Category Archives: (Anti and Post) Communism

Herf on the RAF and the German New Left

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rafstar

[H/t to ZWord]

Professor Jeffrey Herf has an article on the German New Left that you really should check out, “An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany“:

It is best to begin with the obvious. This is a series of lectures about murder, indeed about an age of murder.[1] Murders to be sure inspired by political ideas, but murders nevertheless. In all, the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, hereafter the RAF) murdered thirty-four people and would have killed more had police and intelligence agencies not arrested them or prevented them from carrying out additional “actions.”[2]

Yesterday, the papers reported that thirty-two people were killed in suicide-bomb attacks in Iraq, and thirty-four the day before, and neither of those war crimes were front-page news in the New York Times or the Washington Post. So there is an element of injustice in the amount of time and attention devoted to the thirty-four murders committed by the RAF over a period of twenty-two years and that devoted to the far more numerous victims of radical Islamist terror. Yet the fact that the murders of large numbers of people today has become horribly routine is no reason to dismiss the significance of the murders of a much smaller number for German history.

Along with the murders came attempted murders, bank robberies, and explosions at a variety of West German and American institutions. The number of dead could have been much higher. If the RAF had not used pistols, machine guns, bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), remote-controlled bombs, and airplane hijackings, and if the West German radicals of the 1970s through the 1990s had only published turgid, long-winded communist manifestos, no one would have paid them much attention at the time. I doubt that the German Historical Institute would have decided to sponsor a series about Marxist-Leninist sects of the 1970s.

This article is important for a number of reasons. First, for clarifying the totalitarian (and specifically German) roots of the German New Left. Second, for discussing the RAF’s antisemitism and the prevalence of antisemitism in the German New Left. Third, for debunking some of the myths circulated on the radical left about the RAF.

If you are unfamiliar with Professor Herf’s work, he is an historian of Modern Europe and has written extensively on Germany during the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the Cold War. He is also one of the authors of “American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto“:

We reject the now ossified and unproductive political polarization of American politics rooted as it is in the conflicts of the 1960s, not the first decade of this century. We are frustrated in the choice between conservative governance that thwarts much needed reforms at home, on the one hand, and a liberalism which has great difficulty accepting the projection of American power abroad, on the other. The long era of Republican ascendancy may very well be coming to an end. If and when it does, we seek a renewed and reinvigorated American liberalism, one that is up to the task of fighting and winning the struggle of free and democratic societies against Islamic extremism and the terror it produces.

Milan Kundera, Communist Informant?

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Was anti-authoritarian novelist Milan Kundera a communist informant? Did he rat out Miroslav Dvoracek, a Czech spy for the West? The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes claims a team of historians and researchers discovered a document written by the Czech Communist police, identifying Kundera as the individual who informed on Mr. Dvoracek. Dvoracek was subsequently imprisoned for 14 years. Kundera denies the allegations.

Read more at:

The Contentious Centrist: here and here

The Economist

NYT

Sign and Sight

Political Cults: NATLFED

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I was involved with a variety of organizations on the radical left for close to fifteen years. Some were genuinely enjoyable (working with a radical press) others less so (attending meetings at the “revolutionary collective”). But the craziest experience, one that led me to challenge the alphabet soup of revolutionary organizations in the U.S. (what Ron Radosh terms the “leftover left”), was my time spent volunteering with a front group of the National Labor Federation.

The front group, or “entity” in cult jargon, will remain nameless. Like so many San Francisco Bay Area radical sects, they promoted an ultra-left, anti-imperialist line. What made them stand out was the services they provided in the community including food and clothing distributions and medical care. As a young urban radical, dedicated to the struggle for social justice™ and eager to work with a local, community-based organization, I called a number in their newspaper and arranged to meet with representatives of the organization. We met at their office. They talked about their projects (many), their need for volunteers (great), and the possibilities for organizing in Oakland (endless). What they failed to mention was this was not an independent organization, it was part of a larger group called the National Federation of Labor (NATLFED), a group that I later found out was a political cult.

