As a student, Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was so interested in the socialist movement that she wrote a thesis about its history in New York City from 1900-1933. But the history of the Progressive Party, which ran FDR’s former vice president Henry Wallace as its presidential candidate in 1948, helps bring the subject up to date and explains the current direction of the Democratic Party.
The Progressive Party was controlled by the Communist Party but efforts to work through the democratic process did not die out with its election defeat in 1948. Communists and “progressives” then targeted the Democratic Party for a takeover from within.
A semi-official history, in the form of the book, Gideon’s Army, was written by Curtis MacDougall, a professor of journalism at Northwestern University who also wrote Interpretative Reporting, a standard text in journalism schools for more than 50 years. MacDougall, who wrote critically (even in his journalism textbook) about efforts to expose communist influence in the U.S. Government, was himself a Progressive Party activist and candidate.
Not surprisingly, MacDougall’s influence was felt not only on generations of journalists, but on his own son, A. Kent McDougall, who was acknowledged in the 1972 edition of Interpretative Reporting as then being with the New York office of the Wall Street Journal and lending “valuable assistance” in its preparation. Kent came out openly as a Marxist after working at the Journal, where he said he inserted positive stories about Marxist economists and “the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone.” Stone, it turned out, was a Soviet agent of influence.
MacDougall’s 319-page FBI file, released to this journalist, revealed that he had a close association with the Chicago Star, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, and many different CPUSA front organizations. But the Star connection deserves special comment. The executive editor of the Chicago Star was none other than Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party member who would later become President Barack Obama’s childhood mentor in Hawaii and was active in the Hawaii Democratic Party.
In 1948, notes historian David Pietrusza, Davis’s Chicago-based paper, the Chicago Star, wholeheartedly backed Henry Wallace. That summer, he adds, the Progressive Party “apparatus” converted the paper into the Illinois Standard, thus enabling Davis to relocate to Hawaii on the advice of fellow Progressive Party activist Paul Robeson. Robeson, it turned out, was a secret member of the Communist Party.
It is significant that MacDougall’s history of the Progressive Party, Gideon’s Army, was published by Italian-born American Communist Carl Marzani, who served a prison term for perjury in falsely denying, while employed by the State Department, that he was a Communist Party member. His publishing house, Marzani and Munsell, was subsidized by the Soviet KGB.
However, the history of the “progressive tradition” issued by the Center for American Progress (CAP) ignores all of this. It claims:
“With the rise of the contemporary progressive movement and the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, there is extensive public interest in better understanding the origins, values, and intellectual strands of progressivism.
“Who were the original progressive thinkers and activists? Where did their ideas come from and what motivated their beliefs and actions? What were their main goals for society and government?
“The new Progressive Tradition Series from the Center for American Progress traces the development of progressivism as a social and political tradition stretching from the late 19th century reform efforts to the current day.”
Unfortunately, this series ignores the role of the Progressive Party of 1948 and the Communist Party influence in it.
The book, The Power of Progress, written by CAP President John Podesta (with John Halpin), is a bit more open and honest. It does mention the communist influence in the Progressive Party, noting the “perceived tolerance of communists within the 1948 Progressive Party” and quoting leading liberals such as Arthur Schlesinger as saying that “the political tolerance of an illiberal creed like communism, coupled with progressives’ earlier isolationism, could not hold during a time of ideological struggle with a spreading Soviet empire.”
But the use of the word “perceived” is interesting.
It is important to note that Podesta apparently does not regard communism as an “illiberal creed.” After all, Podesta strongly defended communist Van Jones, before and after he was fired by the White House.
Podesta’s book goes on to say that “The practical application of many of these fiercely anti-communist positions quickly became problematic for many progressives” because of the loyalty reviews ordered by President Truman and “the overt Red-baiting of Joe McCarthy and [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover…” The loyalty reviews were designed to make sure that government employees were loyal Americans and not sympathetic to communism.
Why the use of the term “fiercely” anti-communist? Can one be too strongly opposed to an ideology that has resulted in 100 million deaths?
Also notice how Democratic President Harry Truman has become a villain in the Podesta narrative, sharing equal billing with the “Red-baiting” Senator McCarthy and the FBI director. Such a formulation displays the ideological shift in the Democratic Party.
This is more evidence of how modern “progressives” have broken with the anti-communist liberal tradition.
