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Book Review: Double Lives

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Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas against the West
by Stephen Koch (New York: Free Press, 1994) 419 pages; $24.95.

In the first half of the 20th century, one of the most respected and internationally famous economists was Arthur C. Pigou. A Cambridge University professor, Pigou became known as the father of modern welfare economics. Among his many works in the 1930s was a slender volume on Socialism versus Capitalism (1937), in which he evaluated the merits of the two economic systems.

Pigou concluded:

“If, then, it were in the writer’s power to direct his country’s destiny, he would accept, for the time being, the general structure of capitalism; but he would modify it gradually. He would use the weapon of graduated death duties and graduated income tax, not merely as instruments of revenue, but with the deliberate purpose of diminishing the glaring inequalities of fortune and opportunity which deface our present civilization. He would take a leaf from the book of Soviet Russia and remember that the most important investment of all is investment in the health, intelligence and character of the people.”

And he was confident that “socialist central planning introduced into England now by peaceful parliamentary process — if it could be so introduced — would, there is every reason to believe, make an enormously better showing than its Russian exemplar.”

Here was an important and respected voice of academic reason and reflection calling for deliberate redistribution of wealth and a gradual transformation of the market economy into a socialist planned society. Here was a world-renowned scholar holding up the Soviet Union as a model of a good, caring society (at the very moment that Stalin’s Great Purges were sending millions to their execution or to the slave-labor camps of the Gulag). What more legitimate advocate of socialism and the Soviet Union could be imagined?

There was one major problem with Pigou’s supposedly disinterested analysis and policy prescriptions: he was a Soviet secret agent. In the interwar years, he served as a recruiter for the Soviet secret police; he would find potential candidates among the young men at Cambridge and bring them into contact with Soviet handlers, if they were found to be the right types. Historians Richard Deacon, in The British Connection (1979), and John Costello, in Mask of Treachery (1988), present the evidence for this, and one of the sources for their revelation about Pigou’s Soviet activities is none other than Friedrich von Hayek.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Arthur Pigou was neither the only nor the most important figure among Western intellectuals who served the ends of the Soviet Union. Indeed, either as conscious supporters of the Soviet cause or as “fellow travelers,” many of the most prominent members of the European and American community of writers and opinion-molders participated in the Soviet web that covered the world. In Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, Stephen Koch tries to identify some of those who served as Stalin’s agents and apologists in that web of subversion and trace their influence.

In Europe, Professor Koch explains, Soviet intrigues took paradoxical forms. For example, he documents that, after the burning of the Reichstag (the German Parliament) in early 1933, and after Hitler’s use of this event to declare dictatorial powers, the Nazi and Soviet secret police collaborated to crush their opponents and maneuver for political gains. The head of the Comintern (the official international arm of Soviet subversion) was put on trial in Germany, but a deal had been made between Berlin and Moscow to assure his acquittal and transit to the U.S.S.R. Hitler used the trial to “prove” the dangers of the international communist conspiracy. Stalin used it as a way to undermine the non-Soviet or anti-Soviet left and make the Soviet Union the world champion of freedom through various “anti-fascist” front organizations that his agents in the West established and controlled.

He shows how expatriates like Ernest Hemingway were surrounded and used by Soviet provocateurs and how leading writers like John Dos Passos and Sinclair Lewis were led by the nose through propaganda tours in the Soviet Union; and how people of the stature of novelist Thomas Mann were manipulated as tools for Soviet ends. In the United States, playwright Lillian Hellman and mystery writer Dashiell Hammett served as conscious apologists for Stalin’s 1939 pact with Hitler and the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-1940. One of the front publications set up by the Soviet network in America was The Week; for several years one of its most loyal readers was Franklin Roosevelt, who never missed an issue.

Every discoverable weakness in people was used by the Soviet network. While in Stalin’s Russia, homosexuals were being rounded up by the thousands and sent to the Gulag, Soviet propaganda worked on Western homosexual intellectuals for recruits or as fellow travelers by saying that socialism meant free love; while in Stalin’s Russia, lateness for work due to drunkenness was punished with a one-way ticket to the Gulag, Soviet agents found alcoholics and cultural misfits to be prime targets in their recruitment of spies and moles in the West.

Professor Koch also details the Soviet infiltration of Hollywood and the movie industry in the 1930s. He points out:

The aim was never to make Stalinist movies. It was to Stalinize the American glamour culture, while simultaneously giving the apparatus a cash cow capable of producing a large, untraceable supply of much-needed American hard currency to finance various operations around the world. It was also a refuge for favored cultural apparachiki like Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler.

And what did it mean to “Stalinize”‘ American culture? Explains Koch:

You do not endorse Stalin. You do not call yourself a communist. You do not declare your love for the regime. You do not call on people to support the Soviets. Ever. Under any circumstances. You claim to be an independent-minded idealist. You don’t understand politics, but you think the little guy is getting a lousy break. You believe in open-mindedness. You are shocked, frightened by what is going on right here in our own country. You are frightened by the racism, by the oppression of the working man. You think that the Russians are trying a great human experiment, and you hope it works. You believe in peace. You yearn for international understanding. You hate fascism. You think the capitalist system is corrupt. You say it over and over again and you say nothing, nothing more .

Stalin is dead and the Soviet Union is no more, but the ideological impact of cultural “Stalinization” in the 1930s still dominates the world. Capitalism is still seen as corrupt, selfish, and cruel. The “little guy” and the “working man” are still seen as the victims of the profit motive. Capitalist society is still viewed as culturally repressive. And the sentiment still lingers around the globe that the state must guide, direct, plan, and control in the name of the “common good” and “the people.” The ghost of Comrade Stalin, in other words, is still with us, even here in America.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).