time-honored ploy in the political arena has been to discredit your opponents (and their ideas) by demonizing them, by associating them with . . . well, demons. In the twentieth century, this has usually meant claiming that the ideas your opponents advocate were implemented by Nazis or Communists, or were recognized by them as means of “softening up” a country and making it ripe for totalitarian takeover.
So, for example, if you believe the film industry should be more heavily regulated to prevent it from corrupting our youth, just point to this document and proclaim that the Communists came to power in Russia because the previous government had allowed callow youth to idle away their time watching “immoral movies.”
As shown in the example above, this document is usually claimed to have been discovered “in May 1919 at Dusseldorf, Germany, by allied forces” and “first printed in the United States” in the Bartlesville, Oklahoma Examiner-Enterprise.
Although the Examiner-Enterprise is a real newspaper, none of this rings true. Language about getting the young “interested in sex” and focusing their attention on “sexy books” and fretting about the “registration of all firearms” sound out of place for 1919. Even if this document really had been found in 1919, it’s unlikely Americans would have found it alarming back then, when the German hun was still a much bigger bogeyman than the Russian communist.
And not surprisingly, nobody has ever managed to turn up the mysterious issue of Examiner-Enterprise that supposedly printed it. When columnist Bob Greene checked out this piece with Russian specialists at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in the mid-1980s, they said the list was “a total fraud,” “an obvious fabrication,” and “an implausible concoction of American fears and phobias.” (Greene also wrote: “I always wanted to meet a communist who was carrying the list around, so I could ask him what ‘obloquy’ means.”)
When The New York Times ran an article on this piece way back in 1970, it had already been circulating for about twenty-five years. The Times reported that neither the National Archives, the Library of Congress, nor university libraries had a copy of any such document. When Montana senator Lee Metcalf looked into the issue back then, he checked with the FBI, CIA, and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee; found that “exhaustive research” had proved the rules to be “completely spurious”; and noted that “the extreme right also follows rules, one of which is to make maximum use of false, misleading and fear-inspiring quotations.”
Nonetheless, numerous Congressional members received copies of the rules list from alarmed constituents and, believing that nobody else was yet aware of them, continued to insert them into the Congressional Record.
The earliest known publication of these rules was in the periodical Moral Re-Armament in February 1946, and circulation of the list really took off after Florida state attorney George A. Brautigam endorsed them as true in 1954. (His “punishment” was that for many years afterward, printed versions of this list included his statement and signature appended at the bottom.)
Even though the Soviet Union has since ceased to be, well into the 1990s the “Communist Rules for Revolution” have continued to be cited in newspaper editorials and letters to the editor as proof of our moral and political decay. As folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand wrote:
The rules have to do with dividing people into hostile groups, encouraging government extravagance, and fomenting “unnecessary” strikes in vital industries. What we have lost, the list suggests, is a world without dissent, budget deficits, inflation and labor unrest.
I just can’t remember any such Golden Age.