Sunday, April 21, 2013

Postpartisanship, classic Daniel Bell version (1): Bell and the Cold War ideology of the Congress for Cultural Freedom

I've referred a number of times to the similarity of President Obama's no-red-America-no-blue-America postpartisan vision with the "end of history" imagined by neoconservatives after the fall of the Soviet Union and with an earlier incarnation by a pioneering neocon writer Daniel Bell, the "end of ideology."

Bell's collection of essays The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties was originally published in 1960; I'm working here from the revised edition of 1965. The phrase "end of ideology" became famous and was often mocked in the 1960s, which turned out to be a decade in which ideological divisions became dramatic in the US and much of the Western world.

The essays in the book were all from the 1950s. Bell's account in the Acknowledgment section are more revealing today than there would have been to the general reader in 1965:

These essays were written during the years I was labor editor of Fortune magazine. ...

A number of these essays appeared first in the pages of Commentary and Encounter, and my most enduring obligation is to Irving Kristol, who, as an editor for the two magazines, prompted these articles, and, as friend, wrestled to bring order out of them. ...

Three of the longer essays were first presented as papers from conferences sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an international organization of intellectuals opposed to totalitarianism. I was fortunate in being able to work for a year in Paris, in 1956-57 (while on leaves from Fortune), as director of international seminars for the Congress.
He also cites his intellectual and professional debts to Raymond Aron, Nathna Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset, all of whom figured as intellectuals in the neoconservative mode of thinking.

Irving Kristol was one of the leading lights of neoconservatism and his son Bill is a former staffer to Republican Vice President Dan Quayle and a major advocate of the Iraq War. The neocons are much better known today because of their prominent and highly influential role in the foreign policies of the Cheney-Bush Administration, and especially the invasion and destruction of Iraq. In light of recent events in Boston, it's worth noting that the neocons also happily promoted anti-Russian terrorism by Chechens against Russia in the not-too-distant past, as Coleen Rowley explains in Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons Consortium News 04/19/2013.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), later renamed International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF), was secretly sponsored by the CIA as a Cold War propaganda instrument against the Soviet Union. This was unknown to many of the participants, many of whom like Bell were established scholars. And they were publishing CIA press releases under their own names, so their association with the CCF doesn't invalidate their work. But it can help situate it in the politics of the Cold War. Laurence Zuckerman in How the Central Intelligence Agency Played Dirty Tricks With Our Culture New York Times 03/18/2000, also via Common Dreams, writes that the CIA during in the 1950s was obsessed "with snuffing out a notion then popular among many European intellectuals: that East and West were morally equivalent. But instead of illustrating the differences between the two competing systems by taking the high road, the agency justified its covert activities by referring to the unethical tactics of the Soviets."

The CIA website has a redacted version of an internal memo on the history of the CCF, Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50, which it says was posted in 2007 but does not specify the actual date of the document. It gives a version of the CIA's perspective on this "soft power" Cold War field of conflict.

Willi Münzenberg: model for the CIA organizing a front group?

The paper contains assertions about supposedly pro-Communist groups and individuals that should not be taken as fact on the basis of the CIA document. This is the first I'd seen it suggested, for instance, that the famous Comintern propagandist, Willi Münzenberg (1889-1940) was the mastermind of the "popular front" technique of building "front groups"; the claim in the CIA paper is at best a careless generalization. Münzenberg is probably best known today for popularizing the story, built from circumstantial evidence but generally regarded by historians of the event today as false, that the Nazis themselves planned and instigated the Reichstag Fire in 1933. Markus Schulz in Linke Grabenkämpfe. Der Konsensmacher in the Spiegel history publication Einestages 01.12.2009 describes how the Comintern in 1935 finally decided to give up its general direction against Communist Parties in Western countries forming coalitions with Social Democratic and "bourgeois" parties and adopted the United Front/Popular Front strategy of cooperating with other democratic parties, the Communists formally understanding themselves as the radical left of democracy.

