Introduction: Although some of the participants in this symposium would disagree, at least as to the consistency of their own political views over the past two decades, Richard H. Rovere is, in my opinion, very close to the truth when he says “that the war in Vietnam has brought about, or perhaps merely revealed, great changes in attitudes and opinions in the liberal and intellectual communities.” In order to explore the range and depth and significance of those changes, the editors of COMMENTARY invited about 40 prominent intellectuals of liberal or democratic-socialist persuasion—people whose names, moreover, were associated at some point in the past with an opposition to Stalinism and/or Communism in general—to discuss certain charges of inconsistency and even of venality which have been brought against the broad political position they held in the 1940’s and 50’s. The 21 responses we received appear below in alphabetical order.
Many differences of opinion, both on large questions and on points of concrete detail, emerge from those responses. Nevertheless several rough generalizations are possible. Most of the contributors, though by no means an overwhelming majority, repudiate the idea that liberal or left-wing anti-Communism is responsible in any significant measure for present American policies in Vietnam—and with very few exceptions, they are all vehemently opposed to those policies. Most would still call themselves anti-Communist in one sense or another, but virtually all seem to agree that the American effort to contain Communism by military means cannot be justified either politically or morally in the double context of a polycentric Communist world and an unstable underdeveloped world seething with nationalist aspirations. As to CIA backing of cultural projects, the consensus appears to be that it was on the whole a disaster, but that the intellectuals who received such subsidies were subject to no actual coercion and were in any case, for better or worse, doing and saying what they would have done and said anyway.
It is not, however, these positions in themselves which reveal the great changes to which Mr. Rovere refers. The major change, I think, lies in the extent to which the liberal and intellectual communities have lost the faith they momentarily had at the height of the cold war in the possibility that the United States, the main bulwark against Stalinism, could act as a relative force for the good in international affairs. Not everyone in this symposium entertained that faith in the 1950’s, but most to some degree did, and not many do any longer. This loss of faith in America may be added to the growing list of casualties for which the war in Vietnam has been responsible, and it may in the end turn out to be not the least consequential.—N.P.
- It has recently been charged that the anti-Communism of the Left was in some measure responsible for, or helped to create a climate of opinion favorable to, the war in Vietnam. What justification, if any, do you find in that charge? As someone whose name has been associated with the anti-Communist Left, do you feel in any way responsible for American policies in Vietnam?
- Would you call yourself an anti-Communist today? If so, are you still willing to support a policy of containing the spread of Communism? If not, why have you changed? Assuming that you once supported containment because you were opposed on moral rather than narrowly political grounds to the spread of a totalitarian system, why do you think it wrong to apply the same principle to Vietnam?
- Do the recent revelations concerning covert CIA backing of projects, some of which you probably sympathized with, or may perhaps have been involved in yourself, prove that liberal anti-Communism has been a dupe of, or a slave to, the darker impulses of American foreign policy?
Lionel Abel: Let me first answer your questions:
- I do not believe that the anti-Communist Left is, to use your language, “responsible for,” or that it “helped to create,” a climate of opinion favorable to the war in Vietnam. The war imposed itself; it was not required by any body of opinion either on the Left or on the Right. And I was among those who opposed this war from the start.
- Nor would I today call myself an anti-Communist, one good reason being that I do not know whom to call Communists. The Russians? The Chinese? The former seem to be closer to the Communist goal, the latter more interested in reaching it. Thus, I could hardly support a policy of containing the spread of Communism, since I do not know what the words “Communism” and “spread” in this usage signify. And since I have never supported containment—I suppose you mean containment of Communism—on “moral rather than narrowly political grounds,” I do not now have to make an exception of Vietnam: I do not know what is being contained there by American arms.
- So far as I am aware, I have not been involved in any project covertly backed by the CIA—though some of the publications to which I contributed may have helped themselves to CIA funds. You ask, has liberal anti-Communism “been a dupe of, or a slave to, the darker impulses of American foreign policy”? No doubt it has, but I think too that American foreign policy has often been a dupe of, if not a slave to, the darker impulses of illiberal theorizing; and we have to admit that among the theorizers there have been not a few ex-Trotskyites. Which brings me to a question you did not ask, but which I want to answer: What happened to Trotskyism?
The Trotskyism of the late 30’s was a radical ideology whose adherents expected to take over leadership of the Communist movement once Stalin had been exposed—that is, once his crimes and mistakes had been made clear. Stalin was so exposed; this did not at all lead to the results Trotsky had anticipated.
In fact, the exposure of Stalin led to a liberalization of Russian society; and also introduced a trend toward bourgeoisification, bourgeois moral standards, capitalist methods and motivations. Who today opposes such trends? The Chinese, first of all, with their demand for authentic internationalism and revolutionary intransigence. Are the Chinese, then, the heirs of Trotsky, as Isaac Deutscher thought in 1959 when he first wrote of the “great leap forward”? Or are they the heirs of Stalin, as he now thinks, predicting that China will suffer even more from Mao’s “cultural revolution” than Russia did from Stalin’s purges? It is the Chinese defenders of Stalin’s reputation who today are interested in international revolt. It is the Russians, interested in postponing revolution, who today are critical of Stalin’s terror. So neither the Russians nor the Chinese can be said to continue Trotskyist thinking. Was Trotsky wrong then? Were his followers deluded? Was he himself deluded? Was Stalin right, after all—is this thinkable?
I suggest that Trotsky was indeed wrong, on one fundamental matter; and that his error on this matter has created a peculiar misunderstanding of events among his former supporters.
About what was Trotsky wrong? He was wrong in thinking, or leading others to believe—many believed him on this point—that drastic social change could be achieved, and speedily, without tyranny. Notice that I am using the old classical term “tyranny” and not the modern term “dictatorship.” I submit that drastic social change cannot be speedily achieved without some kind of tyranny, and that the illusions Trotsky created about this among his followers are today still being furthered. For instance, by some of my old friends on Dissent who often give the impression of thinking that merely to reject the methods of tyranny is actually to bring about drastic change.
Trotsky, it will be remembered, did insist on rapid change: in Russia this meant industrialization. But he was not ready to acknowledge the full brutality which the rapid industrialization of Russia entailed. So when we ask today, what happened to Trotskyism?—this answer has to be given: it simply disappeared. Why? It was never a real alternative to Stalinism. Was there any such real alternative? Yes: the position of Bukharin, now adopted by the Soviet Union for other countries—that is to say, the achievement of socialism at a snail’s pace.
I am not going to argue that Stalin was right about any political matter; I am not going to argue that his opinion on any political question is to be defended against those who opposed him. If Stalin was right, it was only in one sense: Russia, for rapid and drastic change, required a tyrant, and that instrument Stalin was, most eminently.
The liberals of the 30’s, believing in drastic change but not seeing that tyranny was needed to effect it, supported the Soviet Union but denied that Stalin was a tyrant. Now the Trotskyites saw that Stalin was a tyrant, but thought his tyranny an obstacle to drastic change. On the second point they were entirely wrong. We now ask: was the development of the Soviet Union possible without Stalin’s kind of terror? Did Trotsky’s attack on Stalin assert Stalin was wrong because he was a tyrant? Did it not rather assert that Stalin was the wrong tyrant? But is not “wrong tyrant” an impossible term? The right tyrant is simply the one who holds power, and is able to hold it against all comers. Certainly any issue of a “right tyrant” against a “wrong tyrant” must be confusing. The serious antithesis for society is between rapid and drastic change but by means of tyranny—as against the limiting of change to those slow processes consistent with the methods of liberalism.
It seems to me that this question touches on the problems now being faced by the movement for civil rights. To some Negroes, Stokely Carmichael for instance, drastic social change is called for. But if drastic social change means tyranny, what kind of tyranny does Stokely Carmichael have in mind? There cannot be a Negro tyrant over those Negroes who have segregated themselves in the manner of the Muslims. But in any case, what has to be seen clearly is that any drastic and rapid change—the Negroes are insisting on rapidity—in the relations of whites and Negroes cannot be achieved under the standard of liberalism.
What I am arguing for here is clarity, that is to say, a will to clarity. Let us admit once and for all what it means to claim that drastic—and rapid—change is needed.
China is certainly committed under Mao to radical change; and that I take to be the reason why the Chinese, though international in their outlook in a way the Russians are not, refuse to reject Stalin, and even defend his purges. What the Chinese are defending is, very simply, tyranny. If we do not want to go along with them on this, then we have to ask: do we want them to continue the changes they initiated in Asia, or not? An answer to this question requires answering the very questions I brought up: what, fundamentally, is the instrument of social change? And what happened to Trotskyism?
And answering these questions is not irrelevant to the discussion of those projects which, as you put it, had “covert backing” from the CIA. Was not the raison d’être of the CIA the mounting of drastic actions with a view to preventing drastic change? Now drastic actions to prevent drastic change could not but involve operations incompatible with liberalism. The whole enterprise had to end up in a kind of Bolshevik bounderism, this time in the service of the bourgeoisie.
What about the so-called “psychological radicals” who, defining their situation drastically, put their faith in resolute inner action against society? To the degree that such people—mainly students—require changes that are both drastic and rapid, they will tend—they themselves have provided the evidence—to place themselves under an inner, a psychological tyranny: that of drugs. I think that the principal interest of drugs nowadays lies in their power to tyrannize. That is why, as I see it, the argument for legalizing a particular drug, marijuana, on-the ground that it is less tyrannical than others, seems somewhat specious. If society is really as nauseating as the proponents of legalized marijuana regularly assert, then isn’t something stronger than marijuana needed?
Finally, I should like to point out to all who insist that our situation is a drastic one, calling the U.S. an awful place in the hands of awful people, that this, their violent rhetoric, commits them to exactly nothing. If, for instance, the position of the Negroes is as bad as Stokely Carmichael says, then it could only be changed by a massive violence for which the Negroes just do not have sufficient numbers. I would suggest to our would-be radicals that they try to practice a certain verbal austerity and deny themselves the use of Manichaean phrases calling for actions which they cannot take.
David T. Bazelon: To answer the questions:
Yes, I feel responsible for American policies in Vietnam: I am an American, which for me is not a mere fate, but a point of view. I have intellectually allowed for and, if it means anything, have supported the postwar policy of military containment. One Vietnam or another—the containing power being sucked into excessive support of a nonexistent government—seems nearly inevitable in restropspect: a time-bomb flaw in American policy from the beginning.
I most certainly remain an anti-Communist today; although both Communism and I have changed. For one thing, I would never favor the use of nuclear weapons in pursuit of anti-Communist policy, or any other. Most sane men would rather be red, or even red-white-and-blue, than dead-in-a-devastated-world. However, once thus-colored—or living in any spiritually devastated world—I would treasure the option to choose a rich occasion of my own death. But this heroism, suicidal or otherwise, is a personal choice, not a social policy.
I am a slave to almost all American policy—foreign or not, dark or otherwise—as are we all. As for being a dupe, quite the contrary: if anybody in 1947 had told me we would all be alive in 1967, and with a chance for our kids to survive us, I would have sneered at length and in detail.
Communism—any system—is livable, I suppose: half of Europe even survived the plague. And I can think of a dozen or more social arrangements right here in the United States that I cannot imagine surviving, and that would at the same time constitute rapid social advance for millions of my fellow citizens. The confusion of personal and social policy considerations is now, among us, at an exquisite height: I know women who cannot be diverted from imagining themselves as mothers of napalmed babies long enough to give substantial attention to their own affluent children: we lust after primitive conditions of life. It was that romantic idiot, Gauguin, who afforded our current half-civilized masses the key to historical experience, he, and more recently Mississippi (somewhat more available by Greyhound, but now forgotten).
It is this elevation of primitivism to the status of the sole revelatory truth that provides the core of the New Style in American public expression, including politics. To measure the depth of our fall to primitivism, compare this new kind to the romantic naturalism of D. H. Lawrence—the last of the great romantics, now almost forty years dead. Lawrence imagined a new animal man, he did not merely imitate existing primitives (and certainly not men whose primitivism derived mostly from their unnatural deprivations); and he rejected modern industrialism in its fact and its essence. Our current romantics accept all the benefits—including the personal chemical distortions—of the technological order; they owe their stylish existence and most of their ideas to the representational media of the technological society; and their Noble Savages are the enraged victims of ghetto hysteria, and the stunted peasants of the Black Belt.
Liberal anti-Communism, growing out of the history of the socialist movement and more particularly out of the utter rejection of Stalinism by elements of that tradition—as well as the coerced political propriety of the McCarthy period—is not so much attacked as it is summarily dismissed by the politicos of the New Style: dismissed for no better reason than that it is inconveniently inhibiting. (They are capable of thinking about it.) This new generation of New-Class middlebrows—only gently sprinkled with the paprika of old fellow-traveling maturity and wisdom—believes that Communism is a bogey invented by McCarthy in order to disrupt the Left; and they are not about to be taken in by any such obvious maneuver. In any event, it is not an issue important enough to think about—it will mellow, it has mellowed; what do you mean by Communism; what about lynching in the South; Stalin is dead; Yankee go home; America never does anything right; Ho Chi Minh is an intelligent, well-educated, peasant leader.
Primitive identifications are strangely like projective images, as in the scapegoat theory of anti-Semitism, only benign. They have the desperate object of avoiding the entanglements, or awareness of the entanglements, of one’s emotional life (or what is left of it) in the immediate actualities of a rationalistically organized social order, and the accompanying consumerism. It is all a middlebrow rewrite of selected moods of popular culture—as if some images on television had jumped out of the tube and begun picketing and demonstrating in the living room. The civil-rights revolution occurred mostly in the media: the demonstrators were unpaid actors for the networks.
In the context of this absurdly derived and puerile emotionality, it now becomes necessary to rediscuss a complicated historical phenomenon like Communism, as some decades ago it was necessary to delineate the tragic fate of the October Revolution to a movie audience that had just moments before seized upon a Russian Dream as its American one dissolved in the sick ozone of the Depression. Vietnam is our nightmare, just as Soviet power, years ago, was our dream. So be it—even though now the group concerned, centered in the growth industry of education, is many times over more numerous and assertive and powerful than was the earlier generation. This time they are so strong they don’t even need Stalin.
Communism is not a matter of indifference, no matter how much it has or will become mellowed. Moreover, its mellowing, such as it is, is the result at least also of checked Soviet expansion, and the fact that Stalinism did not find an heir in Europe. Leaving other things aside for the moment, it seems ordinary to me that the necessity of the last battle, Vietnam, should be more deeply questioned than that of earlier ones—like the Berlin airlift or the Italian election of the late 40’s. But in the absence of American counter-pressure, even Stalin might very well have succeeded in building a more durable totalitarian empire.
While Communism cannot be opposed effectively without American power, the purpose of the opposition cannot be to secure the planetary dominion of the patterns of the American order. These are not viable, worldwide, since the two main strands of Americanism—our capacity for technological application, and our freedom to indulge minority cultural and political expression—are both derived from our exceptional wealth, which in turn has a unique basis in our continental history. The planetary issue should not be conceived as either/or—since mellowing Communism is not a matter of indifference, and non-military Americanism is not yet exportable. The issue before the planet is not to copy an inimitable America, but to suffer the technological transformation with less rather than more damage to the humanity that may survive it. And that is, for me, the vital point about Communism, in any of its polycentric forms: it concentrates all power in a purportedly supra-historical agency devoted to technological transformation without any conception at all of the accompanying human damage, and of course without allowing for any expression of any such conception by others. Moreover, in its monolithic concentration of power in the party and over the state, it is politically musclebound (overadministered) even in its introduction of the technology, apart from the character of the accompanying social order. This is not acceptable, to humans, except for pure survival.
What is a better way than the Communist way?
Any nationalist way, since that preserves an indigenous sense of the human in the inevitable engagement with technology; the way of any internationalist agency, including that of national corporations of advanced countries, where more technological sophistication than world-view is being exported (e.g., Krupp factory-building or Japanese trade); and perhaps, one future day from somewhere, the way of a truly humane social democracy (which technological wealth may soon make feasible). But the issue is technology: 1) to keep it from destroying us; 2) to make it available to the poor who insist on having it; 3) to preserve options of the survival of indigenous humane society in the wake of the devastation that inevitably accompanies the introduction of effective production; and 4) most especially not to accept the simple recapitulation of the past experiences of any advanced nation, concerning the primitive accumulation of capital, upon the helpless, greedy, unknowing body of the pre-techno-logical peoples of the planet.
Conceived in this manner, the struggle is clearly with ourselves as well as with Communism. Just as clearly, it is not merely with ourselves, but also with a Communist pattern that is often woodenly stupid, and not even—for all that—as useful to the Third World as idiot American efficiency that cannot as yet distinguish between steel and Coca Cola.
I am afraid that we are fighting a war in Vietnam for no better reason than that it is what we do best—and somebody has to do something. Both notions are tragically true. There is good reason not to lose the war in Vietnam; there is also good reason not to bother winning it. This war, which now involves Vietnam itself only as victim, should not be won or lost but transcended. The Pentagon desires to prove that guerrilla subversion, or Wars of National Liberation, can be defeated by the determined application of American power: I believe that some can and some can’t, and that if we won this one this year the proof of victory would be deeply deceptive. Very crudely, it has already cost too much to be a pattern of anything but defeat. To date, we have proven that we are bigger than France, which everyone knew anyway; and that American power, when acting alone, must be selectively applied—and this was a very poor selection from the point of view even of the Pentagon. We have said that we are prepared to fight for ten or twenty years: what would possibly remain, of Vietnam or of our purpose, after ten or twenty years? Better to destroy North Vietnam next year, or sit in Saigon and wait, than to persist in any such wilful absurdity. The best way to win in Vietnam is to finance Ho Chi Minh thirty years ago.
But the Vietnam experience, however concluded, is a beginning as well as an end. It is an end only of the simple minded postwar policy of containment monstrously misapplied. But a beginning of active military world government.
Notice how much seems to have been forgotten in the recent concentration on the Vietnam over-involvement—by the liberal intellectual community as well as by the Pentagon. There is an ever-present issue of the survival of the planet which we must strain to recall. It is perhaps still vaguely reasonable to argue about winning a war in Vietnam, or not losing one again; it is simply insane to discuss the winning of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Not to fight that war means to make a deal with that enemy. This deal must be, in the first instance, military; it had better be, secondarily, something more. But note that the realistic range of possibility here is from immediate utter destruction, all the way to a horrifying planetary condominium by the two most detested powers in the world (which comprise not much more than one-sixth of the population), the central drama of which will consist of waverings between obnoxious piety and sickening insecurity. The politics of the future necessarily occurs under this black umbrella.
The issue is the survival of the planet, and the pattern of control over its development if it does survive. That is an ultimate and an immediate—therefore an apocalyptic—issue: indeed, somebody ought to make a morning prayer out of it, so that we might properly greet the fresh apocalypse of Everyday. And this issue is to be met by firm mental opposition to war? And fervent demonstrations in favor of love and de-escalation in Vietnam? And hating American power so much that we drift into a benign view of Communist power?
So I am an anti-Communist who believes that our most urgent business is to make a deal with the Communists. This may strike some unilinear logicians as contradictory—as what, in the real world, would not? Further to pursue this contradiction, as to a non-nuclear matter, I imagine that if I were a Frenchman in politics I would affirm and elaborate my anti-Communism in order to participate effectively in the construction of the new Popular Front now challenging, and soon to inherit, the Gaullist state. Thus, and not otherwise, the ugly dialogue of the 30’s continues.
Russia and the United States are being driven together by the greatest force in organized (rather than organic) human society—the need of equal powers to cooperate in order to avoid the irony of neutralization. And the need to recognize the iron law that governs all anti-suicide arrangements, namely, that if we do not kill each other, then we damn well must live together, God help us. And if we spend all of our time and energy threatening each other with revocation of the arrangement, others with less power will prevail in our absence.
To conclude: I said the war in Vietnam should be not won or lost, but transcended. That is, indeed, the effort of the liberal intellectual community in the United States—to transcend the war with primitive emotional assertion as to this, that, and the other. I propose, instead, an alternative policy that can be lobbied and campaigned for right here at home, and that will thereby raise rather than reduce the activists thereof. It should be endorsed by Congress before being acted upon. It is as follows:
- The President of the United States shall appear before the General Assembly of the United Nations and apologize to the world for our excessively military emphasis in opposing the evil of Communist subversion:
- A radical change of policy shall be announced, consisting of a secondary military posture in all instances, and a primary effort to afford technology and capital assistance to all who desire it and who observe the planetary peace;
- A continuing Coexistence Commission under the auspices of the United Nations with a free agenda for the discussion on intercontinental television of all aspects of Soviet-American problems, differences, similarities, prospects, attitudes toward this-and-that area of the world, etc., by both private and governmental persons;
- A congressionally authorized commitment by the United States government, presented to the United Nations, specifying (on conditions to be negotiated) the devotion of a sum equal to five per cent of American GNP, or 50 per cent of the last annual increase in American GNP, whichever shall be greater, to a new international development authority controlled according to the extent of contribution of whomsoever thereto, plus whatever sums shall be made available by negotiated reduction of armament; and
- A one-organization plan for the planet reported upon and/or revised annually as necessary, and in any event not less than every five years.
You want peace? This is the way to fight for it.
You want to fight Communism? This is the way to hit them where it counts.
You want a real fight, or just occasions for primitive hate?
You want to persuade the United States to act its age? Try this way for size.
Or shall we persist—decade after decade—in expecting that the Soviet Union, once we play dead, will accomplish all of this without our assistance?
Is it really up to them alone to save the world?
Daniel Bell: The order of your questions should be changed, since the response to the second controls the others. I shall begin, therefore, with the second.
2. I would still call myself an anti-Communist today in the sense that I describe below. But your formulation of the question confuses a distinction crucial to such an attitude and, indeed, to all relations between morality and politics.
I oppose Communism on moral grounds. It is a social philosophy which, in the name of rationality and humanism, imposes a repressive regime on people, on the principle that only a vanguard or a conscious elite knows the “truth” or what is best for everyone. This becomes the justification for suppressing dissent, for censorship in literature and the arts, for partiinost (i.e., guided thought), and the like. Such a regime, whatever its claims, leads to a denial of those liberties and protections without which free inquiry cannot function. A magazine like COMMENTARY could not exist in such a society; that, in itself, is a simple test of freedom.
But it is a mistake to confuse moral with political grounds as the basis for governmental policy; and equally to confuse individual and governmental actions. In a pluralistic society (with diverse creeds), the essence of a civil politics—and of traditional liberal philosophy—is to separate moral from political considerations in the behavior of groups. The separation of Church and State, for example, is founded on the liberal belief—formed in opposition to older Catholic dogma—that no creed, whatever its claims to truth, should be able to impose its moral views on others through the political mechanisms of the society. The essence of ideology (as a kind of secular religion) is that it fuses moral with political considerations, and leads to either/or confrontations between antagonists.
Within a civil society, politics is based on the principle of toleration and on compromise among diverse views. Primarily, one seeks agreement among all parties on the “rules of the game”; any group which accepts these rules is entitled to be heard. Among nations, politics is based, necessarily, on the play of national interests (whose legitimacy is often difficult to define, but they are rooted in history and the will to survive) and on the effort to create some rule of law in the international sphere. This is the moral context for politics.
In other words, one’s reasons for opposing Communism politically may be quite different from one’s reasons for opposing it morally. It is also necessary to distinguish between what one might say when talking as an individual and what one might say when looking at a problem from the point of view of the government.
I supported containment, as a policy of the American government, in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, not for “moral” reasons, but because the Soviet Union was aggressively expansionist. I oppose today, on moral grounds, many of the repressive features of the Tito regime (though I also recognize many changes), but I would not favor taking political measures against Yugoslavia, for it keeps the peace with its neighbors. I opposed the “liberation” policy of the Eisenhower administration, because it rested on a confusion of moral and political categories and resulted accordingly in a confused notion of the national interest.
Thus, your question about the “spread” of Communism is based on a false premise. The problem is not the spread of Communism, but the way it spreads. Where nations seek aggressively to change boundaries, or to cause other regimes to fall illegally, one opposes such actions in the name of international peace. Where left-wing guerrillas, as in Venezuela, seek to overthrow a democratic and legally constituted government by force, one opposes such actions. If Italy tomorrow were freely to vote a Communist regime into power, and if that regime were to maintain constitutional liberties, I would oppose any effort to overthrow it. But I would support the right of a citizen of Greece, where the army has just overthrown a constitutional regime and suspended many liberties, to resort to arms to restore those liberties.
While one cannot anticipate all political situations, the grounds of policy are, it seems to me, fairly clear: what is possible for individuals may not always be possible for governments; individuals are motivated primarily by moral considerations, but a polity, composed of diverse individuals and groups, cannot impose the singular moral conception of any one party on the society as a whole. Within a civil society, individuals are bound by the rules of the game and can take up arms or resort to coercive action only when there is a denial of the liberty to act. In the international sphere, the internal character of one regime cannot be the basis of another government’s decision to go to war or use coercive measures—such a decision has to be guided by the willingness of the other regime to keep the peace and to foster its views, or its social system, by peaceful means.
The Vietnamese situation is an unhappy compound of civil war and international confrontation. Whatever its internal origin, the Vietnamese conflict does involve China and the United States as great powers, and a victory for the Vietcong would be a powerful stimulus to the Maoist theory of violent social change, a type of politics which, in a nuclear age, risks the holocaust.
The “solution” in Vietnam (if any is possible) is to reduce great-power involvement and to let the political character of South Vietnam be determined by the free competition of political forces. Such a solution may require an American presence in South Vietnam, but for the end described, rather than to maintain a specific regime.
