Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 23, 2017

How Jacobin got Henry Wallace wrong

Filed under: anti-Communism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 8:10 pm

Like the last issue of Jacobin that attempted—poorly—to theorize ecology, the latest one devoted to the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution has generated controversy. John Bellamy Foster took apart the last issue and the ISO’s Todd Chretien has a whack at the new one that dispenses with his usually genial manner. He quite rightly views the “garlic” article by Connor Kilpatrick and Adaner Usmani as having a conclusion that “doesn’t even pass the smell test” and advancing “a rotten old argument.” That’s even more brutal that my commentary on the article.

When I heard that there was an article in the latest issue by editorial board member Seth Ackerman dumping on Henry Wallace, I decided to comment on it as well especially since my good friend Michael Yates of Monthly Review loathed it.

Ackerman is a fairly typical Jacobin type, working on a Ph.D. in history at Cornell University and who supports Democratic Party candidates using circumlocutions that might have made Gus Hall dizzy:

Decisions about how individual candidates appear on the ballot would be made on a case-by-case basis and on pragmatic grounds, depending on the election laws and partisan coloration of the state or district in question. In any given race, the organization could choose to run in major- or minor-party primaries, as nonpartisan independents, or even, theoretically, on the organization’s own ballot line.

This, of course, dovetails with Eric Blanc’s defense of the Non-Partisan League running campaigns on the Democratic Party ballot line 90 years ago as well as the dodgy strategy now being carried out by the DSA.

Alarm bells went off early on in Ackerman’s article (behind a paywall) when it charged Henry Wallace being a dupe of the Communist Party. He cited a historian named Thomas W. Devine whose “devastating account” of the 1948 Progressive Party in a book titled “Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism” fingered all the reds. A New Yorker article I remember well hailed Devine’s research:

Wallace’s relationship with Communism is the most fraught aspect of his career, and it dominates Devine’s book, which might be called a revision of the revisionists. At intervals since the seventies, scholars on the left have argued that Wallace’s politics—embodied most conspicuously in his run for the Presidency on the Progressive Party ticket, in 1948—opened a window of opportunity for the advancement of labor, race, and internationalist causes, and that Cold War red-baiting closed it prematurely.

I guess I am one of those revisionists since I not only singled out his campaign as a model for the left but criticized the SWP for not having the brains to get involved with it back in 1948. In discussions with Sol Dollinger, a supporter of the Cochranite group that I strongly identify with, I learned that Bert Cochran, Harry Braverman, and the mostly working-class supporters of the American Socialist magazine viewed the SWP’s hostility to Wallace as a symptom of the party’s Stalinophobia.

In summing up the Wallace campaign, Ackerman was likely recycling Devine’s conclusions, among which was that it “catastrophically isolated the Communist Party, sundering its ties to the labor movement and heightening its vulnerability to the coming tsunami of Cold War repression.” Strange. I always thought that the CP’s isolation (I would call it persecution) began with Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech. That was followed up a year later by Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9835 that would purge “disloyal” employees from government jobs. As I have often stated, McCarthyism began under Truman.

Doing a search in JSTOR revealed that Devine’s scholarly contributions appear rather meager, consisting of only 4 book reviews. Consistent with his detective work on the Wallace campaign was a review of a book by David Everitt titled “A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television” that Devine recommended because it debunked the notion that McCarthyism was an unprecedented “reign of terror” in which cynical, venal “red hunters” deliberately and relentlessly destroyed the lives and careers of anyone who so much as expressed support for racial equality or civil liberties”. Devine described this as “gauzy romanticism”.

The NY Sun, a shitty rightwing newspaper that was founded by the arch-reactionary billionaire Conrad Black and other scumbags, loved Everitt’s book as well. A reviewer particularly liked the way it nailed John Henry Faulk, a victim of McCarthyism who I spoke to once when I was in Houston, Texas building support for the SWP’s suit against the FBI. Faulk was universally beloved on Texas left back then even though Leveritt hoped to wake people up to the red menace:

Though he presented himself as a well-meaning, even naïve, liberal, Faulk was in fact a hardened left-winger with communist sympathies who privately denigrated the country he lived in. He was hardly the “Southern liberal … who detested Communism,” as Nizer put it on the witness stand; he even believed the Korean War had been planned by John Foster Dulles and Douglas MacArthur in conjunction with the pro-Chiang Kai-shek China lobby, each determined to introduce a policy that would offset the effects of the American abandonment of China.

Ah, yes. What a blackguard.

Is this really the way that the fucking Jacobin is going? What a shame.

I’ll defend Henry Wallace any day of the week, sticking to my “revisionist” convictions of the late 60s. If that disqualifies me as a “new Communist” in Adaner Usmani and Connor Kilpatrick’s eyes, so be it.

Here’s the way I see it.

During the 1930s there were opportunities for a third party based on the trade union movement, but because of the hegemony of the Communist Party, they were squandered. FDR’s New Deal attracted the blind support of the CP, even as the party ran its own ineffective propaganda campaigns for president.

Ironically it was the turn of the US ruling class against the New Deal consensus that precipitated a third party initiative in 1948, the Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace. In many ways, Wallace symbolized the most progressive aspects of the New Deal. As Secretary of Agriculture, he and colleague Harold Ickes played the role of liberal conscience in the FDR cabinet. He took the principles of the New Deal at face value and decided to launch the Progressive Party in the face of what he considered their betrayal at the hands of Harry Truman.

The Wallace campaign has served as a whipping boy for dogmatic Marxist electoral theorizing, much of which I took seriously when I was in the Trotskyist movement. It was supposed to prove what a dead end middle class electoral politics was, in contrast to the insurmountable power and logic of a Labor Party. Unfortunately, the Labor Party existed only in the realm of propaganda while the Wallace campaign, with all its flaws, existed in the realm of reality.

While most people are aware of Wallace’s resistance to the Cold War and to some of the more egregious anti-union policies of the Democrats and Republicans, it is important to stress the degree to which his campaign embraced the nascent civil rights movement.

Early in the campaign, Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his party’s principles, he announced in advance that he would neither address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major politician. Wallace paid for it dearly. In a generally hostile study of Henry Wallace (Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a New World Order, Graham White and John Maze), the authors begrudgingly pay their respects to the courage and militancy of the candidate:

The southern tour had begun peacefully enough in Virginia, despite the existence in that state of a law banning racially mixed public assemblies. In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Richmond, Wallace spoke to unsegregated and largely receptive audiences. But when the party went on into supposedly more liberal North Carolina, where there was no law against unsegregated meetings, the violence started. A near riot preceded his first address, and a supporter, James D. Harris of Charlotte, was stabbed twice in the arm and six times in the back. The next day there was no bloodshed, but Wallace was subjected to a barrage of eggs and fruit, and the crowd of about five hundred got so completely out of control that he had to abandon his speech. At Hickory, North Carolina, the barrage of eggs and tomatoes and the shouting were so furious that Wallace was prevented from speaking, but he tried to deliver a parting thrust over the public address system: ‘As Jesus Christ told his disciples, when you enter a town that will not hear you willingly, then shake the dust of that town from your feet and go elsewhere.’ If they closed their minds against his message, he would, like Jesus Christ, abandon them to their iniquity.

Wallace was trounced badly as a result of Truman’s demagogic appeal to some bread-and-butter issues supported by the trade union bureaucracy, which was also working overtime to purge CP’ers out of the trade unions. Furthermore, since the CP had done nothing to defend trade union prerogatives during WWII, even to the extent of supporting speed up, many rank and filers considered them to be enemies of the labor movement. On top of this, the 1948 CP coup in Czechoslovakia against the social democratic government of Edward Benes alienated many liberals and even some leftists. Despite efforts by Wallace to keep Stalin at arm’s length, the rightwing in the United States was able to exploit resentment over the situation in Czechoslovakia and paint Wallace as a “Communist dupe”.

When the votes were counted, Wallace only received 2.37 percent of the total. This disaster set the tone for a general offensive against the left in the US, focusing particularly on the CP. In no time at all, the witch-hunt was unleashed, mobs attacked the Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, and the Korean War broke out. There is very little doubt that the Wallace campaign and the forces gathered around it were the sole force capable at that time of putting a roadblock in the way of this quasi-fascist movement. If the labor movement had not been put on the defensive, if the civil rights movement had been able to move ahead under the general framework of Progressive Party campaigns, perhaps the dismal 1950s would have not been inevitable. This is not a socialist revolution, but it is the real class struggle nonetheless. Seeing the relationship between the two processes requires some dialectical insight.


March 17, 2016

The Happy Jack Fish-Hatchery Papers: Dalton Trumbo versus Steve Allen

Filed under: anti-Communism,humor — louisproyect @ 11:49 pm

Dalton Trumbo

Steve Allen

After I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I always kept a certain distance from the pulsating heart of the movement that consisted of people on staff. This was partly a function of having a day job as a computer programmer and my pre-political existential identity forged by readings of books like Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.

Because of my detachment, I never saw any need to stop subscribing to Esquire, a magazine I had read since high school. Unlike Playboy, the magazine was much less about titillation than taste—including fine literature. It was quite a bit like Harpers but with articles about clothes and travel that I largely ignored.

In the January 1970 issue, there was a long article that you can read in its entirety below. It consisted of correspondence between Dalton Trumbo and original NBC Tonight show host Steve Allen over Allen’s role in redbaiting Trumbo. In 1969 Tom Bradley was running for Mayor of Los Angeles against Sam Yorty, a real son of a bitch reactionary. Allen wrote a letter to someone who had invited him to a fundraiser for Bradley at Trumbo’s house telling her basically that he should be shunned by liberals as a totalitarian.

It was in a way the last gasp of McCarthyism with Allen summoning up Arthur Schlesinger Jr. as an authority on how evil Communism was. Much of Trumbo’s correspondence was directed at Schlesinger’s intervention and was devastating. Allen’s last letter in the correspondence reveals a surprising obsession with 60s radicals, mentioning the Progressive Labor Party and the RYM faction of SDS. It is truly odious stuff.

The best way to describe Trumbo’s letters is a mixture of P.G. Wodehouse’s literary style and the searing polemical power of Alexander Cockburn at his best. At the time I laughed out loud at Trumbo and became a huge fan, even though I had scant knowledge of his life story or his screenplays. The only thing I knew about him was that he had written a novel called “Johnny Got His Gun” that my girlfriend at Bard—a Red diaper baby—raved about.

Interestingly enough, the correspondence that I scanned in was not from a Dalton Trumbo letters collection but from a Steve Allen collection called “But Seriously…” published in 1996. I can’t say that it redeems this insufferable liberal but I’m damned glad that he included it.

The Happy Jack Fish-Hatchery Papers

In which the Messrs. Steve Allen, Dalton Trumbo, and Art Schlesinger, Jr, debate the true meaning of liberalism

Reprinted from Esquire, January 1970 (published by the Hearst Corporation),

Mrs. Beata Inaya Los Angeles, California

February 26, 1969

Dear Mrs. Inaya:

Thank you for your letter of February 25th in which I am answering five minutes after reading.

I’m sorry to report that I’m already committed for the evening of Friday, March 14th and will therefore not be able to have pleasure of attending the party that evening in honor of Bradley. As I believe you know, I am participating in another affair in his honor on March 1st. It is absolutely none of my business that the March 14th affair is being held it the home of Mr. Dalton Trumbo, but I am assuming that those of you who are working so hard on Tom Bradley’s behalf must know that Mr. Bradley’s reactionary opponents will certainly make capital of the fact that Mr. Trumbo’s home is the setting for this particular occasion.

I know absolutely nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions, nor have I any particular interest in what his political affiliation might have been, say, a quarter of a century ago. I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. I have also been told he is a very likable individual personally and his position as one of our most talented screenwriters is widely acknowledged. It would in no way affect my own admiration for Mr Bradley that Mr. Trumbo might be one of his supporters but to go over the ground again if (a) Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion (something he has every right to be), and if (b) this fact is publicized by Mr. Bradley’s rightist political opposition, then (c) the March 14th affair will almost certainly be used in such a way as to cost Mr. Bradley a perhaps significant number of votes in this not-always-politically-enlightened city. I am perfectly willing to have you show this letter to Mr. Bradley, or to Mr. Trumbo for that matter, should you feel inclined to do so.

If Mr. Bradley’s present campaign is, let us say, similar to William Buckley’s in New York, in that winning is out of the question, but the race is run merely as a public profession of political principle, then, of course, my observations here will be irrelevant. But they do indeed have a relevance if Tom Bradley and his supporters are interested in winning the political contest.

Cordially yours, Steve Allen


Mr. Dalton Trumbo Los Angeles, California

Dear Mr. Trumbo:

The Arts Division of the American Civil Liberties Union inaugurated its first Annual Playwriting Contest open to all students in any college or university in Southern California. The response was overwhelming and enthusiastic, and we now have the two award-winning student plays. They will be presented at the Stage Society Theatre in Los Angeles for four performances only, on Sunday afternoon, June 8 (preview performance for students), and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, June 9, 10, and 11. It is because I am certain that you share my interests in both encouraging young, fresh talent and the free expression of ideas that I am asking you to participate as a sponsor in this unique project with me. Only $25 from you not only helps to underwrite the cost of these productions, but it will also make it possible to invite two students to the preview performance on Sunday. Furthermore, your name will be listed on the program as a sponsor and you will receive two tickets for whichever evening performance you prefer. Please indicate your preference when you send your check made payable to the Arts Division, ACLU which I hope you will do now.

Thanks so much for your support.

Cordially, Arts Division

Arts Division
American Civil Liberties Union Los Angeles, California

May 7, 1969


Not so long ago, Mrs. Trumbo and I gave our names as sponsors for a liberal cause which I shall not mention here, and some-what reluctantly agreed to throw our house open in its behalf to a fund-raising party for 150 persons. Unknown to us, Mr. Steve Allen, who appears to be the doyen of the Hollywood liberal community, wrote a letter to the organization charging that the use of my name would provide rightists and reactionaries with an opportunity to defeat their organization and the cause for which it stood. Although no one had mentioned the matter to Mrs. Trumbo or me, and the invitations were already at the printers, the party was canceled forthwith, and we, quite after the fact, were notified of our undesirability. I did not like it, and I am resolved it shall not happen a second time. I shall be glad to sponsor the Arts Division, ACLU Playwriting Contest provided you can secure Allen’s written consent for my name to appear on your list. I know this seems odd, but it’s the only way I can think of to avoid another spasm of nastiness and, perhaps, disavowel. I enclose my check for $25 as a straight nonsponsoring contribution.

Cordially, Dalton Trumbo

cc: Mr. Steve Allen

Arts Division, American Civil Liberties Union

May 13, 1969


Mr. Dalton Trumbo was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his letter of May 7th to you. I shall naturally accord him the same favor in attempting to clarify the misunderstanding to which an earlier letter of mine has apparently given rise. I can quite understand Mr. Trumbo’s personal displeasure at the cancellation of a party for which, in the first place, he had agreed to serve as a somewhat reluctant host.

