Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
The Great Terror at 40 -- Remembering the Western Elites' Enchantment with Communism
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Great Terror by Robert Conquest in 1968. In a preface to the 40th anniversary edition of the book, Conquest notes that:
The history of the period covered by "The Great Terror" sees the enforcement of Stalin's totally intolerant belief system -- with terror as the decisive argument. Terror meant terrorizing. Mass terror means terrorizing the whole population, and must be accompanied by the most complete exposure of the worst enemies of the people, of the party line, and so of the truth. We know the results.
In 1968, when the book first came out, Conquest notes that:
It was still true that, as the great historian Francois Furet noted, after the war and the demise of fascism, "all the major debates on postwar ideas revolved around a single question: the nature of the Soviet regime." He adds the paradox that Communism had two main embodiments -- as a backward despotism, and as a constituency in the West that had to be kept unaware of the other's reality. And, up to the last, this was often accompanied by a view of the Cold War as an even exchange -- with the imputation that any denigration of the Soviet regime was due to peace-hating prejudices.
Since the end of the Cold War, the reality of Communism's terror and brutality has been widely discussed. In 1999, for example, The Black Book of Communism, an 846-page academic study that blames Communism for the deaths of between 85 million and 100 million people worldwide, became a bestseller. It estimates that the ideology claimed 45 million to 72 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, between 1.3 million to 2.3 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam, 1 million in Eastern Europe, and 150,000 in Latin America.
Through all those years, many intellectuals in the West insisted on disassociating Communism from the crimes committed in its name. Incredibly, in retrospect, we see many Western academics, clergymen, journalists, and literary figures not resisting Communist tyranny, but embracing it, defending it, and apologizing for it.
Consider the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who created the modern propaganda play. When he visited the Manhattan apartment of American philosopher Sydney Hook in 1935, Stalin's purges were just beginning. Hook, raising the cases of Zinoviev and Kamanev, asked Brecht how he could bear to work with the American Communists who were trumpeting their guilt. Brecht replied that the U.S. Communists were no good -- nor were the Germans either -- and that the only body that mattered was the Soviet party. Hook pointed out that they were all part of the same movement, responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of innocent former comrades. Brecht replied:
As for them, the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.
Hook asked, "What are you saying?" Brecht repeated: "The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot." Hook asked, "Why, why?" Brecht did not answer, Hook got up, went into the next room and brought Brecht his hat and coat.
During the entire course of Stalin's purges, Brecht never uttered a word of protest. When Stalin died, Brecht's comment was:
The oppressed of all five continents . . . must have felt their heartbeats stop when they heard that Stalin was dead. He was the embodiment of their hopes.
Consider the French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre. In a July 1954 interview with Liberation, Sartre, who had just returned from a visit to Russia, said that Soviet citizens did not travel, not because they are prevented from doing so, but because they had no desire to leave their wonderful country. "The Soviet citizens," he declared, "criticize their government much more and more effectively than we do." He maintained that, "There is total freedom of criticism in the Soviet Union."
Another intellectual defender of tyranny was Lillian Hellman, the American playwright. She visited Russia in October, 1937, when Stalin's purge trails were at their height. On her return, she said she knew nothing about them. In 1938 she was among the signatories of an ad in the Communist publication New Masses which approved the trials. She supported the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland, saying:
I don't believe in that fine, lovable little Republic of Finland that everyone is so weepy about. I've been there and it looks like a pro-Nazi little republic to me.
There is absolutely no evidence that Hellman ever visited Finland -- and her biographer states that this is highly improbable.
The American Quaker H. T. Hodgkin provided this assessment:
As we look at Russia's great experiment in brotherhood, it may seem to us some dim perception of Jesus' way, all unbeknown, is inspiring it.
The case of New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who covered the Soviet Union in the 1930s, is also instructive. In the midst of the enforced famine in the Ukraine, Duranty visited the region and denied that starvation and death were rampant. In November 1932, Duranty reported that "there is no famine or actual starvation or is there likely to be."
In the Times of August 23, 1933, Duranty wrote:
Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. . . . The food shortage which has affected almost the whole population last year . . . has, however, caused heavy loss of life.
