This past weekend at the Liberty Film Festival, in addition to the great flicks I saw, I also enjoyed some fascinating panel discussions. My friend Craig Titley and one of my favorite bloggers, Roger Simon, participated in the Screenwriters’ Panel (perhaps more on that anon) while a panel on the Hollywood Blacklist, a diverse array of speakers considered the question, “Was Communism a Threat to Hollywood?” (I wonder if a liberal film fest would include such a mixed group.)
Impressed by the panel, I bought two of the participants’ books, Richard Schickel’s book on Elia Kazan (in large part because that graduate of America’s finest small college is one of my favorite directors) and Ronald Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left. I began reading Radosh’s book just a few minutes after buying and have found it hard to put down.
In the early chapters, he addresses the idealism of the early Hollywood communists. Back then, communism represented a path to build a better world. Some Hollywood celebrities who joined — or were linked to the Communist Party through their associations or their support of causes with which Communists were involved — did so because of their own experiences with poverty. Others signed up because, in the 1930s (until the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939), the Communists provided leadership “in the resistance to fascism.”
In testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1940, James Cagney explained his involvement:
Under the circumstances under which I was raised . . ., I saw poverty on all sides for a long time. Such a thing leaves its impression; you can’t go through life and build a wall around yourself and say “Everything is fine for me and to hell with the other fellow.”
For the 1930s idealists, Communism served as a positive means to address pressing problems like poverty and what we today would call, social injustice. And the first nation to adopt communism, the Soviet Union, became a “mythic homeland of the radical imagination where the future was being born every day.”
Contrast the idealism of the early Communists with the attitudes of today’s leftists. In the 1930s, leftists had a noble vision of a better world. Today, leftists just project a nasty image onto many present-day leaders, particularly President Bush and his closest associates. They seem more interested in trashing their opponents than in putting forward a positive vision of what they would do in his stead.
To be sure, there are some similarities. Back then, many ignored evidence of serious problems in the Soviet Union (like famine, repression and purges) which detracted from their rosy images of that mythic homeland. Today, opponents of President Bush ignore facts which get in the way of their negative image of him as the latest incarnation of Hitler, a man incapable of doing any good. (in their view, a man whose very word produces evil.)
Just look at their stance on Iraq. They focus on the negative there–today moveon.org seems to be gloating over the 2,000th death–and ignore or explain away positive developments. While property values increasing in Baghdad, with the Iraqi economy growing and people voting in large numbers for a new Constitution, leftists focus on the deaths. When pressed to offer a solution to the situation, they repeat the mantra that our troops should leave, a prospect which would only exacerbate Iraq’s problems.
But, they don’t seem to care; they don’t have a positive vision for the citizens of Iraq. Communists once had (and some may still have) a vision for impoverished nations — for those lands then suffering under the burdens of colonialism. While that vision has lead to poverty and starvation, those who first offered it were not then aware of its tragic results. They thought that Communism would improve things there rather than make them worse.
As the failure of Communism in the Soviet Union — and elsewhere — became manifest, many Communists of the 1930s came to see the errors of their ways and broke with the party and its ideology. Others left because of the party’s strict discipline. (In this book, which I read as an undergraduate, a number of writers reflect on their disillusionment with Communism.)
While we can fault the ideology of leftists in the 1930s, their naif belief in Soviet propaganda, we must at least acknowledge their idealism. Instead of idealism, cynicism defines the leftists of today. They are more interested in opposing a leader they detest than in promoting a positive vision of the future.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com