Secondly, I concede that he is correct in placing on my shoulders the primary blame for the cancellation of the party, although in referring to me as “the doyen of the Hollywood liberal community” he greatly exaggerates my influence upon liberal affairs in our com-munity. Nevertheless, my letter of February 26th did indeed recommend against the holding of the fundraising party in Mr. and Mrs. Trumbo’s home.

To make my motives in this instance perfectly clear, I quote here the relevant portions of the letter to which Mr. Trumbo objects:

“I know absolutely nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions, nor have I any particular interest in what his political affiliation might have been, say, a quarter of a century ago. I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. I have also been told he is a very likable individual personally and his position as one of our most talented screenwriters is widely acknowledged. It would in no way affect my own admiration for Mr Bradley that Mr. Trumbo might be one of his supporters but to go over the ground again if (a) Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion (something he has every right to be), and if (b) this fact is publicized by Mr. Bradley’s rightist political opposition, then (c) the March 14th affair will almost certainly be used in such a way as to cost Mr. Bradley a perhaps significant number of votes in this not-always-politically-enlightened city. I am perfectly willing to have you show this letter to Mr. Bradley, or to Mr. Trumbo for that matter, should you feel inclined to do so.

“If Mr. Bradley’s present campaign is, let us say, similar to William Buckley’s in New York, in that winning is out of the question, but the race is run merely as a public profession of political principle, then, of course, my observations here will be irrelevant. But they do indeed have a relevance if Tom Bradley and his supporters are interested in winning the political contest.”

Now may I draw your attention to something in Mr. Trumbo’s letter of May 7th which is possibly critically significant in this context. In his first paragraph he chooses not to identify Mr. Bradley’s campaign but refers only to “a liberal cause which I shall not mention here. . . .” While it is conceivable that Mr. Trumbo omits Bradley’s name because he has decided to base his argument on principle rather than on specifics, it seems to me more probable that he is motivated by a generous reluctance to draw Mr. Bradley’s name into this discussion at a moment in the mayoralty race when it is unwise to rock boats. If the latter hypothesis is the valid one then perhaps, in choosing not now to link his name with that of Mr. Bradley, Mr. Trumbo may be motivated by precisely those considerations which dictated the writing of my letter of February 26th.

Mr. Trumbo seems to feel that the party at his house was cancelled on my instructions. Such was not the case. I simply brought certain considerations of political expediency to the attention of one of Mr. Bradley’s campaign workers. Apparently my letter was forwarded to higher-placed members of Mr. Bradley’s staff; presumably it was these workers who issued the cancellation order. It is clear, I would think, that only someone more formally associated with Mr. Bradley’s campaign would have the authority to dictate such a cancellation. I have no such authority. It is unfortunate that the reasons for the party’s cancellation we’re not explained to Mr. Trumbo before rather than after the fact, and again I say that his emotional response to the manner in which the situation was handled is quite understandable.

Mr. Trumbo is a witty and trenchant writer and I stand properly amused by the irony of his suggestion that he will sponsor the ACLU-Art Division’s Playwriting Contest provided only that the organization can secure my written consent for his name to appear on its list of sponsors. I have, of course, no more authority to prevent his association with the Arts Division-ACLU in this instance than I had to prevent his public association with Mr. Bradley’s campaign in the other. To this point my comments will probably have seemed unexceptionable to you, but concerning what I have now to say a raised eyebrow or two would be understandable. Can it indeed be the case that I have the temerity to recommend Mr. Trumbo’s rejection a second time, to rub salt in his wounds, to attempt, in my capacity as doyen, to banish him into that exterior darkness into which, from time to time, in recent history, various representatives of the non-Communist left in America have attempted to push their pro-Soviet or pro-Marxist associates?

The question is, alas, impossible to for the reason that I haven’t the slightest idea as to what Mr. Trumbo’s present position n the o political spectrum might be.

At which you should pin me to the wall and demand to know, in certain terms, what my recommendation in this matter would be if it could be absolutely certified–or even assumed for purposes of debate–that Mr. Trumbo is today a Communist and proud of it.

In which case I concede my strong anti-Communist bias. Since there are those seriously afflicted by the either–or disease–a malady apparently as common on the political Left as it is on the Right. I am therefore obliged to state that my opposition to political tyranny does indeed take in all 360 degrees of the circle that stretches to the political horizon, which is to say that I am also revolted by Nazism, Fascism, and McCarthyism. It is all very well for Communists to resent the criticisms of Liberals and Democratic Socialists; the hard fact remains that Liberals and Democratic Socialists in power do not send Communists to execution chambers and political prisons; whereas Communists in power in country after country—do indeed exercise a barbarous vengeance against those members of the non-Communist Left whom the Communists correctly identify as their true rivals for the political affections  of the masses.

It would be to a degree irrelevant and presumptuous here to review the political history of the first half-century but I cannot conceive how any true Liberal, being familiar with that history, could be anything but anti-Communist. As a Liberal, I am in favor of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and of freedom assemblage. But I know of no Communist society in which such freedoms exist. I am also opposed to the death penalty, as are most Liberals, but it is clear that Communist societies cannot function without the threat, and frequently the reality, of state murder. As a Liberal I am suspicious of official censorship, but I observe that it is harshly dominant in all Communist cultures. As a Liberal I do not think a college student should automatically be considered a criminal if a marijuana cigarette is found in his possession, but we know of the utter ruthlessness with which Communist societies stamp out such instances of bourgeois decadence. The civil liberties the ACLU so courageously defends are not the foundation-stones of any existing Marxist society. The litany of specifics need not be continued; certainly the point is clear enough.

I concede–indeed, I fervently hope –that all of this may be utterly irrelevant in Mr. Trumbo’s case. If it is, I and would be greatly relieved —assuming the man has not forsaken one tyranny for another would therefore be willing to be associated with him in a worthwhile social endeavor as I would with any other law-abiding citizen.

I have frequently been a stern critic of American society and expect to function as such in the future, but for years I have consistently maintained the position that it does not profit the non-Communist political Left to be formally allied with those who will endorse a Liberal cause only when to do so coincides with the purposes of Moscow or Peking in Vietnam, for example, what I hope for is peace; therefore I cannot cooperate with those who are motivated primarily by hopes of victory for Ho Chi Minh.

I leave you, gentlemen to determine the relevance, if any, of these observations to the case which Mr. Trumbo’s letter has brought to your attention.

Most cordially yours, Steve Allen

cc Mr. Dalton Trumbo, Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster

Mr. Steve Allen, Encino, California

May 19, 1969

My dear Stern-Critic-of-American-Society-Who-Expects-to-Function-as-Such-in-the-Future:

Thanks for the copy of your May 13th Epistle to the Thespians. It soars. One must stand back to gain perspective. After just two readings I am a much better citizen than I really wanted to be.

Beyond adding three splendid new names to our circle of readers, you have also cast a dazzling light on that gritty little cancelled campaign party by placing it in bold juxtaposition with the political history of the first half-century, the non-Communist left, pro-Soviet or pro-Marxist associates, Communism, anti-Communist bias, the Left, the Right, political tyranny, Nazism, Fascism, McCarthyism, Liberals, Democratic Socialists, execution chambers, political prisons, vengeance, the masses, the true Liberal, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assemblage, the death penalty, state murder, official censorship, the marijuana laws, ruthlessness, bourgeois decadence, civil liberties, Marxist society, American society, Moscow, Peking, peace, Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh. Unhappily my fuller comment must be deferred because of a pledge I made to refrain from using certain names connected with the matter under discussion until after the election. Pending that time, however, allow me to toss a few of my own hang-ups into the pot which you have so generously provided, to wit:

The French withdrawal from NATO, British entry into the Common Market, abolition of the statute of limitations in West Germany, the prevalence of Huntington’s chorea in the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman, equal access to the southern fishing banks of Iceland, the plight of West Irianese refugees and the Free Papua Liberation Command, the population explosion among North European elvers, the theft of four paintings from the collection of the Ninth Earl of Linster at Rudford Castle near Cockermouth, the demotion of Sophronia as patron saint of toothaches, the effect of the Spitz-Holter valve on hydrocephalic children, Portnoy’s Complaint, the Schism of Photius, the Black Panther Party, tax relic treasury notes, family foundations, tapped telephones, pornographic pictures, mandragora, nerve gas, vervain, air pollution, euthanasia, law and order, academic freedom, mace, the pill, yohimbe root, penis envy, stainless stealing, fire-buggery, Aristotle Onassis, Eldridge Cleaver, Abe Fortas, Patricia Nixon, Prince Abdul Rahman, Cesar Chavez, Andy Warhol, and Brenda Holt 23, who died two weeks ago in Canterbury, England, of diet restricted to honey, cereals and dandelion coffee. I am passionately concerned with every one of these issues, some of which are more sinister than they sound, and confident that our forthcoming discussion of them, and those which you have introduced, cannot fail to provide our accumulated pen pals with much nourishment.

Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo

cc: Mr. Steve Allen, Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright

Mr. Steve Allen

May 21, 1969

Dear Mr. Allen:

In my note of May 7 to the Arts Division, ACLU, the word disavowal was spelled disavowel. My secretary’s mistake. In my letter to you of May 19 I identified St. Sophronia as the dethroned patroness of toothaches. The personage referred to was actually St. Apollonia (her day is February 9). My mistake.

In your May 13 Epistle to the Thespians the following line was quoted from your February 26 letter to Mrs. Beata Inaya: “I know nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions. . . .” The original letter, of which you forgot to send me a copy, reads: “I know absolutely (my italics) nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s” etc. Your History is watching us, Mr. Allen. We serve larger purposes than our own. Let’s show our best profiles by keeping the record straight.

Faithfully yours, Dalton Trumbo

P.S. I discover in this morning’s mail that Senator Cranston and Congressmen Bell and Rees are bugging me for a contribution to you-know-who’s campaign. My name on a check? Don’t they know, for God sake?

cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall


Mr. Steve Allen

May 22, 1969

Dear Mr. Allen:

I hate to interrupt your meditations at a moment when the campaign approaches its climax, but my God, Mr. Allen, I’ve got another crisis. Before I tell you exactly what it is, I think I owe you an explanation of what led up to it.

Some time ago, when your concern for America and me was less apparent than today, I chaired a public dinner which sported, in addition to a congressman or two, more municipal and superior court judges than I’m really comfortable with. I thought the thing went off rather well: the only guest (an assemblyman) who put his feet on the table had clean shoes, nobody hoicked on the chicken supréme, nobody snerched too loud, and everything seemed real nice.

For some reason I’m not quite sure of (perhaps because my presence in the chair drew no attacks from right-wing reactionaries and the rest of that scum) somebody must have spread the word that I was a hell of a chairman, because not long afterward I was asked to chair another dinner in honor of somebody else, and I’ve got to confess that but for a previously scheduled pilgrimage to various shrines and cadavers of the sonofabitch side of the Iron Curtain, I’d have accepted. That I did not is probably the finest thing which ever happened to that particular honoree, although he himself has never acknowledged my part in his good fortune or even thanked me for it. On the other hand, how can you expect a man to be grateful for escaping an accident he wasn’t in and never heard of? You can’t. You just have to forget the whole thing and keep on living, which is exactly what I did and still am.

And then this thing happened that I’ve got to tell you about: last evening, in that hour which finds all highstrung chaps awash pick-me-up, I was requested by telephone to chair a dinner honoring Mr. Julian Bond. The request was almost as importunate as of Miss Beata Inaya to grab our house in behalf of you-know-and I, perhaps because of pick-me-up, perhaps because of that restless, feckless, reckless streak which keeps running down the middle of my back to dilute my character and befog the luster of my name, accepted.

However, on awakening this morning to the full glow of sunlight and sobriety, I fell at once into a kind of intellectual sweating fit, or whatever it is you call that particular condition which induced by the collision of a bad conscience with a faulty nerve system. I said to myself, you fool, I said Mr. Allen is every bit interested in the triumph of Mr. Bond’s cause as he is of you-know who’s, and when Mr. Allen is interested in something, he doesn’t just sit around like some crumbum the way you do, he acts; things happen. Sooner or later he’ll find out about what you did last night, compute the evil that’s bound to flow from it, and five minus later —–bang!–another torpedo zoops off the old launching pad.

And as if that weren’t enough, you, poor fool, will know nothing about what’s zeroing in until that penultimate moment when (loins neuterized with dusty philters, armpits sweetened, black tie only slightly askew, spirits already afloat on wings of imaginary applause) you find yourself diving through cold thin air with the wind in your ears, shot down once more for the fallen angel you never deserved to be.

What shall I do, Mr. Allen?

Shall I tell them I was drunk when I accepted? I could, of course, if you think it best, but if I say that too often people will get the idea I’m fried all the time, and for a man who needs steady work that isn’t a good image to have projecting itself around the community. Shall I say I’m going to be too sick to show? The trouble with this is that they’ve scheduled the gala three months in advance, and to say now that I’ll be sick then may suggest that I got lucky and hit Big Casino, and this isn’t too good from my point of view either, because health is very big these days and we live in a town that cancerated writers about as badly as a bull blowfly needs a good squirt of Black Flag. There could have been the possibility asking them to clear it through you at the outset, but I tried that with the Arts Division, ACLU, and what happened? Your Epistle to Thespians, that’s what: cc’s flying through the air like pessaries at a campus love-in, pregnant problems aborting in practically everybody’s backyard, grim-faced ideological buzzards flapping home to roost in the most improbable places, sacred geese rocketing at full quack through esplanades and public squares, befouling with their startled excrement the fairest freeways in all our New Jerusalem–well, Mr. Allen, I sure don’t want much more of that and I hope you don’t either. But how shall I go about avoiding it?

Would you advise me to turn myself in like a man (which is not in my nature)? Go back where I came from (which seems a reproach on my people who split the joint over two hundred years back)? Pretend I’ve been brought to bed with Huntington’s chorea (which at least has the virtue of rarity)? Get myself hauled up before some Committee so the real truth at last may be known (which, to survive, requires the kind of luck I haven’t got)? Square the whole thing off by blowing out my brains (which probably takes sharper shooting than I’m up to)? Or should I just sort of hunker down and let her blow (which depends a good deal on the condition of your hunkers)?

In any event, Mr. Allen, the man doesn’t live who can say I’ve been sneaky about this thing or insensitive to the consequences of my existence to the dedicated community over which you stand your lonely, solitary, but not always silent guard. I’ve told you frankly, honestly, and exactly where the bear sits in the buckwheat. All I ask in return is your advice on how to bag him or get the hell out of his hunting range.

Please send me your thoughts as soon as possible, because the pot is simmering here on the back of the stove, and she’s tighter scaled than a bull’s you-know-what in choke-cherry season, and something’s bound to blow a lot sooner than I want it to.

Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo

cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea

Mr. Steve Allen

May 23, 1969

Dear Mr. Allen:

Well, here I am again. The problem may not seem very important to most of our correspondents, but that makes it no less a problem, and I hope I’ve dealt with it in a way that will make you proud of me.

The Ninth Earl of Linster, who has been shacked up in Chula Vista these past three months house-guesting on a bewildered pair of old family retainers, informs me that although your letter of February 26 was addressed to Miss Beata Inaya, my note of May 21 referred to her as Mrs. He feels that the difference between those two forms of address involves a rather substantial difference in the kind of person any lady actually is, and begs me to clear the matter up at my earliest possible convenience, which, luckily, is right now.

I have replied to him as follows:

“My Dear Ninth Earl:

“The marital situation of the lady in question is absolutely none of my business. I know absolutely nothing of her present marital status, nor have I any particular interest in what it may have been, say, a quarter-century ago. I assume, however, that at one time she was indeed a single woman.

“It would not in any way affect my own admiration of you-know-who that the lady in question might be one of his supporters, but if (a) she is today a single woman (something she has every legal right to be), and if (b) that fact is publicized by you-know-who’s reactionary rightist political opposition, then (c) her connection with you-know-who will almost certainly be used in such a way as to imply that his feminine support derives exclusively from virgins, maidens, and spinsters, thereby costing him a perhaps significant number of votes amongst that large bloc of married, divorced, or widowed females, which has long infested this not-always-politically-enlightened city.

“It was, perhaps, my unconscious desire to avoid such a split which caused me to refer to the lady as Mrs. I leave it to to you to determine the relevance, if any, of these observations to the case you have brought to my attention. Most cordially yours, etc., etc.”

I hope you will agree with me that this prompt response to Linster of Radford near Cockermouth (who is, in any event, an alien) clarifies more issues than at it would seem to at first glance it would seem to.

Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo

P.S. I solved that other problem re: being bugged by Cranston, Bell, and Rees re: you-know-who by sending a small check signed with my accountant’s name rather than my own. I pray, however, that we’ve got a loyal campaign staff, because you know as well as I do that in these critical times the gander’s pragmatic virtue almost always turns into the goose’s subversive conspiracy, which means that all hell is bound to break loose if my caper is leaked to our opponents of the extremely reactionary right. Right?

cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al-Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea, Princess Conchita Pignatelli, Estate of Miss Brenda Holton

Mr. Dalton Trumbo

May 29, 1969

Dear Mr. Trumbo: Mr. Allen is presently in Indianapolis and will be leaving directly for Northern California for a few days. However, he will be back in town next week. In the meantime, Mr. Allen wanted me to drop you a note acknowledging your recent letters, and he wanted me to let you know that he will be answering them as soon as he returns.

Most cordially, Betty Brew, Secretary to Steve Allen

Miss Betty Drew
Secretary to Mr. Steve Allen Encino, California

June 2, 1969

Dear Miss Brew:

Thanks for informing me of Mr. Allen’s absence from the city and his intention to answer my letters when he returns. I must tell you, however, that from my point of view his Indianapolis and Northern California commitments have not come at a convenient time.

He won’t believe this (at first I didn’t either) but Sunday evening Mrs. Trumbo and I were invited to dine person to person and face to face with he-knows-who in the house of a mutual friend. Knowing how gross an abuse of free speech and assembly my presence at such an affair would constitute, dreading the impact of a second apostolic interdiction while not yet fully recovered from the first, I heard a voice remarkably like my own begging with the idiot’s excuse that we were departing the city Friday noon for a Mexican holiday which hadn’t entered my mind until that moment.

Since a chap in my position has to be even more scrupulous with the truth than Caesar with his wife’s, or vice versa, there was nothing for it but to transmute my lie into its opposite by immaculate proclamation of a southbound hegira to begin no later than 14 day noon, June 6, 1969.

Mrs. Trumbo, I’m sorry to report, didn’t take the news at well. For some years she has been doing whatever she can for a group of young preteenage and hopefully prepregnant sub-Aquarians who foregather throughout the mating season (June 1 throng August 31) each Saturday afternoon at Happy Jack’s Fish Hatcheries, 8041 North San Gabriel Canyon Road in Azusa, where they receive much enlightenment from pisciculture in general, and particular from unblinking observation of the relatively chaste techniques which characterize the breeding habits of even the most concupiscent among the fishes.

At their last meeting (end of August, 1968), in a somewhat rowdy but nonetheless moving demonstration of gratitude and loyalty, the youngsters unanimously chose Mrs. Trumbo to be Vice Den Mother for their 1969 season which begins, as anyone with calendar at hand can see, on Saturday next. I had written for the occasion a rather stirring First Inaugural Address (based in part on Mr. Allen’s Epistle to the Thespians) which can be rattled off in just under forty-seven crackling minutes; and Mrs. Trumbo, having memorized and come to believe it, thought poorly of a command holiday which was bound to spoil what she has lately taken to calling sentimentally, perhaps, but tot unjustifiably—her Vice-Den Mother’s Day among the pisciculturians.

Ethics, however, is ethics, and my honor, when it comes to a showdown, invariably takes precedence over hers. Result: we depart Los Angeles International Airport on Western Airlines’ Number 601 on Friday, June 6,1969, for Mexico City, where we shall be met by chartered car, driven forthwith to Cuernavaca, and lodged at Privada de Humboldt 92. Our mailing address, however, will be Apartado 1292, Cuernavaca, Morelos, etc. We can be reached by telephone almost daily between the hours of three and six-thirty A.M., central standard time, at Cuernavaca 2-31-38.

And why, do you ask, have we been put to all this hurly and stiffly and involuntary aggravating unexpected burly? Because I, in Sunday’s moment of mistruth, had no stern critic at hand to straighten my morals and narrow the range of my political and social pretensions. So much for NCLers who rush off to rival Communists for the political affections of the masses without preschooling their own acolytes in the mysteries of honest unilateral action.

Most respectfully, Dalton Trumbo

P.S. The Ninth Earl has somehow leapt to the untidy conclusion that Burt Lancaster is under house arrest as a carrier of Huntington’s chorea. Although I have done everything in my poor power to explain that no man on earth can carry a pestilence like H’s c (he has to haul it), I might just as well have spent my time hollering down some neighbor’s empty grain barrel. He has filed an emergency application with the Chula Vista branch of Travelers Aid for immediate transport to the Control Institute in Oman and Muscat, and compels his entire household, including two of the most dejected old family retainers you’ve ever seen, to wallow with him thrice daily in tubs of boiling Lysol hugely adulterated with white lye, sheep dip, and magnums of granulated loblolly flambé en brochette.

Raw-wise, the skins around that house have passed the point of no return, and for some reason I can’t fathom old Linster has tried four nights running to deposit the whole begrutten mess (the Sixth Earl married a Scotswoman described by a contemporary as “begrutten of face, large of wen and warp but small woof”) at my doorstep. For all his breeding, which I am told has been prodigious, the big L shows every sign of becoming, as we say in my middle class but hopeful precinct, just one more unwanted and ungrateful anguis in herbia.

cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, M George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Nitta Earl of Linster, Estate of Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Harolds() Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea, Princes Conchita Pignatelli, Estate of Miss Brenda Holton, Happy Jack Fish Hatcheries

Mr. Dalton Trumbo

June 13, 1969

Dear Mr. Trumbo:

I had a nightmare the other evening. It seemed that at some distant point of future time an enterprising publisher released a portly volume titled “The Trumbo-Allen Letters.” The book opens with your clever message of May 7th to the Arts Division of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is followed, of course, by my ponderous rejoinder of May 13th. The third letter is your brief note of May 21st, which clarifies a few points of minor significance. But then, where the reader might expect my response, he instead encounters your letter of May 22nd, your letter of May 23rd, your letter of May 24th, your letter of May 25th, your letter of May 26th, your letter of May 27th and so on–God help us ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad wolgast. Right to the end of the book.

At this point the scene quickly shifted, the way it can in dreams where no stagehands are involved. I not only asked myself, “Where do the polls have Tom Bradley?” but “Where do the Cubans have Eldridge Cleaver?” and “Where do the Nielsen’s have Gomer Pyle?”

I awakened with my heart beating mightily, concerning which I have no complaint, for the day will surely come when it will not beat it all. But be that as it may, and I see no reason to be sure it is, the explanation of the dream must be that I was beginning to fear I would never have time to answer your several letters. Or perhaps I was asking myself is this whole misunderstanding just another example of what can happen when entertainers get involved in politics?

In any event, I have not only had no time to write to you about the Tom Bradley Dinner incident, I have not even had time to write to Mr. Bradley himself; a particular shame since I had planned to suggest specific positions for him on the crucial issues of the day.

Reporter: “Mr. Bradley, what do you think about police brutality?”

Tom B.: “I think people are being entirely too brutal to the police.”

Reporter: “Do you think we should recognize the Red Chinese?”

Tom B.: “Well, they all look alike to me.”

Reporter: “As a former police lieutenant, what would you say to Mayor Yorty if you encountered him face-to-face at this moment?”

Tom B.: “You’re under arrest.”

What a pity, as I say, that all this, and more, never reached Tom because of the demands of my schedule.

But, you may retort, what doth it profit me to make such easy jokes when I have a flair for them?

Wrong. I have a typewriter for jokes. I use my flair for other purposes.

But all seriousness aside . . . it ill- behooves us to be joshing like this while our city crumbles about us. Whoever governs this disorganized metropolis, what does he propose to do about such problems as the recent parade held to commemorate Fire Prevention Week, a parade that blocked several fire trucks attempting to report to a nearby conflagration? Which–fire trucks being red–brings me back to the question of your political affiliation. You have me, of course, at a considerable disadvantage in that I am unable to know to what extent the straw-man Dalton Trumbo I have criticized corresponds with the real Dalton Trumbo. All I know about you that you are one of our industry’s best screenwriters and that at one time you were involved in a public confrontation which y including your name in a list of imaginary orchestral led to m aggregations such as Andy Kirk and his “Clouds of Joy,” Horace Heidt and his “Musical Knights,” Harry Horlick and “The A Gypsies,” Earl Warren and the Supremes, Red Nichols and “The Five Pennies,” and Dalton Trumbo and “The Unfriendly Ten.”

I am reminded at this point (and I’m glad to be reminded, to because this letter could use a good, funny line right now) of Bill Wilder’s observation that of the Unfriendly Ten “only two writers really talented; the rest were just unfriendly.” I’m sure you were one of the two. If you’ll tell me who the other one was, I’ll check and see if he had anything to do with Tom Bradley’s defeat.

It is most generous of you to pretend to honestly solicit my opinion as to whether you should withdraw from or honor your other forthcoming social commitments. On all of your specific questions I must simply beg off. I say again that I don’t know ifyou are presently a Communist. I do know that the ACLU was rent by a controversy about this general issue some years ago, and I suspect there are still at least two points of view on the question among members and officers of that admirable organization. I am obvit-ously more-or-less cemented into my view that Communists act-ing as such—cannot be trusted. Nor I readily concede—could I be trusted if, holding my present political views, I were a citizen of a Communist society. I am afraid I would be in rather constant abrasive perhaps even treasonable contact with the state because of my conviction that it was embarked on a disastrously erroneous course. But I am not only willing to make the distinction between a man’s political function and his function as husband, father, neighbor, dentist, screenwriter, golfing companion, or what-have-you; I absolutely insist on that distinction. Which is to say that while your letters testify to your wit, charm, and good grace, I would nevertheless be forced to oppose you to hamper you in your political capacity were you indeed a Marxist.

The fact remains that, while you and I have been composing witty letters to each other, poor Tom Bradley has lost the mayoralty race. All Yorty had to do to defeat him was confuse perhaps 5 or 10 percent of the electorate as regards the issues of racial intemperance and Communist influence. Gus Hall’s incredible stupidity in recommending support of Bradley to his followers at a formal Communist party meeting however supposedly private is consistent with the long history of such mistakes on the part of CP functionaries. It is true that at present perhaps a larger percentage than usual of embittered youth are so disillusioned with the American system that they are willing to entertain a Marxist alternative. I suppose some of them would be willing to rally around the banner of Attila-the-Hun if some fiery spokesman for that cause would insult our present traders colorfully enough. But with this one exception, Communists are now —as they have been for decades —about as popular with the American electorate as Nazi storm troopers at a Bar Mitzvah. There can be no question that the Gus Hall incident cost Bradley a number of votes in this peculiar community. Certainly the polls show that Bradley lost the race in the last few days, since he was far ahead for several weeks before the contest went to the wire.

While–as I previously made clear—I can understand your feeling hurt at being treated as something of a pariah, I ask you honestly what public capital you think Mr. Yorty would have made out of your hosting a dinner on Mr. Bradley’s behalf, had information about the affair come to his attention. As regards my not knowing whether Beata Inaya was a Miss or Mrs., I stand corrected, which is understandable, since I’m wearing surgical hose at the moment. To tell you the truth—inasmuch as the lady signs her letters simply “Beata Inaya”–I didn’t even know for sure she was a woman until I met her. I suspected hers was one of those African or Muslim names presently sported by so many of our black brethren along with colorful, flowing robes and “natural” hairdos. In reviewing my own correspondence with the good lady I find that I addressed her on February 26th as Mrs. and on April 3rd as Miss. For all I know, she may be some kind of a Communist, too, who one day acts like a Mrs. and the next day as a Miss, just to throw me off the track. It is clear that the name itself sounds suspiciously un-Waspish. Beata Inaya, indeed! Personally, I’ve never beaten an Inaya in my life and at a time when the pope is reneging on beatifications right and left, it ill-behooves a woman arbitrarily to beatify herself.

Well, enough of the chit-chat, which I was about to call Tom-foolery, but will not, out of respect to Mr. Bradley. I repeat, we have our nerve kidding about all this when conditions in the city worsen day by day. Last night the police in the Griffith Park area got a call for help. From three muggers. And just try to bring other actors to line up seriously in support of one worthy cause or another. Polly Bergen cares more about her turtle oil. Debbie Reynolds cares more about her Girl Scouts. George Jessel is so old he’s concerned only with his infirmities. At the moment I believe he is suffering from bleeding Madras. If you’ll forgive me, I must close now as I am overdue in getting out to local authorities a report of an accident I witnessed this morning on an off-ramp of the Ventura Freeway. It seems a Coupe de Ville gave the coupe de grace to a pedestrian.

Yours in haste, Steve Allen

cc: Burt Lancaster, Lance Burtcaster, Burnt Flycaster, Bald Broadcaster, Aristotle Onassis, George Givot, Euripides Pants, Stannous Fluoride

Mr. Steve Allen

July 17, 1969

Dear Mr. Allen: I was out of the city when your letter of June 13 arrived. Although it was forwarded to me, the pressure of working away from home prevented me from answering it as promptly as I’d have liked to. I must now clean up a few matters that accumulated during my absence, after which I shall address myself to a response. Sincerely, Dalton Trumbo

Mr. Dalton Trumbo

August 12, 1969

Dear Trumbo:

I thought you would want to add to your Allen-Trumbo files the enclosed copy of a letter Mr. Allen has just received from Mr. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Cordially yours, Betty Brew Secretary to Steve Allen. Enc. (1)

Mr. Steve Allen

Dear Mr. Allen:

August 4, 1969

I have just recently returned from Europe and only now have had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division.

Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I would be in strong agreement with it. I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.

Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Miss Betty Brew c/o Mr. Steve Allen

Van Nuys, California

August 28, 1969

Dear Miss Brew:

I think I shall never forget Friday, August 15, 1969, as the day I opened an envelope bearing Mr. Allen’s new return address and discovered therein, clipped to your thoughtful note, an enclosure which carried the Great Seal of the City University of New York’s Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, the upholstery of which, it said on the back, is stuffed with honeysuckle pollen and twenty-dollar bills.

“Dear Mr. Allen,” I read (thinking how much warmer ‘Dear Steve’ would have seemed), “I have just recently returned from from Europe and only now have had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division. Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I would be in strong agreement with it. I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.” And then, with noble simplicity: “Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.”

I confess to you, Miss Brew, that I was more than stunned by what that letter was than by what it seemed to say. Although Mr. Schlesinger is perhaps the most prolific correspondent of our time, his and the pope’s thoughts are generally considered too precious to waste on individual citizens or even small groups of them. Because of this, a vast number of Schlesinger judgments, opinions, disavowals, affirmations, admonitions, exhortations, and bad tidings bypass the addressee altogether and go directly to the engraver for mass distribution.

However my letter (or rather mine and Mr. Allen’s) is what the people at Sotheby’s call a “private” Schlesinger. Bells clang all over the place when one of them shows up and the director himself protects it with a ten-guinea bid for openers. It follows that even a Xerox copy of such a find has more cash than sentimental value.

Please be circumspect about having sent it to me. If Mr. Allen discovers that it has fallen into my hands the consequences can so terrible that well, for now let’s not think of them. We can worry about crossing that particular bridge when we come to it. If we turns to worst, as it usually does when my happiness is at stake, perhaps Mr. Schlesinger, who knows a great deal more about bridges than he pretends, can be persuaded to lend us a hand.

And please, Miss Brew, don’t let either of them know that I have written you about bridges or anything else. Mr. Schlesinger has rich and powerful friends on every side of any ocean you choose to cross; Mr. Allen is the most beloved poet, wit, essayist, author, raconteur, comedian, actor, TV personality, stem critic of American society, and potential congressman our democratic way of life has yet produced. Such men are easily offended: their wrath if aroused, consumes continents.

Let us therefore consider this a private letter from me to you. Since it was, after all, your friendly intercession which made Mr Schlesinger’s views known to me, that fervid spirit of reciprocity which saturates our free society calls for some response in kind. But only for you, Miss Brew—only for you, and strictly between ourselves.

Unhappily for both of us, Mr. Schlesinger, when not speaking ex cathedra, is one of those soupy writers who requires translation. One must separate what he seems to say from what he says, and then what he says from what he means to say. Not until the broth has been thoroughly clarified is it fair to judge the quality of the ingredients that went into it or the flavor their blending has produced.

The meaning of his first sentence seems relatively clear: I wrote one letter to the ACLU Arts Division and, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Allen wrote no more than one. Thus when Mr. Schlesinger says he has “had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division” it is logical to assume that he has read my letter and Mr. Allen’s response to it. By changing the end of the first sentence to an opportunity to read Mr. Trumbo’s letter to the ACLU Arts Division and your response to it we know exactly where we stand.

But we don’t know yet exactly where he stands, do we? The difficulty, I suspect, resides in that almost imperial would be in strong agreement, which, by pairing a volitional auxiliary with a volitional verb, does something that isn’t very nice if we accept the convention that any well-behaved volitional verb wants to mate with an auxiliary of simple futurity such as should: hence “should be in strong agreement.”

Yet the letter form, however soothing to pedagogues, fails to enlighten the commonality because it raises in their less cultivated minds two questions of substantial importance: one of simple futurity (when would/should he be in agreement?) and another of conditional futurity (in what circumstances would/ should he be in agreement?)

They are so subtly related that a proper response to one is agreement?) almost bound to answer the other. For example: “Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and if asked to take a position on what it says, I should be in strong agreement with it.” Or—do you see what I mean ?–something that goes even better than that.

Yet that isn’t too good either. What we desperately want to know is not whether Mr. Schlesinger will agree with Mr. Allen’s letter in some future time, or in some unspecified future circumstance, hut whether he agrees with it today, this minute, right now. A conscientious translator trying to solve this typically Arthurian riddle must rely on reasoned analysis of the intent of the full sentence, and, indeed, of the letter, as a whole.

Viewed in this light, it is logical to assume that Mr. Schlesinger intended his letter to convey the bracing views that he did agree with Mr. Allen’s clear and correct statements the instant he read them, and still does. Our translation therefore reads, “Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I am in strong agreement with it.” Or, more simply and less passively, “I strongly agree with it.”

Now we have it, haven’t we? Mr. Schlesinger finds Mr. Allen’s letter clear and correct and strongly agrees with it. His feelings about mine, as suggested in his next sentence, are antithetical. But oh Miss Brew, that next sentence! Stand back for a moment. Regard it: “I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.”

The first thing that strikes us here is the coupling of present tense defend with past tense could. Let’s dismiss it as misfired elegance, and substitute a can for the could: “how people who defend communism can consistently associate.” That helps, doesn’t it Well, yes; but not as much as we hoped. We still have that consistently to reckon with.

Mr. Schlesinger doesn’t understand how people who defend X can consistently associate with people who are dedicated to Y. Why doesn’t he? Why can’t they? What holds them back? You know, Miss Brew, and so do I, that it’s perfectly possible for anybody to join the ACLU and consistently support whichever of its quarrels he has time for, consistently attend its meetings, and consistently pay its dues. This being incontestably true, we must conclude that Mr. Schlesinger doesn’t use consistently in the sense that one consistently attends church, consistently adheres to a course of action, conducts his life in a consistent manner, or behaves with persistent uniformity. If I know my Schlesinger and, rather more than less, I do he is trying to say that there is something inconsistent or incongruous about people who defend communism (and therefore wish to destroy civil liberties) associating with an organization that is dedicated to defending those liberties.

Let us, therefore, change consistently to without incongruity (or something better of your own choice) and see if it helps: “I have never understood how people who defend communism can without incongruity associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.” That gets us a little closer, don’t you think?

But not close enough when we pause to consider the meaning of communism with a diminished c. Although the rules of capitalization are as variable as a pimp’s virtue, and every writer is a law unto himself, in most dictionaries the 12-volume O.E.D., Webster’s Third Unabridged, Random House Unabridged—the first definition of communism with a lower case c describes a philosophy or system which cannot possibly be considered inimical to the defense of civil liberties. Now if Mr. Schlesinger refers to this good, lower case, non-incantatory kind of communism his letter makes no sense at all.

This becomes particularly apparent if we recall that when he was a much younger man, ardently mindful of Senator Vandenberg’s advice to “scare hell out of the country,” convinced even I before Russia had the bomb that she’ be content with “nothing less than the entire world,” playing to the hilt his role of John the Baptist to Joe McCarthy’s unexpected messiah, warning his too-complacent countrymen against the “awful potentialities of the totalitarian conspiracy” (“It is we or they; the United States or the Soviet Union; capitalism or Communism. . . . We must not be restrained by weakness when [italics mine] the moment of crisis arrives . . . we must act swiftly in defense of freedom”), Mr. Schlesinger always gave bad Communism a capital C.

Not only did he capitalize it, he often characterized it with great specificity as Soviet Communism, Russian Communism, Soviet totalitarianism, etc. Yet now, despite the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the dictionaries (Random House Unabridged capitalizes it, Webster’s Unabridged regards it as a word generally capitalized), he has lately begun to invite all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding by demoting it to a simple, commonplace, lower case c.

Although no one can be certain when dealing with a mind as subtle and well-connected as Mr. Schlesinger’s, I suggest that his reasons are romantic and ideological. He is so fed up with Communism that he has zapped it into the lower case out of sheer pique, and who can blame him? Certainly not I. Was it not, after all, Lyndon Baines Johnson during his troubles with De Gaulle who commanded the Government Printing Office to place quotation marks around France?

Whatever the truth may be, I think we shall come closer to Mr. Schlesinger’s vision of it by changing his lower case communism to upper: people who defend Communism. Although it is true that we can’t be sure whether the people he is putting the hex on defend Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Albanian, Rumanian, or Cuban Communism. I think it is just clear (and vague) enough to serve Mr. Schlesinger’s purposes.

This leaves only defend to worry about. Does Mr. Schlesinger use the word in its sense of protect, ward off, or repel? In this sense, the ACLU for many years has defended the legal rights of Communists to be Communists and of the Communist Party to exist. Surely he can’t object to that, since he himself is an absolute wowser on civil liberties and Mr. Allen is wowsier still.

But, one must ask, when the ACLU and Mr. Schlesinger and Mr. Allen defend the civil rights of the Communist party and members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support, in any practical sense, defense not only of Communist rights but of Communism itself’?

No. This must not be. It cannot be because it should not he I it were, members of the ACLU wouldn’t be able to associate w each other, and Mr. Allen would be cutting Mr. Schlesinger cold the street if Mr. Schlesinger didn’t cut him first.

Perhaps, then, Mr. Schlesinger’s defend takes the meaning uphold by speech or argument, to maintain, to vindicate. This seems a lot more likely, don’t you think? For his sake, then, as well as clarity’s, let us change defend to uphold. Then, carefully underlining the changes we have made, let’s assemble the whole thin and see how it looks. To wit:

“Dear Mr. Allen:

“I have just recently returned from Europe and only now had an opportunity to read Mr. Trumbo’s letter to the ACLU Arts Division and your response to it.

“Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I strongly agree with it. I have never understood how people who uphold Communism can without incongruity associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.

“Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.”

Since we have followed the form and structure of the original, our translation is not graceful, but the tenses are’ straightened out the purport of the words is clear, and I’ll take an oath in any Federal Court of his choice that it exactly reflects the meaning which Mr. Schlesinger wanted to convey when he wrote it.

We emerge from the maze with three small facts: Mr. Schlesinger has read Mr. Allen’s letter; he finds it clear and correct; he strongly agrees with it. Our next step is to determine whether the letter with which he agrees makes sense. Let us accept, as our standard for judgment, the idea that reason is the guiding principle of the human mind in the process of thinking; that a logical statement must conform to the laws of correct reasoning; that logic is the process of valid inference; that an inference is valid only when justified by the evidence given to support it; and that any violation of the rule of valid inference (or correct reasoning) produces a fallacious, or illogical, conclusion.

Let’s brood for a moment on the following quotations taken in sequence from what I shall henceforth call the Allen-Schlesinger thesis: (1) I know absolutely nothing of Mr Trumbo’s present political convictions. . . . (2) I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. (3)  . . if Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion . . • (4) . . . if it could be absolutely certified —or even assumed for purposes of debate that Mr. Trumbo is today a Communist . . (5) I haven’t the faintest idea as to what Mr. Trumbo’s present position on the political spectrum might be. (6) I concede –indeed, I fervently hope—that all of this may be utterly irrelevant in Mr. Trumbo’s case. If it is, I would be greatly relieved.

Question: “What is the subject of the Allen-Schlesinger thesis? Answer: “Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions,” which thereafter are linked with everything from ruthless marijuana laws and political tyranny to state murder and a strong hint of treason.

Question: What qualifies them to write on this particular subject? Answer: Their confession at the outset that they know absolutely nothing about it. In this respect they are more percipient than a Zhdanov or Goebbels but, in consequence of their percipience, less rational. Everything in their thesis which flows from this anarchic demolition of valid inference and reasoned thought is, by definition, fallacious, illogical, irrational, and, for men of such enormous integrity, morally degrading and intellectually disgraceful.

Dare we now admit, against our best hopes and  prayers, that Mr. Allen and Mr. Schlesinger between them have written almost 1,500 deeply patriotic words (not to mention Mr. Allen’s later effusions) on a subject about which they know “absolutely nothing”? We not only dare, Miss Brew, I’m afraid we must. Can the words of men who haven’t “the faintest idea” of what they’re talking about be classified as anything but gabble? They cannot, Miss Brew: sheer mindless gabble; garbage, as some call it; dreck; pure merde.

What is it that impels a ranking intellectual like Mr. Allen and a Schweitzer humanitarian like Mr. Schlesinger to write all this gabble or dreck or whatever one calls it? That vincible companion of sloth called ignorance, Miss Brew; that infallible solace closed minds which has sometimes been called “the voluntary misfortune.”

The pity of it is that all their ignorance could so easily his been dispelled. Unlike Mr. Allen, who shows every sign of offering himself one day for public service, and Mr. Schlesinger, who has always had one foot in government and the other in somebody’s mouth, I am a private citizen to whom the idea of anyone seeking public office has always seemed faintly ridiculous. As past or full/ politicos, Messrs. Allen and Schlesinger must be prepared at all times to make full disclosure of their professional, political, economic, military, and even marital histories: as a private citizen, my political affiliations, whether now or a quarter-century ago, are exempt from such disclosure.

By exempt I mean private. By private I do not mean secret Hundreds of friends, associates, colleagues, chance acquaintances employers, and adversaries have discovered from my own lips exactly what my political thoughts and affiliations have been from my twenty-first birthday through every change or lack of it to t present time only what they were or are, but when and exact’ why they were made or changed.

They are secret only to casual sensation hunters and those who hope to extort information about them under threat of legal or economic reprisal. In that sense they are as secret today as they were twenty-two years ago on that bright October afternoon in Washing ton, D.C., when I first refused to make public disclosure of political affiliations which I had voluntarily made known, in advance of assignment, to every producer for whom I had worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the preceding five years. In every other sense they are as open today as they have always been.

Had Mr. Allen approached me for enlightenment on a subject about which he stood in total ignorance, I should cheerfully have told him all my secrets and blessed his warm, inquiring heart. Had he confided to me his misgivings about the effect on the Bradley campaign of a party at my house I should have consented at once to transfer from my address to his. Not because I share his fears or admire him over-much for harboring them, but because as a rational man I should have been compelled to recognize the objective fact of their existence and to deal with them on that basis.

Do you begin to perceive what I mean, Miss Brew? This part of my letter you may reveal to Mr. Allen and Mr. Schlesinger in any words you choose, for I am offering them the key to their mystery. Whenever they wish to establish a friendly acquaintanceship with me for the purpose of exchanging ideas on subjects of mutual interest (including my past, present, and possibly future political opinions and affiliations but not excluding all else), I shall be happy to accommodate them. At my house. Over my whisky. And, since they are the supplicants, at my convenience. “Ask, dear colleagues,” shall I say unto them, “and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.”