He estimated the deaths at nearly four times the usual rate, but did not blame Soviet policy. What Americans got was not the truth -- but false reporting. But its influence was widespread. What Walter Duranty got was the highest honor in journalism -- the Pulitzer Prize for 1932, complimenting him for "dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia." The citation declared that Duranty's dispatches -- which the world now knows to have been false -- were "marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment, and exceptional clarity."
Walter Duranty was only one of many correspondents and writers in the 1920s and 1930s who fed their readers in the West a steady diet of disinformation about the Soviet Union. Louis Fischer, who wrote for The Nation magazine, was also reluctant to tell his readers about the flaws in Soviet society. He, too, glossed over the searing famine of 1932-33. He once referred to what we now know as the "Gulags" as "a vast industrial organization and a big educational institution." In 1936 he informed his readers that the dictatorship was "voluntarily abdicating" in favor of democracy.
Liberal intellectuals who were harsh in their judgment of the American society eagerly embraced the ruthless dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.
Concerning the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, author Upton Sinclair wrote:
They drove rich peasants off the land -- and sent them wholesale to work in lumber camps and on railroads. Maybe it cost a million lives -- maybe it cost five million -- but you cannot think intelligently about it unless you ask yourself how many millions it might have cost if the changes had not been made.
Journalist I. F. Stone, lionized by the media in recent years as the quintessential model of a newsman, commented on the new Soviet constitution of 1936:
There is only one party, but the introduction of the secret ballot offers the workers and peasants a weapon against bureaucratic and inefficient officials and their policies.
W. E. B. Du Bois, the black intellectual, thought that, "He (Stalin) asked for neither adulation nor vengeance. He was reasonable and conciliatory."
Since the Russian Revolution of 1917, the world was engaged for many years in a struggle between freedom and tyranny. Now that the reality of Communism's horrors are widely know, it is only proper that we remember those who defended liberty and those who did not. In that battle, sadly, many in the U.S. and other Western countries used their considerable abilities to advance not freedom but tyranny. In the forward to the 40th anniversary edition of "The Great Terror," Robert Conquest writes that:
One of the strongest notions put forward about Stalinism is that in the interests of "objectivity" we must be -- wait for it -- "nonjudgmental." But to ignore, or downplay, the realities of Soviet history is itself a judgment, and a very misleading one.
Murdered by Mumia: The Crusade in Behalf of a Convicted Cop-killer Reveals a Strange View of Murder on the Part of Elite Opinion
Maureen Faulkner's husband, Philadelphia police officer Danny Faulkner, was shot between the eyes on a cold December night in 1981. Mumia Abu-Jamal was unanimously convicted of the crime by a racially mixed jury based on the testimony of several eye-witnesses, his ownership of the murder weapon, matching ballistics, and Abu-Jamal's own confession.
After his conviction, a national anti-death penalty crusade was started to "Free Mumia." Mike Farrell, Ed Asner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jesse Jackson rallied on his behalf. While on death row, Abu-Jamal published several books, delivered radio commentaries, was a college commencement speaker, and was named an Honorary Citizen of France.
In a new book, Murdered by Mumia (The Lyons Press), Maureen Faulkner, and popular radio talk show host and journalist Michael Smerconish, carefully lay out the case against Abu-Jamal and those who have elevated him to the status of political prisoner. Smerconish, an attorney, has provided pro bono legal counsel to Faulkner for over a decade, as appeal after appeal was brought by Abu-Jamal's lawyers. Smerconish declares that:
My reading of five thousand pages of trial transcripts starkly revealed that Abu-Jamal murdered Danny Faulkner in cold blood and that the case tried in Philadelphia in 1982 bears no resemblance to the one being home-cooked by the Abu-Jamal defense team.
The facts of the case, as determined in court, are clear. At 3:45 a.m., Dec. 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner stopped a beat-up Volkswagen driven by William Cook. Cook got out of the car and while officer Faulkner was using a flashlight to examine what was probably Cook's driver's license, Cook struck Faulkner. Faulkner responded by smacking Cook with his flashlight, spinning him around, and starting to frisk him.
