Editor's note: this is the fourth of five installments in a series of weekly interviews with Dr. Paul Kengor, professor of political science and executive director of the Center, on his latest book, "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."
This series focuses on a dominant theme of the book: the Religious Left.
V&V: Dr. Kengor, in our last Q&A, you noted disturbing examples of communists manipulating liberal / progressive Christians through phony peace campaigns, including the case of the communist front-group, the American Peace Mobilization, which accommodated Hitler because Hitler signed a pact with Stalin. Who were other manipulators of the Religious Left?
Dr. Paul Kengor: One was Stalin himself. I give a bunch of examples in the book. Most troubling is how Stalin hoodwinked President Roosevelt. For the record, I probably defend FDR in Dupes more than I criticize him. FDR was targeted by communists, who tried not only to dupe him and his administration, but penetrated his administration with spies and Soviet sympathizers. Worse, communists demonized FDR in their literature and campaigns.
That said, FDR was terribly naïve toward Stalin, whom he called “Uncle Joe” as a term of endearment. FDR openly mused that Stalin had taught him, Churchill, and all various officials something about “the way in which a Christian gentleman should behave.” Where did Stalin gain this alleged virtue that FDR somehow saw radiating from this man who slaughtered millions? The Episcopalian elder from Hyde Park, looked upward for an answer: Perhaps, pondered FDR, it had been Stalin’s youthful training for the “priesthood.”
V&V: You say that FDR really felt this way, and wasn’t simply saying such things to “get along” with a difficult ally during wartime?
Kengor: That’s correct. Most observations like this were made in private by FDR. I footnote them carefully. I know their seriousness.
V&V: From roughly this same era, what about Frank Marshall Davis?
Kengor: Another manipulator of liberal / progressive Christians was Frank Marshall Davis, mentor to a young man in Hawaii named Barack Obama. I have photo exhibits of Davis’s weekly columns for the CPUSA organ in Hawaii, the Honolulu Record, plus pages from his declassified 600-page FBI file listing his actual Communist Party membership number, which was 47544. V&V: Share some examples from Davis’s weekly columns.
Kengor: In one Davis column, titled, “Challenge to the Church,” September 29, 1949, Davis framed communism as friendly to Christianity, and anti-communism as un-Christian. He painted an image of Judgment Day, where hypocritical anti-communist Christians would be judged for opposing alleged Christ-loving communists. “The Christian churches,” asserted Davis, “are making a grievous error in their shortsighted belief that the major enemy of Christianity is Communism.” Not only was Soviet Russia not anti-religious, maintained Davis, but Stalin had spared the planet of Hitler’s “anti-Christian paganism.” Christians ought to thank Stalin.
V&V: In another column you cite, Davis called anti-communists “Pontius Pilates.”
Kengor: Yes, Davis wrote that in July 1949, as Stalin was approaching his third decade of literally blowing up churches and jailing and executing religious believers. The good communists were, said a stoic Davis, “ready to face crucifixion, if need be, for what they believe in. They have no fear of the Pontius Pilates of 1949.”
In Frank Marshall Davis’s world, the anti-communists were the Pontius Pilates, not the communists conducting show trials of priests and bishops sentenced to execution or dispatched to prison camps in Russia.
Obviously, this was blatant Soviet propaganda. But, here again, Davis was making a bid for the support of the Religious Left. The way that Frank Marshall Davis manipulated “social justice” pastors is quite cynical but also quite impressive.
V&V: You also write that Davis was reflective of how atheistic communists often quoted Christ or cited Scripture when looking to dupe liberal Christians.
Kengor: They did that all the time, from the pages of Pravda to the Daily Worker. One example was FDR’s former vice president, Henry Wallace.
The Daily Worker adored Wallace. He was a go-to guy for a quick quote blasting not Stalin and the Soviets but American anti-communists. Speaking of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Daily Worker quoted Wallace: “Has America gone crazy?” He asked “Is the Un-American Activities Committee evidence that America is travelling the road to fascism?” The former vice president urged his fellow Americans that they “must destroy” the committee—at the ballot box. If they did not, the committee “will destroy many of the foundations of democracy and Christianity.” The former veep, a fond admirer of the Soviet experiment, was worried about threats to democracy and Christianity—in America, that is.
The Daily Worker, in turn, thrust quotes like this directly onto the front cover. The comrades appreciated Henry Wallace dearly.