The left today is as anticommunist as the right, maybe even more so. This may be surprising. After all, the left, by definition, is the political movement to overthrow class society — and thus capitalism — and establish a world based on equality. One would think that communism would be the natural home of the left. This was certainly true in Marx’s time and on through the first half of the twentieth century.
But the left has now been thoroughly tamed. Even the left now sees twentieth century communism as a “botched, bloody experiment” to be repudiated. The great leaders of communist revolutionary societies are denounced as monsters — you know, Stalin and Mao, among the leaders of the only communist revolutions in human history that actually survived and succeeded.
The left is in a fine pickle. In principle, it is in favor of revolution. But it repudiates all actual successful revolutions as disasters and all actual successful revolutionary leaders as tyrants and betrayers. Why this has happened is a story I will try to tell in my book on the anticommunist black legend.
Recently I came across an interesting interview with media scholar Mark Crispin Miller. The interview is mostly about how the term “conspiracy theory” is used to dismiss and defame those who question official stories.
Miller has experienced this personally. In 2005 he published a book that meticulously documented how the 2004 election — Bush vs Kerry — was stolen by the right. Miller has argued for years that the US election system is one of the worst in the world and subject to serious manipulation. It would not have surprised him if the right had attacked his book, but in fact it was the left. He was insultingly dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist.”
This motivated him to investigate the origins of the term “conspiracy theory.” It turns out that this term was used infrequently before 1967. What happened in 1967 is that the CIA sent a memo to its offices around the world suggesting “conspiracy theory” as a way of discrediting critics of the Warren Commission, the official body investigating the Kennedy assassination. The Warren Report declared he had been killed by a lone gunman. But a number of books had recently come out seriously challenging this conclusion and suggesting that Kennedy had in fact been killed by forces within the government.
The CIA notoriously has multitudes of media assets around the world, and from 1967 forward the “conspiracy theory” meme flourished. But why on the left? Miller points out that the CIA has long deliberately and specifically cultivated the liberal and left media. This point has also been made by William Blum in his various histories of US intervention abroad. To tame the left through its own media makes perfect sense.
Of course, there are many reasons why the left has turned against itself. Jodi Dean, author of The Communist Horizon, speaks of “left melancholia” stemming from a pervasive sense of defeat. I would mention left “self-betrayal” and “self-hate,” and beyond this, “self-mutilation” — like adolescents cutting their own flesh with razors. The Wikipedia article on self-harm notes that even captive animals will self-harm. The left is captive, defeated, caged. Maybe this is part of the problem.
During the Black Death in Europe a flagellant movement flourished. Great processions, singing and praying, bearing crosses, marched though towns whipping themselves. As Wikipedia notes, “Anyone who did not join in the flagellation was accused of being in league with the devil.”
The past decades have been a kind of Black Death for the communist left. So isn’t modern left anticommunism a bit of a flagellant movement? Those who don’t join in the chorus are, of course, Stalinists. An epithet far more damning than conspiracy theorist.