The Tea Party's Toxic Take on History
Ignore it at your peril.
Few paid attention, but they got to the truth. And they were Socialists fighting the Nazis, you might recall. Listen up, T.P.ers: The Nazis were not Socialists. The Socialists were not Nazis. They were blood enemies. In fact, the Socialists fought the Nazis, while conservatives and nationalists stood by and thought Hitler would be their pawn. Hitler, need it be said, was not a Socialist. He hated the Socialists. Had thousands of them murdered as soon as he came to power.
I think this is why it bothers me so much when Tea Party ignoramuses put swastikas on their anti-Obama posters. They disgrace themselves, they insult the dead martyrs to the truth, by lumping socialism with fascism and Obama with Hitler. They not only disgrace themselves; they be-clown themselves, they distort the historical consciousness of everyone they spread the comparison to.
As for lumping Obama in with communism, and communism with liberalism, that's where the bookshop pamphlet comes in.
It was just a stroke of good fortune that a yellowing, 50-year-old pamphlet caught my eye as I was browsing the $1 bargain bin outside the Strand, New York's justly legendary used bookstore.
The title of the pamphlet was "Crimes of the Stalin Era: Special Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."
It was Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech." This 1956 speech denouncing mass murder and torture under Stalin's regime was one of the most important and influential historical orations of the past century. Delivered to a closed session over two days, it didn't stay secret for long, later circulating throughout the globe.
Yes, Khrushchev himself was a murderous thug and accomplice of Stalin, but his sickening revelations couldn't be dismissed as the product of Western propaganda by Communists and Communist sympathizers. His speech had a shattering effect on many of them throughout the world. The first crack in the monolithic façade of communism. It was a factor not only in the Hungarian and Polish uprisings of 1956 but began the process of internal and external disillusionment in the Soviet Empire itself, the slow creation of further cracks and then crevices that would eventually culminate in its disintegration.
Now, I'd read a lot about the secret speech, but I'd never actually read it. The full text of the speech—nearly 60 pages in my edition—is not widely available in print, and reading it for the first time, even after all the revelations about Stalin in books like Robert Conquest's pioneering work The Great Terror, Solzhenitsyn's novels, and more recently Gulag by Slate's Anne Applebaum, I still found it shocking.
And it suddenly occurred to me that Tea Partiers really should read this pamphlet, because it would teach them something about what "tyranny" is actually like. It would teach them something about what "communism" was really like. It would make them ashamed of themselves for whining about a health care bill turning America into a tyranny, for slandering liberals as communists who want to impose tyranny on them. It might snap them out of the intoxicated hysteria they whip themselves into.
The secret speech is also relevant to Tea Party slanders about liberals. The 1956 publication of the secret speech served to shatter the illusions of a significant portion of those on the left in this country who still harbored sentimental feelings about the Soviet Union. And helped cement the victory of anti-communist liberalism in America's Democratic Party, an important struggle that the Tea Partiers who think liberals are communists seem to be ignorant of.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Nevada rally by Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Photograph of New York rally by Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Photograph of Tea Party members in Washington, D.C., by Win McNamee/Getty Images. Photograph of Tea Party protester in Chicago by Scott Olson/Getty Images.