What if a Noam Chomsky-like figure, or Chomsky himself, did an ideological u-turn and stated openly that he had been far too critical of the Jewish state, and too forgiving of the Palestinians?
Would many—indeed, any—anti-Israel radical leftists follow suit and change their own minds?
When Soviet leader Josef Stalin said “Dance!”, Nikita Khruschev danced.
Stalin is long gone.
During his long reign (from shortly after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 to his own demise in 1953), Communist parties in America, Britain and other western countries took orders from Moscow. Soviet dictats were mandatory, not voluntary. They had to be followed. And when Moscow’s official line changed, the affiliated Communist parties in the west likewise changed. No questions allowed, or asked. They danced.
For Khruschev disobedience could have meant a one-way journey to the basement of the KGB’s Moscow headquarters, the Lubyanka, to be tortured or shot, or both. He took no chances.
Western communists did not fear physical punishment. Their obedience was ideological. They were loyal.
And they remained so—most of them—when the Soviet Union reconciled with Nazi Germany, its apparently irreconcilable enemy. In August 1939, the Soviet and German Foreign Ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, signed a non-aggression pact.
Former foes were now friends; the new bad guys were Britain, France and America; and Communists and fellow travelers around the world were expected to adjust their compasses accordingly. But on June 22, 1941 Germany’s Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union. The two countries were fighting each other, and Western communists had to adopt a new party line.
They turned on a dime. Again.
The message went around the world rapidly. On the very day that the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, an anti-Nazi Fight for Freedom rally was held in a ballroom in Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan.
As he entered the venue, American playwright turned government adviser Robert Sherwood noticed Communist pickets waving placards condemning “the Fight for Freedom warmongers as tools of British and Wall Street Imperialism”.
When the rally ended 90 minutes later, the protesters had vanished. “Within that short space of time, the Communist party line had reached all the way from Moscow to Harlem and had completely reversed itself. …The next day the Daily Worker was pro-British, pro-Lend Lease, pro-interventionist and, for the first time in two years, pro-Roosevelt,” Sherwood wrote.
No Right Turns, U Turns OK
It doesn’t work that way anymore. The modern left is beholden to no Stalin, no Politburo, no Central Committee.
And its members adhere to the anti-Israel party line with a loyalty that Stalin would have envied. During his leadership mass defections occurred at regular intervals.
These intervals occurred when the Soviet Union performed a dastardly deed, such as starving millions of Ukrainians to death in the 1930s, killing millions of innocent civilians in a prolonged reign of terror, allying with Hitler in 1939, and crushing uprisings in Czechoslovakia and Hungary in 1956 and 1968 respectively.
They also occurred when one or more dastardly deeds were revealed to the public, especially when Khruschev denounced Stalin in his not altogether secretive secret speech in 1956. Western Communism died in the late 1930s. It died again in 1939, and in 1956, and in 1968. After Hungary it stayed dead.
The Old Left’s successor, today’s radicals, is in robust good health. Their disdain for Israel and support for the Palestinian Arabs started with the Six Day War in 1967 and has remained solid ever since. Dissent, whether mass or individual, has vanished.
Is Israel really that bad? More to the point, do all radical leftists believe that Israel is that bad?
Many radicals genuinely and deeply detest Israel, but many others play follow the leader—a great many others, I believe. They want to be part of the club, and they accept the whole party line without question because to question is to be accused of apostasy and fascism.
Being called a nasty name is not as bad as a bullet to the back of the head in the Lubyanka basement, but the nasty name means being shunned—booted out of the club—and that is a severe punishment.
But if a Chomsky-like figure were to question the anti-Israel party line, he might actually be listened to rather than summarily dismissed as a fascist turncoat. Such openness might then spur others to confess that they too have been harboring secret or repressed doubts.
A single u-turn by a universally respected radical would be cataclysmic and would really poop the party. But it could, and should, also be liberating.
A rabid and obsessive anti-Israel line has helped the Palestinians not a jot and has harmed the moral and intellectual integrity of the entire progressive movement. Radical change might prove beneficial to all three sides–Israel, the Palestinians, and the radical left. ###
Robert Sherwood, The White House Papers of Harry Hopkins, Vol. 1 (1948), p.303.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar,” 2003, pp. 542-3.