The Deluded

How Soviet communists manipulated the Religious Left

What’s a “dupe,” and why should Catholics care? A dupe is a deluded individual who has allowed or enabled himself to be misled and manipulated. Dupes are preyed upon by wolves in sheep’s clothing. In his historic farewell address on September 19, 1796, George Washington explicitly warned his countrymen of the danger of “dupes” who “surrender their interests.”

The practice of duping picked up speed in America at the start of the last century. The manipulation began in earnest when the communists took over Russia in 1917, created their Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow in March 1919, and then established their own Communist Party in America, launched in Chicago in September 1919. The American party loyally followed orders from the Soviet party, working in careful coordination with the Comintern.

The duping was done on a remarkable scale and with remarkable craftsmanship by communist propagandists—with America’s liberals and progressives as their prime target. More specific still, America’s Religious Left was in the communists’ constant crosshairs.

Pointing out this phenomenon is not a matter of beating up or embarrassing the duped, or having an uncharitable, hearty laugh at the expense of the gullible. The reality is that the word “dupe” was an everyday term with a specific meaning. During the Cold War, many of the duped later regretted having been duped, and said so; others spoke openly of fears of being duped.

The plain, undeniable—but historically unappreciated—fact is that the dupe has played a very significant role in the recent history of America and in the nation’s ability to deal with destructive opponents. Consider: American communists were never able to gain the popular support they needed to advance their goals. They painfully recognized this, which meant they always had to conceal their intentions and, instead, needed to find clever ways to enlist the support of a much wider coalition that could help them push their private agenda.

The communists could not succeed without dupes. If they flew solo, operating without dupes at their rallies, at their protests, in their petitions and ads in newspapers, then the communists would reveal themselves to be a tiny minority. They also would be open to immediate exposure. The dupes were indispensable. They lent a presence, an apparent legitimacy, credibility, and generally a helping hand to the hidden hand that covertly pursued an agenda that was always pro-Moscow.

This dupery had the intended effect of serving and advancing the interests of the USSR and global Marxist movement. While not exclusively people on the left, those duped were, by and large, far and away, political liberals and progressives.

This susceptibility of liberals was also a casualty of where they and communists fell along the ideological spectrum. While the liberals, obviously, were not communists, they shared with the communists many key sympathies: workers’ rights, the spreading and redistribution of wealth, a narrow to non-existent income gap, a central government offering a wide array of “free” government services, a favoring of the public sector over the private sector, progressively high tax rates, an expansive federal government, a cynicism about business and capitalism. The differences were typically matters of degree rather than principle.

Communists, of course, knew this. So they zeroed in on liberals, whom they needed to help them achieve their ambitions, and they often got just what they needed.

Protestant dupes

Significantly, and sadly, there was an intense and rather dispiriting religious component to all of this. That’s ironic, given that communists were proudly, militantly atheistic.

Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses,” and said that “Communism begins where atheism begins.” Lenin said far worse, comparing religion to everything from venereal disease to necrophilia. “There’s nothing more abominable than religion,” declared Lenin.

This institutionalized atheism was true for communists everywhere, from Moscow to New York. Beyond that, communists viciously persecuted believers of all stripes.

And yet, these communists, who locked up and even executed Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other believers, sang a different tune when speaking to liberal Christians in the United States. They contemptuously targeted the Religious Left. And it’s downright depressing to see the success they had. They knew these liberal Christians were trusting souls, who shared with them on certain sympathies, from workers’ rights to civil rights to wealth redistribution. The communists exploited that trust.

As Lenin infamously said, the only morality that communists recognized is that which furthered class interests. So, the communists lied to liberals, and seemed to enjoy lying to Christian liberals in particular. They did so with great success, particularly among the mainline Protestant denominations, and most notably the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and Presbyterian Church USA. They also had great success influencing if not penetrating liberal groups like the National Council of Churches. Herb Romerstein, the veteran investigator of the communist movement, and himself a former communist, when asked which group of Americans was most manipulated by communists, unhesitatingly answered “liberal Protestant pastors.” He called them “the biggest suckers of them all.”

