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Things I didn't know about American Communism:

I'm reviewing Martin Redish's book, The Logic of Persecution, for the Northwestern Law Review. The book is an interesting look at the so-called "McCarthy era" (which both pre and post-dated McCarthy) from a First Amendment perspective. I'll post a link to the review soon.

Meanwhle, I was thinking today about how much I enjoy writing about constitutional history. Some law professors love to manipulate legal doctrine; that's fine, and I do plenty of that myself, but I like even more learning how legal events unfolded in their historical context, especially because when I delve into the historical literature, I (a) find such interesting details; and (b) so often find facts that are either overlooked, ignored, or misinterpreted by both mainstream historians and popular presentations of history.

Here are some of the facts I learned from doing research for my review, some of which are just "fun facts," and others of which affected my view of the era in question (if you want footnotes, you will have to wait until I circulate the paper):

(1) The first chairman of the House committee that was the predecessor to HUAC, Samuel Dickstein, was probably a Soviet agent.

(2) Hollywood scriptwriters who were members of the Communist Party (CPUSA) were expected to use their positions to promote Communist doctrine and the Party's agenda, or, if that was not possible, at least to work to exclude anti-Soviet sentiment. (And I already knew, but you might not have, that each of the Hollywood Ten was a member of the CPUSA.)

(3) The first federal prosecution under the Smith Act (later used to prosecute CPUSA leaders) was the prosecution of eighteen leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party 1941. The CPUSA not only applauded this action; Party leaders assisted in the prosecution.

(4) The Smith Act prosecutions of CPUSA leaders were largely a result of the fact that top government officials had recently learned from decoded "Venona cables" between the Soviet Union and its agents and affiliates abroad that the Soviet Union used American Communists to engage in wide scale espionage against the United States. The CPUSA leaders were not prosecuted for espionage and related charges (conspiracy) because that would have involved revealing that the U.S. had deciphered the Soviets' code, and also much of the additional evidence the government had was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the government resurrected the Smith Act, and proceeded with prosecutions of highly dubious constitutionality (though upheld by the Supreme Court, which implicitly recognized that these prosecutions were "special").

(5) Not only did the CPUSA recruit spies for the Soviet Union through its "secret apparatus," it was prepared to engage in violence on behalf of the Soviet Union.

(6) The Smith Act prosecutions and other government and private anti-Communist activity destroyed the usefulness of the CPUSA to the Soviet Union for espionage.

(7) Many of the questionable tactics used by the government against domestic Communists in the late 1940s and 1950s, including Smith Act prosecutions, were previously used by the government against domestic Nazis and fascists in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the Roosevelt Administration.

(8) Alger Hiss was not prosecuted for spying because the statute of limitations had expired.

(9) During the "Red Decade" of the 1930s, Hollywood Communists ran their own blacklist againist their political enemies. Because the studio bosses didn't support this blacklist, it wasn't as effective as the 1950s blacklist of Communists, but it seriously harmed careers nevertheless. Also, many in Hollyood boycotted those who testified before HUAC, allegedly as revenge for "naming names". But is there any serious doubt that the boycotters' attitudes would be very different if their targets had discussed with Congress Nazi, as opposed to Communist, infiltration of Hollywood?

(10) Then there's this quote from historian Ellen Schrecker, who is generally sympathetic to the Communists, regarding the blacklist, which conflicts with the theme of a couple of major Hollywood movies: "Most of the men and women who lost their jobs or were otherwise victimized were not apolitical folks who had somehow gotten on the wrong mailing lists or signed the wrong petitions. ...Whether or not they should have been victimized, they certainly were not misidentified." On the other hand, anti-Communist historian Klehr states that "many innocent people were harassed." But Redish concludes that "for the most part, it seems that the blacklists were accurate."

