Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From student 'red' to right-wing warmonger TAKING its title from Meyer's column in the right-wing National Review, this book deals with his part in the making of American Conservatism.

NEWLY-released documents from MI5 reveal the security apparatus' concern about writer Cyril Connolly, harmonica player Larry Adler, who had come to this country to get away from McCarthyism, and the popular scientist and TV broadcaster Dr.Jacob Bronowski - described as "a communist in all but name" in one early report.

Another person in their sights, perhaps less surprisingly, though less well known this side of the water, was Frank Strauss Meyer. Described by one Oxford University communist contemporary as 'The founder of the student Communist Party movement in the UK', Meyer, originally from Newark, New Jersey, was formerly a Princeton alumnus, though he found that American institution snobbish and antisemitic.

He arrived in the UK in August 1928 and enlisted at Balliol College, Oxford, in October 1929. On graduating he transferred to the London School of Economics (LSE) to read for a PhD, but as the National Archive blurb notes, he was "expelled from the LSE in March 1934 for selling copies of the 'Student Vanguard', a left-wing student newspaper he founded, and was subsequently deported in June 1934".

This is only part of the story, though it is interesting to note that at that supposed bastion of radicalism, while Sir William Beveridge was director and the Fabian 'Marxist' Harold Laski (who went on to help found the Left Book Club in 1937) was teaching politics, the Communist Party was banned from using meeting rooms, and Meyer could be expelled for selling his papers.

But there was a particular item in that paper that caused upset. It said that overseas students at British universities, particularly from "the colonies", were the subject of spying and reports about their political activities, and alleged that at LSE this job had been entrusted to a former Indian police inspector among the staff. Though it did not name names, his identity would not have been too difficult to guess.

Mind you, both the Iraqi Communist Party and the semi-Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party in Ceylon (Sri Lanka to be) owed their foundation in the 1930s at least partly to LSE graduates.

During his time in the UK Frank Meyer was founder and first President of the 'October Club', a committee member of the Oxford University Labour Club, and President of the Marxist Society and Students Union at LSE. It is said that John Cornford, who did much to establish student communism at Cambridge in the 1930s, was a protégé of his. Cornford was killed in action in Spain in December 1936, having just turned 21.

Frank Meyer, from his return to the USA in 1934 until 1945, remained active in student-related communist affairs. But turning against the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, he was to become like the former CP-USA leader Jay Lovestone and the ex-Trotskyist James Burnham, a bitter enemy of communism, ready to support other kinds of authoritarianism, albeit in the name of libertarianism. He appeared as a witness before the Subversive Activities Control Board in 1952. In 1961, Meyer published The Moulding of Communists: The Training of the Communist Cadre in which he expounded the view that the communist movement was unlike any movement seen before.

In his review of the book, Murray Rothbard observed:

"Frank S. Meyer is by far the most intelligent, as well as the most libertarian-inclined, of all the National Review stable of editors and staff. …. But tragically, Meyer is also of the war-mongering crew of intellectuals on the Right, perhaps the most frankly and apocalyptically war-mongering of them all…. Meyer's libertarian inclinations are fatally warped by his all-consuming desire to incarcerate and incinerate all Communists, wherever they may be. Meyer is, therefore, an interesting example in microcosm of the swamping of any libertarian instincts on the current Right-wing by an all pervading passion for the Great Crusade to exterminate Communists everywhere."

Though the Hitler-Stalin Pact before the war had fuelled James Burnham and Max Schachtman's argument that they were confronting authoritarianism, and hence that American democracy was a lesser evil, the Cold War right would lend its support, in the name of "freedom", to any corrupt regime, colonial power or brutal dictator, so long as they appeared to protect American interests and stand up to the unprecedented evil that was totalitarian "communism".

Influenced by writings such as Friedrich A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, Meyer shifted his allegiance between 1945 and1952, from non-Communist left through Democrat and finally to Republican. Hayek, an Austrian who had joined LSE staff a couple of years before Stern was expelled, was an early exponent of the doctrinaire "free enterprise" views we have come to know as Thatcherism. He condemned the British Liberal Party for being prepared to form part of a Lib-Lab government under Callaghan. Ronald Reagan claimed him as a major source of ideas.

For the American Right, Frank S. Meyer is known less for his youthful escapade at LSE than as a pioneer thinker, who tried to bring together the opposites of conservative belief in order, often religious, and individualist libertarianism. This was "Fusionism". In his 1962 essay "The Twisted Tree of Liberty," Meyer asserted a "common source in the ethos of Western civilization," which included conservative and libertarian thought, caused the political discourse which created "the fusion that is contemporary American conservatism."

Every capitalist wants to impose order, on his own business and then if ambitious, on a whole industry, and in time of crisis at least, upon a world economy, while all the time resenting any "bureaucratic" interference with his own freedom. Similar contradictions can be seen between states, and among spokespersons for governments. But at an intellectual level, Meyer could advocate a symbiosis, conservatives and monetarists who admired Milton Friedman (who opposed the existence of the Federal Reserve) and supporters of Alan Greenspan (who has become head of it). Neo-conservatives like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz saw the light.

In the late 1960s Meyer did take up a fight against one Republican president, albeit a dead one, whom other Americans regardless of party might have treated as sacrosanct. In a debate over the role of Abraham Lincoln with conservative Harry V. Jaffa. Meyer argued that Lincoln's abuses of civil liberties and expansion of government power should make him anathema to conservatives, while Jaffa defended Lincoln as a continuation of the Founding Fathers.

Lincoln had after all to wage a war against the backward Southern plantocracy, who would not listen to reasoned appeals, and were only interested in staying in power and keeping America backward. This also required discipline on his own side, before the States could be united, free farmers and labour expand, and the slaves be freed from slavery. This could be an embarrassing piece of history to explain away when telling other people not to follow what America did, but only do what its leaders say.

All the same, though against the draft, the libertarian Meyer was in favour of war on China to free its people to do as they are told by America, and of a 'preventive' first use of nuclear weapons.

Here in Britain we might observe how some former Lefts and Tory Rights have been able to meet on the "libertarian" bridge, though so far the travel direction only seems to be one way . And interestingly it was Frank S. Meyer who first used the expression "There is no such thing as society" which Mrs.Thatcher thought such a clever epigram.

On his death bed, apparently, Meyer the libertarian made his peace with absolute authority, and converted to Catholicism. By then I suppose he had not much use for his freedom and thought he might need forgiveness.

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