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Agenda: A Misleading Fundamentalist Video That Should Never Have Been Made
Remnant Review (Oct. 29, 2012)
There comes a time to stop beating a dead horse. But there are full-time beaters of dead horses who just cannot bring themselves to admit that the horse is dead.
A recent example of dead-horse-beating is a documentary, Agenda: Grinding America Down (2010). It argues that Communism in America is not only alive and well, it is about to conquer America. In fact, we are almost out of time. Communism is about to take over.
I assume that your initial reaction is this: "This is nuts." That was my reaction when I first viewed it. But, believe it or not, this documentary has begun to gain a following among fundamentalists who believe that Jesus is coming soon to set up His millennial kingdom. This theory of history teaches that everything must get worse and worse until a time when Christians are about to be overwhelmed by the forces of evil. Jesus will come and take them all to heaven for seven years, and then Jesus, His angels, and the resurrected perfect and immortal followers will return to set up an international bureaucracy to run the world. This theory is called premillennial, pretribulational dispensationalism.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 created a major crisis for this system of Bible interpretation. The "Beast from the North," the USSR, collapsed. This ended the USSR's supposed threat to the nation of Israel, which is central to this theory of world history. The nation of the north was now gone. So, how could Jesus' return to whisk away his helpless church be imminent? I wrote a book on this topic in 1993, Rapture Fever. It's here for free: http://bit.ly/gnrapture.
Then, in 2010, a fundamentalist offered the answer. Communism really did not die. Not at all. It is about to take over the USA. The visible collapse of Communism was really part of a Communist plot.
The fall of the USSR was not a hoax. The collapse of Communism in America immediately followed. Hardly anyone noticed. That was because American working class members had never accepted the idea of bloody proletarian revolution as an inevitable way of liberation. They hated Communism.
Why would anyone believe this documentary? Because it's slick. It is based on a complete misreading of Communist history. It is also based on a series of deceptions. Conservatives cannot believe that someone would deliberately deceive them. So, they believe this message.
But what if the deception was based on self-deception? What if the producer is simply misinformed? What if he is a self-taught man who picked up a few unconnected (and erroneous) bits of information and tried to connect them by means of a thesis that seems superficially plausible? What if his sincerity is not backed up by the facts? What if the average viewer of his documentary is ignorant about these supposed facts? Then the viewer becomes a victim.
I don't want you to be a victim. That is why I am writing this report.
THE LEGACY OF FRED SCHWARZ
The documentary is dedicated to Fred Schwarz. This indicates the degree of the writer-producer's ignorance.
In 1996, Schwarz, the anti-Communist lecturer who brought me into the conservative movement in 1956 with one powerful speech, wrote a testament: Beating the Unbeatable Foe: One Man's Victory Over Communism, Leviathan, and the Last Enemy.
That testament resonated with me. His one-hour lecture in 1956 was the most important lecture I ever heard, before or since. I was confronted with what seemed to be a well-organized, ruthless, and relentless enemy: international Communism. It controlled the USSR. The USSR controlled Eastern Europe. Communism controlled China. It had a vision of victory. It had an agenda. It had a comprehensive theory of historical causation: dialectical materialism. The USSR had enormous military power. It looked unbeatable.
Nevertheless, I signed up with Schwarz's Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. I was not yet a Christian. I even sent him $100 for a lifetime membership, which was about $850 in today's purchasing power. I was 14 years old. I earned $1 an hour before taxes at a local record store.
A decade later, I began work on my book, Marx's Religion of Revolution. It was published in 1968. Download it here: http://bit.ly/gnmror. That book goes into detail on the philosophy of Marx and Engels. That philosophy is now dead. So is its economic analysis.
On December 31, 1991, the Communist Party of the USSR committed suicide. It disbursed the funds and shut down. The war was over.
Today, all that remains are North Korea and Cuba. The defeat of Communism is best seen in the satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula.
THE LEGACY OF DOUGLAS HYDE
Someone else had known: Douglas Hyde. He had been a major figure in Great Britain's Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s. He converted to Catholicism in the late 1940s. He wrote a classic account of his years in the Party: Dedication and Leadership, which Notre Dame University Press published in 1956, the year that I heard Schwarz's lecture.