Among pastors who stood out was the Rev. Harry F. Ward, a liberal Methodist minister, a seminary professor, and a founding member of the ACLU. One of the more eye-opening early documents now declassified from the Comintern Archives on Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is a four-page December 1920 letter that lists liberal college professors targeted by the Soviet Comintern and American Communist Party. On the list is not only Ward, listed with Union Theological Seminary, but other professors from seminaries or religious colleges, from Mount Holyoke to Trinity College. The liberals are listed by Comintern officials as sources to get their materials on the shelves at seminary and college libraries.

Ward made several pilgrimages to the USSR, where he was given the full Potemkin-village treatment. The progressive pastor was smitten, returning to write more than one book on the marvels of the Motherland. In 1935, he published The Soviet Spirit, a valentine to Lenin and Stalin, which the Daily Worker and New Masses promoted loudly. The Daily Worker did a full-page profile of Ward’s book, along with a glowing feature on the good reverend. The hardcore atheists were enamored of the Methodist minister. As for New Masses, it offered a free give-away of The Soviet Spirit as a complimentary gift for buying a one-year subscription.

Ward’s seminary was supportive. Union Theological Seminary gave him a one-year sabbatical to go to Moscow to research and pay homage. The Rev. Ward not only gobbled up Soviet propaganda, but, early on, set the standard for much of the liberal left: that is, he exposed not the communists, but, instead, attacked the anti-communists. In Ward’s world, it was anti-communism that was the great menace to be resisted.

Writing in Protestant Digest in January 1940, long before Senator McCarthy arrived on the scene, Ward admonished the faithful of the perils of “anti-communism,” which was being employed “under the leadership of [Congressman] Dies in a new red hunt” that promised to be even “more ruthless than that of Mitchell Palmer.” Here, Ward warned about Congressman Martin Dies, Texas Democrat, the first head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s attorney general, both of whom dared to investigate the obviously tight, disturbing relationship between the American party and Moscow.

Harry Ward aside, among the most insidious communist campaigns that enlisted duped liberal Christians was the World War II front-group, the American Peace Mobilization. Secretly created by communists, who beautifully concealed their involvement, the American Peace Mobilization publicly pushed FDR to accommodate Hitler, because Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin. This group angrily demanded no Lend-Lease money to the Brits, as they were being savagely bombed by Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. How could the American Peace Mobilization take this position? It did so because this was Stalin’s position, at least from 1939 until June 22, 1941, when Hitler betrayed Stalin and invaded the USSR. Then, overnight, the American Peace Mobilization became the American People’s Mobilization, and became fanatically pro-war, pro-FDR, pro-British, pro-Lend-Lease, you name it.

As Congress later noted, this group was “one of the most seditious organizations which ever operated in the United States,” “one of the most notorious and blatantly Communist fronts ever organized in this country,” and an “instrument of the Communist Party line.” And yet, the American Peace Mobilization had more success with peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek liberal Christians than any other group. A review of the participants that signed up for the mobilization’s marquee event in New York City in April 1941 shows that more than a quarter had the designation “Rev.” in front of their name. They fell for the Christ-hating communists’ appropriation of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Predictably also taken for a ride was the New York Times, which described the group not as a communist front, but as a “group of clergymen.”

Catholic dupes

Of course, these were largely, if not exclusively, liberal Protestants. But what about Catholics? Were they duped during this period, too? Yes, but not as badly as the Protestants were. More than that, because of the institutional Church’s informed anti-communism, many Catholics who were once duped learned from their mistakes, changed, repented, and even redeemed themselves.

Dozens of such examples could be cited. Consider the case of Thomas Merton: As a young man struggling to find his place in the world, Merton unfortunately landed at Columbia University in the 1930s. A man of the left throughout his life, he attested to the extreme secular-left bent of the campus, as well as the near-reverence for Professor John Dewey. He also conceded the abnormally high number of communists at Columbia. Merton himself joined the Communist Party while there. “[I]n my new reverence for communism,” wrote Merton later, “I was in danger of docilely accepting any kind of stupidity.”

