Invective Against 'Red Scare' Is Still 'Lovely Stuff' to Book Critics
I enjoy reading long-time Washington Post book reviewer Jonathan Yardley, and one thing he does that’s interesting is write about reading a classic book a second time. This week, he revisited the 1931 book Only Yesterday, a very popular history of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen.Yardley explained that his book had "a hint of Mencken in it, but Allen was his own man and resisted the mere apery to which so many tinhorn Menckenites of his day succumbed. Allen was a fair man, as it must be admitted Mencken really was not, and though he had his own sharp opinions, he sought balance and understanding rather than invective."
But the paragraph he quoted before that balanced-without-invective claim looks a lot more like invective against "a pestilence" of anti-communists of the time than it looks like "balance and understanding"on the subject of the "Red Scare." In fact, the words "Red Scare" betray a lack of balance. He wrote:
[L]et me give you a couple of examples of Allen's prose, so you can see for yourself the insights and delights it offers. Here, for one, he is writing about the Red Scare:
"Big-navy men, believers in compulsory military service, drys, anti-cigarette campaigners, anti-evolution Fundamentalists, defenders of the moral order, book censors, Jew-haters, Negro-haters, landlords, manufacturers, utility executives, upholders of every sort of cause, good, bad, and indifferent, all wrapped themselves in Old Glory and the mantle of the Founding Fathers and allied their opponents with Lenin. The open shop, for example, became the 'American plan.' For years a pestilence of speakers and writers continued to afflict the country with tales of 'sinister and subversive agitators.' Elderly ladies in gilt chairs in ornate drawing-rooms heard from executive secretaries that the agents of the government had unearthed new radical conspiracies too fiendish to be divulged before the proper time. Their husbands were told at luncheon clubs that the colleges were honeycombed with Bolshevism. A cloud of suspicion hung in the air, and intolerance became an American virtue."
That's lovely stuff, evocative and dead-on. Yes, there's a hint of Mencken in it, but Allen was his own man and resisted the mere apery to which so many tinhorn Menckenites of his day succumbed. Allen was a fair man, as it must be admitted Mencken really was not, and though he had his own sharp opinions, he sought balance and understanding rather than invective.
That is "lovely stuff" and "dead-on" only to someone who has is denying the historical fact of the Communist Party U.S.A. and its attempts at influence, subsidized in hard fact by the Soviet Union to sow worldwide communist revolution. I am sure that many anti-communists of the day may have also carried racial and religious bigotry. I am sure that some conservatives of the time may have overstated the "Bolshevism" of leftist ideas like compulsory unionism and the closed shop. But to mock the idea that there was any hint of sympathy for Bolshevism in America in the 1920s is to spit into the wind of history, when Lenin’s revolution was very fresh and journalists like Lincoln Steffens returned from the Soviet Union claiming Lenin was a great liberal and that "I have seen the future and it works." Giddiness and gullibility about the Soviet Union and what it would become was at its peak.
It's amazing to witness how, even 16 years after the Soviet Union hit the ash heap of history, most liberals are still clinging ferociously to an anti-anti-communism, failing even at this late date to acknowledge the large and quite intolerant dictatorship that the Soviet Union was and the global domination it was seeking to accomplish. You don't have to admire anti-communists of the 1920s to acknowledge that truth.