Stalin, Robeson, and Me

Fifty-seven years ago this month Joseph Stalin died in Moscow, on March 5, 1953. I was a sociology graduate student, aged 26, just recently married, not yet a father (though expecting). Those Stalinists in New York, whom I had encountered at CCNY and elsewhere, were of professional interest to me (as were Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Plymouth Brethren, etc. etc.). How would the Stalinists react to the death of their “great leader” ? I decided to make some observations.

By coincidence, a large public meeting had previously been planned by one of the Communist front organizations to take place on what turned out to be a day or two after Stalin’s death. The venue was a large hall in Harlem, and Paul Robeson (whom the Communists had not yet revealed as a secret party member) was the scheduled speaker. I decided to attend. Would there be tears for the newly-late leader ? Would there be great public grief ? I wanted to know and I went up to Harlem to find out.

What a surprise ! The comrades arrived on time, maybe a couple of thousand, and sat politely through routine speeches without there being a single mention of Stalin. Finally Paul Robeson got up, and in the first sentence of his speech declaimed the death of “the great Stalin.” Well, at that moment there was loud applause, a standing applause, but applause no different from that accompanying other points that the various CP speakers had emphasized.

I concluded that these New York Stalinists were devoted to their party and its discipline, but that they lacked any warm emotional tie to the man whom they had seen praised, so many times, in the Daily Worker and elsewhere, as Coryphaeus of Science, Father of Nations, Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Great Architect of Communism, Gardener of Human Happiness. The cult of personality, I concluded, was thin and arid, at least among the New York comrades.

The Odenwaldschule

Amelie Fried

The Odenwaldschule, a residential school in Germany’s countryside not far from Frankfurt, will be 100 years old this year. Started by progressivist educationalists, under the influence of the youth movement of those years and not without the anti-Semitic overtones common at the time, it became famous among the left-leaning enlightened both during the Weimar republic and after WWII. Klaus Mann was a pupil there, as was Daniel Cohn-Bendit in a later period. Among the educational practices: children and teachers lived side by side in the dorm; they were “friends” and used the “du” when speaking to one another; all, the pupils, the teachers, the administrators, all these were far more enlightened and morally advanced than the bourgeois circles from which they came (and which, in fact, provided the money).

And now there is a huge sex scandal. It seems that for more than a decade, ending in about 1985, boys were sexually abused by the director and other teachers. Young teen-age girls were abused by other teachers and their friends. Both boys and girls, together with staff, showered communally in the naked; the staff pressured youngsters to play strip poker …. All this was well known to one and all, but authorities were not brought in until the strict German statute of limitations kicked in to protect the then-director and his staff.

The well known German writer Amelie Fried, herself a pupil in those years, has now written an unsparing piece for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She tells of the excitement of being an adolescent in that atmosphere, but also of the shame that will not go away. (The FAZ has recently published quite a number of other good articles on the case, but, obviously, all is in German. I think that there should be a book in English.)

If this were another Catholic institution, say, none of this would have come as surprising news. As a matter of fact, more such sad news came from German Catholic schools in the same week. But the Odenwaldschule is one of the internationally best-known establishments of modern, progressive, “anti-bourgeois” education, highly accredited by UNESCO and similar authorities (whether there was a UNESCO connection during the critical years is not clear). So the staid German press is in a paroxysm of — well, the Germans have a word — Schadenfreue. Who can blame it for that ?

Update, December 2010: the Spiegel (in German) reports on much more that has now become known about the “nest of pedophiles” at this progressive German school, and at another German private school as well.

A somewhat earlier article, also in the Spiegel, also in German, gives a very good history of this school, showing that the pedophilia was probably inherent in its very founding in 1910.

The Ghost of L. Ron Hubbard

Tom Cruise
John Travolta
So here we have yet another report/exposé of Scientology — this time it’s an excellent article in the New York Times by Laurie Goodstein, March 7: financial irregularities, physical violence, blatant exploitation of brain-washed followers, and — new to me — the outrageous barriers that prevent members from leaving the cult. Nevertheless, the cult continues its merry old way. I first came across it when, back in the 1950’s, L. Ron Hubbard appeared at City College in New York to lecture on “engrams” and all the other contributions he had made to the culture of unreason. Now it’s sixty years later, and Hubbard’s folks are still around. What gives ?

Usually cults of this kind die when their founders die. But in this case the group persists. It’s very small, but it does persist. Goodstein reports poll data showing only about 25,000 Americans as Scientologists. National polling organizations have trouble estimating very small groups, as I pointed out in a different context, but Scientology, whatever its true strength, is not very large and would hardly justify the amount of ink lavished on it by mainstream media.

If — a big if here — it weren’t for the curious presence of famous movie stars among its adherents. Of course other stars have graced equally kookie causes. At least one is said to be among the “truthers” who say that the US government commissioned 9/11, and at least another among the folks who maintain that Jews are the cause of all evil. But the contingent of Scientology stars is much larger and much better known than these.

When I was young, (some) movie stars could still shock by engaging in serial polygamy. Now that this charming practice has gone mainstream, what’s a poor star to do to get a little extra exsposure in the ever-compliant press ? Enter the ghost of L. Ron Hubbard.

Wespac Executive Director: Hamas is Right

Nada Khader, the Executive Director of the Wespac Foundation, excoriates not only Israel but also President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who, Ms. Khader says, is a “collaborator.” And yes, Hamas is right in sending rockets into Israel.

Wespac collects contributions, illegally, from like-minded people and issues tax receipts under IRS regulation 501(c)(3). [See previous posting]

for my complaint to the IRS, please click HERE