I oppose the present American policy in Vietnam, particularly the bombing of the North, because I think that the means employed are wholly disproportionate to the ends. Contrary to what Theodore Draper has written in these pages1 (although I agree with his conclusions), I do not believe that we have relied on military action to compensate for political failure. I think that we are guided by bad political considerations (which, however, still keep our military actions in check). Thus, the bombing of North Vietnam, it now seems clear, was not undertaken primarily to interdict North Vietnamese troop movements (bombing is a highly ineffective way of doing this) but for political reasons: both to pressure Hanoi, and to bolster the morale of the Ky regime. A cruel price is being paid for bad political reasoning.
I do think there are valid political (i.e., national interest) reasons for our presence in Vietnam, but I do not approve of the administration’s present policies, which have moved beyond the original intention of a limited war. Such extensions, however, were not dictated by “ideology”; the escalation was the product, I fear, of a wrong judgment about how to be “tough-minded” in politics.
1. The charge that “the anti-Communism of the Left . . . helped to create a climate of opinion favorable to the war in Vietnam” makes no sense to me either as history or as sociology. It assumes a single-minded American public opinion. It presumes the effectiveness of a complicated set of attitudes held by a small and diverse intellectual milieu—a presumption of influence which is contradicted by what we know about the formation of policy. Worst of all, it makes erroneous judgments about the development of American policy in Vietnam.
Various opinion polls (see the analysis by S. M. Lipset in a recent issue of Trans-action) indicate the volatile and even contradictory nature of American opinion. A majority favors negotiations because these might lead to peace. A majority approves of bombing because it seems to promise a cheap victory. A majority wants to see the war continued if a settlement would mean the “loss” of South Vietnam. A majority would accept a settlement allowing the National Liberation Front to participate in South Vietnamese elections, if this would stop the war. What it all adds up to is that, within large limits, a determined and forthright President is capable of molding a majority out of a wide range of contradictory attitudes, and that “public opinion” gives him considerable latitude to do any number of difficult things.
If the question assumes that the sophisticated attitudes of the anti-Communist Left came into play, not in mass, but in “elite” opinion, or that sections of the administration shared such attitudes, this still, I think, misreads the way American policy in Vietnam has developed. It is striking that at the time when the country was most ideologically anti-Communist (i.e., during the Eisenhower years), the Republican administration resisted the efforts of leaders of the military (notably Admiral Radford) to commit American troops to Vietnam after the downfall of the French fort at Dienbienphu. The decision to commit American troops (and to engage in counter-insurgency maneuvers, including abortive efforts to infiltrate the North) came in the “cool” Kennedy era. These decisions, as both Goodwin and Schlesinger have testified, were not made with any forethought of long-range consequences. They were dictated by immediate military considerations—the floundering of the South Vietnamese troops when the Giap strategy moved the Viet-cong from its phase of guerrilla warfare into more conventional military operations—and they dug the pit in which we find ourselves today.
I do not think that the American presence in Vietnam can be traced to an anti-Communist passion or to an anti-Communist ideology which forces us into a holy war, whatever the simplistic right-wing view may be. I think we owe America’s presence in Vietnam to a power vacuum in Southeast Asia after World War II. One forgets that America—the paramount world power at the time—became engaged in Asia because of a Japanese “co-prosperity scheme” which would have given Japan the political hegemony in Southeast Asia which the Chinese Communists seek today. For political reasons, we assented to the return of France (under de Gaulle) to Indochina; for political reasons, we opposed the return of the Dutch to Indonesia. While some of our actions are colored by the ideological fact that China is a Communist country, the basic framework of politics in Southeast Asia, as in the Middle East, remains that of great-power confrontations.
3. Your third question is lurid and melodramatic. If you had specified what you mean by the “darker impulses of American foreign policy,” then I might have been able to judge whether anyone has been a “dupe or a slave” to them. Failing that, I can only reflect on my own activities for fifteen years in the Congress for Cultural Freedom—an organization which, it is revealed, received money from the CIA—and assess your question in that light.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom grew out of an international meeting in Berlin in 1950, organized by the city’s socialist mayor, Ernst Reuter. This was the period during which Berlin was ringed by Russian forces and had been saved only by the American airlift. A year earlier, Czechoslovakia had lost its independence in the Communist takeover, and its foreign minister, Jan Masaryk, was murdered. In this period, purge trials of Communist leaders took place in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, and dozens of these men, including Petkov, Rajk, Clementis, and Slansky, were hanged. In the Slansky trial, leading British Labourites were accused of being “Zionist agents” in league with imperialists and Titoists in an anti-Soviet conspiracy. In the Soviet Union, Zhdanov opened his attack on such literary figures as Akhmatova, while many Jewish writers—Bergelson, Feffer, and dozens of others-disappeared into concentration camps (which were filled with tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn), camps which the Russians maintained even after the public revelation of the Nazi camps. By 1953, Stalin had announced a “Doctors’ Plot,” and it was clear that a new, wholesale purge was brewing in the Soviet Union; this time, since most of the accused doctors were Jews, the Jewish population would be the main target. In western Europe, particularly in France and Italy, anti-Communist and non-Communist writers found it difficult to be heard, or were ostracized. In Paris, when Albert Camus suggested that concentration camps existed in the Soviet Union, he was denounced by Jean-Paul Sartre for slandering the Soviet Union!
In this setting, the Congress for Cultural Freedom was formed by hundreds of intellectuals—including Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Manes Sperber, Sidney Hook, and Elliot Cohen (the founding editor of COMMENTARY)—to rally their fellows against totalitarianism and to stand as a symbol of free inquiry and common discourse for intellectuals in all countries. It is simpleminded, in fact, to think of the Congress as “anti-Communist,” for when the “Communist” writers of the Petofi circle, the group that started the train of events culminating in the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956, came out of Hungary, they turned to the Congress for Cultural Freedom for support, and the magazine of the Petofi circle, Udrolami Uzhlag, was supported by the Congress, in exile, after 1956.
But whatever the reasons for its founding at the height of the cold war, the Congress for Cultural Freedom sought to be, especially after 1956, an open community of intellectuals, independent of government and free of ideological flags within the context of its opposition to totalitarianism. It sought to pose the serious and complex intellectual issues of the day, to debate them freely, and to foster open dialogues among intellectuals of all persuasions—including efforts, in early 1956, to open discussions with editors of Soviet magazines.
This effort to create an open community was the intention of the international conferences and seminars in which I participated and, in several instances, organized. In Milan in 1955, the central theme was Freedom and Planning, and the confrontation was between those like R. H. S. Cross-man, C. A. R. Crosland, and Roy Jenkins of the British Labour party, who felt that the two were compatible, and those like Frederick Hayek, who held that they were not. It was out of these discussions that the theme of the “end of ideology” arose—the feeling that the old intellectual debates had become exhausted. At Rhodes, in 1956, the conference was devoted to Public Liberty and the New States. In Vienna, in 1958, the theme was Workers’ Participation and Self Management in Industry, with discussions among American trade unionists, British Labourites, Histadrut leaders, and Yugoslav workers’ council leaders. In Berlin, in 1960, one of the major themes was Mass Society and Mass Culture.
This diversity of interest was also present in three international seminars I had a hand in organizing. In April 1957, in Tokyo, a seminar directed by W. Arthur Lewis, including among its participants the socialist Ashoka Mehta and the conservative Colin Clark, discussed alternative roads to economic development. In June 1957, a seminar held in cooperation with St. Antony’s College, Oxford, was devoted to the question of liberalization tendencies in the Soviet Union. In June 1965, a seminar at Rutgers University, sponsored by Partisan Review, explored the role of the intellectual in a technical society; the spectrum of opinions included those of Herbert Marcuse, George Lichtheim, Irving Howe, Leslie Fiedler, Norman Podhoretz, Edward Shils, and Sidney Hook. A dozen other seminars—on the role of tradition, on religion, on city planning, on Soviet historiography—were held in different parts of the world. These were never propaganda jamborees, but discussions enlisting some of the best minds of our time in an effort to clarify the intellectual issues of the day.
During this period, some (but not all) of the funding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom was underwritten by the CIA. It is also evident that early in the 1950’s the CIA, as a matter of government policy, decided to support and sustain a host of liberal and socialist international organizations, at a time when such organizations could not find the means to be self-sustaining, in order to strengthen opposition to Communist domination of various milieus. Given the context of the times, I understand the political reasons for such a decision. As to the moral rights and wrongs, there is no easy answer. From the viewpoint of the organizations, there was, and is, a simple test: whether independence of those organizations, and of the individuals within them, was compromised. I cannot apply the test to other groups which were financed by the CIA—for I have not been privy to their experience. So far as the Congress for Cultural Freedom is concerned, and so far as my own experience shows, liberal anti-Communism was not “a dupe of, or a slave to, the darker impulses of American foreign policy.”
Lewis A. Coser: Anti-Communism is so protean a term that no intelligent discussion can proceed before its various meanings are defined with some precision. Definitions, here as elsewhere, far from being neutral, are pregnant with consequences. At least four different meanings of the term may be distinguished:
- Anti-Communism may refer to opposition to a political philosophy and a program for action developed by Lenin and his disciples. Being committed to a democratic and libertarian socialist position, I have opposed Leninism and Stalinism ever since the 30’s and consider them mischievous political doctrines that have caused untold harm not only to the politics but to the very idea of socialism in the world. By having fostered in the minds of many the idea that socialism involves a centralized, dictatorial imposition of the will of an elitist few on the powerless many, it bears primary responsibility for the current debilitation and loss of appeal of the socialist vision.
- Anti-Communism may refer to opposition to the spread of Stalinism and its heirs, as institutionalized in the Soviet Union, to other areas of the world. In this respect I am, again, as anti-Communist now as I have been ever since the 30’s. Every victory of Communist trends in the labor movement, and among intellectuals and other men of good will, signifies a defeat for libertarian ideas, be it in the West or in the East. It is important, however, to recognize that the missionary zeal of Soviet Communism has vastly declined in the last decade or so and that the various Communist parties of the world are presently on the defensive. The ground for messianic and chiliastic visions or for reliance on a Third Rome no longer exists in the West. I think it most likely that the Western Communist parties will in the long run abandon Bolshevik politics and organizational structures, further emancipate themselves from Moscow direction, and re-enter the political dialogue within their respective nation-states. When this happens the European socialist Left will be relieved of the Communist incubus. It may then have a second chance. I shall reserve comment on the non-Western world for a later part of this essay.
- Anti-Communism may refer to the goals and ideology of American foreign policy ever since the late 40’s. This policy was initially designed to stop further penetration of Russian power into Western Europe, although there were men with powerful voices in the seat of government who indulged in the fantasy of a “roll-back” of Communist power in the satellites. It was an eminently successful policy; there were no further advances of Russian power in Western Europe after the Czechoslovak coup.
During the first phases of the cold war the two super-powers confronted each other in what was for all intents and purposes a bipolar world; we now witness the disintegration of these two blocs, neither of which can any longer control its previous client states. Moreover, the Soviet Union and the United States have become aware of their common interests in avoiding military confrontations and have moved to a state of antagonistic cooperation.
The official anti-Communist ideology, which was initially designed to provide justifications for the drive to stop Communist power in Europe, later acquired a momentum of its own, and we witnessed the familiar process of displacement of goals whereby an instrumental value becomes a terminal value.
Hoisted by its own ideological petard, American foreign policy is now committed to a global anti-Communist stance. A doctrine which at the onset had fairly specific and limited fields of application has now become obsessive and is being used on a world scale. It has led to the alignment of America on the side of some of the most reactionary and illiberal regimes. Anti-Communism has become the last refuge of all the scoundrels of the world in their effort to get backing from America.
The present orientation of American foreign policy, insofar as it is committed to global anti-Communist policing of the world, is profoundly reactionary and needs to be opposed by all liberal and radical intellectuals. It not only subverts, I believe, liberal and libertarian ideas and ideals, but it is contrary to America’s national interest.
4) Anti-Communism may also refer to a flourishing racket. Ever since the beginning of the cold war, a fair number of American intellectuals, from whatever motives, have become professional anti-Communists. Among them ex-Communists frequently have been the most vociferous. Such men have taken advantage of official ideological commitments and have exploited them to the hilt for their own purposes. Ample financing was readily available, whether from the CIA or through other channels. We thus were treated to the unedifying spectacle of American intellectuals waxing indignant about the kept intellectuals of the Soviet Union while being subsidized by secret or not so secret American government funds. These men helped to poison the intellectual atmosphere of the late 40’s and 50’s. They have subverted the intellectual vocation by abandoning a critical stance toward their own society in the name of anti-Communism.
Many other intellectuals were for a time inclined to suppress their misgiving about this or that aspect of American domestic affairs in order to close ranks against what they considered the dangers of Communism. Certain of them, it should not be forgotten, were even moved to mute their criticism of McCarthy from some such motives. American “establishment” intellectuals, in their enthusiasm for a newly discovered union sacrée, contributed to the unhealthy and conformist atmosphere of the 50’s, and left America woefully unprepared to face the new challenges of the 60’s both domestically and internationally. I consider this kind of anti-Communism a disaster. I have had no part of it and have fought it steadily in the pages of Dissent and elsewhere.
Let me now comment on your questions: Yes, the anti-Communism of the Left—variants 3 and 4, that is—to the extent that it bolstered official ideology, and in its own right as well, must bear a measure of responsibility for the war in Vietnam. It would seem inconceivable that the American population would have been willing to accept the sacrifices entailed by this war had it not been for the ideological bourrage de cranes that preceded it for over a decade. Those American intellectuals who now oppose this war and yet had some part in the official anti-Communism of the 50’s need to engage in a good deal of soul-searching in this respect. But that is their problem. So far as I am concerned, I feel no reason to be ashamed of past positions. I opposed the American Celebration of the 50’s; let those who indulged in it come forward and admit that the chickens have come home to roost in Vietnam and elsewhere.
American anti-Communist foreign policy, as presently conducted, is not likely to contain the spread of Communism as a system of ideas but is more likely to lead to its continued vitality in the underdeveloped nations of the world. Our alignment with the haves of the world drives many of the have-nots into the arms of one or another version of totalitarianism.
I devoutly hope that other areas of the world will be spared the ordeal of a Communist takeover, but I am not prepared to call for crusades anywhere in the Third World in order to stop native Communist regimes from taking over. Our present foreign policy in effect prefers the absence of development to the chance of a Communist takeover. I opt for development even at the risk that certain of the have-not nations might fall for one form or another of what are from my point of view distasteful regimes. I am for developmental aid both for intrinsic human and humane reasons and because I would hope that sufficient aid might prevent takeover by totalitarian regimes in many non-Western countries, but I oppose aid that is tied to ideological guarantees of certified anti-Communism.
Yes, American anti-Communism of the third and fourth variety has been a dupe or a slave to some of the “darker” aspects of American foreign policy. It has helped to cloak the moves of American power on the world scene in a mantle of self-righteousness and has allowed statesmen to engage in the most devious power games with a good conscience. By dividing the world into those areas committed to the powers of light and those governed by the powers of darkness, it has made it difficult for us to realize that most of the world is neither dark nor light but rather gray. It has thus prepared for crusades rather than for compromises, for final confrontations rather than for pragmatic adjustments.
To sum up: Although I am as opposed to the principles of Communism and to its political practice as I have been in the past, I feel that the political map of the world has basically changed since the mid-50’s. World Communism no longer exists as a unified political force or ideological vision. Western Europe is no longer menaced by either Soviet expansion or internal Communist takeover. Hence the raison d’être for official anti-Communism as formulated in the 40’s has largely disappeared.
Official anti-Communism is now in the main an ideological justification for an American global involvement on the side of those who try to hold back the tide of fundamental change in the underdeveloped areas of the world. It has led to our sinister and suicidal involvement in Vietnam and it is likely to lead to similar involvements in other parts of the world. Those committed to a liberal or radical vision will have to hold fast to a principled rejection of Communist ideology and practice, while at the same time being opposed to the reactionary ventures of American foreign policy which are but too often justified by official anti-Communist ideology. If men of good will in the Third World come to realize that American intellectuals, or at least significant portions of them, are as firmly opposed to the imperialist ventures of their government as they are to Communist imperialism, there will exist some incentive for them to engage in an autonomous course. Only the emergence of such autonomous action in the Third World might halt the spread of totalitarian systems. The official anti-Communism of our governmental and military establishment, insofar as it prevents such autonomous action, is a profoundly regressive ideology which American intellectuals need to oppose in a principled and decided manner if they wish to play a political role on the American scene. As to the professional cold-warriors, it is indeed high time that they were put out to pasture.
Paul Goodman: I doubt that I belong in this symposium. I have always—since about age 19 (1927)—been “anti-Communist,” if Communism means a strongly statist regime repressive of liberties. But I have never been “liberal,” if liberalism means social engineering, a fetishism of parliaments without leavening by populism and civil disobedience, and/or a heavy reliance on the profit motive. I am metaphysically democratic and would not oppose an authentic General Will (though I would go into exile if it were too disgusting); but in fact in the so-called democracies, there is little real democracy because of baronial corporations, semi-monopolized mass media, and entrenched bureaucracies. And both actual liberalism and actual Communism tend to be militaristic and imperialist: in this crucial respect there is little to choose between them, except that the liberal states have usually been richer and therefore more inclined to use overt or covert violence to maintain the status quo rather than change it.
Neither am I “of the Left,” if this means preferring socialism as an economy. For certain underdeveloped regions and for certain aspects of very advanced technologies, social control seems to be most efficient; and pure socialism across the board has moral virtues. But a free market and individual enterprise, if they can be maintained, also have moral advantages and have certainly proved themselves economically. But whatever the economy, to me the important tests are whether there is the possibility of countervailing political power and whether people have real options as to their style of life. (For a high technology, the Scandinavian mixed system best passes these tests.) The present American system is so base and ugly that I think I would prefer “socialism,” but it would have to be loose indeed to allow as much individual safety and freedom of enterprise as I consider indispensable for human growth.
What, then, to say about “liberal anti-Communism,” the subject of this symposium?
By and large, in my opinion, the anti-Communism of the Left did not help to create the present climate of American opinion. Where the Left has failed is in not providing a critique and a program of resistance and direct action to cope with the tyranny of the corporate, bureaucratic, and military establishment that has grown apace in this country and now prevails. Is it a surprise that democracy is not working in imperialist affairs? Has it been working for seventy years? During this century the Americans have been only too open to conceptions like anti-Communism. Smug, lusting for private goods, plunged into One World with narrow ideas; with capital and labor tied to a swollen subsidized war economy; with technology and management expanding overseas; and withal, most individuals being powerless and anxious, and prone to irrational identifications and projections—it was not hard for such a people to be sold both the American Century and the Communist Menace by Hearst, Luce, Spellman, Chambers of Commerce, the lobbyists of the Armed Forces committees, J. Edgar Hoover, etc., etc. This process did not need radicals and professors. The chief effect of the more rational anti-Communism of intellectuals has been to confuse themselves and to make it impossible for them to take a revolutionary stand against the home threat to American democracy, and to conspire with their fellows internationally to fight for peace.
Consider a few examples. Magazines like Dissent have given most of their space to the defects of American society which are our first order of business. But unfortunately, embarrassed by their own socialist nostalgia and needing to show themselves resolute against totalitarian socialism, they have been feeble in their critique in such whopping topics as the industrial-military, the genesis of the cold war, the popular revolutions in underprivileged nations. If Dissent had been more forthright on these matters, it must certainly have called for populist resistance, illegal if necessary. Its Left-coalition party politics has been ludicrously inadequate to the danger. It has always been unable to distinguish between the open illegality of populism—e.g., black power, the student movement, the peace movement—and its memories of elitist Stalinism. Thus it has betrayed the bright American spirit of anarchic freedom. And this failure has added to the drift of students and Negroes to Trotskyism and Maoism, precisely what Dissent disapproves of.
In this country, at least, people like the Congress for Cultural Freedom have been more contemptible than maleficent. When one found, for example, that they were eager to lead the attack on Russia’s censorship of Dr. Zhivago but were uninterested in our own cases or cases neutral in the cold war, it was hard to take them seriously as other than paid agents. My guess is that persons for whom Sidney Hook has provided ammunition were not honest citizens to begin with, though naturally this kind of yakety-yak has often made dialogue impossible—and that was no doubt the CIA purpose, sabotage. Abroad, of course, the effect has been more deadly, to create universal distrust of and disgust with the Americans, so that no international movement is possible.
The earnest voice of Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr in the New Leader has been different. Niebuhr’s tough “realism” probably did have the effect of making some sensitive souls so alive to the Communist evil that they could not conceive that our own establishment could become equally diabolic. Indeed, this has been one of the chief bad effects of anti-Communism on the climate of opinion: not that it painted the reds black, but that it lulled the American self-delusion of righteousness or merely venial sin. Given our position as a rich exploiter of a starving world—not to speak of our unspeakable past with the Indians and Negroes—we simply could not afford the luxury of Dr. Niebuhr’s “Immoral Society.” At this degree, one must first repent and try to undo; and the Vietnam war has brought Reinhold Niebuhr to understand this.
But none of the foregoing amounted to much. Far more malign has been the kibitzing by liberals like the New Republic, COMMENTARY, James Reston of the Times. These have been detached—which is a plausible, though not essential, position for critical intellectuals; they have published keen and often devastating analyses of both sides of the Iron Curtain; but they have so managed that nothing has added up to a new position which would logically have to follow. Editors proceed as if they had no memory of what they printed in the last issue. In the case of an individual journalist like Reston the effect is grotesque; it should be impossible for a man to have written some of his reports and then come back the next day as if the American regime were still credible and worthy of comment in its own terms rather than seeking a revolutionary alternative. Thus, the status quo, including the cold war, has been allowed to preserve a shabby legitimacy; and intellect is reduced to impotent kibitzing. Within the United States, the CIA could not ask for more—and I assume that among the intellectuals I am now discussing it has gotten it for nothing. It is out of the question that intellectual people could approve and support the government’s policy, but it is sufficient if their voices are dissipated in random outcries, turned into a babble, and no action follows. Meantime, the monstrous premises that are empowered persist, wreak their will, escalate. Who needs moral authority?
It is uncanny to me that intellectuals (of all countries) have allowed themselves to use the We-They terminology of power politics. At least as far back as the First World War it must have been sufficiently clear that the worthwhile conflict in the world was not between We and They power blocs, but between the people of the world and the power structures of the world embracing both (or sometimes three) sides. Since the atom bombs, everybody knows this. Indeed, chiefs of the great states have said it, although they themselves are the menace of universal destruction that they mention. The Disarmament Conference has now had a hundred thousand sessions, the stockpiling of bombs continues, we are starting on the antimissile missiles, and despite the treaty there will be armed platforms in space—if there is time. Nevertheless, we have the astounding situation that in two generations radical intellectuals have produced no program of theory and action that mankind can rally to. Instead, they have solemnly agreed to discuss garbage like “containment” and “deterrence” and “have they changed their spots?” (Only radical youth, in many countries, know the score in their bones and refuse to play the game; but their theorizing—though not their actions—is expectedly jejune.) Thus, the most disastrous effect that “anti-Communism” and “Communism” have had is that we are on the brink of doom without even a party or movement or strategy and tactics to put up a fight for life.
If the question is asked specifically, what is the moral and politic thing to do about Vietnam?—an idle question, since our regime is not moral or politic—the answer is easy: 1) bring to America a few thousand adherents of Ky whom we have used and made doubly detestable, and settle them handsomely in Texas across from LBJ’s ranch; 2) get out ourselves; 3) offer to pay as an indemnity about two years’ cost of the war—40 billions!—for reconstruction and any broad-based schemes of economic development; and 4) urge the Vietnamese quickly to get themselves a government to accept the money.
I do not think that the Vietnamese adventure has ever serously been about “Communism”; it is, rather, an incident of American expansion that happens to have gotten out of hand. There are far worse governments than Ho Chi Minh’s, which cause us no qualms; and there are few governments as bad as those we have supported in the South. There has been no morality whatever in destroying Vietnam as part of our policy with regard to China—but as of today (May 21, 1967) it seems likely that we will have succeeded in working the thing up to the point of getting embroiled directly with China, with the applause of a majority of the American public.
Michael Harrington: I am for democracy and socialism for all people. I oppose America’s tragic intervention in Vietnam and favor ending the cold war even though I regard bureaucratic collectivism, which is how I define Communism, as a plausible but terrible future for the world. I am also an anti-Communist and an anti-anti-Communist.
In recent years, a new generation of radical youth has been profoundly shocked by the horrors of a war directed by a populistic President. Some of them have reacted by adopting a theory of the international anti-Communist conspiracy. Like all conspiracy theses, this one blurs differences and shuns distinctions. Worst of all, it leads to an agnosticism about the historic options for good and evil now confronting mankind.
There are, of course, reactionary versions of anti-Communism which struggle against the totalitarianism of the pseudo-Left for the sake of the totalitarianism or authoritarianism of the Right. Hitler and McCarthy are obvious examples. There is a conservative anti-Communism which fears any social change and masks its defense of Western injustice by hypocritical, if usually accurate, denunciations of Communist injustice. Winston Churchill and John Foster Dulles come to mind. All liberals and radicals should be anti-anti-Communist where these, or similar, anti-Communisms are at issue. There is also an anti-Communism based on a single-standard advocacy of freedom and justice everywhere in the world. It proposes, among other things, one-man one-vote in Saigon and Hanoi, Mississippi and Madrid, and even in Peking and Moscow. I subscribe to it.
