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A Socialist on the High Court? Part One

July 12, 2010

Elena Kagan’s controversial “Final Conflict” thesis on socialism was written in 1981 when she was 21 years old. Professor Harvey Klehr, an expert on the socialist and communist movements, told me that while he sensed “a lurking sympathy” in the document for the left-wing of the Socialist Party, he didn’t find a “red flag” that would derail her nomination. Kagan’s thesis covered the rise and fall of the socialist movement in New York City from 1900-1933.

Clearly, however, the socialist movement has risen again, under the cover of the “progressive” tradition that includes not only the President who appointed Kagan but her backers at the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP).

The embrace of Kagan by this movement is the real “red flag.” But Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) has noted in an editorial the “free ride” that Kagan has received in her confirmation hearings, as Republican senators have mostly “played dead” and the major media have acted as “compliant shills” for the nomination. Yet, as noted by IBD, Kagan has a radical record that includes:

Twisting scientific findings in order to protect the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion.

Banning military recruiters at Harvard Law School to please radical homosexual activists.

Arguing as solicitor general that books, and maybe pamphlets, too, might not be worthy of First Amendment protection.

Seeming to agree that it would be constitutional for the federal government to tell people what to eat.

As we have seen with Van Jones, who has been rehired by CAP, it is today fashionable in left-wing or “progressive” circles to be a socialist and even communist revolutionary. This wasn’t always the case.

During the 1980s, for example, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates, including the American Institute for Free Labor Development, actively fought the communists, especially in Latin America. This stance was dropped after John Sweeney, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, became president of the AFL-CIO in 1995. 

In analyzing the more recent history of socialism, a good place to start is Henry Wallace’s Third Party movement in 1948, the Progressive Party. Wallace was not an insignificant figure, having been vice president in Franklin Roosevelt’s third term.

In his report, “From Henry Wallace to William Ayers—the Communist and Progressive Movements,” Herbert Romerstein points out that while Wallace wasn’t a communist, the party was under Communist Party USA (CPUSA) control. “The Communists even reassigned some of their members from Soviet espionage to run the Progressive Party,” he says. The CPUSA was funded by Moscow and was so obedient to the Soviet line that it backed the Hitler–Stalin pact.

Picking up where Kagan’s thesis leaves off, Romerstein notes that Earl Browder, who headed the Communist Party in the 1930s until 1945, had boasted in 1960 about the success of the communists under his leadership. Browder had said:

“Entering the 1930’s as a small ultra-left sect of some 7,000 members, remnant of the fratricidal factional struggle of the 1920’s that had wiped out the old ‘left wing’ of American socialism,the CP rose to become a national political influence far beyond its numbers (at its height it never exceeded 100,000 members), on a scale never before reached by a socialist movement claiming the Marxist tradition. It became a practical power in organized labour, its influence became strong in some state organizations of the Democratic Party (even dominant in a few for some years), and even some Republicans solicited its support.It guided the anti-Hitler movement of the American League for Peace and Democracy that united a cross-section of some five million organized Americans (a list of its sponsors and speakers would include almost a majority of Roosevelt’s Cabinet, the most prominent intellectuals, judges of all grades up to State Supreme Courts, church leaders, labour leaders, etc.). Right-wing intellectuals complained that it exercised an effective veto in almost all publishing houses against their books, and it is at least certain that those right-wingers had extreme difficulty getting published.” 

In this context, a far more questionable treatment of the socialist or “progressive” movement can be found in a lengthy report issued by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Progressive Intellectual Tradition in America.”

Curiously, it ignores Henry Wallace and his communist-dominated Progressive Party.

I asked John Halpin, who wrote much of the CAP report and also co-authored The Power of Progress with John Podesta, CAP president, about this omission. He replied:

“Henry Wallace received fewer votes than Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 and carried no states. Nearly all progressive and liberal support went to Harry Truman. Wallace was a decent man and his work on agriculture and his stands on ending segregation and fighting for racial equality were admirable. However, because of his foreign policy stands and his naive approach to Communist influence in the party, most of the major progressive and liberal voices of the time—including Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr—gathered within Americans for Democratic Action, an explicitly anti-Communist, pro-civil rights organization. Long term, Wallace’s 1948 campaign had no real impact on progressives.”

But while the Dixiecrats faded from the scene, the “progressives” did not. This is a critical point.

Noted historian and author David Pietrusza confirms this, telling me:

“Following their humiliating 1948 defeat, Wallace’s Progressives refused to surrender. They instead embarked upon a ‘Long March’ that led to their ideological heirs’ capture of the modern Democratic Party. A key milestone in their re-birth was 1968. That year, Democrats turned against Truman-JFK-LBJ Cold War policies. That same year, former Progressive Party national convention delegate Senator George McGovern emerged as the heir to the martyred Robert Kennedy. Four years later, McGovern captured the Democratic nomination and re-wrote party national convention rules to cement the transformation of his party’s leftward drift. The Obama victory of 2008, and the personnel and policies of his administration, largely translate into a victory for Henry Wallace’s ideological heirs, not for Truman’s. The Truman-style Democrat is largely extinct.”

Halpin’s reference to Wallace’s “naive approach to Communist influence in the party” suggests recognition that communism was and is a danger and that Wallace was not sufficiently alert to this problem. But is this the case with the modern-day progressive movement? CAP’s employment of Van Jones—and rehiring, after details about his communist background had emerged—suggests it is not.

Bringing the history of socialism and communism up to the present time, Romerstein has explained how the “New Left” of the 1960s and 70s included Communists involved in such groups as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and its terrorist offspring, the Weather Underground. Later, some of these Marxists would emerge in the group called “Progressives for Obama,” which included Carl Davidson, formerly of SDS, and Barbara Ehrenreich and Cornel West of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), whose Chicago branch had backed Obama from the start.

As documented by several Congressional committees, the Communists also manipulated or controlled the major anti-Vietnam War organizations, using liberals, “progressives” and socialists as fellow travelers.

This was critical because the Communists could not win the war on the battlefield. In addition to media figures such as Walter Cronkite, who turned the enemy’s defeat in the 1968 Tet Offensive into a victory for the communists, Hanoi was depending on the anti-war protests to force a U.S. military withdrawal. 

The strategy worked.

As leftist Danny Schechter wrote, in the introduction to North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s book How We Won the War, “Throughout the war, the Vietnamese cultivated the active political support of peoples and governments throughout the world… Politically, the Vietnamese always believed in the importance of the anti-war movement…They encouraged it as best they could, knowing that creating a climate of opinion hostile to the war would be one important way of ending it. In the end, their victory was accelerated by Congress’ refusal to vote more aid. That refusal was a response to a climate of public opinion which the anti-war movement helped to forge.”

Perhaps the most significant example of the support for the North Vietnamese was displayed by Tom Hayden, who was caught with a June 4, 1968, letter to “Dear Col. Lao,” a North Vietnamese official, which ended, “Good fortune! Victory!” Hayden, once married to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, would later emerge as a member of “Progressives for Obama.”

Meanwhile, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communists reorganized, with many of them establishing the CCDS. Not as widely known, however, is the fact that a secret member of this group was Barbara Lee, who would become a member of the U.S. Congress, leader of the congressional Progressive Caucus and leader of the congressional Black Caucus. She would be honored in 2009 as a “progressive” champion by the Campaign for America ’s Future.

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