The combination of the spiritual vacuum at Columbia, filled by the unclean spirits of Deweyism and Marxism, was a real-and-present danger to the youthful students daily being handed pamphlets by local (New York-based) CPUSA stooges and front-group deceivers who worked the street corners hunting for intelligent but immature recruits. Pounding the pavement proved a success back at Party headquarters. They picked up a lot of gullible freshmen.

The communists at Columbia actually had full control of the student newspaper, said Merton, as well as other groups on campus. They held their meetings in the open at the sundial on 116th Street.

Merton admits to having been duped repeatedly by communists. He and others mouthed the “party line,” whatever it was, including the convenient preaching for peace—proffered only when it served Moscow’s interests. Merton came to his senses much quicker than many dupes. How so? In large part with the aid of a firm intellectual grounding in Roman Catholicism, which he displayed splendidly in his classic memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain.

That said, some figures never seemed to learn, and allowed themselves to be badly misled and manipulated by the communists for decades—including certain Catholics.

Ted Kennedy

Possibly the single worst case of a duped Roman Catholic throughout the entirety of the Cold War was the late Ted Kennedy, whose activities and overtures to Moscow were scandalous.

One colorful example of the manipulation of Kennedy was described by KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov, who had been a journalist and editor for Novosti, the Soviet press agency. Of course, that means he also worked for the KGB and wasn’t truly a journalist. Bezmenov defected to the West in the 1970s. Among his chief duties was to manipulate Western visitors through propaganda and misinformation. This entailed some unique skills. “One of my functions,” explained Bezmenov, “was to keep foreign guests permanently intoxicated from the moment they landed at Moscow airport.” He managed “groups of so-called ‘progressive intellectuals’—writers, journalists, publishers, teachers, professors of colleges…. For us, they were just a bunch of political prostitutes to be taken advantage of.”

Bezmenov smelled the unmistakable stench of the Soviet system, and was deeply troubled that these progressives, who prided themselves on their intellectual superiority, couldn’t detect the same rot. It ate at his conscience. “I did my job,” he lamented, but “deep inside I still hoped that at least some of these useful idiots [would catch on].”

Among the worst of them, said Bezmenov, was Senator Ted Kennedy. Bezmenov had an actual photo of Kennedy dancing at a wedding at Moscow’s Palace of Marriages, but it wasn’t a real wedding; it was staged. Pointing to the photo during a videotaped TV interview in the 1980s, Bezmenov commented: “Another greatest example of monumental idiocy [among] American politicians: Edward Kennedy was in Moscow, and he…was being taken for a ride.” This was a “staged wedding used to impress foreign media—or useful idiots like Ed Kennedy. Most of the guests there [had] security clearance and were instructed what to say to foreigners.”

I know this example seems absurdly unbelievable to modern eyes and ears, but such were the wretched lengths to which the Soviets descended. They were outstanding liars, constructing (as Vaclav Havel put it) a vast “communist culture of the lie.” They built phony factories, schools, even villages to hoodwink visiting Western progressives. Why wouldn’t they stage weddings? Well, they did. The New York Times, in 1958, published an article on the use of staged weddings specifically. This was old hat to the Kremlin.

Bezmenov, and the Soviets generally, were amazed at how easily they deceived progressives and liberals. They shook their heads in disbelief. As for Ted Kennedy, Bezmenov said that Kennedy “thinks he’s very smart,” but, “from the viewpoint of Russian citizens who observed this idiocy,” he was a “useful idiot.”

And yet, Ted Kennedy’s “Russian Romance” went deeper. For the senator from Massachusetts, the Russian romance was a long-term affair. In March 1980 and March 1983, he reciprocated whatever wedding prize Soviet handlers gave him with gifts of his own. He made offers against Jimmy Carter, his own political flesh and blood, in the middle of the 1980 Democratic presidential primaries, and against Ronald Reagan as the 1984 presidential election approached. These are shown in declassified materials that we can now view in Soviet archives.