In the mid-1980s, I was given a copy of his limited-printing book, Dedication and Leadership Techniques (1962). I wanted to publish it. I wrote him for permission. He said no. Why? Because the Communist Party no longer resembled the dedicated Party of his youth. He said that the book would give a false opinion of the Party as of 1985.
I publish a modified version of it on this site. You should read it -- not for what it says about Communism today -- or in 1985 -- but in earlier generations.
Communism is dead. It committed suicide: institutionally, morally, and economically. It deserves a public burial.
FIGHTING OLD BATTLES
Sadly, there are conservatives who still live in the past, as if it were still the glory days of Communism and therefore also anti-Communism. Some of them cut their teeth on anti-Communism. I was one of them. Schwarz did, too, more than anyone I have ever known. But by 1996, he knew that the fight was over. The West had won. He turned his files over to David Noebel, who ran Summit Ministries for years. Then Schwarz retired. He deserved his retirement. He died in 2003.
This brings me back to the documentary. It unfortunately was not produced by someone who understood the implications of what Schwarz did in 1996. He retired, having fought the fight and having won.
I am going to review this documentary in detail. Let me say from the outset that the documentary is not worth reviewing for its own sake. It is a very bad documentary. It is misleading. Most of all, it is a documentary that will sidetrack anyone who believes it.
Why? Because it is like an aging boxer who trains for an opponent he fought two decades earlier. That opponent had a fatal heart attack in the middle of a fight. The old boxer is making it more likely that his next opponent will flatten him. Why? Because he never changes his defenses. He is predictable.
AGENDA: GRINDING AMERICA DOWN (2010)
The documentary is here: http://vimeo.com/52009124. It has been online for three weeks. About 9,300 people have clicked it. I doubt that many of them stuck with it all the way through. It is an hour and 20 minutes.
It begins with a clip from a B&W documentary on Communism that Ronald Reagan made 50 years ago. He says that the story he was introducing might not have a happy ending. It was a documentary on international Communism. It was a good documentary. It is now a document of an ancient past.
The story did have a happy ending. The Berlin Wall came down. Then the Soviet Union committed suicide in December of 1991. It was the greatest victory of my lifetime. The most powerful empire in history simply shut down: no bloodshed, no revolution. Not a shot was fired. Incredible.
The economic irrationality of socialism had been made clear by Ludwig von Mises in his 1920 essay, "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth." In 1989, Mises' prediction had become clear even to Soviet economic planners. It became visible to all in late 1991. Mises was right. Marx was wrong.
None of this is mentioned in Agenda. It has movie clips of Soviet parades with lots of tanks and weapons from the 1960s, as if the USSR were still a threat militarily to the West.
It also fails to mention declining birth rates in Russia. It mentions abortion, but not abortion's demographic effects. The Russians are dying off. Siberia is becoming depopulated. On Siberia's southern border is China. At some point, the Chinese will start crossing that border. This is Russia's #1 military problem. It has no solution short of nuclear war.
Agenda was made by a Bible-affirming Christian. Most of the people he interviewed are Bible-believing Christians. Yet not one of them thanked God onscreen for the greatest political victory of all time. Worse: the ones he quoted said that the fight with Communism still goes on, and that America is likely to lose unless the entire nation turns around morally and religiously.
In short, the documentary claims that God did not provide the victory. It says, loud and clear, that there was no miracle, no victory. Yet they call for God to work a miracle. To which God might well reply: "What do you think I gave you? Are you blind? You show no gratitude."
Yes, some of them are blind. The ones onscreen who warned that the Communists are close to total victory are blind.
THE 1992 MEETING
The narrator-producer of the documentary gives this testimony. He says he attended a meeting at the University of California, Berkeley. It was a meeting of Communists. They were all gray heads. He thought that was significant. It was, too. It was a meeting of old people who had visibly lost the fight that had consumed their youth. They had wasted their lives. No one was listening, except for the visitor, who misread the meeting. He thought a bunch of kids at a meeting would have been silly. But, no, these were only old people.
