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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
February 24, 2011

Before the Hive (Part II)   
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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beehive

If the Hive is spontaneous, The Red Decade1 was conspiratorial. Stalin and his helpers were able to manipulate “a horde of part-time pseudo-rebels who [had] neither courage nor convictions, but only a muddy emotionalism and a mental fog which made them an easy prey for the arbiters of a political racket.” The dreaded charge of “red-baiting” (the forerunner of “McCarthyism,” but far more deadly) was enough to cow into silence most criticism of Soviet Communism. And of Stalin himself. Anti-Communists risked, and often received, ostracism, vicious slander, and personal harassment. It was unnerving even to those few who had the nerve and stature to withstand it; and it was especially effective in deterring the far more numerous weak and timid souls from following their example.

Eugene Lyons' book, The Red Decade, is a shocking reminder of how powerfully Communism gripped American public opinion, through publishing, entertainment, the labor movement, and higher education. Today Communism is dead — and yet it isn’t. The power that was once concentrated in a few Red hands is now diffused among countless others, but, though it doesn’t exactly terrorize, it still intimidates. As Charles Peguy presciently put it nearly a century ago, “We shall never know how many acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of seeming not sufficiently progressive.”

During the Red Decade, Soviet apologists deemed old scruples out of place when measuring the Soviet achievement. “On the contrary,” as Lyons observed, “the more distasteful the chore, the greater the credit.” Repression, purge, forced famine were alternately denied and defended. The ten years of the Red Decade were “the years of the apotheosis of Stalin. The Revolution had been reduced to one man; Marxism, Soviet style, was just another name for the whims and blunders of one man; the Communist International and all its myriad appendages were literally nothing more than his private racket.” Today’s Hive is thoroughly decentralized. Yet it still maintains its own highly effective discipline. It has refined ideology into a sort of etiquette. “Progressive” opinion enjoys the aura of politesse; whereas “reactionary” views are felt to be ignorant and boorish.

The New Deal proved hospitable to Communist infiltration. Franklin Roosevelt, though sometimes wary of open association, praised Stalin’s 1936 constitution — sufficient proof, by the way, that he had no grasp whatever of the U.S. Constitution. Joseph Davies, his ambassador to Moscow, wrote a famously fatuous book, Mission to Moscow, in praise of Stalin’s utopia. Such cabinet officers as Frances Perkins (who, Lyons wrote, “seems to live in dread of criticism from the Left”), Harold Ickes, and Henry Wallace were always ready to lend their names and persons to Communist-front groups.

As for Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyons captures her essence: “The First Lady of the land became almost standard equipment in setting up any new Innocents’ Club or in bolstering the prestige of an old one; her sympathetic heart, her social-worker enthusiasm and ideological naivete made her a perfect subject for communist hoaxes.... In the inner circle of activists, I was told, she was regarded as one of the party’s most valuable assets.” One precious detail emerged long after Lyons’s book was published: Mrs. Roosevelt, attending a diplomatic function, insisted on being escorted by Alger Hiss.

Stalin could count on his cadres, fellow-travelers, and dupes to follow every twist and reverse in his party line, but he finally demanded too much even of the most gullible. He destroyed his own Popular Front when he made his pact with Germany in 1939 and joined the rape of Poland. At that point even many hard-core Communists, hating Hitler even more than they loved Stalin, at last broke away in disgust.

From that moment, mechanical pro-Communism in America was a thing of the past. The Soviet Union lost nearly all its American loyalists. Many of them would still pine for an “ideal” Communism, and continued to regard Soviet Russia as vaguely progressive, but the old thrill was gone forever.

During World War II Stalin enjoyed a temporary reconciliation with American liberal opinion; through no fault of his own, Soviet Russia was invaded by its German allies (as Lyons had predicted) in June 1941, and in December the United States entered the war on Stalin’s side. U.S. Government propaganda lied to the American public about its “Russian friends” as shamelessly as the Communists and fellow-travelers had lied during the Red Decade. At the war’s end, the fruits of victory in Central Europe were too sweet for Stalin to bother hiding his true colors, and American illusions were no longer possible.

Today the liberals have run out of utopias. Russia is Russia again, having renounced the Red dream after terror devolved into shabbiness; China, though semi-Commie, can be nobody’s ideal; Cuba is both brutal and squalid. Even Sweden has lost its charm.

The Hive no longer believes in socialism, though it keeps moving spasmodically toward it out of old habits. The victory of market capitalism is too clear, and planned economies have proved embarrassing. The Bees have to settle for keeping the welfare state — also semi-disreputable — and making hay on abortion, sodomy, environmentalism, smoking, whatever promises to allow some incremental government growth. During the impeachment battle they defended Bill Clinton with the same solidarity with which the old Left defended Stalin, but it wasn’t really the same. Stalin was, after all, a far more inspirational figure.

But the residue of the Red Decade is still with us, just as Lyons said sixty years ago. The Hive bears traces of its ancestry. It still believes reflexively in the state, vilifies its opponents, and, above all, keeps its gains. It practices not only a “politics of personal destruction,” but a politics of general destruction, in which all social relations are determined by force. It believes in power and nothing else.

Having said all that, I think the strongest resemblance between the old Left and the Hive lies in their shared hatred of human individuality. To become a Bee in this Hive is to surrender, voluntarily and eagerly, your own personality; to submerge the self in a collectivity; to prefer the buzzing cliché of the group to individualized thought and expression; to take satisfaction in belonging, and conforming, to a powerful mass, while punishing others for failure to conform. This is not only a political but a spiritual condition. It was true of the Stalinists, and it’s true of the Hive. All the names have changed since the Thirties, yet you get the eerie feeling that the old Stalinists and today’s Bees are somehow the same people.

The similarity to an insect colony — where the individual exists only functionally, being both indistinguishable from and interchangeable with its fellows — is not superficial. It’s of the essence. To be an insect is to be relieved of the burden of having a soul of your own.

1-The Red Decade: The classic work on communism in America during the thirties (Arlington House, second edition, 1970, 423 pages) by Eugene Lyons. Originally published in 1941 under the title, The Red Decade: The Stalinist Penetration of America (Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1941, 423 pages) by the same author.

(See Part I of Before the Hive)

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Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted from SOBRAN’S: THE REAL NEWS OF THE MONTH, August 2001.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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