An Interview with Dr. Paul Kengor
Editor’s Note: The “V&V Q&A” is an e-publication from The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. This is an interview with Dr. Paul Kengor, professor of political science and executive director of the Center, on his latest book, “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.” This is Kengor’s first book since 2007, a product of several years of research in declassified archives.
V&V: Dr. Kengor, you’re doing a bunch of interviews, hitting your book’s major revelations related to figures like Frank Marshall Davis, Ted Kennedy, Humphrey Bogart, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Arthur Miller, Benjamin Spock, Howard Zinn, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Jimmy Carter, and—big surprise—even Ronald Reagan. Here, however, you want to address three unique components of the book, which you fear might be neglected in other interviews. Specifically, you want to discuss how your subject relates to matters of scholarship, political partisanship, and even “redemption,” as you put it. Let’s start with scholarship.
Dr. Paul Kengor: Scholarship strikes at the core of why I wrote this book. The word “dupe” will strike some as uncharitable. I implore people to understand that the word has been used since the founding of the republic. Washington actually used it in his Farewell Address.
Moreover, the word describes a distinctive, significant phenomenon completely neglected in scholarship, and especially in understanding the last century.
V&V: Your focus begins mainly in the 1920s, after the Bolsheviks seized Russia and the American Communist Party was up and running.
Kengor: Yes. Think about how critical dupes were to American communists: Communists were always a tiny minority in this country, even at the height of their party membership in the 1930s, which peaked at about 100,000 members. To advance their agenda, they needed to conceal themselves and their pro-Soviet mission. More than that, in their petitions, rallies, publications, they needed the broader enlistment and endorsement of non-communists—always progressives / liberals—in order to grant some semblance of legitimacy to what they were covertly seeking to achieve. There are actual directives from the Soviet Comintern, which I’ve published in the book, ordering American communists to target these non-communists, including for major propaganda campaigns.
What prompted me to write this is the massive amount of declassified materials now available in archives—KGB archives, FBI files, presidential libraries, to cite the tip of the iceberg. I looked closest at the Comintern Archives on CPUSA (Communist Party USA). There are hundreds of reels of microfiche from this archive—declassified by the Russian government in the 1990s—sitting at the Library of Congress. I’d spend an entire day on one reel. By the way, never, not once, did I have a request to review a reel denied because another researcher was using it, even during summertime, when professors do most research. The academy, which is overwhelmingly titled left, is ignoring this material.
V&V: And what does the material show?
Kengor: It shows, at great length, how the extreme left—namely the communist left—deliberately, cynically exploited the softer left, primarily progressives / liberals; the latter were unaware of the communists’ true, full intentions, or even that the communists were communists. In fact, when the communists were correctly accused of being communists—accused, that is, by anti-communists—the progressives / liberals joined the communists in attacking the anti-communists as paranoid, McCarthyite, Red-baiting reprobates.
That said, not everyone on the liberal left was duped.
V&V: This relates to your point on partisanship, right?
Kengor: Yes. Because I’m a conservative, people might assume this is a partisan book aimed at zinging Democrats. Not at all. This duping process—the exploitation and manipulation—was a battle within the political left, with conservative anti-communists on the outside trying to blow the whistle on the communists, and pleading with liberal Democrats not to be hoodwinked. As the great Harvard liberal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., had warned way back in July 1946, “Communists have succeeded in hiding their true face from American liberals.” The Reds posed a “most serious danger” to liberals, and were engaged in a “massive attack on the moral fabric of the American left.” That was dead right.
My heroes in the book are the liberal Democrats who weren’t suckered, or who, once fooled, repented, admitted their mistakes, and, in some cases, became excellent anti-communists.
Really, this book is for liberals. I hope they will read it.
V&V: Who were the liberals who redeemed themselves?
Kengor: That’s a notable list, from less-known names like William Bullitt and Paul Douglas to the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even John Dewey, the father of modern public education. The degree to which Dewey was manipulated during a trip to Moscow in 1928 is painful to read. It’s another sign of the bias of the academy that only now, in this book, is this material on Dewey seeing the light of day.
From Hollywood: Olivia de Havilland, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Cagney, John Garfield, Edward G. Robinson, Melvyn Douglas. All of them were duped, admitted it, and changed. In fact, Hollywood produced the most interesting conversion case of all: Ronald Reagan, who went from (self-admitted) duped liberal Democrat to arguably the greatest anti-communist.
To me, these cases of redemption are the most inspiring part of the narrative. From a faith perspective, consider the parable from Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus rejoices over finding the “one sinner who repents” more than the 99 “righteous people who have no need of repentance.”
