The Rehabilitation of Communism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Rehabilitation of Communism


Ten years after the Berlin Wall fell, cracking open the door on Soviet and Eastern European archives that document almost 75 years of communist crimes, it remains a bizarre fact that communism itself enjoys a forgiving ambiguity in its depiction in Western lore - i.e., popular culture. Even Jacob Weisberg of the online magazine Slate acknowledges this, deep in a New York Times Magazine cover story titled, "The Rehabilitation of Joseph McCarthy," an analysis of the American legacy of communism. Citing a recent A&E movie about Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, a veritable Red Valentine, and the outrage of the intelligentsia over Elia Kazan's honorary Oscar earlier this year, Mr. Weisberg writes that "Conservatives have made few inroads against the notion that McCarthyism did far more harm to America than communism" - a notion with which Mr. Weisberg seems to be in accord.

Why this strange cultural fact should be so is a fascinating topic - but not of the article in question. Mr. Weisberg is more interested in exploring why anyone, and, particularly, why any anti-communist, still cares. That is, the Cold War is over, he writes, communism is dead: What accounts for the "obsession" of scholars and critics who continue to fight Cold War-style battles over communism's legacy? "The deeper you delve into such battles," he writes, "the greater the feeling grows that these are not primarily arguments about historical fact at all."

This is a breathtaking statement. "Such battles" have always been about historical fact, and they still are: whether, to take only the most famous examples, Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy (yes), whether the Rosenbergs were guilty (yes), whether the American Communist Party was taking its orders from Moscow (yes). Now that archival documentation from behind the Iron Curtain is gradually and thrillingly becoming available in the West to corroborate (and expand) such claims - long denied by the left - it is no wonder that scholars and critics, overwhelmingly on the right, are renewing their studies, revisiting old battlegrounds armed with sharp, new facts.

But Mr. Weisberg has another theory - or, as he puts it, feeling. As he sees it, all too many of these Cold War historians are motivated by something deeper, something personal - something "Oedipal." Singling out for example Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz, courageous and eloquent anti-communists whose political odysseys began on the communist left, Mr. …

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