(11) Much of what is now labeled "McCarthyism" consisted of spontaneous action by private individuals and groups to boycott Stalinists. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a sound source that persuasively explains to what extent these private actors interacted with the government. For example, I still don't have a firm sense to what extent the Hollywood blacklist was the result of a fear of bad publicitly and threats to boycott the industry from various anti-Communist groups, and to what extent it was motivated by fear of potential government regulation. [Update: Eric Muller says that I'm wrong about this, becuase "most" of what now think of as McCarthyism was government action. Besides confusing "much" and "most," I'm not sure Eric is right that people consider the federal loyalty security program "McCarthyism"; maybe they do, and it's hard for someone who actually knows the history to disaggregate public perceptions from reality. But in fact, the federal loyalty security program was started by President Harry Truman in 1947, years before anyone heard of McCarthy, and was a result of revelations of significant lapses in federal security with regard to Communist espionage. Also, Eric talks about the federal government preventing "alleged Communists" from getting passports. The only relevant law I know was a 1950 law that prevented Communist Party members from getting passports, and if the definition of McCarthyism is policies that targeted potentially subversive activities by actual members of the Stalinist Communist Party, then the definition is broad indeed!]

Of course there are plenty of other facts around which make the Communists look better (e.g., most Americans who joined the Communist Party did so for relatively benign reasons, did not participate in espionage, and left after a short time), the government look worse, and otherwise more closely supports the "revisionist" historians perspective on the era. But I was already aware of those facts, the ones above were new to me.

Greedy Clerk (mail):
And I already knew, but you might not have, that each of the Hollywood Ten was a member of the CPUSA.

This is characteristically misleading. As an initial matter, the operative word is "was" -- at the time of the blackballing, there is NO dispute that some of the so-called Hollywood Ten were not at the time active in any way in the Communist Party. Further, if David is going to say something like this, he ought to note that although there is good evidence supporting his assertion, it is by no means undisputed.
More importantly, so what if they were at one time members of the Communist Party, this does not excuse how they were treated, or the resulting witch hunt that ensued.

1.23.2006 2:03pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Witch hunts are stupid because there are no witches.

See the difference?

The Hollywood Ten or anybody else who was a member of the CPUSA--or an ex-member--had flirted with overthrowing the government of the US. Some of that flirting is legal and some is not.

Deciding not to deal with the folks who want to overthrow the US is perfectly legitimate.

I would be impressed if any of them had "come clean" and sincerely devoted him or herself to making up for what they and their buddies did.
1.23.2006 2:14pm
Arthur (mail):
Somehow syllogisms stop working when lawyers are talking. We go "from each of the Hollywood Ten was a member of the CPUSA," to "Not only did the CPUSA recruit spies for the Soviet Union through its 'secret apparatus,' it was prepared to engage in violence on behalf of the Soviet Union." Uh, if you say so. Yet somehow, the conclusion" "each of the Hollywood 10 was prepared to engage in violence on behalf of the Soviet Union" is completely false.

A related failure of logic:

"Most of the men and women who lost their jobs or were otherwise victimized were not apolitical folks who had somehow gotten on the wrong mailing lists or signed the wrong petitions. ...Whether or not they should have been victimized, they certainly were not misidentified." On the other hand, anti-Communist historian Klehr states that "many innocent people were harassed."

What's with "on the other hand"? An individual who lost a job because of membership in the CPUSA, as defined by paying dues and attending a meeting or two (maybe one of the 99% of meetings where preparing to engage in violence on behalf of the Soviet Union wasn't mentioned), could be both completely innocent of any criminal act and correclty identified as a member.

Also, nice use of the passive in "Hollywood scriptwriters who were members of the Communist Party (CPUSA) were expected to use their positions to promote Communist doctrine and the Party's agenda . . ." I'm sure someone expected them to do that, and nice misdirection in not telling us how was doint the expecting. Since the people who signed their paychecks expected them to write profitable movie scripts, they generally didn't do what someone or other expected them to.
1.23.2006 2:14pm
dbernstein (mail):
There is no syllogism; the "facts" above are in random order. If you want an argument, you'll have to read the paper when it's available. And while you may disagree, Klehr is certainly not of the view that Communists were "innocent." And "expected to" means "expected to on pain of expulsion from the Party." For the reasons you suggested, though, the screenwriters were a lot more successful at keeping antiCommunism (or anti-Soviet sentiment) out, then getting pro-Communist or Soviet sentiment in.

As for Greedy Clerk, he is wrong. The Hollywood Ten were all members of the CPUSA when they were called to testify. They refused to testify on legally absurd First Amendment grounds (not the more well-grounded Fifth Amendment). They were fired almost immediately. Whether any of them renounced the CPUSA before the blacklist expired, I don't know. I don't argue above whether it was right or wrong to boycott them, though I do in my paper. But if it's wrong, it's wrong because it is wrong to boycott Stalinists, not because it was wrong to boycott progressive screenwriters unfairly tarred as Communists by HUAC, as the myth ges.
1.23.2006 2:24pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
Professor V,

This is outstanding.