As Faulkner searched Cook -- who was allegedly driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street -- a cab driver and one-time radio journalist and Black Panther activist named Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook) -- came up behind him and opened fire with a .38 revolver at close range. Faulkner was hit in the back, but he managed to return fire and hit his attacker in the lower chest. As Faulkner writhed on the ground, Abu-Jamal stood over the wounded officer and executed him with a point-blank shot to the head.
These facts led a Philadelphia jury to convict Mumia Abu-Jamal and sentence him to death. But for the last 26 years, these facts have been disputed by a powerful cadre of lawyers, liberal and radical politicians, the virulent anti-police radical group called Move, and anti-death penalty celebrities. And for 26 years Maureen Faulkner has been fighting back with every bit of energy and resources she could muster.
In the foreword to the book, Michael Smerconish notes that:
. . . there has always been plenty of evidence available to me and anyone else with a modem to suggest that Abu-Jamal murdered her (Maureen's) husband: There were several eyewitnesses; people of color were part of the jury; and Abu-Jamal was a known agitator who had advocated violence toward law enforcement (he wrote "Let's Write Epitaphs for Pigs, Signed Mumia" in a Black Panther publication in April of 1970). Moreover, Abu-Jamal has never explained what took place that night (which is certainly one of the most puzzling aspects of the case if one is inclined to side with him) and his own brother, William Cook, who was present at the murder, has himself never testified on Abu-Jamal's behalf. Common sense dictates that if one brother is on death row for a crime the other brother knows he didn't commit (because the second brother was himself present), he'd say so. But not William Cook. His silence has been deafening. Incredibly, this has never seemed to matter to Abu-Jamal's celluloid supporters.
The embrace of Mumia Abu-Jamal by many in the media, the academic world, Hollywood, and among political leaders, is incredible. Consider some of that support.
On August 9, 1995, a full-page ad appeared in The New York Times. It prominently listed such Hollywood supporters of Abu-Jamal as Alec Baldwin, Mike Farrell, Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon, and Oliver Stone. On July 14th, 1995, author E. L. Doctorow wrote a column of support. The Times ad also included the following signatories: Shana Alexander, Maya Angelou, Russell Banks, Derrick Bell, Noam Chomsky, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Ronald V. Dellums, David Dinkins, Henry Louis Gates, Danny Glover, Gunter Grass, Charles Rangle, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Cornel West.
During a 1995 court hearing of an appeal by Abu-Jamal, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that:
Outside the courtroom, Harvard philosophy and religion professor Cornel West likened Abu-Jamal to jazz great John Coltrane and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . West compared the atmosphere in the courtroom to "Mississippi."
Judge Albert Sabo ruled that Mumia did not deserve a new trial.
National Public Radio decided to offer airtime to Mumia. His prison essays about life on death row were to be carried by the "All Things considered" program. A public backlash ensued. Arnold Gordon, the First Assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia, wrote to Delano Lewis, president and CEO of NPR, on the day that Abu-Jamal's commentaries were set to be aired. He declared:
You have rewarded the murderer of a 25-year-old police officer who left a grieving widow, and a mother, by giving him a platform from which to address perhaps millions of listeners. Who is your next media star -- Sirhan Sirhan? John Hinckley? Jeffrey Dahmer? Have you no sense of decency, no sense of what is right and wrong?
NPR scrapped the project, but Pacifica Radio, a radical media outlet, decided to air the already taped segments that had been banned from NPR. To this day, Abu-Jamal remains a commentator on Pacifica Radio.
HBO, on July 7, 1996, aired a one-hour documentary about Mumia entitled "A Case for Reasonable Doubt." On March 25, 1997, the Santa Cruz, California, City Council passed a formal resolution calling for a new trial for Abu-Jamal. Maureen Faulkner reports that:
The City of San Francisco . . . joined the pro-Abu Jamal parade and actually honored the man who murdered my police officer husband. And they did it in grand style. Three thousand supporters gathered at Mission High School's auditorium on Aug. 16, 1997, for the event. The key speakers at the function were Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), a former Black Panther who spent 27 years behind bars for murdering a couple (a "political prisoner" if you believe the pro-Abu-Jamal literature), and author Alice Walker. The event raised $30,000 to help pay Abu-Jamal's continuing defense bills. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr. presided at the event.
