Leopold Labedz


“What is left when you clear away the determinist and teleological elements is good questions that direct your attention to critical ways of looking at ongoing historical processes. A fundamental contribution of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Marxist thinking is a set of questions having to do with the way in which one examines class relations and how they change, the way in which one examines the institutionalization of power, the way in which one examines popular oppositional movements, the way in which one examines the integration of subordinate or exploited groups into a social system. Those are some very useful questions. (…) Look at any given set of class relations. Most of the time subordinate populations live with their exploitation. They make adjustments. They create institutions to deal with inequality, to deal with the unequal distribution of scarce resources and wealth. They do so without seeking to transform the conditions that create or sustain their inequality. Then, under certain circumstances — none of them predictable — that acceptance is transformed into opposition.”

Herbert G. Gutman quoted from Bryan D. Palmer’s (1994) E.P. Thompson

This biographical and historical focus on Leopold Labedz examines his work as a propagandist firstly as the founder and editor of Survey; secondly examining his work under the umbrella of the Congress for Cultural Freedom); thirdly as an opponent of détente, the SALT talks and as part of an inner circle of Information Research Department‘s inner core of anti-soviet propagandists; fourthly it examines his work in Encounter, particularly his attacks on the New Left and Noam Chomsky; fifthly his role on The Committee for the Free World and lastly as the editor of (1962) Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, in 1955 Walter Laqueur, founder of the periodical Survey: A Journal of East and West Studies, hired Leopold Labedz as his editorial assistant and he served as editor of Survey (initially under the umbrella of the Congress for Cultural Freedom) from 1962 to 1989. Born in Poland (he is reported to have served with General Władysław Anders) he headed the London office of Committee for the Defense of Workers (KOR), said to be a precursor and inspiration to efforts of Solidarity, in terms of it being:

…the first major anti-communist civic group in Poland, borne of outrage at the government crackdown in June 1976 and with the purpose to “stimulate new centers of autonomous activity.” It raised money through sale of its underground publications, through fund-raising groups in Paris and London, and grants from Western institutions.

Labedz also wrote with the IEDSS’ George Urban producing work based on radio discussions on RFE. Labedz’s (1989) The Use And Abuse Of Sovietology, (published by Transaction Books), was reviewed in Foreign Affairs as having originally appearing in Encounter or Survey and was noted for its outspoken (some have stated lacking in balance) criticism of Isaac Deutscher, E. H. Carr and more generally the New Left and its attendent criticism of the cold war. Carr’s dictum: “Before you study the history, study the historian. . . . Before you study the historian, study his historical and social environment,” would seem to be apt in terms of assessing, what Terence Emmons in the Spring (2000) National Interest, termed Labedz’s “posthumous all-out attacks on Carr’s intellect and character, disguised as reviews.” In an appreciation of Labedz in the Guardian (April 12, 1993), Abraham Brumberg stated that the function of Survey “included flailing mercilessly anyone whom the editor considered to be taken in by the Soviet myth”, without mentioning its numerous connections to the propaganda world, and somewhat overstates its influence and the voracity of its sources:

Of the many academic cum political journals of the cold war period, none was more known for its acerbic wit, its ruthless deconstructionism, and its impact on elite public opinion than Survey. Nearly every issue that appeared during his editorship contained fascinating material on developments in the communist and neo-communist world. Weighty analytic pieces appeared side by side with juicy excerpts from East European newspapers or confidential documents which Labedz, with his remarkable network of sources, was able to lay his hands on.

A BBC Broadcast (July 8, 1980) Publications in Britain on the “Soviet Threat” noted that Survey’s subscribers, according to its publishers, include all Western governments and its contributors included the US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, apart from its propaganda orientation, this is deflated by the observations on its predictive worth:

Labedz […] recently wrote an article for the London weekly ‘Now!’. The article is headlined “The Fall of Europe” and claims to be a documented study of the current situation. It’s full of all sorts of scientific prophecies of a pending Russian invasion of Western Europe. On the strength of a scrupulous analysis of the international situation, the author of this article predicts to the day when exactly the Russians will start building their naval base on the Norwegian archipelago of Spitzbergen. This will happen on 14th September 1983.