If there are no kids at a meeting to plan strategy, it's irrelevant. The people at the meeting have no future.
They were discussing strategy. He thought this was important. When Communists discuss strategy in a public room on campus, they are either starting over, trying to pick up the pieces, or else it's a sham. It's then a recruiting meeting. But it wasn't. There were no young people. No young people at Berkeley? It's all over but the burial.
He says that this was one faction of the CPUSA, which had split. He never asked the obvious question: How had it split? There was an obvious reason: the leaders were no longer getting instructions from the Communist Party of the USSR. There was no CPUSSR. It had shut down less than a year before. The Communist experiment in the USSR had ended in complete failure -- the greatest single institutional failure in history.
He also did not ask this: What was the other faction doing? What was it saying? Where were its members meeting?
He says he gave no more thought to this until 2008. Then, out of the blue, it occurred to him that a meeting he could barely recall had somehow forecast all of the moral breakdown in the USA. Conclusion: the Communists -- anyway, the Berkeley faction -- had planned it all, organized it all, and was still pulling the strings from behind the curtain.
There was a curtain. There was a wizard behind it.
He then spent two years studying everything, he said. Really? Two whole years? I started studying this in 1956. Fred Schwarz started studying it in 1945. In 1996, he said the Communists had lost. I have said the Communists have lost ever since 1992. But the producer has concluded that they have almost won. At 1:16:33 into the documentary, he announces: "This is our last chance to push back."
He reminds me of Dorothy, the tin man, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion after they had defeated the witch. They were once again standing in the grand hall, and the head was yelling at them. They were terrified of the head.
Think of me as Toto.
TOWARD SOVIET AMERICA
In the documentary, a book is referred to repeatedly, Toward Soviet America. It was written by the head of the CPUSA in 1932. The author was William Z. Foster. We are assured that this book holds the key to understanding what is happening today. It doesn't. The book refutes everything in the documentary relating to Communism.
The documentary argues that today's Left-wing movements are an extension of Marxian Communism. They aren't. No book proves this more effectively than Toward Soviet America.
The author reflected Soviet opinion, meaning Stalin's opinion, in 1932. What did Foster say about all Left-wing reform movements in capitalist nations? Exactly what Marx said, Engels said, and Lenin said. They are all parts of the capitalist system. In Chapter 3, "Attempts to Liquidate the Crisis," in the section The Movement for Capitalist Planned Economy, we read the following.
ALARMED on the one hand at the breakdown of the chaotic capitalistic economy in the crisis and on the other at the forging ahead of the Soviet Union with its planned Socialist economy, defenders of capitalism, especially in the United States, are raising a great clamor for a planned capitalist economy. "Give us a plan," they cry in every key and in manifest confusion. Many of them frankly state that it is a case of either a planned capitalist economy or Communism (p. 161).
What are these people really doing? Opposing Communist revolution. This includes the A.F.L. (American Federation of Labor).
It is characteristic that the Social Fascist and Fascist leaders of the Socialist party and A.F. of L., together with many liberals, are advocates of capitalist "planning." They try to prove that the revolution is not necessary for an ordered economy and prosperity for the workers. As agents of finance capitalism, these elements always manage to find "progress" in every new step that the capitalists find necessary for the exploitation of the workers. The A.F. of L. leaders' demand now for "planning" and the abrogation of the anti- trust laws is just as much in the service of the employers as their support of the tariff, the rationalization of industry, the present wage-cut drive, etc.(pp. 163-64)
The essence of Communism, Foster said, is the proletarian revolution.
THE MAJOR social contradiction of the capitalist system is the conflict in interest between the owning capitalist class and the producing working class. This gives rise to class struggle, the capitalists always seeking to more intensely exploit the workers, and the workers struggling to retain the products of their labor. The class struggle, as we have already seen, becomes ever sharper with the intensification of the general crisis of capitalism, and it eventually culminates in the proletarian revolution (pp. 172-73).
Foster had nothing but contempt for these people. "Adapting themselves to the needs of the employers, the reformist Socialist and trade union leaders have developed their movement into an organ of the bosses for the Fascist repression and intensified exploitation of the working class" (p. 176). He hated the far-Left non-Communists most of all.
