Robert Heinlein is often remembered as being far to the right of his fellow members of the Big Three, Asimov and Clarke. How accurate is it to portray Heinlein as an anticommunist?


It's somewhat of an oversimplification to say that Heinlein was a one-dimensional Cold War hawk. He was a socialist in his youth, and probably formed his first political opinions before Stalinism existed. (Stalin came to power when Heinlein was 17.) He was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement, and campaigned for Sinclair in the 1934 California gubernatorial race. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact happened in 1939, when Heinlein was 32; for many people of his generation this was the big moment of disillusionment with socialism. Asimov recalled Heinlein as having made a rapid swing to the right politically at about the same time when he married Ginny (1948). Although by the 1950's Heinlein was ardently anticommunist, he has positive things to say about Latin American socialism in his travelogue Tramp Royale, from the same period.

Heinlein's post-1950 opinions on Soviet communism were however very clear. He referred to the Soviets as the "Butchers of Budapest." He defends the McCarthy hearings in Tramp Royale. He had a falling out with Arthur Clarke over SDI.

The anticommunist message was strong in Heinlein's fiction, especially in the 1950's. He wrote Starship Troopers as his response to what he saw as the West's insufficient response to Soviet aggression. In The Puppet Masters, he states an explicit analogy between the mind-controlling slugs and Soviet communism. (See How exactly are the slugs analogous to communists? .) In Farnham's Freehold, Hugh Farnham makes macho boasts about his determination to kill as many (hypothetical) invading Russian soldiers as he can before they kill him.

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    Excellent answer. – WOPR Apr 20 '14 at 8:21
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    Also, he wrote such staunchly right-wingbat propaganda as "Stanger in a Strange Land" :))) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 20 '14 at 21:59
  • @DVK: "Stranger in a Strange Land" did win the 1962 Hugo Award, became an international best seller and opened the trade bestsellers lists to science fiction writers, breaking down longstanding barriers. The novel is also a benchmark of the 1960s generation with its iconoclasm & free-love themes. – 22nd Century Fza Apr 21 '14 at 4:09
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    @DVK: You called Stranger "right-wingbat propaganda" and while you might believe that to be true it's a landmark novel that many, myself included, thoroughly enjoyed. It's not my favorite Heinlein but I do disagree with your characterization of it. – 22nd Century Fza Apr 21 '14 at 4:17
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    @22ndCenturyFza - very much so. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 21 '14 at 4:54

I would point out that there is a large difference between Communism/Socialism and Stalinism. Heinlein appears to have favored a number of socialized social programs when he was younger, but was vehemently opposed to Stalinism.

After he and Ginny got back from a tour of Russia, he wrote an article (found in Expanding Universe as memory serves) where he describes his hatred of the Soviet system and the very concept of Pravda.

In his later work (Cat who Walked through Walls, I believe) there is implication (that is, the main character is Bob and the main female is Ginny) in his disgust with socialized healthcare, and by extension socialized programs. That said, my interpretation might be confused. Another reasonable interpretation would be that he didn't object to socialized medicine. Rather, he objected to people who expected it as their fair due, and refused to even try to better themselves and society. To restate: someone who is out of work through no fault of their own could have access to it and be grateful. Someone who sits and expects the riches of the world to be dumped on their head for the asking was another thing.

If we go by some of the family units he seemed to prop up, he may well have felt that a large community-style family who worked hard would have the means to take care of their own, without the necessity of government intervention.

One might also argue that his taste of Soviet Russia tainted his view towards social programs, perhaps with the dear that such programs would be cracking open the door to allow the more extreme parts of Soviet ideology to enter. As he pointed out, a society which requires its citizens to carry ID on them at all times is one on the verge of collapse, and it's time to get out.

And, of course, his opinion may well have changed as he got older.

I'm going to stop writing this now, because it started as a comment, and the more I think about it, the longer it gets.

  • I can agree that he favored some form of social help; but not handouts to someone who could work. An example is in Farmer in the Sky; a character, Mr. Saunders, is complaining about having to be a sharecropper until his farm is ready. Chairman Tolley replies, "'We won't let your children starve.' he said slowly, 'but, as for you, you can go chew rocks. If you won't work, you won't eat.'" ... "the citizens of Ganymede owe you nothing. We are trying to take care of you out of common decency." – Rob Grier Dec 17 '19 at 23:24

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