But do you know something else, Miss Brew? I don’t think either of those aging and obsessed evangels will come tapping at my door, because knowledge is the killer of faith and they are of the faithful. They have hallucinated God as the greatest anti-Communist of them all and been completely unhinged by the sight of His glory. It is no longer important to them that they know what they’re talking about. It is important only that they talk, since in their theology the act of speech proves the truth of what has been spoken. Trapped thus between nightmares of qualified good and unqualified evil, they have become what they hate. For such there can be surcease of gobble, guano, merde, or whatever it is that gushes from their lips and typewriters until the fevers pass and logic resumes its lonely reign. Thus, as the man said, are sweet reason’s children strangled in the womb, and noble minds laid low.

Most gratefully yours, Dalton Trumbo

cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Thomas Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster

Mr. Dalton Trumbo

September 23, 1969

Dear Mr. Trumbo:

Doing six ninety-minute television shows a week has placed such obstacles in the path of my properly fulfilling my obligations as your correspondent that at this point I must beg off, accept your kind invitation to continue our exchange over an amicable glass and relegate these paper records of our misunderstanding to respective heirs, assuming our rival philosophies will ultimo permit the continuance of our species on this planet.

Your witty letter of August 29th to my secretary, Miss Brew, obliges me to attempt a response, but I shall not pretend that follows is anymore than a half-hearted attempt to tidy up a few loose ends. At this point, as often is the case in matters of controversy, so many elements have been introduced, above and beyond the original grain of contention, that even if either of us had the luxury of an extended exchange of letters, I suspect we should find it difficult to limit the number and scope of our concerns so as not greatly to confuse any others who might read this correspondence–not to mention each other.

Now, then.

(1) You raise what well may be a fair question with your observation that a considerable amount of confusion might have b avoided had I approached you about the matter in the first place You say, “Had Mr. Allen approached me for enlightenment . , . I should cheerfully have told him all my secrets and blessed his warm, inquiring heart.”

This reminds me, though, of the occasion when, as a sixteen year-old runaway from my Chicago home, I found myself, one chill October afternoon, in front of the Bluebird Café in Del Rio, Texas with a compulsive hunger that drove me to the lunch counter and forced me to gorge myself though I had not a penny in my pocket When, after the meal, I confessed as much to the proprietor he called the police and then asked me as we sat listlessly waiting for the law to arrive “Why didn’t you just ask me for something to eat?”

Although I couldn’t bring myself to say as much, I think a fair answer would have been, “Because, sir, you would have told me to get the hell out of your restaurant.”

In any event, what’s past is past.

(2) Since you know yourself to a degree that I do not, you naturally have me at a disadvantage when the object of our mutual scrutiny is Dalton Trumbo. When you speculate about me, however, then the advantage is mine. It is a simple matter to develop factual evidence about an individual, but when we attribute motivations supposedly explaining his behavior, and indulge in purely theoretical speculation about his beliefs and opinions, our testimony will generally be considerably less reliable. You attribute to me, for simple, the view that Communism is an “unqualified evil.” Nothing human can be totally evil. The worst atrocity ever committed was an ill-wind that produced some positive result, however slight however out-of-balance with the enormity of the crime itself. There has never been nor will there ever be the totalitarian dictatorship—whether of the Right or Left—which could not point to its social achievements; is there anyone beyond the age of ten who would deny it? The near-total law-and-order of totalitarian societies has its attractions, to be sure; the historically crucial question is: are these few material benefits purchased at too high a pricew*hen the coin that buys them is the sacrifice of freedoms of belief, speech, assembly, the press, and travel?

(3) Three single-spaced typewritten pages of your letter of August 28th are devoted to a reinterpretation of Mr. Schlesinger’s letter, yielding the unsurprising conclusion that the man’s statement is to be taken at its face value, that he means exactly what he seems l to mean, which is to say that he is puzzled how people can on one hand defend Communism—which in all times and places, as a matter of public policy, violates civil rights and liberties—while on the other hand they profess allegiance to organizations–such as ACLU–which are sworn to defend these same rights and liberties.

A crucial word, of course, in Mr. Schlesinger ‘s observation is “consistently.” Obviously it is logically inconsistent to proclaim civil liberties in one nation while denying them in another. But there is another sense in which such behavior on the part of American Communists is neither inconsistent nor puzzling, a situation directly analogous to that in which the Catholic Church concedes on the one hand that Protestant rights in Catholic Spain have been infringed upon, in law and in deed, while at the same time insisting that Catholics in the United States are entitled to the same rights as other American citizens.

It is entirely reasonable for Communists-USA to endorse the American Bill of Rights since it proclaims the essential political rights of all Americans. But when Communists assume control of a nation then the rules of the game are radically changed and rationalizations are advanced supposedly justifying limitations uo pn civil rights and liberties of non-Communists.

You delay an approach to the essence of our argument by raising the irrelevant question as to whether Mr. Schlesinger would distinguish, in his disapproval, among Communism of the Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Albanian, Rumanian, or Cuban sort. That no two of these are precisely similar is obvious enough, but the large question is no more necessary than would be the question as to whether, in your disapproval of Fascism, you would be more or less tolerant of it in its Gents Italian, Spanish, Japanese, or Argentine guise.

It is irrelevant to our purposes–or to mine, at least–to waste time considering the different dictionary meanings of “Communism,” the first letter capitalized or not. Obviously there is always a difference between the purely theoretical statement of a philosophy on the one hand and its flesh-and-blood embodiment on the other. In every historical case the ideal is superior on to the practice. I see no purpose, therefore, in debating the abstract philosophy of socialism or Communism. What I am here interested in is the undeniably clear record of Communism-in-practice and with—more specifically–the activities of the American Communist party, a political instrument which over the years is on record as endorsing the Hitler–Stalin pact, justifying the Soviet attacks on Poland and Finland, opposing Lend–Lease aid to Europe and assistance to Great Britain before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, attempting to sweep under the rug of history Stalin’s slaughter of millions in his domain, bitter opposition to Franklin Roosevelt during the period of the Soviet–Nazi pact, opposition to the Marshall Plan (Communists wanted Western Europe to collapse, not recover), serving as apologists for the Moscow trials, the crushing of the Hungarian rebellion, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the rest of the sickening list.

(4) Liberals may or may not be opposed in principle to the economic theory of Communism (though they will look in vain for evidence of its concrete realization). But by the very definition of the word liberal they are logically obliged to oppose the omnipresent despotism of Communist political practice and belief A liberal, as such, may be an atheist, or a devout religionist. But the one thing he can not possibly be is an apologist for the ruthless imposition of Communist minority party rule that for more than half a century has has characterized the exercise of Marxist authority.

That is not to say that Communists, or socialists of other kinds, are wrong in all their criticisms of capitalist practice, or of American foreign or domestic policies. For many years Western capitalism has propped itself up with a certain amount of socialist timber, Western democracy has come to understand that—mutual annihilation by either nuclear or conventional weapons being an unacceptable alternative–it will have to come to some sort of terms with the Marxist powers. The more responsible elements in each camp, then, may hope that the other side will mellow and evolve.

Against that hope, there are those who so contemptuously speak the word “revisionism.” The young nuts of the Progressive Labor Party and Revolutionary Youth Movement haunted, I suspect, by the dawning awareness of their essential irrelevancy to the American social experience–actually consider China and Albania the only right-thinking Marxist states and view the Soviet Union as revisionist, if not overtly capitalistic and antirevolutionary.

What these fierce but inexperienced dogmatists have yet to discern about the human adventure is that man is by nature a revisionist creature, the only conscious one, in fact, that walks our planet. While other species may have their behavior modified by the slow, inexorable force of nature, man is able to take quicker voluntary adaptive steps to bring himself into a more harmonious relationship with his environment. Addiction to rigid dogma and habit, I assert, is an emotional disease that over the course of time greatly incapacitates those individuals and groups that fall victim to it. Not all evolutionary or social adaptations prove beneficial, but utter inability to revise behavior to conform with changing circumstances is a sentence of slow death. The Soviets are by nature nei-ther more nor less dogmatic or revisionist than the Chinese; the Russians simply started their revolution thirty-two years before the Chinese did. It is therefore to be expected that the pace of their political evolution would have wrought greater changes than China has made since 1949.

As a liberal I selfishly hope, of course, that SDS firebrands become even more fanatic and dogmatic. It will make them still more socially irrelevant, even to the most dissatisfied American blacks, poor, and young.

The last thing I will say on this point, for the present, is ill even if a liberal were unable to perceive that reason demands his opposition to all forms of tyranny, he ought to be anti-Communist simply because Communists are antiliberal. When Stalin’s arms enlarged the Soviet sphere of influence at the conclusion of the Second World War they almost ignored Conservatives, Reactionaries Nazis, and Fascists in the areas that came under their control. These pathetic souls had already been defeated, slaughtered in great numbers by the process of war itself, or done in by their own underground movements. The few remaining were in disgrace as having sympathized with Hitler and accordingly posed no threat to Stalin’s legions and indigenous Communists. The true threat came from non-Communist socialists and liberal democrats who though anti-Nazi to the core—enjoyed a popular following and therefore were rivals for the affections of the liberated masses. It was these unfortunates who suffered most tragically at the hands of the Soviet “liberators.”

Let us fantasize widespread American dissatisfaction in, say, 1975, a growing rebellion of blacks, Latin-Americans, Indians, poor whites, the unemployed, the antiwar young, and then some idiotic repressive act on the part of Wallace-Reagan-Goldwater-J. Edgar Hoover types, leading to popular uprisings, a coup, and a Communist takeover. Would the party be seriously worried about the Far Right? No, it would need the Extremist Right as a punching bag. The one group it could absolutely not tolerate would be non-Communist leftists who would share popular disaffection but not countenance official terror campaigns. The non-Communist Left would once again be the first to be sacrificed to the Red firing squads.

(5) The cleverest portion of your letter is in the following sentences:

. . . when the ACLU, and Schlesinger and Mr. Allen, defend the civil rights of the Communist party and its members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support, in any practical sense, a defense not only of Communist rights but of Communism itself?”

The question is as I say—clever, even a bit playful. So let us play with it for a moment. One might as responsibly ask, “When the ACLU and Mr. Trumbo defend the civil rights of the Nazi party and its members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support . . . a defense not only of Nazi rights but of Nazism itself?”

The paradox, of course, is apparent rather than real. All true libertarians are prepared to defend the civil rights of a variety of anti-social or subversive or totalitarian groups which they personally abhor. In the process of defending these rights there is no question hut that actual material benefits fall to Communists, Nazis, Ku Kluxers, Minute-Men, John Birchers, and political knuckleheads of all sorts. One may feel the emotional temptation to say, “To hell with it; civil rights and liberties ought not to be extended to such political idiots; it is really too much to assert that a Communist or Nazi, a Mafia murderer, a Black Panther sniper, a Ku Klux lyncher, ought to be accorded the same constitutional protections as decent, law-abiding American citizens.” But of course that is the precise point upon which the rights and liberties of all of us are balanced. The minute we make the mistake of saying that all Americans are entitled to civil liberties and rights except Communists or Nazis we have opened a floodgate which it would almost certainly prove impossible to close. Others would care to add to the list Fascists, Pacifists, Liberals, Conservatives, and so on back into the blood-soaked jungles from which we all sprang.

(6) You have taken me to task, albeit gently, for having referred to myself as a “stern critic” of American society, perhaps under the misapprehension that the phrase was a fearsome mask held before my face and that what I proposed to criticize sternly was your own political record. No. I meant to suggest that I see much in American non-Communist behavior to criticize—from the picture, “Big Deal”—for who does not? Today we are all critics, but I was such when it was a somewhat less popular pastime. After visiting Vietnam in 1963 I did a television documentary saying we could not win a military victory there with less than one million American troops and that, since we were clearly unwilling to make such an investment, we ought to begin getting out. At the time I was already a veteran of the nuclear test ban debate, the capital punishment controversy, and other scuffles in the marketplace, for all of which activity I was publicly accused by Conservatives–this will make you laugh–of being a Communist!

(7) In conclusion, a word about your assumption that I plan one day to run for political office. I do not. In 1961 Norman Cousins advised me to prepare myself to run for the office of U.S. Senator from California. A great many other Democratic Party people chiefly but not solely of liberal persuasion, have since made similar suggestions. For several years my answer, was “No, thank you,”

Then, in 1965, Congressman James Roosevelt retired, accepted a post at the United Nations, and left ten months of his term to filled, which called for a special election in his district. I was again urged to run. Since only ten months were involved, I agreed to make the experiment, having received encouragement from Hubert Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy, whose advice I solicited.

A poll showed I would have won handily, but after campaigning for a few weeks I discovered that an obscure clause in the California election code law made it impossible for me to become the Democratic candidate, because I had registered as an Independent. I thereupon withdrew from the race and do not plan to repeat the experience, although I would not have missed it for the world.

(8) Lastly, something weighty still seems to block the path toward your understanding of the meaning of my original point. At the risk of boring even myself, let me state it once again, as concisely as possible: (a) at one time you were a mightily active Communist; (b) I do not know whether you are presently a Communist; (why don’t you tell us, by the way, and hang the suspense?) (c) if at the time of the Bradley-Yorty mayoralty campaign in Los Angeles—you were still a Communist, then it would have been politically disadvantageous to Mr. Bradley’s cause to have it become publicly known that a fundraising party on his behalf had been held in your home.

No doubt upon occasion over the years I have unwittingly vouchsafed public observations that were obscure or ambiguous. This is not one of those occasions.

Most cordially, Steve Allen

Mr. Steve Allen

October 13, 1969

Dear Mr. Allen:

Aside from the owner of the Bluebird Café, who’d have thought that a hungry, vagrant, shivering little tyke in Del Rio, Texas, would grow up to be the sort who’d sneak a peek at Miss Brew’s mail? Well, I for one. On the off-chance she doesn’t snoop yours, please tell her I’ve just discovered Mr. Bradley didn’t know that goddamn party had been scheduled until two weeks after it wasn’t held. This means that your spirited croak against free speech and assembly at my address can’t properly be called delation because you delated to nobodies, and that doesn’t count.

Even were it otherwise, I still feel that the Bishop of Norwich and Exeter held his hackles a bit high when he called informers and delators “an infamous and odious kind of cattle”: almost every member of the tribe I uncover turns out to be just one more lost, home-loving, duty-driven civil-Samaritan of absolutely paralyzing sincerity, whose only fault is a headful of wind littered here and there with small particles of badly organized misinformation. You can’t hate a man like that, you can only try to help him.

To that most Christian end, my secretary is preparing a quick-information kit to set you straight on almost everything from marijuana penalties in the USSR (fifteen days for a first-caught user) to the reasons why what you call your black brethren (whose lives will be 176,000,000 years shorter than ours) sport those funny robes, wear those “natural” hairdos (your quotation Marx not mine), and foolishly prefer two names, as in Muhammad Ali, to the five in Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen. The whole lot, weighing just under three pounds, will be shipped post-paid in a plain brown wrapper.

