The Myth of the Tolerant Left
October 31, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     A stubborn myth holds that the Left in America has 
always stood for tolerance and freedom of speech, while 
suffering persecution at the hands of such benighted 
forces as the House Un-American Activities Committee, 
Hollywood "blacklists," and McCarthyite "witch-hunts." 
People who swallow the myth are therefore surprised when, 
for example, campus leftists shout down, harass, and even 
physically attack conservative speakers. Isn't this out 
of character for the Left? Aren't we seeing a form of 
role reversal?

     Not really. The myth of the tolerant Left won't 
survive a reading of Daniel J. Flynn's book WHY THE LEFT 
HATES AMERICA (just published by Forum/Prima).

     Consider the House Un-American Activities Committee, 
one of American liberalism's betes noires for its 
investigations of suspected Communists. It was actually 
founded at the instigation of a left-wing New York 
congressman named Samuel Dickstein, who wanted to 
investigate the Ku Klux Klan, "fascists," and other 
miscreants. For its first few years it was known as the 
Dickstein Committee, and liberals had no objections to 

     Later, however, it was chaired by Congressman Martin 
Dies of Texas and began turning its attention to 
Communist activities in this country. At that point 
liberals changed their minds and decided that the 
Committee was the American version of the Spanish 
Inquisition. As for Dickstein himself, Flynn notes that 
he later became "a paid agent of the Soviet Union."

     Then there was the notorious Smith Act, passed in 
the early 1940s to outlaw groups seeking the violent 
overthrow of the United States. The Communists supported 
it and sought the prosecution of their Trotskyist 
enemies. As Flynn observes, "Communists began to cry foul 
only when the Smith Act was later used against them."

     Our tears are likewise solicited for the Hollywood 
Ten, a group of Hollywood scriptwriters who were 
"blacklisted" for refusing to testify about their 
membership in the Communist Party. They claimed that 
Congress's inquiry into their party activities was 
unconstitutional. But as Flynn notes, the Hollywood Reds 
had long conducted their own blacklist of anti-Communists 
in the film industry, even informing on them to the FBI. 
One Hollywood agent, a Communist, had even blackballed 
one of his own clients, a writer named Martin Berkeley.

     The great director John Huston offered a further 
reason for the Hollywood Ten's refusal to testify before 
Congress: "It seems that some of them had already 
testified in California, and that their testimony had 
been false. They had said that they were not Communists, 
and now to have admitted it to the press would have been 
to lay themselves open to charges of perjury."

     The American Left has always fought for tolerance, 
free speech, and civil liberties only for itself. This 
fact is most strikingly illustrated by the career of 
William Z. Foster. Foster served as head of the Communist 
Party of the United States of America at the same time he 
sat on the national board of the American Civil Liberties 
Union. It takes no great sagacity to see that he defended 
the Bill of Rights only insofar as this served the 
purposes of Joseph Stalin. Eventually, when the Soviet 
Union formed an alliance with Nazi Germany to invade 
Poland, Foster and other Communists were forced to resign 
from the board.

     The ACLU points out that it has sometimes defended 
the rights of Klansmen, and so it has -- but only for 
tactical reasons, not principled ones. It has never 
invited the Klan's Grand Imperial Wizard to join its 
national board. And it has made posthumous apologies for 
expelling its Communist board members.

     As for Joe McCarthy, the infamous Wisconsin senator 
came late to the anti-Communist struggle, and his aim was 
limited: to get Soviet agents out of the U.S. Government. 
Quite a few of them had found perches there, and in fact 
McCarthy underestimated their number. He did make some 
sloppy charges, but much of the blame for the panic he 
created on the Left was due to liberals themselves. By 
encouraging an alliance with the Soviet Union, they had 
helped the Reds blur the border between liberalism and 

     This didn't stop liberals from feeling outraged when 
they were confused with Communists and fellow travelers. 
Needless to say, their indignation was directed not 
against the Communists, but against the anti-Communists.

     Today the Reds are gone, but the pinkoes we have 
always with us.


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2002 by the Griffin Internet 
Syndicate, This column may not 
be published in print or Internet publications 
without express permission of Griffin Internet 
Syndicate. You may forward it to interested 
individuals if you use this entire page, 
including the following disclaimer:

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's columns are available 
by subscription. For details and samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."