. They find themselves in a very real sense outsiders on our past and feel themselves shut out. This is certainly not their fault, but it is true. They have no experience to assist them, and the chasm between them and the Remote Past widens every hour .. . What I fear is that the changes observant in the background and training of the present generation will make it impossible for them to communicate to and reconstruct the past for future generations."
—Carl Bridenbaugh, president of the American Historical Association, 1963. Quoted in Kevin Mac Donald, Separation and its Discontents (1998), pp. 82-83.

"When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful."
—St. Augustine (354-430).

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Joseph Sobran
Title: On Prejudice, the 'Jewish Question,' and Communism's Legacy
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 19, no. 3 (May/June 2000), pp. 31-39; reprinted from: "Created Equal": Sobran's newsletter, January 2000; "The Irving-Lipstadt Trial": Sobran's, June 2000, p. 2; "The Forgiven Holocaust" Sobran's, July 1997; "The Black Book" The Wanderer, January 1, 1998; "Duranty's Denials" Sobran's, August 1997.
Published: 1997-07-01
First posted on CODOH: April 9, 2013, 7 p.m.
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