The first example ought to offend even liberal Democrats. It was March 1980. The Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan—a tremendous shock, their first invasion outside the Warsaw Pact since World War II. It was also another betrayal of the bizarre trust President Jimmy Carter had placed in the Soviet dictatorship. In fact, mere months earlier, Carter and Leonid Brezhnev embraced and kissed in Vienna. That image, the ultimate symbol of being duped, was proof positive that Jimmy Carter was incredibly weak and overly accommodating toward the USSR.

Actually, it was proof to everyone except Ted Kennedy. As is now evident via the Mitrokhin Archives, a fascinating cache of documents taken out of Russia by a defector named Vasiliy Mitrokhin, Kennedy sent a liaison to Moscow (March 5, 1980) to communicate a message. The liaison, an old Kennedy pal and law-school roommate named John Tunney, who had been a US senator from California from 1971-1977, informed the Soviets that Kennedy was troubled by rising Cold War tensions, which Kennedy blamed not on the Kremlin but on the Carter administration.

It was an amazing charge. It was the kind of crass absurdity we typically heard from Kremlin propagandists, although even this charge would have never made it out of the International Department. It would have been deemed too far-fetched.

But not for Kennedy. What exactly did he communicate? In Mitrokhin’s description, Kennedy argued that the administration was trying to “distort the peace-loving ideas behind Brezhnev’s proposals,” with “the atmosphere of tension and hostility…being fuelled by Carter.” The Carter White House was “feeding public opinion with nonsense about ‘the Soviet military threat’ and Soviet ambitions for military expansion.” The KGB, for the record, found Kennedy’s words “acceptable to us.”

What makes this worse is not merely the obvious political naïveté of Kennedy but the undeniably suspicious political motivations. Recall what was happening in March 1980: This was smack in the middle of the Democratic presidential primaries, with no less than Ted Kennedy himself challenging the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, for the nomination.

And if this case wasn’t bad enough, consider Kennedy’s actions three years later. In May 1983, with the next presidential election coming up—with Kennedy again a frontrunner—Kennedy did something similar to the incumbent president, Ronald Reagan, also through a private liaison. This is now observable via a shocking May 14, 1983 memorandum, formerly designated with the highest classification, sent from KGB head Victor Chebrikov to the odious Yuri Andropov. The subject head of the memo immediately grabs one’s attention: “Regarding Senator Kennedy’s request to the General Assembly of the Communist Party Y. V. Andropov.”

Andropov had been a KGB head and Soviet disinformation chief. Now he was leader of the Evil Empire, and a ruthless human being. Here again, though, Senator Kennedy begged to differ. The letter said Kennedy was “very impressed” with Andropov, but decidedly unimpressed with Reagan. Kennedy wanted the Soviet leadership to know he remained troubled by Cold War tensions, which he attributed not to the Soviets but, again, to the American president. The problem was “Reagan’s belligerence” and “refusal to engage any modification” in his politics or policies. Worse, noted the letter, Reagan was riding high, cruising to easy re-election. Americans loved him. What could be done? Where was Reagan vulnerable?

Alas, that’s where Ted Kennedy could help. As the memo details, Kennedy offered to meet with the Soviet leadership to discuss how to respond to Reagan’s “propaganda.” Among other things, Kennedy suggested a PR campaign by which the Soviets, including high-level military, would come to America for a media tour. Kennedy suggested Barbara Walters and Walter Cronkite as friendly interviewers with whom he could help arrange interviews.

Kennedy had offered himself to the service of the Soviets. Whether Kennedy was a dupe or something much worse is a debate worthy of our consideration.

Kennedy aside, there were plenty of other Catholics who have been duped, including current senators like Kennedy’s Massachusetts’ colleague, John Kerry. There were also groups like the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which Congress, in an October 1968 report, listed among 82 identified organizations on hand to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, along with CPUSA, the Trotskyists, Tom Hayden’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a wide variety of communist fronts, plus, of course, the usual suspects from the Religious Left: the American Friends Service Committee, Concerned Clergy and Laymen, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and on and on.

