The Red Menace, Revisited:

That's the title of my forthcoming Northwestern University Law Review review essay of Martin Redish's The Logic of Persecution: Free Expression and the McCarthy Era. You can find the whole text at SSRN.

Here's the abstract:

This is a review essay of Martin Redish, The Logic of Persecution. This book wades into the debate over the legacy of the anti-Communism of the late 1940s and 1950s. Its unique contribution is to approach this controversy from the perspective of First Amendment theory, taking into account recent evidence that the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) was the American arm of the Stalinist Soviet enemy, and was heavily implicated in espionage against the United States.

Part I of this Review discusses the Smith Act prosecutions, in which CPUSA leaders were prosecuted for promoting violent revolution against the government. This Reviewer agrees with Redish's conclusion that the prosecutions were unconstitutional. However, in judging the Smith Act prosecutions, historians may consider not only constitutional issues, but the moral status of the defendants; whether freedom of expression suffered any lasting harm; and whether the goal of destroying the CPUSA's usefulness to the USSR for espionage was, in context, a particularly important one.

Part II of this Review evaluates the infamous "blacklist" by Hollywood movie studios of members of the CPUSA. Redish concludes, and this Reviewer agrees, it was entirely appropriate - under the First Amendment, and also morally - for businesses and individuals to boycott members of the Stalinist CPUSA.

Finally, Part III of this Review discusses whether state and local governments acted within their constitutional authority in refusing to hire CPUSA members as teachers. Redish concludes that school authorities did not violate the First Amendment when they excluded devoted Communists from teaching classes in subject areas that required teachers to pass along a liberal democratic perspective to their students. Part III reviews some objections to Redish's conclusion, and suggests that monitoring compliance with the assigned curriculum would have been an alternative means of accomplishing the government's agenda.

In writing this review, I found the historical issues at least as interesting as the First Amendment issues. I've blogged a bit about this before, so suffice for now to say that the history of the "Red Scare" was rather different than I had believed, much less than what one might pick up from the popular media. Here's a small taste:

But the fact remains that the most of those blacklisted[in Hollywood] were at least as morally complicit in Stalinist crimes as a typical American Nazi of the 1930s and 40s was complicit in Nazi crimes. Communist screenwriters, in particular, "defended the Stalinist regime, accepted the Comintern's policies and about-faces and criticized enemies and allies alike with infuriating self-righteousness .... screen artist reds became apologists for crimes of monstrous dimensions. ... film Reds in particular never displayed any independence of mind or organization vis-a-vis the Comintern and the Soviet Union." Nor was the screenwriters' Communist activism irrelevant to their jobs, as they actively sought to maximize Communist and pro-Soviet sentiment in films, and minimize the opposite.

And please, to avoid strawman arguments, look at the review before commenting.

Duncan Frissell (mail):
Anyone could have read Witness and other memoirs of ex-commies written in the 1950s and they'd have known that commies were commies without the need of the Comintern or of Verona. Witness testimony is direct evidence.

The opposition to blacklisting is hard to understand since such private action enjoys full constitutional protection.
3.6.2006 10:36am
Justin (mail):
This is an attempt to increase your SSRN hits, isn't it? :)
3.6.2006 10:40am
SteveMG (mail):
To my thinking, Sidney Hook's excellent "Heresy, Yes - But Conspiracy, No" is about the best overview of the threat posed by those active members of the Communist Party. Hook distinguished between those in academia who promoted communism versus those who were attempting to indoctrinate others into communism and who were actively using their positions of authority to promote the policies of the Soviet Union.

The former is acceptable; the latter conspiracy, Hook argued, was not (legally as well as morally/ethically).

For all intents and purposes, the CPUSA at that time was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union (the Venonan intercepts document this, among other evidence). It was not, pace Navasky, an independent movement that grew out of the American tradition of Jefferson and Whitman et al.

Hook's essay is here:

3.6.2006 10:47am
I think you ought to send a copy of the article--with some of the sources attached--to George Clooney and Ed Harris.
3.6.2006 11:17am
As a counter to the argument about the Hollywood Screenwriters - how much influence did they actually have on the movies they wrote?

During WW II there were undoubtedly some whitewashes of the Soviet Union (most notoriously, Mission to Moscow). But this was wartime - it would have been quite unusual to expect American movies to show the warts of our primary ally against Germany.

Before the war, there is no film evidence of communist influence that I am aware of. The evidence comes down to a few Warner Brothers films such as Black Legion that could have as easily been made by mere "progressives."

