The Holocaust Historiography Project

The Pro-Red Orchestra In the USA, 1941

The main pockets of resistance to supporting Stalin

Despite the rising tide of contrived pro-Stalinist sympathy, there remained pockets of obdurate opposition in the U.S., some of them anti-Stalinist throughout the war, even during the period of ardent official pro-Sovietism which reached its peak in 1943. Clerics, disaffected liberals with longstanding reputations as critics of Bolshevism, and relapsed fellow travelers with Lenin and Stalin made up most of the people involved in the public expression of this hostility. Politicians, businessmen, and the highly placed socially and culturally were noticeably absent from this contingent.

A particularly thorny case was that of the American Mercury, once the property of H. L. Mencken, and, in 1941, after a number of changes, published by Lawrence Spivak, later to become familiar as the moderator and host of the radio and television show, “Meet the Press.” Its new editor was Eugene Lyons, a one time warm pro-Soviet foreign correspondent, whom Edmund Wilson had once described as having “spent some of the best years of his life whooping it up for the Soviets.” Lyons now was as hostile as he had ever been favorable, and set for the Mercury a curious editorial line, hostile to Hitler, for involvement of the U.S.A. in the European war, but also probably more hostile to Stalin than Hitler, presumably on the grounds that though disliking both immensely, he felt that Hitler, having no friendly support in the country, was less formidable in the editorial assault on dictatorial systems. Tackling Stalin so resolutely was perhaps a tougher problem for Lyons, in view of the snowballing of support for the Soviet. And how he hoped to keep from benefiting Stalin by urging a pro-war course was not explained at all.

Lyons had just published what was to prove a very influential book, The Red Decade (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill) when the Reds went to war with the Nazis. Its description of the meticulous and detailed penetration of the U.S.A. by pro-Soviet influence and its spread through all the agencies of American culture in the ten years or so prior to the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 was to be a veritable reference work for a generation after its publication. For the pro-Soviet-support elements of the Roosevelt Administration it was an awkward book, published and reviewed at an awkward time. Both Newsweek and the New York Herald Tribune had kind words for it in September 1941, the latter review being by Nicholas Roosevelt.(71) At about that time the August Mercury was being sold on the newstands, which contained a fierce Lyons article, “The End of Joseph Stalin,"(72) which anticipated his downfall at Hitler’s hands, and which Lyons, though very hostile to Hitler as well, thought was richly deserved. The piece included a long catalog of the things Stalin had done which Lyons thought had made Hitler possible. Lyons was still furious at the Red boss for having rejected the “democratic allies” and signing the August 1939 Pakt with Hitler. It was Lyons' thesis that an accommodating, abject and obsequious Stalin had finally been spurned by the contemptuous Nazis. Much of this was wishful thinking and ignored entirely the possibility that the war in Eastern Europe grew out of Stalinist pressures on Hitler. Lyons' follow-up, “Some Plain Talk on Russia,"(73) was a heated blast upon the tendency to lump the Soviets with the Anglo-French-American democracies, now that Britain and the U.S.A. were offering the Reds material aid. But his striving to keep Anglo-American selfish interests in this matter in the foreground was beginning to have an effect on his judgment. Lyons in November 1941 thought that it was the height of impossibility to imagine a future Red swamping of Europe. Britain and America could assist the Russians wholeheartedly “without any fear of a Red tidal wave overwhelming Europe-because they know that a decisive Russian victory is not even a remote possibility.” But he did expect another Moscow- Berlin pact between the now-warring former non-belligerents, and suggested that no guarantee of any kind made by Stalin to the Western powers was worth the paper it might be written on, adding that Stalin’s “adherence to the Anglo-American 'Atlantic Charter' is a cynical joke,” though from 1945 on there were many who thought the behavior of the Charter’s founders no less reprehensible.

A skilled recruit to Lyons' side, adding other dimensions to the frontal attack on Communism, domestic and foreign, was another veteran one-time well-wisher of the Bolsheviks, Max Eastman. Eastman’s enthusiastic review of Lyons' book was published by the New York Times on September 7, 1941.(74) In an extrapolation on Lyons' book, Eastman’s Mercury essay “Stalin’s American Power,” which subsequently was reprinted by the far larger circulation Readers Digest, enlarged upon the Red fronts in the U.S.A. and their pushing of Russian foreign policy. But making frequent use of the term “Communist conspiracy,” once the main property of the Social Democratic Federation’s organ, the New Leader, Eastman confined himself to largely ideological elements, and paid no attention to the burgeoning pro-Sovietism discernible among the top business and professional layers of American society. The small Communist press in the U.S.A. took much comfort in steadily growing pro-Soviet sentiments there and elsewhere in the land, the New Masses denoucing Eastman’s as “a kind of digest of Lyons' indigestible book,” and “a miserably cheap attempt to throw dust into the eyes of millions who at last see the Soviet Union with clarity."(75)

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