At my first meeting they claimed the organization was independent and community supported. I wondered how they could pay for an office, publish a newspaper, and pay their staff? Did they get government grants? They said they refused government funding and all of the people in the organization were volunteers. Then they slowly let you know the organization is part of a larger organization of “strata-organizing entities” seeking to “organize the unorganized.”

Entities? Strata-organizing? WTF? If it sounds strange, it is. The organization operates with a vocabulary laden with acronyms and arcane terminology. Here are some examples from The Essential Organizer, NATLFEDs bible:

benefits program: Claimed program or programs for organizing people as members and providing them with medical, dental, legal, food, and clothing.

blue-sky briefing: Meeting held in an open field to avoid feared electronic eavesdropping.

cadre: A committed, Provisional Communist Party-dedicated member of the cult. “A cadre’s life goal and the organization’s goal are the same. A cadre’s lifestyle is the same as the organization lifestyle.” — The Essential Organizer

canvassing: A term common to all political groups for soliciting support. NATLFED canvassing is unique in its strident demands on front volunteers and cult members to canvass, and for the strident tone of canvassers toward potential donors. NATLFED canvassing can be door-to-door, or it can be street tabling — if the latter, often in front of banks and supermarkets.

Central Committee: Governing body of the Provisional Communist Party.

constitution: Putatively governing document of the cult. The Essential Organizer actually has more day-to-day relevance. The constitution includes a death penalty and says that you may criticize and leave the organization only within your first year, after which either is forbidden.

DOT: The time a NATLFED member has been committed to the inner organization, as distinct from the time the person was simply volunteering.

entity: A front of the national organization. Entities solicit resources for themselves and for the national organization, and recruit volunteers into cult membership. Publicly called a mutual benefit association.

The Essential Organizer: The secret, micromanaging organizational manual of NATLFED.

FIIN: Financial input, a form or system for managing expenses and income. Also a technique to raise money: “A FIIN tactic.”

FOP: Friend of the Party. Aware of the Provisional Communist Party and in agreement with its politics, but not ready to join.

member: NATLFED calls “member” someone who signs up to be part of a mutual benefit organization. Such “members” are little involved: they still have normal lives and are barely indoctrinated with the public goal of the group (to organize without revolution), never mind the secret goal (to organize with revolution). Cult watchers would call “members” people who accept the secret goal of the group and have structured their lives around it. NATLFED calls such people cadre.

mutual benefit organization: Public name for a recruiting entity. MBAs claim to be unionlike groups offering benefits to the needy in exchange for membership of $0.62 a month (said to be the average wage of a farm worker in the early 1970s). MBAs beg donations of cash or supplies from local residents and businesses. The needy receive negligible aid, however, and when they do get aid they are expected to return the favor with exhausting support of the MBA. Most resources are kept by the organization. When aid is given, it is to maintain the illusion of MBAs as charitable to the poor, or to propagandize, as in free mass Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners followed by lectures about strata organizing.

National Labor Federation: the network of local entities. NATLFED is a fraction of the Provisional Communist Party, the central, controlling core of the cult.

NOC: East Coast base of national operations for NATLFED. Pronounced “knock”; stands for “National Office Central.” Located in Brooklyn. Often called the Cave in press reports, but “cave” is a police term for any suspected group’s headquarters, and reporters have talked more to police more than to cult members. One room of NOC is indeed called the Cave, though. See also COSHAAD.

OPS: Operations manager. Also synonym for “operations” in general.

propaganda: “Information released at a time or a manner to sustain, create, or enforce an effect. Example: for us to write in the newsletter nice things about reformist groups is propaganda, because by doing it we hope that the reformists realize we are willing to talk to at least establish polemics . . . even if they are ignorant, self- serving assholes . . . or think we are, whatever the current dialectic of position may be.” — The Essential Organizer.

Provisional Communist Party: The core of the cult. Centrally governs all branches of the greater organization, of which NATLFED is its largest and most active fraction. Only committed, viable party members are officers of an entity, but volunteers of an entity may know nothing of the Party or even of NATLFED. Also known as the Communist Party of the U.S.A, Provisional; Provisional Party of Communists, the Formation, etc.

