Like the Old McCarthyism, the New McCarthyism Targets Russia

by Michael Rectenwald

In January 1956, the iconoclastic leftist American poet Allen Ginsberg wrote “America,” a prose poem that laments the state of the country and the poet’s place in it. “America” was included in the short poetry collection entitled Howl, published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Publishers in November of the same year. In 1957, Howl became a cause célèbre as the centerpiece of People of the State of California v. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, an obscenity trial that would launch Ginsberg’s career and catapult the Beat literary movement into the national consciousness.

In the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I was an apprentice to Allen Ginsberg at Naropa Institute and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1982, at the age of twenty-one. I still find some of Ginsberg’s criticisms to be worthwhile, but I have since completely rejected his leftism, especially his equation of “capitalism” with US imperialism, his disdain for “consumerism,” and his promotion of sexual profligacy and leftist countercultural values that undermine the social order, the family, and the free market. His criticism of Cold War military policy was right, despite his sloppy association of all these issues under his largely drug-induced poetic license.

Written at the height of the Cold War, “America” is an indictment of the anticommunism that apparently dominated American life and US policies, as well as of the supposed horrors of capitalist consumerism, the latter which he associated with the former. It is also a fitting condemnation of the prospect of nuclear war.

It is ironic to compare the poem’s biting criticism of the American obsession with Russia during the Cold War with the American establishment’s current obsession with Russia. “Russia” is a common enemy in the establishment’s rhetoric then and now. Why this has been so in both cases could be the topic of a book-length study. Indeed, the Communist scourge was a real ideological threat to American capitalism, largely because a segment of the US elite was attempting to Sovietize the US on purpose while aiding and abetting the Soviet Union and attempting to keep its own activities under cover. Joseph McCarthy was mostly right about the Communist threat, but wrong to the extent that his rhetoric may have helped bolster American anticommunist militarism and traduce the constitutional rights of his adversaries. It is enough to say for now that the Cold War was a fraud on both East and West. A segment of elites in the US directed policy that favored the Soviet Union and the spread of communism, while, as Anthony C. Sutton illustrated, transferring technology to Communist countries, effectively arming the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, the common refrain of “Russia, Russia, Russia” remains.

Compare the mocking lines from “America” with recent statements made by Joe Biden, the current ink pen wielded by the American politburo running the country.


America you don’t really want to go to war.

America its them bad Russians.

Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.

The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.

Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.


The reason why gas prices are up is because of Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia. The reason why the food crisis exist [sic] is because of Russia.

The irony of this juxtaposition is due, in part, to the Left’s lack of self-consciousness in parroting what it once decried as “McCarthyism.” The irony also consists of the fact that the Left now dominates the country and foists socialism on the masses by executive fiat, while Russia has turned to multipolar national sovereignty, antiglobalist economics, and cultural conservatism. It’s almost as if, having taken over the establishment, the leftists running the US hate Russia for no longer being communist. It is also ironic that the leftist political establishment now openly engages in Stalinesque censorship, including censorship of opinion and news reports that counter the anti-Russian narrative, having once deemed such Russophobia dangerous and absurd.

I call the Left’s “Russia” obsession “leftist McCarthyism.” “Them bad Russians” are now the Left’s handy bogey. It is the Left that now warns of the so-called Russian menace, ad nauseam. But the real barbarians have always been inside the gates, and now they have seized the levers of power.

First published in Mises Wire.


2 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, Russia turned to gangsterism. With no end in sight, the war killed tens of thousands of combatants alone, both Ukrainian and Russian — not to mention civilians, and caused wide-spread destruction and dislocation. Images from war are viscerally disturbing and repulsive, mutely crying vengeance on the perpetrators. Isn’t that a sufficient explanation for Russia’s current, shall we say, “unpopularity”?

  2. The Russians launched a regional war to improve their strategic position and used a combination of historically valid, but not universally persuasive, and entirely spurious justifications to explain themselves. Apart from them wanting to eventually annex territory themselves, we have been here before in the past 20 years. And we’ve seen war crimes and civilian casualties too, never mind combatants.

    I appreciate these as valid reasons for Russia to be unpopular, even in the US. But there are these:

    1. Why SO much reaction, so visceral and on such a scale? It’s still just a regional war. I myself have argued for the primacy of Europe in North American minds for cultural reasons- Paris more than Istanbul, Ukraine more than Syria, etc. But still. I might think Ukraine is more important than Syria and direct Russian involvement also makes it more important but, still, it was not an attack on the US or any actual ally.*
    *In Canada, it’s because the Ukrainian diaspora is proportionally very large and influential here. I don’t think the US has quite that.
    2. I suspect many of the most aggressively anti-Russian people now would have been, or in some cases probably were, on the wrong side in the 1980s when in my view it counted for more. Not all. Many.
    3. There’s a large amount of the usual “freedom fries” stuff going on again. Russian food evil, vodka import bans, at least one Russia-themed bar in Ottawa seems to have closed or rebranded, though I doubt any Russians were actually involved in it. Jokes about Russian culture, Russia never contributed anything to arts or sciences {!}, my boss called them “the least successful former Mongol colony” [undeniably as funny as it is false- consider the entire former Ilkhanate or even China until the last generation]. This sort of silliness is fun. But the people doing it are the kind of people who normally loudly reject that sort of thing as immature, bigoted, etc. They would likely do so even if we were at war with Russia ourselves, which we are not. They’re the same people who rejected such insult tactics during the various Middle Eastern and Central Asian conflicts of recent years.

    So for my part, I’m glad western nations are supporting Ukraine and taking actions against Russia within limits, it’s in our interest and broadly consistent with our values. But other than an elevated interest on our part, it’s not morally distinct from many other recent conflicts nor does it represent any more direct or visceral a threat to be reacted to as one reacts to such.

    Overall, though, I’d say left-hypocrisy in modern America on McCarthyism is not primarily seen through the lens of Russia, but more strongly every time someone is cancelled, deplatformed, not hired, or fired, for espousing beliefs “hateful to the majority of Americans” or “against American values”. Those being exactly the justifications of McCarthy and the Blacklist, and just as correctly if not more so.

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