But the most insidious and dangerous to the workers of all this crop of demagogues are the so-called "left" Social Fascists. The substance of their activities is, while giving practical support to the right Social Fascists, to criticize them in the name of the revolution. They are the radical phrase-mongers par excellence. Their objective task is the confusion of the most advanced elements of the workers and therefore the breaking up of serious movements against the capitalists and their reactionary labor henchmen (p. 195).
What are Communists -- true Communists -- in favor of? This:
THE COMMUNIST PARTY bases its activities upon the principles of the class struggle, both with regard to its every-day struggles and its ultimate revolutionary goal. It relentlessly fights against the policy of class collaboration practiced by the Socialist party and the A.F. of L. leaders. Worldwide experience has fully demonstrated the fact that the workers cannot go along with the bosses as "friendly partners." The capitalists and the workers are class enemies, with mutually hostile interests. The exploiters and the exploited are natural political foes. The relations between them depend upon the question of power. The workers can get from the employers only what they have the power to take. The A.F. of L. theory (which corresponds to the Socialist party practice) of the "harmony of interest between capital and labor" is the theory of the surrender of the working class to the bourgeoisie (p. 252).
What is their final goal? World Soviet government.
The American Soviet government will join with the other Soviet governments in a world Soviet Union. There will also be, very probably, some form of continental union. The American revolution will doubtless carry with it all those countries of the three Americas that have not previously accomplished the revolution (p. 272).
Problem: in December 1991, the USSR committed suicide. It no longer exists.
This is why those gray-heads at Berkeley in 1992 were having a public meeting. There was nothing left to conceal. They had hit the Communist equivalent of the brick wall. The Communist movement was dead in Russia. Someone needed to write Toward Soviet Russia. No one ever has.
If you believe the message of Agenda, I suggest that you take the documentary's advice. Read Toward Soviet America.
THE NAKED COMMUNIST
At the 8-minute mark, the narrator tells of his appointment to state office in 2008. He began writing a monthly letter to the editor. He says that he thought back to that 1992 meeting. Then someone told him of Cleon Skousen's 1958 book, The Naked Communist. He says he read it for the first time in 2008. He says this amazed him. He says the book outlined the Communist Party's plans for capturing America by stealth. The Party had 45 goals, and, he says almost all of them had been achieved. He offers the list at 11 minutes into the video. The screen scrolls:
28. Outlaw prayer in the schools
24. Discredit the family
17. Take control of the schools
24. Repeal anti-obscenity laws
25. Promote pornography
26. Promote homosexuality
21. Infiltrate the press
27. Infiltrate the churches; teach "social religion"
I bought that book in 1959. When I read this list onscreen, I did not remember it. So, I got the book off my shelf. My memory was correct. There is no such list in the book.
The first 230 pages are devoted to an accurate but conventional history of Soviet Communism. Chapter 8 discusses Soviet spies in the United States. There is nothing on the Communist Party USA and its agenda for subverting American Institutions.
The final 90 pages also do not offer any information on Communist tactics for America. It has a chapter on "What do defenders of Communism Say?" It covers these issues: peaceful co-existence, illegal operations, revolutionary violence, war and peace, the Communist International, diplomatic intrigue. These were matters of international Communism.
Then the chapter gets to general moral issues. It shows that Marxism says that Communists support proletarian ethics, not any universal ethics, which does not exist, according to Marx. Under "The Bible," Skousen quotes Engels. The Bible is not true, Engels said. No surprise here. Nothing on "social religion." There are three pages on "Religion." They are quotes from Soviet Communists on the need to stamp out religion.
There is no list of 45 tactics. There is no discussion of any agenda of the Communist Party USA.
I do not think Bowers read the book. If he did, he did not understand what he read.
I hope he is not a self-conscious liar. I hope he is merely another well-meaning schnook for Jesus, a man who did not do enough homework before going public with his views.