The front groups do not let you know anything about their connection with NATLFED when you walk in the door. Nor is NATLFED mentioned on any of their literature. Over time, they let volunteers know a little here and there and start to lay on a heavy pressuring technique along the lines of, “the world is going to hell and unless you become a full-time volunteer (cadre) it will only get worse!” For stubborn people like me, the more they laid it on, the less I volunteered. When I stopped completely they would call me three or four times a week but eventually cut back to calling once a week, then once a month, then they gave up. Others were sucked right in by this badgering. I met more than a few people who basically admitted, “yeah, they are crazy but they are doing really good work in the community.”

Reflecting on my experiences with radical groups in the U.S. I began to wonder, why do people get involved with political organizations that are so far on the margins? Do they believe the far-out goals of these groups will ever be attained? Or do they join for the sense of belonging and identity these groups provide? I think the latter plays a much larger role than most recognize.

[Read the FBI files on NATLFED and LARGO, a related group]

nejalogo.gif

[Logo of the National Equal Justice Association, or, NEJA. The organization’s money laundering wing or entity in cult jargon.]

Part II: Inside NATLFED (coming soon)

Communism and Treason: Lessons of the Cold War, I

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[This post is written as a response to Sultan Knish’s “Does Anyone Understand the Meaning of Treason Anymore?” If you haven’t read it, have a look. I’ve reprinted an excerpt below.]

The quest to redeem the Rosenbergs cannot and is not separable from the quest to minimize the evils of Communism. The revisionism of the Rosenberg defenders is no different than that of David Irving, Pat Buchanan or any historical revisionist trying to redeem the Nazis by finding chinks in history’s armor.

Anyone who objects to this analogy should go and dig in the frozen fields of the Gulags for the corpses of two generations of Jews brutally murdered by the Communists, or the remaining millions who were spared only by the chaos in the aftermath of Stalin’s death. Those were the monsters whom the Rosenbergs, as loyal Communist party members served, and they deserve no mercy.

Had the Rosenbergs done nothing more than simply been members of the Communist party, they would have deserved to die for it. Can anyone seriously argue that that being a member of an organization responsible for the brutal murders of millions deserve anything less? The same thing goes for Nazis or for Islamists.

Right now many of the people reading this will be wincing at what I just said. It seems much too brutal and ruthless. After all we can’t kill people just for joining a “political” organization. And that wince is a sign of just how much Communism has been legitimized and how the very idea that someone who works to overthrow the United States and murder its citizens should be somehow sacrosanct because his motivations are political or religious, has become sacrosanct.

When you dedicate yourself to mass murder by being a dedicated member of an organization meant to destroy that country, that country has every reason to execute you and no reason to let you go on living.

A political organization that seeks to end democratic rule and impose a tyranny, is not a political organization. It is a totalitarian organization seeking to achieve its objectives by political means. An organization that makes it clear that it has and will kill numberless amounts of people to fulfill its goals is a terrorist organization that must be destroyed, root, branch and leaf.

I don’t agree with the automatic death penalty for communist party membership. But I find myself agreeing with the overall message of Sultan’s post. Members of the Communist Party (CPUSA).

The CPUSA was not only dedicated to the ideology of communism it was an appendage of the Soviet Union, an enemy state. CPUSA cadre constantly worked to further the foreign policy goals of the USSR against the capitalist world, especially the US. All one needs to do is read their newspaper, The Daily Worker, to read this firsthand. But a large part of the strength of the US—and all free societies—is the ability to allow these crackpot groups to exist and express their views. Let them have their newspapers.

Problems developed when members of the CP began to occupy positions of authority in the unions (especially the CIO), produce media and educational materials, and infiltrate the federal government. They were ultimately driven out of the unions but the level of government infiltration was much greater than many realize today. The Rosenberg case is still fairly well-known but many people have forgotten about Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers.

Lastly, in addition to fellow travelers we should not forget the useful idiots. As is always the case, there are usually far more of the latter than the former. The numbers of card-carrying communist party members and other radicals in the US was never that high. But the various communist front organizations (Including International ANSWER/ISO, Workers World Party, etc.) were and remain adept at rallying large numbers to their demonstrations. Look at the “anti-war” demonstrations in the US today.