Now it is, of course, true that sophisticated manipulators in the American government have used this anti-Communism of the Left for their own anti-Left purposes. The most outrageous case in point is the CIA infiltration of democratic organizations. This was a shrewd and despicable policy and those who wittingly cooperated in it were worse than dupes (hopefully, however, they will not be treated in that style perfected by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee for the degradation of fellow travelers and former Communists). But then does the whole sordid episode prove that any anti-Communism, no matter how subtle, gives aid and comfort to the official, napalm-wielding variety?
According to McCarthyite logic, the answer is yes. The witch-hunters held that anyone whose position coincided with that of the Communist party on a given issue—say civil rights or HUAC—was therefore a Communist collaborator. The democratic Left fought vigorously against this doctrine of guilt by association. But now the international anti-Communist conspiracy theory gives an ultra-Left twist to the old red-baiting syllogism: hawks are anti-Communist; liberals are anti-Communist; therefore the liberals are unwitting hawks and must take responsibility for the death of children in Vietnam. For my part, Mr. Kosygin cannot keep me from denouncing American poverty, racism, and imperialism just because he superficially seems to agree with me (The Other America got a predictably good review in Pravda). And Mr. Johnson cannot silence me with regard to Russian, or Chinese, exploitation, class privilege, and imperialism just because he too thinks they are bad things.
But what of the more ingenious versions of the theory of the international anti-Communist conspiracy? Left anti-Communism, it is said, helps create an atmosphere in which all is permitted against the demoniacal enemy. Such a charge of generating the wrong Zeitgeist is difficult to deal with because it is as vague and yet as sticky as cotton candy. However, a brief excursion into current history should make the issues more substantial.
The proximate cause of the American involvement in Vietnam was the invasion of South Korea in 1950. Up until that time the cold war had been largely confined to Europe and the opinion polls showed a majority in favor of admitting Communist China to the UN. With the Korean war, however, all that changed. The nation moved to the Right, McCarthyism thrived, and the French were able to enlist Washington in their colonialist crusade in Indochina. In the 50’s, John Foster Dulles went far beyond the relative pragmatism of the original containment doctrine and developed an anti-Communist theology which required global intervention and scotch-taped alliances like SEATO and the Baghdad Pact. John F. Kennedy inherited the American presence in Vietnam from Eisenhower and Dulles. In the greatest single error of his administration, he escalated the conflict there—yet it was also Kennedy who, in June of 1963, challenged the ideology of the whole cold war.
Liberals made their share of errors during those years (and those of us on the radical wing of the democratic Left criticized many of them at the time). They did not understand the profoundly conservative, though reversible, tendencies of a rich America in a revolutionary world. They therefore underestimated the forces which worked to militarize Point Four and all the other bright hopes and to recruit practically every rightist dictator on the planet into the “Free” world. And some had illusions about the early Diem—but then so did Ho Chi Minh. Yet, and this is the crucial point, the distinctive characteristic of liberalism in this period was precisely its concern for economic and social alternatives to Communism rather than for bloody crusades.
In all of this, liberals—and the democratic Left generally—did indeed try to persuade America that it had an obligation to offer the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America a more humane way of overcoming backwardness than totalitarianism. The fact that this internationalism can be tragically misapplied, as Mr. Johnson is doing now, does not contradict its basic validity. Indeed, it is my personal impression that the bulk of those protesting against the war in Vietnam today do so precisely out of liberal, internationalist motives. Only a small minority in the peace movement agrees with the McCarthyite notion that one must be in favor of, or indifferent to, Communism in order to oppose the war.
Finally, let me touch upon the most recent critique of Left anti-Communism. The crackup of the Communist monolith, it is argued, demonstrates that there is no such thing as Communism but rather a variety of antagonistic Communisms. Therefore anti-Communism has become a meaningless obsession left over from the days of Joseph Stalin.
In part, this view expresses an epochal truth which often eludes the State Department. The new ruling classes in Communist nations can be as narrow and self-interested as the old ruling classes of the West. More important, the changes in Russia and Eastern Europe are often a response to pressures from below and a proof that even totalitarianism cannot permanently still the democratic aspirations of the people. But to then conclude that polycentrism demonstrates that there is no such thing as Communism is a sloppy and anti-radical way of thinking.
Under all varieties of Communism, the state owns the means of production and the bureaucracy owns the state through a monopoly of political power. Thus, Communism can be described as bureaucratic collectivism. In this context, Russia and China represent different historic examples of the same social system. And Communism is understood, not as the spawn of the devil or the product of Dean Rusk’s imagination, but as a workable, reactionary way of responding to very real problems.
In the less developed countries, bureaucratic collectivism is a way of sweating capital out of workers and peasants while limiting their consumption. If the gap between the rich and poor nations continues to grow and there seems to be no other way to modernize except by brute force, this approach will appeal to elites in the Third World independently of any machinations by Moscow or Peking. In a mature bureaucratic collectivist society like Russia the system presides over an advanced technology, but the ruling class does not hand power over to the people. Indeed, in the United States itself, the alliance of governmental and corporate bureaucracies could lead to an utterly managed, manipulated society with a democratic facade.
Communism is, then, a plausible but totalitarian version of the future. I believe that it is at least possible that free men can rule themselves and that we need, not simply reforms, but a new democratic civilization. I am therefore anti-capitalist and, in the specifically socialist sense of the term, anti-Communist.
Sidney Hook: The notion that anti-Communist liberalism has had a profound influence on the conduct of American foreign policy—more particularly that it is responsible for the American presence and subsequent strategies in Vietnam—is a myth. It is a myth circulated by ritualistic liberals whose anti-anti-Communism has periodically been proved bankrupt by the persistence of Communists in acting like Communists. The leading anti-Communist liberal during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations was John Dewey. His warning that Stalin would resume his cold-war offensive unless peace was secured when the Kremlin had need of the West, went unheeded by Republicans and Democrats alike.
John Dewey had no successors. The small group whom he influenced exercised no more appreciable influence on the administrations of Eisenhower and Kennedy than he did on the administrations of the 40’s. They did not disapprove of everything that was done by the State Department, but in the main they were critical of its failures of omission and commission, of a policy which merely reacted to Communist initiatives instead of developing positive programs to strengthen the free world.
Let us begin by introducing some semantic order into the use of our terms. By a “liberal” I mean a person committed to the use of intelligence in behalf of the values of freedom—not Freedom in the large but those specific freedoms that enhance the significance and dignity of individual lives in a community of self-governing persons. A liberal therefore must be an anti-Communist just as he must be an anti-Fascist and an anti-totalitarian of any stripe. But an anti-Communist is not necessarily a liberal, for he may be a Fascist, and an anti-Fascist is not necessarily a liberal, for he may be a Communist. A liberal who is not an anti-Communist or an anti-Fascist is “a phoney.” In the 30’s I coined the expression “totalitarian liberal” to designate those professed liberals who entered into united fronts with totalitarians and willingly let themselves be exploited for Communist causes. They endorsed the Moscow Trials and in general served as apologists for the Soviet Union.
It is clear from this that a genuine liberal is not necessarily opposed to the economy of Communism, but that he is necessarily opposed to the political despotism of Communism. He is prepared to recognize and approve the fact that there is a far greater degree of socialization, albeit hidden, in some of the Western democracies, including the U.S., than many apologists for free enterprise and/ or a Communist economy are aware of. In other words, the liberal puts democracy or freedom first and supports or opposes those social and economic changes that extend or restrict the ethos of democratic life. His basic allegiance is not to free enterprise but to freedom of choice—the freedom to live under any economic system, to believe or disbelieve in any religion, to accept or reject any style or form of the spirit expressed in art, literature, science, or philosophy. In short, the basic issue, according to the liberal philosophy, between the Western and Communist worlds, is not “capitalism or socialism” but the right to self-determination—national, political, economic, cultural—versus the forcible imposition of minority party rule.
The anti-Communist liberal recognizes that among the causes of Communist influence in a society is the failure of that society to give every group a vested interest in its preservation, and some sense of meaningful participation in determining the basic decisions by which it is affected. He therefore seeks to strengthen the plural democratic forms that make social progress possible, and in principle is opposed to the efforts of Communist regimes, whether in the Kremlin or Peking, to overthrow them by armed intervention or by subversion organized from without. He believes it is wrong to try to impose political freedom by force of arms on a nation which does not want it or has lost it. But he supports resistance to armed Communist aggression against the independence or freedom of non-Communist nations, by the use of sufficient force to make the Communists abandon their military adventure. This does not mean that the response to Communist military aggression anywhere in the world—whether Tibet or West Berlin—is automatic, or that we must always be prepared to risk more than what is threatened. General principles by themselves are no guides to action in specific cases because the principles may conflict and circumstances may be inauspicious; but without adherence to some principles, there can be no coherent and intelligent policy. Refinements aside, the anti-Communist liberal is committed to a double strategy—a program of social change or reform under the protective umbrella of a military defense that guarantees the freedom to initiate progressive measures.
The ritualistic liberal is one who believes that since Communism (like Fascism) arises out of social conditions of poverty and injustice, the best defense against it is fundamental social reform; nothing, he thinks, could be worse than military resistance to Communism because such resistance might lead either to a nuclear holocaust and the end of civilization, or to the triumph of totalitarianism in the democratic countries embarked on military defense rather than social reform. This was, as those old enough to remember will recall, essentially the point of view of the ritualistic liberals of the pre-Hitler period. In effect they argued that the best defense against Fascism was the elimination of the slums and poverty of Western Europe, England, and the United States.
The simple fact is that if we had followed the foreign policy advocated by the ritualistic liberals at the time of Hitler most of us would be dead by now. Yet a good many of the ritualistic liberals who have survived only by virtue of our disregard of their hysterical admonitions are still shamelessly repeating the same arguments, with some differences that reflect a younger vintage of political foolishness.
The new school of ritualistic liberalism does not share one of the fundamental positions of the old, according to which liberalism had no enemies on the Left. (It used to be believed in these circles that “Communists” were really liberals, or “agrarian reformers,” in a hurry.) It is now admitted that Communists were and are enemies of democracy, but not to the same degree as Fascists (after all, Communists call their societies “democratic”). But the excesses of Communist tyranny at home and the posture of Communist aggression abroad are now explained as mainly due to the baleful influence of Stalin and Stalinism. With the end of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the rise of poly-centrism, we must recognize the great changes that have taken place in Communist domestic and foreign policy. Mao’s Stalinist China may have to be feared in the future, but not now. Further, even the evils of Stalinism must be seen in perspective as part of the price paid for Russian (and Chinese) modernization—costs comparable to those paid by the West for its industrial revolution. Finally, although it was alarmist to say that in 1940 all of civilization was in danger of destruction, today it is simple common sense. Did not that great scientist, C. P. Snow, proclaim in 1959 that it was an absolute “certainty” that the world would blow up in a decade unless universal nuclear disarmament were to prevail? This gives us at most a respite of two years! A detente with the Communist countries is therefore not merely diplomatically desirable, but a necessity of sheer physical survival.
There is considerable truth in this complex of beliefs. A profound change has taken place in the domestic life of the Soviet Union. This change is symptomized by the survival of Stalin’s accomplices in crime. And even more important is the fact that the fissure in monolithic Communism produced by Tito while Stalin was still alive has now widened into a probably irreparable breach between Peking and Moscow and loosened the chains that bound the satellite nations to the wheel of their policy.
The basic error of those who see this and nothing more is the assumption that therefore the foreign policy of the Soviet Union will necessarily change—indeed, that it has already changed and that it will seek to establish a genuine form of peaceful coexistence. This is one of the root illusions of the ritualistic liberals who have become anti-anti-Communists. The truth, however, is that the foreign policy of the Kremlin since Stalin died has been less cautious and more aggressive than that of Stalin who originally broke with Tito, the most intransigent Communist of the postwar period, because he feared Tito would plunge the Soviet Union into war over Trieste, and who backed down in Iran, in Greece, and in Germany when the air-lift broke the blockade of West Berlin. Stalin never issued bloodcurdling threats of the kind made by Khrushchev. He would probably have avoided the risks Khrushchev took in Hungary and Cuba. Nor are Khrushchev’s successors much different from him. It is clear that they were—and still are at this writing—prepared to underwrite, encourage, and defend the genocidal war of their Arab allies against Israel. If anything, history shows that domestic difficulties within the Soviet Union have had a sobering influence on its foreign policy. It has been more aggressive when it has been more “united.”
This does not mean that the Kremlin or Peking wants war with the West. Neither country will ever go to war (if not attacked) unless it is confident of victory and survival. But both believe they can ultimately win by expanding their influence, and weakening the only power they really fear, the United States, by unremitting encouragement of wars for “colonial liberation” in countries that are not colonies, by subversion, and by neutralizing large sections of the population outside of the United States, and important sectors of public opinion within it. One of the great dangers of all pacifist, neo-isolationist, appeasement, or unilateral-disarmament policies, and their anti-anti-Communist propaganda, is that they may mislead the Communist powers. Communist intelligence seems much better informed as a rule than Western intelligence. But it has blundered badly in the past and can do so again. In the expectation that the United States will remain supine before Communist aggression, Moscow or Peking may take that one step too many or too far which will trigger world war.
In passing it should be pointed out that the degree of de-Stalinization in domestic Soviet life, particularly in the strategically important cultural sector, has been exaggerated. The entire history of Soviet cultural life since the October Revolution has been one of thaws and freezes. The chief difference between Stalin’s regime and the present is that dissidents are being censored, where they are not being jailed, instead of being shot. We should be grateful for this, but we should also recognize that the cultural climate is still not one that permits the necessary criticism of the helmsmen of Soviet policy. The failure of a single Soviet voice to protest the persecution of Pasternak, or the imprisonment of Brodsky, Daniel, and Sinyavsky, tells the story. As Svetlana Alliluyeva has pointed out—and who should know better?—not even under Tsarism when “gendarmes and policemen were the first critics of a writer’s work” was the situation as bad as it is today. “Neither Gogol nor Schedrin was ever brought to trial for the sharpness of his satirical fantasies, and they were not punished for laughing at the absurdities of Russian life. But now you can be tried for a metaphor, sent to camp for a figure of speech.”
The glorification of Stalin by Mao has led the Kremlin to halt the processes of de-Stalinization. A partial rehabilitation has set in since the XX and XXII Party Congress. Visitors to the Soviet Union who speak to professors and scientists come away with misleading notions of official policy. It is the leaders of the party bureaucracy who determine the policy and no one else. And they are still Communists. Last May in a remarkably frank discussion I held with one of the editors of Pravda, Vitali Gorionov, I was told that Stalin, despite “some excesses against Soviet legality” in the last years of his life, was a truly great man, that the Moscow Trials had not been frame-ups, and that Beria had misled Stalin about the loyalty of Yezhov and Yagoda! Stalin was no longer the scapegoat for the millions of imprisoned and slaughtered innocents, but rather Beria. Trotsky was still “an enemy of the people,” not even a socialist but a plain counterrevolutionist! Gorionov was on an “unofficial” cultural visit to the United States, but his views were as unofficial as those of Pravda whose political line, he coolly insisted, was not controlled by the Politbureau even though admittedly it never disagreed with anything that appeared in Pravda.
I mention the domestic situation in the Soviet Union because a cheerful view of the agony of the Soviet people seems ingrained in the attitude of many anti-anti-Communists. One distinguished but rather fitful representative of this view sent me a message on the eve of a prolonged visit to the Soviet Union not to worry about the danger of his becoming a Communist. My reply was that such a worry had never entered my mind. My real worry was that he would return convinced that the members of the Politbureau were no longer Communists! And no sooner did he return than he predicted that it was “inevitable” that the economy and culture of the U.S. and the USSR would converge in a few years. Despite this evidence of “vulgar Marxism,” he was no more a conscious Marxist than was Henry Wallace who spoke in almost identical terms in the early 40’s. Democracy and Communism were both mythologies. Technology had replaced ideology as the decisive causal factor in shaping the political future. As if modern technology and industry could not support value systems as diverse as those of Hitler’s Germany and Great Britain. Modern technology and industry may exclude certain value systems, but they are compatible with both free and totalitarian cultures. To derive a value system from a technological industrial structure is comparable to deriving a marriage system from the sexual structure of man. It is a gross confusion between necessary and sufficient conditions.
Whatever the factors have been which have influenced American foreign policy toward Communist nations since World War II, it is fantasy to see liberal anti-Communism as one of them. The truth seems to me to be that there has been no consistent American policy. It has alternated between unintelligent yielding to Soviet pressure and unintelligent inflexibility. It is a history largely of missed opportunities. But there have been lucid intervals of intelligent response. It took considerable time for the United States to realize what the Soviet Union had in store for Poland, Czechoslavakia, Germany, and Western Europe. The history of the cold war is being rewritten by some ritualistic liberals to prove that the United States initiated it out of obsessive fear of Communism against a war-torn and justifiably vengeful Russia. The postwar mistakes of the United States have been many, but in fairness one must list actions which—even if they do not all reveal great statemanship—explode the fiction that the United States has blindly opposed Communism any time anywhere and independently of whether Communists have moved aggressively against the West.
The first such action was the withdrawal of the bulk of American troops from Europe while the Red Army still bestrode the continent, executing a horrible vengeance wherever it could against liberals and democratic socialists who refused to become pawns of the satellite Communist regimes established by the force of Russian arms. The second such action was the Marshall Plan offered to all European countries, including Communist ones, to help rebuild their economies. The third was the offer by the United States to surrender its monopoly of atomic bombs to an international authority at a time when Bertrand Russell was urging that the bomb be dropped on the Soviet Union if she refused to enter into an international accord with strict controls.2 The fourth was the generous help given Tito, who had the lives of a score of American airmen on his conscience, after he broke with Stalin, proclaiming himself a better Stalinist than Stalin.
A liberal anti-Communist policy would have gone along with some of these moves but modified them to some extent. It would have pressed for a degree of liberalization in the domestic life of Yugoslavia as a condition of our aid to Tito. But we asked nothing of Tito except that he take our aid, just as earlier we had asked nothing of Stalin except a few gestures when we helped him to survive Hitler’s onslaught. Had American policy been influenced by liberal anti-Communism we would have exerted the same pressure on France as we did on the Netherlands to liberate its Asian colonies. It was de Gaulle who was responsible for the failure to give legitimate expression to the demands of Vietnam nationalism. It was a mistake for the State Department to veto General Clay’s plan for breaking the Soviet blockade of West Berlin which might have led to Soviet withdrawal from Germany. (The cautious Stalin would never have fought the United States while it had a monopoly of the atomic bomb.) It was a mistake to announce that South Korea was outside the sphere of vital American interests because this invited the Communists to invade. It was a mistake to accommodate the British Tory regime which hoped to bring Nasser to heel by our threat of withdrawing aid for the Aswan Dam. American encouragement of the Bay of Pigs fiasco was a colossal blunder, not retrieved by the fact that Kennedy broke off the air support. (It was also irresponsible of him to have called for an invasion of Cuba in his campaign speeches.) But can anyone doubt that the U.S. had the power to destroy Castro if it had wished, on grounds better than those Castro offers for launching guerrilla wars against Venezuela and other countries, especially if it had been inspired by an anti-communisme enragé? It was a mistake to send marines into the Dominican Republic. But the reason they were sent was the erroneous belief that Bosch’s return was being engineered by Castroites, that it was an attempt by a foreign Communist government to subvert a non-Communist government by force. The subsequent election established even to Bosch’s satisfaction that unfortunately he did not command the support of the majority of the population.
Why anyone should hold anti-Communist liberals responsible for the American presence in Vietnam is obscure to me. We should have taken the same position with respect to France and Vietnam as we did with respect to Algeria. Things were too far gone under French rule to save the situation. But whatever the mistakes of the past, they cannot now be undone. Anti-Communist liberals are divided today on the policy to be followed in Vietnam. If few are hawks, still fewer are in favor of immediate withdrawal and the surrender to torture, imprisonment, and death of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese who resisted Communism both in North and South Vietnam with our encouragement. Those who call for the de-escalation of the conflict in Vietnam only by one side, and denounce only the Americans for the death of innocent victims of military action, while refusing at the same time to condemn the Vietcong terror that has resulted in the death of many more innocents, are attempting to lynch the United States in the court of public opinion. If anything they are making a negotiated peace settlement more difficult.
The charge that liberal anti-Communist groups “have been a dupe of, or slave to, the darker impulses of American foreign policy,” would be comical if it were not so absurd. To the extent that they have concerned themselves with foreign policy, their public record is one of independence, and sometimes criticism of American foreign policy. Because part of the financial support of some of these groups has come from the CIA, they have been made the target of the most vicious and objectionable form of “guilt by association.” Granted that it would have been preferable for all their financing to come from private sources. But the pity of it is that the angels of philanthropy have been more willing to subsidize reactionary extremist groups on one side and ritualistic liberal groups on the other than liberal anti-Communist groups.
The only anti-Communist liberal group on the international scene whose work I know at first hand is the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Its activity has resulted in an open, consistent, and distinguished record in behalf of cultural and intellectual freedom everywhere. The Congress had no foreign policy. Its publications, whose contents were freely determined by their editors, frequently were critical of various facets of American culture and politics. In the face of actions like the appeal for clemency in the Rosenberg case, or the publication of articles in praise of Lumumba, no one can honestly impugn the intellectual independence of the Congress and its magazines. If anything, because of the unremitting charges in the Communist press that the Congress was an American organization, its publications and seminars made a special point of presenting a wide spectrum of views including “neutralist” positions.
The charge that the CIA subsidies put the Congress in the same position as Communist cultural organizations underwritten by the Soviet regime overlooks the crucial difference which the intellectual freedom to take any position on any subject, enjoyed by all participants in Congress functions, makes to the life of mind. The free market of ideas was not rigged but expanded into ever widening circles of dialogue in which no person represented anyone but himself. Some of the contributions made at Congress sessions and seminars compare favorably with the output of some of our best universities.
Whatever the limitations of American foreign policy may be, our open society still permits us to criticize it and hopefully to alter it. The United States still remains the chief shield of the free governments of the world against the totalitarian pressures of the Soviet Union and Communist China. Western Europe by itself could never stand up against Soviet might. Japan would be defenseless against China. In the long run Israel cannot, without the backing of a strong United States, survive the Communist-inspired and aided Arab onslaughts against it. In its own defense the United States must strive to preserve the integrity of the free world at its most strategic points in the hope that the Communist empires of the world will draw back from actions that risk war and gradually give their peoples a taste of freedom that may grow on what it feeds. Those who today pursue the policy of anti-anti-Communism in the field of politics and culture are the true gravediggers of liberalism. Among their major assumptions is either that the leaders of the Soviet Union and mainland China are no longer Communist or that Communism has evolved to a point where it genuinely accepts a detente with non-Communist countries, as well as the ideological coexistence without which the profession of “political coexistence” is a sham. These possibilities, however remote, are not excluded in the time-perspective of this century. But to base present policy on them is to lapse into the outlook of ritualistic liberalism—which may be most comprehensively defined as the view that it is possible to be liberal without being intelligent.
Irving Howe: Let us look back and ask: what were the sources of our anti-Communism? I mean, of those political people and intellectuals who maintained an attachment to the values of democratic socialism. In its earliest and best version, this anti-Communism had nothing to do with proposals regarding foreign policy—that came later. It had nothing to do with the corruptions and vulgarities of the CIA, “conduit” foundations, plush conferences—that, for certain intellectuals, also came later. And as for the anti-Communism that could be framed in opposition to the radical outlook—that certainly came later.
The kind of anti-Communism, the only kind, to which I have been pledged these thirty years had its roots in the socialist experience of the 30’s. With various modifications required by the intervening years, it remains a part of my political outlook: namely, the anti-Communism which acquires its urgency from a wish to achieve a profoundly democratic and egalitarian society.
A certain historical sense is required here. To those of us who experienced the debacle of socialism as the central fact in our intellectual lives, anti-Communism signified primarily an effort to salvage the honor of the socialist idea. We came to know in the most painful ways the brutalities and deceits of Stalinism. We lived through the era of purges, murders, and lies. And we learned one overwhelming lesson: that without democracy, socialism is a mere delusion; that if not a sufficient, democracy is a necessary condition for socialism. Nothing can make us yield that conviction—and by the same token, our opposition to Communist, as to all other, dictatorships.
We fought the political battle against Stalinism within the radical community, among intellectuals and in the labor unions. In the United States that battle has largely been won; internationally it is far from over. To see Communism as a major domestic concern is a kind of ideological myopia; to claim that on a world scale it has been rendered ineffectual is a form of wilful naivete. But for radicals and liberals trying to create viable peace, civil rights, and other progressive movements, there can be occasions when the struggle against “Left authoritarianism” (whether or not it stems directly from the CP) takes on an importance it does not have in the country at large. The phalanx of semi-, demi-, and quasi-fellow travelers no longer has any significant power in the United States, but it can still play a notable, and notably destructive, role in the Left-liberal world.
Do you suppose there were not people in the 30’s ready to denounce us on grounds similar to those you mention in your first question? Do you suppose there were not people who said that by harping on the crimes of Stalin we were playing into the hands of Hearst and the reactionaries? And indeed, what was happening in Russia did provide useful ammunition for the Right, as well as for the ideological racketeers who made anti-Communism into a kind of spray gun with which to attack every liberal or radical opinion. We had the choice of telling the truth and knowing it might be exploited by the reactionaries, or of keeping silent and thereby not merely acquiescing in horrible events but allowing the reactionaries to exploit the truth all the more effectively. We chose, as best we could, to tell the truth.