Also, in a most interesting case, Ronald Reagan, who once had been a duped liberal Democrat as a young, politically active actor,  in February 1947 met with and warned a progressive Jesuit priest, Father George H. Dunne of Loyola University in Chicago, about “being a dupe for communists.” Dunne thought Reagan was paranoid.

Catholics who were not duped

Most impressive, though, is the fact that most Catholics were not duped. In fact, some of America’s best, most eloquent and informed anti-communists were Catholics, such as Bishop Fulton Sheen, Cardinal Francis Spellman, William F. Buckley Jr., and Clare Boothe Luce, not to mention critically important behind-the-scenes players like Reagan adviser Bill Clark, and Reagan CIA director Bill Casey, to name a few. Of course, then there were cardinals and bishops like Mindszenty in Hungary, Wyszynski in Poland, Stepinac in Yugoslavia, Walter Ciszek in Russia, and popes ranging from Leo XIII to Pius IX, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John Paul II—and, most worthy of mention, Our Lady of Fatima.

Also, some of the best anti-communist Catholics were Democrat politicians. Consider the likes of President John F. Kennedy and the late Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut. Kennedy, who was nothing like his younger brother, Ted, alerted America to the perils of its “atheistic foe,” of the “fanaticism and fury” of the “godless” “communist conspiracy,” possessed, as it was, by an “implacable, insatiable, unceasing…drive for world domination,” and “final enslavement.” Thomas Dodd chastised his fellow liberals as “deluded” “innocents,” as “unwitting” and “muddle-headed” “naïve sentimentalists,” saddled with “confusion” over communism and “communist political warfare.” Senator Dodd—whose son, Chris, was, like Ted Kennedy, nowhere near as anti-communist—was a fearless anti-communist pillar on the Judiciary Committee, and vice chair of the Subcommittee on Internal Security, which produced numerous investigative analyses exposing communists and warning Americans.

Even more important, the Catholic Church itself was not duped, even as many members were. In that regard, it surpassed almost any institution anywhere, and of any stripe. The Church adamantly opposed communism from the very beginning, literally in the mid-1800s, and most vociferously in 1930s encyclicals like Divini Redemptoris (“On Atheistic Communism”), which described communism as, among other things, a “godless” “satanic scourge”—a “terroristic” “plague” and “poison.” Communism, said this 1937 encyclical, was “by its nature anti-religious,” and a “violent, deceptive” form of “perversity.” It was a form of “class-warfare which causes rivers of blood to flow,” a “savage barbarity” that “has not confined itself to the indiscriminate slaughter of bishops” and the destruction of churches and monasteries. The Marxists were “the powers of darkness.” In the dialectical and historical materialism advocated by Marx, “there was no room for the idea of God.” “The evil we must combat,” declared the Church, “is at its origin primarily an evil of the spiritual order. From this polluted source the monstrous emanations of the communistic system flow with satanic logic.”

The Roman Catholic Church finessed this strident rhetoric with a sophisticated, informed treatise on Marxist ideology, grounded in Aquinas, in faith and reason, in revelation, and based—equally important—on an already rich tradition of Church critiques of communism in numerous previous encyclicals dating back to 1846. That tradition began with Pope Pius IX’s extremely early condemnation in 1846 (Qui Pluribus), which affirmed that communism is “absolutely contrary to the natural law itself” and prophetically averred that if communism were adopted it would “utterly destroy the rights, property, and possessions of all men, and even society itself.” In 1878 (Quod Apostolici Muneris), Leo XIII followed by defining communism as “the fatal plague which insinuates itself into the very marrow of human society only to bring about its ruin.” More statements followed, in 1924, 1928, 1930, 1931, two in 1932, 1933, all before the publication of Divini Redemptoris in 1937.

In short, the Church suffered no delusions about communism or its conniving adherents. And this is why communists, both in the Soviet Union and in America, targeted the Catholic Church with all sorts of smears, and tried to dupe and enlist non-communist leftists in the process.

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About Dr. Paul Kengor 54 Articles
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, and, most recently, The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism's Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration.

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