HERE THEY GO AGAIN. The old grey ladyas our paper of record used to be knownseems to still be pining away for those wonderful days when a Soviet Union existed, and even when it was led by good old "Uncle Joe" Stalin, and the Western press used to describe his regime as a democracy similar in character to that existing in the democratic United States. Ten years to the week after the fall of the USSR, the Times ran a story bemoaning the appearance of capitalist billboards in Red Square; the feature article in its "Circuits" section on Tony Hiss’ website devoted to proving his father Alger’s innocence, and this past Sunday, a heartfelt tribute to a still existing Communist summer camp for children in New York.
Of course, The New York Times has for decades revealed somewhat of a soft spot for Communists and the governments they created. In the 1930’s, it won the first Pulitzer prize for foreign reporting from its Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty, a man known fondly as "Stalin’s journalist" for his propaganda filled reports denying the Soviet created famine in the Ukraine and praising the success of collectivization. Then in 1959, Times reporter Herbert Matthews fell hook, line and sinker for Fidel Castro’s exaggerated claims about the number of guerrilla fighters he had in his ranks, and his reports cemented Castro’s following and reputation. After Castro’s victory, National Review ran its now famous cover of Castro, with the Times’ then advertising slogan superimposed over his face, "I got my job through The New York Times." And in the 1960s the paper ran Harrison Salisbury’s much praised reports about the effects of American bombing on North Vietnam, stories that depended in part on false data given to him by the Communist journalist Wilfred Burchett.
Most recently, over the past few years, the paper has also run a series of seemingly neverending nostalgic looks back at American Communists. A few years ago, they ran a front page story about aging Communists who lived in a California nursing home, and who sat among busts of Lenin and photos of Paul Robeson, and who financed their home by holding fundraising concerts led by Pete Seeger. How charming it was, readers were told, that these unreconstructed old Reds held to their faith in Stalin and the Soviet Union, and were confident that socialism would still triumph in America.
A year ago, in their June 25, 2000 issue, The Times published Dina Hampton’s article on my old high school, Elisabeth Irwin HS and its elementary school feeder, The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village, which as readers of my memoir Commies know, we more accurately referred to as the Little Red School House for little Reds. Hampton’s piece looked at what happened to the class of 1965, which returning for a reunion, reminisced about those good old days when a graduating senior had the words of Karl Marx run under his yearbook picture. Referring to the McCarthy era in the 1950’s, Hampton writes that leftwing parents saw the school "as a safe haven in a country hostile to their political beliefs." When others supposedly blindly conformed, EI students "questioned the status quo." Instead of proms, football and cars, they were concerned with civil rights, Cuba and the nuclear arms race. Somehow, she forgets to mention how the 1994 anniversary book brags about how the school for some years stopped teaching American history and only taught Soviet history, since it wanted its progressive student body to know what the socialist future would be like.
So isolated from mainstream America was its student body that one alumnus proudly tells Hampton that it wasn’t until he graduated that he "realized that everyone wasn’t Jewish, that everyone wasn’t a leftwinger, that being for [Hubert] Humphrey [for President] wasn’t being conservative." Clearly, the school was as she puts it, "ground zero for the antiestablishment crusades of the 60s," an institution that "played a critical role in igniting the 60s." How could it not be, with graduates like Angela Davis and Kathy Boudin? But why, one must ask, does The New York Times run such a celebratory and uncritical article? Might it not have a lot do with the fact that its editors and writers come from such a similar background and perspective, and want to use its pages to credit such a leftwing school as getting the credit they think it deserves for having been there at the beginning?