[Image from Zombietime]

If any of this is of interest, you should also have a look at historian Ronald Radosh’s op-ed, “Case Closed: The Rosenbergs were Soviet Spies” in the Los Angeles times (and elsewhere):

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed 55 years ago, on June 19, 1953. But last week, they were back in the headlines when Morton Sobell, the co-defendant in their famous espionage trial, finally admitted that he and his friend, Julius, had both been Soviet agents.

It was a stunning admission; Sobell, now 91 years old, had adamantly maintained his innocence for more than half a century. After his comments were published, even the Rosenbergs’ children, Robert and Michael Meeropol, were left with little hope to hang on to — and this week, in comments unlike any they’ve made previously, the brothers acknowledged having reached the difficult conclusion that their father was, indeed, a spy. “I don’t have any reason to doubt Morty,” Michael Meeropol told Sam Roberts of the New York Times.

With these latest events, the end has arrived for the legions of the American left wing that have argued relentlessly for more than half a century that the Rosenbergs were victims, framed by a hostile, fear-mongering U.S. government. Since the couple’s trial, the left has portrayed them as martyrs for civil liberties, righteous dissenters whose chief crime was to express their constitutionally protected political beliefs. In the end, the left has argued, the two communists were put to death not for spying but for their unpopular opinions, at a time when the Truman and Eisenhower administrations were seeking to stem opposition to their anti-Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War.
To this day, this received wisdom permeates our educational system. A recent study by historian Larry Schweikart of the University of Dayton has found that very few college history textbooks say simply that the Rosenbergs were guilty; according to Schweikart, most either state that the couple were innocent or that the trial was “controversial,” or they “excuse what [the Rosenbergs] did by saying, ‘It wasn’t that bad. What they provided wasn’t important.’ “

Indeed, Columbia University professor Eric Foner once wrote that the Rosenbergs were prosecuted out of a “determined effort to root out dissent,” part of a broader pattern of “shattered careers and suppressed civil liberties.” In other words, it was part of the postwar McCarthyite “witch hunt.

But, in fact, Schweikart is right, and Foner is wrong. The Rosenbergs were Soviet spies, and not minor ones either. Not only did they try their best to give the Soviets top atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, they succeeded in handing over top military data on sonar and on radar that was used by the Russians to shoot down American planes in the Korean and Vietnam wars. That’s long been known, and Sobell confirmed it again last week.

To many Americans, Cold War espionage cases like the Rosenberg and Alger Hiss cases that once riveted the country seem irrelevant today, something out of the distant past. But they’re not irrelevant. They’re a crucial part of the ongoing dispute between right and left in this country. For the left, it has long been an article of faith that these prosecutions showed the essentially repressive nature of the U.S. government. Even as the guilt of the accused has become more and more clear (especially since the fall of the Soviet Union and the release of reams of historical Cold War documents), these “anti anti-communists” of the intellectual left have continued to argue that the prosecutions were overzealous, or that the crimes were minor, or that the punishments were disproportionate.

The left has consistently defended spies such as Hiss, the Rosenbergs and Sobell as victims of contrived frame-ups. Because a demagogue like Sen. Joseph McCarthy cast a wide swath with indiscriminate attacks on genuine liberals as “reds” (and even though McCarthy made some charges that were accurate), the anti anti-communists came to argue that anyone accused by McCarthy or Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover should be assumed to be entirely innocent. People like Hiss (a former State Department official who was accused of spying) cleverly hid their true espionage work by gaining sympathy as just another victim of a smear attack.

But now, with Sobell’s confession of guilt, that worldview has been demolished.

[Read it all here.]

Added (more on the Rosenberg Case):

Intellectual Conservative: Rosenberg Guilt Tip of Iceberg

New York Sun: Morton Sobell and Me

NYT: Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying

Ron Radosh: The End of a Lie

WaPo: Cold War Spy Testimony Released

Were the Jewish Partisans Stalinist Dupes?

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[H/t to A.L. for bringing this to my attention. Above image of Jewish Partisans from Vilnius is from the Holocaust Research Project]

Nazi hunter: Lithuania hunts ex-partisans, lets war criminals roam free

By Yossi Melman

A few months ago, Lithuanian policemen and agents from the security service knocked on Rachel Margolis’ door in Vilna. Fortunately she was not home, and was thus saved the humiliation of an interrogation. Margolis, almost 90, was a Jewish partisan during World War II, and is finding it difficult to recover from the trauma even now, when she is living in her daughter’s home in Rehovot.

