The Holocaust Historiography Project

The Pro-Red Orchestra In the USA, 1941

Davies’ book, Mission to Moscow, sets the tone on the adulation of Soviet Communism for the rest of the war

While noted public figures as diverse as Huxley, Caldwell, and Rev. Coughlin were ruminating presciently about the likely situation prevailing at war’s end, there took place the first major literary advancement of Stalinist fortunes in American public consciousness, the publication of ex-Ambassador to Russia Davies' Mission to Moscow (Simon and Schuster). Out just two weeks after Pearl, it was the subject of at least three score stentorian reviews in as many weeks in the nation’s largest and most prestigious periodicals and newspapers. Time led off shortly after Christmas, 1941 with a three and a half column review but handled as though the book were foreign news.(201) A few days later came Joseph Barnes’s front page treatment in the Herald Tribune Books and identical placement of that of William Henry Chamberlin in the Times Book Review the same day, guaranteeing blanketing the Eastern portion of the country with massive and lengthy attention. A few days after that came that of Henry C. Wolfe in the Saturday Review, by which time the publishers had already run a half-page advertisement in the Herald Tribune Books which was heavily decorated with huzzas from 51 other major United States publications. Included in this triumphal spread were the following: “most competent, disinterested study of the Soviet Union” (Boston Globe); the best book on Russia “since the two-volume study by Sidney and Beatrice Webb” (Chicago Daily News); “a political document of the first importance as well as a piece of extraordinary sanity” (Chicago Sun-Times); “perhaps the most valuable book to be published on the subject of Russia in the past decade” (Houston Post); “Actually the first volume on Soviet Russia which will be taken seriously by all students of Soviet affairs” (Chicago Jewish Daily Courier); “the one book above all to read on Russia” (New York Times); and the following benediction from the Daily Worker: “Mr. Davies has supplanted a great deal of current misinformation about the USSR with realistic, clear-cut and objective reporting."(202)

Barnes’s reviewer was as kindly as one might have been led to expect from him, in view of his substantial pedigree in handling things Soviet with a gentle touch. Wolfe hailed it as “One of the most significant books of our time,"(204) but the general shouting approval on all sides made Joseph Starobin’s six-column effulgence in the New Masses almost an anti-climax.(205) There was little doubt that Davies' book had replaced among the Party (206) the up-to-then prize diplomatic volume by an American in the twentieth century, the 1933-1938 Diary of ex-Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, lovingly edited by his far-leftist children. One strong assertion by Davies was given special attention by the New Masses, his declaration on page 434, “The bogy that a war would entail Communism in a defeated Germany and Central Europe is plain bunk.” Another pregnant quotation from Davies was that by Wolfe in Saturday Review,(207) a reference to an unnamed Polish government figure who boasted prior to the September 1939 campaign, “within three weeks after the outbreak of war, Polish troops would be in Berlin.” That they were there as prisoners of war was not the intent, for sure, though these were not days to call attention to Polish belligerent confidence in victory prior to hostilities; the total effort of “Allied” propaganda in the time following Pearl Harbor was to establish firmly the myth of a peaceful and utterly non-provoking Poland, overrun by a brutish German horde, in a one-sided act of “aggression."(208)

Few books published in the U.S.A. have been greeted by such an avalanche of reviewer approval in such a short time as Mission to Moscow. By the end of March 1942, the list of favorable testimonials was nothing short of sensational. The amazing thing was that it was criticized by anyone. Such as it was, unfriendly commentary on Davies' book gathered largely at one point, his acceptance without any reservation of the Stalinite explanation of the 1936-1938 massacres and mass jailings as a unified program of cleansing the USSR of German and Japanese collaborators and agents. Chamberlin had held back a little on this matter and also questioned Davies' “complete endorsement of Soviet foreign policy."(209) Even Time realized the problem here, and in its marathon vote of acclaim had demonstrated a little difficulty in accepting Davies, while projecting doubt on the earlier estimate of the Dewey Commission’s write-off of the “purge” trials as frame- ups. The only harsh condemnation of Mission to Moscow was by Margaret Marshall in the Nation. But to appreciate why she was so appalled at Davies' defense of the purges, one had to know something of the history of the Nation in the same period, when it was torn apart into two camps as a result of conflict over this same matter.(210)

Though barely in the wartime embrace as “allies,” Americans had tendered to the Russians a major propaganda triumph in the shape of a book written by a millionaire promoted lavishly by a major publisher and boosted in almost feverish language by nearly every organ of the heretofore scorned “capitalist” printed communications media. It was a task which could not have been achieved by a Communist Party machine in the Western Hemisphere even had it been a thousand times as large. Mission to Moscow went into five printings its first month, and for a time early in the American phase of formal participation in the war, it was hard to hear anyone talk about anything else. As an aid to assist the American young especially in learning to “love Russia,” little compared to it for some time. Nothing ever approaching it by many light years ever appeared in Communist Russia, according the U.S.A. a similar favorable and affirmative image. The one-sided love affair could now be considered to be fairly and fully launched.

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