One of its alumni, now communications director for an ecological group, brags that the school "changed the world." Hampton notes that the school’s curriculum emphasized the history of "oppressed people," long before anyone used the world "multiculturalism." And of course, its study body looked to "its own kind of revolution" for inspiration — and naturally, hence, "it was Cuba…that ignited their imagination." As the graduates sat around at their reunion listening "to a tape of protest songs by Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson and The Weavers," their talk turned to their own renegade, Elliot Abrams, whose name we learn "evoked reactions from fond disappointment to outright anger." Of course, one of his classmates, semiapologizing, noted that when he attended EI, Abrams "was still a Democrat." Now, of course, he has long since crossed the lineactually serving in both the Reagan administration and now the Bush administration. Don’t they realize that when a school teaches an ideological worldview, someone is bound to think for themselves and reject what they have been spoonfed? Even one of its admiring graduates admitted to Hampton that "to be anything within the system was suspect," and he found that "abhorrent."
Not to worry. Hampton stresses that the majority of the class of ’65 grads "expressed the ideals of Little Red" in education, social service and political organizing. An example: One graduate’s daughter today went to a South African township for her junior year in college, where "she wrote a paper on the Communist Party and the African National Congress," a feat which "brought tears to her eyes." All this, of course, for a modest $18,000 a year tuitioneasily afforded by those upscale, West Village residents.
Continuing on this trip through the world of the Old and New Left, this past Sunday’s paper featured an article that manages to exceed the vapid sentimentality of the piece about Elisabeth Irwin. Now, it is not the leftwing high school that is being extolled, but "The Little Red Summer Camp: From The Village to the Woods," written by Ivy Meeropol. In the print edition, the writer is identified as "the granddaughter of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg," as if that fact alone makes clear the credentials for writing such an ode to her Commie camp. And for those who do not understand the title, "the Village" refers to New York’s Greenwich Village, where, as Ms. Meeropol writes, the Little Red School House and EI are an "enormous feeder" for the summer institution. After all, having sent your child to a leftwing institution for regular school, why would you want to sully their learning experience by letting them broaden out of the stultified atmosphere for the summer months?
The camp in question is Camp Kinderland, an institution formed back in 1923 by those whom Ms. Meeropol calls "Secular Jews active in the New York City trade union movement, most of them Communists or socialists." To be more accurate, the camp was in fact an affiliated institution of the Communist Party’s fraternal Jewish society, The International Worker’s Order, and was most probably owned by the Party itself. Through the early 1960s, the camp was actually located in Hopewell Junction, New York, not at its present location in southern Massachusetts. It sat on one side of Sylvan Lake, where on the other side, sat the socialdemocratic Workman’s Circle camp, Camp KinderRing — whose staff was vociferously antiCommunist and condemned by the Kinderland campers and staff as "social fascists" whom they often tried to raid and attack.
Of course, Commie summer camps faced some hard times, with dilapidated buildings and even worse, facing the Reagan 80s and the nation’s rightwing drift. All of their shouting "Solidarity Forever" and waving Cuban flags, which she did while attending the institution in the late 70s, didn’t manage to stop the American public from putting Reagan in office. But now, the Times reports in Meeropol’s glowing accolade, "Kinderland is booming." Their theater building, of course, named "the Paul Robeson playhouse," has doubled its size," and campers can bunk in happiness in bunks named after Communist heroes like the martyred (and guilty of murder) labor leader Joe Hill and the Stalinist Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Here they are safe from the bourgeois values perpetrated by the press, or as the camp’s director says, parents send their children there "because they’re appalled by the level of control that the media has on their kids." I guess they don’t include The New York Times on the list of such media.
As for its Jewish content, that of course goes even beyond Reform Judaism’s recent political correctness. The camp’s Jewish content "changed what Jewishness is today," New Left historian Paul Mishler tells Meeropol, because it brought "radical and ethnic politics together." In other words, being Jewish means one has to be on the far political Left. Today that means the old commitment to the working class has been broadened to include "women’s rights and gay rights" and "environmental issues," since working people find it hard to cough up the $4000 fee going there for seven weeks entails. Have no fear. To teach campers about the working class, campers are made to "pick stones out of the road." That will, of course, give them the necessary Marxist class consciousness and teach them about the need to overthrow the capitalist system! Do not fear. It evidently works. We learn how during the UPS parcel strike two years ago, when a truck showed up delivering packages from home, the driver was condemned en masse by the campers and counselors as a scab, and they would not accept the delivery. Ms. Meeropol does not ask why these leftwing parents sent their packages via UPS, since they were the ones engaging the services of an employer who was opposing the union. Maybe they knew that UPS could be trusted to deliver the packages. They should not have bothered sending them.