Münzenberg was the head of propaganda for the Comintern, and he was known as an enthusiastic advocate of the United Front line, which wasn't always shared by his fellow members of the German Communist Party (KPD). In French exile after Hitler came to power in 1933, he did organize conferences against Nazism that featured prominent non-Communists. It's apparently this to which the CIA paper refers in garbled form. Obviously, the United States and Britain found it advisable to make a common front with the Communist Soviet Union eventually. In Münzenberg's case, he wasn't so terribly successful with his efforts to forge a coalition with the German Social Democrats (SPD), whose leaders still refused to make a formal alliance with their old enemy the KPD. Because of his criticism of the Moscow Trials and Party purges, he was expelled from the KPD and the Comintern in 1938. He was killed in France in 1940 by parties still unknown. The Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) timeline lined above notes that Münzenberg may have committed suicide, but either the German Gestapo or Soviet agents could also have been responsible.

The CIA document explains how Frank Wisner's Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) within the agency in 1949 looked for ways to counter protests by prominent writers and intellectuals against US Cold War policies which the OPC regarded as manipulated by the USSR. Wisner wrote at time in an appeal for funds from another agency:

Now the theme [of the Cold War critics] is that the United States and the Western democracies are the war-mongers and Fascists and the Kremlin and its stooges the peace-loving democracies. And there is a better than even chance that by constant repetition the Commies can persuade innocents to follow this line. Perhaps not immediately but in the course of the next few years because there is a tremendous residue of pacificism [sic], isolationism and big business [sic] to be exploited. For example, a recession in the United States might cause people to lose interest in bolstering Europe .... I think you will agree that this phony peace movement actually embraces far more than intellectuals and that any counter-congress should emphasize also that the threat to world peace comes from the Kremlin and its allies.
This paragraph from the report gives an idea of the general perspective of those looking to implement the kind of project the CIA would be interested in supporting:

In August 1949, a crucial meeting took place in Frankfurt. American journalist Melvin J. Lasky, together with a pair of ex-Communists, Franz Borkenau and Ruth Fischer, hatched a plan for an international conference of the non-Communist Left in Berlin the following year. Lasky, only 29, was already prominent in German intellectual circles as the founding editor of Der Monat, a journal sponsored by the American occupation government that brought Western writers once more into the ken of the German public. Borkenau too had been in Paris the previous April as a disappointed member of the German delegation. Fischer--whose given name was Elfriede Eisler--was the sister of Gerhart Eisler, a Soviet operative dubbed in 1946 ``the Number-One Communist in the US'' and convicted the following year for falsifying a visa application. She herself had been a leader of the German Communist Party before her faction was expelled on orders from Moscow, leading her to break with Stalin (and with her brother Gerhart).
A naturalized American named Michael Josselson with a flair for covert work played a major part in organizing the project:

In Josselson's capable hands the still-amorphous Fischer plan took specific shape. Where Fischer had proposed an essentially political gathering, the self-taught Josselson sensed that an explicitly cultural and intellectual conference, to be called "the Congress for cultural freedom," could seize the initiative from the Communists by reaffirming "the fundamental ideals governing cultural (and political) action in the Western world and the repudiation of all totalitarian challenges."

With the backing of several prominent Berlin academics, a committee of American and European thinkers would organize the event and invite participants, selecting them on the basis of their political outlook, their international reputation and their popularity in Germany. In addition, the congress could be used to bring about the creation of some sort of permanent committee, which, with a few interested people and a certain amount of funds, could maintain the degree of intellectual and rhetorical coordination expected to be achieved in Berlin. The Josselson proposal reached Washington in January 1950.

Michael Josselson's interest in the congress idea gave Lasky all the encouragement he needed. Lasky, unwitting of OPC's hand in the plan, forged ahead while official Washington made up its mind. He sent a similar proposal of his own to Sidney Hook, his old boss, who liked the idea. In February, Lasky enlisted Ernst Reuter, Lord Mayor of West Berlin, and several prominent German academics, who endorsed the plan and promised their support. Together these men formed a standing committee and began issuing invitations.

Lasky's freelancing, however, was not all for the good. As an employee of the American occupation government, his activities on behalf of the congress struck more than a few observers, both friendly and hostile, as proof that the US Government was behind the event. This would later cause trouble for Lasky.