In my mind, the liberals in the 50's (many of whom were heroic), took a miss-step in a critical historical fork in the road; to wit, when they failed to recognize that the Soviets were as evil as the Nazis.

Most of us agree that the Nazis were a wolf; but many failed to see that the Soviets were merely a wolf in sheep's clothing. Hence, this leftist fascination with treading gently into the Communist waters.
1.23.2006 2:44pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
It's quite logical to assume that if someone joined an organization promoting totalitarian dictatorship, they lacked discretion at some point in the past (a nice way of saying they were either very dumb or very bad).

Anyone of normal intelligence or morals would be justified in refusing to deal with them. This includes firing their asses.

Obviously, people can change. People who have changed have to burden of proof to establish that they have changed. The worse their past the greater the burden.

Frankly getting fired is no big deal. I've been fired myself. Those who complain about getting fired "unfairly" are just the sort of sniviling whiners who would have joined the CPUSA in the first place. Get another job, Write a book, start a hair replacement business.
1.23.2006 2:50pm
AF:
David Bernstein is right: there's no syllogism. Only insinuation.
1.23.2006 2:55pm
groggy1 (mail):
As a law student, I was wondering about the process one undertakes in constitutional research. I was hoping someone could enlighten me on your views on how you go about researching constitutional issues. Certainly, some of the issues that are discussed have such a profound history, it would be interesting to hear about how you whittle away at the periphery.
1.23.2006 3:01pm
Nobody Special:

As a law student, I was wondering about the process one undertakes in constitutional research. I was hoping someone could enlighten me on your views on how you go about researching constitutional issues. Certainly, some of the issues that are discussed have such a profound history, it would be interesting to hear about how you whittle away at the periphery.


This is the one thing that most law review articles are useful for, actually. Find one with a thorough literature review, read the stuff in the footnotes, you'll be in good shape.
1.23.2006 3:18pm
AlexM:

I would be impressed if any of them had "come clean" and sincerely devoted him or herself to making up for what they and their buddies did.


Well, there were lots of ex-Communists who had become active anti-Communists by the late 1940s-early 1950s. Arthur Koestler, Sydney Hook, Whittaker Chambers and so on. Koestler once joked that WWIII would be fought between Communists and ex-Communists.

Among the Hollywood Ten, Edward Dmytryk changed his mind while in prison and testified in 1951. However, it wasn't until 1956 ("The Secret Speech", Hungary) that CPUSA faced mass defections and was finally marginalized.
1.23.2006 3:25pm
nk (mail) (www):
"Instead, the government resurrected the Smith Act, and proceeded with prosecutions of highly dubious constitutionality (though upheld by the Supreme Court, which implicitly recognized that these prosecutions were "special")."

Which is why Republican vs. Democrat fights over Supreme Court nominations are more smoke than fire. Whether Republican or Democrat appointed, Supreme Court Justices are the third branch of government and their main interest will be the best interest of the United States. When it is important, they will have no ideology or political bias other than patriotism.
1.23.2006 3:25pm
gr (www):
"In my mind, the liberals in the 50's (many of whom were heroic), took a miss-step in a critical historical fork in the road; to wit, when they failed to recognize that the Soviets were as evil as the Nazis."

For an example of the Evil of the Hollywood Ten, have a look at the film they made under the blacklist: "Salt of the Earth." And then tell me that what they were doing was like being a Nazi in the 30's.
1.23.2006 3:41pm
JohnAnnArbor:
And then tell me that what they were doing was like being a Nazi in the 30's

The Nazis made inspiring films, too. Then they exterminated millions. Like the Soviets.
1.23.2006 3:46pm
AlexM:

In my mind, the liberals in the 50's (many of whom were heroic), took a miss-step in a critical historical fork in the road; to wit, when they failed to recognize that the Soviets were as evil as the Nazis.


