By Paul Kengor
Editor’s note: Who could have imagined that one of the most audacious disinformation campaigns in American history would turn out, according to a recently declassified FBI file, to have a direct connection not only to today’s president of the United States, Barack Obama, but to top advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett as well? Here, Professor Paul Kengor, author of “The Communist,” the new bestseller about Obama mentor Frank Marshall Davis, tells the incredible story of communist disinformation in America and its multiple ties to those now “fundamentally transforming” this country from the top.
If you want to see how Soviet-style disinformation has spread in our own country, look no further than the Communist Party USA. Sure, no one could spin a web of lies quite like the Soviets and the Kremlin, but their American devotees are likewise excellent at agitation, propaganda and deliberate deception. America’s communists have produced some impressive homegrown disinformation. Here, I’ll consider an especially productive example, which still bears bitter fruit today among the wider American left: the campaign against the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
In this skillful, cynical disinformation campaign, American communists, working with duped progressive/liberal accomplices, framed their accusers as “fascists,” “Nazis,” “McCarthyites” and even “racists” who were (allegedly) unfairly hounding and maligning them by investigating their ties to Moscow. In truth, the accused were frequently guilty – and, at the least, merited attention. Nonetheless, these leftist forces came together, under the leadership of the CPUSA, the Daily Worker and other far-left forces, in coordinated campaigns such as “Operation Abolition,” which sought to abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which they tagged as “HUAC” – the “House Un-American Committee,” a label that sticks to this day.
Of special interest, one of those who engaged in this campaign was Frank Marshall Davis, a closet CPUSA member who in the 1970s would go on to mentor a young Hawaiian boy named Barack Obama, our current president.
Before examining this anti-“HUAC” campaign, consider a few words on the concept of communist campaigns.
Communists excelled at “campaigns” – that is, carefully concerted efforts where they exploited an issue or cause to further their agenda. Such campaigns were a very significant, still vastly unappreciated tactic vigorously employed by the communist movement throughout the 20th century. They were done with great effect, so much so that many of the outright untruths in these underhanded campaigns have slipped their way into history books as quasi-official versions of 20th century history.
These campaigns took on such a discernible, consistent pattern that they eventually prompted full-scale investigations by the U.S. government, which deciphered a clear tactic requiring constant surveillance. The FBI in the 1950s would produce a 100-plus-page report (classified) strictly on the subject of campaigns. The bureau defined campaigns as “concentrated, continuous and concerted succession of agitation and propaganda activities specifically devised and timed to sway public opinion. All communist campaigns are intended to arouse, influence and mobilize as many people as possible to further communist goals.” Those goals, naturally, included the promotion of the “welfare of the Soviet Union.” For American communists, the end-goal was always a “Soviet America,” or, as the 1930s CPUSA loyalty oath put it, “to insure the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States.”
Of special relevance to this article, communist campaigns, like communist fronts, thrived on deceit and disinformation. And American communists were vigilant in concealing their coordination. They needed to be ever ready to deny their participation.
The chief target audience in these campaigns was gullible liberals/progressives that communists believed could be duped. The dupes were indispensable to success. If the campaigns marshaled only the support of communists, they would be transparent and would collapse under public exposure. The presence of liberal/progressive dupes helped diminish the presence of communists.
The FBI noted that, “No other organization has ever engaged in so many diverse, intensive and extensive campaigns conducted with so much perseverance, deftness and potency as has the Communist Party USA.” CPUSA was “never without” a campaign of one type or another, and had been responsible for “an inestimable number of campaigns.”
The anti-‘HUAC’ campaign
This brings me back to the anti-“HUAC” campaign.
One of the most controversial domestic battles of the Cold War was the fight between Congress’s House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUAA) and those accused by the committee of harboring private loyalties to the Soviet Union and international communist movement. It was before this committee that certain citizens were repeatedly asked the dramatic question, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” Many of those asked pleaded the Fifth Amendment.
There is much to this drama that today is misunderstood or unappreciated. To cite just one example, the actions of the House Committee are often identified with conservatives, with the political right, with McCarthyism and the man Joe McCarthy. In truth, Senator McCarthy was never a member of this House (of Representatives) Committee. In fact, throughout its history, the committee was chaired primarily by anti-communist Democrats. Its Democrat chieftains ranged from Rep. Martin Dies, D-Texas, to Rep. Francis Walter, D-Pa., to Rep. Richard Ichord, D-Mo., among others.
But more than that, and fundamental to the theme of this article, was the counter-campaign against the House Committee. That counter-campaign is known today only by a narrow group of Cold War researchers who have actually dug into the declassified archives – ranging from Soviet archives in Russia to the Comintern Archives on Communist Party USA (CPUSA), housed at the Library of Congress. A look at those archives, and other material, illuminates an interesting counter-response to the House Committee. That counter-response was a campaign called Operation Abolition.
