It is instructive to place the current hysteria over Russia’s meddling in American elections and other internal affairs in historical context. There is nothing new about Russia meddling in American politics or resorting to dirty tricks to reach its goals. However, when similar incidents occurred in the past, the “progressive” media was, remarkably, on the opposite side of the ideological divide.
Rewind the clock all the way back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. The United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War. This is just a small sample of what happened in the world then: the Berlin blockade; the Korean War; Mao Zedong’s Communist forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek; and pro-Soviet parties took full control of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania and executed their opponents after brief show trials.
There was no shortage of brazen incidents in the United States involving Soviet agents and American law enforcement. Many groups with innocuous names like the “World Peace Council” were set up or supported by the Communist Party and fronts for KGB programs. This is what Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general, said in an interview with CNN:
In that sense, the Soviet intelligence [was] really unparalleled. … The [KGB] programs — which would run all sorts of congresses, peace congresses, youth congresses, festivals, women’s movements, trade union movements, campaigns against U.S. missiles in Europe, campaigns against neutron weapons, allegations that AIDS … was invented by the CIA … all sorts of forgeries and faked material — [were] targeted at politicians, the academic community, at [the] public at large.
Yet the progressive media in the United States mocked and dismissed such accusations by calling them “looking for a Red under every bed;” “witch hunt;” “red menace;” and even “better Red than dead.” It did not just circle the wagons, they glorified the Soviet Union. Here are two striking examples illustrating the aura of that time and the mindset of progressive America.
My Friend’s Death Is Nothing to the Soviet Union
As a child living in Moscow, I remember songs recorded by Paul Robeson, an actor and singer with a beautiful bass voice. Robeson was a darling of the American Left because he praised the Soviet Union. He was accorded a hero’s welcome during his concerts in Moscow where, among other songs, he sang a famous Soviet patriotic song proclaiming, “I know of no other such country where a man can breathe so freely.”
Robeson knew, or should have known, that millions of Soviet citizens could not breathe freely, as they were languishing in the Gulag for “crimes” like having been prisoners of war in World War II. Here is an especially tragic episode described in several books (see references to them in this Wikipedia article).
One of the Gulag prisoners was Soviet poet Itzik Feffer, who happened to be Robeson’s personal friend. Soviet propaganda denied Feffer’s arrest, but Robeson knew the truth. Yet when Robeson returned to the United States, he flatly denied the fact that Feffer or any other political prisoners were in Soviet jails. Robeson’s biographers attribute that to his reluctance to criticize the Soviet Union.
A couple of years later, Feffer was executed, along with a group of 12 other Jewish poets and writers in what became known as “The Night of the Murdered Poets.” Had Robeson spoken out against Feffer’s persecution, he may have saved his life. Instead, he chose to betray his friend for the sake of political expediency.
Of Course You’ve Heard of the Rosenbergs
The second example is more widely known. It involves the ultimate martyrs of the progressive causes of that time: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were U.S. citizens convicted of passing atomic weapons secrets to the USSR and executed for treason in 1953. The progressive media portrayed the Rosenbergs as victims of McCarthyism and even anti-Semitism. Many activists had insisted on the Rosenbergs’ total innocence up until their court transcripts were released. Now they generally admit Julius’s guilt, and just claim Ethel played a relatively minor role and thus should have been spared execution.
Examples aside, what is a rational explanation of this love-hate reversal? The media usually cites such reasons as Russia’s intimidation of its neighbors, taking over their territory and murdering dissidents, including journalists. Although the same applies to other countries, notably to China, the progressive American media does not show nearly as much indignation toward them as it does toward Russia.
In 2015, for example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that 21.7 million personnel records of government employees were stolen. The records included personal data and even fingerprints, which, for example, could be used to identify Central Intelligence Agency agents in China. The breach was linked to the Chinese military, but it did not generate nearly as much indignation as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) breach.
And Where Is the Outrage about China?
One may argue that interference in the electoral process is so egregious that it eclipses all Chinese wrongdoings. Alas, the Chinese have interfered in the electoral processes in the United States, too. During the 1996 campaign there was a scandal called Chinagate, when the DNC received an illegal donation. The donor was a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan and named Johnny Chung, but the money was traced to the Chinese military. The DNC had to return the donation, but it was hardly a major event in 1996.
Chinagate was not about financial improprieties. When the Chinese military gave money to a certain candidate, it tried to influence the election. The same Johnny Chung visited the White House 49 times between 1994 and 1996. Nearly half of those visits were authorized by the office of the first lady. Chinagate involved many other brazen elements, but no independent investigator was ever appointed.
Hence, we have to conclude that, while Russia may be guilty of all or many wrongdoings attributed to it, there is no rational justification for the current hysterical wave of Russophobia the progressive media is fueling. The explanation must lie not with Russia per se, but rather with the “mysterious progressive soul.” Instead of psychoanalyzing this soul, let me just rephrase Winston Churchill’s famous quote: The progressive soul is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.