Well, some did and some didn't. There were many liberals in the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

There was also vigorous debate between different liberals and conservatives regarding the best way to deal with McCarthy's unfounded allegations which threatened to (and eventually did) undermine the anti-Communist cause. See, for example, the Oscar-nominated "The Hoaxters" (1952) narrated by the top Hollywood actors, an almost stridently anti-Communist documentary which also warned about the dangers of McCarthyism.
1.23.2006 3:52pm
Eric Muller (www):
The biggest howler, at least as phrased:

"Much of what is now labeled 'McCarthyism' consisted of spontaneous action by private individuals and groups to boycott Stalinists."

This is nonsense. See my post here.
1.23.2006 4:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Alex. I should have been clearer. I was speaking of the Hollywood Ten and similar folks.
1.23.2006 4:17pm
Justin (mail):
Patriotism, correctly defined, is not an ideological or political bias, but a useless truism as regards to, say, the Supreme Court. While the right would like to redefine "love for one's country" into "deference to one's President", this is ignorant crap, and how one loves their country is an inquiry so deeply intwined with political and ideological bias as to render them one and the same.
1.23.2006 4:27pm
minnie:
Hollywood scriptwriters who were members of the Communist Party (CPUSA) were expected to use their positions to promote Communist doctrine and the Party's agenda.

For a uniquely articulate and informed perspective of the gigantic influence the CPUSA had in Hollywood, one should read the entire testimony of Ayn Rand before the HUAC.

Rand, a fierce opponent of statism in all her writings, had emigrated from Russia at the age of 17 and made her way to Hollywood, where she worked as a screenwriter. She thus had direct knowledge of the actual conditions in Russia, as contrasted to how Russian life was being portrayed in American films. I would say, after reading her testimony, that the Holiday scriptwriters who were members of CPUSA did a very extensive job of brainwashing not only much of the American public, but many of their collegues in Hollywood who unwittingly became dupes of communist propoganda.

Greedy Clerk, while I appreciate and agree with many of your criticisms of the Bush Administration and the current state of the Republican party, I am dismayed that your consistent leftist views are so inflexible that you cannot, all these years later, after all the information that has come out, see the truth about the lefties who supported the Hollywood Ten, and crucified Joe McCarthy.
1.23.2006 4:28pm
farmer56 (mail):
eric

You may want to redo the math you use "Many Millions" and that is only the govt researching the employees of the govt. I'm thinking that 1 million = more than 100 investigastions per 24 hr day I'm sure you did not mean that a qauntitive examination of that magnitude was even possible.
1.23.2006 4:35pm
M.A. (mail):
Judas Priest, minnie, the reason for the positive portrayals of Russia in American movies of the early '40s is that there was a war on and Russia was on the U.S.'s side. That's why Mission To Moscow was made. It's an embarrassing movie, but it is no proof of Stalinist bias in Hollywood. There were, before and after the U.S. and Russia were allies, plenty of jabs at Communism in American movies; see MGM's anti-Communist Ninotchka (1939).

The views of CPUSA screenwriters usually worked their way into movies in the form of a benign liberalism -- partly because many of these writers were basically just liberals who joined the wrong organization (not unlike a conservative joining CAP), but also because moviemakers are not idiots and are out to entertain, not preach. The left-wing views of, say, Howard Koch definitely helped give an edge to movies like The Sea Hawk (which he turned into an anti-Nazi allegory) or Casablanca (where it's hinted that the Bogart character is a former left-winger who fought on the loyalist side in Spain). The proof is in the pudding, and the best of the CPUSA writers did a very good job of keeping their political views from hurting their work; the same cannot be said for the fanatical anti-Communists like Leo McCarey, a formerly great director whose anti-Communist paranoia led him to make the awful My Son John. In aesthetic terms, the commies have it all over the McCarthyites.
1.23.2006 4:39pm
Al Maviva (mail):
For me, the thing that separated (in my mind) honest Cold War liberalism from crooked leftism, was how quickly a liberal sprung to the defense of people on Moscow's payroll, or the unpaid agents sworn to further Moscow's ends here in the U.S. Insofar as the First Amendment protects one's right to advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, along with one's right to advocate in favor of an inherently murderous form of totalitarianism, I suppose it's okay under the law to be a communist. Yet having known a heck of a lot of people who fled the Warsaw Pact nations in the 80's, and having gotten to know a much greater number of Eastern Europeans since the Wall fell, I have trouble maintaining decency in the face of staunch and reflexive defenses of Soviet-led international communism. It was an indecent and barbaric form of government, with the stated goal of spreading itself over the whole world. If it wore a brown shirt nobody would have trouble calling it evil, and then some, but somehow Ol' Uncle Joe is cute. While communist agents and dupes may have been within their rights to advocate communism at times, or even much of the time, to act as a watchdog leaping to the defense of communists, whitewashing the red out of their shirts, is unseemly. Godwin's law is usually applicable, but it seems inapplicable here, as the number of people intentionally killed off by Soviet communists, either directly murdered or intentionally starved to death, is very likely nearly an order of magnitude larger than the number of people killed off in the Nazi genocide. This doesn't take into account the mass murder and genocide caused in other soviet sponsored police states.

