The Other McCain

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What Radicalized Ace of Spades? (And Notes on the History of ‘Browderism’)

Posted on | October 19, 2022 | Comments Off on What Radicalized Ace of Spades? (And Notes on the History of ‘Browderism’)

We were in the car today and my brother Kirby was ranting about Putin and the war in Ukraine, but my mind was a million miles away, as I scrolled through an item at Ace of Spades HQ. Kirby kept ranting, and after a while, I interjected my thoughts, which involved the earliest dawn of the Cold War — Earl Browder and the “Duclos Letter.”

Students of the erstwhile Soviet Union (including our good friend Dianna Deeley) will immediately recognize this. During World War II, the West was more or less compelled into an alliance with Stalin, in order to defeat Hitler. Winston Churchill was always clear-eyed about the nature of this alliance — he was never deluded about Communism’s long-term menace — and it was he who described the new reality in March 1946:

“A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. . . . From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.”

This new reality had become apparent, to those who knew where to look for the clues, even before World War II ended. The American Communist Party (CPUSA) was, from the moment of its founding, an instrument of Soviet policy, answerable to its masters in Moscow through the mechanism of the Comintern. During World War II, when Stalin sought help from the West, CPUSA became an enthusiastic booster of Franklin Roosevelt and sought to portray Communism as wholly compatible with American democratic ideals. In a speech to the CPUSA’s national committee in January 1944, the party’s General Secretary Earl Browder proclaimed: “Capitalism and Socialism have begun to find their way to peaceful coexistence and collaboration in the same world.” Browder, who had been the CPUSA’s presidential candidate in 1936 and 1940, renamed the party as “Communist Political Association,” endorsed FDR’s reelection in 1944, and purged critics who disagreed with this stance.

A few months after FDR was reelected, however, there came a clear signal that “peaceful coexistence and collaboration” were not the postwar path being charted by Stalin. This signal took the form of an article in the April 1945 issue of the French Communist Party journal Cahiers du Communisme, which appeared under the byline of Jacques Duclos, a senior official of the French party who had also been a leading Comintern operative. The crucial paragraph of the so-called “Duclos letter” was this:

In truth, nothing justifies the dissolution of the American Communist Party, in our opinion. Browder’s analysis of capitalism in the United States is not distinguished by a judicious application of Marxism-Leninism. The predictions regarding a sort of disappearance of class contradictions in the US correspond in no wise to a Marxist-Leninist understanding of the situation.

Duclos did not write this article. Rather, it was written in Moscow and issued through the French party journal as a way of communicating Moscow’s repudiation of “Browderisim,” a deviation from party doctrine. Browder was booted from CPUSA leadership, replaced by William Z. Foster, and this episode in 1945 — before World War II ended — marked the true beginning of what became known as the Cold War.

This episode is crucial to understanding what happened in the postwar era. Leftists (including such CPUSA alumni as Howard Zinn) would blame the United States for the Cold War, but the “Duclos letter” and the repudiation of “Browderism” make clear that it was Stalin who dictated the anti-American party line taken by the Soviets and their Communist allies after WWII, a direction determined in Moscow before the war had even ended. Documenting the Russian origin of the “Duclos letter” in their 1998 book The Soviet World of American Communism, authors Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Kyrill M. Anderson write:

Why did the Soviets publish this article secretly in Moscow [in January 1945] and then send it to Paris for open publication as an ostensibly French essay? Perhaps they feared that publication in a Soviet source would be too blatant a signal that Stalin was preparing for a confrontation with the West. By arranging for French Communists to deliver the rejection of Browder’s policy of Soviet-American cooperation, the Soviets may have hoped to avoid alerting American leaders prematurely to the anticipated change in Soviet policy.

Exactly — the signal from Moscow was clear enough to American Communist leaders, and the subsequent replacement of Browder with Foster as CPUSA general secretary made it even clearer to any who had missed the signal transmitted by the “Duclos letter.” The era of Soviet-American cooperation had been merely a short-term tactical alliance, necessary to defeating Hitler and by early 1945, with Nazi Germany clearly on the brink of collapse, that era was over. Yet Stalin was canny enough to realize that he couldn’t announce this policy shift openly until he had secured the conquest of Eastern Europe which was described so famously in Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain speech.”

As I was recounting this to Kirby, it occurred to me that the history of the “Duclos letter” was actually quite relevant to the post I had been reading at Ace of Spades. Opening with a shot at the latest idiotic utterance from Stacey Abrams, Ace then swerves his rhetorical steamroller over onto the sidewalk to flatten National Review‘s Dan McLaughlin:

NeverTrump has long lied about not knowing that the Democrat Party had radicalized into socialist, anti-human totalitarians, because that, of course, is the only way to justify their frequent alliance with them and their sabotage of the Republican Party. They have to continue to pretend it’s 2003 and the most radical Democrat in Congress is corrupt Harry Reid — people “we can do business with.”
Either they’re lying, or they’re willfully blind to the fast pace of radicalization the left has gone through since 2008, or they’re just, as I say, forever frozen in The Last Year When Everything Made Sense of 2003, or they’re just fucking terminally stupid.
Or maybe NeverTrump never notices the radicalization of their Very Good Friends on the Left because they’re busy aggressively monitoring the truly dangerous radicalizing forces… on the right. Gotta “patrol the right.” Gotta purge ’em for anyone coloring outside the permitted neocon lines.
It doesn’t matter which — NeverTrump has forfeited any claim of leadership. They are stupid blunderers and fools at best, and nasty liars and traitors at worst.