After the war, the best argument that can be made is that Hollywood Reds abetted the Film Noir movement, with its little stories of corrupt cops and petty thieves and exploited women. Which, by the way, are believed by a preponderance of film historians to be some of the best American films ever made.

So, unless the dangers were prospective, there appears to have been little need to blacklist any Hollywood Communists.
3.6.2006 11:26am
Al Maviva (mail):
I dunno Gordo. From watching the Oscars last night, I'd say that Hollywood thinks its movies are very important and influential in shaping American opinion.
3.6.2006 11:40am
But this was wartime - it would have been quite unusual to expect American movies to show the warts of our primary ally against Germany.

Did Britain receive similarly uncritical praise? Somehow I doubt it.

Which, by the way, are believed by a preponderance of film historians to be some of the best American films ever made.

Feh, Triumph of the Will and Olympia are pretty good movies, too.
3.6.2006 12:18pm
Al Maviva: What Hollywood thinks, vs. reality - not always a perfect match! The movie industry is quite different now from the way it was set up in the 1940's.

Jeek: Did Britain receive similar uncritical praise? Yes it did. Mrs. Miniver is the classic example, Best Picture Oscar of 1942.

As for your comparison of movies such as Out of the Past, The Big Clock, and The Asphalt Jungle to the works of Leni Reifenstahl - FEH! to you.
3.6.2006 12:29pm
Professor Bernstein: I'm curious, given that you are a young man, how many movies of the 1940's you have actually watched? I would suggest doing so before you decide that the Hollywood Reds had a baleful influence on the film industry of the time.
3.6.2006 12:31pm
Gordo, during WW2, the American Left advanced numerous critiques of British Imperialism and argued forcefully that the US should not allow British power to expand or increase after the war as a result of joint Anglo-American wartime action against Germany and Japan. The American Left did not advance similar critiques of Soviet power, nor did the Left argue that during the war, America should take action to restrain or prevent the USSR from improving its postwar position.
3.6.2006 1:20pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Gordo, et al.

Nice to see that the left has abandoned the tactic of insisting it isn't true, and insisting that anybody who talked about it was mean and rotten and awful.

Now we hear that, try as they might, they didn't actually accomplish much.

It's progress.

But,as my sainted mother used to say, "It's the thought that counts, dear."
3.6.2006 1:25pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
My understanding is that the screenwriters were a lot more successful at removing anti-Soviet or anti-Communist sentiment from movies that putting in pro-Soviet or pro-Communist propaganda. The latter would be edited out at later stages; the former wasn't there to be edited at all.
3.6.2006 1:41pm
Visitor Again:
I will just say that I knew many of the people persecuted in the Smith Act and related persecutions, though not until after the Fifties ended. They were among the most decent people I have ever met, sincerely concerned with the betterment of humankind. You may say they were misguided in their party affiliation, although the Democrats and Republicans of the times weren't interested in what was important to them, but it won't do to paint with a broad brush about their evil or immoral nature. Some of these people were dear to me because of the courage, energy and passion they showed in the struggles for civil rights and workers' rights, and some of them taught me a great deal, including about the practice of law. Too bad very few are still around to defend themselves against the revisionism of the likes of Bernstein and that those who are still around are either too old or too ill to fight back. I won't discuss this further.
3.6.2006 1:46pm
Bleepless (mail):
Dear Visitor Again, you were fooled. When are people such as yourself going to learn that some totalitarians are quite good at propaganda, and that all of them do not care about truth or honesty, just power? Your Gulag-guard pals were human sewage. So are their successors.
3.6.2006 2:27pm
Jeek: We're talking about the movies here, not the pages of obscure intellectual journals. I'm not aware of any "critiques of British imperialism" in the American movies made during, or immediately after, World War II.

Are you going to argue that The African Queen is a critque of British imperialism?
3.6.2006 2:43pm
Professor Bernstein: I have little doubt that much anti-communist and anti-Soviet sentiment was edited out of movies during World War II. We were fighting a war against Germany, and the Soviet Union was our ally. The anti-German and anti-Japanese (and pro-Soviet) propaganda of wartime moview was blatant and direct. To give one example, Action in the North Atlantic, a 1943 paean to the North Atlantic Merchant Marine (starring Humphrey Bogart) ends with the ships motoring into Murmansk to deliver vital supplies to our glorious Allies, the Soviets. But this editing was certainly not insidious or covert.