Whatever our mistakes and absurdities (there was no shortage), I think we made a contribution to intellectual health. And even if in time to come we will be seen as no more than a transitional generation, forming a bridge between the socialism besmirched by the Stalinists and whatever humane radicalism may yet arise, we need have no regrets.
Anyone more sophisticated than a street-corner speaker knows that the content of a radical or liberal politics cannot be defined merely through “anti-capitalism.” Our age has seen a plethora of demagogues, from Hitler to Nasser, who proclaimed themselves anti-capitalist. If that was no reason to abandon our own opposition to capitalist society, it was certainly a reason to work out the most precise discriminations of viewpoint. We had to differentiate our kind of anti-capitalism from that of the enemies of our enemies who were also our enemies. Nowhere is it written that in politics you can look only in one direction for enemies.
Precisely the same holds in respect to anti-Communism. There is no such thing as pure anti-Communism, just as there is no such thing as pure anti-capitalism. In their “official” or governmental versions, as propagated by Rusk and Mao, Ky and Nasser, both anti-Communism and anti-capitalism are ideological blights, verbal covers for oppression, demoralizing slogans that divert people from a humane politics. Yet is this any reason to abandon our opposition to either capitalism or Communism?
Those “leftists” who refuse to take a principled stand against Communism try to create the impression that anti-Communism is a unitary politics linking everyone from Barry Goldwater to Norman Thomas. This is malicious nonsense—especially when it comes from people who keep insisting that in regard to Communism itself analytic discriminations are necessary. The meaning of one’s anti-Communism depends on the political terms to which it is linked, the moral coordinates that give it shape. To insist upon some sort of indivisible anti-Communism, by means of which the far Right, the liberals, and the democratic Left can be mashed into one big amalgam, is a new form of McCarthyism.
Now I am ready to say—as I have said at least five thousand times in the past years—that anti-Communism can form a protective mask for detestable politics. This, in fact, has been one of the ways in which the rise of Communism has damaged the cause of freedom—it has given the far Right a number of seemingly effective arguments. I would even further say that the more serious versions of anti-Communism can harden into one or another kind of ideological rigidity, a failure to recognize new historical developments. Of course; that is a possible risk in all political thought. Yet it is a risk less likely to occur among those who in principle are devoted to the ethic of democratic controversy than among devotees of a total ideology.
I see no merit whatever—indeed, only evasiveness—in the view currently fashionable among New Leftists that (to quote Staughton Lynd and Tom Hayden) they “refuse to be anti-Communist.” If someone thinks that the societies existing in the Communist world are essentially progressive or desirable, then “a refusal to be anti-Communist” is not exactly an heroic stance. If, however, one believes that these are oppressive and undesirable societies, then the Lynd-Hayden formula is merely cowardice. How, in any case, can anyone actively involved in politics avoid taking a stand, no matter how complex and modulated, in regard to so crucial a matter as Communism?
I find myself equally disturbed by sentiments one hears these days among intellectuals that “anti-Communism is passé.” If they have in mind State Department rationales and popular myths, then these should always have been rejected—as some of us always did. But if they have in mind the basic principles to which I have referred here, then there is nothing whatever passé about anti-Communism (except, of course, to those intellectuals interested in fashion rather than truth).
It is disturbing to me that a libertarian like Paul Goodman should cooperate with a section of the peace movement containing strongly authoritarian elements and rarely, if ever, speak out in criticism of them. I do not mean that Goodman should drop his fierce opposition to the Vietnam war, which I share, or his activities against it, which I respect; yet it seems to me that a man always ready to examine the moral credentials of his political opponents ought occasionally to inspect those of his allies. And to do that he would not have to look far: one of his close collaborators, a co-editor of Liberation magazine, is David Dellinger, a pacifist who finds it appropriate to praise totalitarian regimes.
These days it is frequently said that there is no longer a monolithic bloc, hence traditional anti-Communism has become irrelevant. When people speak in this way, they unwittingly reveal that they are thinking mostly as putative advisers of the State Department, since in respect to foreign policy such statements make a good deal of sense. But for those of us concerned with both a reconstructed radicalism and intellectual freedom, the fact that there are conflicts among the Communist powers is no more a reason for relaxing our principled opposition to Communism than is the fact that there have always been conflicts among capitalist powers a reason for relaxing our opposition to capitalism. To be sure, in any particular situation the differences in political repressiveness among the Communist powers, or their differences in national aggressiveness, can be crucial. No one in his right mind would propose that either in political stance or in proposals for foreign policy Yugoslavia is to be equated with China. But what, after all, is new or sensational about this? We have always made parallel distinctions in regard to capitalist countries (e.g., England and Spain), even while maintaining a principled opposition to the social system itself.
Still, can one continue to speak of Communism as a distinctive form of society or a socio-economic model that can be usefully applied to Russia, China, Poland, North Vietnam, and Yugoslavia? A satisfactory answer would have to be very complex, but I believe that finally it would be: yes. For all of these countries, despite the radical differences among them, share several crucial elements:
First, the domination of a total party-state which prevents opposition parties from functioning and otherwise stifles democratic processes.
Second, the Communist regimes are fundamentally hostile both to private property in its traditional capitalist forms and to genuine socialist relationships in the productive process. (Communism, in my view, represents an historically new social system, both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist, for which neither liberal nor Marxist theories have adequately prepared us.)
Third, all of these societies find their ideological justification in a body of doctrine loosely designated as Leninism. Divergences are of course growing among the Communist states as to the proper interpretation of texts, yet there remains a common historical source and a common proclaimed purpose.
Now, at some point in the future, the differences among the Communist powers may become so fundamental that there will no longer be any analytic profit in applying the same terms of designation to all of them. A country like Yugoslavia, for example, might drift back into capitalism or move forward to socialist democracy—though right now neither seems at all likely. If, however, either development were to occur, Yugoslavia would no longer be a Communist society in the sense I have here used the term, and a new analytic response would be required.
While these considerations lead to a principled anti-Communism, they cannot tell us how to respond to the exercise of Communist state power in any particular situation. And it has been this power which, in the postwar years, has presented us with the most perplexing problems. As long as we had merely to cope with Stalinism in the intellectual world or the trade unions, the problem was (conceptually) rather simple. But after the Second World War we had to ask ourselves: given the enormous growth of Russian power and the real possibility of a Communist takeover in Europe, could we, as internationalists and democratic radicals, simply declare ourselves indifferent to the struggle in Europe, simply maintain an attitude of simon-pure abstentionism? Or did we have to place ourselves in the tricky position of making foreign policy proposals for the United States, despite our continued opposition to its dominant political and social arrangements? There was, I think, no choice but to opt for the second course and it was here that the difficulties of anti-Communism really began, at least those which are today most under discussion.
In certain situations we judged it necessary to “support” the Western powers even while retaining the full right to criticize their conduct. We wanted, for example, to see Berlin defended and not fall to Eastern Germany: an estimate I still believe to have been entirely correct. We wanted the Marshall Plan, whatever its defects, to enable Western Europe to achieve its economic revival. We wanted the U.S. to provide socio-economic aid to underdeveloped countries, especially those, like India, that were struggling to enter the democratic path. Such a politics meant trying to influence, in a very modest way, the foreign policy of what remained, after all, a capitalist power. And we knew perfectly well—as can be seen in the incessant criticism of the U.S. in journals like Dissent all through the 50’s and 60’s—that simultaneously there were enormous pressures in this country toward a reactionary course in world politics, that the foreign policy of Dulles was very dangerous, that the fanatic and mindless anti-Communism flourishing both in government and among the people was both repulsive in its own right and likely to lead to disasters abroad.
There were choices to be made, some of them very painful. When the Hungarian revolution broke out ten years ago, socialists sympathized with it intensely; yet we had finally to acknowledge that we did not wish U.S. military intervention because we feared it might lead to a world war. Anti-Communism (and I here answer part of your question 2) could not, to a rational and humane mind, be the sole motive in political behavior or the sole determinant of foreign policy; it could only be one among many (world peace, national interest, colonial liberation, etc.); and the problem in making concrete political choices was to decide how much weight should be given to a particular motive or interest at a particular moment.
It became clear, furthermore, that the U.S. could exploit anti-Communist sentiments for all sorts of reactionary adventures, as in Vietnam; or that the price of “stopping” the Communists could come to seem utterly excessive; or that U.S. military interventions in underdeveloped countries helped the local reactionaries in the short run and thereby the Communists in the long run. During the 60’s, as Europe became more stable, the cold war shifted toward the underdeveloped countries, and there, for reasons too complex to be stated here, the situation lacked the clarity of outline which by comparison the U.S.-Soviet conflict had had at an earlier time. The U.S. posture as a self-appointed protector of underdeveloped countries against Communist penetration—often signifying an indiscriminate hostility to indigenous revolutionary movements and a stupid class-bound sympathy for military-feudal rulers—is a posture with enormous dangers for the future. Here, those of us who remain principled anti-Communists and believe that democratic reformers and radicals should be helped in the underdeveloped countries, have to face extremely perplexing issues.
Even in the early stages of the cold war all of these difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that in the intellectual and, to a lesser extent, the radical worlds there began to be heard a crude and hysterical kind of anti-Communism, increasingly divorced from radical values, increasingly tied to State Department policies, increasingly ready to justify almost anything done by the U.S. in the name of anti-Communism. Some of us argued bitterly against this outlook, but in the era of the “American celebration” we were not heeded. A good many intellectuals lost their bearings and, as has recently become clear, even surrendered their independence.
Do I then feel any responsibility for American policy in Vietnam? None whatever, in any direct sense. For even during the time when it seemed to us necessary to support certain U.S. actions abroad (Berlin), we still found it necessary to devote a large portion of our energy to criticizing the U.S. for precisely the kind of policies that led to Vietnam. Yet anything one does can have unforeseen and undesired consequences, and in that general sense I suppose that any political person who has ever attacked Communist tyranny in a sustained way might have contributed to the atmosphere making for the Vietnam war. But then it is also possible that over the decades socialists and liberals, through their critique of capitalism, have unwittingly contributed to the atmosphere that enabled demagogues like Nasser, Sukarno, and worse to do shameful things in the name of anti-capitalism. The only way to avoid with certainty such dangerous possibilities is to refrain from action entirely; the way to minimize such dangerous possibilities is to try, as best one can, to make intellectual distinctions and achieve political clarity.
In saying this I do not mean to imply that I and my political friends have not made mistakes over the last two decades; of course we have. But I much prefer to confess to the errors I have made than to those others have made.
Finally, a word about your last question. It is phrased, perhaps intentionally, in an overly sweeping fashion. That certain intellectual institutions have had CIA connections hardly proves that “liberal anti-Communism has been a dupe of . . . the darker impulses of American foreign policy.” I refuse to believe that, say, the Congress for Cultural Freedom represented the whole of “liberal anti-Communism.” I know damned well that neither the Congress nor similar groups spoke for “radical anti-Communism.”
The revelations about CIA ties are a sad and ugly business. It was one thing to argue, no matter how vehemently, with intellectuals one regarded as honest men of contrary opinion; it is quite another thing to learn that some were appearing under false pretenses insofar as they were no longer autonomous men but had become knowing accomplices of a secret intelligence service. That is not the business of intellectuals; that is not the business of people concerned with a disinterested scrutiny of ideas or a passionate defense of freedom. Even from the viewpoint of people who sincerely believed in an uncritical or almost uncritical support of the West during the cold war, the CIA connection was indefensible.
The whole matter very much needs an airing. Those intellectuals who have been accused owe it to themselves and their colleagues to speak out with a candor and completeness that, to my knowledge, has not yet occurred. To say this is not at all to ask for ritual confessions or excommunications. But too much has been compromised and besmirched for silence to be a way out. Perhaps this symposium will provide the occasion for the necessary retrospection.
Murray Kempton: 1. I should hope more than anything else that this discussion will proceed without the spite and rancor which afflicted so much of the Communism of the 30’s and the anti-Communism of the 50’s. In deference to that dream of fraternity, I must beg off attempting to assay the responsibility of the “anti-Communist Left” for Vietnam. Abstract designations (this one covers Jay Lovestone and Norman Thomas) are of very little use for description and almost none for judgment. Guilt is, after all, personal. If we have been taught nothing else, I hope to have learned that you have said very little about a man when you have put a label on him.
Fifteen years ago, to be a member of the anti-Communist Left meant generally to accept historical American liberalism as the alternative to the Soviets. To the degree we made this acceptance, it is hard to argue that most of us can disclaim any contribution to the climate which has ended with Vietnam.
Vietnam is a liberal’s war. Mr. Johnson summed up the image appointed for it when he described General Westmoreland as possessed of a soldier’s head and a social worker’s heart. Mary McCarthy has noticed how much the rhetoric of our pacification campaign sounds like everything that has been taught in political-science departments of American universities for the last twenty years.
No member of the Left could have been employed by the government of this country unless he had been certifiably anti-Communist. Even those of us who had no aspirations for such service found it useful to describe ourselves as anti-Communist. I do not mean to exaggerate the McCarthy terror; still, to enter at all seriously into the American debate, some security clearance was needed, even if you had to proclaim it yourself. I am not saying that we were insincere in accepting this description of ourselves but rather that we accepted it without thinking it through. For twenty years now, the foreign policy of the United States has been conducted in the language which religions evoke for the struggle between our light and your darkness.
To call oneself a member of the anti-Communist Left was, I’m afraid, to speak in some of the tones of religious incantation and to feel oneself as part of a holy war. Now that Vietnam has brought us to that turn at which holy wars generally arrive at one time or another, I do not think many of us can disclaim some responsibility—even if only for pronouncing the litany—for the atmosphere which so overbore our prudence and our tolerance as to bring us to the bombing of farmers in villages.
In fairness to others, I should talk of my own part. So far as other Americans are concerned, I long ago stopped thinking of myself as an anti-Communist. For quite a while, though, I retained some prejudice against alien Communists at war with the United States.
Part of the reason for this prejudice was that I had been a soldier myself under remarkably amusing circumstances. I identified with our soldiers. What gradually became an enraged distaste for domestic anti-Communism began, in fact, with annoyance at the way this government treated former soldiers who happened to be Communists. I have always thought of myself as a nationalist if not a patriot; it would be embarrassing to me to think myself a supporter of the enemies of my country.
It will be noticed that, in taking this attitude, I was entrusting the definition of the enemies of my country to a government which I knew from direct experience could not even be trusted not to interfere with the liberties of its own citizens.
The only value of the Vietnam experience has been educational. If it had not lasted so long, we should not, I think, with quite the same certainty, have been able to understand how much of the history of the United States in the world for twenty years now has been, as was said of Turkish history, “entirely military and entirely mendacious.” We have now been watching Vietnam for two years; the Bay of Pigs lasted three days and Guatemala three weeks. Vietnam works on the understanding as a slow-motion film does; here we can follow actions which at all other times have simply flashed by. There can now be no excuse for us not to know what our leaders are like.
I come now to an interior quarrel whose exposition may disqualify me from any part in this symposium at all. I want to know why it is so hard for me to express the sympathy which, in logic, I should feel for the Vietcong. I am, after all, not a pacifist. The genuine pacifists have had, all in all, the most honorable record of any group of Americans over the last twenty years. But, unless it is genuine, that position seems to me a dishonorable disguise. It would be convenient to be able to say that the enemy is war itself and not the government of the United States. But I am not used to being neutral. It is already painful enough to notice how obviously more attractive Ho Chi Minh is than General Ky. Will the time not come when, in our hearts, we shall have to choose between them?
We are unready for that choice, for a reason which seems to me more relevant than the words we still use about being of the Left or of the Right. Our trouble is that, as Americans, we do not have the habit of being in the opposition. We do not have Burkes and Foxes. That is why it is possible to read a work condescending to Burke from the pen of a member of the political-science department of a university whose international-relations department may have a subsidy from the CIA and whose biology department is assisting the Defense Department in germ-warfare research. A man in the real world must be able to say, when he has to, that his government is the enemy.
2. No, in sorrow, because I wish real life were simple enough so that one could feel that one had said something when one called oneself an anti-Communist. To say so is immediately to have to take most of it back.
“Are you still willing to support a policy of containing the spread of Communism?” I assume the questioner is talking about real toads in real gardens. If so, what policy of containing Communism am I being asked to support? That of the government of the United States, I assume again.
Arthur Schlesinger’s A Thousand Days contains one superlative précis of that policy. When Trujillo was assassinated, Schlesinger says, “Kennedy examined the situation realistically:
‘There are three possibilities,’ he said, ‘in descending order of preference: a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime or a Castro regime. We ought to aim at the first, but we really can’t renounce the second until we are sure we can avoid the third.’
The most temperate and sophisticated man to be President of the United States in our lifetime thus accepted the “policy of containing Communism” as leading to the conclusion that Trujillo was preferable to Castro. Forget the dubious assumption that I “once supported containment because [I was] opposed on moral rather than narrowly political grounds to the spread of a totalitarian system.” Ask yourself whether the government of the United States has ever been so opposed; that is the policy of containment we are talking about.
3. I caught myself the other day reading the names of the Board of Directors of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and trying to guess CIA affiliations. There is a little of J. B. Matthews in us all. I should like to govern this impulse; to call a friend “a dupe of, or a slave to, the darker impulses of American foreign policy” sounds to me like language we ought to get out of our systems.
We are fortunate to have Thomas Braden’s memoirs of his career as the CIA’s paymaster to the anti-Communist Left because otherwise it would be hard to appreciate the mindless vulgarity of this operation. You pity anyone who had dealings with this sort of man as you ought to pity the Hollywood Communists for the former taxi driver who was their district organizer. Braden’s assertion that an editor of Encounter was “an agent of ours” is the language of an aparatchik; and our experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee ought by now to have made us thoroughly suspicious of these confessions which are also boastings.
The CIA experience, for most of my friends who engaged in it directly, was, I suspect, very like what the experience of being a Communist must have been for many other Americans. That is, there were in it no very large sins. There are, however, certain affronts to one’s domestic sense. When an apparatus tells a man that reasons of state make it necessary for him to conceal his affiliation, it may or may not have harmed his character but it has certainly damaged his capacity to function as a friend. An Englishman who was being paid by Encounter had, for example, a clear right to know whether he was being paid by CIA funds, because, if there is one thing that ought to be a conscious act, it is the decision as to whether you will enter the paid service of a foreign government. An Englishman who wondered and asked an American friend had a right, assuming that the friend knew, to a frank and honest answer. I have always thought that E. M. Forster’s statement that he would sooner betray his country than betray a friend was deficient in logic. Still, in the real world the issue is generally presented as a real betrayal of one’s friend as against a fancied betrayal of one’s country; and Forster’s is quite a good rule in practice, just as any society whose rules make it impossible for one single man to trust another is a very bad society in practice.
My own mind, I’m afraid, is quite divorced from the politics of Right or Left, which will not, I hope, be taken to mean that I want it to be divorced from political responsibility. The most substantial lesson to me from the CIA experience has come from the realization that Ignazio Silone was the editor of a magazine which would very probably never have been published without a CIA subsidy. The lesson seems to me neither that the CIA was so wicked that it even corrupted Silone nor that the CIA was so high-minded that it even helped Silone. The lesson is in the figure of Silone himself. For he is a man who could have this experience, suffer, if you choose, this suspicion and remain absolutely beyond our criticism. Because we know him, we know that he could not do the low or dishonorable thing. We think of Silone as we always have because we know what he has always been. The resource of a man, as of a movement, is not the intellectual but the moral capital. There are not many of us who have earned that automatic trust; and that is perhaps the worst thing that can be said of the anti-Communist Left.
Still, we are not as old as we sometimes think we are; and, if we have the sense detachedly and forgivingly to learn from what has happened to us, there remains a way to go and work to be done.
Robert Lowell: COMMENTARY’S three questions touch on a hundred submerged thoughts and half-thoughts and unanswered puzzles—two-thirds of a lifetime. I will try to be brief and no more precise than I can honestly feel and believe.
- I was never, I think, anti-Communist, but I was and still am anti-Stalinist. In the scramble for possessions and spheres of influence immediately after the last war, I was strongly opposed to the Russian polemic and policy in Korea and Europe. I suppose I believed we should hold what we had and not advance. I suppose, if I had been called up for the Korean draft, I would have been a conscientious objector. A helpless, inconsistent position, but I have never gotten over the horrors of American bombing. For me, anti-Stalinism led logically—Oh, perhaps not so logically—to my being against our suppression of the Vietnamese. For others anti-Stalinism led to the opposite.
- I see no usefulness in labeling oneself anti-Communist. Communist regimes as bad as Stalin’s may reappear (though I think there’s none on the scene now) but tyranny is not a monopoly of Communism. In some poor countries, Communism is perhaps the best regime that is likely to be obtained. A necessary disaster, I am tempted to say, for such countries—a disaster because after the carnage and idealism of the revolution, the country will be saddled with another crushing and leaden bureaucracy. Yet necessary, because something better won’t come, though of course it could and should. I don’t see any justice or practicality in tearing the world apart on this issue.
- The CIA scandal is too recent, hot, and confused to be judged rationally. It’s given me more hours of troubled thinking than I would like to confess. My only connection was printing poems in Encounter and making a summer’s trip to South America for the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Rumors were flying about that there were CIA agents in the Congress, but I was given no instructions. At my first stop in Brazil, I answered some question about Castro by saying that he was “a hero and a tyrant,” and vaguely felt that this sort of answer was pleasing neither to the Congress nor to leftist Brazilian intellectuals. The CIA literary magazines generally had high intellectual and cultural standards. A plausible argument could be made that Stephen Spender’s Encounter was once the best literary magazine in English. Still, one is plagued by unhappy thoughts of gullibility, shallowness, and opportunism—are we the discredited generation?
Dwight Macdonald: The most interesting and difficult of your questions is “Would you call yourself an anti-Communist today?” My answer is Yes, Maybe, and No.
Yes—if you mean not the ideas of Marx and Engels but their post-1917 exploitation, under the name “Communism,” with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original, as a technique of action and propaganda for gaining power, and holding it. This kind of Communism seems to me a regression even from the modest standards of freedom, democracy, and equality before the law the bourgeois West has achieved after centuries of political struggle. A regression that sometimes, as with Mao’s Red Guards and their anti-cultural Cultural Revolution, becomes a mirror-image reversal, Left becoming Right, of Marx’s vision of Communism as “a society in which the full and free development of every individual becomes the ruling principle.” In Mao’s China, the ruling principle seems to be rather the full and free repression of every individual. Even the more bourgeoisified Communist countries lean more toward the Maoist than the Marxist line on the individual. In this sense, then, I am anti-Communist. I think the toiling masses need liberation from their liberators, and I believe that Western capitalism now offers them a better life, morally and materialistically, than Communism does.
Maybe: When the Moscow Trials awakened me to what had actually been going on in Russia since 1929, Communism was a geographical and political monolith. The USSR was not only the sole Communist country—the only game in town—but it was also big (“One-Sixth of the Globe”), rich (“Moscow Gold” was not a Hearst fantasy), and totalitarian (the Stalin bureaucrats demanded the same instant service from the comrades abroad they had become used to at home). Therefore the Third International followed the Moscow line with a tropistic automatism the Kremlin’s present occupants must recall with nostalgia as the caviar and vodka go round. After the war the monolith began to fragment with Tito’s break in 1948. Stalin’s death in 1955 was followed by the great “thaw” in Russia itself, a trend toward a more humane, liberal, bourgeois system which, after twelve years, seems clearly not a tactic, like Stalin’s alternation of “hard” and “soft” periods, but a long-range strategy. The bases of totalitarian control remain, but the more extreme barbarities of the 1929-1955 period have been abolished and seem unlikely to return. The 1956 revolts in Poland, East Germany, and Hungary, provoked by Khrushchev’s “thaw,” were put down by Khrushchev’s troops, but the East European satellites have been revolving in orbits ever more erratic, and independent, in relation to the Soviet planet, as evidenced, most recently, by Rumania’s refusal to back the Soviet line at the UN on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The taking of power by Communist regimes since the war in countries as diverse as Cuba, Algeria, Ghana, and North Vietnam, and by leaders as varied, in doctrine and personality, as Castro, Boumedienne, and Mao, has caused such extensive further fragmentations of the monolith as to suggest that the only reasonable definition of “a Communist” today, as of “a Jew,” is somebody who calls himself that. As a universal menace, “Communism,” tout court, has become a dead horse useful only for ritual floggings by our politicians.
No—if you mean the kind of crusades mounted in nomine anti-Communism, domestically by the late Senator McCarthy and abroad by our present President. They do little, if any, damage to the Communists and a great deal to us. The latter point hardly needs laboring here beyond noting that the evil McCarthy did has been interred with his bones while the evil Johnson is doing to “the American image” globally and, more important, to our own image of ourselves and our traditions, seem likely to leave permanent scars. “Tail-Gunner Joe” had no armies at his command and so his power for mischief was limited, despite the worst possible intentions. But now another demagogue with the same ignorance, or shall we say lack of curiosity, about Communism and the same weakness for lies, or shall we say “credibility gap,” is by historical accident actually in the White House, and he does have armies, alas.
