It's hard to explain to anyone under 30 (who'd have been 8 when the Berlin Wall fell) what the Cold War was like, or even that it happened. Clashes between "communism and freedom," a readiness to incinerate the planet, stalking "subversives." A culture bathed in politics. The Hollywood red scare, the career of Ronald Reagan: from B-actor to president. And spy mania. It seems as remote as the Middle Ages yet many of us were there.
If you want your kids to understand the Middle Ages, you can take them to Medieval Times at the CNE. If you want give them a sense of the Cold War, take them to a council meeting at city hall. Look for Giorgio Mammoliti.
He announced recently that there are six or seven secret Communists on council with a long-term plot to take over all private property and control everyone's thoughts and views. They're hiding "underground" but he can detect them with his "keen" sense of political smell.
My first thought was: Why would he want to wake the sleeping giant of Communist thought at a time when it may ring truer than it ever did during the Cold War. The dark knight of capitalist anxiety, Nouriel Roubini, wrote this week that Karl Marx was "partly right" and capitalism may "self-destruct." There's no line more redolent currently than The Communist Manifesto's: "The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles." If you've been sentient since 2007, you may find yourself nodding. Perhaps the councillor should've let that one lie. Or could something else be going on?
He may have been misled by the fact that another Toronto councillor, Paula Fletcher, was leader of Manitoba's Communist party in the 1980s. That was hardly a secret; she got national coverage as a kind of curiosity. She told me at the time that the role of a Communist leader is to run often and lose badly, which she did. That doesn't sound very subversive. In fact, by Cold War logic -- which I warn you, may seem bizarre -- no true subversive wants to look like what they are. So the best commie agents may well be posing as anti-Communist (as some Soviet spies in the U.K. did); while the overt Communists -- like Fletcher in her Manitoba days -- could conceivably be capitalist agents. What results did she get? Never won an election. Mission accomplished.
Unless -- I told you this was weird -- the other side suspects you might fake being your own opposite, in which case you could fool them by pretending to be who you really are: a Communist! This can go on forever -- Madam I'm Adam, as it were -- and it drove people insane. The legendary CIA head of counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton, was certain there was a high-level Soviet mole in the CIA. He's said to have looked in the mirror each morning and wondered if it could be himself. The fact that he didn't know, proved it probably was! John le Carre made a career of this kind of mind trap in his Cold War novels.
Okay, now apply this to the Mammoliti red scare at city hall. He claims he's really serious. An "underground element" has "filtered" -- he may mean infiltrated but usages have deteriorated since the good cold days -- "into a major party" and adds: "I used to belong to that party." That would be the NDP, for whom he was once elected provincially. Then he quit. Now he says he hears "councillors in hallways talking about Fidel Castro and what a hero he was." So you can eliminate them. No serious Communist agent would praise Castro in the hearing of an anti-Communist like Mammoliti. If you act like an agent, you aren't one! But if you don't look like one, you could be. Who is patently the most anti-red member of city council -- who also happens to be a past member of the "filtered" NDP? It defies belief, therefore it must be true. Giorgio Mammoliti is our chief candidate for conspirer in the coming red coup.
Or, as the kids in the schoolyard could have told you: He who smelt it, dealt it. Welcome to 1984, again.
This article was first published in the Toronto Star.
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