Before the Hive
(Reprinted from SOBRAN'S
August 2001, page 3-5)

     Over the past twenty years I've often written about 
"the Hive" -- my nickname for the informal body of 
opinion comprising liberals, socialists, outright 
Communists, and various other strains of "progressive" 

     Like an odor, such folk are easier to sense than to 
define. They include assorted activists for specific 
causes, as well as more passive enablers, especially in 
the news media. The Democratic Party is their chief 
American organ.

     The Soviet Union, until it collapsed, was the Queen 
Bee of the Hive. The Worker Bees of the West took their 
bearings -- though not their orders -- from the great 
socialist motherland. They operated sympathetically, but 
independently. Most of them would have felt insulted if 
their Soviet allies had tried to push them around.

     The Hive was not, and is not, a conspiracy; it's 
more a pattern. Naive anti-Communists, seeing the 
pattern, have mistaken it for a conspiracy. The Bees, on 
the other hand, have made their own mistake. Knowing that 
they aren't parties to a conspiracy, they fail to see the 
evident pattern of their collective behavior. By sheer, 
insectlike instinct, they obey not the dictates of a 
foreign power, but the internal logic of their own 
nature, their yearning for a secularist and socialist 
political order.

     This yearning drew the Bees to Communism at one 
period in modern history, but it also survived the 
institutional death of Communism; though Communism was 
profoundly attractive to the Bees as long as it appeared 
viable, Communism as such was never the essence of the 
attraction. Its powerful appeal, during the naive phase 
of the Hive, was simply that the Soviet Union under 
Stalin looked like a winner -- a huge and altogether 
successful experiment in "building a new society" on 
progressive lines. It was also frightening, and during 
the 1930s, dubbed "the Red Decade" by Eugene Lyons (in 
his scathingly witty book of that title), it wielded 
incalculable power even in this country. Such people, 
Lyons wrote, "were drawn to the Great Experiment by its 
magnitude and seeming strength. Under the guise of a 
nobly selfless dedication they were, in fact, identifying 
themselves with Power."

     In fact, the Communists and pro-Communists of the 
Red Decade were distinguished by their real and virtual 
allegiance to the Soviet Union and to Stalin himself. 
Though they may have thought of themselves as 
internationalists who transcended national loyalties, 
they actually transferred their patriotism to a specific 
foreign power, which they defended, justified, and 
celebrated at every turn. It seems almost unbelievably 
naive now, but the evidence Lyons amassed is undeniable. 
THE RED DECADE is packed with the insane eulogies to 
Stalin and Soviet Russia that gushed from American 
liberals in those days. A new civilization was being born 
... Russians were enjoying unprecedented freedom and 
prosperity ... A new Renaissance was thriving ... 
Industrial production was booming ...

     All lies and fantasies -- the very opposite of the 
indescribably grim truth. The vast and cruel tyranny was 
claiming millions of lives, most of them due to a policy 
of forced famine; the survivors lived in utter poverty, 
due equally to tyranny and incompetence; art, culture, 
and intellectual life were being crushed, along with 
religion. Civilization itself was being murdered in 
Russia, with the vociferous approval of free men in the 
still-civilized countries to the West.

     A few honest visitors told the truth. But they were 
shouted down, drowned out, vilified by the organized 
Stalin apologists. These included not only party hacks, 
but prominent and often gifted writers, intellectuals, 
and opinion-makers: Lincoln Steffens, Louis Fischer, John 
Strachey, Maurice Hindus, Malcolm Cowley, Granville 
Hicks, Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, Paul de Kruif, 
James Weldon Johnson, Archibald MacLeish, George Soule, 
Langston Hughes, George Seldes, Richard Wright, Newton 
Arvin, Van Wyck Brooks, Kenneth Burke, Erskine Caldwell, 
Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Irwin Shaw, Irving Stone, 
Vincent Sheean, Upton Sinclair, Carl Van Doren, Louis 
Untermeyer, William Carlos Williams, Lillian Hellman, 
Henry Roth, Max Lerner, Heywood Broun, Ring Lardner Jr., 
and Nathaniel West.

     All in all, an impressive roster. No wonder it took 
a bold man to defy the engineered consensus that Stalin 
and Communism were the wave of the future, the harbingers 
of universal human destiny. Who could suppose that so 
many leading intellectuals were prostituting their minds 
for the sake of a single foreign tyrant? They seemed to 
speak for enlightenment itself.