Now! was run by James Goldsmith.

Edward Shils and Joseph Epstein’s (1997) Portraits: A Gallery of Intellectuals (p.160), notes that during World War II, Labedz worked in a hospital reserved for patients who were high-ranking officials of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, who were occupying Poland at the time, and became friendly with a former speech writer for Stalin who told Labedz ‘a great deal about “life at the top”‘, and that this was his first contact with the ‘inside of the Kremlin’; later this (affectionate appreciation) states he had access to specific Soviet libraries (this is where he supposedly read Deutscher’s apologia for Stalin). The provenance of these tales of inside knowledge would seem to be Labedz himself, who seemed well-known for such tales according to Shils and Epstein.

This also states (p.164) that at the LSE he was a regular attendant at the IEDSS’ Leonard Schapiro‘s seminars on Soviet Studies; his antipathy towards Pareto and Weber; his interest in the history of Communism in relation to satellite countries and the Communist parties of India, China, Italy, the US and others; and socialst parties and “leftist intellectuals” in Western Europe and the US. Lashmar and Oliver’s (1998) Britain’s Secret Propaganda War, (p,124) states that Labedz was part of the inner circle of Information Research Department‘s inner core of anti-soviet propagandists.

According to Shils and Epstein, Labedz, some mystery exists as to how he made his money, but Labedz was employed by the Congress for Cultural Freedom from the late 1950s although also add that he posessed a “transparent integrity”. Survey is described as starting as a four-page newsletter about cultural developments in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and largely the creation of Walter Laqueur, who would later move to the CSIS — Jenefer Coates, who edited ‘Survey’ after Labedz helped establish Index On Censorship. Shils and Epstein state that the UK Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence did not indicate any interest in Labedz: “or, if they did, he and they communicated so secretly that one never heard of it,” but they also add that the situation was different in the United States thanks to Labedz friendship with Richard Perle, at that time an adviser to Ssnator Henry Jackson, who had Labedz testify before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee together with the IEDSS’ Robert Conquest and Bernard Lewis. They add Labedz became a confidant of General Edwin Rowny and was a friend of Melvin Lasky (also with the IEDSS) the editor of Encounter, Michael Josselson and Lionel Bloch.

According to a review of Frances Stonor Saunders’ (1999) Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, in the New Criterion by Peter Coleman, Labedz was also involved with the forerunner of the CCF, the International Association for Cultural Freedom as part of a group of editors: Coleman with Quadrant, the Australian monthly, Lasky (Encounter), Labedz (Survey), François Bondy (Preuves), Rajat Neogy (Transition) and Hoki Ishihara (Jiyu). Coleman states of a 1970 meeting, chaired by Alan Bullock:

…Labedz, whose Survey was one of the splendors of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In both anger and anguish, Labedz complained that the International Association would not face the facts of its failures. There had been no “end of ideology,” he said, no “convergence” in the Cold War, no liberalization in the USSR, no new “world-wide community of intellectuals.” Instead, there had been “a long march through the institutions” that threatened to destroy the universities, politicize cultural life, and appease the Soviet Union. We had no answer to the barbarism of the New Left. Throughout the 1950s, the Congress had exposed the Soviet Union and its fellow travelers.

For Coleman, in a negative review, This world-wide network had “unruly editors” who published “many of the most independent writers of the day” who he lists as Raymond Aron, Daniel Bell, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus, Robert Conquest, Stuart Hampshire, Arthur Koestler, Walter Laqueur, Richard Lowenthal, Czeslaw Milosz, Edward Shils, H. R. Trevor-Roper, Lionel Trilling and George Urban.