There may have been well meaning communists, just as in my time in Germany I met people who were probably "well meaning Nazis," who likely didn't know about and wouldn't have supported the Holocaust. But that fact doesn't make their material and moral support for the mass murderers any more forgivable. Sometimes, what you do is just as relevant, if not more relevant, than your mental state at the time you do it.
1.23.2006 5:08pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The fact that so many conservatives won't acknowledge about the McCarthy era is that the central conceit of the Red Scare-- that it is acceptable to punish INDIVIDUALS for their political beliefs, or to deprive them of livelihoods, because a foreign power was attempting to (but had little likelihood of succeeding in) persuade more Americans to adopt its ideology and eventually change the government.

I will concede that there were plenty of Communists in positions of influence, including Hollywood, in the 1950's, so long as the term "Communist" is defined fairly broadly (i.e., membership in organizations or belief in the ideology, rather than active Soviet agents). So what? So what if Hollywood was making pro-Communist films? So what if some folks in government service attended meetings 15 years earlier?

Too many people think that if you just establish that there were Communists out there, you win the argument. But the argument was never simply about emperics. It was about whether the awesome power of the government-- and large businesses, such as media corporations and movie studios-- could be used to shut down the Left.

In my mind, it is completely antithetical to the value of free expression to intimidate Hollywood into blacklisting screenwriters and replacing them with others who are either more conservative or are willing to suppress their political views. If there were Communists in Hollywood, the solution would have been not to go see their movies. Ironically, the folks who were pushing anti-Communism had little faith in capitalism.
1.23.2006 5:08pm
vccommentor (mail):
Dilan,

From what I've seen, the reason that Hollywood blacklist started was precisely because a wide range of groups --Veterans, Eastern Europeans, Catholics--announced they would boycott Hollywood movies if there wasn't a blacklist. So, they did just what you said, except instead of waiting for empty theaters, the studio bosses preemptively fired the Communists. So what's the problem?
1.23.2006 5:24pm
gr (www):

The Nazis made inspiring films, too. Then they exterminated millions. Like the Soviets.


So (1) what did these Nazi films inspire people to do? And (2) what did Salt of the Earth have to do with the Soviets (or anyone, for that matter) killing people?
1.23.2006 5:40pm
Ted Barlow (mail) (www):
The first chairman of the House committee that was the predecessor to HUAC, Samuel Dickstein, was probably a Soviet agent.


I don't know the first thing about this, but would be very interested in hearing more.
1.23.2006 5:40pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
[Dilan says:] the central conceit of the Red Scare -- that it is acceptable to punish INDIVIDUALS for their political beliefs, or to deprive them of livelihoods, because a foreign power was attempting ...
No individuals were punished for their political beliefs. The Hollywood Ten were punished for refusing a subpoena. The spineless commies would not even admit to their beliefs.
If there were Communists in Hollywood, the solution would have been not to go see their movies.
As vccommentor pointed out, that's what happened. The Hollywood Ten lost their jobs because the public did not want to watch movies made by commie stooges who disobey American law.
1.23.2006 5:41pm
AlexM:

For a uniquely articulate and informed perspective of the gigantic influence the CPUSA had in Hollywood, one should read the entire testimony of Ayn Rand before the HUAC.


Unless I am missing something, Rand's 1947 testimony (http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/texts/huac.html), although it was articulate, was general rather than specific. She basically testified that the conditions in the Soviet Union, as she knew them up to 1926 when she was able to leave, were horrid and nothing like what "Song of Russia" showed. It was the testimony later given by Dmytryk and others that provided various details of Communist attempts to influence Hollywood.

