Welcome to the Age of Equivalency. Last Sunday (Aug. 1) The New York Times published a full-page report about the Corcoran Gallery's current exhibition. With a catalogue by its curator, Leah Bendavid-Val, the famed Washington venue displays an "enormous and instructive show of 232 images." The question, of course, is what kind of instruction Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930's in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. intends to impart.
Since America's socialists feel they must conceal their true political designation - as an alarmed Bill Clinton reminded the dangerously sincere Prime Minister of Italy on April 25, 1999 - the need for other means of identification has been with us for some time. This column is an attempt to fill that need.
During the Great Depression of the 1930's, and especially during the Spanish Civil War of 1936, glorifying the Soviet Union was quite the thing to do in America. The alliance occasioned by World War II went even further in portraying communism in a highly favorable light. Who in America bothered to remember that only two years earlier the natural embrace of National Socialist Germany and Soviet Socialist Russia was concluded between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin who celebrated the treaty with a "which of us can kill more Poles?" contest.
But when the Soviet Union once again showed its true colors by initiating the Cold War against the West and humanity in general, it became much less popular for America's socialists to extol the greatness of their masters in Moscow.
As the number of those killed in the name of socialism continued to climb toward the hundred million mark, new approaches had to be found - and were.
On the one hand, every effort is made to ascribe the abject failure of the Soviet Union to Stalin's bestiality, even though it began with Lenin and continued for nearly forty years after Stalin's death. Also, by suddenly calling the Soviet system state capitalism, the suggestion is that socialism has yet to be tried properly. The brochure to the Corcoran exhibition comes up with yet another method: It ascribes Soviet practices to a "Russian collective impulse rooted in village life, rather than Marxism or Communism."
But deep down, socialists know that these are hard sells in America, just as the socialist label itself. That's why Equivalency was invented. The United States, they will have you believe, is not all that different. In the present case, propaganda by the U.S. government is not all that different. Where America is different, writes the curator of the Corcoran Gallery, is that "Americans...believed that the individual had a basic right to act aggressively on his own behalf."
(Decide for yourself which the curator finds more to her liking: the collective impulse of the village, or aggressive individuals.)
The Age of Equivalency was ushered in by the authors of the so-called National Standards for U.S. History, who portray the Cold War as a "sword play between the United States and the Soviet Union." For those who might have forgotten, the Cold War was initiated with the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. In response, the United States organized the airlift, supplying Berlin from the air in an historic exercise of self control. Given the balance of forces at the time, any other power would have flaunted its nuclear capability; the United States did not even issue a threat.
But that, of course, did not impress the history department of the University of California at Los Angeles, where most of the authors of the overwhelmingly socialist National Standards draw their share of the tax-payers' money. And since even they conceal their political beliefs, we need the tools offered here.
This is how it works. It's a fair bet that anyone who seriously suggests parallels between the U.S.S.R. and the United States is a socialist since it can be done only by deliberately misrepresenting the American side, and by legitimizing the Soviet side. It is another fair bet that anyone who equates the blacklisting of the so-called Hollywood Ten in America with the tens of millions killed on the other side is also a socialist at heart.
Portraying the Soviet Union as a legitimate experiment with lofty goals gone wrong provides the basic clue. But, to be on the safe side, ask apologists for the Soviets whether they view the Third Reich in a similar vein.
For there is your ultimate proof. A sure hallmark of a socialist is the frantic insistence on separating twentieth century's evil twins: National Socialism and Soviet Socialism. Like much else, the practice was begun by Josef Stalin who ordered the misnomer "fascist" to be applied to Nazi Germany to avoid the obvious analogy.
Perhaps, some day the Corcoran Gallery will give us an exhibition of photographs portraying the 1930's in the Third Reich alongside those from the Soviet Union. Then, a picture being worth a thousand words, we will have cause to celebrate.
For the surest sign of socialist thinking is the shameless assertion that, while the Third Reich was evil, the Soviet Union was benign.