At University in the 1950s

AuthorAlan Borovoy
chapter two
At University in the 1950
In June of 1950 at the end of my high school career, I considered
myself in addition to being a full-f‌ledged Grace Street boy a small
“l” liberal and an egalitarian. If Commentary magazine had then heard
of me, it would likely have labelled me an “anti-anti-Communist.” Hav-
ing just gone through the Henry Wallace campaign, I thought that the
United States was the prime culprit of the Cold War and the Soviet
Union was its hapless victim. During the ensuing period, I was des-
tined to undergo some profound changes.
Coincidentally, just as I f‌inished writing my “matric” examinations
(late June of 1950), the Korean War broke out. Communist parties all
over the world denounced South Korea as the aggressor. And yet, as I
remember the events, the North Korean army advanced rapidly inside
South Korea. Here’s how the Internet described it: “In the initial stages,
North Korea’s troops overwhelmed South Korea’s forces and drove
them to a small area in the far south.”1
If the South Koreans were the aggressors, I found myself asking,
how come they were in such retreat at the beginning of the war? As
events developed, I considered the Communist explanations increas-
ingly devoid of credibility. This marked the beginning of an important
intellectual journey for me. I propose to deal with it here because, in my
generation, the phenomenon of Communism was a very central issue.
“at the barricades”
How one related to it helped to determine one’s position on a host of
issues that were concerned with social justice and fair play.
As I entered the University of Toronto in the fall of 1950, I har-
boured growing suspicions of Communist behaviour. These suspicions
were strengthened by another development at around this time: Henry
Wallace resigned as leader of the US Progressive Party over differences
relating to the Korean War. By then, the small “l” liberals in the Progres-
sive Party had become virtually the only non-Communists in the United
States who questioned the fundamental assumptions of their country’s
posture in the Cold War.
For years, much of the non-Communist left had managed to ignore
or excuse the mounting allegations of Soviet repression. But, in light of
Communist duplicity over Korea, these reactions no longer worked for
me. I had to question and I did the forced collectivization of agri-
culture through the deliberate starvation of thousands upon thousands
of people, the purge trials of the 1930s involving confessions of treason
on the part of hundreds of Soviet off‌icials and Communist Party activ-
ists, the slave labour camps of Siberia, the mysterious late 1940s’dis-
appearance of the Soviet Yiddish writers together with the closing of the
Yiddish publishing houses and Yiddish theatre. In view of the moun-
tains of evidence, I was simply repelled by the Communist charge that
these manifestations of Soviet repression were merely “fabrications of
the bourgeois press.”
Nor could I accept the rationalization that the impugned Soviet
behaviour was needed to root out capitalist and right-wing inf‌luen-
ces. Despite my own left-wing orientation, I believed early on — that
my right-wing and capitalist adversaries were ethically entitled to ele-
mentary freedoms. In any event, however, the right-wing was not the
only victim of Soviet persecution. From the days of Lenin (and it got
worse under Stalin), the left-leaning Mensheviks and Jewish Labour
Bund were high on the Soviet enemies’ list. Even in the middle of the
Second World War, Stalin found it necessary to execute two Polish Jew-
ish socialists, Henryk Ehrlich and Victor Alter. Moreover, in 1948, the
Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with the backing of the Soviet
Union, engineered a coup against the small “l” liberal regime of that
country. The deposed government of Jan Masaryk was no practitioner
of right-wing values. By the early 1950s, Communist governments in

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