John Dewey & Soviet Progressives

, Malcolm A. Kline, 3 Comments

It turns out that progressive educator John Dewey’s books were not only influential in the United States. “Dewey’s first six books were rapidly translated into Russian,” historian Paul Kengor said in a conference sponsored by the group America’s Survival. “They told John Dewey his books were perfect for what they were trying to do in the USSR.”

Kengor spoke at the America’s Survival conference at the National Press Club on October 21, 2010. “The Bolsheviks wasted no time getting John Dewey’s works into Russian,” Kengor writes in his book Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century. “In 1918, only three years after it was published in the United States, Dewey’s Schools of Tomorrow was published in Moscow.”

“Given what was happening in Russia at the time, this is staggering.” To wit: the Soviets, broke, were fighting a bloody civil war.

“Only a year after Schools of Tomorrow was published came a Russian translation of Dewey’s How We Think (1919) and then, in 1920, The School and Society,” Kengor relates. “These, too, came during the misery of the Russian Civil War (1918-21), which, according to historian W. Bruce Lincoln, snuffed out the lives of seven million men, women and children.” [Italics in original]

“Dewey’s ideas were apparently judged as crucial to the revolution as any weapon in the arsenal of the Red Army.” Kengor did much of his research in the archives of the Communist International, about as primary a source as you can get.

“And so several more translations followed, including a big one: in 1921, even before the civil war had ended, the Soviet government published a sixty-two-page pamphlet excerpted from Dewey’s Democracy and Education,” Kengor writes in Dupes.

“Remember, Democracy and Education stands as John Dewey’s most significant work.”

“It remains the most common choice of schools of education as an introduction to Dewey’s thought. It became the bible of Teachers’ College, and a guidepost for educational programs across the country.” This country, that is.

For awhile, Dewey and the Soviet Union had a mutual admiration society going. In fact, the latter led the former on a grand guided tour of the USSR in 1928.

The visit presaged the appearance of Dewey’s signature on a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging diplomatic recognition of Stalin’s Soviet state, which FDR granted. The John Hancock’s of a boatload of college professors who had been on a similar excursion also appeared on that missive.

Much to his credit, pushing the age of 80, Dewey became a harsh critic of Stalinist Russia, largely over Stalin’s condemnation of his political opponents to death in the infamous Moscow show trials. The total death toll from communism, long downplayed by American elites, became staggeringly clearer since the demise of the Soviet state.

“The Black Book of Communism tabulates a total Communist death toll in the twentieth century of roughly 100 million,” Kengor notes. “And these frightening numbers actually underestimate the total, especially within the USSR.”

“The late Alexander Yakovlev, the lifelong Soviet apparatchik who in the 1980s became the chief reformer and close aide to Mikhail Gorbachev, and who, in the post-Soviet 1990s, was tasked with the grisly assignment of trying to total the victims of Soviet repression, estimated that Stalin alone was responsible for the deaths of 60 to 70 million, a stunning number two to three times higher than estimates in The Black Book of Communism.”

“Mao Tse-tung, as noted, was responsible for the deaths of 60 to 70 million in China. And then there were the killing fields of North Korea, Cambodia, Cuba, Eastern Europe, and more.”

“In fact, the Black Book went to press too early to catch the 2 to 3 million who starved to death in North Korea in the late 1990s. A mountain of skulls of at least 100 million blows away Hitler’s genocide in sheer bloodshed, and is actually twice the death toll of World War I and II combined.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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