National Post Barbara Kay: We’ve forgotten how bad Communism was. Identity politics reminds us

National Post - Tuesday May 8th, 2018

A statue of Karl Marx is unveiled on May 5, 2018, in his native city of Trier, southwestern Germany.

Ten days ago I heard Bill Browder speak at a packed fundraising event. Browder’s bestselling 2015 memoir, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice, is a riveting chronicle of Browder’s investment adventures — first spectacularly successful, then harrowing — in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Browder spoke eloquently, notably of his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s martyrdom following his exposure of corruption at Russia’s highest levels, and the vengeance Browder took by orchestrating passage of the Magnitsky Accountability Act in the U.S. Since then, serially passed in many countries, including Canada, the Magnitsky Act has dealt a significant blow to Putin’s kleptocracy by applying sanctions to suspected human-rights abusers worldwide.

The name “Browder” seemed vaguely familiar to me, but the penny dropped with a clang when it was noted in his introduction that Bill is the grandson of Earl Browder, longtime chairman of America’s Communist Party (CPUSA) (until he was deposed and in 1945 expelled for deviation from the party line).

A placard with an image of Karl Marx is seen during a rally called to protest policies of French President Emmanuel Macron on the first anniversary of his election, on May 5, 2018, in Paris. Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

Speak of irony! Here we sat, Montreal’s haute bourgeoisie, enthralled by one of America’s most successful capitalist’s denunciation of Russia’s contemporary ruthless leader, while 80 years ago his Communist grandfather had enthralled his audiences with ecstatic praise of another era’s ruthless Russian leader. (“With the deepest pride we accept the name of our most beloved teacher and guide. We are indeed Stalinists, and we hope to become ever more worthy of such a glorious name.”— Earl Browder, 1938.)

Six days after the Browder event, the world commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. (Here we tear down statues of dead public figures who retroactively fail today’s tests for social-justice purity; the town of Trier, Germany, where he was born, just erected an 18-foot bronze statue of Marx. Go know.)

All ironies considered, here’s my opportunity to comment on the 1988 book, “Jimmy Higgins”: The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1930-1958 — in which Earl Browder plays a featured role.

She had the audacity not only to leave the CPUSA, but to write this tell-all book

First a word about the author. Aileen Kraditor, now professor emerita at Boston University, had a distinguished career as a feminist scholar. She wrote a pioneering study of the women’s suffrage movement and an influential history of women’s anti-slavery organizations. She held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. But she never got the public recognition she deserved.

Why? Because she had the audacity not only to leave the CPUSA, where she had been active for 11 years, but to write this tell-all book, which embarrassed and alienated her leftist peers.

Kraditor’s study, based on her own CPUSA experience and buttressed by detailed textual examination of 29 years’ worth of party publications (many written by Earl Browder), fills a gap in the secondary literature of the CPUSA. Much has been written about Marxist-Leninist thought, Communist leaders and party history. The 1949 book of essays, The God That Failed, illuminated the anguished mental trajectory of six intellectuals’ sojourn with Communism. But Kraditor’s book is unique in reconstructing the “second reality” in which the unshakably devout Communist foot soldiers lived. Jimmy Higgins, a composite figure, explores the mindset of the wholly committed party member competent enough to internalize ideological mantras, but lacking the capacity or ambition for upward mobility.

The book has much to say about the Communists' identity-politics cultural cousins of today

This book not only taught me a lot about the inner world of grunt-level Communists, it also had much to say about their identity-politics cultural cousins of today, and explained why we — classic liberals and conservatives — don’t have common ground for discussion or debate with them. Unlike us, “Communists consider themselves at home primarily in the future,” Kraditor says. The past is a “nullity,” the present annoyingly strewn with obstacles like our wicked refusal to see the light, in spite of their alleged “unmasking” of everything “false,” like God, the moral order and human nature.

Moreover, Communists then believed that facts were contingent on dogma. As Kraditor observes: “In people possessed by an ideology, the need for what the ideology offers is so strong that it determines what they accept as evidence. Facts and logic can never make them change their fundamental worldview as long as the need for it remains as the organizing principle of their personalities.” Sound familiar?

Any serious student of Marxism would do well to read this illuminating work. If they can get their hands on it in a library, that is. I can’t suggest buying it, because the cheapest copy on Amazon is over $70 (curiously, there is also one listed at $2,873).

You know what’s sad? Kraditor’s Boston U bio page doesn’t even mention Jimmy Higgins amongst her publications. That she feels obliged to “disappear” what she has every right to regard as a crowning scholarly achievement is one more in a long litany of left-wing academic scandals.

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