OPC officers also liked Josselson's plan. Headquarters produced a formal project proposal envisioning a budget of $50,000. Time was of the essence, although OPC soon realized that the congress would have to postponed to May or even June. Wisner approved the project outline, which essentially reiterated Josselson's December proposal, on 7 April, adding that he wanted Lasky and Burnham kept out of sight in Berlin for fear their presence would only provide ammunition to Communist critics of the event.
Bell's Acknowledgment also cites Sidney Hook and Melvin Lasky, the former as the one "who taught me the appreciation of ideas", the latter as "an old comrade."

The founding conference took place in Berlin in 1950:

It was already too late to rein in Lasky. He had appointed himself the driving force behind the event, inviting participants and organizing programs. Josselson defended Lasky when informed of Wisner's comment. Josselson explained that Lasky's name on the event's masthead as General Secretary had been largely responsible for the enthusiasm that the congress had generated among European intellectuals. "No other person here, certainly no German, could have achieved such success," cabled Josselson.

The congress in Berlin rolled ahead that spring gathering sponsors and patrons. World-renowned philosophers John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Benedetto Croce, Karl Jaspers, and Jacques Maritain agreed to lend gravitas to the event as its honorary chairmen. OPC bought tickets for the American delegation, using [several intermediary organizations] as its travel agents. Hook and another NYU philosophy professor named James Burnham took charge of the details for the American delegation. The Department of State proved an enthusiastic partner in the enterprise, arranging travel, expenses, and publicity for the delegates. Indeed, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Jesse MacKnight was so impressed with the American delegation that he urged CIA to sponsor the congress on a continuing basis even before the conclave in Berlin had taken place.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom convened in Berlin's Titania Palace on 26 June 1950. American delegates Hook, James Burnham, James T. Farrell, playwright Tennessee Williams, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., actor Robert Montgomery, and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission David Lilienthal had been greeted on their arrival the previous day with the news that troops of North Korea had launched a massive invasion of the South. This pointed reminder of the vulnerability of Berlin itself heightened the sense of apprehension in the hall. The Congress's opening caught and reflected this mood. Lord Mayor Reuter asked the almost 200 delegates and the 4,000 other attendees to stand for a moment of silence in memory of those who had died fighting for freedom or who still languished in concentration camps. [my emphasis]
Ironically, writer Arthur "Koestler had once worked for Soviet operative Willi Mnzenberg [sic] managing front groups for Moscow, and now he was unwittingly helping the CIA's efforts to establish a new organization designed to undo some of the damage done by Stalin's agents over the last generation," according to the CIA memo.

And it memo notes something very relevant to understand the end-of-ideology outlook: "Josselson's Congress for Cultural Freedom would later be criticized (by American anti-Communists, in particular) for tolerating too much criticism of America's own shortcomings by figures on the anti-Communist left."

Michael Josselson was the CCF's Administrative Secretary for 16 years, including the 1956-7 period when Daniel Bell was their "director of international seminars."

In a review of Peter Coleman's book The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress For Cultural Freedom And The Struggle For The Mind Of Postwar Europe (1989) in Foreign Affairs (Winter 1989/90), Andrew Pierre summarized the CCF's history briefly:

The activities of the Congress for Cultural Freedom constitute an important and controversial chapter in the intellectual and political history of Western Europe after World War II. Founded in 1950 in the aftermath of a series of Soviet-sponsored international "peace" conferences, the congress sought to combat the appeal of communist propaganda to intellectual and student circles. By the mid-1960s, with the Vietnam War, détente and the transformation of the liberal-conservative debate, it had lost some of its support; the final death knell was sounded with the revelations of CIA funding.
On the CCF, see also: Joel Whitney, Exclusive: The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA Salon 05/27/2012; Frances Stonor Saunders, Modern art was CIA 'weapon' The Independent 10/22/1995; and, Hilton Kramer, What was the Congress for Cultural Freedom? New Criterion (Jan 1990), the latter an enthusiastic defense of the CCF and its CIA backing.

This gives an idea of the political setting of Bell end-of-ideology arguments in the 1960 book of that title. We'll look at those directly in Part 2.

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