The chief reason I’m not “anti-Communist” in the McCarthy or Johnson sense is that I’m against real Communism. The principal results of the Senator’s search-and-destroy commando raids were to give publicity to an expiring CPUSA, down to its last twenty thousand members including FBI agents, and, by the absurdity and unfairness of his accusations, to gain sympathy for Communism. Our President’s genocidal crusade in Vietnam makes the enemy look good, relatively; if I were a South Vietnamese, I’d vote for the Vietcong over Ky and Westmoreland—if such a vote were miraculously permitted (by Ky and Westmoreland). As an old Commie fighter, I rate Johnson about as, I imagine, old Indian-fighters rated General Custer: rash, hot-headed, vain, and alarmingly ignorant of the nature of the enemy. Ho Chi Minh may go down in history as LBJ’s Sitting Bull—or, if the war continues to be catastrophic for us, perhaps LBJ will get a footnote as Ho’s Custer.
To answer your other questions, I hope briefly:
1. No, I don’t feel personally responsible for Vietnam since I’ve done what I could to oppose Johnson’s escalation by speaking, writing, and signing those ads. I even signed an ur-ad against Kennedy’s meddling there—which I don’t think was on the same level, morally, as Johnson’s escalation, nor do I think the latter was a necessary consequence of the Vietnam tactics of his two predecessors. Kennedy didn’t send the air cover at the Bay of Pigs and he later admitted the invasion was a mistake; Johnson would have sent in the planes, he never admits mistakes, especially serious ones, and had he been in charge we would still be blasting away in the Sierra Maestra, with disappointing results despite the leveling of Havana and Santiago. Eisenhower never did much of anything in Vietnam or anywhere else, a Presidential quality we can appreciate now we have a man of action in the White House.
I suppose “the anti-Communism of the Left” did help create a favorable climate of opinion for Johnson’s war, but I don’t see how this could have been avoided unless we had shut up, which would have made us accomplices of the other side.
But there is another kind of responsibility, the kind one feels as a citizen whose government commits atrocities one knows about but cannot prevent Vietnam, Hitler’s prewar concentration camps, Stalin’s forced-labor camps) or doesn’t even know about until afterward (the development of the atomic bomb and its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Hitler’s wartime “death camps”). The guilt one feels about such atrocities is not personal but national: my country did these things, I am part of it, I have helped shape it, and have been shaped by it. In Vietnam we see the darker side of our technological productivity and our mass industrial society—a sinister extension of “the American way of life.”
2. I’ve answered this above.
3. I was indeed “involved” in the secret financing of Encounter by the CIA during the year I was a special editor, unwittingly and “unwittily” as they say, and I think I was played for a sucker and I’m still sore about it. I see no justification for secret subsidies of any kind for cultural activities. For details on my career as an unwitty CIA agent, and my specific ideas on the whole CIA imbroglio, see my “Politics” column in the June Esquire. I don’t know what you mean by “the darker impulses of American foreign policy,” by the way, since this implies there are some lighter ones.
William Phillips: To answer COMMENTARY’S questions, one must reexamine the terms and ideas they take for granted, for some of our confusions have been built into the categories and language handed down to us. It is easy to give glib answers based on old or new clichés. But it is not so easy to escape from the going assumptions. Often what looks like fresh thinking is either a middle-aged maneuver to ward off criticism from the New Left or a youthful gesture of repudiation of anyone “over thirty.”
The very term “anti-Communist” is loose and misleading, for it lumps the views of people like William Buckley, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Norman Thomas, Dwight Macdonald, and those on the far Left, like the Trotskyites, who might be opposed to Russian and Chinese policies. Most of America is really “anti-Communist,” which is not the same thing as the “anti-Communism of the Left.” Yet even this more narrow use of the term is also misleading, as it does not distinguish between radicals who disapprove of the official Communist movement and ex-radicals who have made of “anti-Communism” an ideology and a way of life. It is actually the ex-radicals who are the “anti-Communists,” and to confuse the two is to blur the history of the Left in this country.
One has to remember that “anti-Communism” had its origins in “anti-Stalinism,” which, as the name suggests, was a factional position on the Left: it really applied to those who still believed in socialism or Communism, but not of the Russian variety. Those anti-Stalinists, however, whose disillusionment with Russia became the basis of all their political thinking turned into “anti-Communists.” For a time, a distinction was made between hard and soft “anti-Communism,” but today the softies have dropped out, and most of the surviving “anti-Communists” are united by the firmness of their stand against Communism and Communists all over the world. This comes down to supporting—with hesitations and qualifications—any institution, any policies, any society or government, any means, short of outright Fascism, that opposes the spread of Communism. There is some ambiguity as to whether Communism is to be limited to movements connected with Russia or China, but usually indigenous and independent Communist movements are also included because the “Communist threat” is generally regarded as indivisible.
Now to your questions specifically.
1. The distinction I have been emphasizing is one between those whose opposition to the undemocratic character of Soviet Communism was a function of their own radical commitment and those who made of anti-Communism a doctrinaire and total view of the world. I am implying also that though I myself did occasionally swing too far in the direction of “obsessive anti-Communism,” on the whole my criticism of Communist practices was part of a larger radical perspective. Times have changed so much that one tends to forget that the kind of criticism of the Communists that is exploited by conservatives today was once a necessary phase of radical development, and an unpopular one. Therefore I am loath to accept any kind of retroactive guilt for having attempted to keep alive a radical tradition which was being discredited by such things as the Moscow Trials and the suppression of intellectual liberty under Stalin.
Nor do I believe that the support of the war in Vietnam has its origins in the kind of criticism of the Communist parties made by people like myself in the 30’s. There always existed a species of conservative anti-Communism more easily assimilable by politicians. To have taken its anti-Communism from the Left, the American government would have had to perform the most delicate surgery to extract the criticism of Russian Communism from a complicated and radical structure of ideas. The anti-Communism of the present administration—and this is one of the things wrong with it—is the old, conservative home-grown anti-Communism that is almost a reflex in this country. After all, the American government didn’t take my advice in the 30’s any more than it does today. If it did, we might have other problems, but not, I think, the ones we have now. For my opposition to intervention by either side is based on the belief that native forces that alone can solve the problems of Asia and Africa are not permitted to follow their natural course by either American or Chinese intervention.
No doubt such a position is full of ambiguities and contradictions, leading to all sorts of compromises, because it is based on ideal forces and possibilities that do not yet even exist. But its outlook has no more to do with American aims than it has with those of China. The vulnerability of the position comes from its Utopian character: it can be accused of not being very practical but not of providing a justification for intervention.
I am, of course, talking about a “third force,” which is an old idea and perhaps no longer a useful one. It may be that the concept of the third force belongs to a theoretical pattern inherited from the 30’s, which assumed a Marxist view of history, but expected a “third force” to rectify the mistakes of Russia and China and to lead the way for the rest of the world. And it may be that such an outlook, however tempting to intellectuals whose desire for independence from all vested interests, national or ideological, makes them a breeding ground for “third force” thinking—that such an outlook simply has no relation to contemporary politics. Since the notion of the “third force” arose out of criticism of the undemocratic character of the Communist parties, it would be applicable mainly to advanced countries, as in Europe, where democracy meant something and could conceivably survive radical and social changes. For countries like Vietnam, however, talking about democracy is often a way of not thinking about the questions raised in backward societies. But even in the West the concept of a “third force” might be outdated by the changes within the Communist world which suggest at least the possibility of further democratization and decentralization of what once looked like a permanent monolith. In that case, a third force is more likely to emerge from within the Communist countries than outside them.
The emergence of a New Left suggests other possibilities, of a more spontaneous nature. This New Left—and to some extent the civil-rights movement—in a sense is acting like a third force, since it has its own political life. However, in its reluctance to define its relation to the Communist states and parties, the New Left is avoiding the theoretical implications of its stand, though it is still too early to tell where the movement is going.
As for myself, the truth is that I am caught in the contradictions of the period. By training, temperament, and political experience, I am an addict of democracy. Hence my political reflex is to look favorably on any radical program or movement that promises some measure of democracy, and to criticize those that do not. On the other hand, I am convinced that the question of democracy for backward countries in Asia and Africa is more complex than one would gather from the rhetoric of liberalism. And I must say, too, that the ritual use of the slogans of democracy and freedom by professional anti-Communists tends to drain them of any meaning—except as advertisements for the status quo.
2. No, I would not call myself an “anti-Communist,” though I have no more use for Mao than I had for Stalin. To be an “anti-Communist” today is not easy. One has to be pathologically single-minded, allergic to change, and in love with existing institutions. It is not at all the same thing—though “anti-Communists” act as if it were—as having been “anti-Communist” or rather, “anti-Stalinist” in the 30’s and 40’s, when Stalin was at the height of his power, the thaw was not even conceivable, and the Soviet bloc seemed to pose a threat to everything genuine liberals and radicals stood for. Given the climate of opinion at that time, it was quite natural to think of America and Europe as protectors of at least a limited kind of freedom and democracy, particularly in relation to German Fascism.
As for containment, a policy intended originally for Europe, I must admit that I did not oppose it so long as it appeared to mean only the resistance to invasion. But recently it has become clear that containment does not seem to have any meaning for the so-called underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, or South America. The issue there is not invasion by Russian or Chinese armies, and to pretend that it is has become a strategy for ignoring the real problems of social and economic reorganization in these areas.
3. The CIA question is not so simple as it seems. As I recall, I was probably not so aware some years ago as I am today of the implications of CIA financing of cultural projects. And I can understand the temptations. But I always did think there was something unsavory and conspiratorial about publications, organizations, and individuals rumored to be connected with the CIA. The atmosphere they created was a peculiar blend of ulterior aims and immediate self-interest. There was always the smell of the gravy train, and the people supposedly involved—I do not mean the innocents—were usually of a certain type: breezy, rootless, free-wheeling, cynically anti-Communist orgmen. It is true that the magazines and organizations financed by the CIA were not restricted to official or conservative views, apparently because the enlightened wing of the CIA realized that anti-Communist activities abroad, to have any effect, had to look free and have a slightly Left coloration. This, in fact, is the argument used to justify CIA support: that the recipients were free and that their activities weren’t entirely conservative. But it is a sophistical argument, for the publications and organizations were free only in the sense that the policies required by the CIA were in accord with the beliefs of the people running them. (My guess is that the CIA rarely gave orders.) I am not referring to the honest people who were taken in, but to key people who were chosen because their politics were adaptable to if not identical with those of the CIA, and because they were cynical enough to play the game in which each side pretends it is using the other side. The fact is that only certain projects were financed by the CIA, presumably because the others could not be trusted to play ball, although mistakes sometimes were made, particularly in distant places and languages, where the CIA could afford to write off a few ventures that were on the level.
On the whole, the CIA projects were definitely anti-Communist and pro-American, though subtly so and camouflaged by a sprinkling of dissenting articles and activities. Perhaps if CIA backing were out in the open, like the support of magazines by private institutions, it would have been more acceptable, for then the source of the bias as well as the money would not have been secret. And, maybe, one would have fewer objections to financing of this kind if it were extensive and covered all shades of liberal and radical opinion, including activities or magazines that could not conceivably become stooges. But this was probably impossible, since the CIA was not a ladies auxiliary, dying to support culture of any kind for its own sake. Obviously, the CIA believed it was using culture to fight the cold war, even though it seemed at times that the original purposes had been forgotten by people who were as interested in their own careers as they were in the cold war.
Aside from the deceptions and ironies, the debut of the CIA in the field of culture no doubt coincided with the general decline of the Left. Its recruits came, I suppose, mostly from that new breed of political intellectuals who were able to pursue their professions as editors, journalists, organizers in “anti-Communist” magazines and organizations. Detached from ordinary political life, they became pure “anti-Communists”; they had no independent ideas or aims; their political history was assigned to them.3 “Anti-Communism” finally found its ideal form in the CIA: the reduction of politics to one question, that of “anti-Communism” itself.
In retrospect, the difficulties of the Left appear to have come from the tendency of politics to polarize toward the extremes, which then feed off each other. For a time, some hope of escaping the Communist/anti-Communist syndrome could be found in the decentralization and the dissidence of the Soviet world, in the nationalist and socialist movements in Asia and Africa, and in the growth of dissent in this country. But recently, the naked power moves of the Soviet bloc in the Near East, together with the stale ideology, succeeded in bringing back the old confrontations. So, too, the almost automatic ganging-up on Israel of the Asian and African countries, rationalized by a hodge-podge of racial, national, and anti-colonial propaganda, buried another hope—and with it the myth that being dark-skinned and poor and underdeveloped made a nation virtuous and progressive. As a result, I find myself—like many other liberals and radicals—in the awkward position of expecting the American government to come to the aid of Israel, while arguing that America should not police the world in the name of democracy and self-determination.
One way out of these theoretical dilemmas has been to ignore them, as the New Left has done. Practically, there is much to be said for the current boredom with theory and the belief in spontaneity of the New Left here and the new intellectuals in the Communist countries. But the new politics does leave one without the sense of continuity that belief in the future is supposed to provide. It may be very modern and cool for radicals to travel light today. But to anyone who has been through the arguments of the Left, a radical without a theory is like Hamlet without a father. Still, one could argue that Hamlet might have been better off.
Robert Pickus: COMMENTARY’S questions accurately limn the currently fashionable liberal anti-anti-Communism. That current fashion seems to me as morally and politically disastrous as the liberal military anti-Communism it attacks. In so well rehearsed an argument, predictable in its distortions, direct answers are usually a mistake. First, therefore, a context for my replies.
I’ve never described myself as a “liberal.” My essential political position has been too pointed, my commitment too radical. My political life began at the end of a war, and ending war has been the point ever since. If ending war is the problem, there is little of use in liberal politics or thought.4 Democratic socialist, with primary emphasis on the first word, would be closer to an accurate description of my politics. But there too one encounters an almost total absence of useful ideas about what I regard as the central problem of our time. That problem is organized mass violence: war.
I have made my political and ideological commitments, defining both the goals and means I would support, the political philosophies and organizations I consider enemy. But I have long believed the crucial question was not which conception of justice is right, but which institutions and understandings can assure that the inevitable conflict of competing conceptions would not lead to war. It is not the choice between competing economic and political systems; it is conflict itself, that is now the central problem.
I have taken that problem as the focus of my political life because of a fact of 20th-century technology—in more significant degree than ever before, man’s survival depends on the maintenance of responsibility among men; because of political belief—reliance on national military power can only make me a collaborator in the destruction of the political values I see as central; and because of religious convictions that will not allow me to accept murder as legitimate, individual lives as pawns.
No 20th-century Jew comes to this position easily. I find my own pacifist conviction painful and unsatisfactory. I find the self-righteousness of much of the pacifist world incredible; its failure to develop the alternate strategy of conflict demonstrated so hopefully in the American civil-rights movement, tragic; its current role in too many instances, as tail to a variety of Marxist and other revolutionary kites, a betrayal. But I share a root pacifist perception: if you forget your responsibility to the human being opposite you in the name of some abstraction like Freedom, Justice, or History, it is just a toss of the coin whether you drop the napalm or are hit, whether you enter the concentration camp or guard it.
The problem is how to counter the violence others will use; the problem is how to force needed change without becoming an executioner. Given the failure to solve these problems, the pacifist’s moral witness is usually flawed. His prime contribution is his focus on the right problem, not his moral witness. When a thoughtful pacifist leaves sentimentality behind, he thinks about ways of prosecuting conflict, ways that build instead of destroy community. He, then, is thinking to the right purpose, for the problem of world peace stated most simply and most fundamentally is the problem of achieving community. This implies a kind of unity with the enemy. Before this harsh fact most current thinking and action falters. It either burkes the realities of power and the validity of conflict, sentimentally seeking peace (no conflict) where there is no peace, or it organizes for war—and thus destroys the possibility of achieving that sense of community which makes law possible. Since law, to be the guarantor of an end to organized mass violence, requires a preponderance of power, legitimized by a community of consent, these understandings badly need sophisticated development and explication.
There is nascent in post-Niebuhrian pacifist thought a realistic program for achieving community while prosecuting conflict. But it remains nascent, abandoned for sentimentality or for a vulgarized quasi-Marxist political analysis which locates the problem of 20th-century international conflict wholly in the structure of the American economy and the evil motivations of an American power elite.
I set this context, because without it my answers to COMMENTARY’S questions would be easily misunderstood. I was and am an anti-Communist. That is, I would support forces working for democratization in any existing Communist society, and would be in jail or dead in many. Sound U.S. policy would in my view not only seek to limit the extension, it would also, by the model of its foreign and domestic policy, seek to encourage the reversal of totalitarian elements in the thought and practice of Communist societies.
But COMMENTARY’S assumption that such a person “supported containment” is, in my case, mistaken. I have never favored a foreign policy which took containment of Communism as its primary goal. The primary goals, in my view, are three: the construction of international or supranational institutions that can interdict the use of mass violence by any group pursuing its own conception of justice or security; the development of a sense of world community strong enough to allow such institutions to resolve conflict without mass violence; and the use of such institutions to help needed change in developing nations come with minimal violence and without the imposition of totalitarian political systems.
Containment was predominantly a military policy. As such it was an obstacle to my primary political goals. Though aware of the threat posed by Communist power and some Communist purposes, I worked then as now for alternatives to a dominantly military foreign policy; for in my view such a policy makes us a threat to all men’s future, as well as to the belief in the value and dignity of individual men which we, as democrats, proclaim.
Such work cannot be undertaken without directly challenging the Communist devil theory so common in American life. While I never dodged the importance of ideological conflict with the Communist world, I did distinguish it from the realities of Soviet power and challenged its simplistic versions. For, those convinced of a totally evil Communist world—monolithic and incapable of change, the supreme threat to American values and interests—are unlikely to support non-military initiatives to achieve the three primary goals stated above. Such initiatives offer, I believe, our best chance of limiting the spread of totalitarian systems and of gaining Communist support for the steps needed to end war. While I do not share the optimism which discounts the plain statements of Chinese Communist leaders, or yet count the Soviet Union a reliable ally in stabilizing world politics, I have fought, not helped create, an anti-Communist climate “favorable to the war in Vietnam.” While resisting Communist organizational goals, I have also fought the conception of Communists as a proscribed group that has deeply damaged democratic politics.
Nor have I had direct or indirect contact with the CIA. Many of the projects recently described as CIA-financed (e.g., schools for training union and peasant organizers in South America) have seemed to me the expression of some of the sounder, not “the darker” impulses of American foreign policy. Their danger lay—it seems to me—not in the foreign policy area, but in the secrecy involved and in the threat they posed to the desirable relation between voluntary organizations and government agencies in a democracy: influence should run from the former to the latter, not vice versa. CIA projects of the Guatemalan or Bay-of-Pigs sort seem to me a natural result of the acceptance of war as a legitimate instrument of national policy, and ought to be dealt with by challenging that acceptance, rather than by condemning one form of our side’s commitment to the military resolution of conflict.
My guilt lies in another direction: I seriously underestimated the ease with which liberals, once persuaded to abandon a Communist devil, would adopt an American one. Or, more specifically, I failed to perceive how quickly an anti-anti-Communist climate could arise and pervert work against the Vietnam war in student, religious, “intellectual,” and liberal circles.
In the late 40’s, a still vigorous Communist party channeled and corrupted the concern for peace of many who supported the Progressive party. At present the Communist party itself is a much less significant factor, but its emotional and intellectual heritage persists and plays a significant role in shaping, manning, and financing the liberal reaction to American policy in Vietnam. By now, because of this fact and other weightier explanations, the rules of the political game are neatly reversed when you leave mainstream America to confront the currents I am criticizing in liberal, academic, literary America.
In this sometimes influential world, political courage is required to maintain an anti-Communist stance. Here, anti-Communism is always “blind.” If you believe Hanoi bears some responsibility for continuation of the killing in Vietnam, and are a careerist, or simply value non-hostile personal relations, you say nothing about it in the Math Department of the University of California, Berkeley. If you are conducting a national campaign for a unilateral American ceasefire in Vietnam, you must nevertheless plan on losing significant money and support if you accurately depict the Vietcong’s political leadership and their purposes.5
For much of the dissenting community is dominated by an automatic anti-anti-Communism, as distorted in its views of Communist reality as the Communist-devil theory it replaces; as dangerous, in its isolationist tendencies, to the essential conditions for a stable peace as the intervention it opposes; as dominated by vituperation, conspiracy theories, and a contempt for reason, as the Bircher it sees in every opponent of Communist organizational goals.
That much of the original and genuine opposition to war could be diverted to other ends was evident early in the protest against the Vietnam war. Take, for example, Staughton Lynd’s ringing announcement, “We are here on behalf of Jean-Paul Sartre,” at one of the early student peace demonstrations. In the midst of pacifist rhetoric, Lynd linked the anti-war movement with a man whose conception of desirable policy includes Soviet missile attacks on U.S. bases in the Philip-pines.6
It turns out Lynd was politically prescient. Students, moved to action by Camus’ moral standards, first adopted the political perspective on Vietnam and then the morality of revolutionary violence of Sartre, Camus’ pro-Communist and pro-terrorist opponent. American responsibility for dropping napalm on children was protested in alliance with others who rationalized the murder of children in the pursuit of political goals. Students who had once reflected on Camus’ terrible dividing line between those “who accept the consequences of being murderers and those who refuse do to so with all their force and being,” soon set about blurring that line. Fanon and Sartre replaced Camus. The same persons who viewed in anguish and fury Ramparts pictures of napalm victims, responded coolly to the National Review’s pictures of civilians injured in Vietcong fragmentation bomb attacks on market places and public gatherings: “any revolution involves some injury of innocents.”
I remember the shock with which some Berkeley students discovered the difference between opposition to American power and opposition to war. The Vietnam Day Committee there received a wire from the North Vietnamese Student League welcoming members of the Vietnam Day Committee as comrades in the North Vietnamese commitment to spill the blood of the imperialist exploiters until victory was finally won. A number of students active in the VDC drafted a response explaining that what they wanted was an end to the killing, that when North Vietnamese students began to pressure their government for an end to war, as American students were doing, then and only then could they call one another comrades. It turned out that the VDC could not send that wire; it would “split the movement.”
That judgment was accurate. Any statement critical of Hanoi’s view of the war, or suggesting that the NLF, Hanoi, and Peking share a part of the responsibility for the continuation of the killing, was out of place in the context of a political movement which, as the VDC leaders put it, sought “to increase the number of people who are opposed to the structure and value systems of American society rather than the number who are tactically opposed to the Vietnam war.”
I mark this perversion of what might have become a genuine anti-war movement not as a disappointed pacifist, but as a citizen convinced that a sound anti-war movement could have achieved its objective: attaining overwhelming majority support for significant changes in American Vietnam policy which would have maximized the chances for a negotiated settlement to end the killing.7 Such a movement could still develop—the Negotiations Now! campaign is one sound attempt to build it—but not without recognizing that however fiercely and sometimes accurately the lies, omissions, and distortions of the administration are punctured, the American public is unlikely to accept the policy recommendations of those who pass on unchallenged every lie, omission, and distortion of the NLF-Hanoi side of the war. To move away from the falsifications, and the justifications of mass violence, encountered in America by becoming a part of the mirror image of that nightmare is no progress; but precisely that move has become the “progress” of many “anti-Vietnam war” protesters.
I cannot explore here the complex web of thought and experience that propelled segments of the student movement from a most affecting expression of interracial solidarity and anti-war protest to racist politics and the support (whether openly and ideologically committed, or present simply in the choice of issues, allies, and arguments) of wars of liberation. My focus here is on the anti-anti-Communist strand in this experience. It is an element which also plays an important role in the adult community.
This anti-anti-Communist current has been aided by the most unlikely people. For a painful contemporary political experience, I recommend listening to John Kenneth Galbraith, totally failing to distinguish among audiences, summarize for a group of ex-Progressive party activists the sins of anti-Communism; or hearing this able man demonstrate his misunderstanding of contemporary Left politics by congratulating student activists, already persuaded that any critical examination of Communist politics is red-baiting, on being “unscarred” by McCarthyism.
Arthur Schlesinger is the only person I’ve encountered in this particular leadership group who seems to have an accurate sense of what is moving in liberal and Left peace circles. Recognizing an enemy to the Left and explaining why he perceived it as such, he shocked a segment of a San Francisco liberal audience which expected him to stop after an attack on administration policy.8 But Schlesinger’s refusal to celebrate “pop Maoism” or a peace effort which, reactive only against Washington’s policies, has contributed to a polarized, enraged, and confused political climate, is exceptional. More commonly anti-war speakers seem to see only Dean Rusk in their audiences. In the circles I am here discussing, the political and moral assumptions of, say, the New York Review of Books are rarely challenged. Thus the initially hopeful passage from apathy and moral indifference to moral and political responsibility, which could aid in ending the killing, is sidetracked into a one-eyed morality, serving to justify one form of exploitation and violence even as it challenges another. This is not a matter of moderate versus radical approaches to social change. Rather it involves very different conceptions of what constitutes a healthy racial commitment.
A rigid and self-righteous anti-Communism, which has prevented an accurate perception of the complex and changing reality of the Communist world, seems to be abating. The Consular Treaty, the attempts at contact with the Chinese, and Kosygin’s moment on the lawn at Glassboro are indications, at different levels, of the possibility of a more flexible and hopeful American approach to the Communist world. The problem now is to apply it to Vietnam, to Cuba. But the concomitants of the current anti-anti-Communist ethos are themselves formidable obstacles to this endeavor. That this ethos contributes to strengthening a military nationalist Right has been adequately demonstrated in California.9 My concern here is with the approach to the Vietnam war which is characteristic of these politics and with its effect on the chances for significant change in U.S. policy.
“Radicals” caught in this world view see America as the single villain in a melodrama of world politics. Violently asserting America’s depravity and consequent inability to do anything but evil abroad, they nurture isolationist currents. Carrying peace banners, they ardently, in their identification with the NLF, urge a new just-war doctrine.
