Modern-day leftists’ agitprop – they learned from the best

By Barry Farber

Editor’s note: A conservative elder-statesman and an icon of talk radio (and member of the Radio Hall of Fame), Barry Farber celebrated his 90th birthday on May 5. Although he has, for many years, greatly enjoyed writing a weekly column for WND, he is now retiring from doing so. However, WND will continue to publish some of Barry’s writings, including some previously unpublished memoirs intended for a second volume of his book “Cocktails with Molotov.”

When, in the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, intellectuals like Martin Gross began quoting Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” urging all leftists to lie and lie all the time, and to come out straightforwardly and lie about the whole thing, everything, all the time, I wondered what percentage of the American people believed that was the approved far-left way, versus what percentage would suspect soreheaded right-wingers of trying to slander the new “will” of the new “people.” The implication was that Alinsky was admitting there may be a small moral forfeiture in lying, but there’s a much bigger moral gain in advancing the victory of the far-left.

Around Christmas of 2009 I was interviewing Martin Gross, whose book, “National Suicide,” was a bestseller, and the more he ranted about leftist lying, the more broadly I smiled. I was thinking of an experience I’d had in Moscow in 1956. Many readers will not believe this story. I sympathize with them. If I were some kind of neutral, elder-statesman-type of referee I would advise you not to believe this story. It’s just too good to be true, but true it is, every jot-and-tittle, and I was there.

As I passed through New York City on my way from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Moscow in that first summer when ordinary Americans were allowed as tourists into the Soviet Union, I visited my Uncle Ellis, who was advertising manager for the Liberty Music Company on the corner of Madison Avenue and 50th Street in Manhattan. On his desk was a freshly opened gift box that had delivered the very first transistor radio – a real “pocket radio” – to relevant people in the industry like Uncle Ellis. It was not Japanese. The Japanese hadn’t yet heard of transistor radios. This was an American model called the “Regency.”

I had, since childhood, confessed a fascination with the idea of a “pocket radio,” and Ellis remembered. I’m not sure I would have been this generous with a brand new wonder-toy, but Ellis said, “Barry, take this along to the Soviet Union. It’ll knock them all the way out!”

Ellis was adroit at making intelligent bets. That pocket radio was an international hit. When I saw how much excitement that little radio, that fit easily in your pocket, caused among the Norwegians and Swedes to whom we showed it off while en route to the Soviet Union, I couldn’t wait to gauge the effect on the consumer-technology-starved Soviet population. I was not disappointed.

It was a bright sunny day in July of 1956, and I strolled from the Hotel National a few yards over to Red Square and pulled out that little transistor radio and turned it on. I immediately drew a crowd of over 700! I thank God I have to explain what an agitprop man is to Americans, because we’ve never lived under a Soviet or Nazi style dictatorship. They’re the plain-clothes policemen of the regime, whose job it is to “keep everybody moving.” No crowds. No excitement. Just keep it moving. The horror of 9/11 eliminated all interest in the details of communism, which had so recently collapsed in Europe, but one feature of the Soviet system was no agglutinations of people on the streets. If you and I were to meet on a Moscow street under communism, we could stop and chat with each other. But, if Cousin Igor or any other friend or acquaintance happened to spot us and join us, within one calendar-minute an agitprop (agitation-propaganda) man would come up to us and – with no violence, no torture – he’d just emphatically say, “Move along, now. Move along!” Soviet communism didn’t like crowds. The beginning of its demise, the Hungarian Revolution of October, 1956, showed how wise that crowd-aversion was. “Move along!” was the offer you couldn’t refuse.

So, there I was on Red Square with my pocket radio spellbinding a large crowd that was growing by the second. The agitprop man muscled his way to my side. He could tell from my ordinary, casual, even tacky North Carolina dress that I was a foreigner from the dreaded West. Now, here’s the part I’ll gladly swear to, either on your Bible or on anybody’s ancient Torah. And you’re cordially invited to believe this, with or without my holy vows.

As the curious and fascinated crowds gathered there in Red Square, the Kremlin on my right, the GUM department store on my left, the Vasilevsky Cathedral straight ahead, the agitprop man cupped his hands to his lips and shouted, “We make them better in the Soviet Union!”

And then, so help me God, he turned to me and asked, “What is it?”

I’ve many times pondered his utter lack of embarrassment doing his agitprop duties. Have you ever played football? Particularly, defense in the backfield? Many times the defensive player will yell “You dropped it!” just before the intended receiver made his play for the ball. If that receiver happens to catch it, there’s regret in the heart of the defensive back who was supposed to break up the pass, but there’s no embarrassment. “You dropped it!” is considered a legitimate part of the defensive play; the psychological part!

So, the agitprop man may have failed to “break up the pass.” The Soviet crowds loved the pocket radio. But he felt his throaty claim to the crowd that whatever it was, they make them better in the Soviet Union, was a legitimate attempt at pass defense, not any kind of a “lie.”

You know those jokes that don’t go over well and you have to hedge and explain, “Well, you had to be there!”

For the rest of his blessedly long life I helped Uncle Ellis understand he didn’t have to be there. His timely gift of the world’s first transistor radio was totally on time and on target!

When intellect and adventure combine: Barry Farber presents spellbinding stories of his one-of-a-kind life in his book, “Cocktails with Molotov: An Odyssey of Unlikely Detours”

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