Labedz died in 1993 and was seriously disabled towards the end of his life, so it is difficult to ascertain what the extent of his involvement in the IEDSS was in 1990, other than a nominal one — although Shils and Epstein describe his as an assiduous collector of information (“an insatiable drive to absorb the content of any printed surface”) and vituperative attacker of the left. Speakers at his memorial service, according to the Journal of Democracy, included Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Conquest, Irving Kristol, Walter Laqueur, Richard Perle, Richard Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Edward Shils, and Leonard Sussman. According to Laqueur’s (1997) Fin de Siècle and Other Essays on America & Europe, published by Transaction (p.244), Labedz had an amazing depth and breadth of knowledge yet he “never wrote a book”. Labedz tended to edit collections (somewhat eccentrically according to the memoirs cited above) including (1962) Polycentrism : the new factor in international communism, edited with Laqueur and published by Praeger. Francis Stonor Saunders (1999) Who Paid the Piper? (p. 244) states that:

Frederick Preager, a propagandist for the American military government in post-war Germany, published between twenty and twenty-five volumes in which the CIA had and interest, either in the writing, the publication itself, or the distribution. Praeger said they reimbursed him directly for the expenses of publication, or guaranteed, usually through a foundation, the purchase of enough copies to make it worthwhile.

In her brief outline of the CIA’s interest in publishing, Saunders includes a New York Times allegation that the CIA had been involved in the publication of a thousand books including Labedz’s (1963) Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia (Oxford University Press). This CIA interest is also attested to by E. Howard Hunt’s (2007) American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond (p.148).

Labedz was an opponent of détente, a promoter of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and critic of the SALT talks — his testimony can be read in the full text of “The SALT II treaty : hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations“. Labedz and Melvin J. Lasky’s (1989) The Use and Abuse of Sovietology, published by Transaction Publishers, with a foreward by Zbigniew Brzezinski, which states that Lebedz belived German National Socialism and Soviet Communism were manifestations of the same totalitarianism. This also states that, from the London centre of KOR and Solidarity he organised support for anti-soviet activities and the book contains Labedz attack on Noam Chomsky, originally printed in Encounter, July 1980, aspects of which are touched on in Robert F. Barsky (2007) The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower (p. 101), which quoting, Serge Thion, notes that Labedz conveys “this idea that Chomsky is attempting to deny that massacres occurred in Cambodia, thus showing his true nature of supporter of tyranny…Mr. Labedz is just the last one to join the choir of those who sing on the same false tune.” Barsky wonders why this type of viewpoint in not better known, or rather, why the skewed version is so well known. Labedz also attacked Chomsky’s review in the Nation of Francois Ponchaud’s Cambodge, anne zero, which Thion also objected to arguing it used “ultra-selective quotations” to escape Chomsky’s argument, used “outlandish falsehoods” and that Labedz “lives in a Disneyworld”. The full text of the Encounter article is still used to the same effect in The Chomsky Hoax: Articles and documents exposing the dishonesty and fanaticism of extreme left-wing propagandist and genocide denier Noam Chomsky. Curiously this argues that Chomsky’s writing is simply a “camouflage for his political passions” and also attacks Thion. Chomsky is quoted as saying that Labedz’s article was “contemporary propaganda” aimed at “reconstructing the imperial ideology”. Labedz’s article is dependent on sources from other CCF-funded magazines, including Quadrant and former editor of Ramparts, David Horowitz (who now devotes himself to anti-Chomskyism).

‘Public intellectuals’ can expect a hostile mainstream media given over to anti-intellectualism, the entertainment industry etc., but with Chomsky something worse is at play as in this quote from Alan Bullock’s (1983) The Fontana Biographical Companion to Modern Thought:

Chomsky’s influence in academic and political life was greatest about 1970. His appeal to American youth was blunted once the danger of being drafted to fight in Vietnam passed; and he forfeited authority as a political commentator by a series of actions widely regarded as ill-judged (repeated polemics minimizing the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia; endorsement of a book — which Chomsky admitted he had not read — that denied the historical reality of the Jewish Holocaust).