[Update, October 30, 4:40 a.m. After several exchanges of emails with Mr. Bowers on October 29, in which he could not explain this discrepancy, he sent me an email in the evening in which he cited a 1962 edition in which he said this list appears. I will take his word for this. In the text of the video, he stated the following. A reader had contacted him in 2008 to tell him that "a book from 1958 had outlined a similar agenda." No, it had not. That was how he introduced The Naked Communist. At the 11-minute mark, he said: "Inside the book, it documented 45 specific goals from 1958." No, it did not. But I took him at his word when I wrote this review. I went on the assumption that he had verified his claim. He hadn't. I looked up the 1960 edition, a reprint of the 1958 edition. The list was not there. Therefore, I hope that he will update his documentary to reflect this . . . and take it down from the Web until he does. Again, it is crucial that film-makers avoid making false claims onscreen. Some reviewers may take them literally. They may follow Ronald Reagan's warning: "Trust, but verify." I trusted. I verified. His statement was wrong. He trusted his letter-writer regarding what was in the 1958 edition. He failed to verify. Then he got caught. A reviewer must go by what a document says, not the author's belated email revision two years later.]
Here is what appalls me: this is all done in the name of Jesus. The movie is a hard-core pitch for fundamentalism.
The documentary is schlock for Jesus. Jesus deserves better.
I was a friend of Cleon Skousen. After 1970, he ceased talking about Communism in his writings. In 1970, he wrote The Naked Capitalist. It was a summary of the brief section of Carroll Quigley's book, Tragedy and Hope (1966), which revealed connections between J. P. Morgan & Co. and American liberalism. From 1970 on, Skousen focused exclusively on this issue: the Establishment and the New World Order, especially the Council on Foreign Relations and the Royal Institute for Economic Affairs.
Skousen dropped any discussion of the Communist Party USA. He had never talked about it much. In The Naked Communist, there was not a single footnote to a publication of the American Communist Party. I am thinking of the Monthly Review or Daily Worker. He saw the CPUSA as peripheral in American life, which it was.
Bowers is either unaware of all this (likely -- he is poorly informed on everything else), or else he deliberately conceals it.
We now come to the heart of this documentary. Here, the misinformation is fundamental. It is shared by other anti-Communists. I do not understand why.
The movie talks at length about an Italian Communist of the 1920s and 1930s, Gramsci. It does not tell you that he left the USSR in the 1920s to return to Italy. He knew he would be arrested by Mussolini and imprisoned. He feared Stalin more, and for good reason.
In prison for years, he wrote notebooks. He was released in 1932 because of poor health. He died in 1937. His notebooks offered a new form of Communism, one tied to cultural issues. In fact, this was anti-Communism. Gramsci was the most influential anti-Communist Communist of the 20th century.
Marx held that culture and ethics are a product of class interests. These in turn are a function of the mode of production. This analysis is central to Marxism-Leninism. Culture has no independent existence, Marxism teaches. It is not fundamental.
Gramsci reversed this. He identified culture as the central pillar of society. He saw that culture is an extension of religion: the first principles of a civilization. He was correct. Marxism was wrong on this, the central pillar of its theoretical system. In doing so, Gramsci undermined Marxism-Leninism. This is why I never saw any positive references to Gramsci in pre-1991 American Communist literature. He was a "non-person." There was a reason for this. He was the supreme enemy inside the "revisionist" camp after Stalin had Trotsky killed.
Wikipedia's summary is accurate.
Orthodox Marxism had predicted that socialist revolution was inevitable in capitalist societies. By the early 20th century, no such revolution had occurred in the most advanced nations. Capitalism, it seemed, was even more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also through ideology. The bourgeoisie developed a hegemonic culture, which propagated its own values and norms so that they became the 'common sense' values of all. People in the working-class (and other classes) identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.
To counter the notion that bourgeois values represented 'natural' or 'normal' values for society, the working class needed to develop a culture of its own. Lenin held that culture was 'ancillary' to political objectives but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first. In Gramsci's view, a class cannot dominate in modern conditions by merely advancing its own narrow economic interests. Neither can it dominate purely through force and coercion. Rather, it must exert intellectual and moral leadership, and make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. . . .