Liberals, reacting to State Department justifications, adopt descriptions of Vietnamese reality as mistaken as those they reject. They see the Viet-cong simply as the representative of the Vietnamese people’s desire for independence and social change. But thousands of Buddhists and former Viet Minh fighters preferred Ky’s jails to walking three miles to NLF territory. To General LeMay’s claim that this is “not a civil war (or) a peasants’ war . . . [it is] part of Communist strategy . . .,” they reply: it is a civil and a peasant war. In fact, as any observer capable of candor will agree, it is all three.
They applaud the “politics of escalation” explanation of why there has been no negotiated settlement of the war. But the administration’s failure to give priority to attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement—the priority they claim it has in their own plans—is just one part of political reality. The clear preference of Hanoi and the NLF for a military victory is at least as significant an explanation of why there have been no negotiations.
Many caught in this reactive ethos applaud and vote for peace candidates who describe the war as a “racist war against the colored people of Vietnam,” despite the fact that Vietcong Vietnamese have murdered other civilian Vietnamese leaders to a degree that if applied proportionately to American local leaders would mean more than a quarter of a million dead American mayors, health workers, and teachers.
The result is, in sum, Hanoi’s view of the war. It is a view some Americans, desperately seeking a way to protest the horror and immorality of American policy, have mistakenly supported, but it is a view that the overwhelming majority will reject.
It is a view that obscures these essential truths: the overwhelming majority of the people of South Vietnam are not fighting Communism or American imperialism; they are fighting to stay alive. What they desperately want is that the killing end. Their enemy is anyone who justifies American killing for one more day; anyone who presents Hanoi’s justification for continuing the war as though it were a peace position.
We are left with a genuine tragedy. The likely victors in the current discussion among American intellectuals will be those calling for a return to a politics of national interest and political realism. This is a more rational politics than current U.S. policy, but it is a perspective that is part of the problem of war, not a solution. The generous goals and moral concern that originally animated the anti-war movement have been perverted into another kind of just-war theory, thus paving the way for their abandonment. All in a time of some hope. For, there is a chance now of getting majority support for an approach to conflict with the Communist world that builds, instead of destroys, that sense of community essential to growth toward world law. There is a recognition now that even though the argument within the Communist world revolves around the question of whether organized mass violence is one justifiable road to change or the only one, it is now a much more open Communist world, and one undergoing radical change. There is now a widespread recognition that open violence is not the only enemy of peace. There is also a violence of the status quo that America must confront and change. There is a new understanding that progress toward a world without war need not wait for prior Communist agreement; we can initiate it. There is recognition that the old conceptions of the cold war do not fit a world in which the most dangerous divisions are between the developed and the yet-to-be-developed nations. And there has been until recently a deep moral revulsion to all justifications of war. Together, these could constitute the beginnings of an authentic peace politics.
But these ideas need a vehicle. Organizations dominated by the ethos of current anti-anti-Communism cannot provide it. Nor can a politics that takes its origin in an anti-Communist perspective. Breaking free of those two bad choices requires reaffirming the root values of democratic theory and the “mad truths” Ignazio Silone listed in explaining his wish to affirm the superiority of “the human person over all the economic and social mechanisms that oppress him.” Those “intuitons of man’s dignity,” that insistence on the “extension of the ethical impulse from the restricted individual and family sphere to the whole domain of human activity” have found expression in workers’ movements and in American history.10 This is our hope. No one committed to those truths could accept the historicism of Robert Heilbroner’s earnest and coherent invitation to acquiesce passively in a Communist wave of the future;11 nor would he accept an America capable of our present policy in Vietnam.
He would work to change that future and that America.
Philip Rahv: I was never a liberal anti-Communist or, for that matter, any other kind of liberal. When a very small group of us broke away from the Communist movement in the late 1930’s we did so because of our fundamental allegiance to democratic socialism; and substantially that is still my position today. Needless to say, democratic socialism, in our understanding of it, was fully consonant with freedom of thought and expression, in the arts no less than in science and philosophy. Though by no means “orthodox” in our approach to Marxism, we did not think of ourselves as abandoning its basic program and ideals; least of all did we think of ourselves as errant sons returning to the “bourgeois” fold. For it was not Communism, in its doctrinal formulations by Marx or even by Lenin, that we broke away from, but the Soviet embodiment of it known as Stalinism, then in total command not only of the Russian Communists but of the entire Communist apparatus abroad, which, under cover now of a revolutionary and now of a populist-democratic phraseology, was functioning as an instrument of Soviet policy pure and simple.
In that period the American liberals—and I mean the liberals of the Nation-New Republic variety—supported Roosevelt in domestic policy, and Stalin, whom they saw as a bulwark of anti-Fascism, in foreign policy. Hence inevitably we identified many of the most vocal and influential liberals as fellow-travelers, and we could not possibly have associated ourselves with them politically. And it must be emphasized again and again that in those years what is now called the anti-Communism of the Left was almost exclusively an anti-Stalinist movement, not at all incompatible with adherence to dissident forms of Communism, such as that formulated in exile by Trotsky and other heresiarchs of lesser fame. Nor did our anti-Stalinism in any way commit us to supporting the prevailing socio-economic system in America. We thought of capitalism not as a uniquely American and uniquely successful phenomenon validating “freedom” and “democracy”—such a notion, in vogue for almost two decades now, would have seemed to us ridiculous then—but as a historically determined system of world economic power. Our hostility to that power was so obvious that we mostly took it for granted while concentrating on the exposure of Stalinist terror, duplicity, and mendacity. To pursue such a course was far from easy, for at that time the climate of opinion among intellectuals was decidedly against us as more and more of them found in the threat of Nazi aggression the perfect rationalization for their backing of the Stalinists.
Clearly, the history of radical anti-Stalinism as I have very briefly and sketchily outlined it above has very little to do with the cold-war anti-Communism of our latter days, though not a few intellectuals who belonged to the movement of those early years have done their best to distort that history in the interest of creating an impression of continuity and consistency in their own political careers, thus absolving themselves of the guilt of any involvement with the by now abhorred Marxist doctrines. Such people, having equated their Marxist past with the U.S. version of original sin, have turned into sophists and sycophants of the American ruling elite. Of course, they still pretend that they are fighting Stalinism, as in the old days, even as it has become all too plain, except to those who profess to take seriously the cant of our native “democratic” rhetoric, that what official America really finds objectionable at bottom is not the Stalinist aspect of Communism but Communism as such, authoritarian or not. In writing of the relation of American power to the underdeveloped countries, Robert L. Heilbroner has recently and with exemplary lucidity put this whole matter in the proper perspective in these pages (“Counterrevolutionary America,” April 1967). What is official America’s fear?
There is a threat in the specter of a Communist or near-Communist supremacy in the underdeveloped world. It is that the rise of Communism would signal the end of capitalism as the dominant world order, and would force the acknowledgement that America no longer constituted the model on which the future of world civilization would be mainly based. In this way . . . the existence of Communism frightens American capitalism as the rise of Protestantism frightened the Catholic Church or the French Revolution the English aristocracy.
It is, I think, the fear of losing our place in the sun, of finding ourselves at bay, that motivates a great deal of the anti-Communism on which so much of our foreign policy seems to be founded.
Mr. Heilbroner is well aware that this is not a complete account of America’s side in the cold war, since it leaves out the element of Great Power rivalry, which would be the same even if Russia were non-Communist. But he has put his finger on the main factor—exactly that factor which most authors of cold-war studies have so far studiously evaded. Hence his analysis, which explains why for official America the main danger is always located on the Left, is by far more coherent and historically plausible than the myths spread by the official propagandists, including the former anti-Stalinists turned anti-Communists tout court. For anti-Communism in the present-day meaning of the term, equivalent as it is to opposition to authentic socialism in whatever form, has no doubt helped to provide the ideological fuel needed by the policymakers in Washington (and the mass media at their service) for heating up the cold war whenever it suits their extremely narrow-minded, class-oriented conception of the national interest. And certainly, in that sense precisely, the responsibility for our disastrous involvement in Vietnam rests with the anti-Communists of the Left (in this context the word “Left” can be used only in a Pickwickian sense) as much as with anyone else.
However, I do not agree with Mr. Christopher Lasch’s recent assertion that “things would be different if the American Left had not long ago committed itself to outdo the Right in its anti-Communist zeal.”12 I doubt whether, on an all-national scale, things would be very much different; Mr. Lasch seems to be overestimating the power of resistance which the intellectuals as a social formation can exert against the gravitational pull of a ruling elite when it appears to be firmly entrenched in positions of authority. The old American Left he has in mind has for some years now consisted of exiguously small groups of intellectuals, divided among themselves, and the percentage of staffers it has contributed to the Pentagon’s think-factories and the various cold-war institutes masquerading as centers of “Russian studies” is correspondingly sparse. But I do agree with Mr. Lasch’s argument that “once the Left itself accepted anti-Communism as the sine qua non of political respectability, it became a prisoner of its own immediate success. . . .” The old American Left has paid a steep price for its attainment of political respectability, and that price is self-betrayal.
Insofar as cold-war anti-Communism implies implicit or explicit support of our society’s present social and economic set-up—and, in my opinion, it implies no less than that—I cannot be counted among its partisans. Nor am I a supporter of the present regime in Moscow, which, though it has done away with the worst features of Stalinism, is still far from fulfilling the original promise of the Russian Revolution. The present Soviet leadership, while fulfilling certain elementary requirements of socialism, is at the same time pursuing a course of cynical Realpolitik abroad in the mode traditionally associated with Great Power behavior throughout history. For instance, it is playing the Arab card in the Middle East, just as the British did in the 1930’s and 1940’s, though the latter played the game with more restraint and finesse than the Russian latecomers. But only naifs and “true believers” have failed to note that the State Department, though inhibited by certain domestic forces and unequivocal past commitments, is itching to play the same card, in the hope of outbidding the Russian “competition.” The Arabs are the overwhelming majority in the Middle East, and that is the sufficient justification of policy for all the powers, great or not so great, including de Gaulle’s France. Witness the very mild, “soft” response to the Arabs’ severing of relations with the U.S. in the wake of the Big Lie that America and Britain intervened militarily in favor of Israel. Witness, also, the covert wooing of King Hussein, another “bulwark of anti-Communism,” though undoubtedly not so steady a bulwark as King Constantine of Greece. In Washington, as in Moscow, cold-war considerations are paramount, and from that vantage point the national interests of Israel, which is not really a part of the cold war and which cannot but resist being dragged into it as a pawn of one or another superpower, are merely an annoying distraction.
What Soviet society is badly in need of is a fundamental political reform that would once and for all eliminate the one-party monopoly of power and the arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy. But this is a long-term prospect. It cannot be accomplished from the outside but only by the Russian people themselves as education and full-scale modernization in the economic sphere gradually promote among them more libertarian perspectives. Cold-war anti-Communism, Washington style, can only obstruct their gaining of such perspectives, and a nuclear war would surely bury them for good. And so it would bury us.
In the days when Communism was a monolithic world-structure, ruled by an iron hand in the Kremlin, it was possible for a democratic socialist to support, even if only on tactical grounds, what the Editor of COMMENTARY calls a “policy of containing the spread of Communism”; and I am still opposed to the Communists being allowed to take over countries by force and against the will of the majority of their population. But this is no longer the question today, when monolithic totalitarian world Communism has ceased to exist. Least of all is it the question in Vietnam, where American power has all along prevented even a moderately honest election and is actually shoring up obsolete social institutions and reactionary, corrupt governing classes. The Orwellian language in which the administration is defending its war in Vietnam is absolutely insufferable. Perhaps democracy, even in the restricted American sense of the term, is impossible in a backward area like Vietnam. But if that is the case, surely Generals Thieu and Ky, as well as any future puppets in Saigon, are the last people in the world one can trust to undertake even a minimum program of political democratization and economic modernization.
The recent revelations concerning covert CIA backing of certain intellectual and cultural projects, which have for years pretended to be free of Washington control, came as no surprise to me. It is inherent in the logic of anti-Communism as currently defined, for in terms of that logic the means are irrelevant and only the cold-war ends are important. (Our crusade in Vietnam is ruled by the very same logic.) The people who accepted secret CIA subsidies without being clear in their own minds as to what was involved are in many ways to be compared to the “fellow-travelers” and “stooges” of the 1930’s, who supported Stalin’s reading of Marxism and his murderous policies even as they spoke of the Russia he despotically ruled as a “workers’ paradise” and as a “classless society.” But in contrast to the “stooges” of yesterday, the “stooges” of today are paid cash on the line for their pious declarations.
Harold Rosenberg: COMMENTARY’S questions raise the vital issue of confusing anti-Communism with “containment”—i.e., with stopping Communism geographically.
Containment means not only checking the spread of Communism as a social theory or political movement but stopping the expansion of Communist nations. Such expansion, it is assumed, cannot be arrested by arguments or rival political organizations but only by the economic and military force of anti-Communist nations. In a program of containing Communism, anti-Communism becomes an aspect of national power politics.
To combine the notion of fighting an ideology with that of blocking off physical terrains from certain countries results in a hybrid logic that can easily get out of control. Phantoms take on flesh. An argument and a massacre become equivalents. Minds are searched for contraband. A professor advocates a super-police regime in order to repel error. General Westmoreland stands as the outpost of the free mind. The CIA drops depth charges among American intellectuals and is defended as the spearhead of anti-Communist radicalism.
The nub of it is that containment channels the ideological conflict with Communism into the alternatives of national wars. Either we or they. “We” means those who accept the national ideology, “they” anyone who opposes it. All anti-Communists are united by force of the enemy.
This interchangeability of nation and ideology is a heritage of Bolshevism. It lay behind the logic that led to Lenin’s famous World War I slogan: “The main enemy is at home.” By the same logic Russia became after the October Revolution synonymous with socialism, and “Defense of the USSR” synonymous with world progress.
What madness this mixing of nation and ideology can lead to is exemplified in the revival by the Trotskyites of the old “Main enemy is at home” slogan when the Red Army invaded Finland. Workers of Finland, defend the USSR, the Fatherland of socialism! As a Marxist, I, a Finn, was supposed to fire at my neighbor who was firing at the Russians who, the moment they got rid of him, would put me against the wall as an anti-Communist. . . . This is what I mean by logic getting out of control.
Containment is the application of the same blending of intellectual and state aims. As a free man opposed to Communism, I am supposed to fire at people who are trying to free themselves from all kinds of tyrants who might be friends of Stennis or Nixon.
When it is a matter of your country confronting a Communist country, what does it mean to say that your anti-Communism is “Left”? Both the Communists and the Communist-containers will answer: it means nothing.
To the Communist, Left anti-Communism is simply anti-Communism that strikes from the left side, an ally of imperialism that refuses to admit its complicity. (To Mao, the Soviets are Left anti-Communists.)
To the container of Communism, on the other hand, Left anti-Communism is simply being “soft on Communism,” i.e., an anti-Communism that is prepared to lose.
Given the struggle for containment, both the Communist and the anti-Communist patriot are right against the Left. They have fixed it that way between them. The logic that flows from identifying a social philosophy with the national interest has been forced upon the Left by the act of the Bolsheviks in transforming socialism into an instrument of Soviet foreign policy and by the reflex action of the United States since Truman in transforming American foreign policy into an instrument of anti-Communist ideology.
In the struggles for spheres of influence in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Near East, to be a Left anti-Communist can mean little more than to insist on limiting the fight against Communism to certain methods and allies, while renouncing others—for instance, to fight Communism with economic aid but not with napalm, and to help anti-Communist peasant movements but not anti-Communist dictators.
But the methods you use in a fight, and the allies you line up with, are not always for you to determine—your antagonist also has a voice in what you are compelled to do. If the whole issue is one of weapons, of tactics, Washington is justified in saying to the Left, we know more about what is effective in given situations than you do. We have tried everything else, and now it’s napalm. Unless you’re ready to match Communist dirty tricks, including infiltration of cultural institutions in the United States by the CIA, you’re really prepared to let the Communists take over.
Washington knows that so long as containment is postulated the government has the advantage in the argument of being able to talk in terms of relations of forces—and Washington keeps pressing this advantage. All it needs to do to silence the Left is to declare all civil wars which the CIA has been unable to control to be wars of aggression by Communist countries. Trapped in the logic of limiting the expansion of Communist areas, the Left can only respond with antagonism and frustration.
The answer to COMMENTARY’S first question is therefore: Yes, anti-Communism of all varieties—democratic, socialist, anarchist—leads potentially to Vietnam so long as the axis of American foreign policy is blocking the spread of Communist regimes. It matters not whether the objectives of my politics are the free individual or the cooperative society; if I am determined to keep Communist powers out of new places, I may have to support actions (including the most stupid) that I have every reason to fear and condemn. My will to “contain” Communism cannot carry the precondition that there be socialists in the White House or philosophers in the Pentagon, or that American banks and black marketeers not rush in behind the troops to get theirs out of the natives.
Containing Communism leads to lesser-evil politics with the idée fixe that compared to Communism anything is a lesser evil. An anarchist anti-Communist, for example, faced with the possibility of a Communist takeover, no matter from whom, must be prepared to embrace Pentagon belligerency.
Once it accepts the philosophy of containing Communism, the Left is on the spot: it has acknowledged dependency on the “enemy at home” to protect it against being eliminated by Communist violence. Nor does the fact that there are now several Marxist-Leninst power centers make the spot it is on any the less difficult. Each of the Communist centers is capable of spurring aggression both to win victories in non-Communist areas and to advance its position in the Communist world. Thus anti-Communism will continue to be confronted by situations in which ideology is embodied in national power and in the direct confrontation with which the concept “Left” is rendered meaningless.
So one is compelled to choose between defeating the policy of containment and giving up Left politics. In this situation containment must go, and a normal, non-ideological foreign policy must be restored in Washington. Such a policy is quite adequate to stop countries that may be a menace to the U.S. But containment not only tries to stop all countries of whose ideology it disapproves, it also sabotages American freedom and the conflict of ideas.
Getting rid of containment is necessary not because there is any virtue in Left politics as such, but because certain truths considered to be Left cannot be neglected without plunging this country and the world into disaster. Containment, on the other hand, which mixes up places and ideas, destroys all truths by the mad logic it has derived from Communism. For instance, it is a “Left” truth that the revolution of the peoples throughout the world cannot be confined within the framework of capitalism, and that the attempt so to confine it results in wars of repression. Containment cannot tolerate this truth and would rather see people killed, including Americans, than put up with it—any more than Communism can tolerate the truth that its kind of revolution is not necessary for progress and is even an obstacle to it.
I do not accept the assumption made in question 2 that containment is, or ever has been, a moral position. On the contrary, containment is an inverse extension of Communist power thinking. It presupposes the victory of a one-world system, theirs or “ours.” Morality might have led America to interfere wth the suppression of the Hungarian revolution by the Red Army, but containment prevents such concrete responses. Its first step is to destroy traditional diplomacy and to conduct foreign policy on a totalitarian basis, including the manipulation of trade unions, scientific conferences, and art festivals as tools of international scheming.
Could I have a moral obligation to keep Communism out of South Africa or out of Spain? Do I have to protect dictators from Communist dictation? Yes, if the ground of all virtue is not freedom or justice but the negative system of defeating Communism. But freedom is not simply the other side of anti-Communism. Freedom is not a system and, as we are discovering in Vietnam, it cannot be introduced by system builders. We have trouble enough keeping it going in Alabama and Mississippi. The ex-slaveholders are sabotaging it daily, and no one has yet found it necessary to interfere with their current program of discharging the fruits of their evil throughout the length and breadth of America. The mere presence of a free country is a force for the containment of tyranny, but countries do not act against tyranny but against those who threaten the interests of their rulers. Without the presence of the U.S. the revolution of Juan Bosch could not have taken place, because long before that revolution the Dominican Republic and all of Latin America would have been subjugated by the Spanish, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese. But in the presence of a U.S. dedicated to containment, Bosch’s revolution could not take place either, because it did not fit into our totalitarian foreign policy.
Not only is containment the opposite of moral, it is also the opposite of practical. It is being defeated at enormous cost to the U.S. as its Communist model has been defeated again and again since Tito successfully defied Stalin. The anti-Communist strategy pursued by this country is leading not to a firm anti-Communist world but to the disintegration of American relations with all free countries comparable to the breakdown or loosening of ties between the USSR and Communist countries. The idea of setting up a world system either Communist or anti-Communist is a sick idea in which the mind substitutes its own classifications and subclassifications for the variety of human inventiveness. For this sick idea promulgated in the United States by vengeful ex-Communists, the U.S., unnerved in the face of a new world situation, has surrendered its traditional pragmatism and the values of fair play.
No state stands for freedom. It stands for itself and its spheres of influence. The maintenance of those spheres is the function of normal diplomacy.
Containment must be abandoned as quickly as possible in favor of a foreign policy released from the totalitarian hypnosis and subject to determination by free conflict among the diverse interests in American society.
First of all, containment must be abandoned by the Left itself. There must be an end to thinking in terms of world systems and world anti-systems. The notion of a global politics emanating from a center and embodying a uniform concept of social and economic development is an inheritance of Leninism in its worst aspect, the aspect that led to the formation of the Third International and its control and destruction of socialist parties. It is an attempt to manage mankind, a species of hubris, which, whether its intention be good or bad, will by the irony of history lead to self-deceit, crime, and crack-up.
The intrusion of the CIA into American intellectual life is a manifestation of the country’s crack-up through the instrumentalities of containment. It represents the demoralized conviction that no one is to be trusted and that free men opposed to Communism cannot remain free unless they are coordinated into the anti-Communist system and manipulated by anti-Communist programmers. When the CIA deceives free minds in order to contain Communism it is actually engaged in containing freedom by segregating individuals from one another and habituating them to control. The suspicion of one another aroused among intellectuals, trade unionists, and students by the CIA exposes, by its resemblance to conditions in totalitarian countries, the nature of the threat that has grown up in his country in the epoch of containment.
Richard H. Rovere: Among Americans for Democratic Action there has been doctrinal controversy over Hubert Humphrey’s enthusiasm for American policy in Vietnam. The ADA doves, who far outnumber the hawks, consider Humphrey a backslider. Humphrey insists that it is those in the anti-war majority who have lapsed into heresy: he hasn’t left the church, but just about everyone else has. Though wanting in candor and relevance, this argument seems to me historically sound. The ADA, to which I have never belonged, was established as a militantly anti-Communist organization. Over the years, its leaders have been more conspicuous as advocates than as critics of American foreign policy. Along with other liberal anti-Communists, they certainly did help to “create a climate . . . favorable to the war in Vietnam.” Now they are appalled to discover where anti-Communism has led them, and they want out. But it is they more than Humphrey who have changed. Dean Rusk’s speeches put one very much in mind of the kind of thing one heard at rallies of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom fifteen years ago—or, for that matter, the kind of thing one read at the time in the columns of this magazine. Hubert Humphrey, Walt Rostow, Paul Douglas, John Roche, and Max Ascoli have kept the faith.
I do not think it is a faith worth keeping or that there is anything commendable in Humphrey’s obdurate and highly suspect orthodoxy. But it should, I believe, be acknowledged that the war in Vietnam has brought about, or perhaps merely revealed, great changes in attitudes and opinions in the liberal and intellectual communities. I have little doubt that if history had moved at a somewhat swifter pace in Southeast Asia and we had faced in the late 40’s or early 50’s the circumstances we now face in Vietnam, most of today’s liberal doves would have been liberal hawks. Anti-Communism in those days had a powerful grip on most liberals. Few of them criticized President Truman’s conduct of the war in Korea, and while there are important differences between Korea in 1950 and Vietnam in 1967, there are more similarities than most liberals like to admit. Moreover, no matter what Dwight Macdonald’s present opinion may be, President Johnson has not thus far been less circumspect in his prosecution of this war than President Truman was in the other. There was hideous bloodletting in Korea, and few liberals protested it; in Berlin and elsewhere, we have run large risks of general war, and the government, as a rule, has had liberal support, even when the President was Eisenhower.
Two things, I think, have led former supporters of American foreign policy to become its opponents. One is the mere passage of time. After so many years of cold war and crises, Vietnam is somehow just de trop. It seems too large and too expensive and too long. If there were any kind of assurance that it could be satisfactorily cleaned up in a few months, a good deal of the opposition to it would vanish. But more important, I think, and especially among liberals, is a realization of the awful inadequacy of anti-Communism as a foundation for a global policy. Twenty or even ten years ago, nearly all Americans believed that there was something in the world that could be properly described as “international Communism” and that it threatened world peace, human freedom, and American security. Had we given the matter the thought it deserved, we might have concluded, no later than 1948, when Tito’s Yugoslavia broke with Stalin’s Russia, that there really was no such thing, that national interest was more powerful than ideology, and that while we might on occasion find it advisable to resist the outward thrust of certain Communist nations, it made absolutely no sense to have a foreign policy directed against an alliance that did not exist. (The Communists, of course, were as mistaken as we were. They thought they were part of a great international movement, and their awakening, one imagines, must have been far more discomforting than ours.) At any rate, the lesson has been learned by most American liberals and has turned them into doves. People who used to say there are things worse than war now say there are things worse than Communism and that the war in Vietnam is one of them.
