Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 27, 2019

The Johnson County War

Filed under: Counterpunch,farming,Film — louisproyect @ 2:26 pm


While channel surfing the other night, I was intrigued to see “Heaven’s Gate” playing on Showtime, Michael Cimino’s 1980 revisionist Western that many critics viewed as both a Marxist tract in the vein of Luchino Visconti and the greatest flop in Hollywood history. That the two views could be the most common refrains about the film tells you a lot about the spurious characterization of Tinseltown as “leftist”.

In a fascinating account of the film’s Hindenburg-like crash, “Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists”, Stephen Bach describes how in his view a talented egomaniac brought down a legendary film studio that was launched by Charlie Chaplin and others to guarantee artistic independence. None of UA’s forefathers could have imagined that a Marxist-inspired film might be its undoing.

I saw “Heaven’s Gate” when it first came out in 1980 and made a case for it among my Trotskyist comrades who had little interest in films except for the usual Saturday night entertainment. “Heaven’s Gate” was a cinematic tour de force but hardly entertaining. It was a grim study of how class power in Johnson County, Wyoming ensured the victory of wealthy ranchers over small landowners who benefited from the Homestead Act of 1862 that was designed to build support for the Republican Party against Democratic Party plutocrats. Ironically, when the Johnson County War broke out in 1892, the Democrats were the party of the poor farmer with their presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan taking up their cause. All the big ranchers in Wyoming were rock-ribbed Republicans, just as they are today in most cases.

Continue reading


  1. Bryan was an obscure congressman from Nebraska in 1892, The Democratic Party was dominated by Cleveland and his east coast banker friends. Bryan won the nomination in 1896 long after, I gather, the war was over.

    Comment by Chris Harries — September 27, 2019 @ 11:32 pm

  2. You’re right but there was continued violence through most of the 90s. That’s when Bryan’s support grew more important.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 28, 2019 @ 12:01 am

  3. Werent the democrats running the blowhard Bryan in order to co opt the supporters of the independent populist party, which united black and white farmers across the south and threatened the rule of the racist rich there…and in the rest of the country? Wasn’t Jim Crow instituted in order to ensure that that kind of bi racial unity of the poor never got off the ground again?

    Why wasn’t the SWP more interested in the politics of film…didn’t they ever watch any of the stuff that came out warner brothers in the depression days or know about the Hollywood ten? Let alone al of the political films that were coming out in the late sixties and early seventies? I remember reading one article by Arthur Maglin on the subject in the ISR magazine on the subject.t

    Comment by Roy rollin — September 28, 2019 @ 1:44 pm

  4. Cimino a telented egomaniac? An egomaniac possibly, talented certainly not, a scam pure and simple, just like the rest of New Hollywood, why people like Scorcese and Coppola are considered major filmakers is beyond me. In my list of great filmakers from the US at the top are by far Welles, Kubrick, Huston and Jarmush, and then by a considerable margin Woody Allen and the Cohen brothers, but only because of one film, Zelig in Allen’s case and The Man Who Wasn’t There in the Cohen’s.

    Comment by Maximilian1979 — October 8, 2019 @ 4:42 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: