The Times revisits the old-time religion

Vivan Gornick exudes nostalgia for The Romance of Communism, as she called her 1978 book documenting the memories of old members of the Communist Party USA. Marion Magid’s unamused review of Gornick’s book for Commentary performs an expert anatomy on a reeking carcass of a book.

Anticipating May Day today, the Times turned valuable real estate in its Sunday Review section yesterday over to Gornick for a rerun of her 1978 book in the column “When Communism inspired Americans.” The conclusion of Magid’s review applies equally to Gornick’s column. This was Magid’s judgment:

The bloody truth about the Soviet Union (not to speak of the disreputable record of the CPUSA in its own “domestic” operations) was well enough known in the time of which Vivian Gornick is writing, for one must recall that this is not a book about the early 20’s and 30’s, but extends into the 50’s, the 60’s, and in some cases into the present. The Moscow Trials, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Doctors’ Plot, the takeover in Czechoslovakia, the Slansky Trial, the murdered writers, the labor camps, and all the rest—all of this the American Communists were asked to swallow, and many, to judge from Miss Gornick’s sampling, did. Not only swallow—they justified it, those wonderful couples, “hungry for justice,” rushing off to protest meetings and “peace” rallies and picket lines while supper cooled on the stove at home and bullets met their mark in the cellars of the Lubianka. To read this book along with, say, the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandelstam [i.e., Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned] is to become almost physically ill. The romance of Communism, indeed. It is an apology that is required—not an elegy.

Gornick’s column evokes the Times’s own fraught relationship with Communism, and not just the gauzy American variety elegized by Gornick. See, for example, recollections of the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning Times reporter Walter Duranty by Bruce Bartlett and Roger Simon. As the Times’s man in Moscow, Duranty covered up Stalin’s terror famine in the Ukraine.

Reflecting in the first volume of his autobiography on his experience working for the Manchester Guardian alongside Duranty in Moscow, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: “If the New York Times went on all those years giving great prominence to Duranty’s messages, building him and them up when they were so evidently nonsensically untrue . . . this was not, we may be sure, because the Times was deceived. Rather it wanted to be so deceived, and Duranty provided the requisite deception material.”

History — like Vivian Gornick, like the New York Times — repeats itself.