A fine, readable book on the CIA programme to fund allegedly leftist/high cultural movements during the first half of the so called cold war. The cast of characters are a fairly unlikeable bunch - examples Nicholas Nabokov (3rd rate composer and cousin to the much more talented novelist), Irving Kristol (grandpa to the neo-conservative movement), Arthur Koestler (one time communist, writer and rapist, full time loud mouth). It hardly surprises one that those shady characters sold their souls to the CIA. What is surprising that it took so long for their cover to be blown.
Other characters include those on the right of the Labour party in Britain, and other ostensible leftists such as Willy Brandt. The pious and owlish Isaiah Berlin pops up here, then there, with advice and support but always keeping himself comfortably in the plausible deniability zone. The more one knows of Isaiah Berlins life the less comfortable one is with his writings and reputation, he was a one time spy for the putative Israeli state - and now an "independent" operator around the edges of the CIA's underhand program. What next one wonders? George "Big Brother" Orwell, a writer who I think is seriously overated, makes an appearance for his shabby informing to the secret services of his fellow writers. Of course one cant blame Orwell for the CIA production of Animal Farm but it is fascinating to look over their shoulders as they make the changes to make it politically correct in the CIA sense of that overused phrase. Sometimes, when reading this book, you get the impression that these self proclaimed and government funded freedom fighters are incapable of defending their point of view, or attacking their opponents, in the open with the pen which is what this reader thought cultural freedom in a democratic society might entail.
The book takes sometime to get going, there being a large cast of characters to introduce. While it is undoubtedly an important and interesting book, constant immersion in the activities of such entities as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Encounter, CIA, MI5, Information Research Department,etc can have a dampening effect on your soul. As can the accounts of McCarthyism which had a devestating effect on a huge number of progressives in the United States.
That said, it has its entertaining side to - the level of bitching between our warriors for "Cultural Freedom" is sustained at a high level: Stephen Spenders level of naivety is awe inspiring, Koestlers crassness makes one wince. Its most valuable service is in puncturing myths of the Good vs the Bad that was the official plot line for the Cold War.
A worthwhile book, and a fascinating read - and one that has a renewed relevance in recent years given the with us or against us polarisation of the War on Terror.
This is a wonderful work of both scholarship and story-telling. It demonstrates something one hadn't previously figured about the CIA, that it contained pockets of idealism and a desire to work with the non-communist Left. Out of the CIA came the backing for Abstract Expressionism, the music of Schoenberg. But of it also came the successful campaign to deprive Pablo Neruda of the Nobel first time round. Everyone working in the field of culture should read this book and consider how far political allegience should be allowed to go with art? Only a kiss or all the way? Frances Stonor Saunders has wonderfully re-created the times. This is a marvellous book
This splendid book examines the US Central Intelligence Agency's role waging a cultural and propaganda war against socialist ideas in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The CIA created, funded and ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom, while both bodies always claimed that the CCF was quite independent.
From the start of the US state's not-so-altruistic Marshall Plan, it gave $200 million a year to support the CIA's various activities, including assassinations, coups, strike-breaking, election-rigging, and setting up supposedly independent magazines (like Encounter), festivals and organisations. . The CIA worked closely, as it still does today, with the Foreign Office and MI6. The Foreign Office's secret Information Research Department supported the 'left-wing' Labour journal Tribune and distributed its material internationally.
The US state backed moves towards a federal Europe and the EEC, rightly seeing the EEC as a capitalist bulwark against socialism. So the European Movement was "funded almost entirely by the CIA through a dummy front called the American Committee for a United Europe".
Saunders concludes, "the same people who read Dante and went to Yale and were educated in civic virtue recruited Nazis, manipulated the outcome of democratic elections, gave LSD to unwitting subjects, opened the mail of thousands of American citizens, overthrew governments, supported dictatorships, plotted assassinations, and engineered the Bay of Pigs disaster. `In the name of what?' asked one critic. `Not civic virtue, but empire.'"
Saunders examines the US,specifically the CIA,role in propagandising the European intelligentsia in the Cold War. I think she is a bit too harsh in denouncing everyone involved on the various enterprises-after all,many of those involved would have written,composed or painted the same as they were anti-Stalinist long before the CIA showed up.But some-Lasky,Kristol and the other professional anti-Communists well deserve the criticism. The funniest part is at the end,when the CIA's involvement was exposed from the mid-1960s onwards,and the train of those who accepted the tainted money queued up to pronounce their bewilderment at the funding they got,even though at the very beginning,some (Hugh Trevor-Roper for one) suspected US funding. Also very good at showing how short the jump from the far left to the far right is for many.Maybe the process of becoming a fanatic carries over,whatever the ideology involved-the same pattern of thought overrides the specific ideas. Well worth a read.
In this book, F.S. Saunders reveals in hard-hitting prose the financing by the US government of a secret cultural propaganda programme under the cover of `philantropic' foundations. This fact isn't that astonishing; only the vast financial means involved and the extension of the network (with offices in thirty-five countries) are mind-boggling.
Aim This programme had to inoculate the western world against the contagion of communism and to promote the US way of political, socio-economic and artistic life: a Pax Americana. This battle for men's minds should be won through the creation of a western non-communist Left, which could nudge the intelligentsia away from its fascination with Marxism and Communism.
Methods and Means The main basic method was psychological warfare: `move the subject in the direction you desire for reasons which he believes to be his own.' Artists and institutions, which owned magazines and organized expositions and performances, were lavishly financed, thereby roping them `in an umbilical cord of gold'. All those involved were expected to perform `really' in the propaganda effort. A few names: A. Schlesinger (the main ideologist), R. Aron, A. Koestler, S. Spender, M. Sperber, D. de Rougemont, I. Silone, I. Kristol. A major propaganda `instrument' was God. As the author states: `Political virtue was to be submitted to a long standing Christian tradition of obedience to the law of God. By invoking the ultimate moral authorities, the US acquired an unanswerable sanction for her manifest destiny.' For literature, its main English vehicle was the magazine `Encounter', edited by a rather naïve Stephen Spender. In Germany, it was `Der Monat'. Another literary chapter was the battle for the control of PEN. In painting, Abstract Expressionism was heavily promoted (because it had nothing to say in the face of Guernica? LR).
Realities at home and abroad At home, the US was everything except a heaven of liberalism. McCarthyism provoked a cultural cleansing with a new outburst of book burning (even the works of Thomas Mann!). Abroad, its secret services manipulated the outcome of democratic elections, plotted assassinations, supported dictatorships and overthrew democratically elected governments. As F.S. Saunders states and quotes, `the secret services elevated the art of lying to a new height', `not (for) civic virtue, but (for) empire.' They created a perfect virtual world.
This book is a must read for all those who want to know the world we `actually' live in. One caveat: the author doesn't discuss the neutralization of western intellectuals, by planting `secretaries' in their offices.