John V. Fleming on The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War

Aired: August 29, 2010
During World War II, the Soviet Union was our ally, yet almost immediately afterward it became our ideological enemy during the Cold War. In The Anti Communist Manifestoes: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War John V. Fleming, winner of the 2010 NJCH Humanities Book Award, argues that four books played an influential role in that shift. Ranging from the well-known (Arthur Koestler and Whittaker Chambers) to the long forgotten (Jan Valtin and Victor Krevchenko), Fleming analyzes how the popular reception of these works shaped the Cold War. In this interview, Fleming discusses the dangers of ideological extremism—on both sides of the Cold War—and paints a vivid picture of the importance of literature in understanding the history of global politics.

Fleming discusses the premise behind his award-winning book, which examines four popular books by former Communists that shaped how Americans thought about the USSR in the post World War II period. He argues that “excess breeds excess” as extremists on each side tried to control opposing ideas.

Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon fictionalized the show trials and purges orchestrated by Joseph Stalin. In this clip, Fleming offers his perspective on why so many Communists falsely confessed to the crimes that they were charged with by Stalin.

Today, Jan Valtin and Victor Krevchenko are forgotten, but Fleming shows how their books,Out of the Night and I Chose Freedom, respectively, significantly impacted American opinion through vivid descriptions of life in the Soviet Union.

Fleming argues that the partisanship of the Cold War era has affected scholarship about it. Rather than indulge in such partisanship, Fleming sees his role as a humanist as recreating the world of the past so as to better understand its import in the present.


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