As for defending the head humanitarian of CUNY, take one wrapper, look at that cold, governmental smile, and then head for home. He slings the fastest gun in town and you can’t shoot back without blowing Old Glory full of holes. I run a kind of nervous check on him every now and then because when you back him into a serious corner called Bay of Pigs or Congress for Cultural Freedom his talent runs to diddling with the truth instead of telling it.

All that jive about would/should/volition/futurity was, of course, part playfulness, which you suspected, and part gallantry, which you didn’t. Any fool can spot the verb of “would be in tit agreement,” but “be,” for God sake, is copulative, and I certainly wasn’t going to say a thing like that in front of Miss Brew.

Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo

P.S.. I almost forgot the best news of all: the 1958 edition of March’s Thesaurus-Dictionary, editorially supervised by the same Norman Cousins who tried to roust you off the tube and into the Senate restricts its “c” listing under EVILDOER to caitiff, cannibal, Communist and cut throat. Your pot.

December 25, 2014

The Interview

Filed under: anti-Communism,Film,Korea — louisproyect @ 6:45 pm

The good news is that “The Interview” will have little impact on American public opinion vis-à-vis North Korea since it is such a flaccid work, unsure whether to make fun of its co-stars or to deliver Reagan-era sermons on the evils of Communism. It succeeds at neither of these competing goals.

The bad news is that it is one of the lamest comedies imaginable, a formulaic imitation of films like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Zoolander” that feature a leading character of monumental stupidity. The “jokes” boil down to the main character saying or doing idiotic things. It is, of course, possible to make a comedy featuring such a character—the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films being a prime example. But the Pink Panther films revolve around ingenious set-ups where the stupidity of Inspector Clouseau is put to good use.

A year after leaving the Trotskyist movement, I took a writer’s workshop at NYU that was largely a waste of time. But one thing the instructor told us rang true. He said that comedy was much more difficult to write than serious literature. I complete agree with this based on the evidence of Hollywood comedies over the past 25 years or so. Blake Edwards, the director and screenwriter for the Pink Panther films, illustrates comedy done with intelligence. Edwards started off as an actor in the 1940s in films directed by John Ford, William Wyler and Otto Preminger, three masters from the Golden Age of American film. By contrast Seth Rogen, who directed and wrote the screenplay for “The Interview”, acted in Judd Apatow films, a major contributor to the epidemic of unfunny comedies Hollywood cranks out on an assembly-line that are marketed to 15-year old boys who can’t get enough fart, tits and penis jokes.

Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, the producer of “Skylark Tonight”, a soft news show of the sort that might appear on MTV. James Franco, who has been directed to mug in every scene to the point where you can barely stand another minute of his eyebrow-wagging and hand-flailing histrionics, plays Dave Skylark. It is the same sort of overwrought performance that made “Spring Breakers” unwatchable. Along with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, Franco is now one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for scenery-chewing renditions of “colorful” characters.

In the entire film, there is not a single word that comes out of Skylark’s mouth that can be mistaken for what an actual person might say. Like Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in the Apatow film that obviously inspired “The Interview”, Franco’s character is intended as satire—a TV newsman who does not understand how foolish he appears. If you ever want to see how such a character can be developed skillfully, I’d refer you to the Mary Tyler Show that played on CBS from 1970 to 1977. It was a comedy based on a TV news show that featured Ted Baxter, a vain and pompous news reader who was close enough to the real thing (think David Gregory) to work as satire. Rogen was not writing satire; he was writing burlesque and a rather crude one at that.

As you probably know, since the film’s Kim Jong-un is supposedly a fan of “Skylark Tonight”, he invites Rapaport and Skylark to come to North Korea to interview him. When the CIA learns that they are given this opportunity, they recruit Skylark to poison him with ricin. But in the course of spending time with the dictator, Skylark decides after the fashion of Dennis Rodman that he is a nice guy after all and backs out of the assassination plot. It is only when he discovers that a grocery store near Kim’s palace is filled with fake fruit and vegetables that he decides to go through with the plot.

Once Skylark is back on board for the mission of killing Kim, the film descends into completely idiotic action sequences where the North Korean military and the two newsmen (plus a woman that has been assigned to be their handler but who is secretly an enemy of the regime) engage in machine gun battles out of the Sylvester Stallone/Chuck Norris playbook. It is as slapdash and uninspired as the preceding more “comical” scenes. After Skylark and Rapaport commandeer a tank and blow Kim’s helicopter out of the sky, the film proceeds to a happy ending. It is this conclusion that supposedly angered North Korea sufficiently to organize the Sony hack that has been in the news.

There are those who regard “The Interview” as a virtual conspiracy mounted by Sony, the State Department and the Rand Corporation. In a December 23rd interview with Democracy Now, U. Cal/Santa Cruz professor Christine Hong states:

You know, what’s interesting to me about this is the fact that if you actually look at what the Sony executives did, they consulted very closely with the State Department, which actually gave the executives a green light with regard to the death scene. And they also consulted with a RAND North Korea watcher, a man named Bruce Bennett, who basically has espoused in thesis that the way to bring down the North Korean government is to assassinate the leadership. And he actually stated, in consulting with Sony about this film, that this film, in terms of the South Korean market, as well as its infiltration by defector balloon-dropping organizations into North Korea, could possibly get the wheels of a kind of regime change plot into motion. So, in this instance, fiction and reality have a sort of mirroring relationship to each other.

Frankly, I don’t think that the North Koreans have much to worry about. This film is a limp and toothless enterprise that would have a lot less impact on the north than the far more sophisticated films that the south has cranked out over the years, especially those that appeal to their longing for national unity and peace. If anything, the liberal presidency of Kim Dae-jung, whose overtures to the north were a departure from the hardline anti-Communism of previous governments and whose initiatives were reflected in “reconciliation” films such as the great “Joint Security Area”, would be much more of a threat to the status quo in the north—and for that matter the reactionary Chaebol-dominated neoliberalism of the south.

I suspect that revulsion in the south over the failure of the conservative government now in power to get to the root of the corruption that allowed an inadequately regulated ferry to sink and cost the lives of 300 young people, will eventually return a liberal government to power. Of course, as is the case everywhere, including the USA, such governments are not likely to redress the class inequalities that allow the Chaebols to dominate Korean society.

In a CounterPunch article on Korean War movies that I wrote last year, I touch upon some of the political issues that the north and the south are grappling with. They are issues that are far more important to how things unfold in the coming years than a work of such crowning stupidity like “The Interview”:

My introduction to Korean films and the changing political landscape in the south was Lee Chang-dong’s 2000 masterpiece “Peppermint Candy”. Not only was it a fearless assault on South Korean repression of strikes and student protests in the 1980s, it was my pick for best narrative film that year leaving Academy Award winner “Gladiator” in the dust. If Hong Kong cinema had become increasingly formulaic by then, South Korea picked up the slack and turned into by far the most fertile ground for new cinema in the world.

Chang-dong Lee went on to write and direct other masterpieces, including “Secret Sunshine” and “Poetry”, but even more importantly to serve as a symbol of progress in the south and reconciliation with the north in his capacity as Minister of Culture and Tourism in 2003-2004 under reformer President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh continued the policies of Kim Dae-jung who ruled from 1998 to 2003. Widely regarded as the Nelson Mandela of South Korea, Kim instituted the “Sunshine Policy” that sought to bring the two halves of the country closer together.

Roh’s presidency was marred by personal corruption and a willingness to make concessions to neoliberalism, especially the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. in 2007. Despite this, Roh remained committed to rapprochement with the north. In 2011 Wikileaks released an American diplomatic cable to South Korea calling attention to Roh’s concerns over the mistreatment of North Korea.

Economic stagnation under Roh led to him being ousted in 2007 by Lee Myung-bak, the CEO of Hyundai, one of South Korea’s top chaebols. One year into his presidency, Lee trashed the Sunshine Policy and warned the north that he would end economic cooperation unless it abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Elected in 2012, South Korea’s first female president Park Geun-hye has been following Lee’s policies to the letter–hence the current crisis.

December 19, 2014

A response to Owen Jones and James Bloodworth on Cuba

Filed under: anti-Communism,cuba,journalism — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

Owen Jones

James Bloodworth

Vexingly but not unexpectedly, Owen Jones and James Bloodworth used their Guardian and Independent columns as bully pulpits against the Cuban government. Despite their impeccable left-liberal credentials, their commentary left a bad taste in my mouth not unlike the one I experienced when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews weighed in: “I just don`t think they are going to change their stripes. I think they’re commies. I think they’re communists.” Commies. Nice.

I have more respect for Jones, who was on Marxmail briefly when he was 16 years old or so, a most precocious lad. Back then he repeated the talking points heard across the British left: “If the working class wield no political power, then who does? A privileged layer of officials, i.e. bureaucrats. It is they who legislate and enforce law, not the working class.” Nothing has changed in the 14 years when he wrote this except maybe a softening on bureaucracy, something understandable given his loyalty to the British Labour Party—a far cry from the heaven-storming sensibility of his adolescence.

Yesterday Owen Jones weighed in at the Guardian on the Cuban “dictatorship” that he hoped would disappear with the blockade. Like a comparison test for detergents, Brand X—Cuba—fails miserably next to those “progressive governments that promote social justice as well as democracy.” He adds: “They have lifted 56 million people out of poverty this millennium, and have done so without imposing a dictatorship.” (The 56 million figure was arrived at by the United Nations Development Programme and formed the basis of a BBC article Jones linked to.)

Apparently Peru was one of the countries Jones held up against Cuba since its poverty rate was reduced by 26.3 percent and had lots of freedom—hurrah, hurrah.

But I would urge some caution on taking the United Nations Development Programme report at face value, the source of the BBC article’s poverty reduction claims. If, as is likely, Peru’s National Statistics and Information Institute (INEI) is feeding data to the UN, the numbers are not to be trusted.

The INEI recently announced a sizeable 5.2 reduction in poverty in 2007. However, many have questioned the validity of these numbers, including Farid Matuk, an ex-president of INEI, who guesses that such numbers might be forged. They suggest a poverty reduction rate of 0.6 percent per each point of GDP growth, which is three times higher than the average of previous years. At this rate, Peru would eliminate poverty completely in about 10 years, which strains credulity.

I suppose that if having parliamentary democracy is ipso facto a sign that a nation is freer, then Peru—Brand A—is superior to Brand X. But if you are an Indian, Peru does not seem all that free. Between 2006 and 2011 after protests were mounted against mining on indigenous lands, the government declared martial law and gave the green light to the military to kill 200 activists.

For an incisive report on the reality behind Peruvian president Ollanta Humala’s faux populism, I recommend Deborah Poole and Gerardo Rénique’s NACLA report from May 2012:

Within weeks of Humala’s inauguration, major mobilizations were staged in the departments of Ancash, Apurímac, and Cajamarca—which are characterized by extreme poverty, long traditions of subaltern politics, and some of Peru’s largest mining projects. The protesters’ demands included an end to all mining in headwaters, a ban on the use of cyanide and mercury, a national ecological zoning code elaborated with citizen participation, and implementation of the national Law of Consultation. Led by Valdés, at the time minister of the interior, the Humala government moved quickly to repress the popular mobilizations. In November, during a strike in Apurímac, Valdés’s heavy-handed approach clashed with the more conciliatory politics of then prime minister Lerner and other left-wing cabinet members who favored negotiation and reform. It also, however, drove home the widening political and cultural divide pitting Humala’s right-wing functionaries against the popular organizations that had helped to bring his government to power.

I guess that if Humala came to power through multiparty elections, he had the right to “repress the popular mobilizations”. That’s how democracy works, right? In Brazil as well, right? Another Brand-A success story.

Let me repeat. Except for this sort of article and his membership in the Labour Party, I really respect Owen Jones especially when he backed out of a Stop the War Coalition’s meeting on Syria that was featuring Assad apologist Mother Agnes. James Bloodworth, on the other hand, is a sniveling little rat.

Bloodworth’s column opens with the obligatory “god that failed” confession that is so necessary for those pursuing a career as a lapdog for the ruling class:

One small claim to fame of mine is that I was present during Fidel Castro’s final public speech as Cuban President back in 2006. Stood at a lectern about 50 yards from me, El Maximo Lider harangued the relatively small crowd for over two hours, littering his speech with the usual denunciations of ‘Yankee imperialism’, ‘capitalist monopolies’ and – I particularly enjoyed this part – ‘Bush and Blair’.

For a young revolutionary tourist like myself the spectacle of the bearded ideologue in full flow was subversively exciting: I hated all of those things too, or at least I thought I did. Like so many who pretend to despise the boring machinations of liberal democracy I was passionately rooting for the romanticism of Che Guevara over the banal compromises of the capitalist system. And so beards, green fatigues and tropical exuberance were in and Starbucks and McDonalds were most definitely out.

Did you catch the business about getting over denunciations of ‘Bush and Blair’? Oh no, we can’t have such dogmatic notions cropping up in the writings of a 31-year old journalist angling to be the next Christopher Hitchens. How so yesterday, railing against Bush and Blair. Why the next thing you know, people will be playing Billy Bragg CD’s. So embarrassing.

But our latter-day Arthur Koestler came to see the light:

But in reality the ‘plucky Caribbean island’ was no tropical Shoreditch and what I witnessed was the stage-set Cuba rather than the grim and Spartan reality. I was a Useful Idiot, in other words; a person who would valorise the 95 per cent literacy rate on the island without telling you that it was the Cuban Government which decided what a person was allowed to read. Like many a pampered comrade, I rallied against the ‘superficiality’ of McDonald’s and Burger King while forgetting that plastic food is incomparably better than no food at all.

What is there to say in reply to a claim that fast food is better than “no food at all”. This is the sort of shit-flinging rhetoric you get on the Sean Hannity show and hardly worth bothering to answer.

Now it is true that Cuban media is state-owned. Presumably it would be better for Cuba to have the sort of free press we have in the USA where those with the money have the freedom to own one, to paraphrase AJ Liebling.

But it is not enough to be able to buy and sell a newspaper or television station. Bloodworth raises the bar even higher. If you buy a newspaper or TV station and then use it to editorialize on behalf of a government that was voted into power but that does not live up to your lily-white liberal standards, then watch out.

On February 19, 2014 Bloodworth repeated his god that failed shtick, this time about Venezuela:

There was a time when the so-called Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela appeared to hold great promise. I remember watching The Revolution Will Not Be Televised back in 2003 and being mesmerised by what I saw: here was a government spending the country’s oil wealth on social programmes for the poor and giving the rich a kicking in one of the most unequal societies in the Western Hemisphere.

But unlike 2003, Venezuelan television no longer plots against the government, a function of private enterprise apparently:  “In 2013 the last remaining independent television station in Venezuela was sold to an ally of the president.” Maybe there’s something I’m missing but isn’t that the way bourgeois democracy operates? Last week the New Republic editors and writers that Martin Peretz had hired resigned because they objected to the new owner’s intentions to make the magazine more like the Huffingto Post or the Daily Beast. And that’s not much different from when Peretz bought the magazine in 1974. He fired the liberal editor and a bunch of people then resigned.

