Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review — ‘The Party Line’

THE PARTY LINE: A PLAY IN TWO ACTS — By Sheryl Longin & Roger L. Simon — Introduction by Ronald Radosh — 2012 — Criterion Books — Trade paperback: 141 pages — ISBN: 978-0-9859052-0-0

Throughout most of history Russia was that enigmatic, sprawling, unpredictable, and backward place eastward of modern civilization, a retarded culture struggling to find its identity and assume its rightful place in the world.

Had it not been for the Russian Revolution and the crushing totalitarian forces it unleashed, Russia could have been as free and advanced as any of the Western nations were by the mid-20th century — but that wasn’t meant to be.

In the name of peace and safety, the Russian peoples shut their eyes, crossed their fingers, and hoped that the new power elites would run their country for the benefit of all.

The new guys in charge, however, never fell prey to such naivete. To get power and hold it was their aim, and if that meant a few million peasants had to starve, so what?

History now records what was deliberately covered up at the time. Under “Comrade” Stalin’s directions, forced famines exterminated whole villages of Ukrainians.

These atrocities, of course, were never officially revealed to Western journalists. Despite personal risk, however, a few reporters went to the scene and told what they saw.

But some journalists were content to repeat “the party line,” and one of them was named Walter Duranty, foreign correspondent for the New York Times and a central character in this play.

In his introduction, Ron Radosh offers a summary assessment of Duranty as “… the Times’ man in Moscow [who was] nothing but a propagandist — doing the Kremlin’s job in America better than any of its own paid agents could have.”

Since just about everybody read the Times and placed their confidence in the paper, such unlikely people as Will Rogers could be seen speaking out in favor of the communist “experiment” in Russia.

As for Duranty, for much of the play he comes across as fairly appealing and not the villain of the piece he truly is.

Of course, Walter Duranty didn’t create the Russian Revolution or Josef Stalin, but he did legitimize both — with the result that millions died unmourned and unnoticed while the rest of the world was tricked into looking the other way.

All indications are Duranty was never a communist ideologue but something just as bad, one of the most useful of useful idiots, someone more than willing to repeat lies if it would advance his career.

In a clever move, Longin & Simon tie those terrible events in Soviet Russia of long ago with today’s encounters with militant Islam and reveal disturbing parallels between the useful idiot press of the 1930s and today’s recumbent media, criminally credulous, inane, incurious, and just plain lazy.

As good as it is, you might want to skip over Ron Radosh’s introduction, read the play first, and then go to the front matter. Doing that should heighten the ironies that Radosh recounts about all of the controversy surrounding Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize for his Moscow “reporting.”

Parental warning: This play contains strong language and adult sexual situations.

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