Of more interest is any validation of your assertion of such editing either before or after World War II. Since the Hollywood 10 first came under fire in 1947, there wasn't much time to cook the books after the War. How about before?
3.6.2006 2:55pm
subpatre (mail):
Visitor Again - Commentors can offer personal anecdotes or they can be anonymous. Your choice.
3.6.2006 2:57pm
To summarize my position: When we look at the Hollywood Ten and Reds in the Film business, we need to decide whether the actions taken against them were justified by what they COULD have accomplished, NOT what they actually did accomplish.
3.6.2006 3:07pm
TJIT (mail):
Visitor Again:

You said

"They were among the most decent people I have ever met, sincerely concerned with the betterment of humankind."

I don't know the individuals and can't comment on what their individual positions were. However, please remember with regard to the Soviet Union people of the type you described supported the Soviet Union even when there was evidence of the monstrous crimes the Soviets were committing.

I don't think you could describe that behavior as decent or moral.

3.6.2006 3:40pm
Solomon (mail) (www):
Of course they seemed moral. Coercive Utopians always do...until they have power over you.
3.6.2006 3:47pm
Justin Levine:
Visitor Again:

<i>"I won't discuss this further."</i>

I presume this is because, deep down, you realize that you have no real argument to put forward. No?
3.6.2006 6:15pm
Visitor Again:
"I won't discuss this further."

I presume this is because, deep down, you realize that you have no real argument to put forward. No?

Wrong, although feel free to presume your way through life with my blessing. It's because I don't have the time and because I'm not interested in wasting my time trying to convince people willing to condemn without the slightest idea of what CPUSA members believed in, what CPUSA members did, what kind of people they were, what the CPUSA did, what went on at CPUSA membership meeetings, what the achievements of CPUSA members were, what the internal politics of the CPUSA were, what the relationship of the CPUSA members to its national leaders was, what the CPUSA's relationship to the CPUSSR was, and so on. Sorry, you just do not. For starters, you might want to read Dorothy Healey's biographical memoir and Al Richmonds's A Long View from the Left, both strikingly revealing and self-critical accounts by former CPUSA members about their lives in the CPUSA. The view that the CPUSA was or could have been a real danger to the USA's security is laughable, as many U.S. intelligence agents would tell you. So is the claim that CPUSA members were evil or immoral in their conduct, although many of you appear to view mere belief in Marxist ideology as evil or immoral. I do not.
3.6.2006 6:53pm
Visitor Again:

We can disagree about whether the members of the CPUSA were evil or immoral. I'm sure many were, and many were not.

But surely you can't disagree that, at minimum, members of the CPUSA were deluded fools and dupes. Anyone who persisted in membership after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939 was either a fool or a knave.
3.6.2006 7:56pm
Visitor Again:

Where I do agree with you (I think) is your concern about the revisionism that is overtaking this area from right-wing scholars and ideologues who are challenging what they perceive as conventional myths about the McCarthy era and the Red Scares. I would put Michelle Malkin's feeble attempts to justify the Japanese-American internments of World War II in the xame category.

It's one thing to acknowledge that Alger Hiss was truly a spy and deserved far worse than he actually got, and that Julius Rosenberg (maybe even Ethel) deserved to fry for their crimes. It's quite another to decide that the Hollywood Ten were the tip of a colossal fifth column Red iceberg infecting the motion picture industry.
3.6.2006 8:01pm
EricH (mail):
Not surprisingly, much of the discussion has broken down into the anti communist and anti anti-communist camps and from that which of the two one believes was more of a threat to the nation.

As for me, the scholarship is pretty extensive (again the Venona intercepts for example) that the CPUSA during this period was completely under the command of Moscow and as such took directions and orders from that enemy of the US.

As Sidney Hook, among others, amply documented, CPUSA members were part of a conspiracy, one whose goal was to assist the Soviet Union in their war against America. And this included everything from providing the secret plans of the atomic bomb to injecting pro-Soviet images in movies.

Many members of the party said lots of nice things, I'm sure, about the need to fight racism or to provide better worker benefits or child protection. I'm sure many were sincere too.

But in the end the question was how they proposed going about establishing this "good society". And again the evidence is overwhelming that the means to this end entailed the victory of the Soviet Union over the West and with that the mass slaughter of tens of millions of men and women and the incarceration of tens of millions more.

Because that's what communists do. Even as they say that nice things will result at the end of the day.
3.6.2006 8:58pm
Visitor Again:

Yes, I agree with that. But to make sure people understand your reference to espionage,let me say this.

Whatever the extent of Soviet espionage in the U.S.A., it had nothing to do with the CPUSA. It was run by Soviet intelligence. Some of those who were recruited or who voolunteered to become spies may have had some connection with the CPUSA somehwere in their pasts, but the Soviet intelligence agents were not fools enough to let the CPUSA have anything to do with the espionage or even any knowledge of it or to let their contacts in place have any connection with the CPUSA. Had espionage been mentioned at any CPUSA meeting, it would simultaneously have been known to the FBI, which had agents at every meeting, and the Soviet intelligence agents knew that.

