A Warning from a Former Communist

As I was getting ready for work yesterday morning, I was watching the 1949 film The Red Danube. It stars Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, a very young and trim Angela Landsbury (Murder She Wrote), Ethel Barrymore, and Janet Leigh. Pidgeon plays British Col. Michael “Hooky” Nicobar who is assigned to assist in monitoring possible activities against the Allied nations and repatriating Soviet citizens living in the British zone of Vienna. He is an atheist. He reminded me of today’s breed of New Atheists. He used their same arguments. As the Bible says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).

One man is so desperate not go back to Russia that he kills himself. “Hooky” finally comes to realize that if there is no God, then what the Soviets are doing to former citizens who had fled the oppression of Communism cannot be protested. He is a soldier who must do his duty no matter what the consequences. Given atheistic assumptions, there are no moral consequences one way or another. After some soul searching, wise words from Ethel Barrymore’s character, and thinking through the implications of atheism, he realizes that he can and must oppose Communism even it means an end to his military career and pension.

The film reminded me of Whittaker Chambers and his 1952 book Witness. America is sliding easily into the worldview that first corrupted Chambers and is now making its way through American schools, universities, media outlets, and the entertainment industry.

Many people today ask, after looking back over the atrocities of history, how could people have been so naïve? How could they have fallen for all the lies? Didn’t they see what they were voting for?

Chambers (1901–1961) was an American writer, editor, and a Communist party member and Soviet spy. After he renounced communism, he became an outspoken opponent of Communism and became famous for his testimony against Alger Hiss. Chambers had accused the former State Department employee of being a Soviet spy.

Witness is a combination of autobiography, an account of his role in the Hiss case, and a warning about the dangers of Communism and liberalism. Ronald Reagan credited the book for his conversion from a New Deal Democrat to a conservative Republican. In 1984, President Reagan posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to “the century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.”

The excerpts below are from a “Letter to My Children” that appear as the Foreword to Witness. They serve as a warning to us as in this crucial election year. I pray that that we as a nation heed it.

Chambers said that by leaving Communism that he was “leaving the winning side for the losing side.” Let’s prove him wrong.

*****

I see in Communism the focus of the concentrated evil of our time. You will ask: Why, then, do men become Communists? How did it happen that you, our gentle and loved father, were once a Communist? Were you simply stupid? No, I was not stupid. Were you morally depraved? No, I was not morally depraved. Indeed, educated men become Communists chiefly for moral reasons. Did you not know that the crimes and horrors of Communism are inherent in Communism? Yes, I knew that fact. Then why did you become a Communist? It would help more to ask: How did it happen that this movement, once a mere muttering of political outcasts, became this immense force that now contests the mastery of mankind? Even when all the chances and mistakes of history are allowed for, the answer must be: Communism makes some profound appeal to the human mind.

*****

The revolutionary heart of Communism is not the theatrical appeal: “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.” It is a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: “Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.”

*****

How did you break with Communism? My answer is: Slowly, reluctantly, in agony. Yet my break began long before I heard those screams. Perhaps it does for everyone. I do not know how far back it began. Avalanches gather force and crash, unheard, in men as in the mountains. But I date my break from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear-those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.

*****

The crisis of Communism exists to the degree in which it has failed to free the peoples that it rules from God. Nobody knows this better than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God. It exists to the degree in which the Western world actually shares Communism’s materialist vision, is so dazzled by the logic of the materialist interpretation of history, politics and economics, that it fails to grasp that, for it, the only possible answer to the Communist challenge: Faith in God or Faith in Man? is the challenge: Faith in God.

*****

Communism is the central experience of the first half of the 20th century, and may be its final experience — will be, unless the free world, in the agony of its struggle with Communism, overcomes its crisis by discovering, in suffering and pain, a power of faith which will provide man’s mind, at the same intensity, with the same two certainties: a reason to live and a reason to die.