Operation Abolition was a 1940s/1950s effort led by (among others) CPUSA, the Daily Worker, the ACLU and a splinter group from the ACLU, the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee – headed by Corliss Lamont and I. F. Stone. The goal of this coalition of left and far-left sources was to abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or at least to so question and demonize the committee in the public’s mind as to discredit the committee.
It was incredibly ironic, and utterly outrageous, that after two decades of being wrong and being duped by Stalin, by Stalinists, and by secret supporters of Stalin, that America’s liberals/progressives – led by the ACLU and National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee – would come together to find their demon not in the duped liberals/progressives or pro-communists who defended Stalin as he murdered tens of millions, but in the anti-communists who tried to tell the truth to Americans about Stalin, his murderous state and his secret supporters in America. Can you imagine? Well, that is precisely what happened. Making it worse, I. F. Stone, who we now believe was a paid Soviet agent from 1936-38, helped lead the campaign.
So intense was this campaign that Congress itself ultimately investigated the campaign. Congress correctly perceived that the campaign was built upon a larger “anti-anti-communist” campaign that liberals/progressives pushed for decades and still advance to this day. That push had been so intense and problematic in the 1950s that the Senate Judiciary Committee (run by anti-communist Democrats) would hold hearings and publish a report titled, “The New Drive Against the Anti-Communist Program.”
As noted during those hearings, leading the charge in many of these anti-anti-communist thrusts was the New York Times. As testified by the feature source in the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Times was one of the primary “organs of anti-anti-communism,” doing so ad nauseum with “heavyweight, comatose gibberish.”
Whether gibberish or not, this work was extremely effective in stirring the emotions of liberals/progressives, with the effect of inadvertently advancing the communist cause.
Implicit to this effectiveness, and a huge propaganda success, was the very use of the acronym “HUAC.” Language became central to the debate.
Consider: America’s communists, socialists and liberals/progressives happily inverted the phrase “un-American,” charging the House Committee itself (and its chairs and members) with being “un-American.” The political left has done this so effectively that its historic term for the House Committee on Un-American Activities is not the proper acronym, “HCUAA,” but the commonly known and widely accepted term “HUAC,” which is actually a mis-ordered acronym that incorrectly reads: House Un-American Committee. This acronym is itself a major statement. Note, too, that the term “HUAC” shows that the political left in America is not shy about labeling certain people “un-American” – a tactic that the left claims is the typical domain of the right – so long as the left is doing the labeling.
Overall, the left has done this so aggressively that it has succeeded in permanently labeling HCUAA as “HUAC.” I have noticed the results when teaching college students. In my courses, when I attempt to use the correct acronym, HCUAA, I get quizzical looks as I scribble the letters on the chalkboard. To the contrary, the moment I revert to “HUAC,” students nod, understanding what I’m referring to. The left has won this battle over language. And most ironic, the greatest champions of the term “HUAC” were American communists, who used the term incessantly in the Daily Worker and all their publications. When non-communist liberals/progressives today use that term, they are actually, whether they know it or not, employing the propaganda language of CPUSA.
Particularly brazen was the Daily Worker. In fact, it is almost laughable that the Daily Worker put “communists” in quotes when reporting on actual communists identified by HCUAA, while simultaneously not placing “HUAC” in quotes, as if the former were fantasy and the latter reality. Oftentimes, communists and liberals/progressives alike simply called HUAC “the Un-American Committee” (leaving out “House”).
Even more brazen, CPUSA, throughout the Cold War and even post-Cold War, maligned what it dubbed “the racist, McCarthyite forces of evil” and the “fascist House Un-American Activities Committee.”
Yes, fascist. This was an obscene accusation against a generation that had faced the Nazis. And yet, typical of the American left, opponents were transmogrified into political monsters: “racists,” “fascists,” “Nazis.” Liberals/progressives hurl around these vicious names still today, almost reflexively. It isn’t anything new; they and their comrades have done this for a long, long time.
Frank Marshall Davis
Interestingly, this war over language was waged not only at CPUSA organs like the Daily Worker but by a subject of remarkable modern political relevance: Frank Marshall Davis. Davis did so in his writings and publications, beginning at the Chicago Star (1946-48) and continuing with great frequency at the Honolulu Record (1949-57) – two communist-controlled publications.
For the record, Frank Marshall Davis was a card-carrying member of Communist Party USA – card no. 47544. He joined the Party in Chicago during World War II. He was founding editor-in-chief and a weekly columnist for the Chicago Star, where he wrote flawless pro-Soviet propaganda, blasting everything and everyone from the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine to Harry Truman and Winston Churchill. His position was always predictable: it was the Kremlin’s position. Davis continued that work in Hawaii, where he moved in 1949, and where he would eventually meet and mentor a young man named Barack Obama in the 1970s.
