Since becoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has campaigned for unconditional withdrawal from Iraq with surprising fervor, making it sound as if "the war" and George W. Bush were America's only enemies. I had supposed that the Democrats would prefer to keep up a drumbeat of criticism of the administration's teetering policies without assuming responsibility for whatever comes next in Iraq, which is what they will in effect be doing if they force the president's hand. I had, in short, thought they would behave more like politicians than like ideologues and activists. I had missed the ideological streak in Pelosi's own background.
Pelosi comes from the San Francisco Bay Area, where Democrats have long positioned themselves far to the left of the national party. For example, former congressman Ron Dellums of Berkeley was a tireless stalwart of Communist front groups, and other representatives, like George Miller, Pelosi's closest colleague in the House, and the Burton brothers, John and Phil, manned the party's left fringe. Miller still does.
The reason for this sharp tilt was not, as one might imagine, the influence of University of California student radicalism, which in reality had little reach into practical politics. Rather, it was the unique character of organized labor in the Bay Area. Everywhere else in America, the AFL-CIO was a staunch force for anti-communism. This was symbolized by labor's most important postwar leader, George Meany, who denied labor's backing to George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election for the sole reason that McGovern was soft on communism, and who organized a welcome to America gala for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1975, when President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger refused to receive the Soviet dissident.
Beginning in the late 1940s, American labor unions had purged their own ranks of Communists, the AFL-CIO adopting a policy of expelling any union led by Communists. By and large, this policy provided sufficient impetus for anti-Communist factions to organize to battle the Communists within those unions in which they had become powerful. In most cases the anti-Communists succeeded in running the Communists out. But in some cases the Communists won, and the most important such exception was the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), which controlled the docks of San Francisco.
The ILWU was duly expelled from the AFL-CIO, but it thrived nonetheless. It became arguably the most powerful union in the Bay Area and a big supporter of leftist causes, including inside the Democratic party. Unlike UC students, the ILWU could bring lots of money and resources to bear on behalf of favored candidates.
The force behind the ILWU's ideology was Harry Bridges, an Australian immigrant and devoted Communist. The Roosevelt and Truman administrations tried to deport Bridges, on the grounds that he had lied about his Communist affiliation in his immigration papers, but for various procedural reasons the case was dismissed. So loyal was Bridges to Moscow that during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, he opposed the (1940) reelection of labor hero FDR, because Roosevelt was aligning the United States with Britain against Germany, and the ILWU printed antiwar pamphlets proclaiming "The Yanks Are NOT Coming." As soon as Hitler's forces invaded the Soviet Union, Bridges did a 180-degree about-face on the war.
While Bridges and his union took transparently pro-Communist stances, Bridges denied that he was a Communist. Only after the fall of the USSR, and the opening of Soviet archives, did the truth emerge that Bridges had been not merely in the party but a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party USA, a position for which the documents show he was directly approved by the Kremlin.
This means, plain and simple, that he had devoted his life to the service of the Soviet Union and its ruler, Joseph Stalin, one of the three greatest mass murderers of all time. (Hitler and Mao Zedong are the other two.) Like Ronald Reagan, Bridges believed the world was menaced by an evil empire, but to him, the evil was the United States. The influence of Harry Bridges and his ILWU was what pulled the Bay Area Democratic party so far to the left.
The point of rehearsing all of this ancient history is that one of those he influenced and who still goes out of her way to honor that influence is Nancy Pelosi. In 2001, she took to the pages of the Congressional Record to effuse her sentiments on the hundredth anniversary of Harry Bridges's birth, an occasion celebrated only by a gnostic few.
Here is what she said: "Harry Bridges [was] arguably the most significant labor leader of the twentieth century," who was "beloved by the workers of this Nation, and recognized as one of the most important labor leaders in the world." She added: "The International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union [was] the most progressive union of the time." In other words, this Communist-run union was more admirable than all of the anti-Communist unions.
Pelosi delivered this encomium a full nine years after Bridges's membership in the CP Central Committee had been revealed. Nor was this just a single moment. As recently as this February she visited ILWU headquarters to deliver this homage: "It is very special to me, any occasion that I can come to the ILWU hall and acknowledge the leadership of this great union. . . ." This was not just an infatuation with one man. In addition to her tribute to Bridges, she delivered a similar encomium to another prominent Bay Area Stalin fan, Vivian Hallinan, whose husband was Bridges's lawyer and the 1952 candidate for president of the Communist-front Progressive party. "Vivian," she enthused, "was devoted intellectually and passionately to many causes, well before they became popularly embraced."
This is not to say that Pelosi is a Communist--who is these days?--or that she ever was. But about her adoration of the Stalin-worshiping Bridges there is no doubt. It is no less egregious than Senator Trent Lott's apparent endorsement of Strom Thurmond's racist past, which cost Lott the Senate leadership, the difference being that Thurmond had long since renounced racism, while Bridges never renounced communism.
As she leads the Democratic campaign to withdraw from Iraq and sallies off to meet the likes of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, we should know Pelosi's wretched record in judging who are history's good guys and who are its bad. And we should be mindful that some of what she knows about political values was learned at the feet of people who believed fervently that the great enemy of mankind was none other than America itself.
Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.