“My sin in the eyes of the nationalists and the anti-Semites in the Lithuanian government,” she says, “was that I was a partisan and fought against the Nazis and their collaborators.”

The Lithuanian policemen and agents wanted to interrogate her about her memoir, in which she told about her partisan colleagues who in January 1944 attacked the village of Koniuchy (or in Lithuanian, Kaniukai).

The Lithuanian partisans, who operated under the aegis of the Central Partisan Command of the Soviet Union, had information that there was a German garrison in the village. After the fact, it turned out that the Germans had abandoned the place. In the battle that ensued, 38 villagers were killed, including women and children. In independent Lithuania, with a tendency to rewrite history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they describe this attack as a “massacre,” and a special prosecutor opened an investigation.

Margolis says she was not even in Lithuania at the time of the attack, and was active in another partisan unit in White Russia.

“I wrote a book about the war, and in it I mentioned in a few lines that I had heard from partisan friends about the attack,” she says.

In the book she mentions another partisan friend who was among the attackers, Fania Brantsovsky, and another partisan, Sara Ginaite, both of whom are also suspects and wanted for interrogation.

“That’s Lithuanian chutzpah,” says Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “To date, Lithuanian governments have not punished a single Lithuanian war criminal. In spite of our considerable efforts and the large amount of information we have given them, they handled three cases with astonishing slowness. Not one of the three served a single day in prison. On the other hand, they’re not ashamed to persecute and harass Lithuanian partisans who fought the Nazis. What is common to all these cases is that they’re all Jews. Instead of punishing Lithuanian criminals who collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews, they’re harassing the partisans, Jewish heroes.”

Perhaps the height of chutzpah was the attempt by Lithuania to investigate Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust historian and one-time partisan, a former brigadier general and a chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces, and the chairman of the board of Yad Vashem.

The Lithuanian claim against Arad was that he served in a Soviet security services, the NKVD, which engaged in murder and looting, and that he was involved in the murder of innocent Lithuanians. In the Lithuanian newspaper, Republika, they even published an article two years ago entitled “The expert with blood on his hands.”

Arad explained that the Lithuanian claims against him were false. The Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem sharply protested the Lithuanian demand, and refused to cooperate with the request.

However, there are some in Israel who believe that neither the Foreign Ministry nor Yad Vashem are acting with the determination expected of them, and are demonstrating weakness. There are voices who believe that Israel should lower its diplomatic contacts with Lithuania if it continues harassing Jewish and Israeli partisans. One of the critics is Zuroff.

“In the State of Israel, they prefer to let Jewish organizations do the dirty work and fight against the rewriting of history in Lithuania,” Zuroff said. “The State of Israel and those involved in the issue should have made it unequivocally clear to the Lithuanian government that it is crossing all the red lines.”

Another harsh critic of Israeli policy is historian Prof. Dov Levin, an expert on Lithuanian Jewry. Levin chronicles in his books how more than 200,00 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, mainly by the Lithuanian collaborators who were eager to engage in murder without the German Nazis having to convince them.

Levin, himself a partisan in Lithuania and a member of the Yad Vashem council, was opposed to the decision about 10 years ago by the Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem to cooperate with Lithuania in the study of the history of World War II. His view was not accepted, and a joint international committee of Israeli, Lithuanian and other historians was established.

The committee, actually two subcommittees, is studying the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust in Lithuania as well as the murder of Lithuanians, during the period of the Soviet occupation of the country from 1940-1941 – as part of the infamous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as well as the Soviet period from 1945 until independence in 1991.

By doing so, the committee is unfortunately helping the Lithuanians equate the two historical developments. Levin believes that Yad Vashem should have severed any connection with the Lithuanian government and ended its activity.

I dissed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in a previous post (and at numerous comments on other blogs) for being Stalinist dupes rather than principled anti-fascists. I stand by that assertion. But this article in Haaretz regarding Jewish communist partisans displays the complexity of these issues. Were the Jewish partisans dupes as well? If not, why not?

