Anders Rasmussen, ‘Moscow gold’ and America’s forgotten past
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of NATO, recently gave a speech attempting to link the environmentalist movement opposed to the practice of extracting natural gas by means of hydraulic fracking to the government of the Russian Federation.
He said "I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations - environmental organizations working against shale gas - to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas. That is my interpretation." It is tempting to laugh at such remarks. Fracking is linked to all kinds of health related problems, to the poisoning of drinking water, and the evidence is there for anyone to see. Are we to truly believe that opposition to it is merely a Kremlin conspiracy?
While it is tempting to laugh, such remarks are indeed very dangerous. Talk of “Moscow gold” and “Kremlin plots” when demonizing political activists has an ugly history in the West, particularly in the United States.
During the Cold War it was common for the ruling powers to dismiss all left-wing political activism as being a “Communist Plot” by forces who are “working for the Russians.” Martin Luther King Jr. was frequently accused of being a paid Russian agent, simply because he advocated racial equality.
At one time in US history, the persecution of left-wing political activists, in the name of their allegedly being “Moscow agents” became particularly horrendous. During the period of McCarthyism, the US became a very frightening place for anyone who dared disagree with the Cold War establishment.
Extreme repression period
On September, 4th, 1949, Paul Robeson, the well-known African-American musician, attempted to give a concert to raise funds for the Civil Rights Congress in Peekskill, New York. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion mobilized a crowd of several thousand to attack. The police forced those coming for the concert to drive their cars through the crowd.
The crowd of anti-Communists from the Veterans organizations as well as the Ku Klux Klan, chanted “go back to Russia, you n——rs!” while breaking the windshields of cars with bricks. Pete Seeger’s infant daughter was nearly cut with the broken glass, as the lawless crowd chanted anti-Black and anti-Semitic slogans, beneath a burning cross.
Once this anti-Communist riot, promoted on local TV and radio and facilitated by the police, was finally finished, 140 people had been injured. Among those who were severely hurt was Eugene Bullard, the first African-American military pilot in US history.
This incident did not happen in the south, but in upstate New York, and it is just one example of extremism prevalent at the time.
The infamous “Foley Square Trial” took place in New York City Federal Court in 1948. The national leadership of the Communist Party was put on trial under the Smith Act, which made it illegal to be a Communist. The evidence against the leaders of the US Communist Party was copies of their newspaper, books written by Vladimir Lenin, and other materials that proved they were guilty of believing in Communism. After being convicted, they spent years in prison.
Eventually, 93 members of the Communist Party were charged, and convicted under the Smith Act, most serving at least five 5 years in Federal Prison. Hundreds of others were charged under state “Criminal Syndicalism” and “Anti-Communist” laws, and also jailed for lengthy periods.
Leader of the California branch of the Communist Party, Oleta Yates, was sentenced to a year in prison, simply for refusing to name other members of the Communist Party when she testified in court. Lawyers who defended Communist Party members in court were also frequently jailed.
During this period, the US federal government passed the “McCarran Internal Security Act” of 1951. This law established a “subversives control board”, and created a list of persons who in a case of “national emergency” would be detained in camps.
The FBI opened its “responsibilities program” that
worked to prevent people with unacceptable political views from
being employed. The FBI routinely visited the employers of people
with left-wing beliefs, and pressured for them to be fired.
The House Un-American Activities Committee held public hearings, in which it humiliated and degraded people deemed to be subversive, and jailed them if they uttered a single word in their defense. Communist leader William L. Patterson was famously called a “Black son of a b——“ by Congressman Henderson Lanham of Georgia. When Patterson replied “You’re the son of a b——“ he was jailed for “contempt of congress.”
During this period, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death, with the primary evidence against them being that they had been members of the Communist Party. Ethel Rosenberg’s execution was botched, and she received five electrical shocks, with smoke pouring from her body when she was finally pronounced dead.
The US also orchestrated the Korean War during this period of domestic anti-Communism, killing 3 million people in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. During the war, the US threatened to drop atomic bombs on China.
The only protest march against the Korean War was held in New York City in August of 1950. The march was outlawed, and when member of the Young Communist League marched in defiance of the ban, over 1,000 of them were severely injured by police clubs, and 14 were arrested.
Federal law made it illegal for any Communist to be elected to office in a labor union. In 1955, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare declared that Communist Party members were ineligible to receive social security or retirement benefits.
The confused public memory
In the United States right now, there are two major schools of
thought concerning the period between 1947-1954.
Liberals tend to talk about the period being “excessive” and “based on panic” and “paranoia.” Incidents like the blacklisting of actors and writers in Hollywood, and the barring of popular folk singer Pete Seeger from television are characterized as “big mistakes.” Liberals often point out that many, who never had the slightest Communist sympathies were targeted. They point out that the “red baiting” got so extreme that US Senator Joe McCarthy attempted to accuse the US Army of being secretly controlled by Communists.
Conservatives, on the other hand, have attempted to revive the image of Senator McCarthy, and portray him as a misunderstood, anti-Communist hero. They claim that the trial and conviction of Alger Hiss, and the fact that the US Communist Party had a base of supporters among organized labor, proved that the “great fears” of the period were justified.
Neither the liberal assessment of the period, nor the conservative one, actually acknowledges the horrible things that went on during this surge of anti-Communism in the United States. The public memory has largely been “cleansed” of the ugly episodes of terror and repression that went on.
It is perhaps amnesia of this period that allows figures like
Rasmussen, to make their very dangerous comments.
The McCarthyism surge of the 1950s was based on the fears of Wall Street. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Wall Street billionaires had been kicked out of Eastern Europe, and soon China as well. The power of Western capitalism was under extreme threat.
Beneath Rasmussen’s comments is perhaps the very same sense of fear, as more countries break away from the influence of the US, Britain, and France, and begin to develop independently.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.