While it seems to me clear and worth remarking that the liberal anti-Communists bear much of the responsibility for creating the present “climate of opinion favorable to the war in Vietnam,” I am uncertain as to how much importance should be attached to what I take to be the fact. Would things have been different if they had used their brains more than they did and seen through the myth of anti-Communism a decade or two earlier? It might, I suppose, have made a good deal of difference, especially if they could have convinced John F. Kennedy at the outset of his administration that their view of Communism should govern his foreign policy. But the principal lesson in all this, I think, is to be skeptical of the prevailing liberal dogmas today. Senator Fulbright, it seems to me, often talks as much nonsense as Secretary Rusk, and I do not find it difficult to imagine a COMMENTARY symposium ten or fifteen years hence dealing with some contemporary disaster and asking whether we were led into it by the anti-war liberals of the mid-60’s.
In my misspent youth, I was briefly a Communist, but I have never been an anti-Communist—an admission that may interest the FBI. What I mean is that anti-Communism has never seemed to me to be anything like a point of view. I am against a good many things, Communism among them, but I do not care to describe myself in terms of my antipathies, and I didn’t particularly like to be described, as I sometimes was in the early 50’s, as an anti-anti-Communist, though the term did have a certain accuracy as applied to me. I belonged for a time to the American Committee for Cultural Freedom but quit when it became clear that the organization was anti-Communist and little else. On questions of foreign policy, though, I subscribed to the prevailing view, and I suppose that as a writer I probably did make a a small personal contribution to the mess we are in today. I am very sorry about this.
While I would be happy to see the day when anti-Communism no longer occupies the place it presently has in American foreign policy, I continue to think that Communism is one of the things our foreign policy might be directed against. Not by military interventions in Southeast Asia, not by large-scale military-aid programs, but by most of the other means available. Most Communist governments continue to be mischief-makers in the world at large. In what I have seen of the underdeveloped world, the Communists contribute little of value and do little more than get in the way of people who are trying to organize decent and reasonably open societies. I think it is worthwhile to assist many anti-Communist governments and even to give them a certain amount of military assistance in maintaining internal security and in resisting aggression. (I am not one of those who think we had no business at all in going to the aid of the government in South Vietnam. I think we had an obligation to do so and that our role in lending assistance was as defensible as our present role as a belligerent is indefensible.) But I see no merit at all in anti-Communism as the basic doctrine of American diplomacy or in any view of life or politics that can be encompassed in the term anti-Communist.
I must confess that I have not entirely sorted out my feelings about the CIA and its role in postwar American life. I have been a contributor to Encounter, and my suspicions about its origins and its finances arose well before my last association with it. I can think of many occasions in the past when it is more than likely that I was—or at least that the CIA thought I was and may have been right in so thinking—serving some CIA interest. Because I cannot recall an occasion when I did or said anything I did not want to do or say, I have felt no personal guilt. But I am now inclined to think that I have let myself off too lightly. Other people were being deceived and betrayed, and, while I was not sure of this at the time but nevertheless suspected that something fishy might be going on, I lent myself to the system of deception. I will not knowingly do so again, and I will be more diligent in checking up on my hunches. Meanwhile, I would like to see the President and the Congress put an end to the whole business.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: I write as an unrepentant anti-Communist—unrepentant because there seems to me no other conceivable position for a liberal to take. There was a time when some liberals may have regarded Communism as a more rigorous and uncompromising extension of liberalism and even felt morally intimidated by the presumed superior purity and devotion of the Communists. I do not see how any liberal could possibly feel that way after the last thirty years of world history. It is surely not necessary in 1967 to insist that liberalism and Communism have nothing in common, either as to the means or the ends of government, either as to principle or practice.
In principle, as its adherents readily admit, Communism is an all-encompassing monolithic faith requiring obligatory and total belief in the infallibility of a deterministic theory of history, according to which all societies must proceed along the same predestined path through the same predestined stages to the same predestined conclusions. In practice, this profoundly anti-liberal, anti-democratic conviction of infallibility is embodied in a party or, more precisely, in the temporary leadership of a party which, in the name of its self-appointed infallibility, has not hesitated to practice the most cruel deceits and to commit the most terrible crimes.
The question therefore does not seem to me one of “anti-Communism.” How can a liberal be anything else? The question rather is the weight to be given to anti-Communism among all the factors shaping decisions of public policy. For, though Communism is an important issue, it is not the only issue in the world. There is no doubt that some people, even perhaps some liberals, have become obsessive in their anti-Communism, consider it the only problem on the horizon, subordinate everything else to it, allow it to swallow up every other consideration and value. Obsessive anti-Communism blinds its victims to the realities of a changing world. It is the enemy of sensible policy.
Sensible policy obviously must reject obsessive anti-Communism. But it must also, in my view, incorporate rational anti-Communism—by which I mean anti-Communism graduated in mode and substance according to the character of the threat. Thus in the 1930’s and 40’s, when Communism was a relatively unified and disciplined international force, when all Communist parties took their orders from Moscow or lost their status in the Communist movement, when within the United States Communists had penetrated labor unions, the liberal community, even the government, when in the developing world Communism expected to sweep all before it, and when every extension of Communism meant the automatic extension of Russian national power: then Communism—Stalinism—posed a grave threat to the democratic world. The measures taken to confront that threat—in essence, the policy of containment—seemed to me then, and seem to me now, rational, wise, and brave.
But the situation of contemporary Communism is obviously different; and the fallacy—and tragedy—of current United States policy, it would seem to me, is that we are trying to deal with polycentrist Communism today in terms of stereotypes and strategies left over from the fight a generation ago against Stalinism. We have thus permitted rational anti-Communism to yield to obsessive anti-Communism. For two essential points distinguish the character of the Communist problem today from what it was as late as the time of the Korean war.
- The end of Communism as a unified movement: the quarrel between Russia and China is much more than simply a row between the two leading Communist powers. Its ultimate importance is that it means the elimination of any sole and single center of authority in the Communist world. It means therefore the end of the unity both of Communist discipline and of Communist ideology. It means that Communist parties and states are now set free to respond to national concerns and to pursue national policies. Not all Communist parties will do this, at least at once; but it is clear that in this polycentrist age the extension of Communism no longer necessarily carries with it the automatic extension of Russian—or of Chinese—national power. The fact that a state has a Communist regime is no longer evidence that it will serve as the obedient instrumentality of Russian or Chinese aggression.
- The failure of Communism as a revolutionary movement: even the most obsessive anti-Communist, Mr. William Buckley perhaps excepted, can no longer claim with a straight face that Communism presents an internal revolutionary threat in the United States. In general, in spite of Marx’s expectation that Communism, as the climax of the modernization process, would come first in the most developed countries, it is in exactly these countries where Communism is least dangerous—where, indeed, instead of bourgeois nations undergoing communization, Communist parties are becoming bourgeoisified. Thirty years ago, during the depression, Communism cast a powerful spell on young people in the democratic world adrift on a sea of economic insecurity. Today the glitter of modernity in the West casts an even more powerful spell on the young people within the bleak and tacky Communist empire.
And even in the underdeveloped world—in which the Communists, contrary to Marx, have come to repose their final hope—Communism has been a spectacular bust as a revolutionary creed. At the end of the Second World War the old colonial empires were breaking up. Deep-running revolutionary demands for social change and modernization were sweeping Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The third world looked like a set-up for the Communists. Even some liberals became mesmerized by the conviction that Communism must ineluctably ride to power on the nationalist upheavals of the underdeveloped nations. One still finds, even among liberals, lingering traces of this defeatism.
Perhaps these pessimists may in the end turn out to be right. But the historian is bound to note that in the generation since the end of the Second World War, in spite of the multiplication of states which has enlarged the membership of the United Nations from 50 at San Francisco in 1945 to 122 today, Communism has come to power in only three underdeveloped countries. The Communists won out in China and North Vietnam essentially because they were able to place themselves at the head of nationalist movements during the Second World War. The other major Communist success—Cuba—was a special case; Castro led a democratic revolution and then personally carried his country into the Communist empire. In the rest of the third world—despite social revolutions, as in Bolivia, Egypt, Algeria; despite pro-Communist nationalist leaders, as in Indonesia and Ghana; despite a heavy investment around the planet of Communist money and zeal, Chinese as well as Russian—Communism has thus far on the record proved itself a flop.
The upheavals in the underdeveloped world have very often produced regimes which do not much like the West or the United States; but these new nationalist states do not much like Communism either. Nationalism is a far more powerful force in the third world than Communism—and Communism has made gains only as it has disguised itself as nationalism. If containment of China becomes the problem, then the best agency of such containment will probably be not the armed intervention of white men from across the sea but the local nationalism of Asian peoples. The two heaviest blows recently suffered by Peking, besides those it has been inflicting on itself—the destruction of the Communist party in Indonesia and the declaration of independence by Communist North Korea—were struck by local nationalism, without benefit of American troops, money, or exhortation.13 In the unpredictable future, the best barrier against an aggressive Communist state may in some circumstances even lie in the national Communism of neighboring states.
These two developments—the end of Communism as a unified movement, and its failure as a revolutionary creed—obviously have altered the character of the problem Communism creates for the democratic world from what it was in the days of Stalin. With these preliminary remarks, let me comment briefly on COMMENTARY’S three questions:
- The contribution of the anti-Communist Left to the American folly in Vietnam seems to me negligible. The developments which landed us where we are today were, in my judgment and as I have argued elsewhere (The Bitter Heritage), “a triumph of the politics of inadvertence.” I doubt whether the existence of the anti-Communist Left affected one way or the other the melancholy series of small official decisions, each more or less reasonable in itself, which have now concluded in a vast catastrophe.
- The containment policy was not essentially a policy of containing Communism. It was a policy of containing the Soviet Union, a state employing its control of the international Communist movement as one means of advancing its national power. The “same principle” does not apply to Vietnam because Vietnam is a different problem. No one in his senses could suppose that Ho Chi Minh poses a threat comparable to that posed by Stalin after the Second World War or by Hitler before it. Is it seriously argued that, if Ho conquered South Vietnam, he would then move on to Hawaii and Seattle? The analogies with Korea and Munich make sense only on the assumption that our enemy in Vietnam is not Hanoi but Peking and that the Vietcong and North Vietnam are merely the creatures of a premeditated Chinese campaign of aggression. There is no evidence, so far as I know, to support the proposition that East Asian Communism is a homogeneous and centralized movement, and many reasons to doubt it. If, for example, Communist North Korea can defy and denounce Communist China, why should anyone suppose that Communist North Vietnam, a country with a thousand years’ memory of fighting the Chinese, would be more subservient to Peking?
- One essential problem raised by the disclosure of CIA covert support of left-wing groups is this: organizations of the Right in most countries get financial support from the local business communities and oligarchies; organizations of the anti-democratic Left get it from the Russians or the Chinese; but organizations of the democratic Left have no obvious and reliable sources of support. That is the gap the CIA sought in its way to fill. Perhaps the attempt was a mistake, but the problem still exists.
My own feeling is that the CIA expenditures were wholly justified at the time when they began. During the last days of Stalinism, before the Marshall Plan had restored the economic energy and moral confidence of Western Europe, the non-Communist trade-union movements and the non-Communist intellectuals were under the most severe, unscrupulous, and unrelenting pressure. For the United States government to have stood self-righteously aside at this point would have seemed to me far more shameful than to do what, in fact, it did—which was through intermediaries to provide some of these groups subsidies to help them do better what they were doing anyway. The mistake lay in the continuation of this system of subsidy beyond the time of need. As one who served in the government well after the point when the support should have been transferred to open or private sources, I admit my own error in not trying to do something more specific about the problem. (What I did try to do is accurately described by Roger Hilsman in his book, To Move a Nation, page 79.)
Communism today is a boring, squalid creed, tired, fragmented and, save in very exceptional places and circumstances, wholly uninspiring. La guerre est finie. This does not diminish the obligation of the liberal to regard Communism with contempt or to reject its absolutisms. But it does greatly transform the character of the problem Communism poses for the democratic states. It does mean that we must abandon, laborious as that effort may be, those beloved old phrases about “the international Communist conspiracy.” It does mean that we must not let such phrases betray us into foolish and perilous adventures, as in Vietnam. It does mean that rational policy will give anti-Communism the priority it deserves, which has fallen now rather low, and will move on to meet the great and serious problems of our time—the problems of the control of nuclear weapons, of the modernization of the underdeveloped world and of the humanization of industrial society—problems which Communism per se can never solve and which will yield only to the best vision and intelligence of humane democracy.
Stephen Spender: Until the recent revelations about the CIA, anti-Communism seemed to me a name covering a great many attitudes and activities of those who were either consistent reactionaries or who had become disillusioned about Communism. The so-called anti-Communists ranged from Ignazio Silone to Barry Goldwater: and these have few views in common. Moreover, I thought this was often a label applied by those who specialized in being anti-anti-Communist: anti tends to breed further degrees of anti. I never thought of myself as predominantly anti-Communist, out I recognized that I was fair prey for the anti-antis.
However, the CIA has gone a long way toward bringing up to date a seemingly outworn Communist thesis: that all who disagree with Communism can be classified as one “class enemy.” The appraisal which led the CIA to support many left-wing individuals and organizations showed its agreement with the argument often put forward by party stalwarts in the 30’s—that liberals were more dangerous opponents of Communism than conservatives, and that social democrats were “social Fascists.”
In spite of this, I feel under no obligation to accept an overall interpretation of my attitudes as read by either the CP or the CIA. In answer to your first question, I do not feel that the fact that my “name has been associated with the anti-Communist Left” makes me in any way “responsible for American policies in Vietnam.” I feel responsible only for what I myself have felt about Vietnam. I wrote about this a year ago, in answer to a questionnaire sent to writers by an English publishing house: that the Americans should stop bombing the North, but that they should also refuse to be driven out until they have made the kind of peace which is not a complete betrayal of their supporters in South Vietnam. I supported Senator Fulbright and the “enclave” theory. I am aware of the inadequacy today of such an attitude, but I mention it to show that having been what is called anti-Communist does not make me feel responsible for American policies in Vietnam.
There was and is, though, justification for holding views which may expose one again to the risk of being called “anti-Communist.” I would defend being vigilant about Communism, even when confronted by situations in which there is a great deal to be said for Communist solutions of problems. My sense of the importance of vigilance—and Of indeed trying to make some of my colleagues similarly aware—began at the time of Stalin, when many intellectuals accepted Communism out of despair at what passes for democracy in the democracies. Later, after the war, when country after country in Eastern Europe became Communist, one could not help noticing that many of those intellectuals who had helped to bring about Communism in their countries, regretted having done so. I knew something of the tragedies of Benes and Masaryk (Benes had told me that he had no fear of the local Communists making a coup, as he had a direct telephone line to his friend Stalin), and I met many Polish writers. I also met Rakosi, the Hungarian Communist dictator, an ex-prisoner who knew how to be his country’s jailer.
The fact that the sympathizers regretted Communism after the event is not so important as the fact that in their own countries they were not allowed to say so.
It is true that capitalism is, in theory, and sometimes in practice, a worse kind of materialism than the Communist variety. Also there are many countries today which seem to require some kind of dictatorship which would cut ruthlessly to the root of their problems, if they are to resolve them. These include several South American countries, some Asian and African ones, and, if it is viewed in the light of problems needing draconian measures, perhaps even India (though I think India should find a democratic way out). There are also countries like South Africa and Rhodesia, and countries in South America, where Communism would seem preferable to the frightful inequalities as between rich and poor, race and race, now going on.
Yet when intellectuals accept the necessity of Communism, they also accept the necessity of doing away with their own intellectual freedom. They are abdicating the independence of the individual standpoint outside the political centers, in favor of a choice which, as far as freedom is concerned, is a gambler’s throw of the freedom card on the table, in the hope it will win the jackpot of social justice. Once the card is thrown, no further choices are made. This has been sufficiently demonstrated.
It would be almost gratifying to be able to say—as we were disposed to do in the 30’s—that intellectual freedom is a middle-class luxury of self-expression which must in certain conditions of poverty, inequality, and discrimination all come to a revolutionary crisis, be sacrificed for an imposed juster order in which the individual no longer counts except as a social unit. However, the decision having been made, there is no guarantee that the results will be those anticipated; or that even if they are, that when they are achieved the dictatorship will not linger on beyond the day of justified existence; but in the meantime, the critical awareness of a nation will have been delivered into the hands of the power mongers. When individualist intellectual freedom has been surrendered, it suddenly appears that none except officials has a voice that is heeded. Hence, the intellectuals do have a responsibility to be vigilant. I find myself on the verge of saying that however great their sympathies for Communism, they have a duty to be fringe anti-Communists, because they have a duty to defend intellectual freedom. They should not support choices which are irremediable.
So in answer to your question “Would you call yourself an anti-Communist today?” I can only answer that I am still prepared to adopt attitudes which would risk my being called it. Recently, when I listened to the speeches of Kosygin and Federenko at the United Nations during and after the Middle East crisis, two things struck me about them which made them seem more cynical than any speeches made by Arab, Israeli, American, or British delegates. The first was that Soviet attacks on their opponents still have the tone, the accusing vocabulary of the speeches of the public prosecutor during the Stalinist trials, speeches meant to hypnotize and bully the person attacked into a conviction of his own guilt. Secondly, that there could be no criticism in the Soviet press of a Soviet line of policy which might be switched tomorrow—and then, after the switch there would still be no criticism.
As for your question about “containment,” I think that one should study maps. As long as all the great powers have “spheres of interest,” bases, outposts in foreign countries, it seems difficult to say that the position of America in Vietnam is morally wrong in some way which makes it absolutely worse than that of the other powers. It is, rather, an accumulation of errors which have added up until today the whole sum of the politics, the history, the geography, and finally the morals comes out today as wrong, in the lives of the Vietnamese and in the consciences of many Americans who have thought and cared about the matter. It may seem cowardly to say that a colonial position becomes wrong if a sufficient number of people on the spot rebel against it, and if a sufficient number of people in the colonizing country agree with them. But this is in fact the standard we apply to Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.
If we look at maps, we find that there are parts of the world where, whatever may be our interests, it would be wrong to attempt to “contain” Communism; for the situation in them may be “revolutionary” in the popular sense; and we may not have solutions of their problems which are more viable than Communist ones. From what I have written above, it should be clear that I have no confidence in the inevitable Tightness of Communist solutions—Indonesia and Ghana offer sufficient reasons for doubt—but I am not in favor of “containing” revolution in countries which, for example, have recently become free from colonization, and where containment is therefore bound to seem like a resuscitated form of imperialism.
However, I do think that there are positions to be defended. By these, I mean “the West,” and places where people look to the West for protection and value the Western concept of freedom. Among these, I include India. And although I am certainly not in favor of any attempt to “liberate” by force Eastern Europe, we should not forget that in those countries a concept of individual freedom which people there share with the West, is all the time suppressed. What one hopes—perhaps the most one can hope—is that in the coming decade a growing Russian-American understanding will take these disputes out of the context of the cold war.
In answer to your third question, I cannot tell whether the CIA “backing of projects” was a realization of the “darker impulses of American policy,” for I do not know how dark these impulses are. I may be the dupe of the defense put up by the CIA when I say that I have the impression that some of these impulses were rather light. The motives of some of the CIA operators may have been dark, but the activities sponsored were seemingly allowed a free and independent development. The trouble which one comes back to again and again is that one doesn’t “know” what the motives of the organizers behind the organizers, the operators behind the operators, may have been, and one has and had the right, even the duty, to know. As an “intellectual” one has this right, this duty.
What happened, I think, is that the military and civilian “Intelligence” methods and policies in dealing with “the intellectuals” in some defeated and some allied countries ran over from the war into the cold war. A good many things done by Intelligence in its CIA form were, like a good many things done during the occupation, highly creditable to the organizers, though in the context of the cold war, and from the point of view of those who were providing funds, there was always “an end in view.” Not least of the disasters threatening the Congress for Cultural Freedom is the fact that excellent projects may be shelved or abandoned. The experience of the Congress showed that during and after the Stalinist period there was a consensus of intellectual opinion disillusioned by Communism which could be brought together on a broadly anti-Communist platform as a forum of discussion. What was wrong was that behind the front of the intellectuals expressing their sincere opinions and exercising their genuine freedom of speech, there was the inner circle of Intelligence, those exploiting the diversity of opinion in the interests of a policy concealed from the participants.
There are practical reasons for objecting to these methods, apart from the overriding one of objecting to lies. When the methods were exposed (as they were surely bound to be), confidence was destroyed between people who had long worked together. It is not just that the free were duped but that they were made to appear dupes, and sometimes unjustly made to appear hypocrites. The CIA operation added to that discrediting of individual freedom which has already taken place in the Communist world, where those who are sent abroad to attend congresses, conferences, etc., only exercise the freedom to represent a society in which there is not freedom. To adapt McLuhan: the methods become the message, and these methods were all too similar to those of the totalitarianism we were opposing.
The CIA introduced an element of back-room politics into intellectual activities which had previously been free of such things. The defense is now being made that they did so because the Communists were doing the same thing. But this defense amounts to self-condemnation.
A few days ago the literary editor of a national newspaper in England said to me: “After all, it isn’t surprising that you were lied to about the CIA support for Encounter. Everything is lies nowadays.” If so, what is new today is that methods familiar enough in party politics should be introduced into the conduct of a magazine professing standards of intellectual integrity. It does seem surprising to me that one editor—the American—should have concealed from his English colleagues the fact known to him—now, on his own admission—for the past four years that the magazine had up till 1963 received funds deriving from the CIA, and that, having this knowledge, he should have misled his colleagues into making false statements denying this.
The row over the CIA will have been a good thing if, after this, there is an entirely new start. This would mean, obviously, that neither money nor personnel should come from disguised sources for what are supposedly open and disinterested activities. It should mean also that those who receive money should look much more closely at the sources. I have suggested elsewhere that there should be a form of contract between the foundations and those who receive funds from them, guaranteeing that the funds do actually come from the stated sources. For them not to do so is by implication already a damaging breach of contract since, quite apart from all the other objections, it is harmful to the recipient’s reputation.
Diana Trilling: In the limited space available, I shall make extended response only to your first question. My answers to the other questions you ask can be briefly summed up as follows: I am still an anti-Communist, as I have long been. I am opposed to the Vietnam war—which should indicate that I do not think containment of Communism is advisable or possible under all circumstances, or by whatever means without regard to the circumstances. My opposition to the Vietnam war is practical more than moral: I do not think the war will accomplish what it set out to; rather the contrary. Although I deplore all secret subsidies of intellectual projects, I also deplore the suggestion that liberal anti-Communism was “a slave to the darker impulses of American foreign policy.” In the CIA-supported activities with which I had some acquaintance, those of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, I never knew any intellectual who did anything that was not wholly consonant with his own thought and conscience; and often these activities contradicted, even subverted, our foreign policy of the time. Dupes, yes—anyone who is deceived is a dupe. Now to your first question.
It is in an article (which you do not name) by Jason Epstein, “The CIA and the Intellectuals,” in the New York Review of Books of April 20, 1967 that we find the first, to my knowledge, formulation of the idea that the anti-Communism of the Left is responsible for the war in Vietnam, or at least created a climate of opinion favorable to it. While I should be glad to give Mr. Epstein full credit for this inspired proposition, actually his article is to be noted only for the energy with which it carries the evolving anti-anti-Communism of more than three decades to its present logical outcome. The process of this development through the years has necessarily reflected changing conditions in the world and the accommodations these have required. It has therefore not always followed a single straight path from its original premises. Its chief premise has nevertheless persisted: the belief that opposition to Communism constitutes a political, social, and cultural backwardness. I am of course aware that not only in the general population of America but even in the political histories of certain anti-Communist intellectuals there may be found substantiation for this opinion. But the widely-held idea that political and cultural reaction is an inevitable corollary or consequence of the anti-Communist position is a folly that has been irresponsibly if not maliciously promoted by those of different views on the Communist issue and has done incalculable damage in the modern intellectual world, indeed in the democratic world.
The history of this belief is worth tracing briefly. It took root in American intellectual life, and also in that circle of the general life of the nation which most closely borders the professional intellectual community, as far back as the early 30’s, with the arrival on the scene of the first wave of disaffected Marxist intellectuals. Although it was only a handful of ex-radicals who reacted from their former Communist commitment by an extreme swing to the political Right, they made themselves felt and heard, enough to constitute a warning against the retrograde fate that could await the ex-Stalinist. And a new crop of Stalinist sympathizers being already in the making, it was expectable enough that all forms of opposition to Communism, the liberal together with the illiberal, should be merged in the minds of these fresh converts, as a manifestation of the Right. For if the allegiance to Communism was taken to be the position of the Left, where else except on the Right did one locate one’s opponents?
The rise of Nazism in Germany and the Spanish Civil War were the chief events of the 30’s to foster and solidify this view, for in both of these developments the left-wing intellectuals effectively assimilated the anti-Fascist cause to the Communist cause. Since Communism was fighting Franco, Communism could not be put to question; whoever did put it to question, particularly for its role in Spain itself, was an “objective Fascist.” The singleness of vision which demanded that one keep one’s eye on the one enemy, Fascism, also effectively blinded the intellectuals to the fact that the Soviet Union preferred to sacrifice Germany to Hitler rather than allow a possible victory to the social democrats—the left-wing American intellectual continued to entrust the anti-Fascist struggle to the Communists, as the party of the Left. And even when the Nazi-Soviet pact revaled how little faith could be put in Soviet Russia as leader and guardian of the anti-Fascist effort, there remained to left-wing intellectuals from their earlier Stalinist commitment the comforting opinion that although anti-Communists might have been correct in not giving their entire allegiance to Soviet Communism, they had been correct for the wrong reasons, out of concern for capitalism rather than democracy. By the time Hitler had attacked Russia and Russia had become our ally in the anti-Nazi war, Communism had regained the left-wing confidence it had temporarily lost, and a new “liberal” position had been formulated: in making the pact with Hitler, Russia had been temporizing, as how could she not have done, weakened as she had been by her internal problems and by the difficulties placed in her way by the Western powers. We who were ourselves so much less than ideal, who had refused to intervene against Franco, and who had been so tardy in recognizing the Nazi threat, had scarcely the right to pass judgment on the beleaguered Soviet Union. Communism needed only our generosity and understanding (so ran the argument) to be rendered our permanent friend—hence Yalta.
