Victor Grossman, an expatriate American journalist now in his 80’s and living in Berlin, sees ominous parallels between America’s anti-Communist outrages during the 1950’s and the conservative ‘Blame-The-Other’ assaults rampant today in America, and in many European countries, including Germany.
Grossman ought to know. It was the Red-bating of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s that drove this Harvard grad to make a life-altering decision and leave America behind.
“It’s the same old trick everywhere and it works so often!” the Ivy Leaguer said, warning “It is also a main concentration point of the fascist element.”
A prime driver of the racial/religious intolerance roiling in America today is the FOX News cable network that employs two luminaries in the Blame-The-Other game: Glenn Beck, the broadcast agitator and Sarah Palin, the political hustler/presidential aspirant.
While FOX hosts and guests regularly rail about ‘threats’ facing America from Communism, a large advertiser on FOX is Wal-Mart, America’s largest importer of goods from China, ironically the world’s largest Communist country.
Beck, for example, routinely bashes persons he links to the alleged Communists and socialists he claims are undermining America. Yet, Beck doesn’t demand boycotts of Wal-Mart, though the giant retail firm helps prop up the Communist government of China through purchases of Chinese-produced goods averaging over $25-billion annually.
Neither does Beck – who recently staged a large rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to restore “integrity” in America – demand that his FOX employers stop accepting millions in ad revenue from that commie-country supporting Wal-Mart.
During the 1950’s, top U.S. politicians – spearheaded by the infamous Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy – argued that Americans had to surrender their constitutional rights and liberties to ensure safety from International Communism.
History now regards McCarthy and his ideological confederates as shameless charlatans who stoked and manipulated public fear for their own personal political gain…a claim many have also made of the Bush/Cheney Administration, which four decades later fanned public fears of Islamic terrorism for political gain.
McCarthy’s onslaughts ruined the innocent lives of thousands of Americans, just as Bush-era political and legal attacks on alleged terrorists or terrorist supporters have ruined innocent lives.
Earlier this year, ideological descendants of McCarthy on the Texas School Board rammed through approval of public school curriculum changes in that state so that the history taught to Texas schoolchildren now claims that McCarthy was justified in his 1950s search for Communist infiltration in America society – a gross rewriting of history that academically abets intolerance.
The anti-Communist onslaught unleashed during the early 1950’s ensnared Grossman, then a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany, driving him to fateful decision that ultimately left him a man alienated from his homeland for decades.
While many of Grossman’s Harvard classmates in the late 1940’s sought elevation into the elite circles of power, he opted to find work in the steel mills of Buffalo, NY, helping to organize workers there.
Grossman’s social-change activism before, during and after Harvard included fights against American and European racism where allies often included Communist groups.
Grossman, for example, worked against the U.S. government persecution of legendary black activist/actor/singer Paul Robeson.
American authorities had mounted an intense campaign to silence Robeson, a Columbia Law School grad, fearful of his attacks on the nation’s prevailing apartheid system. After first getting him blacklisted from radio and from public performing venues in the US, the government then revoked Robeson’s passport, blocking his ability to earn income from performing in foreign countries, too. (A successful lawsuit filed by Robeson to restore his passport ultimately strengthened the passport and citizenship rights of all Americans.)
Grossman, drafted in 1951 during the Korean War, had to sign a loyalty oath in which he denied belonging to any Communist-linked groups before entering the Army.
Although the First Amendment grants Americans freedom of association during the McCarthy era, and although membership in the Communist Party, or association with the Party was not illegal, any association with Communism became the basis for public ridicule, blacklisting and/or economic ruin.
Army superiors discovered Grossman’s loyalty oath falsification in 1952 while he was stationed in Germany.
“I feared they would put me in jail for five years. This was the McCarthy-era. I went AWOL,” Grossman said.
Fearing imprisonment, Grossman fled the U.S. Army, swimming across the Danube River, where he surrendered to the Soviet Army and eventually came to live in East Germany, then known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Grossman married a German woman and they raised a family in what was then East Berlin.
Much of the time Grossman worked as a journalist, writing about the US but also taking advantage of his special status as an American defector to occasionally issue constructive criticism about the GDR.
“I tried to dispel a lot of the anti-U.S. propaganda. The U.S. is certainly not heaven on earth but it’s not hell on earth either,” said Grossman, who was and remains critical of the “awful” news media coverage in the GDR and the United States.
Last year, in an article Grossman wrote assessing the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he (apologizing for possibly sounding like “the grouchy Grinch”) wondered why Anniversary-related media accounts “never mentioned” that the GDR had no unemployment and had free medical care.
Unemployment in Germany today exceeds seven percent and in sections of the old GDR “unemployment can exceed 20%” according to the CIA’s World Fact Book. Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy but its unemployment rate exceeds that of third-place Japan (five percent) and second-place China (4.3 percent) while besting the U.S. rate of 9.7 percent.
In the GDR “there were no homeless people. Today we have homelessness in Berlin,” said Grossman, whose monthly rent for his Berlin apartment soared from $113 to over $900 per month since the 1990 reunification.
Grossman’s 2009 article faulted media coverage for failing to note the GDR’s anti-fascist foundation compared to “former Nazis” infused into all layers of then West Germany from academia to courts, the diplomatic corps, the military and police. His article did not sugar-coat the GDR’s “many weaknesses” including its “stuffy, intolerant” atmosphere.
The three main neo-Nazi parties in Germany today “have almost totally consolidated into one, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) which has loose ties to the Freie Kameradschaften, which are basically organizations of goon squads although they too try to present a better public image,” said Grossman, who writes often about Neo-Nazi activities in Germany.
The current Great Recession, spawned by greedy corporate and financial industry excesses of the last two decades, has poured gas on the flames of simmering animosity against immigrants in America and Europe, Grossman said.
“In almost all European countries, just as in the USA, [immigrants] have been attacked by the mass media in an all-too-often successful attempt to split working people and increase hatred and to blame the non-locals for economic troubles,” Grossman noted.
In Germany, Grossman said, a poor economy has fuelled intolerance against Turks, Arabs, Afghanis and Africans, while in Italy intolerance is directed against East Africans, Albanians and Rumanians. The targets of hate are Central Asians in Russia, Moroccans in the Netherlands and Gypsies in Hungary…”and of course Latinos and, as always, blacks in the USA.”
Another parallel between America and Germany in Grossman’s view is increasingly “rough-and-tough police and military measures” employed against protestors’, particularly those deemed left-wing.
“The powers that be fear growing protests…So their methods are tighter surveillance, control and when possible diversion against minorities. This is important because all the economic woes of the crisis are being loaded onto the weakest and poorest.”
Grossman didn’t return to the US until 1994, when he surrendered to military authorities and received a general discharge – but no jail time.
In 2003, the University of Massachusetts Press published Grossman’s autobiography, “Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany.”
Living in the GDR, Grossman said, “I missed a lot of good fights like the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement during Vietnam.”