One hundred years ago, Bolshevik leader V.I Lenin and his small party hijacked the much larger anti-war and anti-Czar movements, which stormed the Winter Palace with him, taking control of the government, and then instituting a 73-year communist rule that claimed higher body counts than even Adolf Hitler.
This, in turn, ushered in an admiration for and defense of the regime from intellectuals, celebrities, and government officials.
Viewed today, the stature of those who defended tooth and nail Soviet repression and imperialism is astounding.
America’s premier journalist Lincoln Stevens infamously reported after visiting Lenin’s Russia, while the Bolshevik leader was already imprisoning and murdering those who saw the Revolution as betrayed, that he had “seen the future and it works.”
The switch to the even more murderous Stalin did not lessen intellectual admiration. Playwright George Bernard Shaw gushingly reported that “Stalin is kind to dogs and children,” (so too, for that matter, was Hitler).
While Stalin was murdering three million of his citizenry, at a rate of 1,000 a day, during his Purge Trials (1936-1938), other playwrights like Lillian Hellman, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, government figures like FDR confidant Joseph Davies, and State Department adviser Owen Lattimore, all parroted the official Soviet justification for the Purges as a defense against an ant-Soviet conspiracy led by exiled Bolshevik Leon Trotsky in league with Adolf Hitler; Davies, who penned a book defending the Trials, summed these sentiments up best—“Stalin didn’t have a Nazi Fifth Column in Russia because he had them all shot.”
In 1939, Stalin did an about face, signing a Non-Aggression Pact with Adolf Hitler that resulted in both jointly carving up Poland, and allowed the Soviet leader to take over Finland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. This, however, did not cool the ardor of such “antifascists” as Hellman and Hammett as well as Academy-Award-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, all of whom defended it.
When Stalin began murdering Russian Jews after the war, two million of which were either sent to the Gulag or executed, award-winning singer Paul Robeson denied this was happening. Robeson could not plead ignorance on this matter; he had visited Russia during this period and was told by a Jewish friend-now-prisoner what was happening.
Many later claimed that they were taken in by Soviet propaganda, disbelieved reports of what was happening in Russia because it came from the “capitalist press,” or simply had accepted that the introduction of a government-run economy in Russia was bound to have some “bumps” on the “Train of History.”
But George Orwell had the best explanation. He explained the reason that intellectuals defended Stalin at his most murderous, was a form of wish-envy to “get their hands on the whip.”