That’s how capitalism operates as far as I know. Newspapers are profit-making enterprises. You buy one and then you have the right to order people to write things that reflect your POV. That’s how the Independent operates, doesn’t it? If Rupert Murdoch bought it tomorrow, heads like Patrick Cockburn would roll. I do suspect that James Bloodworth would still have a job. Murdoch would smile ever so benignly on such a bright young anti-Communist thing.


June 27, 2014

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh behind the curve

Filed under: anti-Communism,literature — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

Said Sayrafiezadeh, right, on his wedding day in 2005 along with his father, Mahmoud (Karen Mainenti, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The latest issue of Book Forum has a section titled “War All the Time” that has reviews of books about war as well as essays by various people, including Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, the 46 year old Iranian-American who enjoyed 5 minutes of fame in 2009 as the author of “When Skateboards Will be Free”, a Trotskyist red diaper baby memoir that got rave reviews in the NY Times and Washington Post. My reaction was less enthusiastic:

The best thing that can be said about this memoir is that it is well written. Clearly, the author knows how to sustain a reader’s interest even if his story either stretches reality or in some cases breaks with it entirely. One doubts that this rather modest work of literature would have commanded the attention of the two most important papers in the United States if it had been about an unhappy childhood spent with Seventh Day Adventist or vegetarian parents imposing their beliefs on the author. There is something about the excesses of Marxist revolutionaries that gets the blood of a New York Times book review editor flowing.

He seems to be in a sophomore slump since his latest book “Brief Encounters with the Enemy”, a collection of stories that according to Amazon.com “chronicles modern, nameless cities crumbling in the shadows of war”, is ranked only 227,506 on Amazon.com, hardly enough to support the consumerist lifestyle the aging author enjoys or—more accurately—aspires to enjoy. In my review of “When Skateboards Will be Free”, I could not help but notice that his appetites were more that of the vulgarian than the artiste. From a 2009 interview in New York Magazine:

Q: So what do you say now when people start ranting about capitalism’s dying days?

A: People have been fucking saying that my whole life. I like my life, and I don’t really want to change. I don’t need society to be dismantled. I don’t want to feel guilty about the things I have. I have a 32-inch high-def flat-screen TV. I fucking love that thing, man.

My review looked askance at his claim that the SWP refused to take action against a babysitter member of the sect who molested him at his mother’s apartment in Brooklyn. The incidents would have occurred 40 years or so ago when the party was still relatively normal. But even if they did, I wonder why Sayrafiezadeh never bothered to report them to the police. Supposedly his mother protected the molester because she was anxious not to challenge the party leadership that wanted to protect him but what was Sayrafiezadeh’s excuse? Catholics have no trouble naming names, why doesn’t he? Is it possible that this incident was fictionalized to make the SWP look even worse than it was? We’ll never know, I guess.

“When Skateboards Will be Free” came out in early 2009. Since he probably began writing the book in 2007, or even earlier, there was no reason for him to acknowledge that a financial crisis would rob millions of Americans not only the opportunity to have a 32-inch high-def flat-screen TV but also a roof over their head.  Talk about being behind the curve.

Like an East German running across the demolished Berlin wall to buy bananas and porn, he assumed that American capitalism would go onward and upward forever. His memoir draws a contrast between his own desires to live a normal consumerist existence and his ridiculous parents’ utopian dreams about socialist revolution. His father, who surely risked his life arguing for socialism in the Islamic Republic, comes off particularly bad–ordering the wrong wine at a restaurant.

Maybe hoping to mine a few shekels from the anti-Communist industry,  Sayrafiezadeh’s article titled “Blood on the Tracts” returns once again to the sad, self-deluding world of his sectarian parents. Our writer begins:

THE BOOKS THAT LINED THE SHELVES in my mother’s home, and that, when I was growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s, helped to shape my worldview, were almost entirely about war and written almost entirely by communists. There were Marx and Engels, of course, and Trotsky (not Stalin), but there were also quite a few other authors, hovering on the margins of the canon, such as Farrell Dobbs and George Breitman, less talented and lesser known, who would have been read, and published, by the truly initiated, namely members of the Socialist Workers Party.

What “war” could he possibly be writing about, unless he is referring to the class war in which case every single Marxist work would qualify? In terms of Dobbs and Breitman, the “less talented and lesser known”, this put down would have hardly mattered to them since their goal was to influence history rather than be interviewed in New York Magazine, the venue for articles on the very best chocolate and bargain rentals in the Hamptons.

He continues:

And because my mother was herself an avid reader, a former student of English literature who as a young woman had once dreamed of becoming a novelist—before being thwarted by a failed marriage, three children, and clinical depression—there could be found, occasionally, an anomaly wedged in between these other books. Steinbeck’s The Red Pony comes to mind. How it made its way onto our bookshelf, and, more to the point, how it remained, I have no idea. If there were other examples, and I’m sure there must have been, I cannot now specifically recall them. The reading of fiction, discouraged by the Socialist Workers Party, as most pursuits of pleasure were discouraged, was something that my mother undertook with considerable guilt and shame.

What an absurd statement. The reading of fiction was not “discouraged”. Nobody cared particularly what you did in your free time. I read everything by Charles Bukowski I could get my hands on. Most people did not read fiction for the same reason ordinary Americans do not read it. It is a dying art. People watch television or go to the movies. Who can blame them? I have 3 or 4 novels sitting on my bookshelves that I plan to read in the next year or so, mainly because they deal with political issues of some importance to me—like Jonathan Lethem’s novel about a Communist family. But I get more “pleasure” out of reading history or political analysis. If people were still writing like Steinbeck, I’d probably read that.

In terms of “most pursuits of pleasure” being discouraged, what an asinine remark. In the 1970s, SWP members went out to dinner, drank wine, fucked, played basketball or went to the beach just like other normal people did. The only difference between us and the rest of society is that we had less time to do such things because we were always at meetings.

After some more what a bunch of hairshirt assholes from Sayrafiezadeh, he gets into the question of Commies and warfare:

The literature taught well to expect the unhappy sequence of a second Great Depression, followed by a third world war that will dwarf the wars that have preceded it, followed by, if we were truly unlucky, fascism, followed, finally, by the rising up of the working class. These horrors to come dovetailed nicely with what had already arrived, i.e., the various military engagements that the United States was involved in during the years of my childhood, including those in Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and the long stalemate with the Soviet Union. It would be hard to disprove at least some of the dire predictions of those books when all around us it seemed we were heading in that direction. In the spirit of other, more playful literary genres, like satire or science fiction, the literature of our household was not only exaggerating but also reflecting something that was already very real. It was also reflecting the state of our own broken family, with missing father and unhappy mother. Therefore, it would have been hard for me as a child not to somehow unconsciously be rooting for the world to hurtle, with even greater speed, toward all-out war. The fiction, as nightmarish as it might have been, provided me with solace: If war was what we had to go through in order to finally achieve a splendid life, then the faster we could begin the better. So, for instance, when the United States invaded Grenada and overthrew the Socialist government, the sadness that my mother and I shared was tempered by the understanding that of course things would be playing out this way, since Marx taught well that capitalism can only do what is in its nature to do. The years of my childhood brought more of the same, which is to say, more war, economic crisis, but no workers’ revolt, and eventually my mother, exhausted and disillusioned, resigned from the Socialist Workers Party and purged our household of its communist literature. Our best-laid plans had not come close to being borne out. But it’s not so easy to abandon one’s fantasies, and even as the years passed, and my mother tried, and failed, to become a writer, and I engaged in some decidedly capitalist behavior, like owning my own home, we occasionally found ourselves, at the beginning of yet another war, entertaining thoughts that the gravediggers would soon arrive. Still, we dreamed.

When I read such mind-numbing stupidity, I can understand why Random House published “When Skateboards Will be Free” and torpedoed the comic book I did with Harvey Pekar. The Trotskyists were not obsessed with war. They were for peace, especially in places like Nicaragua, Grenada and Cuba where attempts to create an alternative to capitalism had to be nurtured not bombed into submission.

He states: “Therefore, it would have been hard for me as a child not to somehow unconsciously be rooting for the world to hurtle, with even greater speed, toward all-out war.” Yes, I am sure that this is true. Children have confused thoughts. When I was six years old, I used to fantasize about going into outer space in a huge rocket ship that could satisfy all my desires like in “The Forbidden Planet”. At least after I grew up a bit, I realized that childhood fantasies should be left in the past since they are obstacles to coming to terms with life’s challenges. For a shithead like Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, they obviously serve some pecuniary interest since there is a market for red-baiting crap and not memoirs that celebrate a life led as a radical—warts and all.

October 11, 2013

Why the Ruling Class Feared Camp Kinderland

Filed under: anti-Communism,Counterpunch,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 12:31 pm


Counterpunch Weekend Edition October 11-13, 2013
Learning the Spirit of Rebellion at Commie Camp

This is a follow-up to the July 1947 PM article about my hometown titled “Utopia in the Catskills” that appeared on the September 30 CounterPunch. Like the PM article, the documentary “Commie Camp“ that showed at the Tribeca Theater in New York last June celebrates the leftist subculture of resort areas within geographical and financial reach of working class Jews in the 30s and 40s—in this instance the children’s summer camps favored typically by those working in the garment district.

Among the powerful trade unions that existed in that period, none had a more openly Communist leadership than the furrier’s union. I have vivid memories of visiting relatives in Flatbush who worked in this trade in the mid-50s when I was 10 years old or so. I innocently tuned in “Amos and Andy” on their television (we did not yet have one of our own at home) and was instructed by the man of the house, a furrier, to turn it off since it was racist. It was the first time in my life that anybody had ever acknowledged that racism existed, let alone spoke against it.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/11/why-the-ruling-class-feared-camp-kinderland/

February 15, 2013

Sean Wilentz: tawdry redbaiter

Filed under: anti-Communism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 5:46 pm

Sean Wilentz

Counterpunch Weekend Edition February 15-17, 2013
Sean Wilentz’s Pop-Gun Attack on Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

Post-Modernist Red-Baiting


It was only a matter of time before the N.Y. Review of Books launched an ideological drone strike against Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s “Untold History of the United States”. And who better to sit behind the control panel directing the missile than Sean Wilentz, who aspires to be the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. of our generation.

In its early years the NYR featured Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and even ran a famous article by Andrew Kopkind backing Chairman Mao’s dictum that “morality, like politics, flows from the barrel of a gun”–accompanied by David Levine’s marvelous do-it-yourself diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover.

As the magazine’s editors grew older and more attuned to the needs of the permanent government, it found new causes and new contributors to promote them. Chief among the causes was the superiority of capitalism to socialism and America’s duty to resist any challenges to the global status quo. More and more the NYR began to occupy the ideological niche once held by Encounter, the journal edited by Melvin J. Lasky and funded by the CIA.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/15/post-modernist-red-baiting/

December 15, 2012

The stoning of Oliver Stone

Filed under: anti-Communism,antiwar,media — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition December 14-16, 2012
The Gatekeepers of American History

The Stoning of Oliver Stone


On November 22nd the New York Times Sunday Magazine showcased a hatchet job by Andrew Goldman on Oliver Stone’s 10-part Showtime series “The Untold History of the United States” that is based on Stone and Peter Kuznick’s 750-page companion volume of the same name.  Goldman tried to hoodwink readers into thinking that both the right and the left disavowed the show and the book. While Ronald Radosh, the author of a recent study arguing that Francisco Franco did more good than harm to Spain, had all the credentials one expected from a rightist, Goldman’s choice of Sean Wilentz as speaking for the left was an exercise in deceit. Goldman cites Wilentz:

Is there a legitimate argument to be made about the origins of our nuclear diplomacy or the decision to build the H-bomb? Of course there is. But it’s so overloaded with ideological distortion that this question doesn’t get raised in an intelligent way. And once a question gets raised in an unintelligent way, then you are off in cloud-cuckoo land.

One imagines that the average NYT magazine reader assumes that Wilentz speaks for the left but a look back at his testimony on “revisionist” histories of the United States reveals that his chief role is that of ideological gatekeeper, warning his readers against “ideological distortion” seeping out of “cloud-cuckoo land”—in other words anything that is outside the bounds of mainstream liberalism.

read full article


November 24, 2010

A guest post on Timothy Snyder

Filed under: anti-Communism,Fascism,ussr,war — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

This originally appeared as comments by Dermokrat under my last post titled An American “Revisionist” Historian.  He buttresses his arguments with passages from Jacques Pauwel’s essential Myth of the Good War. Since it a major contribution to the discussion, I wanted to make sure that it received the widest attention.

Hi Louis,

I actually posted Kotz’s article on my facebook a while back, although not because of his refutation of Snyder, but because of his worthy condemnation of fanatic, anti-Soviet Baltic nationalism. Nevertheless, one of my friends took me to task over Katz’s argument vis-a-vis Snyder. I didn’t actually read the response by Snyder before I posted Katz’s commentary. My friend quickly pointed out that Snyder notes in his rebuttal:

I didn’t and don’t equate Hitler and Stalin. Katz puts ‘somewhat equal’ in quotations, but I never use any such phrase. Zuroff says that I ‘posit’ that the Soviet Union was Nazi Germany; I most certainly do no such thing. What I try to do, in the 28 September article and generally, is understand what it means for a vast east European territory and several east European peoples to have been touched by both Nazi and Soviet power. Despite some critical remarks of Bloodlands in an otherwise perceptive and generous (London) Times review of 26 September, which perhaps Zuroff and Katz read, I don’t equate Stalin with Hitler in that book either. Instead, I try to reckon with the crimes that both regimes committed in the lands between Berlin and Moscow, where 14 million people, including more than 5 million Jews, were killed in the 12 years that both Hitler and Stalin were in power.

He then pointed out that Katz undermines his own argument that Snyder fails to distinguish between the two when he writes:

And finally, it is not possible to ignore Snyder’s certainty that ‘Jews could not help but see the return of Soviet power as a liberation. Soviet policy was not especially friendly to Jews, but it was obviously better than a Holocaust.’

Indeed, in his rejoinder, Snyder writes: “I am not saying that [Soviet atrocities] were equivalent to the Holocaust. I am saying that a number of German and Soviet policies meet the standard of genocide.”

I pointed out to my friend that having read Snyder’s original piece and his response, I agreed that both Katz and Zuroff had somewhat exaggerated or misinterpreted Snyder’s arguments in the original article (excerpted from Bloodlands), but nevertheless make valid points re: the kind of historiography to which you refer at the beginning of your article (the kind that Baltic nationalists have adopted wholesale).