The people who attended CPUSA meetings were ordinary human beings with the foibles we all have; they gossiped, they complained, they disagreed, they engaged in internal intrigue, they manipulated, they bragged, they made mistakes. Some of them engaged in endless abstract debates on Marxist theory as it applied to this question and that question. But they also did some wonderful and noble things. They had full-time jobs and spent their spare time on picket lines, campaigning for their presidential and gubernatorial candidates,organizing unions, demonstrating against racism, raising funds for civil liberties cases, and the like. They weren't stockpiling arms and explosives or plotting terrorist acts or any violent acts, unless it was an FBI provocateur doing the talking. They did believe in revolution, but that was to come, inevitably, from the workers; the CPUSA wasn't plotting it; it didn't regard itself as the vanguard of the revolution. It's been many years since I last read the C.P. cases, but I seem to recall the worst thing the Court could find that one of these CPUSA members did was to mention how to use a lead pencil as a weapon. Hell, any braggart at a local bar will tell you stuff like that.

But surely you can't disagree that, at minimum, members of the CPUSA were deluded fools and dupes. Anyone who persisted in membership after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939 was either a fool or a knave.

Oh, but I can. The USA didn't jump into the war until it was attacked in very late 1941. The Soviets merely wanted to avoid war as long as they could and they did so by way of a pact. Many CPUSA members left the Party immediately or soon thereafter because of the pact, of course. Others remained because they felt it was a delaying action on the part of Stalin justified because the Soviet Union could not defend itself at the time. The huge debate of the 1920s over socialism in one country, which contributed to the Trotskyite exodus, led many to believe the Soviets must do whatever necessary to preserve the revolution.

Dorothy Healey stayed on longer than nearly all the dissidents, until 1971 or so, through the Khrushchev speech in 1955 detailing Stalin's horrors, through Hungary in 1956, through Czechoslovakia in 1968. Huge numbers left the Party on each of these occasions, but she remained. Why? She was trying to democratize the CPUSA, and to make it at least more independent from the CPUSSR, but failed. For her, the Party represented a lifetime's work. It was devastating for most of these people to leave the Party. Read her book and if you still think she was a fool or knave, then so be it.

The CPUSA's national leadership during this period is another question. Gus Hall and his cronies must have been on the take from the Soviet Union. The failure of the CPUSA to assert its independence from the CPUSSR doomed the CPUSA. But that failure was not for lack of effort by Healey and many others.

The books by Healey, Al Richmond and Peggy Dennis are much more revealing and, I think, trustworthy than the works of notorious liars like Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, both partisans in an effort to destroy the CPUSA. Dorothy Healey's archives, internal Party memos and all, some 10,000 items, are available for inspection at, I think, Cal State Long Beach. Look it up on Google. It's all there for anyone who wants to find out what she believed and did.

That really must be it for me. Perhaps some day someone with the time and the personal knowledge (which I do not have although I have at least talked with CP members) will respond in detail to Bernstein and the book he reviews, though, as I noted before, those with personal knowledge are becoming fewer and fewer. Dorothy Healey went back East to live with one of her children in sbout 1990, I believe. I attended her farewell dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Many well-known people were there, of political beliefs far different than hers, all races, all religions. She got a huge standing ovation. It was a wonderful tribute to an accomplished and brave woman whom many on this board condemn simply because she was a Communist Party member and therefore a moral monster.
3.6.2006 9:58pm
Visitor Again:
Oh my God, the last thing any CPUSA member wanted was war between the Soviet Union and the USA. What kind of brainwashing are they doiing in the schools these days? Good night and good luck.
3.6.2006 10:17pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
VA: "Whatever the extent of Soviet espionage in the U.S.A., it had nothing to do with the CPUSA." Fifteen years ago, serious historians were saying this with a straight face, and though they should have known better then, the contrary evidence is now so strong that no one believes that.
3.6.2006 10:44pm
EricH (mail):
The CPUSA from the 1930s through the 1950s was a traitorous organization totally owned by the Soviet Union. In no sense of the term was it a "political" party that, as defenders argue, had its roots in the tradition of a Jefferson or Whitman or Emerson.

The USSR directed and funded most of the operations of the party and, in contrast to the communist parties of Europe, never once took exception to or opposed any of the polices of their sponsor.