Thus the rift between the anti-Communist intellectuals, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the intellectuals who defined their liberalism by their unwillingness to oppose Communism took shape and established itself over two decades. And now McCarthy appeared on the political scene, to polarize the two factions, anti-Communist and anti-anti-Communist, still more sharply.
Both these designations, as well as the alternative name which was then given the anti-anti-Communists, “civil-libertarians,” were inaccurate—dangerously so—as descriptions of what they referred to. The anti-Communist faction was made to include pro-McCarthy anti-Communists along with anti-McCarthy anti-Communists, without distinction. This was of course inevitable inasmuch as the division which now obtained in the intellectual community was neither new nor solely, nor even primarily, a response to McCarthyism—as I say, it had already existed for two decades and was grounded in the assumption that where there is opposition to Communism, there liberalism is not and cannot be. The term “civil-libertarian” was similarly inaccurate in that it proposed that the unwillingness to oppose Communism, even though it required that one ignore the abrogation of freedom under the Communist totalitarianism, made a proper measure of the libertarian dedication. In the fierce antagonism between the two factions, however, what suffered the worst defeat was liberalism itself, even intelligence itself. Both liberalism and reason were deserted by the anti-Communists who could suppose that McCarthy’s method of combating Communism could be theirs. And both liberalism and reason were betrayed by the anti-anti-Communists who believed that because Communism was being fought by the wrong means, McCarthy’s, it had to be protected.
And so we come to the late 50’s and to the 60’s, and to the transformations that have taken place in the anti-Communist/anti-anti-Communist struggle since McCarthy’s time. The significant change is not one of principle but of battleground. It is not that anti-anti-Communist sentiment has shifted its target: dissent from and opposition to America vis-à-vis the Soviet Union remains at the root of the anti-anti-Communist preference. There was always the belief that American power is matched only by American error; the fact that Soviet power has grown to equal ours has not produced a parallel equation.
But if America remains the target, the field of combat has changed, from politics to culture. There is now no longer even the pretense that it is different political systems that we choose between as we decide between democracy and Communism. It is no longer the structure of the economy that we have in mind when we talk about capitalism versus Communism, and it is no longer political decisions and their actual political consequences that we examine when we put ourselves to matters of foreign policy. Now our political decisions refer not to politics but to sensibility, to cultural view and tone. Where formerly we might indeed bring general considerations of culture, especially as culture presents itself to the literary intelligence, to bear on politics—it made for that valuable hyphenated category, literary-political—today considerations of culture are our sole preoccupation; the assessment of actual political problems is scornfully left to those of small imagination. In the intellectual community the modes of thought and feeling appropriate to literature triumph dramatically over the modes of thought demanded by politics.
Nothing if not a man of his cultural moment, Mr. Epstein has produced, with his article in the New York Review of Books, the archetypical pronouncement of this stage in the development of American anti-anti-Communism. It would be difficult to discover a better instance of the cultural mode in politics than Mr. Epstein’s as he discusses “the” issue which has divided left- and right-wing intellectuals in recent years. “The issue was deeper,” writes Mr. Epstein, by which he means deeper than that of “who should control the engines of the economy or how the wealth should be distributed. . . . It had to do not with who controlled and benefited from the exploitation of the land and the people, but with the very fact of exploitation itself. The facts,” Mr. Epstein goes on, “are clearer now than they were ten years ago. Then it surprised us to find that the country seemed to have fallen into a frenzy of self-destruction, tearing its cities apart, fouling its landscapes, poisoning the streams and skies, trivializing the education of its children. . . . What we were experiencing was the familiar philistine expansionism (of which the Vietnamese are only the latest victims).”
We do not have to be deluded that America is becoming daily more beautiful, or that our air is pure, or that our children are being properly educated, to see the way in which Mr. Epstein’s approach to politics connects with the old anti-anti-Communist position. It is American culture only that Mr. Epstein puts to the test; that of the Communist countries requires no comparative study. For to bring Communism, even Communist culture, under critical inspection of the kind we undertake in relation to our own country is to suggest a form of dissent from Communism which, as I say, has always, in the left-wing view, constituted a backwardness.
Nor is it of course solely a cultural preference that Mr. Epstein is announcing. He explicitly tells us what is the political choice that follows on his cultural choice. The difference between Left and Right, Mr. Epstein explains, is determined by the quality and force and direction of our cultural awareness. Depending on how we respond to the poisoning of our streams and skies we will take either a left- or a right-wing position on—say—the Vietnam war. Whoever abhors polluted air and desecrated landscapes will have adequate ground on which to judge American foreign policy. He will recognize it in all its “philistine expansionism.” What further guide to decision in foreign affairs does anyone need?
Here, then, is where we have been brought by thirty years of anti-anti-Communism. Not that Mr. Epstein himself traces the historical development as I do; he has as little regard, indeed, for historical fact as he has for political actuality: his survey of the same period in our intellectual history with which I deal makes no mention of anti-anti-Communism. As Mr. Epstein sees these last three decades, there was never any significant split in American intellectual life, there were only varying manifestations of anti-Communism on which the CIA moved in. Only when the light of culture began to illuminate the scene some ten years ago—the new visibility was significantly coincidental with the death of Stalin—did the division between Left and Right reveal itself as the rift between those who can tolerate and those who reject the culture of America and the politics which generates or follows from it.
In other words, not only does Mr. Epstein write off the historical record everything which had to do with whether it was from the Left, the Right, or the middle that one refused the Communist option. So apocalyptic is his view of our American situation that it renders meaningless and unnecessary any judgment upon Communism. Where once the unwillingness to oppose Communism was sufficient evidence that one was a person of the Left, today this validation demands another more positive assertion—an extreme avowal of one’s hatred and contempt for America.
The question his article does not pose, however, is the question one now must put to Mr. Epstein: if the nature and degree of one’s non-Communism are of no account whatsoever, and all that does count is one’s opposition to America, what reason can there be not to throw in one’s lot with that most powerful and best defined opposition to America, Communism? Why should one not be a Communist? In the answer to that question lies, I suspect, the future evolution of the anti-anti-Communist sentiment—unless, perhaps, another logic of its development be enforced, the option for anarchism, with its refusal of all political structure.
Lionel Trilling: 1. In some meaning of the word, but not, I believe, in the meaning intended by your question, I feel “responsible” for the war in Vietnam—I feel responsible as a citizen of my country: the war is something I have to answer for. I feel no responsibility whatever for the war in the sense of the word that signifies that it is “my fault.” I cannot give even the beginning of credence to the idea that my views as a liberal anti-Communist helped bring about the war. These views have never either affirmed or implied the necessity or the desirability of the war. The “charge” that they contributed to the creation of a “climate of opinion favorable to the war” might mean that they had this effect apart from their actual substance. If so, it is patent nonsense. The position of liberal anti-Communism, as I understand it and adhere to it, has never been influential, quite the reverse; at least in the section of the country that I inhabit, the climate of opinion has been created by people whose winds of doctrine, or sensibility, blow in the other direction.
In times of stress and confusion it is not uncommon for clever, thinking people to find comfort in searching out clandestine responsibilities, such as those assigned to witches and Jews; in the 30’s and 40’s it was a thing to say that the poets and philosophers of the Romantic movement were responsible for Nazism.
2. Perhaps it is already clear that I would by all means call myself an anti-Communist today.
I would indeed be willing to support a policy of containing the spread of Communism. I would not be willing to support any policy of containing the spread of Communism. I do not assume that there is no other means of containment than that of military force.
My opposition to Communism is less based than formerly on what you call moral grounds, more on political grounds (although these do not seem to me to be narrow). This shift in emphasis is to be partly explained by a revision of my estimate of the feasibility of democratic government in all circumstances. I recall the acute uneasiness I used to feel whenever there came to mind the remark of John Stuart Mill that there were occasions when the political tradition of a people made democracy impracticable. It seemed to me that to say this was virtually to abrogate the whole ethic of liberalism, that it was immoral to accept that democracy was not available to all peoples at any stage in their history. It now seems to me that experience enforces the truth of Mill’s observations. The assumptions and habits that make democratic government possible are not present in the tradition of every people. Mill took it for granted that, failing a democracy, the natural and most promising form of government was monarchy. At the present juncture, the form of government that is likely to propose itself, or be proposed, to a nation that seeks to transcend its past in order to exist in the modern world will most likely be a form of authoritarian socialism having close affinities with Communism, probably calling itself Communist, borrowing some of the mystique and methods of the first Communist nation.
This, I believe, has to be accepted. There will be those who accept it as a good in itself, expressing by this judgment their disaffection from a parliamentary democracy that is bound up with capitalism. My own acceptance is of a pis aller and it is made possible by my hope that the authoritarian aspects of such governments as I here envisage will come short of totalitarianism and will, with the passage of time, meliorate toward actual democracy. Up to the death of Stalin this hope was scarcely to be entertained, but developments since that event may be thought to lend it the color of possibility.
In taking this position I do not relinquish my sense of the aggressive potential of Communism and I am prepared to suppose that a growing congeries of Communist nations might form an actively anti-democratic bloc of significant power. As against this I would put the factor of nationalism, whose divisive influence has in some measure become—the irony is instructive—a beneficent element of world politics. These are matters that cannot be prejudged and must be dealt with pragmatically as occasions emerge.
3. It goes without saying that the CIA’s covert backing of cultural and political projects, many of which were admirable in themselves, was a disaster in our national life. The unhappy business is not to be defended, but its actual meaning requires to be rationally estimated. One aspect of the disaster is the license that has been given to the voluptuous moralizing that issues in the insensate and vulgar judgments you paraphrase. Of the liberal anti-Communists I know who took part in the covertly backed enterprises none were “slaves” to anything. Since they were by intention not informed of the sponsorship of the enterprises, they are to be thought of as having been treated with less than becoming respect, and perhaps that makes them “dupes.” If so, they were not dupes of “the darker impulses of American foreign policy.” The essence of the misfortune is that much that was in itself admirable has been compromised in public view by association with what was in part bad, in part inappropriate, as a result of which its good faith has been brought into question. But only bad faith will pretend to settle the question by the judgments to which you refer.
Dennis H. Wrong: I can’t help feeling that there is something slightly comic in the implications of COMMENTARY’S questions. Are the 40’s and 50’s now to be stood on their heads while we beat our breasts and fill the air with mea culpas to atone for the anti-Communism we adopted in reacting against previous illusions, shared by some of us, about Communism? Surely, such a spectacle would powerfully confirm the suspicion that left-wing intellectuals are a peculiarly unstable, self-flagellating breed. And one cannot help wondering what the new penitential act of the next decade will turn out to be: which of our current beliefs will we be cravenly apologizing for when history produces, as it certainly will, new surprises for us?
The anti-Communism of the Left contributed something to the national mood supporting American cold-war policies, which now include the war in Vietnam. But let us not exaggerate the influence as some anti-Communist liberals exaggerated the influence of domestic Communists on American society and foreign policy only to discover that there was always a McCarthy or a Welch to go them one better. Anyway, who on the Left ever indiscriminately favored any and all forms of opposition to Communism, abroad as well as at home? To reject Communist regimes and their spread never implied approval of everything done in the name of anti-Communism. Hitler, after all, was—most of the time, at least—an anti-Communist.
Quite early in the cold war, liberal and radical anti-Communists were forced to consider which national policies resisting Communism—both those adopted and those merely proposed—they were prepared to support and which policies they felt obliged to reject because they violated other traditional values of the Left. Few of them during the period of the American nuclear monopoly favored preventive war against the Soviet Union and few were prepared to risk a third world war at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. Liberal and radical anti-Communists have criticized American alliances with or aid to such anti-Communist states as Formosa, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, a brace of Latin American dictatorships, and South Vietnam under Diem. They opposed direct and indirect American military interventions in Guatemala, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The anti-Communist Left disliked and feared and did not hesitate to attack the Dullesian vision of a Manichean world struggle between the “international Communist conspiracy” and the “free world.” On the other hand, most anti-Communist liberals and socialists supported the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, the creation of NATO (though often with reservations), intervention in Korea, and the forced removal of Russian missile bases from Cuba.
It is tiresome to have to review this familiar recent history, but I do so only in order to make the obvious point that Vietnam hardly represents the first time that anti-Communist Leftists have dissented from American foreign policy in the last twenty years. The war in Vietnam has become, to be sure, the most morally and politically indefensible project to which the United States has committed itself since 1945 and perhaps in American history. Yet I do not see that the anti-Communist Left need have a bad conscience in opposing it, either out of a feeling of betrayal of its past anti-Communism or out of a sense of guilty responsibility for its share in creating the anti-Communist ideology now invoked to justify the war. Moreover, it is worth noting that of the anti-Communist policies listed above which the anti-Communist Left has supported, all except the last one—the Cuban missiles crisis—originated over fifteen years ago. If we view the anti-Communist Left in the large as a more or less coherent and enduring political tendency, it has always been selective in its judgments of American foreign policy and has become increasingly critical since the early 1950’s. Thus no obvious moral and ideological inconsistency is involved in now opposing the Vietnam war after having given support to earlier American cold-war policies.
The matter is more complex, however, when the anti-Communist Left is seen as the capacious political home of a variety of groups and individuals with differing relations to Communism, anti-Communism, and the official agencies that have carried out American foreign policy. The labor movement is presumably part of the anti-Communist Left and most labor leaders have clung to a cold-war posture of early 50’s vintage that is even more inflexible than Dean Rusk’s. For them, as for much of the American public, anti-Communism has become simply a component of American patriotism as such, resulting in ritual assent to almost any action the government undertakes. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that they reflect the sentiments of their membership.
In the intellectual community, some who came of political age in the factional struggles of the 30’s and early 40’s failed to adjust to the new situation created when anti-Communism—or anti-Stalinism, to give it its proper name—which had long been a courageous and principled minority position on the Left, suddenly became the basis of national policy. What had previously been a parochial fight for the allegiance of a still nonexistent mass movement developed into a struggle for Europe and even the world. By the early 1950’s history seemed to have vindicated in the most dramatic fashion possible the isolated, beleaguered, crankily idealistic anti-Stalinist Left, long assailed or patronized by more powerful groups ranging from Rightists, unwilling to distinguish Stalinists from Trotskyites or Norman Thomas socialists, to the liberal survivors of the Popular Front era for whom sympathetic understanding of the Soviet Union remained the ultimate test of political virtue. When the struggle for the soul of the Left emerged as the central issue of contemporary history, the old anti-Stalinist minority woke up to discover that its knowledge of Communist history and the Marxist texts, once dismissed as quaintly esoteric, had become a national resource. Some intellectuals lost all sense of proportion in this situation. I remember being told in 1952 that a vote for Stevenson was “objectively” pro-Communist. Another Old Left partisan wrote in a mass circulation magazine that the most urgent task of the day was “to make Communists unrespectable” in the eyes of the American public. This in 1952! I have no wish to name names, but it should be added that the proponents of these arguments were not among those few intellectuals whose anti-Communism became so mono-maniacal that they ended up repudiating the Left altogether and moving to the extreme Right.
It was in this intellectual climate that funds for all sorts of cultural and intellectual projects were suddenly made available by foundations, universities, the State Department and, as we have recently learned in confirmation of longstanding suspicions, the CIA. Now the demagogic and racketeering exploitation of popular anti-Communism in domestic politics was an old story to the Left; McCarthyism was merely the latest and most successful instance of it. But there could be no certainty that the United States government itself might not undertake highly questionable actions abroad in resisting real or imagined Communist expansion once anti-Communism had become virtually an official ideology and national mission. The United States had, after all, never before assumed such world responsibilities, its politicians and bureaucrats were not notoriously sophisticated and enlightened, and an anti-Communist foreign policy was bound to increase the influence of the armed forces and secret intelligence services, not organizations usually regarded as uniformly benevolent by the Left. One might have expected, therefore, somewhat greater wariness toward and self-distancing from official policy and its instruments on the part of those liberal anti-Communist intellectuals who so willingly assumed the role of spokesmen for American democracy to their counterparts abroad. The charges to which COMMENTARY alludes are the price now being paid for the lack of such awareness.
I do not for a moment believe that anyone of substance in the Left intellectual community tailored his views to please the paymaster, but many were undoubtedly vaguely aware of government, if not CIA, funding and should have anticipated how this might discredit them and their enterprises at some date in the future. Actually, as is usually the case with ideological tendencies, the anti-Communist Left’s most active and visible assumption of the role of defender of the American national commitment to resist Communism came after domestic Communist sympathizers had been silenced and reduced in numbers by events, and when John Foster Dulles was busy mechanically extending policies originally devised for Europe into a world-wide formula for the military containment of Communism. By the late 50’s, only a few years after the creation of the journals, committees, and annual conferences receiving CIA support, anti-Communist liberals, horrified at the apparent acceptance by many Americans of the possibility of nuclear war and put off by American policies toward Guatemala, Quemoy and Matsu, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, were insisting, somewhat plaintively, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”
The anti-Communist Left, then, largely supported American foreign policy in the early years of the cold war when Europe was its major theater, but the Left also made a major contribution to the shift in American attitudes toward a calmer, less demoniacal view of the Communist powers during the years immediately preceding the escalation of the war in Vietnam. If the anti-Communist Left is to be assigned a share of the blame for Vietnam, it also deserves a much larger share of the credit for the nuclear test ban, the shelving of the proposed massive civil-defense program, widening recognition of the rise of polycentrism in the Communist world, and the general detente with the Soviet Union. The very decline of anti-Communist militancy in the early 60’s makes the war in Vietnam seem so tragic a reversion to a view of the world that the nation had shown signs of outgrowing. The war has given the more inflexible and reactionary anti-Communists a new lease on life as they project onto China the satanic designs formerly attributed to the Soviet Union.
Certainly I would still call myself an anti-Communist today. Communism would have to change more than it has, rather than American policies and attitudes toward it—however insupportable—before I would abandon the label, empty and meaningless though it has always been, without further specification of the grounds for being anti-Communist and the particular anti-Communist policies supported at a given time. When people like Staughton Lynd and Tom Hayden write: “. . . we refuse to be anti-Communist. We insist that the term has lost all specific content it once had. Instead it serves as the key category of abstract thought which Americans use to justify a foreign policy that is often no more sophisticated than rape . . .,” I understand their feelings but am inclined to doubt, particularly after the book they wrote about their trip to Hanoi, whether they have ever understood the “specific content” of liberal and radical anti-Communism. (I remember debating with Lynd in 1946 at Columbia—he was in his late teens, I in my early twenties—the proposition that the Soviet Union was a true socialist society and therefore the main hope in the world for human progress. The audience generally supported his affirmative view, with one exception—Nathan Glazer.)
In common with others of my political generation, I retain a certain pride in having been a “premature” anti-Communist, but I do not expect the younger generation that came of age in an entirely different period to honor and respect this. Why should they? Such Old Left slogans as the “end of innocence” and the “end of ideology” naively presupposed that successive generations learn from and build upon one another’s experience. History has always been more discontinuous, moving in fits and starts. If there is truth in Santayana’s statement—the text of so many sermons read by the Old Left to the New—that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, it is also true that one can be imprisoned by historical memories. Can any middle-aged supporter of the war in Vietnam discourse for longer than five minutes without invoking the Munich analogy?
I never supported a policy of “containing the spread of Communism” in the sense of favoring military action by the United States wherever Communist movements seemed likely to come to power. I did support, and still do, a policy of containing Russian and Chinese expansion at the expense of independent nation-states, such as occurred where the United States could do little to prevent it in Eastern Europe and Tibet, and threatened to occur in Western Europe and South Korea where the United States and its allies were able to check it by both military and non-military means. The fact that Russia and China are totalitarian societies, is, of course, not unconnected with their expansionist tendencies, but it is their power, not their repressive social orders, that necessitates resistance to their actual or threatened military aggressions. I also favor American support for Israel against Arab aggression, although the Arab states, while authoritarian, are neither Communist nor totalitarian, and I would favor it even if the Soviet Union were neutral rather than a supplier of arms to the Arabs.
The general moral principle at issue here is condemnation of military aggression and support for measures of collective security against it rather than disapproval of Communism or totalitarianism as such. In general, UN intervention, as in the Congo and, at least nominally, in Korea, is to be preferred—that, after all, is what the UN is for. But, as we all recognize, the UN is usually powerless to act except in small-scale conflicts where great-power involvement is minimal, so the burden of intervention frequently must fall upon the United States. Intervention, not to check revolutions or to take sides in civil wars, but against external aggression where there is real danger that the ensuing conflict will involve major powers, is the only kind of intervention that is justified.
How do these rules apply to Vietnam? Only by branding the Vietcong as agents of Hanoi and Hanoi as the agent of China can it be plausibly maintained that Vietnam is an instance of great-power aggression to which the tired Munich analogy and dominoes metaphor have possible relevance. And this is, of course, the Johnson administration’s justification for the war. I do not believe that the Vietcon gis the advance guard of Chinese Communism in South Vietnam, although I have no doubt they have received aid and support from North Vietnam (Hanoi’s greatest involvement, however, postdates American escalation of the war.) In short, no major Communist state, let alone a still united Russian-Chinese bloc as at the time of Korea, is sufficiently involved in the Vietnam conflict to give credence to the Munich-dominoes argument. While I do not agree with the view of some critics of the war that it is wholly a civil war within South Vietnam, South Vietnam is clearly not a viable nation-state comparable to Greece, Turkey, Israel, and other states that the United States is pledged to defend against external aggression. Thus I do not think that the “same principle” of containment which applied to Berlin, Korea, and Western Europe as a whole applies to Vietnam.
The most urgent intellectual task for the anti-Communist Left at the present is to acquire a firmer understanding of the sources of support for American anti-Communist militance abroad. (The most urgent political task is, of course, to oppose continuation of the war in Vietnam.) I do not believe that American policy must inevitably be what it is because of the fundamental structure of American society or because the “military-industrial complex” has become an irresistible and immovable Establishment. But neither can I believe that the general support of our misdirected effort in Vietnam stems purely from intellectual error. Nor is the answer to be found in examination of the impact of our military commitments on domestic political conflict, nor even in the domestic political uses of anti-Communism. We need deeper explorations of exactly what significance America’s proclaimed world role has to the citizen’s sense of himself, his place in the world, and his fears of what would happen should this role and the rhetoric sustaining it be suddenly abandoned.
1 “The American Crisis,” January 1967.
2 “Even at such a price [the destruction of Western Europe], I think war would be. worthwhile. Communism must be wiped out, and world government must be established.” This means that Russell was prepared to sacrifice half a billion people to ensure the supremacy of a free society!
3 None of these remarks is meant as personal criticism of individuals, some of whom I like and respect as people.
4 Though democratic institutions are a way in which conflict may proceed without becoming war, liberal thought is of little use in situations (e.g., the current world scene) where there is neither a sense of community nor shared values to sustain such institutions.
5 Gail Kelly’s “Origins and Aims of the Vietcong” (New Politics, Winter 1966) contains a most useful discussion of the differences betwen the NLF’s widely publicized 1961 program for South Vietnam and the People’s Revolutionary Party’s almost unknown program of October 1965. The latter is, I believe, a more accurate indicator of the program of an NLF government. It is a carbon copy of the Hanoi regime.
6 See Les Temps Modernes, August 1966.
7 Vietnam Peace Proposals (World Without War Council, Berkeley) is a useful compilation of such policy proposals. Its statement of the criteria by which those seeking an end to the war may distinguish justifications for continuing the war from valid peace proposals is of special value. A suggestive section describes an American initiatives approach, of interest to those who reject escalation or surrender and seek a more effective way to open the blocked road to negotiations than a military policy that has failed to do so for 30 successive months.
8 For the latter forbidden part of his speech (given the prevailing convention ruling out any discussion of any variety of pro-Communist politics) he was attacked, not simply in the pro-Communist Left press, but in the San Francisco Chronicle. Admittedly there are members of the Chronicle’s staff that view the world through Ramparts or ex-Progressive party glasses and systematically identify any criticism of those points of view with cowardice or right-wing extremism. The discouraging fact is the expectation, probably correct, of those engaged in such political vendettas, that they will go unchallenged in the liberal community. Thus, for example, Dr. Spock continues to dominate SANE while he lends his name for a time to efforts like the Tri-Continental Congress Against Imperialism.
9 Carl Landauer and I charted some of the details in a pamphlet, “Peace, The New Politics and the Pity of It All” (World Without War Council).
10 Harold Kaplan’s “In Defense of Anti-Communism” (Bennington Review, Summer 1967) is a statement of the reasons for valuing that tradition over revolutionary Marxism. It deserves wider circulation.
11 “Counterrevolutionary America,” COMMENTARY, April 1967.
12 Teach-ins: U.S.A., edited by Louis Menashe and Ronald Radosh (Praeger), p. 308.
13 Is it still necessary to comment on the curious argument that the Indonesia generals would not have resisted the Communist takeover had it not been for the American presence in Vietnam a thousand miles away? If so, may I quote from The Bitter Heritage: “This proposition omits the fact that, if the generals had not resisted the takeover, they would all have been horribly killed. They were fighting for their lives.”