As far as:


In aesthetic terms, the commies have it all over the McCarthyites.


I don't know, I hear that "On the Waterfront" movie was decent :-) But it's certainly true that Hollywood's early 1950s attempts to create openly anti-Communist movies were often dismal.

"Ninotchka", by the way, wasn't particularly anti-Communist. Garbo's character's "faults", as it were, were being too stern and dedicated to "humankind" and to "her country", as she put it. And Iranoff/Buljanoff/Kopalski were just generic bufoons. Still, there were a few barbs here and there, like "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians" and "Nobody can be so happy without being punished".
1.23.2006 5:48pm
Splunge (mail):
I think a case can be made that the virulent anti-Communism of the early 50s was in part a result of the power struggle between the declining Democratic party, under the weak leadership of Truman and the genteel-socialist old guard left over from FDR, and a resurgent Republican party, restive after thirty-odd years in the wilderness. Democratic leaderships was horrified to find they were being smeared on national security, and tried to outflank the Republicans to the right on it. Hence both parties jumped in to smash the Communists.

Too late, of course. The major damage had been done during the war, when idealistic leftist intellectuals stole the atom bomb for Stalin, and just after it, when Stalin snookered that naif Truman and stole Eastern Europe to put under slavery for the next 50 years, thus assuring (as he would have smiled to hear) that Western Europe's capability for continental dominance was made permanently extinct.

Recent Russian biographers of Stalin have suggested the old bastard was seriously planning for an atomic-assisted war with the US no later than 1955, which is when he figured his chances were optimal. It's been suggested he'd already begun "preparing" the Soviet people for the coming war in his own special way. (Afterwards, his famous sadism would've been highly gratified by the writhings of those intellectuals called to testify in front of HUAC, as they testified again, against themselves at their own trials, hoping to avoid the bullet.)

Had Uncle Joe not luckily died when he did, we might now be exchanging bitter samizdat about who the hell was in charge "While America Slept." Certainly the historic record does not lend confidence to the proposition that America would have woken up in time.
1.23.2006 6:33pm
AlexM:

No individuals were punished for their political beliefs. The Hollywood Ten were punished for refusing a subpoena. The spineless commies would not even admit to their beliefs.


Well, the original Hollywood Ten were indeed jailed on contempt charges. However, there were subsequent government actions derived from the Smith Act (the trials of CPUSA leaders in 1949, 1951 and so on) that the Supreme Court later found unconstitutional in Yates v. United States (1957) because the prosecution could only prove that they had advocated overthrowing the government in the abstract.

And that's not counting Joseph McCarthy's activity in the Senate in 1950-1954, which was often over the top and did much to discredit anti-Communism in intellectual circles for the next 35 years.
1.23.2006 6:34pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Certainly the historic record does not lend confidence to the proposition that America would have woken up in time.

People would have asked why we didn't listen to Curtis LeMay more.
1.23.2006 7:30pm
Eric Muller (www):
David, I just noticed an error in your post. Redish's book is called "The Logic of Persecution," not "Prosecution."
1.23.2006 8:52pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Thanks, Eric. I read that at least three times and each time I read "Persecution." The mind reads want it expects, I guess.
1.23.2006 9:11pm
Bleepless (mail):
Dickstein was never chairman of the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities, John McCormick (later Speaker) was. Dickstein's NKVD affiliation was exposed by the defector-archivist Mitrokhin.

Also, most of the historians of American Communism have the same ethics as David Irving, and the same attitude toward evidence and logic. The "ideal" CPUSA was during the People's Front. This four-year paradise was the real CP; anything before or after was, alas, due to Fascist McCarthyite persecution. 1918 until now, just a run of bad luck.
1.23.2006 10:23pm
KMAJ (mail):
Any insight to communism, the Soviet Union and the US would not be complete without a thorough reading of the VENONA translations. The scope and depth of communist intrusion is, to say the least, shocking to the senses.

The Venona Story
1.23.2006 10:33pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
In response to vccommenter and Roger:

1. The blacklists went way beyond the Hollywood Ten, and many people who were blacklisted were merely suspected Communists. But even as to the Hollywood Ten, since when is it the studios' job to enforce Congressional subpoenas?

