This is the second in a series of interviews by the Center for Vision & Values with Dr. Paul Kengor on his latest book, Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century. This series focuses on a dominant theme of the book: the Religious Left. Read Part I of this interview here.
V&V: Dr. Kengor, picking up from the previous Q&A, you note that many liberal / progressive Christians were duped by communists, whereas many others, fortunately, were not duped. Let's break it down.
Dr. Paul Kengor: On the plus side, some were never duped in large part because of their faith-based understanding of the godlessness of Marxism-Leninism. These included liberal Democrats like President Woodrow Wilson—big surprise to modern ears—Wilson's attorney general, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and more. Wilson called the Bolsheviks "barbarians," "tyrants," and "terrorists." JFK alerted America to its "atheistic foe" and the "godless" "communist conspiracy."
V&V: And then, you say, there were duped liberals / progressives who eventually "came to see the light," and switched and repented in part because they saw the evil of the Soviet war on religion.
Kengor: Yes, this included William Bullitt, our first ambassador to the USSR, who once literally planted a kiss on Stalin's cheek. Another was Paul Douglas, a later U.S. senator, who had been wined and dined by Stalin. Another was a Hollywood liberal named Ronald Reagan, whose pastor alerted him to the menace of atheistic communism. All three, Reagan, Douglas, Bullitt, saw the light and made reparation.
V&V: You also describe lifelong liberals who, either agnostic or not notably religious, were appalled by the faith-like structure of Soviet communism.
Kengor: Yes, these liberals were repulsed by the Soviet promise of an earthly utopia. The Bolsheviks created their own gods in their own image, repeating that first sin: Ye shall be as gods.
This included John Dewey, father of modern American public education. Interestingly, Dewey was initially duped by the Soviets, who adored his educational work, rapidly translating it into Russian, one book after another. The totalitarian Bolsheviks saw Dewey's work as perfect for their state; they quickly implemented the precise Dewey books that America's teachers' colleges and educational departments have used to train a century of public-school educators. In Dupes, I list these books, their years of translation, and the Bolsheviks' glowing appraisals. They loved Dewey.
The Bolsheviks invited John Dewey to the USSR for a 1928 trip, where they rolled out the red carpet. There, this public-school icon was manipulated badly. When he returned home, he did exactly what Stalin hoped, proclaiming the "new world" he discovered in the USSR. In one especially outrageous account, Dewey hailed the "restoration" of Russia's churches, when, in fact, as everyone knew, the Bolsheviks were demolishing churches.
To his credit, the professor eventually saw the light, becoming a staunch critic of Stalin. It took Dewey a few years, but he came around. I think Dewey's own earlier departure from the faith numbed his awareness of the evil staring him in the face. Dewey's mother had been very devout, and he had once taught Sunday school, but by the time he got to Columbia, he had fled the faith.
V&V: And then there were lifelong atheists who you said "never learned," and were duped into "stumping for the Soviet state until their final days."
Kengor: Yes, spiritually speaking, one might see these folks as victimized by the continued lack of light in their lives, of wallowing in darkness. That would be spiritual speculation, which I avoid in the book. Here I have in mind the famous humanist/atheist Corliss Lamont, one of Dewey's star pupils at Columbia.
V&V: Corliss Lamont also made a sojourn to Moscow, where he, too, was manipulated. Tell us about that.
Kengor: What Lamont recorded about that visit, which he turned into a book, is breathtaking. It was embodied in his reaction to Lenin's dead body encased in glass, which caused Lamont to swoon in delight. He was also inspired by his visit to Moscow churches that had been converted into atheist museums. Unlike Dewey, who was so naïve that he allowed himself to be convinced that these were "restoration" projects, Lamont knew precisely what they were, and heartily approved.
In some of these churches, the Bolsheviks displayed the corpses of saints, which Lamont ridiculed. In Lenin's corpse, Lamont perceived not rot but a "resolute and beautiful face." In the case of the saints, however, he eagerly reported worm holes, "smelly" odors, and mockingly asserted that it looked as if the Lord wasn't taking very good care of these "holy" people.
V&V: It was very disrespectful.
Kengor: It was classic Corliss Lamont, who was a dupe for the communists and their worst sins for seven decades until his death in the 1990s.
Join us next week for the third installment in this series, as Dr. Kengor talks about communist manipulation of progressive pastors during World War II and Vietnam "peace" campaigns. If you'd like to reach Dr. Kengor to discuss this book, contact him directly at [email protected].
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Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
Publication date: October 22, 2010