Perhaps the link between this and the “Duclos letter” is obvious enough, but I’ll belabor the point in case you missed it: Like Earl Browder in 1945, the NeverTrump crowd has failed to realize that times have changed, and that there is no future use for the politics of the past. As Ace says, there was a time — and indeed, 2003 was about the peak of that rally-’round-the-flag moment of Patriotic Unity — when it seemed that Republicans might find some reasonable basis for bipartisan cooperation with the kind of Democrats “we can do business with.” But to turn this analogy to “Browderism” the other way around, the NeverTrumpers are more like the naÏve American liberals who, seduced by the “Popular Front” wartime rhetoric of Browder-era Communists, imagined that the Reds weren’t really so bad, an illusion that evaporated with the rise of the “Iron Curtain” in Europe, and postwar revelations about Communist espionage, the Rosenberg case and the unmasking of Alger Hiss.

Turn the TV channel and watch CNN or MSNBC for a while, and you see that from the liberal perspective, the problem in our current politics is that Republicans have become “far-right extremists.” But speaking for myself, and the Republican voters of my direct acquaintance, we are no further right than we were 25 years ago. The real problem — what has actually changed in the past two decades — is that the Democrats have become left-wing “extremists.” This is why Republicans can no longer play the “bipartisan” game, as if Democrats were still the party of Tom Harkin, Max Baucus and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Really, why do you think Hillary Clinton lost in 2016? Because she had to rig the party machinery to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the Democrat nomination, and lots of the Sanders voters either stayed home on Election Day or else voted for Trump out of pure spite. The idea that an avowed socialist like Sanders very nearly won the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016, and put a helluva scare into the establishment before the Democrat powers that be orchestrated Biden’s nomination, tells you all you need to know about which party has been taken over by fringe “extremists.” The fact that the alleged “moderate” Biden has been pursuing such a radical left-wing agenda confirms the fact that, although Bernie didn’t win the nomination, it’s his “progressive” wing of the party that’s really calling the shots now.

The question in the headline — “What Radicalized Ace of Spades?” — is not merely rhetorical. If you went back to 2005 or 2006, Ace was a regular ol’ post-9/11 conservative, who had fun making sport of liberal silliness, and certainly didn’t spend much time criticizing neocons, RINOS and other treacherous GOP sellouts. He was a mild-mannered Ewok with a mischievous sense of humor, but the past 15 years have been a serious of battles that have hardened him. Well do I recall how Ace stood tough during the Charles Johnson/LGF Meltdown of 2009, and he fought fiercely during the Weinergate War of 2011, which was followed in 2012 by the Brett Kimberlin Crisis. Being in a few combats like that will teach you who your real friends are, and how many of those Professional Conservative™ types even noticed when Kimberlin came after Ace?

The elite class of Professional Conservatives™ are not much help when the going gets tough, and the defection of the NeverTrumpers from 2015 onward was therefore not really surprising to those of us (obviously including Ace) who had been paying attention to the modus operandi of Conservatism, Inc. Whatever the faults of Donald Trump, his ascent certainly helped clarify who could be trusted as a Team Player during an existential crisis for the Right. Because that’s what we were facing in 2016. If Hillary Clinton had won “Obama’s Third Term” — if the Democratic Party’s hold on the White House had been extended to 12 years, or maybe even 16 years — where would the GOP be now? And it is my belief that none of the other Republicans who sought the 2016 nomination — not Ted Cruz, not Marco Rubio, certainly not Jeb Bush — could have beaten Hillary. The GOP needed something different from its predictable Chamber of Commerce-approved brand of “conservatism” to beat Hillary, and Trump provided that crucial difference.

Times change, and circumstances change, and you can’t expect to keep winning by mindless repetition of the political formulas of the past.

How many more presidential elections were we supposed to let the Republican Party lose before they finally got the Travis Tritt message that The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore? But the stubborn fools of NeverTrump didn’t want to sober up and hear that message, to let go of their commitment to Principles of Civility long enough to win an election.

That’s the damned thing about politics. It doesn’t matter how splendid your policy ideas may be, if you can’t win an election, and the GOP Establishment has been 0-for-3 since 2004. John McCain lost in 2008, Mitt Romney lost in 2012, and every possible alternative to Trump lost in the 2016 Republican primaries. Whose fault was that?

NeverTrump lost and, incapable of accepting responsibility for their defeat, instead declared war on the millions of Americans who elected the man who had beaten them. They endorse the liberal claim that the Republican Party has somehow been taken over by a dangerous cabal “extremists,” but in fact Trump expanded the Republican Party coalition — adding nearly 15 million more voters than John McCain got in 2008. How does a party become more “extreme” by adding voters?

They have no answers to these objections. They’re firmly committed to the idea of Making 2003 Great Again — a nostalgia for “bipartisanship” (and endlessly invading Middle Eastern countries). NeverTrump chose to become irrelevant (they’re just waterboys for the Democrats now) and I try my best to ignore them, a task made easier by my knowledge that Ace of Spades will keep mashing ’em flat with his rhetorical steamroller. He owns them. They’re his bitches now, and he’ll keep slapping them around on a regular basis, whenever it suits his fancy. God knows, they deserve it.



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