All that said, however, Snyder’s arguments about Soviet “genocide” are still unconvincing. To be sure, Stalin was a totalitarian monster who presided over mass slaughter of many innocent people, but it is difficult to claim that he was committing “genocide” as it is conventionally understood; i.e. “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” While the Ukrainian nationalists and American/British anti-communists have long claimed that Stalin intentionally engineered the famine to punish Ukraine or even exterminate Ukrainians, there is simply no evidence for this. The last most serious inquiry into this question was carried out by Terry Martin in his Affirmative Action Empire. After exhaustively examining the documentary record (including all of Stalin’s correspondence with Kaganovich and Molotov during those years), Martin concluded:

The Poliburo’s development of a national interpretation of their grain requisitions crisis in late 1932 helps explain both the pattern of terror and the role of the national factor during the 1932-1933 famine. The 1932-1933 terror campaign consisted of both a grain requisitions terror, whose primary target was the peasantry, both Russian and non-Russian, and a nationalities terror, whose primary target was Ukraine and subsequently Belorussia. The grain requisitions terror was the final and decisive culmination of a campaign begun in 1927-1928 to extract the maximum possible amount from a hostile peasantry. As such, its primary targets were the grain-producing regions of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Lower Volga, though no grain-producing regions escaped the 1932-1933 grain requisitions terror entirely. Nationality was of minimal importance in this campaign. The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation (quote on p.305 but see 282-307 for the full explanation).

The famine is still to be blamed on Stalin and his henchmen, since it stemmed from the policy of forced collectivization, which in turn was pursued not out of a kind of Marxist orthodoxy (as anti-communists like to claim), but in order to facilitate grain exports to Europe to acquire the hard currency needed for industrialization (this was inspired by Preobrazhensky’s socialist primitive accumulation – see Kagarlitskii’s Empire of the Periphery for a good summary). In this way, the Ukraine/Kuban famine was very much like what the British did in India as documented so well by Mike Davis in his Late Victorian Holocausts (ironically, this would have been a nice comparative study for Conquest back when he was writing Harvest of Sorrow!). At any rate, the famine caused by collectivization and terror requisitions was indeed a small ‘h’ holocaust of sorts, but it was not genocide.

Moving on, Snyder writes: “It is hard not to see the Soviet “Polish Operation” of 1937-38 as genocidal: Polish fathers were shot, Polish mothers sent to Kazakhstan, and Polish children left in orphanages where they would lose their Polish identity. As more than 100,000 innocent people were killed on the spurious grounds that theirs was a disloyal ethnicity…”

There’s a lot to unpack here. Unfortunately, it was not just the Poles who were subjected to this. Many “diaspora” groups living along Soviet borders were subjected to this kind of treatment – basically any national minority groups that had a “national homeland” outside the USSR, especially those living along the borders, were considered suspect. Like the Polish and Germans, many members of these “alien” communities were forcibly relocated and/or arrested and shot. The Poles and Germans living in the Ukrainian borderlands were particularly targeted because they had been the most prone to insurrection during collectivization and the years that followed. In fact, throughout the early 30s many Polish and German rebels did make appeals to the German and Polish government for aid and hoped they would intervene against the Soviet government on their behalf. Obviously this resistance was blowback from the collectivization campaign, and change in Soviet policy should be compared with what Terry Martin terms “the Piedmont Principle” of 1920s, whereby the Soviets hoped these border communities would become a sort of showcase for their national comrades living across the border.

Unsurprisingly Soviet officialdom’s views changed rapidly in the post-collectivization years – a period that also coincided with a decidedly hostile international relations environment, where the Nazis and Polish governments made no secret of their desire to do the Soviets in (see Affirmative Action, passim and Craig Nation’s Black Earth, Red Star, pp. 74-112; and Hirsch’ Empire of Nations, pp. 273-308 for more details on these things). Ironically, Soviet nationality policy in the Ukrainian borderlands was a victim of its own success, which led to the paradoxical situation where the Soviets officially promoted all the trappings of national life (national education, newspapers, theater, etc), but then accused local officials in charge of these things of promoting nationalism. This situation is not irrelevant to understanding what happened in the region in the runup to the war. While Snyder is right that Poles were increasingly being deported from the borderlands in the mid to late 30s simply for being Poles (and not for “class” reasons), not all the Polish communities living in the border regions were affected. As Kate Brown points out in her study of Soviet nationalities policy in the Ukrainian borderlands:

Some commentators on Soviet history have interpreted the deportation of national minorities as a plan ordered from Moscow and motivated in large part by a growing ethnic xenophobia and Russian chauvinism, led in large part Joseph Stalin (himself, of course, member of a minority far from mainstream Russia). The 1935-36 deportations, however, did not emanate from a racial or biological understanding of the deported population. Despite the order to deport specifically Poles and Germans, security agents did not deport ALL Germans and Poles in the borderlands, but only Germans and Poles with suspicious biographies or personal connections. Instead of an encompassing racial conception of nationality, national categories informed existing political and class categories to determine who should go and who should stay. About half of Soviet Poles and Germans were deemed dangerous for the border zone, but the other half was cleared to stay. In 1936, to be Polish or German was still dependent on one’s actions, biography and personal connections…Border cleansing was not a universal policy. As mentioned above, Poles and Germans were not shipped from Belorussia at this time although its profile was very similar to that of Ukraine: both had mixed populations, a long history of a leading Polish elite, a substantial number of German colonists and other scattered groups. Both bordered on Polish territory and had volatile and rebellious records during the 1930 collectivization campaign. The major difference between the two territories is that Ukraine established its national minority program in 1925, while the Dzerzhinskii Polish Region in Belorussia was formed in 1932. The people in Belorussia had only a few years to live in nationalized space and create national behavior. Rather than a universal plan from Moscow to deport all diaspora borderland populations, this disparity suggests that policy grew out of a more specific connection to how land and populations were configured in various territories of the Soviet Union (A Biography of No Place, p. 147).

This probably explains why there were still roughly 200,000 Poles living in these borderlands in 1959, all still granted certain “national rights” – albeit highly circumscribed by that point, as they were for all national minorities. Yet if we believe Snyder, the Soviets engaged in a campaign with the Nazis to eliminate all educated Polish people in a bid to undermine their continued existence as a people (the Soviets then went on to maintain a Polish state after WWII – thoroughly Stalinized, of course, but that’s not the point).

By the way, it’s worth noting that the United States adopted a similar policy of deportation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Although it did not, to my knowledge, include summary executions, many peoples lives were ruined due to the fact that they were forcibly uprooted and sent to the camps. Does Snyder consider this American policy as genocidal?

Lastly, we should keep in mind that, despite Stalin’s seemingly best attempts to deform the sciences in the USSR, the Soviet Union – in stark contrast to Germany and much of the West at that time – was adamantly opposed to eugenics and race science. In fact they broke all research ties with Germany once such a science took root in German universities. According to Francine Hirsch:

…in 1931 the Soviet regime prevailed on its anthropologists and ethnographers to disprove German race theories. In particular, the Soviet experts were to wage a war against biological determinism: to prove to audiences at home and abroad that ‘all narodnosti can develop and flourish’ and that ‘there is no basis whatsoever for supposing the existence of some sort of racial or biological factors’ that would make it impossible for certain peoples to participate in ‘socialist construction’. Soviet ethnographers and anthropologists, most of whom were themselves troubled about the German turn to ‘Nordic race science’, and none of whom wanted to be accused of anti-Soviet tendencies, set out to refute German claims in scientific terms and prove that the Marxist vision of historical development – grounded in sociohistorical, not sociobiological, laws – was the correct one (empire of nations, p. 232).

These genocide equivalencies, however, were not Snyder’s principle claim. It was that the Soviets enabled Hitler’s Holocaust(s):

We all agree that Hitler had the horrible aspiration to eliminate the Jews from Europe. But how exactly was Hitler to do so in summer 1939, with fewer than 3% of European Jews under his control? Hitler needed war to eliminate the Jews, and it was Stalin who helped him to begin that war. As I said in my original article, we don’t know how the war would have proceeded without the treaty on borders and friendship; what we do know is that the war as it actually happened, with all of its atrocities, began with a German-Soviet alliance. What if the Soviets had simply opted for neutrality in 1939? How exactly would the Germans have overcome the British blockade without Soviet grain? Or bombed London without Soviet oil? Or won their lightening victory in France without security in the rear?

I think we can all agree that this is really cute. As the German historian Bernd Martin pointed out “Hitler’s fundamental political conviction, his self-imposed duty from the moment he had embarked on his political career was the eradication of Bolshevism [which he defined as a Jewish conspiracy].” This was understood by Western elites. As Jacques Pauwels points out:

Everywhere in the industrialized world there were statesmen, corporate leaders, press barons, and other influential personalities who encouraged him openly or discreetly to realize his great anti-Soviet ambition. In the United States, Nazi Germany was praised as a bulwark against communism and Hitler was encouraged to use the might of Germany to destroy the Soviet Union by people such as Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor in the White House (The Myth of the Good War, p. 44).

Pauwels points out, though, that “It was primarily in Europe itself that the social and political elites expected great anti-Soviet achievements of Hitler. In Great Britain, for example, the eastern ambitions of the Fuhrer enjoyed at an early stage the approval of respectable and influential politicians, such as Lloyd George, Lord Halifax, Lord Astor and his circle of friends, the so called “Cliveden Set”…The Duke of Windsor even traveled to Berchtesgardern to have tea with Hitler…and encouraged him in his ambition to attack Russia: ‘[Hitler] made me realize that Red Russia [sic] was the only enemy, and that Great Britain and all of Europe had an interest in encouraging Germany to march against the east and to crush communism once and for all…I thought that we ourselves would be able to watch as the Nazis and the Reds would fight each other (p.45).’”

This explains the so called appeasement strategy. Per Pauwels:

And so it came to the infamous “appeasement” policy, the theme of a brilliant study by two Canadian historians…The quintessence of this policy was as follows: Great Britain and France ignored Stalin’s proposals for international cooperation against Hitler, and sought by means of all kinds of diplomatic contortions and spectacular concessions to stimulate Hitler’s anti-Soviet ambitions and to facilitate their realization. This policy reached its nadir in the Munich Pact of 1938, whereby Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Fuhrer as a kind of springboard for military aggression in the direction of Moscow. But Hitler ultimately demanded a higher price than the British and the French were prepared to pay, and this led in the summer of 1939 to a crisis over Poland. Stalin, who understood the true objectives of appeasement, took advantage of the opportunity and made a deal of his own with the German dictator in order to gain not only precious time but also glacis – a strategically important space – in Eastern Europe, without which the USSR would almost certainly not have survived the Nazi onslaught in 1941. Hitler himself was prepared to deal with his arch-enemy because he felt cheated by London and Paris, who refused him Poland. And so the appeasement policy of Great Britain and France collapsed in dismal failure, first because the USSR did not disappear from the face of the earth, and second, because after a short blitzkrieg in Poland, Nazi Germany would attack those who had hoped to manipulate in order to rid the earth of communism. The so-called ironies of history can be extremely cruel indeed (pp.45-46).

Even after the debacle in Poland, however, the French and British kept hoping Hitler would turn his guns on Russia. Pauwels writes, “The French and British governments and high commands busily hatched all sorts of plans of attack during the winter of 1939-1940, not against Germany, but against the USSR, for example in the form of an operation from the Middle East against the oil fields of Baku (p. 48). Similarly, “after Germany’s victory in Poland…the American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh R. Wilson, expressed the hope that the British and French would see fit to resolve their inconvenient conflict with Germany, so that the Fuhrer would finally have an opportunity to crush the Bolshevik experiment of the Soviets for the benefit of all ‘Western civilization’ (p.48).

Moreover, Snyder makes a big deal of the Soviet’s assistance to Germany in the form of trade, but this was marginal compared to the assistance the Reich received from America’s business elite (who, by the way, were no friend of the Jew), some of whom were actually receiving medals of honor from the Germany government (such as Mooney of GM, Henry Ford and Watson of IBM). On American business’ invaluable assistance to Hitler, Pauwels writes:

Without trucks, tanks, planes and other equipment supplied by the German subsidiaries of Ford and GM, and without the large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber as well as diesel oil, lubricating oil, and other types of fuel shipped by Texaco and Standard Oil via Spanish ports, the German air and land forces would not have found it so easy to defeat their adversaries in 1939 and 1940. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and wartime armament minister, would later state that without certain kinds of synthetic fuel made by US firms, Hitler ‘would have never considered invading Poland’. The American historian Bradford Snell agrees, alluding to the controversial role played by Swiss banks during the war, he comments that “the Nazis could have attacked Poland and Russia without the Swiss banks, but not without General Motors.’ Hitler’s military successes were based on a new and extremely mobile form of warfare, the blitzkrieg, consisting of extremely swift and highly synchronized attacks by air and by land. But without the aforementioned American support and without state of the art communications and information technology provided by ITT and IBM, the Fuhrer could only have dreamed of blitzkrieg and blitzsiege (p.37).

Oh by the way, re: Churchill, Johann Hari reviewed a new book that examines his unsavory role in maintaining the British Empire:


As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, writing: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages.”

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When the first concentration camps were built in South Africa, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible. At least 115,000 people were swept into them and 14,000 died, but he wrote only of his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” Later, he boasted of his experiences. “That was before war degenerated,” he said. “It was great fun galloping about.”

After being elected to Parliament in 1900, he demanded a rolling program of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” As war secretary and then colonial secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tans on Ireland’s Catholics, to burn homes and beat civilians. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, he said: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” It “would spread a lively terror.” (Strangely, Toye doesn’t quote this.)

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.

May 4, 2009

When Skateboards Will be Free

Filed under: anti-Communism,literature — louisproyect @ 1:55 pm

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s When Skateboards Will Be Free
by Louis Proyect
Book Review

Sayrafiezadeh, Saïd: When Skateboards Will Be Free, Dial Press, March 2009, ISBN 978-0-385-34068-7, 287 pages, $22.

(Swans – May 4, 2009) When Skateboards Will Be Free is a memoir by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh about growing up with parents who were devoted members of the Socialist Workers Party. The mother is Martha Harris, a Jew who finally leaves the party at the end of the book. The father is an Iranian math professor named Mahmoud Sayrafiezadeh, who remained a member and broke with his son over the memoir. Saïd never became a member, a fact that does not stand in the way of him devoting 287 pages to an angry denunciation of the party.

Martha and Mahmoud not only forced their political beliefs on their son but were responsible for him living in poverty. The title of the memoir derives from an incident that took place over the purchase of a skateboard that she deemed too dear at $10.99. She consoled him with the assurance that “Once the revolution comes, everyone will have a skateboard, because all skateboards will be free.” Their poverty was a result of the father abandoning the family when Saïd was 9 months old plus his mother’s refusal to get better jobs, despite her college education.

One can certainly understand why The New York Times and The Washington Post raved about this memoir. For the price, you get two books in one. It is a neo-Dickensian tale of childhood deprivation with the young Saïd begging for a skateboard rather than more gruel. It is also a melodrama inspired by those 1950s Red Scare movies like My Son John but turned upside down. Now it is the son (Saïd) who is the good American and the mom and dad ruthless fanatics.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/lproy54.html

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