     It's easy to suppose, now, that Communism was a 
minor part of American life in the Thirties. We have all 
been taught that McCarthy Era hysteria grossly magnified 
the reality. It didn't. Through his iron (though hidden) 
control of sycophantic intellectuals, labor unions, and 
other forces, Stalin wielded enormous power over millions 
of Americans, most of whom had no suspicion of his reach, 
or of his sinister influence over their opinion leaders.

     Stalin *was* Communism. Or rather, Communism became 
whatever Stalin said it was. Indifferent to theory, 
contemptuous of abstractions (and intellectuals), he had 
a crude and undistracted appreciation of power: how to 
get it, how to wield it, how to keep it. His method was 
simple: terror. He murdered those who resisted him; he 
also murdered those who assisted him, lest they acquire 
some claim on him. His ruthlessness was felt through his 
whole global network, and was emulated by his cadres 
abroad. Where murder wasn't possible, character 
assassination would do. The most severe punishments were 
meted out to defectors, and the dread of Stalin's (or his 
underlings') revenge did wonders for party cohesion.

     "Our own American Popular Front," Lyons wrote, 
"though never officially in power as it was in France and 
for a brief period in Spain, penetrated, in various 
degrees, the labor movement, education, the churches, 
college and non-college youth movements, the theater, 
movies, the arts, publishing in all its branches; it 
bored deep into the Federal Government and in many 
communities also into local government; it obtained a 
stranglehold on great sectors of national and local 
relief setups and made-work projects through domination 
of the Workers Alliance, capture of key jobs, and other 
stratagems. At its highest point -- roughly about 1938 -- 
the incredible revolution of the Red Decade had mobilized 
the conscious or the starry-eyed, innocent collaboration 
of thousands of influential American *educators, social 
workers, clergymen, New Deal officials, youth leaders, 
Negro and other racial spokesmen, Social Registerites, 
novelists, Hollywood stars, script writers, and 
directors, trade-union chiefs, men and women of abnormal 
wealth* [my emphasis]. Its echoes could be heard in the 
most unexpected places, including the supposed citadels 
of conservatism and respectability." Apart from its 
omission of journalists, this is a pretty fair catalogue 
of the constituent Bees of today's Hive. Of course time 
has added some new categories: feminists, homosexuals, 
environmentalists, and the like.

     Lyons added that "the complex communist United Front 
tinctured every department of American life while it 
lasted and has left its color indelibly on the mind and 
moral character of the country. Our labor movement, 
politics, arts, culture, and vocabulary still carry its 

     If the Hive is spontaneous, the Red Decade *was* 
conspiratorial. Stalin and his helpers were able to 
manipulate "a horde of part-time pseudo-rebels who [had] 
neither courage nor convictions, but only a muddy 
emotionalism and a mental fog which made them an easy 
prey for the arbiters of a political racket." The dreaded 
charge of "red-baiting" (the forerunner of "McCarthyism," 
but far more deadly) was enough to cow into silence most 
criticism of Soviet Communism. And of Stalin himself. 
Anti-Communists risked, and often received, ostracism, 
vicious slander, and personal harassment. It was 
unnerving even to those few who had the nerve and stature 
to withstand it; and it was especially effective in 
deterring the far more numerous weak and timid souls from 
following their example.

     Lyons's book is a shocking reminder of how 
powerfully Communism gripped American public opinion, 
through publishing, entertainment, the labor movement, 
and higher education. Today Communism is dead -- and yet 
it isn't. The power that was once concentrated in a few 
Red hands is now diffused among countless others, but, 
though it doesn't exactly terrorize, it still 
intimidates. As Charles Peguy presciently put it nearly a 
century ago, "We shall never know how many acts of 
cowardice have been motivated by the fear of seeming not 
sufficiently progressive."

     During the Red Decade, Soviet apologists deemed old 
scruples out of place when measuring the Soviet 
achievement. "On the contrary," as Lyons observed, "the 
more distasteful the chore, the greater the credit." 
Repression, purge, forced famine were alternately denied 
and defended. The ten years of the Red Decade were "the 
years of the apotheosis of Stalin. The Revolution had 
been reduced to one man; Marxism, Soviet style, was just 
another name for the whims and blunders of one man; the 
Communist International and all its myriad appendages 
were literally nothing more than his private racket." 
Today's Hive is thoroughly decentralized. Yet it still 
maintains its own highly effective discipline. It has 
refined ideology into a sort of etiquette. "Progressive" 
opinion enjoys the aura of politesse; whereas 
"reactionary" views are felt to be ignorant and boorish.