By the way, when these people realized they had been duped, and publicly said so, the communists publicly attacked them in vile language. They demonized them.
V&V: Who are other liberals and Democrats they demonized?
Kengor: The communists most despised the liberals and Democrats who were never duped. Here’s a shocker for modern eyes and ears: Woodrow Wilson, the progressive’s progressive, was a staunch anti-communist. He was not duped. For that transgression, communists targeted him with all sorts of lies and slander. Lenin himself publicly labeled Wilson an “utter simpleton.”
V&V: You said that American communists did the same thing to Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy—all Democrats?
Kengor: It was awful. Within the first weeks of FDR’s administration, communists launched a systematic campaign to label FDR a “fascist” seeking to launch “world war.” It’s amazing to see. I beg liberals to please understand: the communists were not your friends. Please quit defending them.
Eventually, however, American communists changed on FDR—once he allied with Stalin in World War II. Overnight, he became their darling. American communists were loyal Soviet patriots. As two esteemed liberals, George Kennan and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., put it, they obeyed only “the master’s voice” in the Kremlin.
V&V: And what about Harry Truman?
Kengor: That’s one of the major revelations in the book. America’s communists painted Truman as a monster—“the butcher of Hiroshima”—because he committed the unpardonable sin of opposing Stalin, given that Stalin was violating Yalta, blockading Berlin, seizing Eastern Europe, and, basically, murdering the masses and starting the Cold War. To illustrate this, I use the example of Frank Marshall Davis. Davis was no less than mentor to a young Barack Obama in Hawaii in the 1970s, as Obama documents in his memoirs, Dreams from My Father.
In the late 1940s, Davis was writing Soviet propaganda. It took me a few years to find it, but I got the actual FBI document that lists Davis’s Communist Party card number. We publish the document in the book. Davis did this especially via the weekly column he wrote for the CPUSA organ of Honolulu. Thanks to the digging of two remarkable researchers, I got all of Davis’s columns from 1949 and 1950. They will turn your stomach. Davis called Harry Truman, a Democratic Party icon, and one of my heroes, every wretched name you can imagine, from fascist to racist to warmonger to a devil. It’s shocking to read, especially given Davis’s role as mentor to the current leader of the free world.
Liberals today complain of the harsh words aimed at Truman and George Marshall by Joe McCarthy. That’s nothing compared to what Frank Marshall Davis said. Davis labeled the Marshall Plan, which was one of the most charitable acts in all of history, a form of “colonialism,” “racism,” and “imperialism.” He said Truman craved not only a “third world war,” but to takeover and “rule Russia.” This was Truman’s “fascism, American style.”
No one, anywhere, believed that. Yet, it was the Soviet line. Davis hailed the USSR as the only real hope for the world.
I know this sounds unbelievable, but I haven’t misrepresented it one bit. In fact, I’m understating it. I quote Davis’s precise words in the longest chapter in the book. I have photo exhibits of his actual columns as they appeared on the pages of the Honolulu Record. We printed them from microfiche at a university library in Hawaii.
V&V: Who are other liberals and Democrats who were never duped?
Kengor: As starters: Senator Thomas Dodd, Senator James Eastland, Congressman Francis Walters, Congressman Richard Ichord, Congressman Edwin Willis, Senator Paul Douglas, William C. Bullitt, John F. Kennedy and his family—with the staggering, jaw-dropping, extraordinary exception of his brother, Ted Kennedy—Pennsylvania Governor George Earle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sidney Hook, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Mary McCarthy, Sam Nunn, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James “Jimmy” Roosevelt, Lionel and Diana Trilling. Those are just a few.
So strong were some liberals’ denunciations of communism that they were just as strident—actually more so—than Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. That’s true for the words of Woodrow Wilson, JFK, Thomas Dodd, George Kennan, Arthur Schlesinger. If you don’t believe me, read them.
Of course, there’s more to the story, including those who never seemed to learn—like Ted Kennedy. The Soviets themselves were amazed at how easily they misled Ted Kennedy. The book includes a photo of Kennedy dancing at a staged wedding in Moscow.
V&V: And you say they “trashed the causes that liberals and Democrats held dear?”
Kengor: They sure did. Again and again. From FDR’s New Deal, to Wilson’s League of Nations, to Truman’s Marshall Plan and fight for civil rights, to JFK’s foreign policy, all the way to the 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago, which they aimed to subvert—as Democrats in Congress found and reported.
The book is 600 pages long, with over 1,500 endnotes. So there’s a lot more.
V&V: For more, we’ll look at the book. Dr. Kengor, thanks for talking to V&V Q&A.
Kengor: Of course.