The Van Jones Scandal
This attitude explains not only why Obama-friendly progressives associate openly with characters such as Van Jones but why the Obama Administration is virtually silent on the human rights violations and the pro-terrorist foreign policy of the Marxist Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela..
Podesta notes in matter-of-fact language that “President Truman adopted a strong stance against communist expansion, first with the Truman Doctrine, which offered economic and military support to Greece and Turkey in repelling Soviet ambitions, and shortly thereafter with the Marshall Plan, which provided $13 billion to help rebuild the economies of Europe and prevent the rise of communism still in ruin from the war.”
But Podesta writes critically when he says that the “hard line of liberal thinking”—that, is, liberal anti-communism—took the form of “Vowing never to bend to communist aggression anywhere in the world” and President Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.
Podesta writes this as if he had been willing to consign Vietnam to the communist camp from the beginning. Not only that, but he writes that the liberal anti-communists “firmly rejected the belief that there could be any acceptance of domestic communism within the larger liberal project.”
This, then, is quite explicit and revealing. Judging by Podesta’s embrace of communist Van Jones, it is clear that he—and CAP—currently accept communists as being part of “the larger liberal project.”
This helps explain why a CAP history of the progressive tradition would ignore the lasting influence of Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party and how communists continue to work and operate in the “progressive” movement and even influence their hero, President Obama.
Far beyond mere tolerance, however, the communists ran Henry Wallace as the Progressive Party candidate for President in the1948 presidential election. A 1948 Communist Party election manifesto declared that “…in 1948 we Communists join with millions of other Americans to support the Progressive ticket to help win the peace. The Communist Party will enter its own candidates only in those districts where the people are offered no progressive alternatives to the twin parties of Wall Street.”
“In reality, many Communist Party operatives were in control of the Progressive Party. Before it was even formed the Communist Party merged two of its front organizations, the National Citizens Political Action Committee (NC-PAC) and the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts and Sciences, to form the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA), which became the organizing tool for the Wallace campaign.”
Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s 1981 thesis at Princeton University was titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933.” However, she wrote that “In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States.” This appears to be a comment on modern-day America, at least as it was in 1981.
Kagan’s verdict, of course, depends on how you define “socialist.” The modern socialist movement calls itself “progressive.”
Kagan’s thesis is well-researched and interesting, but only to a point. Professor Harvey Klehr told me:
“I scanned through Kagan’s undergraduate thesis. It is very well-written and well-organized, a very impressive piece of undergraduate writing. It is also pretty sound academically. She considers a variety of answers to the question that has perplexed lots of scholars like myself—and radicals—why no successful radical movement in America? Looking at the fate of the SP [Socialist Party] in NY is an interesting take on the problem and I thought her account was reasonably convincing. She seems to have used appropriate sources—although the footnotes were not attached to the version you sent, so I can’t tell exactly which ones she consulted. But it sounds as if she was pretty thorough.
“Although it is not pervasive, I sensed a lurking sympathy for the ‘left-wing’ of the SP, as representing a more militant and pure opposition to the depredations of the manufacturers and the inequities of the system. She acknowledges, however, the faults and flaws of both factions and makes clear that the Communists’ own disastrous policies helped destroy the radical movement in the ILGWU [International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union]. The conclusion bemoans the lack of unity that destroyed this radical movement and hints that that is one of the major factors in the failure of American radicalism. Not surprising coming from a 21-year-old college student.
“So, I would give her a pretty good grade for an impressive piece of scholarship for an undergrad. And, I don’t see anything here like a ‘red flag’ in regard to her present situation.”
Clearly, the “red flag” is not a 1981 college paper but why she is being pushed for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2010. The alleged “failure of American radicalism,” perhaps appropriate for a paper that covers 1900-1933 and written in 1981, is not so apparent these days.
Consider that, after his resignation from his White House job, Podesta declared that Van Jones “is an exceptional and inspired leader who has fought to bring economic and environmental justice to communities across our country.” When Jason Mattera staged an ambush interview and confronted Podesta about hiring Jones, Podesta replied, “Van Jones is trying to make this country a better place.”
If Podesta, who ran Obama’s transition team with Valerie Jarrett, is serious about these comments, then the “progressive” movement has become something that represents a sharp break with the liberal anti-communist tradition. It is no wonder that CAP doesn’t want the public to understand how communists once dominated the “progressive” movement and still manipulate it to this day.
CommentsComments are turned off for this article.