Bullock, was of course the chair of the CCF anniversary meeting mentioned above and recently the attacks on his writing have been gathered in a even more convoluted way. The Anti-Chomsky Reader is edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, now active, if probably lonely, ‘intellectuals in the Republican Party’. Here the fixation on the crimes of Chomsky averts their gaze from the crimes of U.S. history. Collier is the publisher of Encounter Books (one wonders if this is some kind of reference to the CIA funded Encounter) so this is both vanity and jealousy publishing. According to Christopher Hitchens‘ (1985) The Chorus and Cassandra, the entry was written by Geoffrey Sampson, who added:

In a 1985 article in The New Criterion, Sampson made an equally false claim about threats of legal action against his person from Chomsky, succeeded in convincing only its editor, the too-credulous Hilton Kramer, and the undiscriminating Martin Peretz, of The New Republic, of his veracity, was made to apologize by Cockburn, and, as I said, disappeared like breath off a razor blade.

Hitchens outlined a concerted effort in the press to misrepresent Chomsky involving David Horowitz and Peter Collier in the The Washington Post; Professor Maurice Cranston, in The Times Literary Supplement; Fred Barnes, in The New Republic; Richard West in the Spectator and others. for Hitchens the “academy and the wealthy new batch of think tanks are awash with people who collude, at least passively”, in a process of imposed national unanimity, involving a well-cultivated awareness of “enemies within,” and a “strong draft of amnesia”, and closes with a quote from C. Wright Mills:

Their academic reputations rest, quite largely, upon their academic power: they are the members of the committee; they are on the directing board; they can get you the job, the trip, the research grant. They are a strange new kind of bureaucrat. They are executives of the mind. . . . They could set up a research project or even a school, but I would be surprised, if, now after twenty years of research and teaching and observing and thinking, they could produce a book which told you what they thought was going on in the world, what they thought were the major problems for men of this historical epoch.

For Labedz, Chomsky has “sympathisers” and his sanity “intellectual hygiene” is questioned, he is conflated with apologists for Stalin, it would take too long to “unravel his faults”, Encounter is excused for ignoring East Timor and Robert Conquest’s opinions in the Daily Telegraph, are offered as a substitute: these stated that the the level of deaths in the massacres were falsified.

Labedz appears on the Board of Directors (1989) of The Committee for the Free World, founded in 1981 by Midge Decter whose original funders were three of the large right-wing foundations: Scaife, John M. Olin, and Smith Richardson. According to Rightweb its other directors included:

William Barrett, author and philosopher
Alain Bensancon, Ecole des Hautes Etudes, France
Enzo Bettiza, journalist, Italy
Gerd Bucerius, Die Zeit, Germany
Jean-Claude Casanova, Commentaire, France
Lord Chalfont, author, UK
Carl Gershman, pres of the National Endowment for Democracy
Sir James Goldsmith, publisher, France
Johannes Gross, author, W. Germany
Paul Johnson, author, UK
Jeane Kirkpatrick, former ambassador to the United Nations
Leszek Kolakowski, U. of Chicago
Hilton Kramer, The New Criterion; Irving Kristol, The Public Interest
Melvin J. Lasky, Encounter, UK
Seymour Martin Lipset, Stanford U.
Nicholas Lobkowixz, Catholic U. , W. Germany
Golo Mann; historian, W. Germany
Indro Montanelli, journalist, Italy
Erwin Scheuch, U. of Cologne, W. Germany
Edward Shils, U. of Chicago
Tom Stoppard, playwright, UK
Lord Thomas, Centre for Policy Studies, UK
George Urban, historian, UK;
Jacqueline Wheldon, author, UK
George F. Will, columnist

