Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within

Here’s a definition of red-diaper baby:

Children of CPUSA members, children of former CPUSA members, and children whose parents never became members of the CPUSA but were involved in political, cultural, or educational activities led or supported by the Party.

I knew one. She died last year. An obituary says that she was “born in Manhattan” (unsurprisingly), her mother “was a high school history teacher,” and her father “was an upper middle class accountant who subscribed to the Daily Worker. Politics was at the dinner table from the start.”

Actually, as I recall, her father was an accountant for the mob. In any event, there was plenty of money. The home that she shared with her husband was adorned with valuable works of art given by her parents. She and her husband, an otherwise sensible economist, were long-time stalwarts of the local Democrat Party organization, where they vigorously promoted the local brand of big government.

She was a kind, generous, and intelligent woman. But — like everyone — she had a blind spot. Her blind spot, which defines the left, is what Daniel Klein calls The People’s Romance. This is from his essay, “The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)“:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government.

I was reminded of my late, former friend and Klein’s essay by an egregious encomium to American Communists by Vivian Gornick, “When Communism Inspired Americans” (The New York Times, April 29. 2017). It is a clever piece of propaganda — it even acknowledges a tiny bit of the Soviet Union’s brutality — but in the end, Gornick resorts to tawdry sentimentality:

The effective life of the Communist Party in the United States was approximately 40 years in length. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were Communists at one time or another during those 40 years. Many of these people endured social isolation, financial and professional ruin, and even imprisonment.

As if belonging to an organization dedicated to the subversion of the Constitution was somehow excusable. [UPDATE 05/03/17: Bruce Bawer adduces more evidence of Gornick’s rose-colored view of Communism.]

Those hundreds of thousands helped to advance TPR. And their sheer numbers lent an aura of undeserved respectability to the subversive aims of the Communist Party. Among the many subversives:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were and are key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

I’ll close with some of Daniel Greenfield’s commentary about Gornick’s article:

It’s inconceivable that the New York Times or any paper would run a glowing piece titled, “When Nazis Inspired Americans”. No fond recollections from participants in the Madison Square Garden rally. No fond memories of Bund camps. No sugar-coated recollections of how the Thousand Year Reich would create a better world… only to then learn that Hitler wasn’t a very nice man.

But the New York Times will run “When Communism Inspired Americans”. It will run it because while Communism didn’t inspire Americans, it did inspire the left to try and turn America into a totalitarian state. It still does. This is the dirty little secret that leaks out of the left….

Nazis don’t get a forum to pour out their romantic nostalgia for attending Hitler rallies. Communists do because the left sympathizes with them. It must offers occasional apologies and disavowals, but the love for a horrifying ideology that was totalitarian all the way down, whose mass murder of millions was not an accident of fate, but was always an integral part of it, tells the truth about the left.

The rest is tiresome. The same recitations of “We knew nothing”. As if the crimes of Communism had been some sort of mystery until Khrushchev admitted them….

After all the mass murders and crimes have been admitted, the left always returns to this nostalgia. Yes, maybe Stalin was bad. But his followers were principled. Maybe the USSR was bad, but the American Communists, quite a few of whom were willing to kill and commit treason in its name, were fine people. Just like the Founding Fathers.

History is in them.

This is the left. It returns, like a dog to its vomit, to the dream of the true radicalism of a totalitarian leftist state. It occasionally deals with uncomfortable truths. Circles around them. And then it lapses back into an opium dream of Marxists sitting around a kitchen table and debating whom to shoot first. [“New York Times: When Communism Inspired Americans,” FrontPage Magazine, May 1, 2017]


Related posts:
The People’s Romance
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Left
An Encounter with a Marxist
Our Enemy, the State
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Tolerance on the Left
The World Turned Upside Down
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Romanticizing the State
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
The Left and “the People”
Liberal Nostrums
FDR and Fascism: More Data