2. It is COMPLETELY revisionist history to say that the blacklists were motivated by ticket sales. The Hollywood Ten, for instance, included some very successful screenwriters. There is no evidence whatsoever that ANY moviegoers were boycotting Dalton Trumbo's or Ring Lardner's films because of their alleged connections to Communism.

The pressure did not come from the public. It came from Washington. The political right propogated a climate of fear where studio heads and producers were intimidated into not hiring alleged Communists.

Remember, also, that the blacklist is, to use the antitrust term, a group boycott. Arguments that group boycotts are the natural result of supply and demand are fatuous-- if supply and demand were really sufficient to drive the Communists out of Hollywood, you wouldn't need the boycott. (Conservatives, when they were much more friendly towards racial bigotry, used to make these sorts of arguments about why businesses refused to serve blacks, i.e., it just wasn't profitable to do so, the white customers would leave, etc. Now, you guys are making the same nakedly prejudiced argument, just substituting Communists for blacks.)

But at bottom, again, what is truly shocking is the unwillingness to trust the market. Really, if you purport to be a conservative who believes the market is best, why is the blacklist necessary? It would have happened organically as the fully informed marketplace would make its decision not to patronize the films of these folks, and they would slowly be driven towards a niche market of writing films to play at art houses before leftist crowds.

The fact is, that wasn't the point. The point was to punish these people for being Commies. And that was wrong, and those who defend it are also wrong.
1.23.2006 11:14pm
Wintermute (www):
Damn, there I was trying to read today's case law, and this gets started. A lesson in the three R's: Reviewing Revising the Revisionists.

I followed a recent rabbit trail, looking up Woodrow Wilson's Sedition Act and wound up at Brandenburg v. Ohio, whose "imminent lawless action" test seems to me to be more in accord with the highest American ideals than these wartime sedition acts, especially now that we are in a kind of war that will probably never end, as Orwell foresaw. As TJ said:

I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
Letter to James Madison (January 30, 1787); referring to Shays' Rebellion
From one description in this post, it also seems most advisable to use incidentally acquired information to get a warrant for prosecutorial fruit. That we could live with.
1.23.2006 11:24pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Dilan,

You need to look at The Logic of Persecution, esp. pp. 162-63, where Redish specifically discusses prominent individuals and organizations that were threatening boycotts of, and negative publicity for, films involving Communists.
1.24.2006 12:01am
M.A. (mail):
There is no evidence whatsoever that ANY moviegoers were boycotting Dalton Trumbo's or Ring Lardner's films because of their alleged connections to Communism.


While I agree with most of your points about the blacklist, I'm not sure about this one -- most people wouldn't, under normal circumstances, know who wrote a film, but in the case of Hollywood Ten writers, they might have known about them from reading rabidly anti-Communist columnists like Hedda Hopper. Hopper was very influential, and her attacks on specific writers and directors may have had an impact on the studios' willingness to hire them.
1.24.2006 12:05am
minnie:
AlexM, yes, what you write about Ayn Rand's testimony is exactly true. She didn't address the specific issues of the Hollywood Ten, or the CPUSA, or the like. My point was that reading her testimony is a rare way to appreciate the degree to which Hollywood was distorting the facts about life in Russia. Only someone who had lived there could speak with that authority. From what she testified, it's easy to deduce that communist propaganda in Hollywood was pervasive and effective.

But at bottom, again, what is truly shocking is the unwillingness to trust the market. Really, if you purport to be a conservative who believes the market is best, why is the blacklist necessary?

Dilan Esper, the "market" permits private companies to do whatever they like for whatever reasons they like, or at least it did then. I see nothing inconsistent between a volitionally enforced blacklist and the free market. I wish we had more of them.

Also, the person whose career seems to have been most harmed by intellectual blacklisting was Elia Kazan. Most of the Hollywood Ten just wrote under different names, from what I have read, and continued to earn their livings, but Kazan, one of the few greatest directors who ever lived, was made a virtual pariah by the lefties and much of the press after his testimony, and had to fight desperately to make the few movies he did after that. His movies remain to this day among Hollywood's finest.
1.24.2006 1:33am
Roger Schlafly (www):
[Dilan:] what is truly shocking is the unwillingness to trust the market.
And what if it turned out that the public boycotted studios that hired anti-American Nazis and Commies?

