History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. (Karl Marx)
Humor is reason gone mad. (Groucho Marx)
Every now and again, we hear about a "new McCarthyism". Usually it's the alternative media like Truthdig or Consortium News or left-wing outlets because mainstream outlets are so sunk in Trumpophobia that they have forgotten what the expression means. It's not Trump who's the new McCarthy (Trumpism Is the New McCarthyism or Is Donald Trump The New Joe McCarthy?) it is they: Is Trump Putin’s Puppet?, Trump Is Making the Case That He’s Putin’s Puppet; calling other people Moscow puppets is precisely what McCarthy did. And today's Russhysteria has spread outside the USA: France to Probe Possible Russian Influence on Yellow Vest Riots; Why Putin Is Meddling in Britain’s Brexit Vote; Spain: 'Misinformation' on Catalonia referendum came from Russia. Endless torrents of delirium, nothing too absurd: Russia could freeze us to death!, Russian cricket agents, 14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin? The Russophobes find Moscow's influence everywhere: children’s' cartoons, fishsticks, Pokemon. People who like to imagine that they're taken seriously suggest the Russians are threatened by our "quality".
But not so threatened, it appears, by our mental qualities.
Joseph McCarthy, making much of (and perhaps improving upon) his war record, was elected a US Senator in 1946. After three years in which he attracted little attention, he rose to national prominence with a speech in February 1950 in which he claimed to have a list of Communist Party members active in the US State Department. There is still debate today about the precise numbers he claimed and to what degree he was used by other actors. But he realised he was on to a good thing (he secured re-election in 1952) and kept "revealing" communists in the government and elsewhere. Televised hearings showed his vituperative and erratic nature; the Senate censured him in 1954 and he faded away. "McCarthyism" has become a doubleplusungood swearword so stripped of meaning that it can be shaped into mud to be thrown at Trump.
But – and a very big but – whatever McCarthy's motivation or cynicism, however unpleasant, shifty and unshaven he looked on TV, there was a reality behind what he was saying.
- ITEM. August 1945. Elizabeth Bentley approaches the FBI and eventually reveals the spying activities of the CPUSA.
- ITEM. September 1945. Igor Guzenko defects in Ottawa, revealing the extent of spying on its allies by the USSR. Thanks to his information Alan Nunn May, part of the British contribution to the atomic bomb project, is arrested March 1946. A number of Canadians are arrested – including the MP Fred Rose.
- ITEM. August 1948. Whittaker Chambers, a CPUSA member disgusted by the Hitler-Stalin pact, in testimony to HUAC, names Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official, as a CPUSA agent.
- ITEM. January 1950. Klaus Fuchs, an important player in the atomic bomb project, admits to spying for the USSR. His confession leads to Harry Gold (arrested May, 1950) which leads to David Greenglass (arrested June 1950), which leads to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (arrested in June and August 1950). The Manhattan Project was well infiltrated by Soviet agents.
- ITEM. February 1950. McCarthy's speech.
- ITEM. Beginning in summer 1951 with the defection of Burgess and Maclean and only ending with the discovery of the last member in 1979, the revelation of extensive penetration by the Soviets of British intelligence – the Cambridge Five – caused continuing investigations and suspicions which tied up the CIA and SIS for years.
In conclusion, whatever you think of the man himself, "McCarthyism" was based on reality: there was extensive Soviet penetration in the USA and elsewhere.
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And today? The equivalent of McCarthy's speech are the Clinton campaign's excuses for losing.
We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. (Hillary Clinton, 19 October 2016.)
That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. [9 November 2016] Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. (From Shattered, quoted here.)
After the story had been happily re-typed by the complaisant media, the "intelligence community" weighed in with two fatuous "intelligence assessments":
ITEM. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:
This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.
ITEM. The DNI report of 6 January 2017 crazily devoted nearly half its space to a four-year old rant about RT. But the real clue that the report was nonsense was its equally stunning disclaimer:
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
In other words, DHS told us to ignore its report and the one agency in the US intelligence structure that would actually know who hacked what refused to sign its name to it.
And not "all 17", only three. Then – the final nail – not really the three but only "hand-picked" people from them. Eventually, the NYT issued a correction. ("Correction" being presstitute-speak for "you caught us".)
The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community. (New York Times correction, 29 June 2017)
And that was the beginning of the story that has consumed so much effort, done so much damage, metastasised so far and continues today. No Elizabeth Bentley, no atomic spies, no Venona. Only 1) an excuse for losing, 2) "hand-picked" writers, 3) forced plea deals and 4) the pompous indictment of a Russian click bait farm.
The fons et origo of today's Russhysteria, I am convinced, was a conspiracy in the security organs to derail Trump's candidacy and when that failed, to overthrow him. Little by little that story is dribbling out:
Congressional testimony backs up former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s account that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was talking to high-level officials about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office.
One can only hope that the conspiracy will finally be so revealed and so proven and so obvious that even the consumers of CNN, MSNBC, The Guardian, the NYT and the rest will understand what was really going on. Then, maybe, we can hope to edge away from the highly dangerous anti-Russia hysteria.
McCarthyism was based on reality, today's recurrence is not. A significant difference indeed.
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Lavrenti Beria is reputed to have said "give me the man, and I will give you the crime". And sleep depravation and teeth and blood on the floor delivered the confession. How little he understood his craft. Maria Butina, an innocent if naïve Russian girl who liked the Second Amendment, arrested, stuck in solitary, on suicide watch (sleep deprivation – Beria knew about that), innumerable charges, after months, makes a plea deal. Michael Flynn, innumerable charges, savings burnt up, makes a plea deal. Paul Manafort, early morning SWAT attack (Beria recognises that), innumerable charges, makes a plea deal. Cohen, Papadopoulos and so on. That's the American justice system – not Stalin's "beat, beat and beat again" – just innumerable charges, bankruptcy by lawyers' fees, endless interrogations, SWAT raids. Then the plea deal. Beria was an amateur.
So the Marx brothers are both wrong: the second time it's a much more dangerous tragedy and, when you actually see it in reality, reason gone mad isn't actually very funny.