I think not. For one thing, the situation of Jews in Lithuania was not analogous to the situation of the volunteers in the U.S. Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis and Lithuanian civilians participated in the Holocaust. Jews had four options in Lithuania. First, resistance; second, collaboration in the hopes of personal and family survival; third, seeking refuge where that was possible; and fourth, deportation to the camps. In the case of Lithuanian resistance, the communist partisan units were the only option.

Jews had choices in other countries. The Jewish Fighting Organization in Poland (more below) is one example and escapees from the Slovakian Novaky labor camp formed an independent Jewish brigade affiliated with the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair.

Regarding Lithuania, the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation notes:

In 1943, Lithuanian Jewish partisans became unified under the direction of Soviet Lithuanian partisan movement. Admission of Jews to the partisans was limited for political and military reasons as well as because of antisemitism. Even in some of the mixed units Jews experienced discrimination. Yet the partisan movement was their only vehicle to actively fight against the Nazis. In some cases, all-Jewish units were formed within the larger organization of Lithuanian partisans.

Poland was a different situation:

Because of the widespread Nazi hunts for escaped Jews, and centuries old antisemitism among some locals, many Polish Jewish partisans sought affiliation with Polish partisan groups. This was a difficult and dangerous task-a Jewish partisan could be robbed of his weapon, or killed for approaching a partisan unit. However, numerous Polish partisan units welcomed Jews, such as the People’s Guard. In the Generalgouvernement area of Poland (divided into four districts Warsaw, Cracow, Radom, and Lublin), hundreds of Jewish partisans belonged to Polish units of the People’s Guard, to the Home Army (AK), and to other groups. Considerable numbers of these Jewish partisans operated in commando units, and dozens of Jews took leadership roles as commanders.

Jews also fought as partisans in all-Jewish units, such as the ZOB (the Jewish Fighting Organization), which was active throughout occupied Poland. Against incredible odds, thousands of Polish Jewish partisans fought back, and most lost their lives. Many did not expect to survive, as reflected in the motto of one Jewish partisan group: “For those who seek life, we are not the address.”

Here is a map describing Jewish partisan activity in ten countries.

For more information on Jewish partisans, click on the image that says “Resist” on the left column of this blog or click here.

Read more about antisemitism in Lithuania here.

Remembering the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia 40 Years On

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“The only defense against Moscow’s imperialism is an alliance with the West. That is the main lesson of August 1968.”–Czech Premier Mirek Topolanek

[Image © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos]

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. I’m getting ready to head out of town for a few days and have been busy with guests. But I wanted to post something on the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Not only for the event’s historical importance but it seems relevant to what’s happening today in Georgia.

From (VOA):

Forty years ago, on the night of August 20-21, 1968, 2,000 tanks and 200,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia. Failed negotiations in Bratislava over a program of political liberalization known as “Prague Spring” served as the precipitating event.

The 1968 invasion was successful in stopping the partial democratization reforms begun by Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek. That August night, Eastern bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and East Germany – joined the invasion.

A Czech Perspective

The invasion was followed by a wave of emigrations, about 300,000 in total, typically of highly qualified people. Among those who came to the United States was Jiri Fisher, formerly a broadcaster in VOA’s Czech Service, who was 19 years old at the time. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Fisher says he was returning home after an island vacation in Yugoslavia. He was incredulous when a German family on the ship told him that there was “einen Krieg” [a war] in Czechoslovakia. Together they tuned into Radio Prague on a little transition radio, Fisher says, and they heard that Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Soviet Army and Warsaw Pact and that “people were getting killed.” To this day, he says, it gives him “chills” to remember that night.

Jiri Fisher says he and his friends ended up in the northern port city of Rijeka on the Adriatic coast. Yugoslavia’s President Tito went on TV, Fisher recalls, telling his people that “we have to take care of all Czechs and Slovaks who are trapped in our country” because the Soviet Army had shut down the borders. He says he and his friends then went on to Zagreb, where thousands of people were gathered in front of the consulate, and where people from Zagreb were “fighting for us – for whom they would take home.” Later he made his way to Vienna, and then to his hometown of Brno in the region of Moravia, and ultimately to the United States. Like many of his countryman, Fisher says, his life had been changed forever.

