Return of American Anticommunism
As Americans continue to suffer deaths and economic carnage as a result of a virus unleashed on the world by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) , a growing anticommunism is resurfacing in the United States and the West. It has a rich and mostly laudable history.
At the end of the 20th century, six European authors contributed to a book titled The Black Book of Communism, which detailed the terror, crimes, and repression of communist regimes since 1917, the year that Lenin’s Bolsheviks established the first communist state in Russia. The book is a historical catalogue of horrors perpetrated by all communist regimes. There was no exception—every communist government has ruled by coercion and terror.
In the book’s foreword, Martin Malia noted that “the Communist record offers the most colossal case of political carnage in history.” Yet, communism has never suffered from the stigma associated with Nazism. Malia believes that one reason why this is so is that Nazis “never pretended to be virtuous. The Communists, by contrast, trumpeting their humanism, hoodwinked millions around the globe for decades, and so got away with murder on the ultimate scale.” Moreover, Nazism, Malia writes, “was a unique case,” whereas “Communism’s universalism permitted it to metastasize worldwide.”
Communism appealed (and in some cases still appeals) primarily to intellectuals who think themselves too smart to believe in God and a heavenly utopia. For them to admit the failure of communism—the evil of communism—would, Malia writes, “effectively shut the door on [an earthly] Utopia,” which is the abstract dream of Marxists of all stripes, and a good many socialists. “[T]oo many good souls in this unjust world,” he explains, “cannot abandon hope for an absolute end to inequality.” One need only read Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims or Whittaker Chambers’ Witness to discover and understand communism’s appeal. Hollander pointed to the intellectuals’ alienation from their own imperfect societies and their vision of an elite-directed society that would achieve earthly perfection, while Chambers located communism’s appeal in the Book of Genesis where Satan tempts Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit so they can become like Gods.
Praising anticommunist efforts of 20th century
Four years before The Black Book of Communism appeared, Richard Gid Powers wrote Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism. Powers’ book mostly lauded the efforts of anticommunists during the 20th century: from J. Edgar Hoover and Father Edmund Walsh in the 1920s; to Eugene Lyons, William Bullitt and Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) in the 1930s; to Sidney Hook, James Burnham, Isaac Don Levine, and George Kennan in the 1940s; to William F. Buckley, Jr, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Richard Nixon and John Foster Dulles in the 1950s; to Barry Goldwater in the 1960s; to George Meany, Norman Podhoretz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Pipes, and Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s.
Powers noted that anticommunism suffered as a result of “McCarthyism” in the 1950s, and he mostly blames what he describes as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s erratic and often unsubstantiated allegations of communist infiltration of the U.S. government. There is no question that the phenomenon known as “McCarthyism” harmed anticommunism in America. But James Burnham was closer to the truth when he explained that “McCarthyism” was primarily a weapon used by communists and liberals to discredit conservative anticommunists. McCarthy, to be sure, was at times erratic, but as M. Stanton Evans, Arthur Herman, Nicholas von Hoffman and others subsequently pointed out, McCarthy, if anything, underestimated the communist infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.
Writing in the Washington Post in 1996, von Hoffman concluded that “enough new information has come to light about the communists in the U.S. government that we may now say that point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong and yet was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him.” Herman, in his biography of McCarthy, similarly concluded that “the cause McCarthy made his own — anticommunism — has proved to be more valid and durable than the basic assumptions of his anti-anti-communist critics.” Evans in his book Blacklisted by History attempted a wholesale rehabilitation of McCarthy based on FBI files and Soviet archives.
In the end, the anticommunists of the 1940s and early 1950s were right: communist agents, communist sympathizers, agents of influence, and fellow travelers successfully infiltrated the Democratic administrations in the 1930s and 1940s. But the largely successful characterizations of the late 1940s-early 1950s as the “Red Scare” and congressional investigations as “witch hunts,” had more lasting effects. “McCarthyism” is conventional history — taught in American history courses in high school and college — while communist penetration of our government in the 1930s and 1940s is relegated to historical footnotes.
The cause of anticommunism was further undermined by our unsuccessful war against the communists in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, by détente and the opening to China (the latter of which was fully justified, as was our wartime alliance with Stalin, by geopolitics) in the 1970s. As the decade wore on, we elected a president (Jimmy Carter) who counseled Americans against their “inordinate fear” of communism.
CCP doesn't deserve Western relations
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan successfully waged a political, subversive, economic war against the Soviet Union, and the Berlin Wall crumbled. But communism survived in Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea, and China. The Cold War’s end and China’s state-capitalism made anticommunism seem less important and less significant in world politics. Even as China’s economy, global ambitions, and military power grew, most Western observers downplayed ideology and called for competitive engagement with the CCP. The American foreign policy establishment warned — and continues to warn — against waging a new Cold War against China.
But the CCP is behaving like all communist regimes have in the past. Domestically, it represses dissent, censors unwelcome outside ideas, and strictly adheres to Leninist-Maoist one-party rule. Globally, it uses economic, cultural, political, and military power to expand its influence and power. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is nothing less than a geopolitical move to replace the United States as the leader of the world order.
The principal and immediate victims of the CCP are the great mass of the Chinese people who have shown in Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world that they prize freedom and liberty as much as Americans do. Their plight and the growing global threat of the CCP have revived American anticommunism. Only time will tell if today’s generation of anticommunists can equal the momentous achievements of their forbearers.