November 26, 2016


The Truth about the "Hollywood Ten" (Art Eckstein , 4/18/05,
Barzman, perhaps unintentionally, also reveals another side of the story; one that has been almost totally lost in the pieties about the Ten which have emerged over the past half-century. It is the main issue I wish to address: the stern intellectual control which the Hollywood Party exercised over its members.  This intellectual control makes the depiction of the Ten as somehow romantic "rebels," "non-conformists," or champions of free speech into nonsense. They were often quite the opposite.
Two examples come from Barzman herself. In the mid-1940s, while still in Hollywood, she and her husband became fascinated by classic Freudian psychoanalysis.  It was then a big fad among the Hollywood creative community, the Barzmans had a troubled marriage, and they wished to become involved in therapy.  The Party leadership, however, opposed psychoanalysis on ideological grounds, because Party leaders saw it as "the tool of the class enemy to justify inequities of society by attributing them to flaws in personality rather than the system."13  Barzman also cites a second important reason for the Party's opposition to psychoanalysis, one adduced as well by the most famous critic of HUAC and the blacklist, Victor Navasky: "since it is a rule of psychoanalysis that the patient reveals everything, the Party's security as a secret organization would be compro-mised."14  We are reminded then, that the Party in Hollywood not only attempted to control the minds of its members, but that it was a secret organization.15
In another example of the reach of the Party, Barzman remarked that in the 1940s Party couples in Hollywood adopted children from Appalachia. This was done not so much out of humanitarianism as to help prove the theory of Stalin's favorite geneticist, T. D. Lysenko, that environment and the exercise of will could quickly triumph over heredity. The theory appealed to Stalin because it reinforced his belief that a stern socialist system imposed from above by the government was certain to hasten the emergence of "the new Socialist Man."  Hollywood Party activists who faithfully followed this ideological line and adopted included the screenwriter Albert Maltz (This Gun for Hire, 1942) and his wife Margaret, and the screenwriter Herbert Biberman and his wife actress Gale Sondergaard.  According to Barzman, there were several others, demonstrating how far the prevailing Party ideology reached into the private lives of Party members.16
At this point in the discussion we should also begin to distinguish among the victims of the blacklist.  It is the Unfriendly Ten (and those around the Ten) who Hollywood memory has chosen to canonize as martyrs, making them into admirable American "rebels" and innocent, victimized heroes. In the order of priorities for our sympathy, I think this is the opposite of where sympathy for the blacklist victims should lie.17
Many people on the Left in the 1930s and 1940s were attracted to the various positions advocated at one time or another by the Communist Party of the USA. Some merely became involved in the many front groups with nice-sounding names that the Party secretly controlled (e.g. the Progressive Citizens of America, or the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League).  Some actually did join the Party itself. Yet the vast majority of those who joined the Party only lasted a relatively short time before leaving. Why did they leave? Because the Party's choking atmosphere of intellectual control drove them away, or because the Party's position on whatever social issue had originally attracted them suddenly reversed on orders from the Soviet Union. Tragically, many of these Leftists were persecuted later by the government, and/or blacklisted in Hollywood.18 The main point I wish to make, however, is that the average length of stay even for those Leftists who did join the Party in the 1930s was only about three years.19
The Ten, however, do not and cannot represent the relatively transient population that made up the Party rank and file. The latter were social idealists or radicals loosely tied to the Party and committed to specific issues rather than to the organization itself.  In the heyday of the 1930s and 1940s, they made up the Party's relatively unstable mass base. The Ten, by contrast, were mostly long-term Party militants, cadres, and functionaries.  Bessie, Biberman, Cole, Lardner, Lawson, and Polonsky had all been in the Party for ten years or more when the first HUAC investigation opened in 1947, and Trumbo only a little bit less. The very fact that they had not wavered at any point, despite the series of radical shifts and reversals in Party policy since 1935, set them apart from the vast majority of Party members, and the vast majority of blacklist victims.
Moreover, the radical shifts and reversals in the policy of the CPUSA did not reflect developments on the American socio-economic scene itself, and were not reactions to them. On the contrary, they had their source in a foreign country and its interests, in the specific responses of the government of the USSR to events in Europe. One classic case is of course the American Party's faithful support of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939-1941. The alliance was a startling reversal after years of proclaimed Party dedication to ferocious "anti-Fascism." Instead, the line switched from "anti-Fascism" to "peace," i.e. a ferocious dedication to keeping the US from aiding the nations fighting Hitler ("The Yanks are NOT coming! We'll be for peace until the cows come home!" to quote Herbert Biberman). Yet just as the Party's staunch "anti-Fascism" ended the moment that Stalin became Hitler's friend, so the Party's staunch belief in "the peace movement" ended the moment the Soviet Union was attacked by the Nazis on 22 June 1941. Then the war against Hitler finally became justified.20
This means that most of the Ten, as long-term Communist Party militants, were people who (to paraphrase Lillian Hellman) were prepared to cut their consciences to fit the political fashions of the moment.  Such obedience to a notoriously changeable political line, such inability to stick to loudly proclaimed principles if the Party suddenly went back on those principles, is a fact.  Another is that there was one thing these men were not, and that was rebels.  It is wrong to see them that way and to give them that honorable appellation.21  Moreover, the political fashions to which they cut their consciences were the needs of the Soviet state, not the American. Thus, the very nature of their long-term Communist Party militancy points to their dependence upon the wishes of a foreign government.22
This situation was not unique to the American Party, but rather was a fundamental characteristic of all Communist Parties throughout the Stalin era.  On all major issues the "national" Communist Parties were controlled from Moscow, either directly or via the Comintern.  The subservience of the Communist Party of France to Soviet interests and orders is the classic example of the phenomenon, and it helps to underline the type of politics actually engaged in by the historical (as opposed to the mythical) Ten.  If American historians of the CPUSA were thoroughly trained in foreign languages, they would better be able to discern parallels between the behavior of the American Party and all other "national" Parties around the world, and they could put the CPUSA into its proper international context. American historians would see how closely the sudden and radical policy shifts of the American Party were exactly like those of every other "national" Communist Party, because the policies of all these organizations were dependent upon policy decisions made in Moscow.  But of course, most American historians nowadays are not trained in foreign languages, resulting in a bias toward seeing everything in a purely American context and perspective.23
Even Paul Jarrico, one of the Ten, has recently acknowledged that the American Communists were constantly forced into counter-productive politics by virtue of continually having to be the fervent guardians of Soviet (i.e. foreign) interests, and members of a Party whose policy was determined in Europe.  Not that Jarrico ever deviated from the Party line at the time.24

Posted by at November 26, 2016 9:19 AM