Those endorsing the work of CFW included Roy Godson (then with National Strategy Information Center), Edwin Feulner, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Ray Cline, Irving Kristol (Basic Books and managing editor of Commentary magazine), Richard V. Allen and Michael Ledeen. The Rightweb profile adds:

In 1985, the CFW had a 2-day conference around the subject of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting in Geneva. The conference presented the usual neoconservative complaint that the Reagan administration failed to translate its anticommunist rhetoric into a hardline strategy to rollback the influence of communism in the world. Speakers at the conference strongly promoted the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and were critical of any attempt to negotiate with the Soviets. Among those present at the conference were Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes, Michael Ledeen, Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, and Asst. Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and conservative critics Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz.

Tom E. Mahl’s (2003) Espionage’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Malicious Moles, Blown Covers, and Intelligence Oddities, alleges that Laqueur and Labedz’s (1961) The Future of Communist Society again published by Praeger, was a reprint of a special issue of a CIA periodical called Survey. Saunders’ Who Paid the Piper, also states that Labedz’s was involved in producing writing for the CIA.

Midge Decter, in an excerpt from her memoir, An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War, reproduced at the Hoover Institution states:

The idea for the committee had in a very tentative way been brewing for a couple of years. A European friend named Leopold Labedz and I would meet from time to time and say, “Why don’t we . . .”—that sort of thing.

A Revisionist’s Revisionist

Labedz was the editor of (1962) Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas (published by Praeger). For Labedz revisionism “began with Eduard Bernstein’s independent attempt to re-examine some of the original Marxian tenets, and the term should be used for subsequent efforts of this kind”. He notes that the term was also applied “not only to social-democratic reformists, or to disillusioned young communists, but also to leaders of the Communist establishment.” Examples given are Tito, Khrushchev and Mao “esoterically referred to in Moscow as a ‘revisionist dogmatist’.” This adds that:

We seem to have reached a point when Marx’s spiritual heirs,legitimate or otherwise, can truly say: ‘We are all revisionists now.’

The focus on “Marxian Marxism” is not only as an ideology postulating change, but a theory with “scientific claims (‘scientific socialism’), predicting future economic, social, and political developments, so it was inevitable that its forecasts should eventually be confronted with the actual course of events, which differed from the expectations universally held by Marxists on the basis of the theory”.

The things discarded are said to be: “the belief that the proletarian revo­lution would occur in the economically developed countries.” Labedz opinion of Marx is set forth as:

Marx was unquestionably a social analyst of genius; but although his own favourite maxim was de omnibus dubitandum he left his followers an ambiguous legacy. He rejected their tendency to turn his teachings into scripture (‘Ce qu’il y a de certain, c’est que moi je
ne suis pas Marxiste’), but his authoritarian attitude to theory, his intolerance of opinions other than his own, and his reluctance to
change them in the light of evidence, were not a model of what we now regard as the scientific approach. The normal scientific pro­
cedure is to keep open the possibility of a theory being wrong, and in this sense all scientific theories have a hypothetical character subject to revision in the light of evidence. Scientists are thus revisionists in principle. But such an attitude, which is a norm for a genuine
scientist, was incompatible not only with Marxist historical teleology, but — what is more important — with its revolutionary eschatology in which the chiliastic element had a far stronger appeal to his followers than any theoretical reasoning.

The work itself is a product of the Library of International Studies of whom Labedz was General Editor, with an Advisory Board that included Raymond Aron, Walter Laqueur, Richard Lowenthal, Edward Shils and others. Amusingly this actually states (p.19) that “An entire library of anti-revisionist books has been sponsored by a leading Moscow publishing house (Sotsekgiz).” Contributions, such as Daniel Bell’s were drawn from a symposium on ‘The Nature and Value of Marxism Today’, at the meeting of the American Philosophical Association, at Columbia Univer­sity, December 29, 1959.

*Back to the The Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies


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