HISS. Would you tell me how you reconcile your negative answers with this affirmative answer?
CHAMBERS. Very easily, Alger. I was a Communist and you were a Communist.
(Hearing: Special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities)
Stalinism has always exhibited an absolutism and dogmatism. Stalin, Mao, Castro never appeared uncertain about anything. Self-doubt, a sense of fallibility, openness to other points of view—these were not part of the universe they inhabited. Whatever one might say about Stalinists, then and now, never have they been humble.
Of course, no one but fanatically certain men could apply the kind of massive coercion that they did with its disruptive and lethal consequences to the millions of souls in Russia, China, Eastern Europe and Cuba. This kind of collective, ideologically justified misery could only be inflicted by individuals devoted to the mindless celebration of their own genius and moral perfection.
These individuals were consummate communists, men for whom ideological abstractions and utopian fantasies were more real than the actual incalculable suffering and misery of those on whose behalf they took power and ruled over. With their conviction of intellectual infallibility these egotistical “wrecking balls” would not only pulverize any remotely active opposition, but also pressed down very hard on anyone who seemed at all unenthusiastic about life in the paradise under construction. For whoever failed to fall in line and cheer … abuse. Those who administered it were wholly justified; those who felt it deserved it.
A special form of abuse, a medical ad hominem disqualifier for dissidents, was developed by Brezhnev and his gang during their own step down to a softer, gentler Stalinism. Instead of simply shooting or jailing dissenters, as J.S. and Lavrenti did prior to 1953, after the General Secretary’s passing, the authorities would arrange for State psychiatrists to certify the uncooperative and unenthusiastic as “mentally ill.’ They could then be locked away, drugged and dismissed as “sick.”
This was a move away from the early and primitive days of the “merciless extermination of the opposition-Stalinism” that built and populated the Gulag and staged the Show Trials. It was a feint toward both the prestige and authority of scientific medicine and procedural legality. The authorities were simply applying the expertise of modern medicine to deal compassionately with sick people and in accordance with the law to protect them from themselves and others.
So in the later half period of the Soviet Union, psychiatry came into alignment with the coercive organs of the Soviet state and Soviet citizens who were in any way perceived to be critical of the government found themselves as psychiatric patients incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals.
A person who is certifiably mentally ill or deranged, of course, has no credibility and is subject to the intrusive and coercive measures characteristic of prisons but in many ways worse with fewer limitations on the overseers. A crazy critic is not a critic at all. A mentally ill person is completely at the mercy of his physician. But when the physician is owned and operated by the State the “patient” can expect a kind of “treatment” in harmony with the interests and priorities of the ruling class.
Once the doctor affirms the diagnosis, the patient no longer has an independent voice. No one should or will take what a mentally ill person says seriously other than as a measure of his own pathological severity. A medical label is a particularly potent form of disqualification because it carries the authority of modern medical science. What the patient thinks, says or does is in the exclusive domain of experts. One does not reason with, refute or polemically engage with the mentally ill. Except for the doctors who have them in their charge, they are ignored.
In the early 1970s two Soviet dissidents, a historian and a biologist, Roy and Zhores Medvedev wrote a book entitled, A Question of Madness: Repression by Psychiatry in the Soviet Union. In it the Medvedevs related how the Soviet authorities used psychiatry as a way to punish individuals of whom they simply disapproved. “[P]ersons who aroused the displeasure of the authorities without actually breaking the law could suddenly be made to undergo psychiatric examinations.”
An extraordinarily stunning application of the political-ideological use of psychiatry was attempted in the U.S. during the second trial of Alger Hiss in 1950. This was not a run-of-the-mill legal proceeding. The Alger Hiss—Whittaker Chambers, mid-century trials were nothing less than a head on collision of world-stage ideological forces. For decades, the Hiss-Chambers confrontation was a polemical fault line of America’s Left and Right.
Hiss’s attorney hired a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Binger, who personally observed Hiss’s accuser, Whittaker Chambers, during the two trials and subsequently testified as a defense witness in the second one with the aim of discrediting Chamber’s testimony. Chambers, Dr. Binger claimed, was a mentally unbalanced man. (Dr. Binger on the witness stand: “I think Mr. Chambers is suffering from a condition known as psychopathic personality, which is a disorder of character, of which the outstanding features are behavior of what we call amoral or asocial and delinquent nature.”) [Thomas Murphy’s Cross-Examination of Dr. Carl. A. Binger in U.S. vs Alger Hiss (Hiss II, Minnetonka, MN: Professional Education Group, , 45.]
Hiss’s strategy in this trial early on in the Cold War came to be used frequently by anti-anti-Communists to discredit anti-Communism. Anti-Communism was unmasked by doctors of psychiatry as a mental illness or derangement. The Frankfurt Marxist, Theodor Adorno, at around this time had published a much ballyhooed, now disregarded book, The Authoritarian Personality that rendered as pathologic anyone who might be considered conservatively political. Chambers, as Dr. Binger had hoped to convince the jury, was to be dismissed as a psychopath, a social misfit who was striking out irrationally at a prominent figure in order to get attention and act out his anti-social impulses.
Thomas Murphy, the government prosecutor, however, routed Dr. Binger under cross-examination. Binger comes off as a fool. Murphy’s masterful cross-examination remains as a textbook illustration for how to impeach the testimony of an “expert witness.” Still, Binger’s clinically fabricated defamation of Chamber’s character and personality became a model for the Left to use to hammer their critics. From the “proof” of the pathologies of their personalities flows the automatic nullification of their ideas and their arguments. Hiss we know now falsely denied his guilt and over the decades persisted to the end with the lies. The dumpy, frumpy, fat, anti-Communist Chambers, bad teeth and all, was the truth-teller. The urbane, Ivy league, elegant, Hiss, protégé of Felix Frankfurter and liege man for FDR, was the liar, and a traitor.
Throughout those years Hiss’s partisans continued the assault on Chamber’s character and continued to deny the fact of Hiss’s guilt. The Leftist U.S. journal Nation for forty years insisted on the innocence of Hiss. When finally, Hiss’s guilt was no longer in question, the response was altered to say that it did not really matter. Victor Navasky, the Nation’s editor for many years and professor of journalism at Columbia University, shifted the entire moral proposition that had been in play for decades: “Espionage, is it really so wrong?”
[Quoted from: Lawrence Helm, “The Alger Hiss Chair at Bard College,”