[read it all and listen to Latham’s report here]

Read More:

BBC: Eyewitness, Prague Spring Crushed

Dubček Jr.: People cannot be blamed for their leaders

IHT: Czechs and Slovaks Remember 1968 Invasion

Czechs and Slovaks held ceremonies Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek and ended an era known as the “Prague Spring.”

Czech President Vaclav Klaus traveled to the Slovak capital, Bratislava, while Slovak Premier Robert Fico joined his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek in Prague for the commemoration ceremonies.

Symbols of that era such as a Soviet T-54 tank and homemade posters protesting the invasion were on display in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, the main location of clashes between Soviet troops and Prague citizens.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia also marked the anniversary with speeches, conferences and film screenings.

“Communism is beyond reform. Every attempt to liberalize it leads to its destruction,” Topolanek wrote in an opinion piece in Thursday’s Lidove Noviny daily. “The only defense against Moscow’s imperialism is an alliance with the West. That is the main lesson of August 1968.”

Anarcho-Vandals Vs. Stalinist Shills

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I was going to post something about the anarcho-vandal attack on the International Brigade memorial in San Francisco but Roland and Bob beat me to it. Plenty of comments by yours truly in Roland’s comment thread.

Here is Roland:

This is surely going to make for some interesting fights amongst the various leftist communities in the Bay Area. You have those who deem the Brigade a true expression of international solidarity in the face of totalitarianism, and others who see them as an extension of the Soviet Union that would betray the anarchists in Spain.

I don’t support vandalism, and this case is no exception. I do however think that the ALB has been lionized by some on the left without considering exactly what they fought for and why, and it looks like these “activists” may very well get an exchange on that subject. But who am I kidding! We will have a week long shouting match between the two sides, and then return to the state they have been for the last 100 years.

Bob adds:

My grandparents were CPUSA members. My grandmother was a nurse, and wanted to volunteer to go to Spain. My grandfather ultimately did not want to fight in a war, and they did not go. Many of their friends went; many did not return. Partly because they always felt they should have gone, they continued to idolise the ALB until their deaths.

They left the Party, I am pretty sure, when the Non-Aggression Pact was signed. Like many Jewish CP members, for whom the Party’s absolute “anti-fascism” was its core feature, they just couldn’t stomach it. As Anon says, I am sure some actual vets of the ALB likewise left at this point.

Now that would be an interesting research project, ALB vets who left the CPUSA for its flippant anti-fascism.

Cuban Independent Libraries Need Your Help

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[h/t to Friends of Cuban Libraries]

The 2008 annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA) begins this week in Anaheim, California. Three members of the ALA Council, Barbara Silverman, Shixing Wen and Cristina Ramirez, have introduced a resolution condemning the persecution of Cuba’s independent library movement and calling for the release of imprisoned librarians. The resolution also takes note of the burning of confiscated library books in Cuba and demands that surviving books be returned to their lawful owners.

While support for this resolution should be unanimous among those dedicated to freedom of thought and expression, there is an organized pro-Castro faction within the ALA. This group denies the existence of censorship, library persecution and book burning in Cuba.

As is often the case the majority is in the middle and uninformed about the specifics. ALA Councilors are unaware of Cuba’s grim reality and receive much of their information from biased committees dominated by the pro-Castro faction, with results that could be expected.

But thanks to the new resolution on the ALA Council’s agenda, now is the time to change ALA policy. Ms. Silverman, Mr. Wen and Ms. Ramirez are being attacked for daring to speak the truth about Cuba. We need to let them know how much we appreciate their principled support for intellectual freedom and justice. They need our encouragement in standing up for truth and freedom.

ACTION NEEDED… PLEASE ACT IMMEDIATELY TO SEND MESSAGES OF SUPPORT TO:

Barbara Silverman (kidzread@aol.com)

Shixing Wen (shwen@umich.edu)

Cristina Ramirez (cdramirez@vcu.edu).

You don’t need to be an ALA member, a librarian or a U.S. citizen to make your voice heard on this crucial issue.