As to the theme of this article, I counted 43 examples of Frank Marshall Davis using the word “un-American” at the Honolulu Record in just 1949-50 alone. Some of these were in defense (to defend himself), others on offense (to attack the committee). Three times the words were typed into titles of his columns. Twice he used the word “un-Americanism.” Davis was not reticent about excoriating “the aptly named un-American committee.”
Some examples of Davis’s use of this phrase are worth highlighting:
In a May 1950 piece for the Honolulu Record, Davis described what he referred to as a natural alliance sought by bigoted anti-communists on “the un-American committee.” “This alliance with a revived Nazi Germany,” wrote Davis, “may please such persons as John Rankin of Mississippi and John Wood of Georgia, two past and present chairmen of the un-American committee whose ideas on race parallel those of Adolf Hitler.” In fact, said Davis, congressmen Rankin and Wood were not merely run-of-the-mill, redneck Democratic Party racists, but were themselves “upholders of master race theory of the Nazis.”
Frank Marshall Davis did not mince words: If America, and especially anti-communists at “HUAC,” wanted to see Nazis, they should look in the mirror.
Another “un-American” piece by Davis that’s especially illuminating was a September 20, 1947, column for the Chicago Star, titled, “I got radical thoughts.” Here, Davis candidly stated that he wanted to flat-out nationalize the packing-house industry, as well as impose national price controls and a federal tax on the rich and their “excess profits.” “I’m so un-American right now,” wrote Obama’s mentor, “that I want to see price controls clamped back on this minute, a new and stronger excess profits tax put into operation, and the whole packing industry nationalized.”
What’s fascinating about this particular article is who Frank Marshall Davis worked with at the communist-controlled packing house workers’ union – and how those comrades eerily relate to today.
Working with Davis in promoting the packing-house workers union was Vernon Jarrett. They collaborated in a communist-controlled group called the Citizens’ Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers. A surviving April 12, 1948, document printed on committee letterhead, and found by researcher Trevor Loudon, lists Davis as both committee member and among the small group of journalistically inclined individuals who comprised the committee’s publicity committee. Joining Davis in both capacities was Vernon Jarrett.
Vernon Jarrett would become a major name in Chicago and known nationally. He would also become father-in-law to a young woman named Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama’s single most important adviser.
And the links don’t end there. Also working to advance the proletariat from the packing-house workers union was the Canter family, specifically Harry and David Canter, who in the 1930s lived in the Soviet Union while Harry worked for Stalin’s government as an official translator of Lenin’s writings. Hailing originally from Boston, where Harry was secretary of Boston’s Communist Party, the Canters eventually ended up in Chicago in the 1940s, where they worked with Frank Marshall Davis, Obama’s mentor. In the 1970s, David Canter would, like Davis, become a mentor – of a young man named David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist.
The links are amazing, too extraordinary to try to make up. Nonetheless, they are as true as they are shocking. And to bring this full circle to the theme of this article, the likes of the Canters worked with Frank Marshall Davis in certain circles and fronts – and the literal pages of the Chicago Star, which incessantly called for the abolition of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
In all, whether “un-American” was hurled by Frank Marshall Davis or his liberal/progressive or communist friends, think about their argument: The left was, in effect, arguing that the true Americans were the card-carrying, closet American communists – literally pledged to Stalin’s USSR and the Comintern – whereas the un-Americans were the anti-communists, especially those elected to Congress and fulfilling their duty of investigating possible secret Soviet agents or collaborators. For these congressmen, their duties to the U.S. Constitution mandated that they pursue potential indigenous security threats.
Frank Marshall Davis and his comrades constantly tried to argue that they weren’t communists, but were mere “progressives” being unfairly hounded by Neanderthal McCarthyites and the evil “HUAC.” This was disinformation they fed to liberals, which, in turn, fomented a wider anti-“HUAC” campaign. Liberals, naturally, swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. In truth, these guys were communists, and they were rightly being pursued for their correctly suspected pro-Soviet activities.
And yet, still today, the likes of Frank Marshall Davis himself continue to be protected by liberals who portray him as an innocent civil-rights crusader hounded by McCarthyites. Who does this? Pro-Obama liberal biographers and journalists. They do this, of course, to protect Obama. Alas, then, the disinformation curiously continues.
The preceding was excerpted from the September issue of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine, “DISINFORMATION AGE: How America’s news media have become ‘useful idiots’ for Marxists, sociopaths and tyrants.”
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and author of the new bestselling book “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”