Now, campers leave and join the winter affiliate, "United Council of Resistance," that meets to plan leftwing action in those difficult winter months. They know what to do, since as the writer informs us, "the persecution of Jews, AfricanAmericans, unionists and Communists was often laid out in graphic detail." Indeed, educational activities included such moments as having "locked children in their bunks" to teach them the "horrors of the Holocaust," as well as leading them to communal showers and hiding them in an attack to read "The Diary of Anne Frank." And oh yes, there was that wonderful summer when counselors wanted "to set fire to the lake for Hiroshima Day." Couldn’t they have thought of renting a plane and dropping a bomb? That would have been more descriptive. Some campers didn’t get it. One graduate of that summer admitted she "hated camp" and indeed was "terrified." Seems that indoctrination sessions a la the old Gulag technique isn’t really that appreciated by some soft bourgeois souls. Ms. Meeropol explains how on Hiroshima Day, they walked to the flagless flagpole [undoubtedly an American flag would not be flown to honor such a criminal country] and they hear a song about a 7yearold Japanese boy who had been killed by the atomic bomb, and she felt "close to a religious experience" as she experienced "that intoxicating combination of hope and doom."
There is, however, one thing these campers at this selfproclaimed secular Jewish Communist camp, whose staff prides itself in teaching campers about oppression, obviously have not learned. In Joshua Rubenstein’s introduction to Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish AntiFascist Committee, (Yale University Press) there is a photo of the Yiddish poet Itzek Feffer speaking at Camp Kinderland in 1943, standing on a stage festooned with the Soviet flagthe Red flag and hammer and sickle, which surround him on all sides. Seeking Western support for the Red Army, Stalin allowed Soviet Jews to form a committee that would seek monetary contributions particularly from the United States and its Jewish citizens. The poet Solomon Mikhoels headed the group, and not trusting him, Stalin assigned Feffer to accompany him, since Feffer was a working KGB agent who would tract Mikhoels’ every move and see that he did not defect.
So Feffer ended up during this tour on one particular day at Camp Kinderland, speaking from the very stage that apologists like Robeson often appeared. As Rubenstein reveals, the creation of Israel in 1948 and its popularity among Soviet Jews quickly moved Stalin to begin his campaign to eradicate Soviet Jewry, a campaign that began with the arrest, secret trial and execution of all the Soviet Jewish leaders of this same wartime committee, including Feffer whose work for the KGB and whose indubitable loyalty to Stalin did not save him from the bullet in the back of the head.
Camp Kinderland, by her account, has not let up in its hostility, hatred and opposition to our democratic political system and its social and political freedomone that allows camps like this one to function as legitimate and protected businesses that can flourish in New York City’s leftwing climate. But nowhere in its educational program, evidently, can these apostles of what they call "secular leftwing Jewish consciousness" give their campers any sense of how their founders and the current descendants of these founders spent a good part of their lives defending and extolling the virtues of Stalin’s system, even as he was set about killing even those Jewish leaders who when they were in the USA, visited that very camp. Evidently, some political lessons are too sensitive for such campers to learn about.
As for The New York Times, it seemingly prefers to run endless tributes to the world of the Old Left, whom we readers are supposedly never to stop thanking for creating the adversary culture of today’s cultural elites. No wonder we don’t need a Daily Worker anymore.
Note to readers: I urge readers to pick up a copy of the September issue of Vanity Fair, to read the important article by Sam Tanenhaus, "Innocents Abroad," about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Spanish Civil War. His article, he writes, is about "the most stubbornly enduring political myth of the 20th century: the myth of the virtuous, innocent left." It is a "version of history," he writes, that "has shaped the wider culture." Simply not to be missed!