Gramsci was opposed to classical Marxism. He rejected Marx's view of economics as central. He saw the culture war as central, not the mode of production. This had been the position of the Popes and conservative Protestant theologians. Political conservatives have always believed this. Gramsci rejected Marx's Capital on this point.
In a notable pre-prison article entitled "The Revolution against Das Kapital,"Gramsci claimed that the October Revolution in Russia had invalidated the idea that socialist revolution had to await the full development of capitalist forces of production. This reflected his view that Marxism was not a determinist philosophy. The principle of the causal "primacy" of the forces of production, he held, was a misconception of Marxism. Both economic changes and cultural changes are expressions of a "basic historical process", and it is difficult to say which sphere has primacy over the other. The belief, widespread within the workers movement in its earliest years, that it would inevitably triumph due to "historical laws", was, in Gramsci's view, a product of the historical circumstances of an oppressed class restricted mainly to defensive action. Such a fatalistic doctrine was to be abandoned as a hindrance once the working-class became able to take the initiative. Because Marxism is a "philosophy of praxis", it cannot rely on unseen "historical laws" as the agents of social change. History is defined by human praxis and therefore includes human will.
It went beyond this. He rejected Marxism's doctrine of historical materialism.
By virtue of his belief that human history and collective praxis determine whether any philosophical question is meaningful or not, Gramsci's views run contrary to the metaphysical materialism and 'copy' theory of perception advanced by Engels and Lenin, though he does not explicitly state this. For Gramsci, Marxism does not deal with a reality that exists in and for itself, independent of humanity. The concept of an objective universe outside of human history and human praxis was, in his view, analogous to belief in God; there could be no objectivity, but only a universal intersubjectivity to be established in a future communist society. Natural history was thus only meaningful in relation to human history. In his view philosophical materialism resulted from a lack of critical thought, and could not, as Lenin claimed, be said to oppose religious dogma.
So, when Bowers went into the 1992 meeting at Berkeley, he encountered a handful of Gramsci's disciples, who were not Marxists. They may have been socialists, but they were not Communists. They were the sworn enemies of William Z. Foster and orthodox Communists.
He built his entire thesis on a mistake. His vague memory of that 1992 meeting was of a meeting of Communists. It was not. It was a meeting of anti-Communists.
Thus, the supposed Communist agenda that Bowers discusses was not a Communist agenda at all. It was not Communism. It was not Marxism. It had nothing to do with international Communism that Skousen discussed in The Naked Communist.
Mr. Bowers is a well-meaning man who knows just enough to make really huge mistakes.
LATE-COMERS TO THE CULTURAL PARTY
The movie says that the tiny band of gray-heads somehow captured the feminism movement, the environmental movement, and the public schools between 1992 and 2008.
He says that the environmental movement was a small thing in 1992. This is so ludicrous as to get conservative activists giggling. That was the year that the United Nations Organization held the Kyoto meeting and issued the Kyoto protocol. The environmental movement came mainly as the product of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring (1962). That was 30 years before the Berkeley meeting.
The feminist movement was in full swing by 1969.
As for the public schools, Bowers is unfamiliar with the history of progressive education. He needs to read Rushdoony's Messianic Character of American Education (1963) and John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education (2003).
That little band of Gramsci disciples arrived late to the culture wars. They were also-rans in the clash of cultures. They wanted to take over what was independent of Marxism. They failed. Marx is a joke on college campuses today. A few hundred aging English professors may believe it. No one in the social sciences does. Few ever did. There were few Communists in the classroom in the USA, ever.
The documentary argues that the Communist Party has secretly infiltrated what it calls the Progressive movement. Through it, the Communists are about to capture America. But the documentary does not mention what William Z. Foster said of the Progressives in 1933.
ALARMED on the one hand at the breakdown of the chaotic capitalistic economy in the crisis and on the other at the forging ahead of the Soviet Union with its planned Socialist economy, defenders of capitalism, especially in the United States, are rais- ing a great clamor for a planned capitalist econ- omy. "Give us a plan," they cry in every key and in manifest confusion. Many of them frankly state that it is a case of either a planned capitalist economy or Commun