‘The Only Real Threats’

When The Left Longed For Russian Political Interference

To stop Ronald Reagan in 1984, Ted Kennedy reached out to the Soviet Union.

The Russian hacking has been rightfully viewed as an attack by the Putin government on our political system. Liberals and commentators on the American left have been particularly vociferous, hoping that it might delegitimize the Trump presidency even before it began by making the public believe that if not for the hacking of the DNC, Hillary Clinton may have won the election.

But there was a time starting in the beginning days of the Cold War, and continuing for decades, when leftists and liberals wanted the Soviets to interfere in our politics to elect and pressure Democrats to adopt pro-Soviet policies.

The man the Russians sought first to help was Henry A. Wallace, the former vice president and secretary of Commerce. Wallace became the first public figure to oppose Harry Truman’s “get-tough policy” with the Soviets, which he adopted after it became clear that the Soviets were seeking to expand their empire to control Eastern Europe, not to reach a road to peace through negotiations with the United States. Back in 1943, Wallace already had made his views clear in a speech in which he said that “fascist interests motivated largely by anti-Russian bias” were trying to “get control of our government.”

In October of 1945, while he was still secretary of Commerce, Wallace secretly met in Washington, D.C. with Anatoly Gorsky, the station chief of the NKGB (forerunner of the KGB.) KGB files show that Wallace told Gorsky that he wanted to share the secrets of the a-bomb with the Soviets, complained that Truman was being influenced by an “anti-Soviet group” in government that wanted the Anglo-Saxon bloc to have dominance in the world, and that he hoped that the Soviet Union could help Wallace’s “smaller group significantly.”

For a member of the President’s Cabinet asking the Soviets to intervene to help his side win an internal battle within the administration was more than indiscreet. It was the action of a willing tool of Moscow.

Eventually, Truman fired him in September 1946. Wallace had given a speech to a Madison Square Garden rally where, contrary to administration policy, he called for recognizing Soviet spheres of influence—in effect, occupation zones—as just and necessary. He did this while Secretary of State James F. Byrnes was in Europe, negotiating with the Soviets. Byrnes immediately told Truman that if not repudiated immediately, Wallace’s words would be taken as policy and would undermine Byrnes’ attempts to modify Soviet behavior.

In 1948, Wallace announced that he would be an independent candidate for President on a new third party, named the Progressive Party after the ticket Theodore Roosevelt ran on in 1916. Wallace’s new party was created by American Communists acting on behalf of instructions from Moscow, which told CP leaders that war with the U.S. was imminent, and that Western Communists should no longer work within Popular Front governments, and had to break and create a movement against the new anti-Soviet policies being adopted. As the independent left-wing journalist I.F. Stone wrote at the time, “If it had not been for the Communists, there would be no Progressive party.” John Gates, editor of the CP paper The Daily Worker, wrote in his memoir that the Communist Party was “most instrumental in influencing Wallace to make [the]…decision” to run.

Had Wallace received the Democratic Party nomination for vice president in 1946 instead of Truman, he would have, as he announced, made Harry Dexter White his secretary of the Treasury, and given a major position in the White House to Laurence Duggan. Both men were found later to have been Soviet spies. As a KGB file found in the decoded Venona files reveal, the Soviets hoped that Duggan would aid them “by using his friendship [with Wallace for] extracting…interesting information.”

Wallace publicly opposed the creation of NATO, called the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe “the martial plan,” and argued that the Communist coup of 1948 in Czechoslovakia was a necessary measure to prevent a “fascist” takeover of the country. He also advocated that the U.S. abandon Berlin when the Soviet Union created a blockade of their portion of the city. (To be fair, I should note that there was one major conservative Republican who took most of these same positions. It was “Mr. Republican,” as Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio was called. He was the equivalent of former Congressman Ron Paul today. But Taft’s attempt to win the Republican nomination in 1952 was defeated by the moderate forces supporting Eisenhower.)

In the middle of the Cold War, when Ronald Reagan became President, his stance towards the “Evil Empire,” as he called the Soviet Union, was a latter-day equivalent of Harry S. Truman’s tough policy towards Russia. Democrats called Reagan every name in the book, from “fascist” to “warmonger” who could bring about a nuclear war. Reagan mirrored Truman’s policy to back regimes fighting the Soviets in Europe, like the opponents of the Communists in the Greek civil war. Reagan did this by supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and opposing the attempts of local Communists to take-over Central American nations, especially El Salvador and Guatemala.