Every message counts. Your message can be short or long, but the main thing is that you send a message today! And please express support for the principle of intellectual freedom, avoiding any language that could be regarded as “political.”

Among the points you can make in your messages are:

* The issue of library repression in Cuba is a matter of principle, not politics
* Express thanks for their defense of jailed library workers who cannot defend themselves
* The ALA has a duty to speak out against book burning wherever it takes place

Muravchik in Democratiya: The Neoconservative Persuasion and Foreign Policy

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[I posted about the new edition of Democratiya a few days ago. I’d like to direct your attention to Alan Johnson’s interview with Joshua Muravchik. The interviews in Democratiya are always excellent but this one was of particular interest to me given Mr. Muravchik’s political development. The entire interview is worth reading but this bit stood out for me.]

Part 1: The Fall of Socialism

Johnson: Let’s talk about your book on socialism, which was made into a TV series by PBS. You are not ashamed of your socialist past. You point out that the Socialist Party ‘had no blood on our hands’ and ‘fought communists tooth and nail, often when few others would.’ But you admit to a feeling of embarrassment at having been ‘enthralled by a seductive but false idea that has done a lot of harm to the world.’ [3] The totalitarian impulse, you argue, was ‘there from the beginning’ in ‘socialism’s role as a redemptive creed, a substitute religion.’ Marx’s idea of a leap from a realm of necessity to a realm of freedom, for example, was ‘utterly messianic’, and ‘set the stage for the twentieth century’s great experiments in mass murder by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler.’ This is your argument:

Monotheism had linked cosmology – the understanding of which is a universal human craving – to an ethical system. The establishment of that linkage constituted the single most important step in the progress of mankind. Socialism severed that link. Socialism denied that the path to the kingdom of heaven lay in individual righteousness. Rather it was to be found in political outcomes. The individual could reach it not by striving for moral goodness but by planting himself on the right side of history or of the barricades. [4]

Muravchik: I kept wrestling with the central mystery of socialism. How could something that desired to make things better have instead made things so much worse? Was it that socialists were bad people? From my own experience I am still convinced that most people who embraced the idea of socialism did so from a humane feeling – they wanted the world to be kinder and gentler. Yet socialism’s most important results were quite the opposite. Of course, social democrats did things to humanise society when they were in government, but the overall record of socialism, when you add up both sides of the ledger, is quite appalling.

I concluded that the central problem is asking politics to do something it can’t do – to provide the ‘leap’ that Marx wrote about. This ambition departs entirely from the realities of human existence, which is imperfect and tragic. Life may not be nasty and brutish but it is short and it will always have its share of sadness and disappointment.

[read the interview]

Brother No. 2, Nuon Chea, Arrested in Kampuchea

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[from the Bangkok Post]

Phnom Penh (dpa) – Former top Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea will stay in jail for at least a year facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the court set up to bring justice to the victims of the regime said Friday.

In a lengthy press statement explaining the charges and the decision, co-investigating judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde issued a provisional detention order against the 82-year-old former Khmer Rouge security chief who is also known as Brother Number 2.

The statement said Nuon Chea was being charged with crimes against humanity which encompasses murder, torture, imprisonment, persecution, extermination, deportation, forcible transfer, enslavement and “other inhumane acts.”

War crimes was a charge based on the Geneva Convention and included wilful killing and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury and wilful deprivation of rights to a fair trial, the statement said.

Co-investigators said they had decided to remand Nuon Chea because he posed a potential threat to witnesses.

“He is alleged to have, throughout Cambodia during the period April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979 … planned, instigated, ordered, directed or otherwise aided and abetted in the commission of the aforementioned crimes, by exercising authority and effective control over the internal security apparatus of Democratic Kampuchea,” the statement said.

The only other man yet to be charged by the ECCC, former commandant of the notorious S-21 torture centre Duch, or Kang Keng Iev, alleged in 1999 that Nuon Chea instigated much of the killing during the Khmer Rouge’s Democratic Kampuchea regime.

Up to 2 million Cambodians died during the reign of the ultra-Maoists.

[continue reading]

More reports: AFP, AP, BBC, Reuters, World Politics Review.