The certificate of honor read to the crowd declared:
The Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco hereby issues, and authorizes the execution of, the Certificate of Honor in appreciative pubic recognition of distinction and merit for outstanding service to a significant portion of the people of the city and county of San Francisco by: Mumia Abu-Jamal. In recognition of his struggle for justice, and the community rally calling for his freedom from imprisonment, and honor this struggle, designate August 16, 1998, Mumia Abu-Jamal Day in San Francisco.
Signed by Supervisor Tom Ammiano.
Abu-Jamal has even been a commencement speaker. Students at Evergreen State College on Olympia, Washington are given the opportunity to select their own commencement speakers. The class of 1999 wanted Abu-Jamal. One year after his address (on tape) at Evergreen State, students at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, asked Abu-Jamal to be a speaker at their commencement on April 29, 2000.
Maureen Faulkner traveled to Antioch, and after a vigil she held:
. . . we were ushered to the actual graduation to be quarantined in a specific area, far from the actual ceremony, cordoned off by a blue ribbon. I had planned on attending a graduation ceremony at a college, but (I'm not exaggerating) it was like one of the rallies the Nazis staged in Nuremberg. The buildings surrounding the open-air stage and spectator seats were adorned with streaming banners. Oversized posts with Abu-Jamal's haunting grimace were everywhere and "Free Jamal" banners waved in the wind.
On December 4, 2001, the Paris City Council voted to name Pennsylvania's famous death row inmate an "Honorary Citizen" of Paris. The last time such an honor was bestowed was to artist Pablo Picasso in 1971.
When Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Buzz Bissinger (author of the Friday Night Lights) profiled Danny Faulkner's murder for Vanity Fair in the summer of 1999, he asked actor Ed Asner, a vocal Mumia supporter, if he'd read the original trial transcript. Asner replied, "Could I stay awake?" Maureen Faulkner writes:
That answer speaks volumes. . . . I have always been shocked by the readiness of Asner and others from the Hollywood left to attach their names to a murder case without reading every scrap of paper suggesting who did it. I think it is essential to read and appreciate the evidence in order to understand the extent to which the myth of Mumia Abu-Jamal separates from reality.
On June 1, 1995, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge finally signed Abu-Jamal's death warrant. Maureen Faulkner recalls that:
There was an unprecedented level of combative Abu-Jamal support in the summer of 1995. The president of France and the foreign minster of Germany made public appeals on Abu-Jamal's behalf. In Rome, 100,000 people signed a petition to stop his execution. And four American cities -- Cambridge, MA, Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI, and Madison, WI -- passed resolutions demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal. His defenders motivated by a tenacious brand of unfounded conviction, threatened to burn down Philadelphia if Abu-Jamal himself "burns." "Fire in the Skies if Mumia Dies" was the banner many of them held.
The murder was in 1981. In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death. In 1989, his conviction and sentence were upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme court. The Commonwealth's highest court also rejected subsequent appeals in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Now, with state appeals exhausted, Abu-Jamal has turned his attention to the federal courts. Maureen Faulkner states that:
I never could have imagined that seven years into the next century my family and I would still be taking time from our lives to attend appeals hearings. This process is obscene in the way it taints survivors' lives for so long. You can never move on. There's never any closure; just endless rounds of hearings and motions. . . .
This book tell us the story of a courageous woman, a flawed criminal justice system with its endless appeals, and a body of elite opinion, both in the U.S. and abroad, which is willing to overlook the facts of a criminal case, and make a martyr, and "political prisoner" of a cold-blooded killer. The proceeds from this book are going to a charity Mureen Faulkner started to fund scholarships for the children of murder victims, and for the children of people incapacitated by violent crime.
This is the first book to carefully lay out the case against Mumia Abu-Jamal and those who have elevated him to the status of political prisoner. As Abu-Jamal's lawyers contemplate their final appeal, this never-before-told account of one fateful night is compelling reading. *
"It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf." --Thomas Paine