The scholarship from Soviet archives and interviews with former officials of the USSR show that Moscow had tremendous difficulties on occasion with the communist parties in Europe who would often break with or criticize Soviet policies (Ribbentropp/Molotov pact, et cetera). Not so with the CPUSA which supported every policy decision Moscow made.

Those who joined the CPUSA after the 1930s were either terribly misguided or worse.

And those who defend them today are equally so.
3.6.2006 10:50pm
SteveMG (mail):
"Whatever the extent of Soviet espionage in the U.S.A., it had nothing to do with the CPUSA

And Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were just members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks?

3.6.2006 11:27pm
Visitor Again:
Fifteen years ago, serious historians were saying this with a straight face, and though they should have known better then, the contrary evidence is now so strong that no one believes that.

Oh, David, what most of these scholars do not acknowledge is how bitterly disappointed they were that the post-Soviet Union revelations about CPUSA members' involvement in illegal conduct have been so meager. They make the most--and even more--of what they have, though, slender asnd speculative as it is. The proposition that espionage, sabotage, terrorism, violence and the like was even remotely the stuff of CPUSA members' concerns and conduct remains preposterous.

The problem is that most of the commenters take the worst thing they can find about someone with some connection to the CPUSA and ascribe it to all CPUSA members. Guilt by association--in its most strained form--remains a powerful force in the VC world. I suspect few of them can conceive that someone may at the same time believe in Marxist ideology and yet remain a moral and decent person. I further suspect that most of them believe CPUSA members have never been right about anything that matters or done anything good.

I stand by my original point, which is that those who condemn CPUSA members in blanket fashion as evil and immoral paint with far too broad a brush. Although it is easier and much more conforting to view the world in black and white terms, that approach rarely, if ever, comports with reality and offers no help in understanding it, even if it is dressed as scholarship rather than myth or legend.
3.7.2006 11:22am
As of 1934 at least, the Communists hadn't quite gotten their mitts on Hollywood, as is evidence by the infamous campaign against Upton Sinclair for Governor of California.
3.7.2006 11:45am
Mona (mail):
The best online source for learning about the depravity of the CPUSA is the History of American Communism scholars list. Premiere Cold War historians such as John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr -- who first treated the Venona subject -- participate there. The CPUSA and its members were slavishly dedicated to the goals of a murderous totalitarian monster named Joseph Stalin; Haynes, Klehr and others make this clear with a super-abundance of evidence. The Hollywood Communists exerted Stalinist discipline on their members who deviated in any manner from agit-prop themes as those were dictated by Moscow.

Browsing and searching at HOAC is a most fruitful endeavor for any who wish to fully understand the evil beliefs and behavior of the CPUSA.
3.7.2006 12:59pm
Mona (mail):
The proposition that espionage, sabotage, terrorism, violence and the like was even remotely the stuff of CPUSA members' concerns and conduct remains preposterous.

Not preposterous at all. Any CPUSA member was willing to do any of those things, and if they did not do them it was only by virtue of not having been ordered to. Absolute, unquestioning loyalty to Joseph Stalin was a sine qua non, defining attribute of CPUSA membership, as was a willingness to submit utterly to Party discipline and all orders. Those who could not be loyal to Stalin, or who bucked discipline, stopped being CPUSA members, either voluntarily or by purge.

Go take a gander at HOAC. Check especially posts by Haynes, Klehr, Radosh, Schwartz and Biechman.
3.7.2006 1:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The list of CPUSA members who saw the light about the USSR and then quit is interesting. They don't seem to have quit when the stuff happened, or when it was at least knowable that it happened. They quit when it could no longer be publicly denied. So it wasn't being associated with the horrors that bothered them. It was being seen to be associated with the horrors.

Moral person who defends Stalin.... Hmm.
3.7.2006 1:15pm

Moral person who defends Stalin.... Hmm.

Sort of like a person who believes in the Constitution defending Bush's actions on FISA ... Hmmm.

(Hee Hee. Sorry, Couldn't resist!)
3.7.2006 1:27pm
Mona (mail):

Sort of like a person who believes in the Constitution defending Bush's actions on FISA ... Hmmm.

I believe Bush's behavior is an impeachable offense.

But those who disagree are not remotely in the category with those CPUSA members who sold their bodies and souls into the service of a malignant tyrant like Joseph Stalin.
3.7.2006 1:38pm
Don't worry, Mona, I know that.
3.7.2006 1:45pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Visitor Again wrote:

"Oh my God, the last thing any CPUSA member wanted was war between the Soviet Union and the USA."

Of course most of them wanted a war. Just as long as the Soviets handily won.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
3.7.2006 5:02pm