Since you make a racial analogy, what if a scriptwriter was a member of the KKK and advocated lynching black people? A studio fire him for the obvious reasons. Would you argue that the studio should just let him make pro-KKK propaganda films and let the public decide?

It is not prejudiced to form a negative opinion of American Commies who supported Stalin and who were loyal to Moscow in the 1950s.
1.24.2006 3:30am
Roy Lofquist (mail):
Wintermute: This war has been going on for 1,400 years.

Samuel Dickstein: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Dickstein_(congressman)
1.24.2006 11:16am
maxomai (mail):
That Wikipedia article is not based on credible evidence. All the proof that Dickstein took money is in the Soviet KGB archives, and we have neither the original documentary evidence nor a photocopy to verify the claim. All we have is Weinstein's word, and while I don't believe he is actively lying, his word simply isn't enough. Nor is the fact that nobody has debunked his claim enough. See the entry's discussion page for more information.
1.24.2006 12:00pm
Bleepless (mail):
Dear M.A., If some people are "rabidly anti-Communist," are any "rabidly pro-Communist?" If so, who?
1.24.2006 1:41pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
"Dilan Esper, the "market" permits private companies to do whatever they like for whatever reasons they like, or at least it did then. I see nothing inconsistent between a volitionally enforced blacklist and the free market. I wish we had more of them."

The difference betweeen a blacklist and not hiring people in a free market is that a blacklist is collectively enforced. I realize there are various conservative and libertarian views about antitrust law, but nobody believes that a collective diktat in an entire industry is the same thing as individual firms deciding whom to and whom not to hire.

"It is not prejudiced to form a negative opinion of American Commies who supported Stalin and who were loyal to Moscow in the 1950s."

There are a couple of things wrong with this statement. First, many victims of the blacklist were not Stalinist. Some were Trotskyites. Some were what we would now call social democrats or even left-liberals. Further, even those who did support Stalin were not necessarily supporting him in the 1950's. Some were blacklisted for conduct in the 1930's, and even the 1940's, when STALIN WAS OUR ALLY!

But more broadly, you miss the point of my analogy about prejudice. My point is about group boycotts. Conservatives who opposed the Civil Rights laws of the 1960's used to argue that the discrimination that was endemic in the South was merely the result of firms realizing that they would lose market share if they integrated, when in fact it was a top-down group boycott, which resulted from governmental pressure, just like the blacklist was.

Theories of a free market was used to justify something that would not have happened in a truly free market-- just as, if it hadn't been for the pressure and violence, someone would have offered their services to all comers in the South before the 1960's, if it hadn't been for the blacklist, someone would have hired these talented people in Hollywood. This type of argumentation is used as a cover for prejudice.
1.24.2006 3:51pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
First, many victims of the blacklist were not Stalinist. Some were Trotskyites. ... Some were blacklisted for conduct in the 1930's, ...
No one was blacklisted for activities in the 1930s. The Hollywood Ten could not get jobs because they continued to be Commies and take orders from Moscow after Stalin's crimes became well known.

You just don't want to accept that most people think that Commies were bad people. Your analogy to innocent black men is ridiculous. The Commies were not innocent. They violated the law, and they were loyal to America's enemy.
1.24.2006 7:31pm
MikeN (mail) (www):
The "so-called" McCarthite Era?
You mean the time when people who simply attended some meetings on Communism in the 30's and 40's and then wouldn't "rat out" their friends couldn't get work as screen writers or doing anything else?

You mean "that so-called era"?

I'm with you on most everything but that statement is fin ridiculous. Even if Hollywood exagerrates the era in movies. Was the Dinero movie exagerrated?

What is portrayed still occured and was well "McCarthyism".
Just because the left is wacked out today doesn't mean justifying that fin asshole 50 years ago.

Mike
1.24.2006 10:38pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
One of the Hollywood Ten, director Edward Dmytryk, was an ex-Communist when called in front of HUAC. He was persuaded to join the others in defiance by the Communist organizers who were managing the response of the summoned Communists and their sympathizers. They assured him he wouldn't go to jail. When he got slammed, as noted by AlexM above, he turned against the Party, and later testified., He denounced the Party, expounded on its secret influence, and "named names". For this he was condemned by left Hollywood. His career recovered nicely though. (He directed several major films, such _The Caine Mutiny_.)
1.25.2006 12:32am