     The New Deal proved hospitable to Communist 
infiltration. Franklin Roosevelt, though sometimes wary 
of open association, praised Stalin's 1936 constitution 
-- sufficient proof, by the way, that he had no grasp 
whatever of the U.S. Constitution. Joseph Davies, his 
ambassador to Moscow, wrote a famously fatuous book, 
MISSION TO MOSCOW, in praise of Stalin's utopia. Such 
cabinet officers as Frances Perkins (who, Lyons wrote, 
"seems to live in dread of criticism from the Left"), 
Harold Ickes, and Henry Wallace were always ready to lend 
their names and persons to Communist-front groups.

     As for Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyons captures her 
essence: "The First Lady of the land became almost 
standard equipment in setting up any new Innocents' Club 
or in bolstering the prestige of an old one; her 
sympathetic heart, her social-worker enthusiasm and 
ideological naivete made her a perfect subject for 
communist hoaxes.... In the inner circle of activists, I 
was told, she was regarded as one of the party's most 
valuable assets." One precious detail emerged long after 
Lyons's book was published: Mrs. Roosevelt, attending a 
diplomatic function, insisted on being escorted by Alger 

     Stalin could count on his cadres, fellow-travelers, 
and dupes to follow every twist and reverse in his party 
line, but he finally demanded too much even of the most 
gullible. He destroyed his own Popular Front when he made 
his pact with Germany in 1939 and joined the rape of 
Poland. At that point even many hard-core Communists, 
hating Hitler even more than they loved Stalin, at last 
broke away in disgust.

     From that moment, mechanical pro-Communism in 
America was a thing of the past. The Soviet Union lost 
nearly all its American loyalists. Many of them would 
still pine for an "ideal" Communism, and continued to 
regard Soviet Russia as vaguely progressive, but the old 
thrill was gone forever.

     During World War II Stalin enjoyed a temporary 
reconciliation with American liberal opinion; through no 
fault of his own, Soviet Russia was invaded by its German 
allies (as Lyons had predicted) in June 1941, and in 
December the United States entered the war on Stalin's 
side. U.S. Government propaganda lied to the American 
public about its "Russian friends" as shamelessly as the 
Communists and fellow-travelers had lied during the Red 
Decade. At the war's end, the fruits of victory in 
Central Europe were too sweet for Stalin to bother hiding 
his true colors, and American illusions were no longer 

     Today the liberals have run out of utopias. Russia 
is Russia again, having renounced the Red dream after 
terror devolved into shabbiness; China, though semi-
Commie, can be nobody's ideal; Cuba is both brutal and 
squalid. Even Sweden has lost its charm.

     The Hive no longer believes in socialism, though it 
keeps moving spasmodically toward it out of old habits. 
The victory of market capitalism is too clear, and 
planned economies have proved embarrassing. The Bees have 
to settle for keeping the welfare state -- also semi-
disreputable -- and making hay on abortion, sodomy, 
environmentalism, smoking, whatever promises to allow 
some incremental government growth. During the 
impeachment battle they defended Bill Clinton with the 
same solidarity with which the old Left defended Stalin, 
but it wasn't really the same. Stalin was, after all, a 
far more inspirational figure.

     But the residue of the Red Decade is still with us, 
just as Lyons said sixty years ago. The Hive bears traces 
of its ancestry. It still believes reflexively in the 
state, vilifies its opponents, and, above all, keeps its 
gains. It practices not only a "politics of personal 
destruction," but a politics of *general* destruction, 
in which all social relations are determined by force. It 
believes in power and nothing else.

     Having said all that, I think the strongest 
resemblance between the old Left and the Hive lies in 
their shared hatred of human individuality. To become a 
Bee in this Hive is to surrender, voluntarily and 
eagerly, your own personality; to submerge the self in a 
collectivity; to prefer the buzzing cliche of the group 
to individualized thought and expression; to take 
satisfaction in belonging, and conforming, to a powerful 
mass, while punishing others for failure to conform. This 
is not only a political but a spiritual condition. It was 
true of the Stalinists, and it's true of the Hive. All 
the names have changed since the Thirties, yet you get 
the eerie feeling that the old Stalinists and today's 
Bees are somehow *the same people.*

     The similarity to an insect colony -- where the 
individual exists only functionally, being both 
indistinguishable from and interchangeable with its 
fellows -- is not superficial. It's of the essence. To be 
an insect is to be relieved of the burden of having a 
soul of your own.



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