Democrats were desperate to defeat Reagan when he ran for his second term. Senator Ted Kennedy turned to the Soviet Union for help. The information was first reported in The London Times on February 2, 1992, in an article titled “Teddy, the KGB and the Top Secret File,” written by reporter Tim Sebastian, who came across it while researching Soviet Communist Party Central Archives in Moscow. American historian Paul Kengor wrote about it in his 2007 book, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. Despite this, many liberals still seem not to know about it.

What the London Times revealed was a 1983 KGB document, written on May 14th of that year, from KGB chief Victor Chebrikov to General Secretary Yuri Andropov. Chebrikov relayed an offer presented to the Soviet leaders by Kennedy. The headline of the message was “Special Importance.” Kennedy, Andropov said, was “very troubled” by U.S.-Soviet relations, which he said was due to “Reagan’s belligerence.” Chebrikov wrote:

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According to Kennedy, the current threat is due to the President’s refusal to engage any modification to his politics. …the only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations. These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.

Reagan refused to moderate his policy, according to what Chebrikov learned from Kennedy, because of Reagan’s political success, which made him stand firm and made him confident he would be re-elected. Kennedy, he reported, was still hoping that Reagan could be stopped in the 1984 election. Reporting further on what Kennedy wrote, Chebrikov wrote:

Kennedy believes that, given the state of current affairs, and in the interests of peace, it would be prudent and timely to undertake the following steps to counter the militaristic policies of Reagan. ..The main purposes of the meeting [between Reagan and Kennedy that the Senator proposed] …would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they would be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.

Kennedy suggested that Andropov invite him to Moscow, and asked that the KGB help in trying to “influence Americans.” For that purpose, he proposed that they organize “in August-September of this year [1983] televised interviews with Y.V. Andropov in the USA.” Kennedy suggested that the Soviet leader make a “direct appeal” to Americans, and he assured him that “he and his friends” like Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters would be willing to help in that task. Kennedy also said he would arrange interviews as well for “lower level Soviet officials, particularly from the military [who] would have an opportunity to appeal directly to the American people about the peaceful intentions of the USSR.” Kennedy believed, Chebrikov wrote Andropov, that those on TV would “attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country,” and that Ted Kennedy was convinced “this would receive the maximum resonance in so far as television is the most effective method of mass media and information.”

Since Reagan was pursuing an anti-Soviet policy, it was up to the Soviet Union’s leaders, Chebrikov said Kennedy had argued, to “root out the threat of nuclear war,” “improve Soviet-American relations” and finally “define the safety of the world.” Ted Kennedy, he ended his message to Andropov, “underscored that he eagerly awaits a reply to his appeal.”

If you wonder why Americans don’t know about this, when Kengor revealed this in his book, and then wrote an op-ed about Kennedy’s actions, not one paper would publish it, including The New York Times and the Boston Globe. An editor at the Times told him that he wouldn’t “be able to get it in,” although he was “fascinated” by it. An editor at a West Coast paper that Kengor did not name rejected it, telling him that “I just can’t believe Kennedy would do something that stupid.”

The truth is that Ted Kennedy was doing precisely the same thing Henry Wallace attempted when he was in Truman’s Cabinet back in 1945. Both American politicians viewed the Soviet Union as the power that sought peace and the U.S. as the power that sought war.

Today, tweets from the President of the United States Donald J. Trump seem to suggest both trust of and a growing friendship for today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Of course, Putin was himself a former KGB agent, who obviously learned well the methods of disinformation and propaganda taught him in KGB school decades ago. Now he used these techniques to, as the CIA report put it, to order “an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

If American foreign policy is to succeed, it behooves those in the Trump administration to strongly tell Trump in a firm manner that Russian aggression such as the takeover of Crimea and attempts to do the same in Ukraine will be strongly opposed by the United States. That means a commitment to keep NATO intact as a force for stability in Europe, and as a counterpoint to attempts of incursion by the Russian military in those areas.

Hopefully Sec. of Defense James Mattis and Homeland Security chief John F. Kelly, who disagreed in their hearings with Trump’s friendly view of Putin will be up to the task. One hopes that President Trump will listen to them. It is not the time for the new administration to show the kind of naiveté and foolishness that Henry Wallace and Ted Kennedy once did. Do they really want to make the same mistake as left-wing liberals did?