The Liberals, I — Bruce Bliven

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Here at Painting the Culture Red, a major part of our mission is to explore what liberals thought of the Soviet Union. Opinion on the Left was not monolithic. (Future posts will make this clear.) But let’s start with liberals who viewed that nation and its leader as democracy’s best hope.

The New Republic has given us a leg up on this. The February 3 issue retrieves an item “From the Stacks” by Bruce Bliven (1889-1977), one of the magazine’s longest serving editors.

Bliven led the flagship publication of Progressivism from 1930 to 1945. According to the current New Republic editors, Bliven’s “most egregious misstep” was “his sympathy for the Soviet Union.” That Stalin had set about publicly disgracing and killing his rivals was known to the world. The bloody purges “should have been a cue to renounce the USSR,” they write, “but much of the American left was not ready to assimilate that horrific reality.”

Here was somebody ready, at any rate, to complain to the dictator personally. In an open letter to Stalin, Bliven “scrounged for any scrap of logic that might excuse his hero, and endeavored to give the great comrade some heartfelt advice.”

Bliven to Stalin, March 1938:

The cables from Moscow tell us that fresh purges and additional trials are contemplated. I take it for granted that your heart sinks at this prospect, as do those of millions of other persons throughout the world. . . . What I now urge upon you is a revision of your policy . . .

In his 1970 memoir, Bliven said that he and the New Republic’s resident economist, George Soule, “were unforgivably slow to realize what was happening.”

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